« AnteriorContinuar »
through his soul. We lay our hearts against his, and feel the pulsations of a mighty spirit, which has looked through all the ways of men, and firmly chosen its own high path. But in the midst of our admiration and delight we feel an atmosphere around us, which does not quite repulse, nor yet quite win
A PLEA FOR QUINCES AND QUINCE-TREES.
E GRAND, in his "Vie privée des François," has informed us that the quince first came from Cydon, a city of Crete. Later naturalists, with but few dissenting voices, have accepted this authority as conclusive, in confirmation of the common tradition. Even if we cherished any doubts on the subject, we would hardly adventure now, as the fugaces anni have somewhat stiffened the Hotspur joints of life within us, to assault a body of testimony so respectable, and sustained by so many stalwart followers. We apprehend, too, if we did, that our chivalry would be rewarded like the task of Sisyphus, or that of those almanacs and country newspapers, which annually insist, in the face of the popular illusion, that the "Irish potato" is a native of South America, instead of Ireland. It is wiser, then, to let the Cretan origin of the quince pass as a dogma of the orchard. This tradition, indeed, aside from the presumptive evidence afforded by the botanical name of the fruit (Cydonia), and from any claim formerly presented by the islanders themselves to the honor (which, according to Titus I. 12, might be religiously regarded as apocryphal), derives significance from the glimmerings cast upon the subject by ancient classic literature. Pliny informs us that quinces were often suspended about the images of the gods in the sleeping-apartments of Roman houses. The most plausible reason we can find, for the selection of the quince among fruits, as a decoration for the Pagan divinities, rests upon the presumption that it flourished in Crete, and especially about the venerable steeps of Mount Ida, so far back as the era of mythology. We are told by the poets, that Jupiter received his edu
us. We are dazzled by the necromancer. in his sky-woven robes-may even be healed by his most potent charms-but we do not call him friend. We do not clasp him to our bosoms as we fancy that we might the old child-like Homer, or the genial Shakespeare, or even the stern "father of Tuscan song."
cation there, in a cave, under the tutorage of the Corybantes. How probable, then, and how agreeable the surmise, that a quince-orchard was the airingground of the student Thunderer! With this conjecture once established, we have no difficulty whatever in explaining, by honest, logical sequence, the mystery of the subsequent sacred association of the fruit. This hypothesis also confirms a suspicion we have long entertained, that the celebrated golden apples which Juno presented to Jupiter upon their wedding day, and which were intrusted to the safe keeping of the Hesperides, were quincesthe Chrysomeliana mala of Columella, and the Aurea mala of Virgil. This supposition admitted, the nuptial gift of the divine bride, by the genial allusion it contained to the early associations of her lord, becomes invested with a truly graceful meaning.
In social winter nights, with "Dory" upon our knee, and other upturned diminutive faces below, embroidering the domestic hearth, it was not unpleasant formerly to tell, by the hour, of the enchanting favors of fortune suddenly amassed upon men of our acquaintance, especially, as it happened, upon certain worthies whom, as common lads of the town, it was once our agreeable prerogative to hold in contempt; but who, by virtue of this blindfolded divinity's unbounded grace, had mounted rapidly to posts of distinction in society far above our head. Our uncle's clerk of the counter, for example, had become one of these roseate favorites, who, at an early day, left us for Texas, and a career of glory, when we all thought he had left for Texas, and a career of ruin. The misery of the thing was, however, that all such phenomenal exemplifica
tions of American progression, afforded no healthful moral lessons for the proper culture of the little school of hearts before us. For the life of us, we could not mould them, at the end, after the manner of useful apologues, to any good purpose. We have accordingly concluded that it is better, as a general rule, for a prudent parent to exclude fast men and filibusters from his fireside tableaux. The steady, systematical growth of fortune, by sober industry (with a side lift, perhaps, from the railroad), as disclosed in the conservative life of the farmer, or fruit-grower, makes a much safer picture for the young scions of the homestead. It is not so charming, we know, and your boys upon the rug may soon become drowsy; but when you observe this tendency, consider, for your solace, that the orthodox scheme of moral culture is analogous, in many elementary respects, to the practice of medicine, and is based upon the doctrine, that the heart of childhood is replete with morbific germs of evil; consider that your "olive plants," bobbing at your feet, form no exception to this organic law, and therefore that the prints of frugal virtue you are sketching from life for them, may, in the manner of other opiates, after all their drowsiness, preserve them in the end to become useful members of society.
The farm and orchard are the country's anchor of hope. Our public men and political journalists, with some few exceptions, have evinced but little sympathy with the tranquil enterprise of fruit-growers, and the astonishing recent improvements of the orchard, which, nevertheless, are diffusing through the country its truest wealth, and providing all classes of society with cheap and healthful luxuries. Higher grades of political science-for example, the policy of protective duties-are more fascinating, and engross, accordingly, both the facile plasticity of the newspaper press and the lucubrations of more systematic economists. Thus, some proposed change in the tariff, which, perhaps, promises, at best, benefits of little or no perceptible advantage to the aggregate of society, will elicit, for months, daily animated comments from the press, that serve to awaken public attention, from one extremity of the Union to the other; whereas, a fine exotic pear or grape-procured and
naturalized, with much expense and trouble, by some rural philanthropist― or a valuable seedling apple-patiently obtained, after years of experiment, and liberally propagated by ingraftment -is suffered to pass as a sterling contribution to our national wealth, without a notice from our metropolitan journalism. The public good effected and the name of the benefactor are virtually doomed to attract the interest of no wider circle of readers than that of the congenial few who peruse the agricultural monthlies. The prototypes of our pomologists, in the old Roman republic, had their services rewarded in a very different manner. Those, especially, who introduced foreign fruits into the domestic orchard, were publicly honored, as the great benefactors of their country. Sir William Temple has noticed the fact with his usual felicity: "The great captains, and even consular men, who first brought them over, took pride in giving them their own names; by which, they ran a great while in Rome, as in memory of some great service, or pleasure, they had done their country; so that, not only laws and battles, but several sorts of apples and pears, were called Manlian and Claudian, Pompeyan and Tiberian." Delille, in his "Les Jardins," charmingly paints this feature of Roman appreciation, as it appeared at the triumph of Lucullus, who had brought home the cherry-tree, from Pontus:
"Quand Lucullus vainqueur triomphoit de l'Asie,
L'airain, le marbre et l'or frappoient Rome éblouie;
Le sage dans la foule aimoit à voir ses mains
Poster le cerisier en triomphe aux Romains."
We augur better things, however, in the future, from the patriotic genius of our own model republic. The American Pomological Society, aided by the numerous horticultural institutes disseminated over the country, is rapidly accumulating the statistics of the American orchard; and, we doubt not, the day is close at hand, when its important claims, having become palpable, will be honorably acknowledged by the great moulders of national sentiment.
But the American orchard has not yet attained its perfect symmetry. From some inexplicable cause, the quincetree, especially, has been much neglected by our industrial votaries of Pomona.
This venerable tree-which comes down to us from antiquity, studded with classic seals-is treated like a step-dame, in the proud family of fruits. Banished from the pleasant fruit-grove, where the apple, pear, and peach sport their genial gifts, and from the garden green, where the cherry and plum mature their luscious tribute, it finds precarious toleration. perhaps in the weedy sward that borders some neglected paling of the homestead. We will not attempt to conceal our chagrin, as we inquisitively paced the beautiful hall where our County Horticultural Society exhibited, last fall, the wonderful trophies of the season's fruitage. Apples and pears, represented by a hundred varieties, beamed all around, in their pale or ruddy prime; and late peaches, cream-colored, golden, or tinted like the blush of love, enchanted the eye from every side; but not a quince-a solitary orange-quince-encountered our searching glances! Could we suppose that this omission was peculiar to our own pomological exhibition, we might, indeed, for the honor of the neighborhood, deplore the local indignity; but, at the same time, would extort abundant consolation from our attainments in the geography of the Union, and our knowledge that sectional disparagement has often been amply repaired by a just national appreciation. No such cheering relief, however, exists. The Report of the Commissioner of Patents, for the year 1854, upon the subject of Agriculture, recently published, may be justly taken, where it treats of fruits, as a true index of the estimation which the quince enjoys among fruit-growers generally over the country. The section devoted to fruits embraces nearly one hundred pages, and is compiled in part of thirteen reports, which had been forwarded from twelve of the chief fruitgrowing states to the American Pomological Society, during its session at Boston, in Sept., 1854, and partly of "condensed correspondence," received directly from various points of the Union, Of the reports, which form the main body of the section, but four mention the quince at all: and whilst the sum of what is said upon the subject, in these papers, is made to inflate a
space of eleven lines, the information might, without detriment to its value, be compressed within the fold of a single line! We give, as a sample of the curious in national statistics, the circumstantial flourish with which the meagre intelligence, contained in one of these documents in relation to quinces, is ushered before the public, by the United States government:-" Statement of William Reid, of Elizabethtown. and J. W. Hayes, Newark, Essex County, New Jersey, being that portion of their report which relates to quinces, to the American Pomological Society, at their annual meeting held at the city of Boston, in September, 1854."* Expectation rises on tiptoe. Here is the statement:-" Apple and pearshaped quinces are both cultivated. The apple-shaped we think best for general cultivation, and, with ordinary care, produces fine crops." That antiquated fable of the mountain in travail will sometimes steal irreverently upon the mind, by the malignant law of association. The condensed correspondence" is comparatively diffusive in relation to the subject. The casual notices of the quince, dispersed throughout this part of the section, if accumulated upon a single page, might cover, perhaps, about half its face. Gershom Wiborn, of Victor, Ontario County, N. Y., is the only correspondent, in fact, who expends more than a feather's weight of serious thought upon this fruit. Thanks to Gershom Wiborn, even for his measured appreciation!
Modesty itself is constrained to censure this degradation of the quince, when the venerable grace, with which ancient classic learning has invested it, is duly considered. This estimable tree singularly followed the stream of civilization, in its shifting course, through early time. We first faintly perceive it through the chinks of mythical antiquity, in its native Crete, expanding its golden fruit amidst the earliest dawn of science and literature. Thence it probably passed, as a companion-piece, with the laws of Minos to the continent, where, we know, it embellished the classic plains of Greece, during the era of their surpassing glory. In genial fellowship with literature and
Other portions of this "report," given here and there through the section in relation to the fruits of N. J., form valuable contributions, and abound with interest.
the arts, it was afterwards domesticated in Italy. The charming enthusiasm, which impelled the pens of ancient naturalists, when they described the multifarious excellences of this fruit, is unusually refreshing. We are assured by the elegant Columella, who scattered incense upon the altar of its virtues, that it contributes to health as well as pleasure. The elder Pliny, with the fond instinct of the true pomologist, eloquently descants upon its valuable properties, and paints the tree, as it appeared about Rome, with its branches depending to the ground, jeweled with starry fruit. In fact, the clever criticisms of this early naturalist soon become lost, amidst his enchanting panegyrics. Different varieties of the quince (more than we possess now), he tells us, were cultivated in profusion throughout Italy, both for ornamental and useful intents. Like the orange and lemon in our northern states, it appears sometimes to have been grown fancifully in boxes, which were exposed for admiration in the ante-chambers of the great. Its health-imparting and medicinal properties are extolled to the heavens. Never did our modern tomato, whose supposed fine hygienic qualities, a quarter of a century since, almost invested it with the character of a panacea, elicit higher praises. The warmth of our ingenious author, enlivening his classic page, must inevitably fill the modern admirer of the quince with enduring delight; but possibly a less amible sentiment may triumph, for a moment, at one point. (shame upon his pride!) when he finds this Roman commander and dignified sage voluntarily humiliating his patrician mind to compete with rustic housewives in their own province of empiricism. In these plebeian lists, he affirms the juice of raw quinces to be an infallible remedy for phthisic, dropsy, and the spleen!
One of the most fascinating effusions of Virgil's genius, the beautiful lament of the shepherd Damon in the eighth Eclogue, honors the quince by placing it among the select exponents of a higher order of nature-hypothetically
The conception was suggested by the third Idyl of Lucretius. We copy some lines to our purpose:—
conceived to illustrate the irremediable determination of the lover's despair.
"Nunc et oves ultro fugiat lupus, aurea duræ, Mala ferant quercus, narcisso floreat alnus, Pinguia corticibus sudent electra myricæ."
With the first triumph of letters in modern Europe, the quince once more glimmers upon our view. The genial, robust taste of England, during the reigns of Elizabeth and James I., educated by her Spensers and Shakespeares, her Raleighs and Bacons, assigned it its appropriate place among the gems of the orchard. We find in Peachem's "Emblems," published in 1612, the following description of a fruit inclosure belonging to that period:
"The Persian peach, and fruitful quince, And there the forward almond grew,
With cherries knowne no long time since; The winter warden, orchard's pride;
The phillibert that loves the vale, And red queen-apple, so envide
Of school-boies, passing by the pale."
We turn, with undisguised satisfaction, from the degeneracy of taste around us, to peruse the eloquent import of this early picture, in which we discover the quince enjoying its ancient peerage among peaches, almonds, and cherries, and maintaining an equal state beside the august queen-apple. We are led, by this survey, to admire, more than ever, the noble sense of appreciation which distinguished the Augustan age of England.
Among fruits prepared for the table, the quince affords the most healthful of simple domestic luxuries. An exquisite edible is, therefore, almost excluded from our daily repasts, in consequence of the meagre supply which, if grown abundantly, might gladden the whole land by its virtues. Archestratus traveled over land and seas to examine, with his own eyes, the esculents and culinary arts of different nations, that he might, by new discoveries, improve the voluptuousness of the table at home. We cherish not, indeed, his philosophy, nor the aspirations of Apicius, or Aristoxenes, or the English Chesterfield, to excel in culinary finesse, and have our name gratefully invoked, by elegant
Now also let the wolf voluntarily shun the flocks; the solid oaks produce quinces, the alder tree flower with daffodils, the tamarisks distill from their rinds unctuous amber.
epicures, at select dinner parties. Our aim is somewhat plebeian, but, at the same time, we imagine, more truly philanthropic: and, we must confess, to un incorrigible temper of idiosyncrasies, if it be thought that our passion, for having the table-use of the quince extended among families generally, should be prudently suppressed; lest, perhaps, like some visionary hobby, it might raise a smile, and shroud our reputation with the umbrage of ridicule. It was not the design of Providence, we are sure, that the quince should be confined, in its gastric uses, to poignant dainties, and secluded in the form of jelly, marmalade, or pellucid preserve, within the inner pantry, beside West Indian rarities. It possesses, as we have seen, a historical right to a more catholic destiny. Apple pasties and "apple butter" are always enriched by the delicious, acidulous seasoning of this fruit; and, among stewed dishes for the table, few are found to compare with the quince for thrilling excellence. Fruit-growers express uneasiness lest an enlarged culture of the quince tree might soon tend, by a profusion of the fruit, to cloy the market. We think its current high value, proclaiming, as it does, the great excess of demand over the supply, should of itself allay, to some extent, the pulse of apprehension here. Modes, however, both old and new, exist for preserving this fruit by the quantity. Downing assures us, that "dried quinces are excellent;" and the recent introduction and generalization, in domestic economy, of the hermetic seal, disclose new and cheering prospects in the future for the cultivator of perishable fruits, and serve
to give his timid forecast but the air of hypochondriac presentiment.
The quince-tree is not fastidious in its habits, requiring, for its healthy growth and productive power, neither a rich soil nor high culture. Indeed, in a genial mould, the hand of wisdom will refrain from its cultivation altogether, in order that its expanding branches, by a slower development, may carry with them sufficient solidity to resist the desolating epidemic to which it is liable (fire blight). Downing, we are aware, recommends a deep, fertile soil, and annual cultivation; but that genial professor of horticultural æsthetics had not, we apprehend, duly considered the evils to which a rapid, tender growth exposes this tree; or, rather, those evils have become more decided, and enjoy a more fatal prevalence since his lamented death. The finest samples of quinces produced in the country have ripened upon thin soils.*
What, indeed, of its kind, is more truly beautiful than a full-grown quinceorchard, studded, in the mellow days of autumn, with radiant fruit, like globes of gold? No wonder the classic garden of the Hesperides, if our conjecture in reference to it be correct, professed so potent a charm for the mighty knightserrant of mythology! No wonder the genius of Virgil found, in a forest of quinces, the enchanting token of a transcendental style of nature! Within such an orchard, for its congeniality and suggestive force in the pursuits of literature, we might not envy Petrarch his Val Chiusa; and in such a retreat, with a purer frame of mind, we might identify the "Golden Grove" of Jeremy Taylor, which was consecrated to sacred thought.
"In no portion of the United States have I seen quinces to compare with those grown in the mountain region of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. In this county (Habersham) it is not unusual for them to measure from 5 to 5 inches in diameter, fair, smooth, and beautiful to look at; in flavor, equal if not superior to any I have ever met with."-Pat. Off. Cor. of J. Van Buren, of Clarksville, Georgia.