He, too, had been hoping to go to college; but the family means forbade. His mother, anxious to see him early settled, urged him, as his elder brothers were both doing well in business the one as a nurseryman, and the other, who had left the comb factory, practising ably and prosperously as a physician to enter as a clerk into a drygoods store. That request explains the want of delight with which he remembered his childhood: because it shows that his good, kind mother, in the midst of her baking, and boiling, and darning the children's stockings, made no allowance as how should she, not being able to perceive them for the possibly very positive tastes of her boy. Besides, the first duty of each member of the poor household was, as she justly conceived, to get a living; and as Andrew was a delicate child, and could not lift and carry much, nor brave the chances of an out-door occupation, it was better that he should be in the shelter of a store. He, however, a youth of sixteen years, fresh from the studies, and dreams, and hopes of the Montgomery Academy, found his first duty to be the gentle withstanding of his mother's wish; and quite willing to "settle," if he could do it in his own way, joined his brother in the management of the nursery. He had no doubt of his vocation. Since it was clear that he must directly do something, his fine taste and exquisite appreciation of natural beauty, his love of natural forms, and the processes and phenomena of natural life, immediately determined his choice. Not in vain had his eyes first looked upon the mountains and the river. Those silent companions of his childhood claimed their own in the spirit with which the youth entered upon his profession. To the poet's eye began to be added the philosopher's mind; and the great spectacle of Nature which he had loved as beauty, began to enrich his life as knowledge. Yet I remember, as showing that with all his accurate science he was always a poet, he agreed in many conversations that the highest enjoyment of beauty was quite independent of use; and that while the pleasure of a botanist who could at once determine the family and species of a plant, and detail all the peculiarities and fitness of its structure, was very great and inappreciable, yet that it was upon a lower level than the instinctive delight in the beauty of the same flower. The botanist could not have the highest pleasure in the flower if he were not a poet. The poet would increase the variety of his pleasure, if he were a botanist. It was this constant subjection of science to the sentiment of beauty that made him an artist, and did not leave him an artisan; and his science was always most accurate and profound, because the very depth and delicacy of his feeling for beauty gave him the utmost patience to learn, and the greatest rapidity to adapt, the means of organizing to the eye the ideal image in his mind.
About this time the Baron de Liderer, the Austrian Consul General, who had a summer retreat in Newburgh, began to notice the youth, whose botanical and mineralogical tastes so harmonized with his own. Nature keeps fresh the feelings of her votaries, and the Baron, although an old man, made hearty friends with Downing; and they explored together the hills and lowlands of the neighborhood, till it had no more vegetable nor mineral secrets from the enthusiasts. Downing always kept in the hall of his house, a cabinet, containing mineralogical specimens collected in these excursions. At the house of the Baron, also, and in that of his wealthy neighbor, Edward Armstrong, Downing discovered how subtly cultivation refines men as well as plants, and there first met that polished society whose elegance and grace could not fail to charm him as essential to the most satisfactory intercourse, while it presented the most entire contrast to the associations of his childhood. It is not difficult to fancy the lonely child, playing unheeded in the garden, and the dark, shy boy, of the Montgomery Academy, meeting with a thrill of satisfaction, as if he had been waiting for them, the fine gentlemen and ladies at the Consul General's, and the wealthy neighbor's, Mr. Armstrong, at whose country-seat he was introduced to Mr. Charles Augustus Murray, when, for the first time, he saw one of the class that he never ceased to honor for their virtues and graces the English gentleman. At this time, also, the figure of Raphael Hoyle, an English landscape painter, flits across his history. Congenial in taste and feeling, and with varying knowledge, the two young men rambled together over the country near Newburgh, and while Hoyle caught upon canvas the colors and forms of the flowers, and the outline of the landscape, Downing instructed him in their history and habits, until they wandered from the actual scene into discussions dear to both, of art, and life, and beauty; or the artist piqued the imagination of his friend with stories of English parks, and of Italian vineyards, and of cloud-capped Alps, embracing every zone and season, as they rose, while the untravelled youth looked across the river to the Fishkill hills, and imagined Switzerland. This soon ended. Raphael Hoyle died. The living book of travel and romantic experience, in which the youth who had wandered no farther than to Montgomery Academy and to the top of the South Beacon, the highest hill of the Fishkill range, had so deeply read of scenes and a life that suited him, was closed forever.
Little record is left of these years of application, of work, and study. The Fishkill hills and the broad river, in whose presence he had always lived, and the quiet country around Newburgh, which he had so thoroughly explored, began to claim some visible token of their influence. It is pleasant to know that his first literary works were recognitions of their charms. It shows the intellectual integrity of the man, that despite glowing hopes and restless ambition for other things, his first essay was written from his experience; it was a description of the " Danskamer," or Devil's Dancing-Ground a point on the Hudson, seven miles above Newburgh published in the New York Mirror. A description of Beacon Hill followed.