SUMMER IN A GARDEN
CALVIN A STUDY OF CHARACTER
By Charles Dudley Warner
MY DEAR MR. FIELDS,—I did promise to write an Introduction to these charming papers but an Introduction,—what is it?—a sort of pilaster, put upon the face of a building for looks' sake, and usually flat,—very flat. Sometimes it may be called a caryatid, which is, as I understand it, a cruel device of architecture, representing a man or a woman, obliged to hold up upon his or her head or shoulders a structure which they did not build, and which could stand just as well without as with them. But an Introduction is more apt to be a pillar, such as one may see in Baalbec, standing up in the air all alone, with nothing on it, and with nothing for it to do.
But an Introductory Letter is different. There is in that no formality, no assumption of function, no awkward propriety or dignity to be sustained. A letter at the opening of a book may be only a footpath, leading the curious to a favorable point of observation, and then leaving them to wander as they will.
Sluggards have been sent to the ant for wisdom; but writers might better be sent to the spider, not because he works all night, and watches all day, but because he works unconsciously. He dare not even bring his work before his own eyes, but keeps it behind him, as if too much knowledge of what one is doing would spoil the delicacy and modesty of one's work.
Almost all graceful and fanciful work is born like a dream, that comes noiselessly, and tarries silently, and goes as a bubble bursts. And yet somewhere work must come in,—real, well-considered work.
Inness (the best American painter of Nature in her moods of real human feeling) once said, "No man can do anything in art, unless he has intuitions; but, between whiles, one must work hard in collecting the materials out of which intuitions are made." The truth could not be hit off better. Knowledge is the soil, and intuitions are the flowers which grow up out of it. The soil must be well enriched and worked.
It is very plain, or will be to those who read these papers, now gathered up into this book, as into a chariot for a race, that the author has long employed his eyes, his ears, and his understanding, in observing and considering the facts of Nature, and in weaving curious analogies. Being an editor of one of the oldest daily news-papers in New England, and obliged to fill its columns day after day (as the village mill is obliged to render every day so many sacks of flour or of meal to its hungry customers), it naturally occurred to him, "Why not write something which I myself, as well as my readers, shall enjoy? The market gives them facts enough; politics, lies enough; art, affectations enough; criminal news, horrors enough; fashion, more than enough of vanity upon vanity, and vexation of purse. Why should they not have some of those wandering and joyous fancies which solace my hours?"
The suggestion ripened into execution. Men and women read, and wanted more. These garden letters began to blossom every week; and many hands were glad to gather pleasure from them. A sign it was of wisdom. In our feverish days it is a sign of health or of convalescence that men love gentle pleasure, and enjoyments that do not rush or roar, but distill as the dew.
The love of rural life, the habit of finding enjoyment in familiar things, that susceptibility to Nature which keeps the nerve gently thrilled in her homliest nooks and by her commonest sounds, is worth a thousand fortunes of money, or its equivalents.
Every book which interprets the secret lore of fields and gardens, every essay that brings men nearer to the understanding of the mysteries which every tree whispers, every brook murmurs, every weed, even, hints, is a contribution to the wealth and the happiness of our kind. And if the lines of the writer shall be traced in quaint characters, and be filled with a grave humor, or break out at times into merriment, all this will be no presumption against their wisdom or his goodness. Is the oak less strong and tough because the mosses and weather-stains stick in all manner of grotesque sketches along its bark? Now, truly, one may not learn from this little book either divinity or horticulture; but if he gets a pure happiness, and a tendency to repeat the happiness from the simple stores of Nature, he will gain from our friend's garden what Adam lost in his, and what neither philosophy nor divinity has always been able to restore.
Wherefore, thanking you for listening to a former letter, which begged you to consider whether these curious and ingenious papers, that go winding about like a half-trodden path between the garden and the field, might not be given in book-form to your million readers, I remain, yours to command in everything but the writing of an Introduction,
HENRY WARD BEECHER.
BY WAY OF DEDICATION
MY DEAR POLLY,—When a few of these papers had appeared in "The Courant," I was encouraged to continue them by hearing that they had at least one reader who read them with the serious mind from which alone profit is to be expected. It was a maiden lady, who, I am sure, was no more to blame for her singleness than for her age; and she looked to these honest sketches of experience for that aid which the professional agricultural papers could not give in the management of the little bit of garden which she called her own. She may have been my only disciple; and I confess that the thought of her yielding a simple faith to what a gainsaying world may have regarded with levity has contributed much to give an increased practical turn to my reports of what I know about gardening. The thought that I had misled a lady, whose age is not her only singularity, who looked to me for advice which should be not at all the fanciful product of the Garden of Gull, would give me great pain. I trust that her autumn is a peaceful one, and undisturbed by either the humorous or the satirical side of Nature.
You know that this attempt to tell the truth about one of the most fascinating occupations in the world has not been without its dangers. I have received anonymous letters. Some of them were murderously spelled; others were missives in such elegant phrase and dress, that danger was only to be apprehended in them by one skilled in the mysteries of medieval poisoning, when death flew on the wings of a perfume. One lady, whose entreaty that I should pause had something of command in it, wrote that my strictures on "pusley" had so inflamed her husband's zeal, that, in her absence in the country, he had rooted up all her beds of portulaca (a sort of cousin of the fat weed), and utterly cast it out. It is, however, to be expected, that retributive justice would visit the innocent as well as the guilty of an offending family. This is only another proof of the wide sweep of moral forces. I suppose that it is as necessary in the vegetable world as it is elsewhere to avoid the appearance of evil.
In offering you the fruit of my garden, which has been gathered from week to week, without much reference to the progress of the crops or the drought, I desire to acknowledge an influence which has lent half the charm to my labor. If I were in a court of justice, or injustice, under oath, I should not like to say, that, either in the wooing days of spring, or under the suns of the summer solstice, you had been, either with hoe, rake, or miniature spade, of the least use in the garden; but your suggestions have been invaluable, and, whenever used, have been paid for. Your horticultural inquiries have been of a nature to astonish the vegetable world, if it listened, and were a constant inspiration to research. There was almost nothing that you did not wish to know; and this, added to what I wished to know, made a boundless field for discovery. What might have become of the garden, if your advice had been followed, a good Providence only knows; but I never worked there without a consciousness that you might at any moment come down the walk, under the grape-arbor, bestowing glances of approval, that were none the worse for not being critical; exercising a sort of superintendence that elevated gardening into a fine art; expressing a wonder that was as complimentary to me as it was to Nature; bringing an atmosphere which made the garden a region of romance, the soil of which was set apart for fruits native to climes unseen. It was this bright presence that filled the garden, as it did the summer, with light, and now leaves upon it that tender play of color and bloom which is called among the Alps the after-glow.
NOOK FARM, HARTFORD, October, 1870
C. D. W.
The love of dirt is among the earliest of passions, as it is the latest. Mud-pies gratify one of our first and best instincts. So long as we are dirty, we are pure. Fondness for the ground comes back to a man after he has run the round of pleasure and business, eaten dirt, and sown wild-oats, drifted about the world, and taken the wind of all its moods. The love of digging in the ground (or of looking on while he pays another to dig) is as sure to come back to him as he is sure, at last, to go under the ground, and stay there. To own a bit of ground, to scratch it with a hoe, to plant seeds and watch, their renewal of life, this is the commonest delight of the race, the most satisfactory thing a man can do. When Cicero writes of the pleasures of old age, that of agriculture is chief among them:
"Venio nunc ad voluptates agricolarum, quibus ego incredibiliter delector: quae nec ulla impediuntur senectute, et mihi ad sapientis vitam proxime videntur accedere." (I am driven to Latin because New York editors have exhausted the English language in the praising of spring, and especially of the month of May.)
Let us celebrate the soil. Most men toil that they may own a piece of it; they measure their success in life by their ability to buy it. It is alike the passion of the parvenu and the pride of the aristocrat. Broad acres are a patent of nobility; and no man but feels more, of a man in the world if he have a bit of ground that he can call his own. However small it is on the surface, it is four thousand miles deep; and that is a very handsome property. And there is a great pleasure in working in the soil, apart from the ownership of it. The man who has planted a garden feels that he has done something for the good of the World. He belongs to the producers. It is a pleasure to eat of the fruit of one's toil, if it be nothing more than a head of lettuce or an ear of corn. One cultivates a lawn even with great satisfaction; for there is nothing more beautiful than grass and turf in our latitude. The tropics may have their delights, but they have not turf: and the world without turf is a dreary desert. The original Garden of Eden could not have had such turf as one sees in England. The Teutonic races all love turf: they emigrate in the line of its growth.
To dig in the mellow soil-to dig moderately, for all pleasure should be taken sparingly—is a great thing. One gets strength out of the ground as often as one really touches it with a hoe. Antaeus (this is a classical article) was no doubt an agriculturist; and such a prize-fighter as Hercules could n't do anything with him till he got him to lay down his spade, and quit the soil. It is not simply beets and potatoes and corn and string-beans that one raises in his well-hoed garden: it is the average of human life. There is life in the ground; it goes into the seeds; and it also, when it is stirred up, goes into the man who stirs it. The hot sun on his back as he bends to his shovel and hoe, or contemplatively rakes the warm and fragrant loam, is better than much medicine. The buds are coming out on the bushes round about; the blossoms of the fruit trees begin to show; the blood is running up the grapevines in streams; you can smell the Wild flowers on the near bank; and the birds are flying and glancing and singing everywhere. To the open kitchen door comes the busy housewife to shake a white something, and stands a moment to look, quite transfixed by the delightful sights and sounds. Hoeing in the garden on a bright, soft May day, when you are not obliged to, is nearly equal to the delight of going trouting.
Blessed be agriculture! if one does not have too much of it. All literature is fragrant with it, in a gentlemanly way. At the foot of the charming olive-covered hills of Tivoli, Horace (not he of Chappaqua) had a sunny farm: it was in sight of Hadrian's villa, who did landscape gardening on an extensive scale, and probably did not get half as much comfort out of it as Horace did from his more simply tilled acres. We trust that Horace did a little hoeing and farming himself, and that his verse is not all fraudulent sentiment. In order to enjoy agriculture, you do not want too much of it, and you want to be poor enough to have a little inducement to work moderately yourself. Hoe while it is spring, and enjoy the best anticipations. It is not much matter if things do not turn out well.
Under this modest title, I purpose to write a series of papers, some of which will be like many papers of garden-seeds, with nothing vital in them, on the subject of gardening; holding that no man has any right to keep valuable knowledge to himself, and hoping that those who come after me, except tax-gatherers and that sort of person, will find profit in the perusal of my experience. As my knowledge is constantly increasing, there is likely to be no end to these papers. They will pursue no orderly system of agriculture or horticulture, but range from topic to topic, according to the weather and the progress of the weeds, which may drive me from one corner of the garden to the other.
The principal value of a private garden is not understood. It is not to give the possessor vegetables or fruit (that can be better and cheaper done by the market-gardeners), but to teach him patience and philosophy and the higher virtues, hope deferred and expectations blighted, leading directly to resignation and sometimes to alienation. The garden thus becomes a moral agent, a test of character, as it was in the beginning. I shall keep this central truth in mind in these articles. I mean to have a moral garden, if it is not a productive one,—one that shall teach, O my brothers! O my sisters! the great lessons of life.
The first pleasant thing about a garden in this latitude is, that you never know when to set it going. If you want anything to come to maturity early, you must start it in a hot-house. If you put it out early, the chances are all in favor of getting it nipped with frost; for the thermometer will be 90 deg. one day, and go below 32 deg. the night of the day following. And, if you do not set out plants or sow seeds early, you fret continually; knowing that your vegetables will be late, and that, while Jones has early peas, you will be watching your slow-forming pods. This keeps you in a state of mind. When you have planted anything early, you are doubtful whether to desire to see it above ground, or not. If a hot day comes, you long to see the young plants; but, when a cold north wind brings frost, you tremble lest the seeds have burst their bands. Your spring is passed in anxious doubts and fears, which are usually realized; and so a great moral discipline is worked out for you.
Now, there is my corn, two or three inches high this 18th of May, and apparently having no fear of a frost. I was hoeing it this morning for the first time,—it is not well usually to hoe corn until about the 18th of May,—when Polly came out to look at the Lima beans. She seemed to think the poles had come up beautifully. I thought they did look well: they are a fine set of poles, large and well grown, and stand straight. They were inexpensive, too. The cheapness came about from my cutting them on another man's land, and he did not know it. I have not examined this transaction in the moral light of gardening; but I know people in this country take great liberties at the polls. Polly noticed that the beans had not themselves come up in any proper sense, but that the dirt had got off from them, leaving them uncovered. She thought it would be well to sprinkle a slight layer of dirt over them; and I, indulgently, consented. It occurred to me, when she had gone, that beans always come up that way,—wrong end first; and that what they wanted was light, and not dirt.
Observation.—Woman always did, from the first, make a muss in a garden.
I inherited with my garden a large patch of raspberries. Splendid berry the raspberry, when the strawberry has gone. This patch has grown into such a defiant attitude, that you could not get within several feet of it. Its stalks were enormous in size, and cast out long, prickly arms in all directions; but the bushes were pretty much all dead. I have walked into them a good deal with a pruning-knife; but it is very much like fighting original sin. The variety is one that I can recommend. I think it is called Brinckley's Orange. It is exceedingly prolific, and has enormous stalks. The fruit is also said to be good; but that does not matter so much, as the plant does not often bear in this region. The stalks seem to be biennial institutions; and as they get about their growth one year, and bear the next year, and then die, and the winters here nearly always kill them, unless you take them into the house (which is inconvenient if you have a family of small children), it is very difficult to induce the plant to flower and fruit. This is the greatest objection there is to this sort of raspberry. I think of keeping these for discipline, and setting out some others, more hardy sorts, for fruit.
Next to deciding when to start your garden, the most important matter is, what to put in it. It is difficult to decide what to order for dinner on a given day: how much more oppressive is it to order in a lump an endless vista of dinners, so to speak! For, unless your garden is a boundless prairie (and mine seems to me to be that when I hoe it on hot days), you must make a selection, from the great variety of vegetables, of those you will raise in it; and you feel rather bound to supply your own table from your own garden, and to eat only as you have sown.
I hold that no man has a right (whatever his sex, of course) to have a garden to his own selfish uses. He ought not to please himself, but every man to please his neighbor. I tried to have a garden that would give general moral satisfaction. It seemed to me that nobody could object to potatoes (a most useful vegetable); and I began to plant them freely. But there was a chorus of protest against them. "You don't want to take up your ground with potatoes," the neighbors said; "you can buy potatoes" (the very thing I wanted to avoid doing is buying things). "What you want is the perishable things that you cannot get fresh in the market."—"But what kind of perishable things?" A horticulturist of eminence wanted me to sow lines of straw-berries and raspberries right over where I had put my potatoes in drills. I had about five hundred strawberry-plants in another part of my garden; but this fruit-fanatic wanted me to turn my whole patch into vines and runners. I suppose I could raise strawberries enough for all my neighbors; and perhaps I ought to do it. I had a little space prepared for melons,—muskmelons,—which I showed to an experienced friend.
"You are not going to waste your ground on muskmelons?" he asked. "They rarely ripen in this climate thoroughly, before frost." He had tried for years without luck. I resolved to not go into such a foolish experiment. But, the next day, another neighbor happened in. "Ah! I see you are going to have melons. My family would rather give up anything else in the garden than musk-melons,—of the nutmeg variety. They are the most grateful things we have on the table." So there it was. There was no compromise: it was melons, or no melons, and somebody offended in any case. I half resolved to plant them a little late, so that they would, and they would n't. But I had the same difficulty about string-beans (which I detest), and squash (which I tolerate), and parsnips, and the whole round of green things.
I have pretty much come to the conclusion that you have got to put your foot down in gardening. If I had actually taken counsel of my friends, I should not have had a thing growing in the garden to-day but weeds. And besides, while you are waiting, Nature does not wait. Her mind is made up. She knows just what she will raise; and she has an infinite variety of early and late. The most humiliating thing to me about a garden is the lesson it teaches of the inferiority of man. Nature is prompt, decided, inexhaustible. She thrusts up her plants with a vigor and freedom that I admire; and the more worthless the plant, the more rapid and splendid its growth. She is at it early and late, and all night; never tiring, nor showing the least sign of exhaustion.
"Eternal gardening is the price of liberty," is a motto that I should put over the gateway of my garden, if I had a gate. And yet it is not wholly true; for there is no liberty in gardening. The man who undertakes a garden is relentlessly pursued. He felicitates himself that, when he gets it once planted, he will have a season of rest and of enjoyment in the sprouting and growing of his seeds. It is a green anticipation. He has planted a seed that will keep him awake nights; drive rest from his bones, and sleep from his pillow. Hardly is the garden planted, when he must begin to hoe it. The weeds have sprung up all over it in a night. They shine and wave in redundant life. The docks have almost gone to seed; and their roots go deeper than conscience. Talk about the London Docks!—the roots of these are like the sources of the Aryan race. And the weeds are not all. I awake in the morning (and a thriving garden will wake a person up two hours before he ought to be out of bed) and think of the tomato-plants,—the leaves like fine lace-work, owing to black bugs that skip around, and can't be caught. Somebody ought to get up before the dew is off (why don't the dew stay on till after a reasonable breakfast?) and sprinkle soot on the leaves. I wonder if it is I. Soot is so much blacker than the bugs, that they are disgusted, and go away. You can't get up too early, if you have a garden. You must be early due yourself, if you get ahead of the bugs. I think, that, on the whole, it would be best to sit up all night, and sleep daytimes. Things appear to go on in the night in the garden uncommonly. It would be less trouble to stay up than it is to get up so early.
I have been setting out some new raspberries, two sorts,—a silver and a gold color. How fine they will look on the table next year in a cut-glass dish, the cream being in a ditto pitcher! I set them four and five feet apart. I set my strawberries pretty well apart also. The reason is, to give room for the cows to run through when they break into the garden,—as they do sometimes. A cow needs a broader track than a locomotive; and she generally makes one. I am sometimes astonished, to see how big a space in, a flower-bed her foot will cover. The raspberries are called Doolittle and Golden Cap. I don't like the name of the first variety, and, if they do much, shall change it to Silver Top. You never can tell what a thing named Doolittle will do. The one in the Senate changed color, and got sour. They ripen badly,—either mildew, or rot on the bush. They are apt to Johnsonize,—rot on the stem. I shall watch the Doolittles.
I believe that I have found, if not original sin, at least vegetable total depravity in my garden; and it was there before I went into it. It is the bunch, or joint, or snakegrass,—whatever it is called. As I do not know the names of all the weeds and plants, I have to do as Adam did in his garden,—name things as I find them. This grass has a slender, beautiful stalk: and when you cut it down, or pull up a long root of it, you fancy it is got rid of; but in a day or two it will come up in the same spot in half a dozen vigorous blades. Cutting down and pulling up is what it thrives on. Extermination rather helps it. If you follow a slender white root, it will be found to run under the ground until it meets another slender white root; and you will soon unearth a network of them, with a knot somewhere, sending out dozens of sharp-pointed, healthy shoots, every joint prepared to be an independent life and plant. The only way to deal with it is to take one part hoe and two parts fingers, and carefully dig it out, not leaving a joint anywhere. It will take a little time, say all summer, to dig out thoroughly a small patch; but if you once dig it out, and keep it out, you will have no further trouble.
I have said it was total depravity. Here it is. If you attempt to pull up and root out any sin in you, which shows on the surface,—if it does not show, you do not care for it,—you may have noticed how it runs into an interior network of sins, and an ever-sprouting branch of them roots somewhere; and that you cannot pull out one without making a general internal disturbance, and rooting up your whole being. I suppose it is less trouble to quietly cut them off at the top—say once a week, on Sunday, when you put on your religious clothes and face so that no one will see them, and not try to eradicate the network within.
Remark.—This moral vegetable figure is at the service of any clergyman who will have the manliness to come forward and help me at a day's hoeing on my potatoes. None but the orthodox need apply.
I, however, believe in the intellectual, if not the moral, qualities of vegetables, and especially weeds. There was a worthless vine that (or who) started up about midway between a grape-trellis and a row of bean-poles, some three feet from each, but a little nearer the trellis. When it came out of the ground, it looked around to see what it should do. The trellis was already occupied. The bean-pole was empty. There was evidently a little the best chance of light, air, and sole proprietorship on the pole. And the vine started for the pole, and began to climb it with determination. Here was as distinct an act of choice, of reason, as a boy exercises when he goes into a forest, and, looking about, decides which tree he will climb. And, besides, how did the vine know enough to travel in exactly the right direction, three feet, to find what it wanted? This is intellect. The weeds, on the other hand, have hateful moral qualities. To cut down a weed is, therefore, to do a moral action. I feel as if I were destroying sin. My hoe becomes an instrument of retributive justice. I am an apostle of Nature. This view of the matter lends a dignity to the art of hoeing which nothing else does, and lifts it into the region of ethics. Hoeing becomes, not a pastime, but a duty. And you get to regard it so, as the days and the weeds lengthen.
Observation.—Nevertheless, what a man needs in gardening is a cast-iron back,—with a hinge in it. The hoe is an ingenious instrument, calculated to call out a great deal of strength at a great disadvantage.
The striped bug has come, the saddest of the year. He is a moral double-ender, iron-clad at that. He is unpleasant in two ways. He burrows in the ground so that you cannot find him, and he flies away so that you cannot catch him. He is rather handsome, as bugs go, but utterly dastardly, in that he gnaws the stem of the plant close to the ground, and ruins it without any apparent advantage to himself. I find him on the hills of cucumbers (perhaps it will be a cholera-year, and we shall not want any), the squashes (small loss), and the melons (which never ripen). The best way to deal with the striped bug is to sit down by the hills, and patiently watch for him. If you are spry, you can annoy him. This, however, takes time. It takes all day and part of the night. For he flieth in darkness, and wasteth at noonday. If you get up before the dew is off the plants, —it goes off very early,—you can sprinkle soot on the plant (soot is my panacea: if I can get the disease of a plant reduced to the necessity of soot, I am all right) and soot is unpleasant to the bug. But the best thing to do is to set a toad to catch the bugs. The toad at once establishes the most intimate relations with the bug. It is a pleasure to see such unity among the lower animals. The difficulty is to make the toad stay and watch the hill. If you know your toad, it is all right. If you do not, you must build a tight fence round the plants, which the toad cannot jump over. This, however, introduces a new element. I find that I have a zoological garden on my hands. It is an unexpected result of my little enterprise, which never aspired to the completeness of the Paris "Jardin des Plantes."
Orthodoxy is at a low ebb. Only two clergymen accepted my offer to come and help hoe my potatoes for the privilege of using my vegetable total-depravity figure about the snake-grass, or quack-grass as some call it; and those two did not bring hoes. There seems to be a lack of disposition to hoe among our educated clergy. I am bound to say that these two, however, sat and watched my vigorous combats with the weeds, and talked most beautifully about the application of the snake-grass figure. As, for instance, when a fault or sin showed on the surface of a man, whether, if you dug down, you would find that it ran back and into the original organic bunch of original sin within the man. The only other clergyman who came was from out of town,—a half Universalist, who said he wouldn't give twenty cents for my figure. He said that the snake-grass was not in my garden originally, that it sneaked in under the sod, and that it could be entirely rooted out with industry and patience. I asked the Universalist-inclined man to take my hoe and try it; but he said he had n't time, and went away.
But, jubilate, I have got my garden all hoed the first time! I feel as if I had put down the rebellion. Only there are guerrillas left here and there, about the borders and in corners, unsubdued,—Forrest docks, and Quantrell grass, and Beauregard pig-weeds. This first hoeing is a gigantic task: it is your first trial of strength with the never-sleeping forces of Nature. Several times, in its progress, I was tempted to do as Adam did, who abandoned his garden on account of the weeds. (How much my mind seems to run upon Adam, as if there had been only two really moral gardens,—Adam's and mine!) The only drawback to my rejoicing over the finishing of the first hoeing is, that the garden now wants hoeing the second time. I suppose, if my garden were planted in a perfect circle, and I started round it with a hoe, I should never see an opportunity to rest. The fact is, that gardening is the old fable of perpetual labor; and I, for one, can never forgive Adam Sisyphus, or whoever it was, who let in the roots of discord. I had pictured myself sitting at eve, with my family, in the shade of twilight, contemplating a garden hoed. Alas! it is a dream not to be realized in this world.
My mind has been turned to the subject of fruit and shade trees in a garden. There are those who say that trees shade the garden too much, and interfere with the growth of the vegetables. There may be something in this: but when I go down the potato rows, the rays of the sun glancing upon my shining blade, the sweat pouring from my face, I should be grateful for shade. What is a garden for? The pleasure of man. I should take much more pleasure in a shady garden. Am I to be sacrificed, broiled, roasted, for the sake of the increased vigor of a few vegetables? The thing is perfectly absurd. If I were rich, I think I would have my garden covered with an awning, so that it would be comfortable to work in it. It might roll up and be removable, as the great awning of the Roman Coliseum was, —not like the Boston one, which went off in a high wind. Another very good way to do, and probably not so expensive as the awning, would be to have four persons of foreign birth carry a sort of canopy over you as you hoed. And there might be a person at each end of the row with some cool and refreshing drink. Agriculture is still in a very barbarous stage. I hope to live yet to see the day when I can do my gardening, as tragedy is done, to slow and soothing music, and attended by some of the comforts I have named. These things come so forcibly into my mind sometimes as I work, that perhaps, when a wandering breeze lifts my straw hat, or a bird lights on a near currant-bush, and shakes out a full-throated summer song, I almost expect to find the cooling drink and the hospitable entertainment at the end of the row. But I never do. There is nothing to be done but to turn round, and hoe back to the other end.
Speaking of those yellow squash-bugs, I think I disheartened them by covering the plants so deep with soot and wood-ashes that they could not find them; and I am in doubt if I shall ever see the plants again. But I have heard of another defense against the bugs. Put a fine wire-screen over each hill, which will keep out the bugs and admit the rain. I should say that these screens would not cost much more than the melons you would be likely to get from the vines if you bought them; but then think of the moral satisfaction of watching the bugs hovering over the screen, seeing, but unable to reach the tender plants within. That is worth paying for.
I left my own garden yesterday, and went over to where Polly was getting the weeds out of one of her flower-beds. She was working away at the bed with a little hoe. Whether women ought to have the ballot or not (and I have a decided opinion on that point, which I should here plainly give, did I not fear that it would injure my agricultural influence), 'I am compelled to say that this was rather helpless hoeing. It was patient, conscientious, even pathetic hoeing; but it was neither effective nor finished. When completed, the bed looked somewhat as if a hen had scratched it: there was that touching unevenness about it. I think no one could look at it and not be affected. To be sure, Polly smoothed it off with a rake, and asked me if it was n't nice; and I said it was. It was not a favorable time for me to explain the difference between puttering hoeing, and the broad, free sweep of the instrument, which kills the weeds, spares the plants, and loosens the soil without leaving it in holes and hills. But, after all, as life is constituted, I think more of Polly's honest and anxious care of her plants than of the most finished gardening in the world.
I left my garden for a week, just at the close of the dry spell. A season of rain immediately set in, and when I returned the transformation was wonderful. In one week every vegetable had fairly jumped forward. The tomatoes which I left slender plants, eaten of bugs and debating whether they would go backward or forward, had become stout and lusty, with thick stems and dark leaves, and some of them had blossomed. The corn waved like that which grows so rank out of the French-English mixture at Waterloo. The squashes—I will not speak of the squashes. The most remarkable growth was the asparagus. There was not a spear above ground when I went away; and now it had sprung up, and gone to seed, and there were stalks higher than my head. I am entirely aware of the value of words, and of moral obligations. When I say that the asparagus had grown six feet in seven days, I expect and wish to be believed. I am a little particular about the statement; for, if there is any prize offered for asparagus at the next agricultural fair, I wish to compete, —speed to govern. What I claim is the fastest asparagus. As for eating purposes, I have seen better. A neighbor of mine, who looked in at the growth of the bed, said, "Well, he'd be ——-": but I told him there was no use of affirming now; he might keep his oath till I wanted it on the asparagus affidavit. In order to have this sort of asparagus, you want to manure heavily in the early spring, fork it in, and top-dress (that sounds technical) with a thick layer of chloride of sodium: if you cannot get that, common salt will do, and the neighbors will never notice whether it is the orthodox Na. Cl. 58-5, or not.
I scarcely dare trust myself to speak of the weeds. They grow as if the devil was in them. I know a lady, a member of the church, and a very good sort of woman, considering the subject condition of that class, who says that the weeds work on her to that extent, that, in going through her garden, she has the greatest difficulty in keeping the ten commandments in anything like an unfractured condition. I asked her which one, but she said, all of them: one felt like breaking the whole lot. The sort of weed which I most hate (if I can be said to hate anything which grows in my own garden) is the "pusley," a fat, ground-clinging, spreading, greasy thing, and the most propagatious (it is not my fault if the word is not in the dictionary) plant I know. I saw a Chinaman, who came over with a returned missionary, and pretended to be converted, boil a lot of it in a pot, stir in eggs, and mix and eat it with relish,—"Me likee he." It will be a good thing to keep the Chinamen on when they come to do our gardening. I only fear they will cultivate it at the expense of the strawberries and melons. Who can say that other weeds, which we despise, may not be the favorite food of some remote people or tribe? We ought to abate our conceit. It is possible that we destroy in our gardens that which is really of most value in some other place. Perhaps, in like manner, our faults and vices are virtues in some remote planet. I cannot see, however, that this thought is of the slightest value to us here, any more than weeds are.
There is another subject which is forced upon my notice. I like neighbors, and I like chickens; but I do not think they ought to be united near a garden. Neighbors' hens in your garden are an annoyance. Even if they did not scratch up the corn, and peck the strawberries, and eat the tomatoes, it is not pleasant to see them straddling about in their jerky, high-stepping, speculative manner, picking inquisitively here and there. It is of no use to tell the neighbor that his hens eat your tomatoes: it makes no impression on him, for the tomatoes are not his. The best way is to casually remark to him that he has a fine lot of chickens, pretty well grown, and that you like spring chickens broiled. He will take them away at once.
The neighbors' small children are also out of place in your garden, in strawberry and currant time. I hope I appreciate the value of children. We should soon come to nothing without them, though the Shakers have the best gardens in the world. Without them the common school would languish. But the problem is, what to do with them in a garden. For they are not good to eat, and there is a law against making away with them. The law is not very well enforced, it is true; for people do thin them out with constant dosing, paregoric, and soothing-syrups, and scanty clothing. But I, for one, feel that it would not be right, aside from the law, to take the life, even of the smallest child, for the sake of a little fruit, more or less, in the garden. I may be wrong; but these are my sentiments, and I am not ashamed of them. When we come, as Bryant says in his "Iliad," to leave the circus of this life, and join that innumerable caravan which moves, it will be some satisfaction to us, that we have never, in the way of gardening, disposed of even the humblest child unnecessarily. My plan would be to put them into Sunday-schools more thoroughly, and to give the Sunday-schools an agricultural turn; teaching the children the sacredness of neighbors' vegetables. I think that our Sunday-schools do not sufficiently impress upon children the danger, from snakes and otherwise, of going into the neighbors' gardens.
Somebody has sent me a new sort of hoe, with the wish that I should speak favorably of it, if I can consistently. I willingly do so, but with the understanding that I am to be at liberty to speak just as courteously of any other hoe which I may receive. If I understand religious morals, this is the position of the religious press with regard to bitters and wringing-machines. In some cases, the responsibility of such a recommendation is shifted upon the wife of the editor or clergy-man. Polly says she is entirely willing to make a certificate, accompanied with an affidavit, with regard to this hoe; but her habit of sitting about the garden walk, on an inverted flower-pot, while I hoe, some what destroys the practical value of her testimony.
As to this hoe, I do not mind saying that it has changed my view of the desirableness and value of human life. It has, in fact, made life a holiday to me. It is made on the principle that man is an upright, sensible, reasonable being, and not a groveling wretch. It does away with the necessity of the hinge in the back. The handle is seven and a half feet long. There are two narrow blades, sharp on both edges, which come together at an obtuse angle in front; and as you walk along with this hoe before you, pushing and pulling with a gentle motion, the weeds fall at every thrust and withdrawal, and the slaughter is immediate and widespread. When I got this hoe I was troubled with sleepless mornings, pains in the back, kleptomania with regard to new weeders; when I went into my garden I was always sure to see something. In this disordered state of mind and body I got this hoe. The morning after a day of using it I slept perfectly and late. I regained my respect for the eighth commandment. After two doses of the hoe in the garden, the weeds entirely disappeared. Trying it a third morning, I was obliged to throw it over the fence in order to save from destruction the green things that ought to grow in the garden. Of course, this is figurative language. What I mean is, that the fascination of using this hoe is such that you are sorely tempted to employ it upon your vegetables, after the weeds are laid low, and must hastily withdraw it, to avoid unpleasant results. I make this explanation, because I intend to put nothing into these agricultural papers that will not bear the strictest scientific investigation; nothing that the youngest child cannot understand and cry for; nothing that the oldest and wisest men will not need to study with care.
I need not add that the care of a garden with this hoe becomes the merest pastime. I would not be without one for a single night. The only danger is, that you may rather make an idol of the hoe, and somewhat neglect your garden in explaining it, and fooling about with it. I almost think that, with one of these in the hands of an ordinary day-laborer, you might see at night where he had been working.
Let us have peas. I have been a zealous advocate of the birds. I have rejoiced in their multiplication. I have endured their concerts at four o'clock in the morning without a murmur. Let them come, I said, and eat the worms, in order that we, later, may enjoy the foliage and the fruits of the earth. We have a cat, a magnificent animal, of the sex which votes (but not a pole-cat),—so large and powerful that, if he were in the army, he would be called Long Tom. He is a cat of fine disposition, the most irreproachable morals I ever saw thrown away in a cat, and a splendid hunter. He spends his nights, not in social dissipation, but in gathering in rats, mice, flying-squirrels, and also birds. When he first brought me a bird, I told him that it was wrong, and tried to convince him, while he was eating it, that he was doing wrong; for he is a reasonable cat, and understands pretty much everything except the binomial theorem and the time down the cycloidal arc. But with no effect. The killing of birds went on, to my great regret and shame.
The other day I went to my garden to get a mess of peas. I had seen, the day before, that they were just ready to pick. How I had lined the ground, planted, hoed, bushed them! The bushes were very fine, —seven feet high, and of good wood. How I had delighted in the growing, the blowing, the podding! What a touching thought it was that they had all podded for me! When I went to pick them, I found the pods all split open, and the peas gone. The dear little birds, who are so fond of the strawberries, had eaten them all. Perhaps there were left as many as I planted: I did not count them. I made a rapid estimate of the cost of the seed, the interest of the ground, the price of labor, the value of the bushes, the anxiety of weeks of watchfulness. I looked about me on the face of Nature. The wind blew from the south so soft and treacherous! A thrush sang in the woods so deceitfully! All Nature seemed fair. But who was to give me back my peas? The fowls of the air have peas; but what has man?
I went into the house. I called Calvin. (That is the name of our cat, given him on account of his gravity, morality, and uprightness. We never familiarly call him John). I petted Calvin. I lavished upon him an enthusiastic fondness. I told him that he had no fault; that the one action that I had called a vice was an heroic exhibition of regard for my interests. I bade him go and do likewise continually. I now saw how much better instinct is than mere unguided reason. Calvin knew. If he had put his opinion into English (instead of his native catalogue), it would have been: "You need not teach your grandmother to suck eggs." It was only the round of Nature. The worms eat a noxious something in the ground. The birds eat the worms. Calvin eats the birds. We eat—no, we do not eat Calvin. There the chain stops. When you ascend the scale of being, and come to an animal that is, like ourselves, inedible, you have arrived at a result where you can rest. Let us respect the cat. He completes an edible chain.
I have little heart to discuss methods of raising peas. It occurs to me that I can have an iron peabush, a sort of trellis, through which I could discharge electricity at frequent intervals, and electrify the birds to death when they alight: for they stand upon my beautiful brush in order to pick out the peas. An apparatus of this kind, with an operator, would cost, however, about as much as the peas. A neighbor suggests that I might put up a scarecrow near the vines, which would keep the birds away. I am doubtful about it: the birds are too much accustomed to seeing a person in poor clothes in the garden to care much for that. Another neighbor suggests that the birds do not open the pods; that a sort of blast, apt to come after rain, splits the pods, and the birds then eat the peas. It may be so. There seems to be complete unity of action between the blast and the birds. But, good neighbors, kind friends, I desire that you will not increase, by talk, a disappointment which you cannot assuage.
A garden is an awful responsibility. You never know what you may be aiding to grow in it. I heard a sermon, not long ago, in which the preacher said that the Christian, at the moment of his becoming one, was as perfect a Christian as he would be if he grew to be an archangel; that is, that he would not change thereafter at all, but only develop. I do not know whether this is good theology, or not; and I hesitate to support it by an illustration from my garden, especially as I do not want to run the risk of propagating error, and I do not care to give away these theological comparisons to clergymen who make me so little return in the way of labor. But I find, in dissecting a pea-blossom, that hidden in the center of it is a perfect miniature pea-pod, with the peas all in it,—as perfect a pea-pod as it will ever be, only it is as tiny as a chatelaine ornament. Maize and some other things show the same precocity. This confirmation of the theologic theory is startling, and sets me meditating upon the moral possibilities of my garden. I may find in it yet the cosmic egg.
And, speaking of moral things, I am half determined to petition the Ecumenical Council to issue a bull of excommunication against "pusley." Of all the forms which "error" has taken in this world, I think that is about the worst. In the Middle Ages the monks in St. Bernard's ascetic community at Clairvaux excommunicated a vineyard which a less rigid monk had planted near, so that it bore nothing. In 1120 a bishop of Laon excommunicated the caterpillars in his diocese; and, the following year, St. Bernard excommunicated the flies in the Monastery of Foigny; and in 1510 the ecclesiastical court pronounced the dread sentence against the rats of Autun, Macon, and Lyons. These examples are sufficient precedents. It will be well for the council, however, not to publish the bull either just before or just after a rain; for nothing can kill this pestilent heresy when the ground is wet.
It is the time of festivals. Polly says we ought to have one,—a strawberry-festival. She says they are perfectly delightful: it is so nice to get people together!—this hot weather. They create such a good feeling! I myself am very fond of festivals. I always go, —when I can consistently. Besides the strawberries, there are ice creams and cake and lemonade, and that sort of thing: and one always feels so well the next day after such a diet! But as social reunions, if there are good things to eat, nothing can be pleasanter; and they are very profitable, if you have a good object. I agreed that we ought to have a festival; but I did not know what object to devote it to. We are not in need of an organ, nor of any pulpit-cushions. I do not know that they use pulpit-cushions now as much as they used to, when preachers had to have something soft to pound, so that they would not hurt their fists. I suggested pocket handkerchiefs, and flannels for next winter. But Polly says that will not do at all. You must have some charitable object,—something that appeals to a vast sense of something; something that it will be right to get up lotteries and that sort of thing for. I suggest a festival for the benefit of my garden; and this seems feasible. In order to make everything pass off pleasantly, invited guests will bring or send their own strawberries and cream, which I shall be happy to sell to them at a slight advance. There are a great many improvements which the garden needs; among them a sounding-board, so that the neighbors' children can hear when I tell them to get a little farther off from the currant-bushes. I should also like a selection from the ten commandments, in big letters, posted up conspicuously, and a few traps, that will detain, but not maim, for the benefit of those who cannot read. But what is most important is, that the ladies should crochet nets to cover over the strawberries. A good-sized, well-managed festival ought to produce nets enough to cover my entire beds; and I can think of no other method of preserving the berries from the birds next year. I wonder how many strawberries it would need for a festival and whether they would cost more than the nets.
I am more and more impressed, as the summer goes on, with the inequality of man's fight with Nature; especially in a civilized state. In savagery, it does not much matter; for one does not take a square hold, and put out his strength, but rather accommodates himself to the situation, and takes what he can get, without raising any dust, or putting himself into everlasting opposition. But the minute he begins to clear a spot larger than he needs to sleep in for a night, and to try to have his own way in the least, Nature is at once up, and vigilant, and contests him at every step with all her ingenuity and unwearied vigor. This talk of subduing Nature is pretty much nonsense. I do not intend to surrender in the midst of the summer campaign, yet I cannot but think how much more peaceful my relations would now be with the primal forces, if I had, let Nature make the garden according to her own notion. (This is written with the thermometer at ninety degrees, and the weeds starting up with a freshness and vigor, as if they had just thought of it for the first time, and had not been cut down and dragged out every other day since the snow went off.)
We have got down the forests, and exterminated savage beasts; but Nature is no more subdued than before: she only changes her tactics, —uses smaller guns, so to speak. She reenforces herself with a variety of bugs, worms, and vermin, and weeds, unknown to the savage state, in order to make war upon the things of our planting; and calls in the fowls of the air, just as we think the battle is won, to snatch away the booty. When one gets almost weary of the struggle, she is as fresh as at the beginning,—just, in fact, ready for the fray. I, for my part, begin to appreciate the value of frost and snow; for they give the husbandman a little peace, and enable him, for a season, to contemplate his incessant foe subdued. I do not wonder that the tropical people, where Nature never goes to sleep, give it up, and sit in lazy acquiescence.
Here I have been working all the season to make a piece of lawn. It had to be graded and sowed and rolled; and I have been shaving it like a barber. When it was soft, everything had a tendency to go on to it,—cows, and especially wandering hackmen. Hackmen (who are a product of civilization) know a lawn when they see it. They rather have a fancy for it, and always try to drive so as to cut the sharp borders of it, and leave the marks of their wheels in deep ruts of cut-up, ruined turf. The other morning, I had just been running the mower over the lawn, and stood regarding its smoothness, when I noticed one, two, three puffs of fresh earth in it; and, hastening thither, I found that the mole had arrived to complete the work of the hackmen. In a half-hour he had rooted up the ground like a pig. I found his run-ways. I waited for him with a spade. He did not appear; but, the next time I passed by, he had ridged the ground in all directions,—a smooth, beautiful animal, with fur like silk, if you could only catch him. He appears to enjoy the lawn as much as the hackmen did. He does not care how smooth it is. He is constantly mining, and ridging it up. I am not sure but he could be countermined. I have half a mind to put powder in here and there, and blow the whole thing into the air. Some folks set traps for the mole; but my moles never seem to go twice in the same place. I am not sure but it would bother them to sow the lawn with interlacing snake-grass (the botanical name of which, somebody writes me, is devil-grass: the first time I have heard that the Devil has a botanical name), which would worry them, if it is as difficult for them to get through it as it is for me.
I do not speak of this mole in any tone of complaint. He is only a part of the untiring resources which Nature brings against the humble gardener. I desire to write nothing against him which I should wish to recall at the last,—nothing foreign to the spirit of that beautiful saying of the dying boy, "He had no copy-book, which, dying, he was sorry he had blotted."
My garden has been visited by a High Official Person. President Gr-nt was here just before the Fourth, getting his mind quiet for that event by a few days of retirement, staying with a friend at the head of our street; and I asked him if he wouldn't like to come down our way Sunday afternoon and take a plain, simple look at my garden, eat a little lemon ice-cream and jelly-cake, and drink a glass of native lager-beer. I thought of putting up over my gate, "Welcome to the Nation's Gardener;" but I hate nonsense, and did n't do it. I, however, hoed diligently on Saturday: what weeds I could n't remove I buried, so that everything would look all right. The borders of my drive were trimmed with scissors; and everything that could offend the Eye of the Great was hustled out of the way.
In relating this interview, it must be distinctly understood that I am not responsible for anything that the President said; nor is he, either. He is not a great speaker; but whatever he says has an esoteric and an exoteric meaning; and some of his remarks about my vegetables went very deep. I said nothing to him whatever about politics, at which he seemed a good deal surprised: he said it was the first garden he had ever been in, with a man, when the talk was not of appointments. I told him that this was purely vegetable; after which he seemed more at his ease, and, in fact, delighted with everything he saw. He was much interested in my strawberry-beds, asked what varieties I had, and requested me to send him some seed. He said the patent-office seed was as difficult to raise as an appropriation for the St. Domingo business. The playful bean seemed also to please him; and he said he had never seen such impressive corn and potatoes at this time of year; that it was to him an unexpected pleasure, and one of the choicest memories that he should take away with him of his visit to New England.
N. B.—That corn and those potatoes which General Gr-nt looked at I will sell for seed, at five dollars an ear, and one dollar a potato. Office-seekers need not apply.
Knowing the President's great desire for peas, I kept him from that part of the garden where the vines grow. But they could not be concealed. Those who say that the President is not a man easily moved are knaves or fools. When he saw my pea-pods, ravaged by the birds, he burst into tears. A man of war, he knows the value of peas. I told him they were an excellent sort, "The Champion of England." As quick as a flash he said, "Why don't you call them 'The Reverdy Johnson'?"
It was a very clever bon-mot; but I changed the subject.
The sight of my squashes, with stalks as big as speaking-trumpets, restored the President to his usual spirits. He said the summer squash was the most ludicrous vegetable he knew. It was nearly all leaf and blow, with only a sickly, crook-necked fruit after a mighty fuss. It reminded him of the member of Congress from...; but I hastened to change the subject.
As we walked along, the keen eye of the President rested upon some handsome sprays of "pusley," which must have grown up since Saturday night. It was most fortunate; for it led his Excellency to speak of the Chinese problem. He said he had been struck with one, coupling of the Chinese and the "pusley" in one of my agricultural papers; and it had a significance more far-reaching than I had probably supposed. He had made the Chinese problem a special study. He said that I was right in saying that "pusley" was the natural food of the Chinaman, and that where the "pusley" was, there would the Chinaman be also. For his part, he welcomed the Chinese emigration: we needed the Chinaman in our gardens to eat the "pusley;" and he thought the whole problem solved by this simple consideration. To get rid of rats and "pusley," he said, was a necessity of our civilization. He did not care so much about the shoe-business; he did not think that the little Chinese shoes that he had seen would be of service in the army: but the garden-interest was quite another affair. We want to make a garden of our whole country: the hoe, in the hands of a man truly great, he was pleased to say, was mightier than the pen. He presumed that General B-tl-r had never taken into consideration the garden-question, or he would not assume the position he does with regard to the Chinese emigration. He would let the Chinese come, even if B-tl-r had to leave, I thought he was going to say, but I changed the subject.
During our entire garden interview (operatically speaking, the garden-scene), the President was not smoking. I do not know how the impression arose that he "uses tobacco in any form;" for I have seen him several times, and he was not smoking. Indeed, I offered him a Connecticut six; but he wittily said that he did not like a weed in a garden,—a remark which I took to have a personal political bearing, and changed the subject.
The President was a good deal surprised at the method and fine appearance of my garden, and to learn that I had the sole care of it. He asked me if I pursued an original course, or whether I got my ideas from writers on the subject. I told him that I had had no time to read anything on the subject since I began to hoe, except "Lothair," from which I got my ideas of landscape gardening; and that I had worked the garden entirely according to my own notions, except that I had borne in mind his injunction, "to fight it out on this line if"—The President stopped me abruptly, and said it was unnecessary to repeat that remark: he thought he had heard it before. Indeed, he deeply regretted that he had ever made it. Sometimes, he said, after hearing it in speeches, and coming across it in resolutions, and reading it in newspapers, and having it dropped jocularly by facetious politicians, who were boring him for an office, about twenty-five times a day, say for a month, it would get to running through his head, like the "shoo-fly" song which B-tl-r sings in the House, until it did seem as if he should go distracted. He said, no man could stand that kind of sentence hammering on his brain for years.
The President was so much pleased with my management of the garden, that he offered me (at least, I so understood him) the position of head gardener at the White House, to have care of the exotics. I told him that I thanked him, but that I did not desire any foreign appointment. I had resolved, when the administration came in, not to take an appointment; and I had kept my resolution. As to any home office, I was poor, but honest; and, of course, it would be useless for me to take one. The President mused a moment, and then smiled, and said he would see what could be done for me. I did not change the subject; but nothing further was said by General Gr-nt.
The President is a great talker (contrary to the general impression); but I think he appreciated his quiet hour in my garden. He said it carried him back to his youth farther than anything he had seen lately. He looked forward with delight to the time when he could again have his private garden, grow his own lettuce and tomatoes, and not have to get so much "sarce" from Congress.
The chair in which the President sat, while declining to take a glass of lager I have had destroyed, in order that no one may sit in it. It was the only way to save it, if I may so speak. It would have been impossible to keep it from use by any precautions. There are people who would have sat in it, if the seat had been set with iron spikes. Such is the adoration of Station.
I am more and more impressed with the moral qualities of vegetables, and contemplate forming a science which shall rank with comparative anatomy and comparative philology,—the science of comparative vegetable morality. We live in an age of protoplasm. And, if life-matter is essentially the same in all forms of life, I purpose to begin early, and ascertain the nature of the plants for which I am responsible. I will not associate with any vegetable which is disreputable, or has not some quality that can contribute to my moral growth. I do not care to be seen much with the squashes or the dead-beets. Fortunately I can cut down any sorts I do not like with the hoe, and, probably, commit no more sin in so doing than the Christians did in hewing down the Jews in the Middle Ages.
This matter of vegetable rank has not been at all studied as it should be. Why do we respect some vegetables and despise others, when all of them come to an equal honor or ignominy on the table? The bean is a graceful, confiding, engaging vine; but you never can put beans into poetry, nor into the highest sort of prose. There is no dignity in the bean. Corn, which, in my garden, grows alongside the bean, and, so far as I can see, with no affectation of superiority, is, however, the child of song. It waves in all literature. But mix it with beans, and its high tone is gone. Succotash is vulgar. It is the bean in it. The bean is a vulgar vegetable, without culture, or any flavor of high society among vegetables. Then there is the cool cucumber, like so many people, good for nothing when it is ripe and the wildness has gone out of it. How inferior in quality it is to the melon, which grows upon a similar vine, is of a like watery consistency, but is not half so valuable! The cucumber is a sort of low comedian in a company where the melon is a minor gentleman. I might also contrast the celery with the potato. The associations are as opposite as the dining-room of the duchess and the cabin of the peasant. I admire the potato, both in vine and blossom; but it is not aristocratic. I began digging my potatoes, by the way, about the 4th of July; and I fancy I have discovered the right way to do it. I treat the potato just as I would a cow. I do not pull them up, and shake them out, and destroy them; but I dig carefully at the side of the hill, remove the fruit which is grown, leaving the vine undisturbed: and my theory is, that it will go on bearing, and submitting to my exactions, until the frost cuts it down. It is a game that one would not undertake with a vegetable of tone.
The lettuce is to me a most interesting study. Lettuce is like conversation: it must be fresh and crisp, so sparkling that you scarcely notice the bitter in it. Lettuce, like most talkers, is, however, apt to run rapidly to seed. Blessed is that sort which comes to a head, and so remains, like a few people I know; growing more solid and satisfactory and tender at the same time, and whiter at the center, and crisp in their maturity. Lettuce, like conversation, requires a good deal of oil to avoid friction, and keep the company smooth; a pinch of attic salt; a dash of pepper; a quantity of mustard and vinegar, by all means, but so mixed that you will notice no sharp contrasts; and a trifle of sugar. You can put anything, and the more things the better, into salad, as into a conversation; but everything depends upon the skill of mixing. I feel that I am in the best society when I am with lettuce. It is in the select circle of vegetables. The tomato appears well on the table; but you do not want to ask its origin. It is a most agreeable parvenu. Of course, I have said nothing about the berries. They live in another and more ideal region; except, perhaps, the currant. Here we see, that, even among berries, there are degrees of breeding. The currant is well enough, clear as truth, and exquisite in color; but I ask you to notice how far it is from the exclusive hauteur of the aristocratic strawberry, and the native refinement of the quietly elegant raspberry.
I do not know that chemistry, searching for protoplasm, is able to discover the tendency of vegetables. It can only be found out by outward observation. I confess that I am suspicious of the bean, for instance. There are signs in it of an unregulated life. I put up the most attractive sort of poles for my Limas. They stand high and straight, like church-spires, in my theological garden,—lifted up; and some of them have even budded, like Aaron's rod. No church-steeple in a New England village was ever better fitted to draw to it the rising generation on Sunday, than those poles to lift up my beans towards heaven. Some of them did run up the sticks seven feet, and then straggled off into the air in a wanton manner; but more than half of them went gallivanting off to the neighboring grape-trellis, and wound their tendrils with the tendrils of the grape, with a disregard of the proprieties of life which is a satire upon human nature. And the grape is morally no better. I think the ancients, who were not troubled with the recondite mystery of protoplasm, were right in the mythic union of Bacchus and Venus.
Talk about the Darwinian theory of development, and the principle of natural selection! I should like to see a garden let to run in accordance with it. If I had left my vegetables and weeds to a free fight, in which the strongest specimens only should come to maturity, and the weaker go to the wall, I can clearly see that I should have had a pretty mess of it. It would have been a scene of passion and license and brutality. The "pusley" would have strangled the strawberry; the upright corn, which has now ears to hear the guilty beating of the hearts of the children who steal the raspberries, would have been dragged to the earth by the wandering bean; the snake-grass would have left no place for the potatoes under ground; and the tomatoes would have been swamped by the lusty weeds. With a firm hand, I have had to make my own "natural selection." Nothing will so well bear watching as a garden, except a family of children next door. Their power of selection beats mine. If they could read half as well as they can steal awhile away, I should put up a notice, "Children, beware! There is Protoplasm here." But I suppose it would have no effect. I believe they would eat protoplasm as quick as anything else, ripe or green. I wonder if this is going to be a cholera-year. Considerable cholera is the only thing that would let my apples and pears ripen. Of course I do not care for the fruit; but I do not want to take the responsibility of letting so much "life-matter," full of crude and even wicked vegetable-human tendencies, pass into the composition of the neighbors' children, some of whom may be as immortal as snake-grass. There ought to be a public meeting about this, and resolutions, and perhaps a clambake. At least, it ought to be put into the catechism, and put in strong.
I think I have discovered the way to keep peas from the birds. I tried the scarecrow plan, in a way which I thought would outwit the shrewdest bird. The brain of the bird is not large; but it is all concentrated on one object, and that is the attempt to elude the devices of modern civilization which injure his chances of food. I knew that, if I put up a complete stuffed man, the bird would detect the imitation at once: the perfection of the thing would show him that it was a trick. People always overdo the matter when they attempt deception. I therefore hung some loose garments, of a bright color, upon a rake-head, and set them up among the vines. The supposition was, that the bird would think there was an effort to trap him, that there was a man behind, holding up these garments, and would sing, as he kept at a distance, "You can't catch me with any such double device." The bird would know, or think he knew, that I would not hang up such a scare, in the expectation that it would pass for a man, and deceive a bird; and he would therefore look for a deeper plot. I expected to outwit the bird by a duplicity that was simplicity itself I may have over-calculated the sagacity and reasoning power of the bird. At any rate, I did over-calculate the amount of peas I should gather.
But my game was only half played. In another part of the garden were other peas, growing and blowing. To-these I took good care not to attract the attention of the bird by any scarecrow whatever! I left the old scarecrow conspicuously flaunting above the old vines; and by this means I hope to keep the attention of the birds confined to that side of the garden. I am convinced that this is the true use of a scarecrow: it is a lure, and not a warning. If you wish to save men from any particular vice, set up a tremendous cry of warning about some other; and they will all give their special efforts to the one to which attention is called. This profound truth is about the only thing I have yet realized out of my pea-vines.
However, the garden does begin to yield. I know of nothing that makes one feel more complacent, in these July days, than to have his vegetables from his own garden. What an effect it has on the market-man and the butcher! It is a kind of declaration of independence. The market-man shows me his peas and beets and tomatoes, and supposes he shall send me out some with the meat. "No, I thank you," I say carelessly; "I am raising my own this year." Whereas I have been wont to remark, "Your vegetables look a little wilted this weather," I now say, "What a fine lot of vegetables you've got!" When a man is not going to buy, he can afford to be generous. To raise his own vegetables makes a person feel, somehow, more liberal. I think the butcher is touched by the influence, and cuts off a better roast for me, The butcher is my friend when he sees that I am not wholly dependent on him.
It is at home, however, that the effect is most marked, though sometimes in a way that I had not expected. I have never read of any Roman supper that seemed to me equal to a dinner of my own vegetables; when everything on the table is the product of my own labor, except the clams, which I have not been able to raise yet, and the chickens, which have withdrawn from the garden just when they were most attractive. It is strange what a taste you suddenly have for things you never liked before. The squash has always been to me a dish of contempt; but I eat it now as if it were my best friend. I never cared for the beet or the bean; but I fancy now that I could eat them all, tops and all, so completely have they been transformed by the soil in which they grew. I think the squash is less squashy, and the beet has a deeper hue of rose, for my care of them.
I had begun to nurse a good deal of pride in presiding over a table whereon was the fruit of my honest industry. But woman!—John Stuart Mill is right when he says that we do not know anything about women. Six thousand years is as one day with them. I thought I had something to do with those vegetables. But when I saw Polly seated at her side of the table, presiding over the new and susceptible vegetables, flanked by the squash and the beans, and smiling upon the green corn and the new potatoes, as cool as the cucumbers which lay sliced in ice before her, and when she began to dispense the fresh dishes, I saw at once that the day of my destiny was over. You would have thought that she owned all the vegetables, and had raised them all from their earliest years. Such quiet, vegetable airs! Such gracious appropriation! At length I said,—
"Polly, do you know who planted that squash, or those squashes?"
"James, I suppose."
"Well, yes, perhaps James did plant them, to a certain extent. But who hoed them?"
"We did!" I said, in the most sarcastic manner.
And I suppose we put on the sackcloth and ashes, when the striped bug came at four o'clock A.M., and we watched the tender leaves, and watered night and morning the feeble plants. "I tell you, Polly," said I, uncorking the Bordeaux raspberry vinegar, "there is not a pea here that does not represent a drop of moisture wrung from my brow, not a beet that does not stand for a back-ache, not a squash that has not caused me untold anxiety; and I did hope—but I will say no more."
Observation.—In this sort of family discussion, "I will say no more" is the most effective thing you can close up with.
I am not an alarmist. I hope I am as cool as anybody this hot summer. But I am quite ready to say to Polly, or any other woman, "You can have the ballot; only leave me the vegetables, or, what is more important, the consciousness of power in vegetables." I see how it is. Woman is now supreme in the house. She already stretches out her hand to grasp the garden. She will gradually control everything. Woman is one of the ablest and most cunning creatures who have ever mingled in human affairs. I understand those women who say they don't want the ballot. They purpose to hold the real power while we go through the mockery of making laws. They want the power without the responsibility. (Suppose my squash had not come up, or my beans —as they threatened at one time—had gone the wrong way: where would I have been?) We are to be held to all the responsibilities. Woman takes the lead in all the departments, leaving us politics only. And what is politics? Let me raise the vegetables of a nation, says Polly, and I care not who makes its politics. Here I sat at the table, armed with the ballot, but really powerless among my own vegetables. While we are being amused by the ballot, woman is quietly taking things into her own hands.
Perhaps, after all, it is not what you get out of a garden, but what you put into it, that is the most remunerative. What is a man? A question frequently asked, and never, so far as I know, satisfactorily answered. He commonly spends his seventy years, if so many are given him, in getting ready to enjoy himself. How many hours, how many minutes, does one get of that pure content which is happiness? I do not mean laziness, which is always discontent; but that serene enjoyment, in which all the natural senses have easy play, and the unnatural ones have a holiday. There is probably nothing that has such a tranquilizing effect, and leads into such content as gardening. By gardening, I do not mean that insane desire to raise vegetables which some have; but the philosophical occupation of contact with the earth, and companionship with gently growing things and patient processes; that exercise which soothes the spirit, and develops the deltoid muscles.
In half an hour I can hoe myself right away from this world, as we commonly see it, into a large place, where there are no obstacles. What an occupation it is for thought! The mind broods like a hen on eggs. The trouble is, that you are not thinking about anything, but are really vegetating like the plants around you. I begin to know what the joy of the grape-vine is in running up the trellis, which is similar to that of the squirrel in running up a tree. We all have something in our nature that requires contact with the earth. In the solitude of garden-labor, one gets into a sort of communion with the vegetable life, which makes the old mythology possible. For instance, I can believe that the dryads are plenty this summer: my garden is like an ash-heap. Almost all the moisture it has had in weeks has been the sweat of honest industry.
The pleasure of gardening in these days, when the thermometer is at ninety, is one that I fear I shall not be able to make intelligible to my readers, many of whom do not appreciate the delight of soaking in the sunshine. I suppose that the sun, going through a man, as it will on such a day, takes out of him rheumatism, consumption, and every other disease, except sudden death—from sun-stroke. But, aside from this, there is an odor from the evergreens, the hedges, the various plants and vines, that is only expressed and set afloat at a high temperature, which is delicious; and, hot as it may be, a little breeze will come at intervals, which can be heard in the treetops, and which is an unobtrusive benediction. I hear a quail or two whistling in the ravine; and there is a good deal of fragmentary conversation going on among the birds, even on the warmest days. The companionship of Calvin, also, counts for a good deal. He usually attends me, unless I work too long in one place; sitting down on the turf, displaying the ermine of his breast, and watching my movements with great intelligence. He has a feline and genuine love for the beauties of Nature, and will establish himself where there is a good view, and look on it for hours. He always accompanies us when we go to gather the vegetables, seeming to be desirous to know what we are to have for dinner. He is a connoisseur in the garden; being fond of almost all the vegetables, except the cucumber,—a dietetic hint to man. I believe it is also said that the pig will not eat tobacco. These are important facts. It is singular, however, that those who hold up the pigs as models to us never hold us up as models to the pigs.
I wish I knew as much about natural history and the habits of animals as Calvin does. He is the closest observer I ever saw; and there are few species of animals on the place that he has not analyzed. I think he has, to use a euphemism very applicable to him, got outside of every one of them, except the toad. To the toad he is entirely indifferent; but I presume he knows that the toad is the most useful animal in the garden. I think the Agricultural Society ought to offer a prize for the finest toad. When Polly comes to sit in the shade near my strawberry-beds, to shell peas, Calvin is always lying near in apparent obliviousness; but not the slightest unusual sound can be made in the bushes, that he is not alert, and prepared to investigate the cause of it. It is this habit of observation, so cultivated, which has given him such a trained mind, and made him so philosophical. It is within the capacity of even the humblest of us to attain this.
And, speaking of the philosophical temper, there is no class of men whose society is more to be desired for this quality than that of plumbers. They are the most agreeable men I know; and the boys in the business begin to be agreeable very early. I suspect the secret of it is, that they are agreeable by the hour. In the driest days, my fountain became disabled: the pipe was stopped up. A couple of plumbers, with the implements of their craft, came out to view the situation. There was a good deal of difference of opinion about where the stoppage was. I found the plumbers perfectly willing to sit down and talk about it,—talk by the hour. Some of their guesses and remarks were exceedingly ingenious; and their general observations on other subjects were excellent in their way, and could hardly have been better if they had been made by the job. The work dragged a little, as it is apt to do by the hour. The plumbers had occasion to make me several visits. Sometimes they would find, upon arrival, that they had forgotten some indispensable tool; and one would go back to the shop, a mile and a half, after it; and his comrade would await his return with the most exemplary patience, and sit down and talk,—always by the hour. I do not know but it is a habit to have something wanted at the shop. They seemed to me very good workmen, and always willing to stop and talk about the job, or anything else, when I went near them. Nor had they any of that impetuous hurry that is said to be the bane of our American civilization. To their credit be it said, that I never observed anything of it in them. They can afford to wait. Two of them will sometimes wait nearly half a day while a comrade goes for a tool. They are patient and philosophical. It is a great pleasure to meet such men. One only wishes there was some work he could do for them by the hour. There ought to be reciprocity. I think they have very nearly solved the problem of Life: it is to work for other people, never for yourself, and get your pay by the hour. You then have no anxiety, and little work. If you do things by the job, you are perpetually driven: the hours are scourges. If you work by the hour, you gently sail on the stream of Time, which is always bearing you on to the haven of Pay, whether you make any effort, or not. Working by the hour tends to make one moral. A plumber working by the job, trying to unscrew a rusty, refractory nut, in a cramped position, where the tongs continually slipped off, would swear; but I never heard one of them swear, or exhibit the least impatience at such a vexation, working by the hour. Nothing can move a man who is paid by the hour. How sweet the flight of time seems to his calm mind!
Mr. Horace Greeley, the introduction of whose name confers an honor upon this page (although I ought to say that it is used entirely without his consent), is my sole authority in agriculture. In politics I do not dare to follow him; but in agriculture he is irresistible. When, therefore, I find him advising Western farmers not to hill up their corn, I think that his advice must be political. You must hill up your corn. People always have hilled up their corn. It would take a constitutional amendment to change the practice, that has pertained ever since maize was raised. "It will stand the drought better," says Mr. Greeley, "if the ground is left level." I have corn in my garden, ten and twelve feet high, strong and lusty, standing the drought like a grenadier; and it is hilled. In advising this radical change, Mr. Greeley evidently has a political purpose. He might just as well say that you should not hill beans, when everybody knows that a "hill of beans" is one of the most expressive symbols of disparagement. When I become too lazy to hill my corn, I, too, shall go into politics.
I am satisfied that it is useless to try to cultivate "pusley." I set a little of it one side, and gave it some extra care. It did not thrive as well as that which I was fighting. The fact is, there is a spirit of moral perversity in the plant, which makes it grow the more, the more it is interfered with. I am satisfied of that. I doubt if any one has raised more "pusley" this year than I have; and my warfare with it has been continual. Neither of us has slept much. If you combat it, it will grow, to use an expression that will be understood by many, like the devil. I have a neighbor, a good Christian man, benevolent, and a person of good judgment. He planted next to me an acre of turnips recently. A few days after, he went to look at his crop; and he found the entire ground covered with a thick and luxurious carpet of "pusley," with a turnip-top worked in here and there as an ornament. I have seldom seen so thrifty a field. I advised my neighbor next time to sow "pusley" and then he might get a few turnips. I wish there was more demand in our city markets for "pusley" as a salad. I can recommend it.
It does not take a great man to soon discover that, in raising anything, the greater part of the plants goes into stalk and leaf, and the fruit is a most inconsiderable portion. I plant and hoe a hill of corn: it grows green and stout, and waves its broad leaves high in the air, and is months in perfecting itself, and then yields us not enough for a dinner. It grows because it delights to do so, —to take the juices out of my ground, to absorb my fertilizers, to wax luxuriant, and disport itself in the summer air, and with very little thought of making any return to me. I might go all through my garden and fruit trees with a similar result. I have heard of places where there was very little land to the acre. It is universally true that there is a great deal of vegetable show and fuss for the result produced. I do not complain of this. One cannot expect vegetables to be better than men: and they make a great deal of ostentatious splurge; and many of them come to no result at last. Usually, the more show of leaf and wood, the less fruit. This melancholy reflection is thrown in here in order to make dog-days seem cheerful in comparison.
One of the minor pleasures of life is that of controlling vegetable activity and aggressions with the pruning-knife. Vigorous and rapid growth is, however, a necessity to the sport. To prune feeble plants and shrubs is like acting the part of dry-nurse to a sickly orphan. You must feel the blood of Nature bound under your hand, and get the thrill of its life in your nerves. To control and culture a strong, thrifty plant in this way is like steering a ship under full headway, or driving a locomotive with your hand on the lever, or pulling the reins over a fast horse when his blood and tail are up. I do not understand, by the way, the pleasure of the jockey in setting up the tail of the horse artificially. If I had a horse with a tail not able to sit up, I should feed the horse, and curry him into good spirits, and let him set up his own tail. When I see a poor, spiritless horse going by with an artificially set-up tail, it is only a signal of distress. I desire to be surrounded only by healthy, vigorous plants and trees, which require constant cutting-in and management. Merely to cut away dead branches is like perpetual attendance at a funeral, and puts one in low spirits. I want to have a garden and orchard rise up and meet me every morning, with the request to "lay on, Macduff." I respect old age; but an old currant-bush, hoary with mossy bark, is a melancholy spectacle.