But, during these victorious incursions into the realms of experience, the younger partner had himself been conquered. Directly opposite the red cottage, upon the other side of the river, at Fishkill Landing, lay under blossoming locust trees, the estate and old family mansion of John P. De Wint, Esq. The place had the charms of a "moated grange," and was quite the contrast of the elegant care and incessant cultivation that marked the grounds of the young man in Newburgh. But the fine old place, indolently lying in luxuriant decay, was the seat of boundless hospitality and social festivity. The spacious piazzas, and the gently sloping lawn, which made the foreground of one of the most exquisite glimpses of the Hudson, rang all summer long with happy laughter.
Under those blossoming locust trees were walks that led to the shore, and the moon hanging over Cro' Nest recalled to all loiterers along the bank the loveliest legends of the river. In winter the revel shifted from the lawn to the frozen river. One such gay household is sufficient nucleus for endless enjoyment. From the neighboring West Point, only ten miles distant, came gallant young officers, boating in summer, and skating in winter, to serenade under the locusts, or join the dance upon the lawn. Whatever was young and gay was drawn into the merry maelstrom, and the dark-haired boy from Newburgh, now grown, somehow, to be a gentleman of quiet and polished manner, found himself, even when in the grasp of the scientific coils of Parmentier, Repton, Price, Loudon, Lindley, and the rest, - or busy with knife, clay, and grafts, - dreaming of the grange beyond the river, and of the Marianna he had found there.
Summer lay warm upon the hills and river; the landscape was yet untouched by the scorching July heats; and on the seventh of June, 1838, - he being then in his twenty-third year, - Downing was married to Caroline, eldest daughter of J. P. De Wint, Esq. At this time, he dissolved the business connection with his elder brother, and continued the nursery by himself. There were other changes also. The busy mother of his childhood was busy no longer. She had now been for several years an invalid, unable even to walk in the garden. She continued to live in the little red cottage which Downing afterwards removed to make way for a green-house. Her sons were men now, and her daughter a woman. The necessity for her own exertion was passed, and her hold upon life was gradually loosened, until she died in 1839.
Downing now considered himself ready to begin the career for which he had so long been preparing; and very properly his first work was his own house, built in the garden of his father, and only a few rods from the cottage in which he was born. It was a simple house, in an Elizabethan style, by which he designed to prove that a beautiful, and durable, and convenient mansion, could be built as cheaply as a poor and tasteless temple, which seemed to be, at that time, the highest American conception of a fine residence. In this design he entirely succeeded. His house, which did not, however, satisfy his maturer eye, was externally very simple, but extremely elegant; indeed, its chief impression was that of elegance. Internally it was spacious and convenient, very gracefully proportioned and finished, and marked every where by the same spirit. Wherever the eye fell, it detected that a wiser eye had been before it. All the forms and colors, the style of the furniture, the frames of the mirrors and pictures, the patterns of the carpets, were harmonious, and it was a harmony as easily achieved by taste as discord by vulgarity. There was no painful conformity, no rigid monotony, there was nothing finical nor foppish in this elegance - it was the necessary result of knowledge and skill.
While the house was building, he lived with his wife at her father's. He personally superintended the work, which went briskly forward. From the foot of the Fishkill hills beyond the river, other eyes superintended it, also, scanning, with a telescope, the Newburgh garden and growing house; and, possibly, from some rude telegraph, as a white cloth upon a tree, or a blot of black paint upon a smooth board, Hero knew whether at evening to expect her Leander.
The house was at length finished. A graceful and beautiful building stood in the garden, higher and handsomer than the little red cottage - a very pregnant symbol to any poet who should chance that way and hear the history of the architect.
Once fairly established in his house, it became the seat of the most gracious hospitality, and was a beautiful illustration of that "rural home" upon whose influence Downing counted so largely for the education and intelligent patriotism of his countrymen. His personal exertions were unremitting. He had been for some time projecting a work upon his favorite art of Landscape Gardening, and presently began to throw it into form. His time for literary labor was necessarily limited by his superintendence of the nursery. But the book was at length completed, and in the year 1841, the Author being then twenty-six years old, Messrs. Wiley & Putnam published in New York and London, "A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening adapted to North America, with a view to the Improvement of Country Residences. With Remarks on Rural Architecture. By A. J. Downing." The most concise and comprehensive definition of Landscape Gardening that occurs in his works, is to be found in the essay, "Hints on Landscape Gardening." "It is an art," he says, "which selects from natural materials that abound in any country its best sylvan features, and by giving them a better opportunity than they could otherwise obtain, brings about a higher beauty of development and more perfect expression than nature herself offers." The preface of the book is quite without pretence. "The love of country," says our author, with a gravity that overtops his years, "is inseparably connected with the love of home.