The "quiet, thoughtful, and reserved boy" of the Montgomery Academy had thus suddenly displayed the talent which was not suspected by his school-fellows. The younger partner had now justified the expectation he aroused; and the long, silent, careful years of study and experience insured the permanent value of the results he announced. The following year saw the publication of the " Cottage Residences," in which the principles of the first volume were applied in detail. For the same reason it achieved a success similar to the "Landscape Gardening." Rural England recognized its great value. Loudon said: "It cannot fail to be of great service." Another said: "We stretch our arm across the 'big water' to tender our Yankee coadjutor an English shake and a cordial recognition." These welcomes from those who knew what and why they welcomed, founded Downing's authority in the minds of the less learned, while the simplicity of his own statements confirmed it. From the publication of the "Landscape Gardening" until his death, he continued to be the chief American authority in rural art.
European honors soon began to seek the young gardener upon the Hudson. He had been for some time in correspondence with Loudon, and the other eminent men of the profession. He was now elected corresponding member of the Royal Botanic Society of London, of the Horticultural Societies of Berlin, the Low Countries, etc. Queen Anne of Denmark sent him "a magnificent ring," in acknowledgment of her pleasure in his works. But, as the years slowly passed, a sweeter praise saluted him than the Queen's ring, namely, the gradual improvement of the national rural taste, and the universal testimony that it was due to Downing, It was found as easy to live in a handsome house as in one that shocked all sense of propriety and beauty. The capabilities of the landscape began to develop themselves to the man who looked at it from his windows, with Downing's books in his hand. Air. Wilder says that a gentleman "who is eminently qualified to form an enlightened judgment," declared that much of the improvement that has taken place in this country during the last twelve years, in rural architecture and in ornamental gardening and planting, may be ascribed to him. Another gentleman, "speaking of suburban cottages in the West," says: "I asked the origin of so much taste, and was told it might principally be traced to 'Downing's Cottage Residences' and the 'Horticulturist.'" He was naturally elected an honorary member of most of the Horticultural Societies in the country; and as his interest in rural life was universal, embracing no less the soil and cultivation, than the plant, and flower, and fruit, with the residence of the cultivator, he received the same honor from the Agricultural Associations.
Meanwhile his studies were unremitting; and in 1845 Wiley & Putnam published in New York and London "The Fruits and Fruit Trees of America," a volume of six hundred pages. The duodecimo edition had only lineal drawings. The large octavo was illustrated with finely colored plates, executed in Paris, from drawings made in this country from the original fruits. It is a masterly resume" of the results of American experience in the history, character, and growth of fruit, to the date of its publication. The fourteenth edition was published in the year 1852.
It was in May of the year 1846 that I first saw Downing. A party was made up under the locusts to cross the river and pass the day at "Highland Gardens," as his place was named. The river at Newburgh is about a mile wide, and is crossed by a quiet country ferry, whence the view downward toward the West Point Highlands, Butter Hill, Sugar-Loaf, Cro' Nest, and Skunnymunk, is as beautiful a river view as can be seen upon a summer day. It was a merry party which crossed, that bright May morning, and broke, with ringing laughter, the silence of the river. Most of us were newly escaped from the city, where we had been blockaded by the winter for many months, and although often tempted by the warm days that came in March, opening the windows on Broadway and ranging the blossoming plants in them, to believe that summer had fairly arrived, we had uniformly found the spring to be that laughing lie which the poets insist it is not. There was no doubt longer, however. The country was so brilliant with the tender green that it seemed festally adorned, and it was easy enough to believe that human genius could have no lovelier nor loftier task than the development of these colors, and forms, and opportunities, into their greatest use and adaptation to human life. " God Almighty first planted a garden, and, indeed, it is the first of human pleasures." Lord Bacon said it long ago, and the bright May morning echoed it, as we crossed the river.
I had read Downing's books; and they had given me the impression, naturally formed of one who truly said of himself, "Angry volumes of politics have we written none: but peaceful books, humbly aiming to weave something more into the fair garland of the beautiful and useful that encircles this excellent old earth".
His image in my mind was idyllic. I looked upon him as a kind of pastoral poet. I had fancied a simple, abstracted cultivator, gentle and silent. We left the boat and drove to his house. The open gate admitted us to a smooth avenue. We had glimpses of an arbor-vitae hedge, — a small and exquisite lawn — rare and flowering trees, and bushes beyond — a lustrous and odorous thicket — a gleam of the river below — "a feeling" of the mountains across the river — and were at the same moment alighting at the door of the elegant mansion, in which stood, what appeared to me a tall, slight Spanish gentleman, with thick black hair worn very long, and dark eyes fixed upon me with a searching glance. He was dressed simply in a costume fitted for the morning hospitalities of his house, or for the study, or the garden. His welcoming smile was reserved, but genuine, — his manner singularly hearty and quiet, marked by the easy elegance and perfect sauoir faire which would have adorned the Escurial. We passed into the library. The bookshelves were let into the wall, and the doors covered with glass. They occupied only part of the walls, and upon the space above each was a bracket with busts of Dante, Milton, Petrarch, Franklin, Linnaeus, and Scott. There was a large bay window opposite the fireplace. The forms and colors of this room were delightful. It was the retreat of an elegantly cultivated gentleman. There were no signs of work except a writing-table, with pens, and portfolios, and piles of letters.