« PreviousContinue »
Give honor to their memories who left the pleasant strand
XXII. - A FLOWER FOR THE WINDOW.
(LEIGZ HUNT, a living author of England, was born at Southgate, in the county of Middlesex, October 19, 1784. He has been a man of letters by profession, and was for many years a writer for the periodical press in London. He appeared as a poet at an early age. His poetry was of a kind that was easy to disparage, and not difficult to ridicule. Its simplicity sometimes degenerated into baldness, and the tone of sentiment was not always free from mawkishness. There were certain peculiarities of expression in it, which appeared like affectation; besides a frequent use of novel words, and a flowing laxity in the structure of his verse. He was criticised accordingly with indiscriminate severity; especially by those writers who differed from him in politics, he being an ardent liberal. Of late years more justice has been done him; and his tenderness of feeling, luxuriant fancy, and warm sympathy alike with nature and the affections of the heart, are appreciated as they should be.
Mr. Hunt is also a prose writer; and he writes prose, to say the least, as well as poetry. His sketches and essays, which have appeared from time to time, and been collected under the names of The Indicator and Companion and The Seer, are delightful compositions; full of genial feeling, graceful fancy, and an inextinguishable spirit of youth. He is also an admirable critic of poetry. His Imagination and Fancy, and Wit and Humor, - consisting of poetical extracts illustrating these qualities, with critical notices, - are written with earnest feeling and a lively and discriminating sense of the merits of the authors he discusses. They have been republished in this country, and are commended to all who wish to acquire a good taste in poetical literature.]
Why does not every one (who can afford it) have a geranium in his window, or some other flower? It is very cheap; its cheapness is next to nothing, if you raise it from seed, or from a slip; and it is a beauty and a companion, It sweet ens the air, rejoices the eye, links you with nature and innocence, and is something to love. And if it cannot love you in return, it cannot hate you ; it cannot utter a hateful thing
even for your neglecting it; for, though it is all beauty, it has no vanity; and such being the case, and living as it does purely to do you good and afford pleasure, how will you be able to neglect it?
you choose a geranium, or possess but a few of them, let us persuade you to choose the scarlet kind, the “old original” geranium, and not a variety of it, not one of the numerous diversities of red and white, blue and white, ivyleaved, &c. Those are all beautiful, and very fit to vary a large collection; but to prefer them to the originals of the race is to run the hazard of preferring the curious to the beautiful, and costliness to sound taste. It may be taken as a good general rule, that the most popular plants are the best; for otherwise they would not have become such. And what the painters call “ pure colors are preferable to mixed ones, for reasons which Nature herself has given when she painted the sky of one color, and the fields of another, and divided the rainbow itself into a few distinct colors, and made the red rose the queen of flowers.
Variations in flowers are like variations in music, often beautiful as such, but almost always inferior to the theme on which they are founded — the original air. And the rule holds good in beds of flowers, if they be not very large, or in any other small assemblage of them. Nay, the largest bed will look well, if of one beautiful color, while the most beautiful varieties may be inharmoniously mixed up. Contrast is a good thing, but we should first get a good idea of the thing to be contrasted ; and we shall find this preferable to the contrast, if we are not rich enough to have both in due measure. We do not, in general, love and honor any one single color enough, and we are instinctively struck with a conviction to this effect, when we see it abundantly set forth. The other day we saw a little garden wall completely covered with nasturtions, and felt how much more beautiful it was than if any thing had been mixed with it; for the leaves and the light and shade offer variety enough. The rest is all richness and simplicity united, which is the triumph of an intense perception. Embower a cottage thickly and completely with nothing but roses, and nobody would desire the interference of another plant.
Every thing is handsome about the geranium, not excepting its name; which cannot be said of all flowers, though we get to love ugly words when associated with pleasing ideas. The word "geranium” is soft and pleasant; the meaning is poor, for it comes from a Greek word which signifies a crane, the fruit having the form of a crane's head or bill. Cranesbill is the English name for geranium, though the learned appellation has superseded the vernacular. But what a reason for naming the flower! as if the fruit were any thing in comparison, or any one cared about it. Such distinctions, it is true, are useful to botanists; but as a plenty of learned names are sure to be reserved for the freemasonry of the science, it would be well for the world at large to invent joyous and beautiful names for these images of joy and beauty. In some instances we have them ; such as heartsease, honeysuckle, marigold, mignonette, (little darling,) daisy, (day's eye,) &c. And many flowers are so lovely, and have associated names otherwise unmeaning so pleasantly with one's memory, that no new ones would sound so well, or seem even to have such proper significations.
In pronouncing the words lilies, roses, tulips, pinks, jonquils, we see the things themselves, and seem to taste all their beauty and sweetness. Pink is a harsh, petty word in itself, and yet assuredly it does not seem so; for in the word we have the flower. It would be difficult to persuade ourselves that the word rose is not very beautiful. Pea is a poor, Chineselike monosyllable; and brier is rough and fierce, as it ought to be; but when we think of sweet-pea and sweet-brier, the words appear quite worthy of their epithets. The poor monosyllable becomes rich in sweetness and appropriation ; the rough dissyllable also; and the sweeter for its contrast.
The names of flowers, in general, among the polite, are peither pretty in themselves, nor give us information. The country people are apt to do them more justice. Goldylocks, ladies' fingers, rose-a-ruby, shepherd's clock, shepherd's purse, sauce-alone, scarlet runners, sops-in-wine, sweet-william, &c., give us some ideas, either useful or pleasant. But from the peasantry come many uncongenial names, as bad as those of the botanist. It is a pity that all fruits and flowers, and animals too, except those with good names, could not be passed in review before somebody with a genius for christening, as the creatures did before Adam in paradise, and so have new names given them, worthy of their creation.
Suppose flowers themselves were new! Suppose they had just come into the world, a sweet reward for some new goodness, and that we had not yet seen them quite developed ; that they were in the act of growing; had just issued, with their green stalks, out of the ground, and engaged the attention of the curious. Imagine what we should feel when we saw the first lateral stem bearing off from the main one, or putting forth a leaf. How we should watch the leaf gradually unfolding its little graceful hand; then another, then another; then the main stalk rising and producing more; then one of them giving indications of astonishing novelty-a bud ! then this mysterious bud gradually unfolding, like the leaf, amazing us, enchanting us, almost alarming us with delight, as if we knew not what enchantment were to ens till at length, in all its fairy beauty, and odorous voluptuousness, and mysterious elaboration of tender and living sculpture, shone forth
“ The bright consummate flower !”.
Yet this phenomenon, to a person of any thought and lovingness, is what may be said to take place every day; for the commonest objects are wonders at which habit has made us cease to wonder, and the marvellousness of which we may renew at pleasure, by taking thought. Last spring, walking near some cultivated grounds, and seeing a multitude of green stalks peeping forth, we amused ourselves with imagining them the plumes or other head gear of fairies, and wondered what faces might ensue: and from this exercise of the fancy, we fell to considering how true, and not merely fanciful, those speculations were; what a perpetual reproduction of the marvellous was carried on by Nature ; how utterly ignorant we were of the causes of the least and most disesteemed of the commonest vegetables, and what a quantity of life, and beauty, and mystery, and use, and enjoyment, was to be found in them, composed of all sorts of elements, and shaped as if by the hands of fairies. What workmanship with no apparent workman! A tree grows up, and at the tips of his rugged, dark fingers he puts forth, -round, smooth, and shining delicately,—the golden apple, or the cheek-like beauty of the peach.
The other day we were in a garden where Indian corn was growing, and some of the ears were plucked to show us. First, one leaf or sheath was picked off, then another, another, a fourth, and so on, as if a fruit seller were unpacking his papers; and at last we came, in the inside, to the grains of corn, packed into cucumber shapes of pale gold, and each of them pressed and flattened against each other, as if some human hand had been doing it in the caverns of the earth. BUT WHAT HAND?
The same that made the poor yet rich hand (for is it not his workmanship also?) that is tracing these marvelling lines; and if it does not tremble to say so, it is because love sustains, and because the heart also is a flower which has a right to be tranquil in the garden of the All-wise.