Mr. Downing was annoyed by this continual carping and bickering, and anxious to have the matter definitely arranged, he requested the President to summon the Cabinet. The Secretaries assembled, and Mr. Downing was presented. He explained the case as he understood it, unrolled his plans, stated his duties, and the time he devoted to them, and the salary he received. He then added, that he wished the arrangement to be clearly understood. If the President and Cabinet thought that his requirements were extravagant, he was perfectly willing to roll up his plans, and return home. If they approved them, he would gladly remain, but upon the express condition that he was to be relieved from the annoyances of the quarrel. The President and Cabinet agreed that his plans were the best, and his demands reasonable; and the work went on in peace from that time.
The year 1852 opened upon Downing, in the garden where he had played and dreamed alone, while the father tended the trees; and to which he had clung, with indefeasible instinct, when the busy mother had suggested that her delicate boy would thrive better as a drygoods clerk. He Was just past his thirty-sixth birthday, and the Fishkill mountains, that had watched the boy departing for the academy where he was to show no sign of his power, now beheld him, in the bloom of manhood, honored at home and abroad — no man, in fact, more honored at home than he. Yet the honor sprang from the work that had been achieved in that garden. It was there he had thought, and studied, and observed. It was to that home he returned from his little excursions, to ponder upon the new things he had seen and heard, to try them by the immutable principles of taste, and to test them by rigorous proofs. It was from that home that he looked upon the landscape which, as it allured his youth, now satisfied his manhood. The mountains, upon whose shoreward slope his wife was born under the blossoming locusts on the very day on which he was born in the Newburgh garden, smiled upon his success and shared it. He owed them a debt he never disavowed. Below his house flowed the river of which he so proudly wrote in the preface to the "Fruit-Trees" — "A man born on the banks of one of the noblest and most fruitful rivers in America, and whose best days have been spent in gardens and orchards, may perhaps be pardoned for talking about fruit-trees." Over the gleaming bay which the river's expansion at Newburgh forms, glided the dazzling summer days; or the black thunder-gusts swept suddenly out from the bold highlands of West Point; or the winter landscape lay calm around the garden. From his windows he saw all the changing glory of the year. New York was of easy access by the steamers that constantly passed to and from Albany and the river towns, and the railroad brought the city within three hours of his door. It brought constant visitors also, from the city and beyond; and scattered up and down the banks of the Hudson were the beautiful homes of friends, with whom he was constantly in the exchange of the most unrestrained hospitality. He added to his house the working-room communicating with the library by the mysterious door, and was deeply engaged in the planning and building of country-houses in every direction. Among these I may mention, as among the last and finest, the summer residence of Daniel Parish, Esq., at Newport, R. I. Mr. Downing knew that Newport was the great social exchange of the country, that men of wealth and taste yearly assembled there, and that a fine house of his designing erected there would be of the greatest service to his art. This house is at once simple, massive, and graceful, as becomes the spot. It is the work of an artist, in the finest sense, harmonious with the bare cliff and the sea. But even where his personal services were not required, his books were educating taste, and his influence was visible in hundreds of houses that he had never seen. He edited, during this year, Mrs. Loudon's "Gardening for Ladies," which was published by Mr. John Wiley. No man was a more practically useful friend to thousands who did not know him. Yet if, at any time, while his house was full of visitors, business summoned him, as it frequently did, he slipped quietly out of the gate, left the visitors to a care as thoughtful and beautiful as his own, and his house was made their home for the time they chose to remain. Downing was in his thirty-seventh year, in the fulness of his fame and power. The difficulties of the failure were gradually disappearing behind him like clouds rolling away. He stood in his golden prime, as in his summer garden; the Future smiled upon him like the blue Fishkill hills beyond the river. That Future, also, lay beyond the river.
At the end of June, 1852, I went to pass a few days with him. He held an annual feast of roses with as many friends as he could gather and his house could hold. The days of my visit had all the fresh sweetness of early summer, and the garden and the landscape were fuller than ever of grace and beauty. It was an Arcadian chapter, with the roses and blossoming figs upon the green-house wall, and the music by moonlight, and reading of songs, and tales, and games upon the lawn, under the Warwick vase. Boccaccio's groups in their Fiesole garden, were not gayer; nor the blithe circle of a summer's clay upon Sir Walter Vivian's lawn. Indeed it was precisely in Downing's garden that the poetry of such old traditions became fact — or rather the fact was lifted into that old poetry. He had achieved in it the beauty of an extreme civilization, without losing the natural, healthy vigor of his country and time.
One evening — the moon was full — we crossed in a row-boat to the Fishkill shore, and floated upon the gleaming river under the black banks of foliage to a quaint old country house, in whose small library the Society of the Cincinnati was formed, at the close of the Revolution, and in whose rooms a pleasant party was gathered that summer evening. The doors and windows were open. We stood in the rooms or loitered upon the piazza, looking into the unspeakable beauty of the night. A lady was pointed out to me as the heroine of a romantic history — a handsome woman, with the traces of hard experience in her face, standing in that little peaceful spot of summer moonlight, as a child snatching a brief dream of peace between spasms of mortal agony. As we returned at midnight across the river, Downing told us more of the stranger lady, and of his early feats of swimming from Newburgh to Fishkill; and so we drifted homeward upon the oily calm with talk, and song, and silence — a brief, beautiful voyage upon the water, where the same summer, while yet unfaded should see him embarked upon a longer journey. In these last days he was the same generous, thoughtful, quiet, effective person I had always found him. Friends peculiarly dear to him were in his house. The Washington work was advancing finely: he was much interested in his Newport plans, and we looked forward to a gay meeting there in the later summer. The time for his monthly trip to Washington arrived while I was still his guest. "We shall meet in Newport," I said. "Yes," he answered, "but you must stay and keep house with my wife until I return".