My Garden, How
did you get on
I can speak of it calmly now; but there have been moments when the
lightest mention of those words would sway my soul to its profoundest
I am a woman. I nip this fact in the bud of my narrative, because I like
to do as I would be done by, when I can just as well as not. It rasps a
person of my temperament exceedingly to be deceived. When any one tells
a story, we wish to know at the outset whether the story-teller is a man
or a woman. The two sexes awaken two entirely distinct sets of feelings,
and you would no more use the one for the other than you would put
on your tiny teacups at breakfast, or lay the carving-knife by the
butter-plate. Consequently it is very exasperating to sit, open-eyed and
expectant, watching the removal of the successive swathings which hide
from you the dusky glories of an old-time princess, and, when the
unrolling is over, to find it is nothing, after all, but a great
lubberly boy. Equally trying is it to feel your interest clustering
round a narrator's manhood, all your individuality merging in his, till,
of a sudden, by the merest chance, you catch the swell of crinoline,
and there you are. Away with such clumsiness! Let us have everybody
christened before we begin.
I do, therefore, with Spartan firmness depose and say that I am a woman.
I am aware that I place myself at signal disadvantage by the avowal. I
fly in the face of hereditary prejudice. I am thrust at once beyond
the pale of masculine sympathy. Men will neither credit my success nor
lament my failure, because they will consider me poaching on their
manor. If I chronicle a big beet, they will bring forward one twice
as large. If I mourn a deceased squash, they will mutter, "Woman's
farming!" Shunning Scylla, I shall perforce fall into Charybdis. (Vide
Classical Dictionary. I have lent mine, but I know one was a rock and
the other a whirlpool, though I cannot state, with any definiteness,
which was which.) I may be as humble and deprecating as I choose, but
it will not avail me. A very agony of self-abasement will be no armor
against the poisoned shafts which assumed superiority will hurl against
me. Yet I press the arrow to my bleeding heart, and calmly reiterate, I
am a woman.
The full magnanimity of which reiteration can be perceived only when I
inform you that I could easily deceive you, if I chose. There is about
my serious style a vigor of thought, a comprehensiveness of view, a
closeness of logic, and a terseness of diction commonly supposed to
pertain only to the stronger sex. Not wanting in a certain fanciful
sprightliness which is the peculiar grace of woman, it possesses also,
in large measure, that concentrativeness which is deemed the peculiar
strength of man. Where an ordinary woman will leave the beaten track,
wandering in a thousand little by ways of her own,—flowery and
beautiful, it is true, and leading her airy feet to "sunny spots of
greenery" and the gleam of golden apples, but keeping her not less
surely from the goal,—I march straight on, turning neither to the
right hand nor to the left, beguiled into no side-issues, discussing no
collateral question, but with keen eye and strong hand aiming right at
the heart of my theme. Judge thus of the stern severity of my virtue.
There is no heroism in denying ourselves the pleasures which we cannot
compass. It is not self-sacrifice, but self-cherishing, that turns the
dyspeptic alderman away from turtle-soup and the pâté de foie gras to
mush and milk. The hungry newsboy, regaling his nostrils with the scents
that come up from a subterranean kitchen, does not always know whether
or not he is honest, till the cook turns away for a moment, and a
steaming joint is within reach of his yearning fingers. It is no credit
to a weak-minded woman not to be strong-minded and write poetry. She
couldn't, if she tried; but to feed on locusts and wild honey that the
soul may be in better condition to fight the truth's battles,—to
go with empty stomach for a clear conscience's sake,—to sacrifice
intellectual tastes to womanly duties, when the two conflict,—
"That's the true pathos and sublime,
Of human life."
You will, therefore, no longer withhold your appreciative admiration,
when, in full possession of what theologians call the power of contrary
choice, I make the unmistakable assertion that I am a woman.
Of the circumstances that led me to inchoate a garden it is not
necessary now to speak. Enough that the first and most important step
had been taken, the land was bought,—a few acres, with a smart little
house peeking up, a crazy little barn tumbling down, and a dozen or so
fruit-trees that might do either as opportunity offered, and I set out
on my triumphal march from the city of my birth to the estate of my
adoption. Triumphal indeed! My pathway was strewed with roses. Feathery
asparagus and the crispness of tender lettuce waved dewy greetings from
every railroad-side; green peas crested the racing waves of Long Island
Sound, and unnumbered carrots of gold sprang up in the wake of the
ploughing steamer; till I was wellnigh drunk with the new wine of my own
purple vintage. But I was not ungenerous. In the height of my innocent
exultation, I remembered the dwellers in cities who do all their
gardening at stalls, and in my heart I determined, when the season
should be fully blown, to invite as many as my house could hold to
share with me the delight of plucking strawberries from their stems and
drinking in foaming health from the balmy-breathed cows. Moreover, in
the exuberance of my joy, I determined to go still farther, and despatch
to those doomed ones who cannot purchase even a furlough from burning
pavements baskets of fragrance and sweetness. I pleased myself with
pretty conceits. To one who toils early and late in an official Sahara,
that the home atmosphere may always be redolent of perfume, I would send
a bunch of long-stemmed white and crimson rose-buds, in the midst of
which he should find a dainty note whispering, "Dear Fritz: Drink this
pure glass of my overflowing June to the health of weans and wife, not
forgetting your unforgetful friend." To a pale-browed, sad-eyed woman,
who flits from velvet carpets and broidered flounces to the bedside
of an invalid mother, whom her slender fingers and unslender and most
godlike devotion can scarcely keep this side the pearly gates, I would
heap a basket of summer-hued peaches smiling up from cool, green leaves
into their straitened home, and, with eyes, perchance, tear-dimmed, she
should read, "My good Maria: The peaches are to go to your lips, the
bloom to your cheeks, and the gardener to your heart." Ah me! How much
grace and gladness may bud and blossom in one little garden! Only
three acres of land, but what a crop of sunny surprises, unexpected
tendernesses, grateful joys, hopes, loves, and restful memories!—what
wells of happiness, what sparkles of mirth, what sweeps of summer in the
heart, what glimpses of the Upper Country!
Halicarnassus was there before me (in the garden, I mean, not in the
spot last alluded to). It has been the one misfortune of my life that
Halicarnassus got the start of me at the outset. With a fair field and
no favor I should have been quite adequate to him. As it was, he was
born and began, and there was no resource left to me but to be born and
follow, which I did as fast as possible; but that one false move could
never be redeemed. I know there are shallow thinkers who love to prate
of the supremacy of mind over matter,—who assert that circumstances are
plastic as clay in the hands of the man who knows how to mould them.
They clench their fists, and inflate their lungs, and quote Napoleon's
proud boast,—"Circumstances! I make circumstances!" Vain babblers!
Whither did this Napoleonic Idea lead? To a barren rock in a waste of
waters. Do we need St. Helena and Sir Hudson Lowe to refute it? Control
circumstances! I should like to know if the most important circumstance
that can happen to a man isn't to be born? and if that is under his
control, or in any way affected by his whims and wishes? Would not Louis
XVI. have been the son of a goldsmith, if he could have had his way?
Would Burns have been born a slaving, starving peasant, if he had been
consulted beforehand? Would not the children of vice be the children of
virtue, if they could have had their choice? and would not the whole
tenor of their lives have been changed thereby? Would a good many of
us have been born at all, if we could have helped it? Control
circumstances, forsooth! when a mother's sudden terror brings an idiot
child into the world,—when the restive eye of his great-grandfather,
whom he never saw, looks at you from your two-year-old, and the spirit
of that roving ancestor makes the boy also a fugitive and a vagabond on
the earth! No, no. We may coax circumstances a little, and shove them
about, and make the best of them, but there they are. We may try to get
out of their way; but they will trip us up, not once, but many times.
We may affect to tread them under foot in the daylight, but in the
night-time they will turn again and rend us. All we can do is first to
accept them as facts, and then reason from them as premises. We cannot
control them, but we can control our own use of them. We can make them a
savor of life unto life, or of death unto death.
Application.—If mind could have been supreme over matter, Halicarnassus
should, in the first place, have taken the world at second-hand from
me, and, in the second place, he should not have stood smiling on the
front-door steps when the coach set me down there. As it was, I made the
best of the one case by following in his footsteps,—not meekly, not
acquiescently, but protesting, yet following,—and of the other, by
smiling responsive and asking pleasantly,—
"Are the things planted yet?"
"No," said Halicarnassus.
This was better than I had dared to hope. When I saw him standing there
so complacent and serene, I felt certain that a storm was brewing, or
rather had brewed, and burst over my garden, and blighted its fair
prospects. I was confident that he had gone and planted every square
inch of the soil with some hideous absurdity which would spring up a
hundred-fold in perpetual reminders of the one misfortune to which I
So his ready answer gave me relief, and yet I could not divest myself of
a vague fear, a sense of coming thunder. In spite of my endeavors,
that calm, clear face would lift itself to my view as a mere
"weather-breeder"; but I ate my supper, unpacked my trunks, took out my
papers of precious seeds, and sitting in the flooding sunlight under the
little western porch, I poured them into my lap, and bade Halicarnassus
come to me. He came, I am sorry to say, with a pipe in his mouth.
"Do you wish to see my jewels?" I asked, looking as much like Cornelia
as a little woman, somewhat inclined to dumpiness, can.
Halicarnassus nodded assent.
"There," said I, unrolling a paper, "that is Lychnidea acuminala.
Sometimes it flowers in white masses, pure as a baby's soul. Sometimes
it glows in purple, pink, and crimson, intense, but unconsuming, like
Horeb's burning bush. The old Greeks knew it well, and they baptized
its prismatic loveliness with their sunny symbolism, and called it the
Flame-Flower. These very seeds may have sprung centuries ago from the
hearts of heroes who sleep at Marathon; and when their tender petals
quiver in the sunlight of my garden, I shall see the gleam of Attic
armor and the flash of royal souls. Like heroes, too, it is both
beautiful and bold. It does not demand careful cultivation,—no
"I should rather think not," interrupted Halicarnassus. "Pat Curran has
his front-yard full of it."
I collapsed at once, and asked humbly,—
"Where did he get it?"
"Got it anywhere. It grows wild almost. It's nothing but phlox. My
opinion is, that the old Greeks knew no more about it than that brindled
Nothing further occurring to me to be said on the subject, I waived
it and took up another parcel, on which I spelled out, with some
difficulty, "Delphinium exaltatum. Its name indicates its nature."
"It's an exalted dolphin, then, I suppose," said Halicarnassus.
"Yes!" I said, dexterously catching up an argumentum ad hominem, "It
is an exalted dolphin,—an apotheosized dolphin,—a dolphin made
glorious. For, as the dolphin catches the sunbeams and sends them back
with a thousand added splendors, so this flower opens its quivering
bosom and gathers from the vast laboratory of the sky the purple of a
monarch's robe and the ocean's deep, calm blue. In its gracious cup you
"A fiddlestick!" jerked out Halicarnassus, profanely. "What are you
raving about such a precious bundle of weeds for? There isn't a
shoemaker's apprentice in the village that hasn't his seven-by-nine
garden overrun with them. You might have done better than bring
cartloads of phlox and larkspur a thousand miles. Why didn't you import
a few hollyhocks, or a sunflower or two, and perhaps a dainty slip
of cabbage? A pumpkin-vine, now, would climb over the front-door
deliciously, and a row of burdocks would make a highly entertaining
The reader will bear me witness that I had met my first rebuff with
humility. It was probably this very humility that emboldened him to a
second attack. I determined to change my tactics and give battle.
"Halicarnassus," said I, severely, "you are a hypocrite. You set up for
"Not I," interrupted he; "I voted for Harrison in '40, and for Fremont
in '56, and"—
"Nonsense!" interrupted I, in turn; "I mean a Democrat etymological, not
a Democrat political. You stand by the Declaration of Independence, and
believe in liberty, equality, and fraternity, and that all men are of
one blood; and here you are, ridiculing these innocent flowers, because
their brilliant beauty is not shut up in a conservatory to exhale its
fragrance on a fastidious few, but blooms on all alike, gladdening the
home of exile and lightening the burden of labor."
Halicarnassus saw that I had made a point against him, and preserved a
"But you are wrong," I went on, "even if you are right. You may laugh to
scorn my floral treasures, because they seem to you common and unclean,
but your laughter is premature. It is no ordinary seed that you see
before you. It sprang from no profane soil. It came from the—the—some
kind of an office at WASHINGTON, Sir! It was given me by one whose name
stands high on the scroll of fame,—a statesman whose views are as
broad as his judgment is sound,—an orator who holds all hearts in his
hand,—a man who is always found on the side of the feeble truth against
the strong falsehood,—whose sympathy for all that is good, whose
hostility to all that is bad, and whose boldness in every righteous
cause make him alike the terror and abhorrence of the oppressor, and the
hope and joy and staff of the oppressed."
"What is his name?" said Halicarnassus, phlegmatically.
"And for your miserable pumpkin-vine," I went on, "behold this
morning-glory, that shall open its barbaric splendor to the sun and
mount heavenward on the sparkling chariots of the dew. I took this from
the white hand of a young girl in whose heart poetry and purity have
met, grace and virtue have kissed each other,—whose feet have danced
over lilies and roses, who has known no sterner duty than to give
caresses, and whose gentle, spontaneous, and ever active loveliness
continually remind me that of such is the kingdom of heaven."
"Courted yet?" asked Halicarnassus, with a show of interest.
I transfixed him with a look, and continued,—
"This Maurandia, a climber, it may be common or it may be a king's
ransom. I only know that it is rosy-hued, and that I shall look at
life through its pleasant medium. Some fantastic trellis, brown and
benevolent, shall knot supporting arms around it, and day by day it
shall twine daintily up toward my southern window, and whisper softly of
the sweet-voiced, tender-eyed woman from whose fairy bower it came in
rosy wrappings. And this Nemophila, 'blue as my brother's eyes,'—the
brave young brother whose heroism and manhood have outstripped his
years, and who looks forth from the dank leafiness of far Australia
lovingly and longingly over the blue waters, as if, floating above them,
he might catch the flutter of white garments and the smile on a sister's
"What are you going to do with 'em?" put in Halicarnassus again.
I hesitated a moment, undecided whether to be amiable or bellicose under
the provocation, but concluded that my ends would stand a better
chance of being gained by adopting the former course, and so answered
seriously, as if I had not been switched off the track, but was going on
with perfect continuity,—
"To-morrow I shall take observations. Then, where the situation seems
most favorable, I shall lay out a garden. I shall plant these seeds in
it, except the vines and such things, which I wish to put near the house
to hide as much as possible its garish white. Then, with every little
tender shoot that appears above the ground, there will blossom also a
pleasant memory or a sunny hope or an admiring thrill."
"What do you expect will be the market-value of that crop?"
"Wealth which an empire could not purchase," I answered, with
enthusiasm. "But I shall not confine my attention to flowers. I shall
make the useful go with the beautiful. I shall plant vegetables,—
lettuce, and asparagus, and—so forth. Our table shall be garnished with
the products of our own soil, and our own works shall praise us."
There was a pause of several minutes, during which I fondled the seeds
and Halicarnassus enveloped himself in clouds of smoke. Presently there
was a cessation of puffs, a rift in the cloud showed that the oracle was
opening his mouth, and directly thereafter he delivered himself of the
"If we don't have any vegetables till we raise 'em, we shall be
carnivorous some time to come."
It was said with that provoking indifference more trying to a sensitive
mind than downright insult. You know it is based on some hidden
obstacle, palpable to your enemy, though hidden from you,—and that he
is calm because he know that the nature of things will work against you,
so that he need not interfere. If I had been less interested, I would
have revenged myself on him by remaining silent; but I was very much
interested, so I strangled my pride and said,—
"Land is too old for such things. Soil isn't mellow enough."
I had always supposed that the greater part of the main-land of our
continent was of equal antiquity, and dated back alike to the alluvial
period; but I suppose our little three acres must have been injected
through the intervening strata by some physical convulsion, from the
drift, or the tertiary formation, perhaps even from the primitive
"What are you going to do?" I ventured to inquire. "I don't suppose the
land will grow any younger by keeping."
"Plant it with corn and potatoes for at least two years before there can
be anything like a garden."
And Halicarnassus put up his pipe and betook himself to the house, and
I was glad of it, the abominable bore! to sit there and listen to my
glowing schemes, knowing all the while that they were soap-bubbles.
"Corn and potatoes," indeed! I didn't believe a word of it.
Halicarnassus always had an insane passion for corn and potatoes. Land
represented to him so many bushels of the one or the other. Now corn
and potatoes are very well in their way, but, like every other innocent
indulgence, carried too far, become a vice; and I more than suspected he
had planned the strategy simply to gratify his own weakness. Corn and
But when Halicarnassus entered the lists against me, he found an
opponent worthy of his steel. A few more such victories would be his
ruin. A grand scheme fired and filled my mind during the silent watches
of the night, and sent me forth in the morning, jubilant with high
resolve. Alexander might weep that he had no more worlds to conquer;
but I would create new. Archimedes might desiderate a place to stand
on before he could bring his lever into play; I would move the world,
self-poised. If Halicarnassus fancied that I was cut up, dispersed, and
annihilated by one disaster, he should weep tears of blood to see me
rise, Phoenix-like, from the ashes of my dead hopes, to a newer and more
glorious life. Here, having exhausted my classics, I took a long sweep
down to modern times, and vowed in my heart never to give up the ship.
Halicarnassus saw that a fell purpose was working in my mind, but a
certain high tragedy in my aspect warned him to silence; so he only
dogged me around the corners of the house, eyed me askance from the
wood-shed, and peeped through the crevices of the demented little barn.
But his vigilance bore no fruit. I but walked moodily "with folded arms
and fixed eyes," or struck out new paths at random, so long as there
were any vestiges of his creation extant. His time and patience being at
length exhausted, he went into the field to immolate himself with ever
new devotion on the shrine of corn and potatoes. Then my scheme came to
a head at once. In my walking, I had observed a box about three feet
long, two broad, and one foot deep, which Halicarnassus, with his usual
disregard of the proprieties of life, had used to block up a gate-way
that was waiting for a gate. It was just what I wanted. I straightway
knocked out the few nails that kept it in place, and, like another
Samson, bore it away on my shoulders. It was not an easy thing to
manage, as any one may find by trying,—nor would I advise young ladies,
as a general thing, to adopt that form of exercise,—but the end, not
the means, was my object, and by skilful diplomacy I got it up the
backstairs and through my window, out upon the roof of the porch
directly below. I then took the ash-pail and the fire-shovel and went
into the field, carefully keeping the lee side of Halicarnassus. "Good,
rich loam" I had observed all the gardening books to recommend; but
wherein the virtue or the richness of loam consisted I did not feel
competent to decide, and I scorned to ask. There seemed to be two kinds:
one black, damp, and dismal; the other fine, yellow, and good-natured.
A little reflection decided me to take the latter. Gold constituted
riches, and this was yellow like gold. Moreover, it seemed to have more
life in it. Night and darkness belonged to the other, while the very
heart of sunshine and summer seemed to be imprisoned in this golden
dust. So I plied my shovel and filled my pail again and again, bearing
it aloft with joyful labor, eager to be through before Halicarnassus
should reappear; but he got on the trail just as I was whisking
up-stairs for the last time, and shouted, astonished,—
"What are you doing?"
"Nothing," I answered, with that well-known accent which says,
"Everything! and I mean to keep doing it."
I have observed, that, in managing parents, husbands, lovers, brothers,
and indeed all classes of inferiors, nothing is so efficacious as to let
them know at the outset that you are going to have your own way. They
may fret a little at first, and interpose a few puny obstacles, but
it will be only a temporary obstruction; whereas, if you parley and
hesitate and suggest, they will but gather courage and strength for a
formidable resistance. It is the first step that costs. Halicarnassus
understood at once from my one small shot that I was in a mood to be let
alone, and he let me alone accordingly.
I remembered he had said that the soil was not mellow enough, and I
determined that my soil should be mellow, to which end I took it up by
handfuls and squeezed it through my fingers, completely pulverizing it.
It was not disagreeable work. Things in their right places are very
seldom disagreeable. A spider on your dress is a horror, but a spider
outdoors is rather interesting. Besides, the loam had a fine, soft feel
that was absolutely pleasant; but a hideous black and yellow reptile
with horns and hoofs, that winked up at me from it, was decidedly
unpleasant and out of place, and I at once concluded that the soil was
sufficiently mellow for my purposes, and smoothed it off directly. Then,
with delighted fingers, in sweeping circles, and fantastic whirls, and
exact triangles, I planted my seeds in generous profusion, determined,
that, if my wilderness did not blossom, it should not be from
niggardliness of seed. But even then my box was full before my basket
was emptied, and I was very reluctantly compelled to bring down from the
garret another box, which had been the property of my great-grandfather.
My great-grandfather was, I regret to say, a barber. I would rather
never have had any. If there is anything in the world besides worth that
I reverence, it is ancestry. My whole life long have I been in search of
a pedigree, and though I ran well at the beginning, I invariably stop
short at the third remove by running my head into a barber's shop. If
he had only been a farmer, now, I should not have minded. There is
something dignified and antique in land, and no one need trouble himself
to ascertain whether "farmer" stood for a close-fisted, narrow-souled
clodhopper, or the smiling, benevolent master of broad acres. Farmer
means both these, I could have chosen the meaning I liked, and it is not
probable that any troublesome facts would have floated down the years to
intercept any theory I might have launched. I would rather he had been
a shoemaker; it would have been so easy to transform him, after his
lamented decease, into a shoe-manufacturer,—and shoe-manufacturers, we
all know, are highly respectable people, often become great men, and
get sent to Congress. An apothecary might have figured as an M.D.
A greengrocer might have been apotheosized into a merchant. A
dancing-master would flourish on the family-records as a professor of
the Terpsichorean art. A taker of daguerreotype portraits would never
be recognized in "my great-grandfather the artist." But a barber is
unmitigated and immitigable. It cannot be shaded off nor toned down
nor brushed up. Besides, was greatness ever allied to barbarity?
Shakspeare's father was a wool-driver, Tillotson's a clothier, Barrow's
a linen-draper, Defoe's a butcher, Milton's a scrivener, Richardson's a
joiner, Burns's a farmer; but did any one ever hear of a barber's
having remarkable children? I must say, with all deference to my
great-grandfather, that I do wish he would have been considerate enough
of his descendants' feelings to have been born in the old days when
barbers and doctors were one, or else have chosen some other occupation
than barbering. Barber he did, however; in this very box he kept his
wigs, and, painful as it was to have continually before my eyes this
perpetual reminder of plebeian great-grand-paternity, I consented to it
rather than lose my seeds. Then I folded my hands in sweet, though calm
satisfaction. I had proved myself equal to the emergency, and that
always diffuses a glow of genial complacency through the soul. I had
outwitted Halicarnassus. Exultation number two. He had designed to cheat
me out of my garden by a story about land, and here was my garden ready
to burst forth into blossom under my eyes. He said little, but I knew
he felt deeply. I caught him one day looking out at my window with
corroding envy in every lineament. "You might have got some dust out of
the road; it would have been nearer." That was all he said. Even that
little I did not fully understand.
I watched, and waited, and watered, in silent expectancy, for several
days, but nothing came up, and I began to be anxious. Suddenly I thought
of my vegetable-seeds, and determined to try those. Of course a hanging
kitchen-garden was not to be thought of, and as Halicarnassus was
fortunately absent for a few days, I prospected on the farm. A sunny
little corner on a southern slope smiled up at me, and seemed to offer
itself as a delightful situation for the diminutive garden which mine
must be. The soil, too, seemed as fine and mellow as could be desired.
I at once captured an Englishman from a neighboring plantation, hurried
him into my corner, and bade him dig me and hoe me and plant me a garden
as soon as possible. He looked blankly at me for a moment, and I looked
blankly at him,—wondering what lion he saw in the way.
"Them is planted with potatoes now," he gasped, at length.
"No matter," I returned, with sudden relief to find that nothing but
potatoes interfered. "I want it to be unplanted, and planted with
vegetables,—lettuce and—asparagus—and such."
He stood hesitating.
"Will the master like it?"
"Yes," said Diplomacy, "he will be delighted."
"No matter whether he likes it or not," codiciled Conscience. "You do
"I—don't exactly like—to—take the responsibility," wavered this
"I don't want you to take the responsibility," I ejaculated, with
volcanic vehemence. "I'll take the responsibility. You take the hoe."
These duty-people do infuriate me. They are so afraid to do anything
that isn't laid out in a right-angled triangle. Every path must be
graded and turfed before they dare set their scrupulous feet in it.
I like conscience, but, like corn and potatoes, carried too far, it
becomes a vice. I think I could commit a murder with less hesitation
than some people buy a ninepenny calico. And to see that man stand
there, balancing probabilities over a piece of ground no bigger than a
bed-quilt, as if a nation's fate were at stake, was enough to ruffle a
calmer temper than mine. My impetuosity impressed him, however, and he
began to lay about him vigorously with hoe and rake and lines, and, in
an incredibly short space of time, had a bit of square flatness laid out
with wonderful precision. Meanwhile I had ransacked my vegetable-bag,
and though lettuce and asparagus were not there, plenty of beets and
parsnips and squashes, etc., were. I let him take his choice. He took
the first two. The rest were left on my hands. But I had gone too far to
recede. They burned in my pocket for a few days, and I saw that I must
get them into the ground somewhere. I could not sleep with them in the
room. They were wandering shades craving at my hands a burial, and I
determined to put them where Banquo's ghost would not go,—down. Down
accordingly they went, but not symmetrically nor simultaneously. I faced
Halicarnassus on the subject of the beet-bed, and though I cannot say
that either of us gained a brilliant victory, yet I can say that I
kept possession of the ground; still, I did not care to risk a second
encounter. So I kept my seeds about me continually, and dropped them
surreptitiously as occasion offered. Consequently, my garden, taken as
a whole, was located where the Penobscot Indian was born,—"all along
shore." The squashes were scattered among the corn. The beans were
tucked under the brushwood, in the fond hope that they would climb
up it. Two tomato-plants were lodged in the potato-field, under the
protection of some broken apple-branches dragged thither for the
purpose. The cucumbers went down on the sheltered side of a wood-pile.
The peas took their chances of life under the sink-nose. The sweet-corn
was marked off from the rest by a broomstick,—and all took root alike
in my heart.
May I ask you now, O Friend, who, I would fain believe, have followed me
thus far with no hostile eyes, to glide in tranced forgetfulness through
the white blooms of May and the roses of June, into the warm breath of
July afternoons and the languid pulse of August, perhaps even into
the mild haze of September and the "flying gold" of brown October? In
narrating to you the fruition of my hopes, I shall endeavor to preserve
that calm equanimity which is the birthright of royal minds. I shall
endeavor not to be unduly elated by success nor unduly depressed by
failure, but to state in simple language the result of my experiments,
both for an encouragement and a warning. I shall give the history of the
several ventures separately, as nearly as I can recollect in the
order in which they grew, beginning with the humbler ministers to our
appetites, and soaring gradually into the region of the poetical and the
BEETS.—The beets came up, little red-veined leaves, struggling for
breath among a tangle of Roman wormwood and garlic; and though they
exhibited great tenacity of life, they also exhibited great irregularity
of purpose. In one spot there would be nothing, in an adjacent spot a
whorl of beets, big and little, crowding and jostling and elbowing each
other, like school-boys round the red-hot stove on a winter's morning.
I knew they had been planted in a right line, and I don't, even now,
comprehend why they should not come up in a right line. I weeded them,
and though freedom from foreign growth discovered an intention, of
straightness, the most casual observer could not but see that skewiness
had usurped its place. I repaired to my friend the gardener. He said
they must be thinned out and transplanted. It went to my heart to pull
up the dear things, but I did it, and set them down again tenderly in
the vacant spots. It was evening. The next morning I went to them.
Flatness has a new meaning to me since that morning. You can hardly
conceive that anything could look so utterly forlorn, disconsolate,
disheartened, and collapsed. In fact, they exhibited a degree of
depression so entirely beyond what the circumstances demanded, that I
was enraged. If they had shown any symptoms of trying to live, I could
have sighed and forgiven them; but, on the contrary, they had flopped
and died without a struggle, and I pulled them up without a pang,
comforting myself with the remaining ones, which throve on their
companions' graves, and waxed fat and full and crimson-hearted, in their
soft, brown beds. So delighted was I with their luxuriant rotundity,
that I made an internal resolve that henceforth I would always plant
beets. True, I cannot abide beets. Their fragrance and their flavor are
alike nauseating; but they come up, and a beet that will come up is
better than a cedar of Lebanon that won't. In all the vegetable kingdom
I know of no quality better than this, growth,—nor any quality that
will atone for its absence.
PARSNIPS.—They ran the race with an indescribable vehemence that fairly
threw the beets into the shade. They trod so delicately at first that
I was quite unprepared for such enthusiasm. Lacking the red veining, I
could not distinguish them even from the weeds with any certainty, and
was forced to let both grow together till the harvest. So both grew
together, a perfect jungle. But the parsnips got ahead, and rushed up
gloriously, magnificently, bacchanalianly,—as the winds come when
forests are rended,—as the waves come when navies are stranded. I am,
indeed, troubled with a suspicion that their vitality has all run to
leaves, and that, when I go down into the depths of the earth for
the parsnips, I shall find only bread of emptiness. It is a pleasing
reflection that parsnips cannot be eaten till the second year. I am told
that they must lie in the ground during the winter. Consequently it
cannot be decided whether there are any or not till next spring. I shall
in the mean time assume and assert without hesitation or qualification
that there are as many tubers below the surface as there are leaves
above it. I shall thereby enjoy a pleasant consciousness, and the
respect of all, for the winter; and if disappointment awaits me in the
spring, time will have blunted its keenness for me, and other people
will have forgotten the whole subject. You may be sure I shall not
remind them of it.
CUCUMBERS.—The cucumbers came up so far and stuck. It must have been
innate depravity, for there was no shadow of reason why they should not
keep on as they began. They did not. They stopped growing in the prime
of life. Only three cucumbers developed, and they hid under the vines so
that I did not see them till they were become ripe, yellow, soft, and
worthless. They are an unwholesome fruit at best, and I bore their loss
with great fortitude.
TOMATOES.—Both dead. I had been instructed to protect them from the
frost by night and from the sun by day. I intended to do so ultimately,
but I did not suppose there was any emergency. A frost came the first
night and killed them, and a hot sun the next day burned up all there
was left. When they were both thoroughly dead, I took great pains to
cover them every night and noon. No symptoms of revival appearing to
reward my efforts, I left them to shift for themselves. I did not think
there was any need of their dying, in the first place; and if they would
be so absurd as to die without provocation, I did not see the necessity
of going into a decline about it. Besides, I never did value plants
or animals that have to be nursed, and petted, and coaxed to live.
If things want to die, I think they'd better die. Provoked by my
indifference, one of the tomatoes flared up and took a new start,—put
forth leaves, shot out vines, and covered himself with fruit and glory.
The chickens picked out the heart of all the tomatoes as soon as they
ripened, which was of no consequence, however, as they had wasted
so much time in the beginning that the autumn frosts came upon them
unawares, and there wouldn't have been fruit enough ripe to be of any
account, if no chicken had ever broken a shell.
SQUASHES.—They appeared above-ground, large-lobed and vigorous. Large
and vigorous appeared the bugs, all gleaming in green and gold, like
the wolf on the fold, and stopped up all the stomata and ate up all the
parenchyma, till my squash-leaves looked as if they had grown for the
sole purpose of illustrating net-veined organizations. In consternation
I sought again my neighbor the Englishman. He assured me he had 'em
on his, too,—lots of 'em. This reconciled me to mine. Bugs are not
inherently desirable, but a universal bug does not indicate special want
of skill in any one. So I was comforted. But the Englishman said they
must be killed. He had killed his. Then I said I would kill mine, too.
How should it be done? Oh! put a shingle near the vine at night and they
would crawl upon it to keep dry, and go out early in the morning and
kill 'em. But how to kill them? Why, take 'em right between your thumb
and finger and crush 'em!
As soon as I could recover breath, I informed him confidentially, that,
if the world were one great squash, I wouldn't undertake to save it in
that way. He smiled a little, but I think he was not overmuch pleased. I
asked him why I couldn't take a bucket of water and dip the shingle in
it and drown them. He said, well, I could try it. I did try it,—first
wrapping my hand in a cloth to prevent contact with any stray bug. To
my amazement, the moment they touched the water they all spread unseen
wings and flew away, safe and sound. I should not have been much more
surprised to see Halicarnassus soaring over the ridge-pole. I had not
the slightest idea that they could fly. Of course I gave up the design
of drowning them. I called a council of war. One said I must put a
newspaper over them and fasten it down at the edges; then they couldn't
get in. I timidly suggested that the squashes couldn't get out. Yes,
they could, he said,—they'd grow right through the paper. Another said
I must surround them with round boxes with the bottoms broken out; for,
though they could fly, they couldn't steer, and when they flew up, they
just dropped down anywhere, and as there was on the whole a good deal
more land on the outside of the boxes than on the inside, the chances
were in favor of their dropping on the outside. Another said that ashes
must be sprinkled on them. A fourth said lime was an infallible remedy.
I began with the paper, which I secured with no little difficulty; for
the wind—the same wind, strange to say—kept blowing the dirt at me
and the paper away from me; but I consoled myself by remembering the
numberless rows of squash-pies that should crown my labors, and May took
heart from Thanksgiving. The next day I peeped under the paper and the
bugs were a solid phalanx. I reported at head-quarters, and they asked
me if I killed the bugs before I put the paper down. I said no, I
supposed it would stifle them,—in fact, I didn't think anything about
it, but if I thought anything, that was what I thought. I wasn't pleased
to find I had been cultivating the bugs and furnishing them with free
lodgings. I went home and tried all the remedies in succession. I could
hardly decide which agreed best with the structure and habits of the
bugs, but they throve on all. Then I tried them all at once and all o'er
with a mighty uproar. Presently the bugs went away. I am not sure that
they wouldn't have gone just as soon, if I had let them alone. After
they were gone, the vines scrambled out and put forth some beautiful,
deep golden blossoms. When they fell off, that was the end of them. Not
a squash,—not one,—not a single squash,—not even a pumpkin. They
were all false blossoms.
APPLES.—The trees swelled into masses of pink and white fragrance.
Nothing could exceed their fluttering loveliness or their luxuriant
promise. A few days of fairy beauty, and showers of soft petals floated
noiselessly down, covering the earth with delicate snow; but I knew,
that, though the first blush of beauty was gone, a mighty work was going
on in a million little laboratories, and that the real glory was yet to
come. I was surprised to observe, one day, that the trees seemed to be
turning red. I remarked to Halicarnassus that that was one of Nature's
processes which I did not remember to have seen noticed in any
botanical treatise. I thought such a change did not occur till autumn.
Halicarnassus curved the thumb and forefinger of his right hand into an
arch, the ends of which rested on the wrist of his left coat-sleeve. He
then lifted the forefinger high and brought it forward. Then he lifted
the thumb and brought it up behind the forefinger, and so made them
travel up to his elbow. It seemed to require considerable exertion in
the thumb and forefinger, and I watched the progress with interest. Then
I asked him what he meant by it.
"That's the way they walk," he replied.
"The little fellows that have squatted on our trees."
"What little fellows do you mean?"
"How many are there?"
"About twenty-five decillions, I should think, as near as I can count."
"Why! what are they for? What good do they do?"
"Oh! no end. Keep the children from eating green apples and getting
"How do they do that?"
"Eat 'em themselves."
A frightful idea dawned upon me. I believe I turned a kind of ghastly
"Halicarnassus, do you mean to tell me that the canker-worms are eating
up our apples and that we shan't have any?"
"It looks like that exceedingly."
That was months ago, and it looks a great deal more like it now. I
watched those trees with sadness at my heart. Millions of brown, ugly,
villanous worms gnawed, gnawed, gnawed, at the poor little tender leaves
and buds,—held them in foul embrace,—polluted their sweetness with
hateful breath. I could almost feel the shudder of the trees in that
slimy clasp,—could almost hear the shrieking and moaning of the young
fruit that saw its hope of happy life thus slowly consuming; but I
was powerless to save. For weeks that loathsome army preyed upon the
unhappy, helpless trees, and then spun loathsomely to the ground, and
buried itself in the reluctant, shuddering soil. A few dismal little
apples escaped the common fate, but when they rounded into greenness and
a suspicion of pulp, a boring worm came and bored them, and they,
too, died. No apple-pies at Thanksgiving. No apple-roasting in winter
evenings. No pan-pie with hot brown bread on Sunday mornings.
CHERRIES.—They rivalled the apple-blooms in snowy profusion, and the
branches were covered with tiny balls. The sun mounted warm and high in
the heavens and they blushed under his ardent gaze. I felt an increasing
conviction that here there would be no disappointment; but it soon
became palpable that another class of depredators had marked our trees
for their own. Little brown toes could occasionally be seen peeping from
the foliage, and little bare feet left their print on the garden-soil.
Humanity had evidently deposited its larva in the vicinity. There was a
schoolhouse not very far away, and the children used to draw water from
an old well in a distant part of the garden. It was surprising to see
how thirsty they all became as the cherries ripened. It was as if the
village had simultaneously agreed to breakfast on salt fish. Their
wooden bucket might have been the urn of the Danaïdes, judging from the
time it took to fill it. The boys were as fleet of foot as young zebras,
and presented upon discovery no apology or justification but their
heels,—which was a wise stroke in them. A troop of rosy-cheeked,
bright-eyed little snips in white pantalets, caught in the act, reasoned
with in a semi-circle, and cajoled with candy, were as sweet as
distilled honey, and promised with all their innocent hearts and hands
not to do so any more. But the real pièce de résistance was a mass of
pretty well developed crinoline which an informal walk in the infested
district brought to light, engaged in a systematic raid upon the
tempting fruit. Now, in my country, the presence of unknown individuals
in your own garden, plucking your fruit from your trees, without your
knowledge and against your will, is universally considered as affording
presumptive evidence of—something. In this part of the world, however,
I find they do things differently. It doesn't furnish presumptive
evidence of anything. If you think it does, you do so at your own risk.
I thought it did, and escaped by the skin of my teeth. I hinted my
views, and found myself in a den of lions, and was thankful to come out
second-best. Second? nay, third-best, fourth-best, no best at all, not
even good,—very bad. In short, I was glad to get out with my life. Nor
was my repulse confined to the passing hour. The injured innocents come
no more for water. I am consumed with inward remorse as I see them daily
file majestically past my house to my neighbor's well. I have resolved
to plant a strawberry-bed next year, and offer them the fruit of it by
way of atonement, and never, under any provocation, hereafter, to assert
or insinuate that I have any claim whatever to anything under the sun.
If this course, perseveringly persisted in, does not restore the state
of quo, I am hopeless. I have no further resources.
The one drop of sweetness in the bitter cup was, that the cherries,
being thus let severely alone, were allowed to hang on the trees and
ripen. It took them a great while. If they had been as big as hogsheads,
I should think the sun might have got through them sooner than he did.
They looked ripe long before they were so; and as they were very
plenty, the trees presented a beautiful appearance. I bought a stack of
fantastic little baskets from a travelling Indian tribe, at a fabulous
price, for the sake of fulfilling my long-cherished design of sending
fruit to my city friends. After long waiting, Halicarnassus came in one
morning with a tin pail full, and said that they were ripe at last, for
they were turning purple and falling off; and he was going to have them
gathered at once. He had brought in the first-fruits for breakfast. I
put them in the best preserve-dish, twined it with myrtle, and set it
in the centre of the table. It looked charming,—so ruddy and rural and
Arcadian. I wished we could breakfast out-doors; but the summer was one
of unusual severity, and it was hardly prudent thus to brave its rigor.
We had cup-custards at the close of our breakfast that morning,—very
vulgar, but very delicious. We reached the cherries at the same moment,
and swallowed the first one simultaneously. The effect was instantaneous
and electric. Halicarnassus puckered his face into a perfect wheel,
with his mouth for the hub. I don't know how I looked, but I felt badly
"It was unfortunate that we had custards this morning," I remarked.
"They are so sweet that the cherries seem sour by contrast. We shall
soon get the sweet taste out of our mouths, however."
"That's so!" said Halicarnassus, who will be coarse.
We tried another. He exhibited a similar pantomime, with improvements.
My feelings were also the same, intensified.
"I am not in luck to-day," I said, attempting to smile. "I got hold of a
sour cherry this time."
"I got hold of a bitter one," said Halicarnassus.
"Mine was a little bitter, too," I added.
"Mine was a little sour, too," said Halicarnassus.
"We shall have to try again," said I.
We did try again.
"Mine was a good deal of both this time," said Halicarnassus. "But we
will give them a fair trial."
"Yes," said I, sepulchrally.
We sat there sacrificing ourselves to abstract right for five minutes.
Then I leaned back in my chair, and looked at Halicarnassus. He rested
his right elbow on the table, and looked at me.
"Well," said he, at last, "how are cherries and things?"
"Halicarnassus," said I, solemnly, "it is my firm conviction that
farming is not a lucrative occupation. You have no certain assurance of
return, either for labor or capital invested. Look at it. The bugs eat
up the squashes. The worms eat up the apples. The cucumbers won't grow
at all. The peas have got lost. The cherries are bitter as wormwood and
sour as you in your worst moods. Everything that is good for anything
won't grow, and everything that grows isn't good for anything."
"My Indian corn, though," began Halicarnassus; but I snapped him up
before he was fairly under way. I had no idea of travelling in that
"What am I to do with all those baskets that I bought, I should like to
know?" I asked, sharply.
"What did you buy them for?" he asked in return.
"To send cherries to the Hudsons and the Mavericks and Fred Ashley," I
"Why don't you send 'em, then? There's plenty of them,—more than we
"Because," I answered, "I have not exhausted the pleasures of
friendship. Nor do I perceive the benefit that would accrue from turning
life-long friends into life-long enemies."
"I'll tell you what we can do," said Halicarnassus. "We can give a party
and treat them to cherries. They'll have to eat 'em out of politeness."
"Halicarnassus," said I, "we should be mobbed. We should fall victims to
the fury of a disappointed and enraged populace."
"At any rate," said he, "we can offer them to chance visitors."
The suggestion seemed to me a good one,—at any rate, the only one that
held out any prospect of relief. Thereafter, whenever friends called
singly or in squads,—if the squads were not large enough to be
formidable,—we invariably set cherries before them, and with generous
hospitality pressed them to partake. The varying phases of emotion which
they exhibited were painful to me at first, but I at length came to take
a morbid pleasure in noting them. It was a study for a sculptor. By long
practice I learned to detect the shadow of each coming change, where a
casual observer would see only a serene expanse of placid politeness.
I knew just where the radiance, awakened by the luscious, swelling,
crimson globes, faded into doubt, settled into certainty, glared into
perplexity, fired into rage. I saw the grimace, suppressed as soon as
begun, but not less patent to my preternaturally keen eyes. No one
deceived me by being suddenly seized with admiration of a view. I
knew it was only to relieve his nerves by making faces behind the
I grew to take a fiendish delight in watching the conflict, and the
fierce desperation which marked its violence. On the one side were
the forces of fusion, a reluctant stomach, an unwilling oesophagus, a
loathing palate; on the other, the stern, unconquerable will. A natural
philosopher would have gathered new proofs of the unlimited capacity of
the human race to adapt itself to circumstances, from the débris that
strewed our premises after each fresh departure. Cherries were chucked
under the sofa, into the table-drawers, behind the books, under the
lamp-mats, into the vases, in any and every place where a dexterous hand
could dispose of them without detection. Yet their number seemed to
suffer no abatement. Like Tityus's liver, they were constantly renewed,
though constantly consumed. The small boys seemed to be suffering from a
fit of conscience. In vain we closed the blinds and shut ourselves up in
the house to give them a fair field. Not a cherry was taken. In vain we
went ostentatiously to church all day on Sunday. Not a twig was touched.
Finally I dropped all the curtains on that side of the house, and
avoided that part of the garden in my walks. The cherries may be hanging
there to this day, for aught I know.
But why do I thus linger over the sad recital? "Ab uno disce omnes."
(A quotation from Virgil: means, "All of a piece.") There may have been,
there probably was, an abundance of sweet-corn, but the broomstick that
had marked the spot was lost, and I could in no wise recall either spot
or stick. Nor did I ever see or hear of the peas,—or the beans. If our
chickens could be brought to the witness-box, they might throw light on
the subject. As it is, I drop a natural tear, and pass on to
THE FLOWER-GARDEN.—It appeared very much behind time,—chiefly Roman
wormwood. I was grateful even for that. Then two rows of four-o'clocks
became visible to the naked eye. They are cryptogamous, it seems.
Botanists have hitherto classed them among the Phaenogamia. A sweet-pea
and a china-aster dawdled up just in time to get frost-bitten. "Et
praeterea nihil." (Virgil: means, "That's all.") I am sure it was no
fault of mine. I tended my seeds with assiduous care. My devotion was
unwearied. I was a very slave to their caprices. I planted them just
beneath the surface in the first place, so that they might have an easy
passage. In two or three days they all seemed to be lying round loose on
the top, and I planted them an inch deep. Then I didn't see them at
all for so long that I took them up again, and planted them half-way
between. It was of no use. You cannot suit people or plants that are
determined not to be suited.
Yet, sad as my story is, I cannot regret that I came into the country
and attempted a garden. It has been fruitful in lessons, if in nothing
else. I have seen how every evil has its compensating good. When I am
tempted to repine that my squashes did not grow, I reflect, that, if
they had grown, they would probably have all turned into pumpkins, or if
they had stayed squashes, they would have been stolen. When it seems
a mysterious Providence that kept all my young hopes underground, I
reflect how fine an illustration I should otherwise have lost of what
Kossuth calls the solidarity of the human race,—what Paul alludes to,
when he says, if one member suffer, all the members suffer with it. I
recall with grateful tears the sympathy of my neighbors on the right
hand and on the left,—expressed not only by words, but by deeds. In my
mind's eye, Horatio, I see again the baskets of apples, and pears, and
tomatoes, and strawberries,—squashes too heavy to lift,—and corn
sweet as the dews of Hymettus, that bore daily witness of human
brotherhood. I remember, too, the victory which I gained over my own
depraved nature. I saw my neighbor prosper in everything he undertook.
Nihil tetigit quod non crevit. Fertility found in his soil its
congenial home, and spanned it with rainbow hues. Every day I walked by
his garden and saw it putting on its strength, its beautiful garments.
I had not even the small satisfaction of reflecting that amid all his
splendid success his life was cold and cheerless, while mine, amid all
its failures, was full of warmth,—a reflection which, I have often
observed, seems to go a great way towards making a person contented with
his lot,—for he had a lovely wife, promising children, and the whole
village for his friends. Yet, notwithstanding all these obstacles, I
learned to look over his garden-wall with sincere joy.
There is one provocation, however, which I cannot yet bear with
equanimity, and which I do not believe I shall ever meet without at
least a spasm of wrath, even if my Christian character shall ever become
strong enough to preclude absolute tetanus; and I do hereby beseech all
persons who would not be guilty of the sin of Jeroboam who made Israel
to sin, who do not wish to have on their hands the burden of my ruined
temper, to let me go quietly down into the valley of humiliation and
oblivion, and not pester me, as they have hitherto done from all parts
of the North-American continent, with the infuriating question, "How did
you get on with your garden?"