Nature and the Rich

— The talk of what the Fair may do, must do, for higher civilization in America has been endless, and yet I have waited for months, and waited in vain, to hear one word as to its influence on the need nearest ray heart. I long to have some one, some one with such learning and authority as I cannot pretend to, take up the theme of — how shall I word it ? — natural resources in landscape gardening.

A deal of praise is being lavished on Mr. Olmstead, but no one is properly underscoring, for the benefit of the stupid rich, the best lesson in his work at the Fair,—the lesson of the lagoon on the value of cultivating and heightening, without change of character, nature’s own choice effects.

Of course, when put that way, such value appears so obvious, so in harmony with the philosophy of all art, that it seems incredible that the point should need theoretical emphasis, however much we might have to learn practically.

But we have only to look at the pleasure grounds of the rich, from Newport to Oconomowoc, to see that the notion that Nature anywhere knows what she is about is quite foreign to the popular creed in gardening. Nobody could oppose the creation of lawns and flower beds ; they assuredly have a right to a place in the scheme of things ; but why presume that lawns, flower beds, and the like are the only possibilities for beautiful “ grounds ” ? All too often nothing else seems possible, or at least nothing else is so easy to achieve. But when Nature has lavished herself on some rare spot ; when, as on so much of our northern Atlantic coast, she has brought together a host of lovely things, roses, spiræa, iris, bay, clethra, morning-glories, and has put in nothing that is not lovely, why should the rich man have but one notion of his opportunities, — that, after carefully buying the most charming spot he can find, it is his duty to sweep all these exiquisite growths into a bonfire, and, starting from the bare ground, create a lawn and plant evergreens? If he must do that, why,— I ask it with bitter passion, — why is he not content to choose some ugly spot for his work, one of the many places that even his crudest methods would improve ? Is there any hope that Mr. Olmstead’s following and heightening of Nature’s own effects in parts of the lagoon will broaden the rich man’s notions of the possible ? If he could only once conceive that money may be spent in this way as well as another, possibly he would be reconciled to try it. But of course there is the disadvantage that the result does not tell loudly of the money spent, and in many cases that would doubtless be a fatal drawback.

In promulgating my little views conversationally I am continually overcome with surprise at the failure of sympathy in some quarters where I had confidently expected it ; at the inability of various charming people to conceive of any way of assisting Nature but by making lawns and flower beds, no matter what the conditions ; and as for letting her alone, a course I praise only as a lesser evil than destroying all vestiges of her best schemes, that simply strikes them as low, — as the conduct adapted to squatters, and no one else. They tell me Newport is beautiful, and are only mystified when I quote Mr. John La Fargo (I am sure he will not mind my sustaining myself with his name in so good a cause) as saying that the sight of Newport saddens him, because one of the most beautiful coasts in the world, a place that should have been sacredly preserved in its pristine, unique loveliness, has been — simply destroyed.

But I have, by much experiment, chanced upon a way of inserting the new idea that rarely fails to give pain, — the pain that testifies to some success in inoculation. I mention it for the benefit of any other member of the Club who may be carrying on a similar crusade.

I say : “ Why can’t we do as the Japanese do so often, — at Nikko, for instance ? There is a spot that is one of the sights of the world for beauty ; it has had the most devoted care lavished upon it for hundreds of years, and yet, except in the temples and tombs, you cannot trace the hand of man. It has not been left alone, but it has been beautified with such subtle art that it looks as if it had.”

I cannot say why this crude and probably inaccurate statement (for it is little enough I know about Nikko) should make an impression, but it does : it often gives my victim his first notion that maybe there is something to he said on my side ; that I am not simply a “ crank.” So I am thinking that something might be done to save some acres of wild roses, some lily ponds, for the next generation, if the energetic, the able, and the wise would begin a propaganda in the names of the Fair and the Japanese. But success will have to come soon, or there will be nothing left to save. Every summer sees the ignorant rich descend like the locust upon all that is fairest in the land. Doubtless the poor, as a rule, have no better taste, but they have less power, and one cannot hate them for what they might do as one hates the others for what they have done.