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- The Complete Writings of Charles Dudley Warner Volume 1 - 1/60 -
The Complete Writings of Charles Dudley Warner Volume 1
MY SUMMER IN A GARDEN BACKLOG STUDIES BADDECK
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
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