University of Rochester Library Bulletin: The Ellwanger and Barry Library

Volume III · Spring 1948 · Number 3
The Ellwanger and Barry Library

To a person of botanical inclinations the privilege of examining the library of the one-time horticultural firm of Ellwanger and Barry of Rochester, New York, offers opportunity for rewarding reading and investigation. This library consists of some 560 different titles numbering over 1600 volumes. In the summer of 1943, these books were deposited in the Rush Rhees Library of the University of Rochester, and since that time have been available to persons interested in local history, horticultural history and gardening, and horticultural practices and developments chiefly of the nineteenth century.

The very size of the Ellwanger and Barry Library makes true appreciation of its worth impossible except through extensive study and growing acquaintance with the books which it comprises. Inspection of the more than fifty shelves of books now in the [Department of Rare Books and Special Collections] provides an engrossing occupation. Sets of horticultural publications, magazines, and papers of yesteryear, such as Gardeners' ChronicleAmerican AgriculturistJournal des Roses, and the Genesee Farmer; the sizable volumes of the Boston Cultivator and Pomologie Française; J. A. Warder's Hedges and Evergreens, and L. R. Taft's Greenhouse Construction; the historic writings on entomology by Thomas Say, Lyell's Manual of Elementary Geology, André Michaux's North American Sylva; ponderous tomes like J. C. Morton'sCyclopedia of Agriculture, Sargent's Trees and Shrubs, and Downing's Fruits and Fruit Trees of America – all seem to claim attention, so that it is with difficulty any selection is made.

If one's interest is grapes, roses, North American trees, or general practices of cultivation it can be partly satisfied by some of the works present in this noteworthy collection, which needless to say, tells not a little about the men who acquired it, if one has a fancy for biography!

The dates 1828, 1830, etc., and the name of Prince attracted me as I contemplated the titles included in the library. Was not the Linnaean Botanic Garden at Flushing, Long Island, established by William Prince sometime around 1771, the first really stable commercial nursery in the New World? The Prince family played an important role in the development of horticulture on this side of the Atlantic –  not least among its accomplishments from the standpoint of Rochester being that of employing and training Patrick Barry between 1836, when he came to America from Ireland, and 1840 when he moved west to the Flour City and became the partner of George Ellwanger in what was destined to become the greatest horticultural business of the century.

Four volumes of horticultural interest were written by the Princes, all of which are found in the Ellwanger and Barry Library. It is indeed fitting that these four books should become available to students in Rochester, particularly since they are not otherwise included among the holdings of the University of Rochester Library. Their value to the horticulturist becomes obvious as they are discussed.

A Short Treatise on Horticulture (1828) was written by William Prince, son of the William Prince just mentioned. Alluding to certain bits of this work seems of particular interest in the light of modern salesmanship and advertising methods and the status of certain plants and practices today. The treatise embraces descriptions of a great variety of fruit and ornamental trees and shrubs, grape vines, bulbous flowers, and greenhouse trees and plants, all of which were at that time comprised in the collection of the Linnaean Botanic Garden at Flushing, near New York. He suggests leading rules for the culture and management of fruit trees, whose adoption has proved most successful, feeling that they will be a satisfactory accompaniment to the catalogues put out by the Linnaean Botanic Garden and Nursery of which he is the proprietor, and may aid those who are ignorant of the subject, especially since buyers from remote parts of the United States had frequently applied for such directions with their orders. His directions cover the season of transplanting, what to do with trees on their arrival at the place of destination, manner of transplanting, and how to make the trees thrive. He advises that grass must not be permitted to form a sod around them for a distance of 3 to 4 feet, that every autumn some well-rotted manure should be dug in around each tree, and that every spring bodies of apple, pear, plum, and cherry trees, and others whose growth it is particularly desirable to promote, should be brushed with common soft soap, undiluted with water, "this treatment will give a thriftiness to the trees surpassing the expectation of anyone who has not witnessed its effect."

He deals with the proper soil for the culture of different varieties of fruits. In the discussion of apples he says that apple orchards will succeed on any soil, except a quicksand or a cold clay, if proper attention is paid to keeping the ground in constant cultivation, and manure is regularly dug or ploughed in around the trees.

He does not feel that any foreign apples can be found from which cider can be made surpassing that made from some of the native apples, but urges that the farmer satisfy himself in this matter by experimenting with planting the choicest from both sources.

Among the pears he mentions the seckel, an "incomparable little pear,"and tells that it originated on the farm of Mr. Seckel, about four miles from Philadelphia. He mentions the notable fact that a very similar pear, the musk or spice pear, had long been cultivated in Europe and this may have been the parent of the seckel.

Space does not permit the mention of his advice on the various plums, nectarines, apricots, almonds, cherries, quinces, mulberries, and chestnuts, but in the light of our present practice it seems appropriate to quote his remarks about the Persian walnut, or Madeira nut.

 "This tree, generally called English Walnut or Madeira Nut, is a native of Persia, consequently neither of the specific titles have any application. It was formerly the practice when the United States were colonies of Britain, to call everything that came from there, English; but we soon discovered that the fruits most prized in that country, were the accumulated tributes which her gardens had received from other climes; it is now, therefore, high time that we should discard every such title, and where they have no proper application, that they should be permanently exploded."

His advocacy of native as well as foreign material for ornamental plantings is admirable, for example his encouragement of the introduction of Celastrus scandens, bittersweet, common as it is, into ornamental plantings. Following directions for the culture of bulbous and tuberous flower roots, he describes certain fruits cultivated now in greenhouses but which he expects may in time become perfectly naturalized to the United States – the olive, pomegranate, Cherimoyer, MangoPistachia, and finallyTrapa natans of which he writes, "These plants have been enumerated in the list of Desiderata by the Agricultural Society of South-Carolina, as worthy of introduction and culture as articles of food. The Trapa natans, or Eatable Water Chestnut, has already been cultivated with success in England." Since this plant, if I understand correctly the one he mentions, has since become a serious weed pest in the Potomac and Mohawk Rivers of our country, its culture might better not have been advocated.

William Prince aided his son, William Robert Prince, who is reported to have botanized along the Atlantic Coast states with John Torrey and Thomas Nuttall, in writing A Treatise on the Vine (1830), a second Prince book included in the Ellwanger and Barry Library and pertinent since viniculture is of no little significance in our vicinity today. The volume is inscribed in a bold and vigorous hand "Presented to Mr. P. Barry by the author." The work was dedicated to Henry Clay of Kentucky who "more than thirty years ago, united with many of our fellow citizens in forming an association for promoting the cultivation of the Vine in our country." In the preface the authors make clear that they desire to show that the culture of the vine should be extended in this country, and state that this is indeed indispensable if we ever expect to taste wines equal to the more luscious ones of France, for these "are not susceptible of transportation by sea without being adulterated."

Their treatment begins with the early history of the vine, with evidence to show that its native country is Persia and that the Phoenicians introduced its culture into southern Europe. They discuss the use of wine by the Romans, the introduction of Vitis vinifera into France and Britain, and then deal with many details of its culture including soil and climate, choice of varieties, and the effect of age on the vine and the quality of its produce. The nomenclature of grapes receives due attention and finally there is treatment of the American grapes according to William Bartram, Esquire, who considered that there were four species of Vitis in the United States. After further extravaganzas regarding the agricultural possibilities of the United States with the mention of the revolution in our agriculture effected by the introduction of cotton, the suggestion of the promise from silk culture, and the fact of the increasing importance of sugar cane, they launch into elaborate details of vine culture from three angles: that of great or vineyard culture for the manufacture of wines, brandies, and raisins; that of small or garden culture for supplying fresh fruits for the market or for family consumption; and that of hothouse culture. They seem to deal with every conceivable aspect of this culture from the preparation of the ground to the pay of the workers in the vineyards and diseases which affect the plants. Concluding the work is a catalogue of the different varieties of grapes being cultivated in the vineyards of the authors at the Linnaean Botanic Garden, which appeared to be something over five hundred!

William Robert Prince and his father produced another work to the preparation of which the latter referred several times in his Treatise on Horticulture, namely, The Pomological Manual; or, A Treatise on Fruits: Containing Descriptions of a Great Number of the Most Valuable Varieties for the Orchard and Garden (1831). They dedicate the manual to the President and Members of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society and in their preface state that the object of the work is "to present to the public definite descriptions of the choicest varieties of fruit suited to the orchard and the garden, and best calculated for cultivation in our country; and to thereby afford those who desire to make selections, a sufficient degree of information to enable them to do so, with advantage to themselves, and in a manner that will comport with their wishes,"but they do not propose "to enter upon a discussion of the methods of culture best adapted to the various species of fruit."

Part I deals with apricots, pears, and peaches. The name of each variety as given in the Prince catalogue and various other synonyms with their authorities are included with a description. The following for the "Little Blanquet"(a pear) is a sample:

"This fruit is pyriform, eighteen lines in height by thirteen in breadth; the skin is very smooth and yellowish white; the flesh is half-breaking, white, with a slight musk flavour and of pleasant taste. The seeds are well formed and of a light brown hue, and the fruit ripens the first part of August. The tree can be ingrafted on the quince or pear, and is very vigorous and fruitful."

Part II includes peaches, nectarines, plums, cherries, almonds, raspberries, strawberries, and pears – not apples, as these varieties would occupy another volume, which was, apparently, never written.

The fourth book of the Prince series was "Presented to the Editor of the Genesee Farmer with the highest respects and regards of the Author," and is William Robert Prince's Manual of Roses (1846), which he dedicated to the memory of his father. In his preface he refers to several publications on roses, calling the most prominent of these The Rose Amateur's Guide (1837) by Mr. T. Rivers, Jr., of England. He continues:

"It has been the desire of the writer of the present little volume, to combine in its pages, every item of knowledge that is comprised in that estimable work, and to extract from every other source, whatever additional information was attainable; thus forming a concentration of all the information existing in Europe on this interesting subject, and presenting the tout ensemble of European attainment as the starting point for American advancement."

William Robert Prince had become very enthusiastic about the possibilities of silk culture in the United States, but the venture resulted in the loss of his large fortune and in the mortgaging of the botanic gardens themselves so that certain of his digressions in the preface were undoubtedly not without foundation, for instance:

"The culture of flowers, although now mingled with the numerous and sterner duties of life, is still, to the writer, the medium whence is derived the most soothing and pleasurable mental relaxation; and as such, he recommends it to his friends in that degree, which they may find consistent with the more serious and arduous duties of life, to which it will serve as a most cheering relief and amelioration."

All manner of summer or June roses, climbing roses, perpetual flowering roses, and their propagation, forcing, and culture in pots for the greenhouses and in the open garden are considered, with a descriptive catalogue of more than 1600 varieties existing in the gardens of the author.

As the name of Prince would attract the attention of any one interested in horticulture, so, that of John Lindley would arouse the attention of the botanist, for he was made the first professor of botany in the University of London in 1828 and remained active in the field of botany until shortly before his death in 1865. He was a fellow of the Linnaean Society, the Geological Society, and the Royal Society, a corresponding member of many foreign societies and was associated with the Horticultural Society of London in many capacities from 1822 to 1862.

Of his many works, the Ellwanger and Barry Library possesses five, none of them in the Library of the University of Rochester, which to date boasts only the first American edition of his An Introduction to the Natural System of Botany (1831). The earliest, his Rosarum Monographia, was published first in 1820; the volume at hand, however, is a new edition dated 1830, containing nineteen plates originally drawn and colored by Lindley himself. He concedes that the number of publications about roses is "already too considerable" but because of the confusion in which the roses are involved, he bases his work on a knowledge of the genus in a living state and in addition attempts to give particular attention to synonymy. One feels his dissatisfaction with the bases upon which certain botanists established their species and is interested in his effort to arrive at a natural classification. He claims that species are distinguished among genera "as the means of giving precision to ideas, and consequently correctness to our language," and by a species he means "an assemblage of individuals, differing in particular respects from the rest of the genus, but having more points of affinity among themselves than with others, their union being therefore natural." After discussing some of the characters of rose plants and evaluating them as criteria for determining species, he gives his "Synopsis specierum et varietatum"of the genus Rosa, which he breaks up into eleven divisions totaling seventy-six species. For each of these he gives synonymy, description, discussion of its name, place of origin, and discoverer. This botanical work on the rose proves to be a happy companion piece to the horticultural Manual of Roses by Prince.

An advertisement which appears at the beginning of the first of the three completed volumes of the Pomologia Britannica (1841), of which Lindley was the more active of the two editors, states definitely that the object of the work was "firstly, to make the public accurately acquainted with those varieties of fruit which are of sufficient importance to deserve cultivation in Great Britain; and secondly, to reconcile the discordant nomenclature of nurserymen and other cultivators." The work, it was believed, would be of interest to gardeners and should be of help to them in the selection of varieties for cultivation. Included with the discussion of the origin, habit of the plant, description of its fruit and other features, as well as comments on its use, is a handsomely colored plate of the fruit with branch and leaves. The set presumably comprises 152 such elaborate plates drawn and colored with evident care and attention to detail, embracing apples, pears, peaches, apricots, plums, cherries, currants, gooseberries, raspberries, strawberries, grapes, figs, nectarines, pineapples, and nuts. A glance at these plates will show that they alone are ample reason for the existence and preservation of the work.

In the preface to the third volume one finds an expansion of the original purpose in the statement that the work was commenced "in the hope of protecting the public, by means of accurate figures and descriptions, from the evil of making injudicious selections of Fruit-trees when planting Gardens; and of enabling purchasers to judge, when their trees arrived at a bearing state, whether the varieties that had been sold them were genuine or not." How pleasant a task would be the testing of this purpose, were that possible! With the third volume the work ceased because the more active editor was forced to give it up, so that there were never more than the 152 plates completed, although the catalogue of fruits published by the Horticultural Society in 1826 enumerated three thousand varieties of fruit trees.

In 1832 Lindley published his Outlines of First Principles of Horticulture which was enlarged to The Theory of Horticulture in 1840. The latter work is reported to have been translated into almost every European language. It is the first American edition of this work with notes by A. J. Downing and A. Gray published in 1841, which is the third Lindley work in the Ellwanger and Barry Library. The subtitle of this work, An Attempt to Explain the Principal Operations of Gardening upon Physiological Principles, reveals Lindley's conviction that some of the prevailing erroneous ideas in horticulture were due to the lack of a "short guide to the horticultural application of vegetable physiology, unmixed with other things." He says that what the gardener wants is an intelligent explanation based on fact of the factors which control plant activity and which can be regulated by him.

Lindley's approach is that of a botanist, for in Book I of this work he treats "Of the Principal Circumstances Connected with Vegetable Life Which Illustrate the Operations of Gardening" – germination, growth by the root and the stem, the action of leaves and flowers, the maturation of the fruit, and temperature – all of which is a summary of flowering plant anatomy and physiology as he understood them. In Book II he writes "Of the Physiological Principles upon Which the Operations of Horticulture Essentially Depend" – moisture of the soil, bottom heat, atmospherical moisture and temperature, ventilation, seeds, propagation by various parts of plants, then pruning, potting, transplanting, the improvement of races, resting, and soil and manure. Of the degree of advance of Lindley's knowledge of physiology one can judge when he writes in the introduction: "It is certain, for instance, that plants breathe, digest and perspire; but it may be a question whether the exact nature of their respiration, digestion, and perspiration is beyond all further explanation; it is therefore better to limit our consideration to the naked fact, which is all that it imports the gardener to know, without inquiring too curiously into those phenomena."

According to report, the above-mentioned work was never very successful in England until it was expanded to The Theory and Practice of Horticulture in 1855, which volume is the fourth of the Lindley series in the Ellwanger and Barry Library. While the general format and content of the new volume resemble that of the old, there is a first chapter on "Vital Force" in which Lindley presents the evidence to show that plants are motivated by a vital principle and are known to stand as high in the scale of life as the lower animals. He feels that if man once understands that plants are activated by the same power "which distinguishes all living beings from the brute matter of which they consist"then will his cultivation of plants go beyond out-moded custom to new practices dictated by reason. Certain of his statements in this connection are so vivid that their inclusion here seems valid. For example: "Once grant that they [plants] are living beings, that they breathe although we see no mouths, that they digest although no stomachs are discoverable by common eyes, and above all things, that they feel, however low their sensations may be, and half the modes of cultivation employed by unskilful gardeners will stand conspicuous as palpable errors…such a step once taken, no cultivator would poison plants by a contaminated atmosphere, or paralyse them by an eternal footbath of cold water, or suffocate them in places where no air can reach them or starve them by withholding the food without which they cannot exist, or cram them with incessant meals of heavy indigestible matter, which can but reduce them to the condition of an apoplectic glutton."

The fifth and final work of Lindley in this collection represents the one that to the taxonomic botanist is of highest significance. In The Vegetable Kingdom (1846) he summarizes all of the important work to date on classifying plants, then expounds his own system and finally presents descriptions of all the classes, orders, and alliances in the plant kingdom according to his classification with the enumeration of their genera and economic importance. This is a tremendous work of 830 pages and nearly 500 illustrations. Although it is not an indispensable volume for the taxonomist, since Lindley's system of classification, though attracting considerable attention in England, was based on certain non-valid principles, still it is a landmark on the way to a natural system of classification toward which efforts today are still being directed, and for this reason is a valuable reference volume as well as one of decided historical interest from the botanical standpoint.

This introduction to the horticultural library of Ellwanger and Barry through the several books by members of the Prince family and various works of John Lindley serves not only to whet the appetite of the person devoted to plants, their history and cultivation, but also to arouse keen interest in the founders of the famous firm and their families. Further visits to the local history collection at the Rush Rhees Library will afford satisfaction, for on the shelves inviting perusal along with all of the horticultural volumes of less local concern are to be found Patrick Barry's The Fruit Garden (1855 and several later editions) and his horticultural department in the Genesee Farmer, some descriptive catalogues published by the firm, Henry B. Ellwanger's contributions in the Country Gentleman and his little volume The Rose (1892), with an introduction by his father.