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The Complete Writings of Charles Dudley Warner Volume 1

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By Charles Dudley Warner


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

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



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
vitam proxime videntur accedere." (I am driven to Latin because New
York editors have exhausted the English language in the praising of
spring, and especially of the month of May.)

Let us celebrate the soil.  Most men toil that they may own a piece
of it; they measure their success in life by their ability to buy it.
It is alike the passion of the parvenu and the pride of the
aristocrat.  Broad acres are a patent of nobility; and no man but
feels more, of a man in the world if he have a bit of ground that he
can call his own.  However small it is on the surface, it is four
thousand miles deep; and that is a very handsome property.  And there
is a great pleasure in working in the soil, apart from the ownership
of it.  The man who has planted a garden feels that he has done
something for the good of the World.  He belongs to the producers.
It is a pleasure to eat of the fruit of one's toil, if it be nothing
more than a head of lettuce or an ear of corn.  One cultivates a lawn
even with great satisfaction; for there is nothing more beautiful
than grass and turf in our latitude.  The tropics may have their
delights, but they have not turf: and the world without turf is a
dreary desert.  The original Garden of Eden could not have had such
turf as one sees in England.  The Teutonic races all love turf: they
emigrate in the line of its growth.

To dig in the mellow soil-to dig moderately, for all pleasure should
be taken sparingly--is a great thing.  One gets strength out of the
ground as often as one really touches it with a hoe.  Antaeus (this
is a classical article) was no doubt an agriculturist; and such a
prize-fighter as Hercules could n't do anything with him till he got
him to lay down his spade, and quit the soil.  It is not simply beets
and potatoes and corn and string-beans that one raises in his well-
hoed garden: it is the average of human life.  There is life in the
ground; it goes into the seeds; and it also, when it is stirred up,
goes into the man who stirs it.  The hot sun on his back as he bends
to his shovel and hoe, or contemplatively rakes the warm and fragrant
loam, is better than much medicine.  The buds are coming out on the
bushes round about; the blossoms of the fruit trees begin to show;
the blood is running up the grapevines in streams; you can smell the
Wild flowers on the near bank; and the birds are flying and glancing
and singing everywhere.  To the open kitchen door comes the busy
housewife to shake a white something, and stands a moment to look,
quite transfixed by the delightful sights and sounds.  Hoeing in the
garden on a bright, soft May day, when you are not obliged to, is
nearly equal to the delight of going trouting.

Blessed be agriculture! if one does not have too much of it.  All
literature is fragrant with it, in a gentlemanly way.  At the foot of
the charming olive-covered hills of Tivoli, Horace (not he of
Chappaqua) had a sunny farm: it was in sight of Hadrian's villa, who
did landscape gardening on an extensive scale, and probably did not
get half as much comfort out of it as Horace did from his more simply
tilled acres.  We trust that Horace did a little hoeing and farming
himself, and that his verse is not all fraudulent sentiment.  In
order to enjoy agriculture, you do not want too much of it, and you
want to be poor enough to have a little inducement to work moderately
yourself.  Hoe while it is spring, and enjoy the best anticipations.
It is not much matter if things do not turn out well.


Under this modest title, I purpose to write a series of papers, some
of which will be like many papers of garden-seeds, with nothing vital
in them, on the subject of gardening; holding that no man has any
right to keep valuable knowledge to himself, and hoping that those
who come after me, except tax-gatherers and that sort of person, will
find profit in the perusal of my experience.  As my knowledge is
constantly increasing, there is likely to be no end to these papers.
They will pursue no orderly system of agriculture or horticulture,
but range from topic to topic, according to the weather and the
progress of the weeds, which may drive me from one corner of the
garden to the other.

The principal value of a private garden is not understood.  It is not
to give the possessor vegetables or fruit (that can be better and
cheaper done by the market-gardeners), but to teach him patience
and philosophy and the higher virtues, hope deferred and
expectations blighted, leading directly to resignation and sometimes
to alienation.  The garden thus becomes a moral agent, a test of
character, as it was in the beginning.  I shall keep this central
truth in mind in these articles.  I mean to have a moral garden, if
it is not a productive one,--one that shall teach, O my brothers!
O my sisters! the great lessons of life.

The first pleasant thing about a garden in this latitude is, that you
never know when to set it going.  If you want anything to come to
maturity early, you must start it in a hot-house.  If you put it out
early, the chances are all in favor of getting it nipped with frost;
for the thermometer will be 90 deg. one day, and go below 32 deg. the
night of the day following.  And, if you do not set out plants or sow

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