Proserpina Book I - John Ruskin - ebook
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It is mortifying enough to write,—but I think thus much ought to be written,—concerning myself, as 'the author of Modern Painters.' In three months I shall be fifty years old: and I don't at this hour—ten o'clock in the morning of the two hundred and sixty-eighth day of my forty-ninth year—know what 'moss' is.There is nothing I have more intended to know—some day or other. But the moss 'would always be there'; and then it was so beautiful, and so difficult to examine, that one could only do it in some quite separated time of happy leisure—which came not. I never was like to have less leisure than now, but I will know what moss is, if possible, forthwith.

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Table of contents

INTRODUCTION.

CHAPTER I.

CHAPTER II.

CHAPTER III.

CHAPTER IV.

CHAPTER V.

CHAPTER VI.

CHAPTER VII.

CHAPTER VIII.

CHAPTER IX.

CHAPTER X.

CHAPTER XI.

CHAPTER XII.

CHAPTER XIII.

CHAPTER XIV.

INTRODUCTION.

Yesterday evening I was looking over the first book in which I studied Botany,—Curtis's Magazine, published in 1795 at No. 3, St. George's Crescent, Blackfriars Road, and sold by the principal booksellers in Great Britain and Ireland. Its plates are excellent, so that I am always glad to find in it the picture of a flower I know. And I came yesterday upon what I suppose to be a variety of a favourite flower of mine, called, in Curtis, "the St. Bruno's Lily."I am obliged to say "what I suppose to be a variety," because my pet lily is branched,[1] while this is drawn as unbranched, and especially stated to be so. And the page of text, in which this statement is made, is so characteristic of botanical books, and botanical science, not to say all science as hitherto taught for the blessing of mankind; and of the difficulties thereby accompanying its communication, that I extract the page entire, printing it, opposite, as nearly as possible in facsimile.Now you observe, in this instructive page, that you have in the first place, nine names given you for one flower; and that among these nine names, you are not even at liberty to make your choice, because the united authority of Haller and Miller may be considered as an accurate balance to the single authority of Linnæus; and you ought therefore for the present to remain, yourself, balanced between the sides. You may be farther embarrassed by finding that the Anthericum of Savoy is only described as growing in Switzerland. And farther still, by finding that Mr. Miller describes two varieties of it, which differ only in size, while you are left to conjecture whether the one here figured is the larger or smaller; and how great the difference is.Farther, If you wish to know anything of the habits of the plant, as well as its nine names, you are informed that it grows both at the bottoms of the mountains, and the tops; and that, with us, it flowers in May and June,—but you are not told when, in its native country.The four lines of the last clause but one, may indeed be useful to gardeners; but—although I know my good father and mother did the best they could for me in buying this beautiful book; and though the admirable plates of it did their work, and taught me much, I cannot wonder that neither my infantine nor boyish mind was irresistibly attracted by the text of which this page is one of the most favourable specimens; nor, in consequence, that my botanical studies were—when I had attained the age of fifty—no farther advanced than the reader will find them in the opening chapter of this book.Anthericum Liliastrum, Savoy Anthericum,or St. Bruno's Lily.Class and Order.Hexandria Monogynia.Generic Character.Cor. 6-petala, patens. Caps. ovata.Specific Character and Synonyms.ANTHERICUM Liliastrum foliis planis, scapo simplicissimo, corollis campanulatis, staminibus declinatis. Linn. Syst. Vegetab. ed. 14. Murr. p. 330. Ait. Kew. v. I. p. 449.HEMEROCALLIS floribus patulis secundis. Hall. Hist. n. 1230.PHALANGIUM magno flore. Bauh. Pin. 29.PHALANGIUM Allobrogicum majus. Clus. cur. app. alt.PHALANGIUM Allobrogicum. The Savoye Spider-wort. Park. Parad. p. 150. tab. 151. f. 1.Botanists are divided in their opinions respecting the genus of this plant; Linnæus considers it as an Anthericum, Haller and Miller make it an Hemerocallis.It is a native of Switzerland, where, Haller informs us it grows abundantly in the Alpine meadows, and even on the summits of the mountains; with us it flowers in May and June.It is a plant of great elegance, producing on an unbranched stem about a foot and a half high, numerous flowers of a delicate white colour, much smaller but resembling in form those of the common white lily, possessing a considerable degree of fragrance, their beauty is heightened by the rich orange colour of their antheræ; unfortunately they are but of short duration.Miller describes two varieties of it differing merely in size.A loamy soil, a situation moderately moist, with an eastern or western exposure, suits this plant best; so situated, it will increase by its roots, though not very fast, and by parting of these in the autumn, it is usually propagated.Parkinson describes and figures it in his Parad. Terrest., observing that "divers allured by the beauty of its flowers, had brought it into these parts."Which said book was therefore undertaken, to put, if it might be, some elements of the science of botany into a form more tenable by ordinary human and childish faculties; or—for I can scarcely say I have yet any tenure of it myself—to make the paths of approach to it more pleasant. In fact, I only know, of it, the pleasant distant effects which it bears to simple eyes; and some pretty mists and mysteries, which I invite my young readers to pierce, as they may, for themselves,—my power of guiding them being only for a little way.Pretty mysteries, I say, as opposed to the vulgar and ugly mysteries of the so-called science of botany,—exemplified sufficiently in this chosen page. Respecting which, please observe farther;—Nobody—I can say this very boldly—loves Latin more dearly than I; but, precisely because I do love it (as well as for other reasons), I have always insisted that books, whether scientific or not, ought to be written either in Latin, or English; and not in a doggish mixture of the refuse of both.Linnæus wrote a noble book of universal Natural History in Latin. It is one of the permanent classical treasures of the world. And if any scientific man thinks his labors are worth the world's attention, let him, also, write what he has to say in Latin, finishedly and exquisitely, if it take him a month to a page.[2]But if—which, unless he be one chosen of millions, is assuredly the fact—his lucubrations are only of local and temporary consequence, let him write, as clearly as he can, in his native language.This book, accordingly, I have written in English; (not, by the way, that I could have written it in anything else—so there are small thanks to me); and one of its purposes is to interpret, for young English readers, the necessary European Latin or Greek names of flowers, and to make them vivid and vital to their understandings. But two great difficulties occur in doing this. The first, that there are generally from three or four, up to two dozen, Latin names current for every flower; and every new botanist thinks his eminence only to be properly asserted by adding another.The second, and a much more serious one, is of the Devil's own contriving—(and remember I am always quite serious when I speak of the Devil,)—namely, that the most current and authoritative names are apt to be founded on some unclean or debasing association, so that to interpret them is to defile the reader's mind. I will give no instance; too many will at once occur to any learned reader, and the unlearned I need not vex with so much as one: but, in such cases, since I could only take refuge in the untranslated word by leaving other Greek or Latin words also untranslated, and the nomenclature still entirely senseless,—and I do not choose to do this,—there is only one other course open to me, namely, to substitute boldly, to my own pupils, other generic names for the plants thus faultfully hitherto titled.As I do not do this for my own pride, but honestly for my reader's service, I neither question nor care how far the emendations I propose may be now or hereafter adopted. I shall not even name the cases in which they have been made for the serious reason above specified; but even shall mask those which there was real occasion to alter, by sometimes giving new names in cases where there was no necessity of such kind. Doubtless I shall be accused of doing myself what I violently blame in others. I do so; but with a different motive—of which let the reader judge as he is disposed. The practical result will be that the children who learn botany on the system adopted in this book will know the useful and beautiful names of plants hitherto given, in all languages; the useless and ugly ones they will not know. And they will have to learn one Latin name for each plant, which, when differing from the common one, I trust may yet by some scientific persons be accepted, and with ultimate advantage.The learning of the one Latin name—as, for instance, Gramen striatum—I hope will be accurately enforced always;—but not less carefully the learning of the pretty English one—"Ladielace Grass"—with due observance that "Ladies' laces hath leaves like unto Millet in fashion, with many white vaines or ribs, and silver strakes running along through the middest of the leaves, fashioning the same like to laces of white and green silk, very beautiful and faire to behold."I have said elsewhere, and can scarcely repeat too often, that a day will come when men of science will think their names disgraced, instead of honoured, by being used to barbarise nomenclature; I hope therefore that my own name may be kept well out of the way; but, having been privileged to found the School of Art in the University of Oxford, I think that I am justified in requesting any scientific writers who may look kindly upon this book, to add such of the names suggested in it as they think deserving of acceptance, to their own lists of synonyms, under the head of "Schol. Art. Oxon."The difficulties thrown in the way of any quiet private student by existing nomenclature may be best illustrated by my simply stating what happens to myself in endeavouring to use the page above facsimile'd. Not knowing how far St. Bruno's Lily might be connected with my own pet one, and not having any sufficient book on Swiss botany, I take down Loudon's Encyclopædia of Plants, (a most useful book, as far as any book in the present state of the science can be useful,) and find, under the head of Anthericum, the Savoy Lily indeed, but only the following general information:—"809. Anthericum. A name applied by the Greeks to the stem of the asphodel, and not misapplied to this set of plants, which in some sort resemble the asphodel. Plants with fleshy leaves, and spikes of bright yellow flowers, easily cultivated if kept dry."Hunting further, I find again my Savoy lily called a spider-plant, under the article Hemerocallis, and the only information which the book gives me under Hemerocallis, is that it means 'beautiful day' lily; and then, "This is an ornamental genus of the easiest culture. The species are remarkable among border flowers for their fine orange, yellow, or blue flowers. The Hemerocallis cœrulea has been considered a distinct genus by Mr. Salisbury, and called Saussurea." As I correct this sheet for press, however, I find that the Hemerocallis is now to be called 'Funkia,' "in honour of Mr. Funk, a Prussian apothecary."All this while, meantime, I have a suspicion that my pet Savoy Lily is not, in existing classification, an Anthericum, nor a Hemerocallis, but a Lilium. It is, in fact, simply a Turk's cap which doesn't curl up. But on trying 'Lilium' in Loudon, I find no mention whatever of any wild branched white lily.I then try the next word in my specimen page of Curtis; but there is no 'Phalangium' at all in Loudon's index. And now I have neither time nor mind for more search, but will give, in due place, such account as I can of my own dwarf branched lily, which I shall call St. Bruno's, as well as this Liliastrum—no offence to the saint, I hope. For it grows very gloriously on the limestones of Savoy, presumably, therefore, at the Grande Chartreuse; though I did not notice it there, and made a very unmonkish use of it when I gathered it last:—There was a pretty young English lady at the table-d'hôte, in the Hotel du Mont Blanc at St. Martin's,[3] and I wanted to get speech of her, and didn't know how. So all I could think of was to go half-way up the Aiguille de Varens, to gather St. Bruno's lilies; and I made a great cluster of them, and put wild roses all around them as I came down. I never saw anything so lovely; and I thought to present this to her before dinner,—but when I got down, she had gone away to Chamouni. My Fors always treated me like that, in affairs of the heart.I had begun my studies of Alpine botany just eighteen years before, in 1842, by making a careful drawing of wood-sorrel at Chamouni; and bitterly sorry I am, now, that the work was interrupted. For I drew, then, very delicately; and should have made a pretty book if I could have got peace. Even yet, I can manage my point a little, and would far rather be making outlines of flowers, than writing; and I meant to have drawn every English and Scottish wild flower, like this cluster of bog heather opposite,[4]—back, and profile, and front. But 'Blackwood's Magazine,' with its insults to Turner, dragged me into controversy; and I have not had, properly speaking, a day's peace since; so that in 1868 my botanical studies were advanced only as far as the reader will see in next chapter; and now, in 1874, must end altogether, I suppose, heavier thoughts and work coming fast on me. So that, finding among my notebooks, two or three, full of broken materials for the proposed work on flowers; and, thinking they may be useful even as fragments, I am going to publish them in their present state,—only let the reader note that while my other books endeavour, and claim, so far as they reach, to give trustworthy knowledge of their subjects, this one only shows how such knowledge may be obtained; and it is little more than a history of efforts and plans,—but of both, I believe, made in right methods.One part of the book, however, will, I think, be found of permanent value. Mr. Burgess has engraved on wood, in reduced size, with consummate skill, some of the excellent old drawings in the Flora Danica, and has interpreted, and facsimile'd, some of his own and my drawings from nature, with a vigour and precision unsurpassed in woodcut illustration, which render these outlines the best exercises in black and white I have yet been able to prepare for my drawing pupils. The larger engravings by Mr. Allen may also be used with advantage as copies for drawings with pen or sepia.Rome, 10th May (my father's birthday).I found the loveliest blue asphodel I ever saw in my life, yesterday, in the fields beyond Monte Mario,—a spire two feet high, of more than two hundred stars, the stalks of them all deep blue, as well as the flowers. Heaven send all honest people the gathering of the like, in Elysian fields, some day!

CHAPTER I.

MOSS.Denmark Hill, 3rd November, 1868.1. It is mortifying enough to write,—but I think thus much ought to be written,—concerning myself, as 'the author of Modern Painters.' In three months I shall be fifty years old: and I don't at this hour—ten o'clock in the morning of the two hundred and sixty-eighth day of my forty-ninth year—know what 'moss' is.There is nothing I have more intended to know—some day or other. But the moss 'would always be there'; and then it was so beautiful, and so difficult to examine, that one could only do it in some quite separated time of happy leisure—which came not. I never was like to have less leisure than now, but I will know what moss is, if possible, forthwith.2. To that end I read preparatorily, yesterday, what account I could find of it in all the botanical books in the house. Out of them all, I get this general notion of a moss,—that it has a fine fibrous root,—a stem surrounded with spirally set leaves,—and produces its fruit in a small case, under a cap. I fasten especially, however, on a sentence of Louis Figuier's, about the particular species, Hypnum:—"These mosses, which often form little islets of verdure at the feet of poplars and willows, are robust vegetable organisms, which do not decay."[5]3. "Qui ne pourrissent point." What do they do with themselves, then?—it immediately occurs to me to ask. And, secondly,—If this immortality belongs to the Hypnum only?It certainly does not, by any means: but, however modified or limited, this immortality is the first thing we ought to take note of in the mosses. They are, in some degree, what the "everlasting" is in flowers. Those minute green leaves of theirs do not decay, nor fall.But how do they die, or how stop growing, then?—it is the first thing I want to know about them. And from all the books in the house, I can't as yet find out this. Meanwhile I will look at the leaves themselves.4. Going out to the garden, I bring in a bit of old brick, emerald green on its rugged surface,[6] and a thick piece of mossy turf.First, for the old brick: To think of the quantity of pleasure one has had in one's life from that emerald green velvet,—and yet that for the first time to-day I am verily going to look at it! Doing so, through a pocket lens of no great power, I find the velvet to be composed of small star-like groups of smooth, strong, oval leaves,—intensely green, and much like the young leaves of any other plant, except in this;—they all have a long brown spike, like a sting, at their ends.
Fig. 1.
5. Fastening on that, I take the Flora Danica,[7] and look through its plates of mosses, for their leaves only; and I find, first, that this spike, or strong central rib, is characteristic;—secondly, that the said leaves are apt to be not only spiked, but serrated, and otherwise angry-looking at the points;—thirdly, that they have a tendency to fold together in the centre (Fig. 1[8]); and at last, after an hour's work at them, it strikes me suddenly that they are more like pineapple leaves than anything else.And it occurs to me, very unpleasantly, at the same time, that I don't know what a pineapple is!Stopping to ascertain that, I am told that a pineapple belongs to the 'Bromeliaceæ'—(can't stop to find out what that means)—nay, that of these plants "the pineapple is the representative" (Loudon); "their habit is acid, their leaves rigid, and toothed with spines, their bracteas often coloured with scarlet, and their flowers either white or blue"—(what are their flowers like?) But the two sentences that most interest me, are, that in the damp forests of Carolina, the Tillandsia, which is an 'epiphyte' (i.e., a plant growing on other plants,) "forms dense festoons among the branches of the trees, vegetating among the black mould that collects upon the bark of trees in hot damp countries; other species are inhabitants of deep and gloomy forests, and others form, with their spring leaves, an impenetrable herbage in the Pampas of Brazil." So they really seem to be a kind of moss, on a vast scale.6. Next, I find in Gray,[9] Bromeliaceæ, and—the very thing I want—"Tillandsia, the black moss, or long moss, which, like most Bromelias, grows on the branches of trees." So the pineapple is really a moss; only it is a moss that flowers but 'imperfectly.' "The fine fruit is caused by the consolidation of the imperfect flowers." (I wish we could consolidate some imperfect English moss-flowers into little pineapples then,—though they were only as big as filberts.) But we cannot follow that farther now; nor consider when a flower is perfect, and when it is not, or we should get into morals, and I don't know where else; we will go back to the moss I have gathered, for I begin to see my way, a little, to understanding it.7. The second piece I have on the table is a cluster—an inch or two deep—of the moss that grows everywhere, and that the birds use for nest-building, and we for packing, and the like. It is dry, since yesterday, and its fibres define themselves against the dark ground in warm green, touched with a glittering light. Note that burnished lustre of the minute leaves; they are necessarily always relieved against dark hollows, and this lustre makes them much clearer and brighter than if they were of dead green. In that lustre—and it is characteristic of them—they differ wholly from the dead, aloe-like texture of the pineapple leaf; and remind me, as I look at them closely, a little of some conditions of chaff, as on heads of wheat after being threshed. I will hunt down that clue presently; meantime there is something else to be noticed on the old brick.
Fig. 2.
8. Out of its emerald green cushions of minute leaves, there rise, here and there, thin red threads, each with a little brown cap, or something like a cap, at the top of it. These red threads shooting up out of the green tufts, are, I believe, the fructification of the moss; fringing its surface in the woods, and on the rocks, with the small forests of brown stems, each carrying its pointed cap or crest—of infinitely varied 'mode,' as we shall see presently; and, which is one of their most blessed functions, carrying high the dew in the morning; every spear balancing its own crystal globe.9. And now, with my own broken memories of moss and this unbroken, though unfinished, gift of the noble labour of other people, the Flora Danica, I can generalize the idea of the precious little plant, for myself, and for the reader.All mosses, I believe, (with such exceptions and collateral groups as we may afterwards discover, but they are not many,) that is to say, some thousands of species, are, in their strength of existence, composed of fibres surrounded by clusters of dry spinous leaves, set close to the fibre they grow on. Out of this leafy stern descends a fibrous root, and ascends in its season, a capped seed.We must get this very clearly into our heads. Fig. 2, A, is a little tuft of a common wood moss of Norway,[10] in its fruit season, of its real size; but at present I want to look at the central fibre and its leaves accurately, and understand that first.10. Pulling it to pieces, we find it composed of seven little company-keeping fibres, each of which, by itself, appears as in Fig. 2, B: but as in this, its real size, it is too small, not indeed for our respect, but for our comprehension, we magnify it, Fig. 2, C, and thereupon perceive it to be indeed composed of, a, the small fibrous root which sustains the plant; b, the leaf-surrounded stem which is the actual being, and main creature, moss; and, c, the aspirant pillar, and cap, of its fructification.11. But there is one minor division yet. You see I have drawn the central part of the moss plant (b, Fig. 2,) half in outline and half in black; and that, similarly, in the upper group, which is too small to show the real roots, the base of the cluster is black. And you remember, I doubt not, how often in gathering what most invited gathering, of deep green, starry, perfectly soft and living wood-moss, you found it fall asunder in your hand into multitudes of separate threads, each with its bright green crest, and long root of blackness.That blackness at the root—though only so notable in this wood-moss and collateral species, is indeed a general character of the mosses, with rare exceptions. It is their funeral blackness;—that, I perceive, is the way the moss leaves die. They do not fall—they do not visibly decay. But they decay invisibly, in continual secession, beneath the ascending crest. They rise to form that crest, all green and bright, and take the light and air from those out of which they grew;—and those, their ancestors, darken and die slowly, and at last become a mass of mouldering ground. In fact, as I perceive farther, their final duty is so to die. The main work of other leaves is in their life,—but these have to form the earth out of which all other leaves are to grow. Not to cover the rocks with golden velvet only, but to fill their crannies with the dark earth, through which nobler creatures shall one day seek their being.12. "Grant but as many sorts of mind as moss." Pope could not have known the hundredth part of the number of 'sorts' of moss there are; and I suppose he only chose the word because it was a monosyllable beginning with m, and the best English general expression for despised and minute structures of plants. But a fate rules the words of wise men, which makes their words truer, and worth more, than the men themselves know. No other plants have so endless variety on so similar a structure as the mosses; and none teach so well the humility of Death. As for the death of our bodies, we have learned, wisely, or unwisely, to look the fact of that in the face. But none of us, I think, yet care to look the fact of the death of our minds in the face. I do not mean death of our souls, but of our mental work. So far as it is good art, indeed, and done in realistic form, it may perhaps not die; but so far as it was only good thought—good, for its time, and apparently a great achievement therein—that good, useful thought may yet in the future become a foolish thought, and then die quite away,—it, and the memory of it,—when better thought and knowledge come. But the better thought could not have come if the weaker thought had not come first, and died in sustaining the better. If we think honestly, our thoughts will not only live usefully, but even perish usefully—like the moss—and become dark, not without due service. But if we think dishonestly, or malignantly, our thoughts will die like evil fungi,—dripping corrupt dew.13. But farther. If you have walked moorlands enough to know the look of them, you know well those flat spaces or causeways of bright green or golden ground between the heathy rock masses; which signify winding pools and inlets of stagnant water caught among the rocks;—pools which the deep moss that covers them—blanched, not black, at the root,—is slowly filling and making firm; whence generally the unsafe ground in the moorland gets known by being mossy instead of heathy; and is at last called by its riders, briefly, 'the Moss': and as it is mainly at these same mossy places that the riding is difficult, and brings out the gifts of horse and rider, and discomfits all followers not similarly gifted, the skilled crosser of them got his name, naturally, of 'moss-rider,' or moss-trooper. In which manner the moss of Norway and Scotland has been a taskmaster and Maker of Soldiers, as yet, the strongest known among natural powers. The lightning may kill a man, or cast down a tower, but these little tender leaves of moss—they and their progenitors—have trained the Northern Armies.14. So much for the human meaning of that decay of the leaves. Now to go back to the little creatures themselves. It seems that the upper part of the moss fibre is especially undecaying among leaves; and the lower part, especially decaying. That, in fact, a plant of moss-fibre is a kind of persistent state of what is, in other plants, annual. Watch the year's growth of any luxuriant flower. First it comes out of the ground all fresh and bright; then, as the higher leaves and branches shoot up, those first leaves near the ground get brown, sickly, earthy,—remain for ever degraded in the dust, and under the dashed slime in rain, staining, and grieving, and loading them with obloquy of envious earth, half-killing them,—only life enough left in them to hold on the stem, and to be guardians of the rest of the plant from all they suffer;—while, above them, the happier leaves, for whom they are thus oppressed, bend freely to the sunshine, and drink the rain pure.The moss strengthens on a diminished scale, intensifies, and makes perpetual, these two states,—bright leaves above that never wither, leaves beneath that exist only to wither.15. I have hitherto spoken only of the fading moss as it is needed for change into earth. But I am not sure whether a yet more important office, in its days of age, be not its use as a colour.We are all thankful enough—as far as we ever are so—for green moss, and yellow moss. But we are never enough grateful for black moss. The golden would be nothing without it, nor even the grey.It is true that there are black lichens enough, and brown ones: nevertheless, the chief use of lichens is for silver and gold colour on rocks; and it is the dead moss which gives the leopard-like touches of black. And yet here again—as to a thing I have been looking at and painting all my life—I am brought to pause, the moment I think of it carefully. The black moss which gives the precious Velasquez touches, lies, much of it, flat on the rocks; radiating from its centres—powdering in the fingers, if one breaks it off, like dry tea. Is it a black species?—or a black-parched state of other species, perishing for the sake of Velasquez effects, instead of accumulation of earth? and, if so, does it die of drought, accidentally, or, in a sere old age, naturally? and how is it related to the rich green bosses that grow in deep velvet? And there again is another matter not clear to me. One calls them 'velvet' because they are all brought to an even surface at the top. Our own velvet is reduced to such trimness by cutting. But how is the moss trimmed? By what scissors? Carefullest Elizabethan gardener never shaped his yew hedge more daintily than the moss fairies smooth these soft rounded surfaces of green and gold. And just fancy the difference, if they were ragged! If the fibres had every one of them leave to grow at their own sweet will, and to be long or short as they liked, or, worse still, urged by fairy prizes into laboriously and agonizingly trying which could grow longest. Fancy the surface of a spot of competitive moss!16. But how is it that they are subdued into that spherical obedience, like a crystal of wavellite?[11] Strange—that the vegetable creatures growing so fondly on rocks should form themselves in that mineral-like manner. It is true that the tops of all well-grown trees are rounded, on a large scale, as equally; but that is because they grow from a central stem, while these mossy mounds are made out of independent filaments, each growing to exactly his proper height in the sphere—short ones outside, long in the middle. Stop, though; is that so? I am not even sure of that; perhaps they are built over a little dome of decayed moss below.[12] I must find out how every filament grows, separately—from root to cap, through the spirally set leaves. And meanwhile I don't know very clearly so much as what a root is—or what a leaf is. Before puzzling myself any farther in examination either of moss or any other grander vegetable, I had better define these primal forms of all vegetation, as well as I can—or rather begin the definition of them, for future completion and correction. For, as my reader must already sufficiently perceive, this book is literally to be one of studies—not of statements. Some one said of me once, very shrewdly, When he wants to work out a subject, he writes a book on it. That is a very true saying in the main,—I work down or up to my mark, and let the reader see process and progress, not caring to conceal them. But this book will be nothing but process. I don't mean to assert anything positively in it from the first page to the last. Whatever I say, is to be understood only as a conditional statement—liable to, and inviting, correction. And this the more because, as on the whole, I am at war with the botanists, I can't ask them to help me, and then call them names afterwards. I hope only for a contemptuous heaping of coals on my head by correction of my errors from them;—in some cases, my scientific friends will, I know, give me forgiving aid;—but, for many reasons, I am forced first to print the imperfect statement, as I can independently shape it; for if once I asked for, or received help, every thought would be frostbitten into timid expression, and every sentence broken by apology. I should have to write a dozen of letters before I could print a line, and the line, at last, would be only like a bit of any other botanical book—trustworthy, it might be, perhaps; but certainly unreadable. Whereas now, it will rather put things more forcibly in the reader's mind to have them retouched and corrected as we go on; and our natural and honest mistakes will often be suggestive of things we could not have discovered but by wandering.On these guarded conditions, then, I proceed to study, with my reader, the first general laws of vegetable form.