THE multiplication of horticultural societies is taking place so rapidly of late, in various parts of the country, as to lead one to reflect somewhat on their influence, and that of the art they foster, upon the character of our people.
Most persons, no doubt, look upon them as performing a work of some usefulness and elegance, by promoting the culture of fruits and flowers, and introducing to all parts of the country the finer species of vegetable productions. In other words, they are thought to add very considerably to the amount of physical gratifications which every American citizen endeavors, and has a right to endeavor, to assemble around him.
Granting all the foregoing, we arc inclined to claim also, for horticultural pursuits, a political and moral influence vastly more significant and important than the mere gratification of the senses. We think, then, in a few words, that horticulture and its kindred arts, tend strongly to fix the habits, and elevate the character, of our whole rural population.
One does not need to be much of a philosopher to remark that one of the most striking of our national traits, is the spirit of unrest. It is the grand energetic element which leads us to clear vast forests, and settle new states, with a rapidity unparalleled in the world's history; the spirit, possessed with which, our yet comparatively scanty people do not find elbow-room enough in a territory already in their possession, and vast enough to hold the greatest of ancient empires; which drives the emigrant's wagon across vast sandy deserts to California, and over Rocky Mountains to Oregon and the Pacific; which builds up a great State like Ohio in 30 years, so populous, civilized and productive, that the bare recital of its growth sounds like a genuine miracle to European ears; and which overruns and takes possession of a whole empire, like that of Mexico, while the cabinets of old monarchies are debating whether or not it is necessary to interfere and restore the balance of power in the new world as in the old.
This is the grand and exciting side of the picture. Turn it in another light, and study it, and the effect is by no means so agreeable to the reflective mind. The spirit of unrest, followed into the bosom of society, makes of man a feverish being, in whose Tantalus' cup repose is the unattainable drop. Unable to take root anywhere, he leads, socially and physically, the uncertain life of a tree transplanted from place to place, and shifted to a different soil every season.
It has been shrewdly said that what qualities we do not possess, are always in our mouths. Our countrymen, it seems to us, are fonder of no one Anglo-Saxon word than the term settle.* It was the great object of our forefathers to find a proper spot to settle. Every year, large numbers of our population from the older States go west to settle; while those already west, pull up, with a kind of desperate joy, their yet new-set stakes, and go farther west to settle again. So truly national is the word, that all the business of the country, from State debts to the products of a truck farm, are not satisfactorily adjusted till they are "settled;" and no sooner is a passenger fairly on board one of our river steamers, than he is politely and emphatically invited by a sable representative of its executive power, to "call at the captain's office and settle!"
Yet, as a people, we are never settled. It is one of the first points that strikes a citizen of the old world, where something of the dignity of repose, as well as the value of action, enters into their ideal of life. De Tocqueville says, in speaking of our national trait:
* Anglo-Saxon sath-lian, from the verb settan, to set, to cease from motion, to fix a dwelling-place, to repose, etc. — A. J. D.
"At first sight, there is something surprising in this strange unrest of so many happy men, restless in the midst of abundance. The spectacle itself is, however, as old as the world. The novelty is to sec a whole people furnish an exemplification of it.
"In the United States a man builds a house to spend his latter years in, and sells it before the roof is on; he brings a field into tillage, and leaves other men to gather the crops; he embraces a profession, and gives it up; he settles in a place, which he soon after leaves, in order to carry his changeable longings elsewhere. If his private affairs leave him any leisure he instantly plunges into the vortex of polities; and if at the end of a year of unremitting labor, he finds he has a few days' vacation, his eager curiosity whirls him over the vast extent of the United States, and he will travel fifteen hundred miles in a few days, to shake off his happiness".
Much as we admire the energy of our people, we value no less the love of order, the obedience to law, the security and repose of society, the love of home, and the partiality to localities endeared by birth or association, of which it is in some degree the antagonist. And we are therefore deeply convinced that whatever tends, without checking due energy of character, but to develop along with it certain virtues that will keep it within due bounds, may be looked upon as a boon to the nation.
Now the difference between the son of Ishmael, who lives in tents, and that man who has the strongest attachment to the home of his fathers, is, in the beginning, one mainly of outward circumstances. He whose sole property is a tent and a camel, whose ties to one spot are no stronger than the cords which confine his habitation to the sandy floor of the desert, who can break up his encampment at an hour's notice, and choose a new and equally agreeable site, fifty miles distant, the next day — such a person is very little likely to become much more strongly attached to any one spot of earth than another.
The condition of a western emigrant is not greatly dissimilar. That long covered wagon, which is the Noah's ark of his preservation, is also the concrete essence of house and home to him. He emigrates, he "squats," he "locates," but before he can be fairly said to have a fixed home, the spirit of unrest besets him; he sells his "diggins" to some less adventurous pioneer, and tackling the wagon of the wilderness, migrates once more.
It must not be supposed, large as is the infusion of restlessness in our people, that there are not also large exceptions to the general rule. Else there would never be growing villages and prosperous towns. Nay, it cannot be overlooked by a careful observer, that the tendency "to settle" is slowly but gradually on the increase, and that there is, in all the older portions of the country, growing evidence that the Anglo-Saxon love of home is gradually developing itself out of the Anglo-American love of change.*
It is not difficult to see how strongly horticulture contributes to the development of local attachments. In it lies the most powerful philtre that civilized man has yet found to charm him to one spot of earth. It transforms what is only a tame meadow and a bleak aspect, into an Eden of interest and delights. It makes all the difference between Araby the blest, and a pine barren. It gives a bit of soil, too insignificant to find a place in the geography of the earth's surface, such an importance in the eyes of its possessor, that he finds it more attractive than countless acres of unknown and unexplored territory. In other words, it contains the mind and soul of the man, materialized in many of the fairest and richest forms of nature, so that he looks upon it as tearing himself up, root and branch, to ask him to move a mile to the right or the left. Do we need to say more, to prove that it is the panacea that really "settles" mankind?
* The philosophy of Mr. Downing in this chapter is profound and his analysis of American character most penetrating. The evil effects of this spirit of unrest and the desirability of neutralizing it through the simultaneous cultivation of the soil and of home ties were never more manifest than in these days of revolution and reconstruction following the World War. — F. A. W.
It is not, therefore, without much pleasurable emotion, that we have had notice lately of the formation of five new horticultural societies, the last at St. Louis, and most of them west of the Alleghanies. Whoever lives to see the end of the next cycle of our race, will see the great valleys of the West the garden of the world; and we watch with interest the first development, in the midst of the busy fermentation of its active masses, of that beautiful and quiet spirit, of the joint culture of the earth and the heart, that is destined to give a tone to the future character of its untold millions.
The increased love of home and the garden, in the older states, is a matter of every-day remark; and it is not a little curious, that just in proportion to the intelligence and settled character of its population, is the amount of interest manifested in horticulture. Thus, the three most settled of the original States, we suppose to be Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania; and in these states horticulture is more eagerly pursued than in any others. The first named state has now seven horticultural societies; the second, seven; the third, three. Following out the comparison in the cities, we should say that Boston had the most settled population, Philadelphia the next, and New York the least so of any city in the Union; and it is well known that the horticultural society of Boston is at this moment the most energetic one in the country, and that it is stimulated by the interest excited by societies in all its neighboring towns. The Philadelphia society is exceedingly prosperous; while in New York, we regret to say, that the numerous efforts that have been made to establish firmly a society of this kind have not, up to this time, resulted in any success whatever. Its mighty tide of people is as yet too much possessed with the spirit of business and of unrest." *
* "The New-York Horticultural Society" was organized in the spring of 1852, and is already in a flourishing condition. — G. W. G.