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Memoirs of the Caledonian Horticultural Society
In 4 volumes (1814)


DISCOURSE, &c.

Gentlemen,

At the end of the second year, from the first establishment of this Society, we are now assembled for the annual election of our Office Bearers. It is my duty to officiate as your Vice President : And it has been recommended to me, to give a short account of what has already been done by the Society, and also to state some future objects which your Council have in contemplation. I trust, therefore, I shall be favoured with your indulgence, while I submit to your consideration, a few remarks on these subjects.

I need not detain you with any account of the views of those who first suggested this institution. It is sufficient to observe, that the Kingdom of Scotland has been long and justly celebrated, for supplying useful practical Gardeners to every part of the British Empire. This, perhaps, has in some degree been the effect of our climate. We are not: blessed with the same genial heat, particularly during the spring, as our brethren in the South. To produce, therefore, the same delicious fruit, greater attention and greater skill are required. By these, however, the experience of ages has now demonstrated that many difficulties may be overcome; that, by the aid of artificial heat, and the protection of glass, the fruits of our gardens may vie with those of any part of the habitable world; that, by proper management, almost every vegetable useful in the diet of the human species, may be reared in the greatest perfection, and in the greatest plenty.

But whether our skill in gardening, is to be ascribed to our unfavourable climate or not, certain it is that Scotland has long been famous, both for intelligent professional Gardeners, and •zealous amateurs. That men of rank and fortune should have dedicated some portion of their time and their wealth, to the improvement of gardens, is not surprising: For, without the hazard of contradiction, I may venture to assert, that, among all the rural amusements, gardening is one of the most innocent, the most rational, and the most healthful. Hence, to have obtained pre-eminence in this art, is creditable and honourable to the country.

It is therefore a duty incumbent upon the present age, to maintain that reputation which our ancestors have acquired for us. But it is often a more difficult matter to support, than to gain an eminent character. Expectation raised to a high pitch is difficultly satisfied. This can only be effected by continued, by increased exertions. When, therefore, Sir Joseph Banks, the truly respectable President of the Royal Society of London, and some other enthusiastic Horticulturists in England, formed a Society for the improvement of Gardening, by the combined efforts of art and science, it became the duty of patriot Scotsmen to follow so laudably an example.

Such considerations .gave a beginning to this institution: And on .the 25th of November 1809, a few gentlemen met at Mr Thomas Dickson’s .house, in the neighbourhood of Edinburgh, where it was agreed, that a letter should be sent to different skilful professional gardeners, and amateurs, inclosing a sketch of an intended, plan, and .intimating, that a more general meeting was to be -held on Tuesday the 5th of December 1809, to take that plan under consideration. The noblemen and, gentlemen to whom that intimation was sent, were requested, either to attend the meeting in person, or to send anticipation of their sentiments respecting the plan.

In consequence of this invitation, a very respectable meeting took place in this room;, on the 5th of December 1809; and notice was received from some of the first characters of the kingdom, approving of the plan, and intimating their readings to become members of, the institution. Among these, the Duke of Buccleuch, who has. long beep, distinguished in the country as a real patriot, and his eldest son, the Earl of Dalkeith, sent notice of their approbation, and of their readiness to accept of the rank of Honorary Members, to which they had been invited. Thus encouraged by men of rank, of worth, and of discernment, the first meeting proceeded to nominate Office-bearers for the ensuing year. The Earl of Dalkeith was appointed your first President; and Sir James Hall, who has long been distinguished for his patronage of the arts and sciences,—together With Dr Rutherford, Professor of Botany,— Dr Coventry, Professor of Agriculture,—and Mr Hunter of Blackness, a gentleman, whose enthusiasm in gardening has seldom been equalled, —were chosen the first Vice-Presidents. Such names gave the prospect of no inconsiderable support to this infant institution. But in no particular was the Society, in my opinion, more fortunate than in the nomination of their Secretaries. Two gentlemen, whose characters are well known to most of you, the late Mr Walter Nicol, and Mr Patrick Neill, agreed to undertake the duties of that office. Mr Nicol's character, by his valuable publications, was already favourably known to every intelligent horticulturist in Britain, But, alas! it was the will of Heaven-that we should be favoured a short time. Only with his assistance. by his much lamented death, at an early period of life, our Society, in its infant state sustained a very great, but I would fain hope, not an irreparable loss. Among other business of this day, the vacant office of a Secretary is to be filled up. Your choice will, I trust, fall upon some one of our number, who although he may not be able to. equal, will yet be desirous to imitate the example set by our deceased friend. Our other Secretary,, Mr Neill, will, I hope, be long- both able and willing to lend his .aid to this institution. He is not only a zealous amateur in gardening, but his superior knowledge in every branch of natural history, is universally admitted by all who have science enough duly to appreciate that knowledge : And I say no more than the truth, when I assert, that from his. industry, and from his abilities, this Society has already derived many important, advantages.

Having, at the meeting in December 1809, by the election of respectable and intelligent office bearers, given to our Society a body, arid a name, we proceeded to consider the proper Regulations for such an institution. After considerable discussion on the printed sketch which had been circulated, it was agreed; that any decision on the subject, should be delayed till the next quarterly meeting; and a Committee was appointed to present to that meeting, a new draught of it; improved by the suggestions which had been thrown out;

A committee was also appointed to prepare a list of Prize-Questions, which, by. holding out honorary and pecuniary rewards to men of spirit and genius, might call forth their exertions for the improvement of horticulture in all. its branches.

A List of Prize-Questions prepared by them; was accordingly sanctioned, by the General Quarterly Meeting held on the 6th of March 1810; and at the same meeting, the Laws and Regulations, as revised by the committee; met with unanimous approbation. Of these regulations, as being already in the possession of every member, I need say nothing: I shall only observe, that one great object of the Caledonian Horticultural Society, is to unite the exertions of intelligent professional gardeners, and of zealous amateurs in every part of the kingdom, for the improvement of the art. With this view, it was agreed that the Society should consist of three classes of members: 1st, Of Honorary Members, who, though from situation and other circumstances, they could not often be present at our deliberations, would yet, from their rank in life, and respectability of character, give celebrity and do honour to our institution, and, at the, same time, induce the professional gardeners employed by them, to favour us with useful communications: 2dly, Of Ordinary Members, who, from their residence being principally in Edinburgh, would not only regularly attend our meetings, and assist at our deliberations, but would agree to contribute a small sum annually, for calling forth and rewarding the exertions of genius and of industry: And, 3dly, Of Corresponding Members, consisting chiefly of professional gardeners, residing at a distance from Edinburgh, who, by transmitting communications to this Society, might thus Have an easy mode of imparting to the public, interesting improvements, which experience has enabled; them to discover.

At the meeting in March 1810, the Society had the satisfaction of entering on the proper objects of their pursuit. Six different communications were then read; Some of them on subjects of great national importance, such,' for example, as on the merits of preventing the Curl in the Potato. Of this vegetable; as a nourishing and salubrious aliment/ both for the species; and for many of our most useful domestic animals, it would be altogether superfluous in me to say any thing; nor need I insist Upon the advantage of removing every impediment to its successful culture. A due sense of. the importance bf. this subject, led the Society to propose the most effectual means of removing that disease in potatoes known by the name of curl, as the subject of a prize. In consequence of that proposal, several interesting dissertations were transmitted to your Secretary. These dissertations were subjected to the examination of a committee, and in consequence of the award of that committee, I now deliver to Mr Thomas Dickson your Gold Medal, as an honorary and public mark of approbation for his successful exertions in the way of experiment, Of the -value of Mr Dickson’s experiments to the community at large, if the conclusions which he has drawn from them be just, it would be unnecessary for me to say any thing; I shall only observe, that we have reason to hope, that a full account of them, will in no long time be communicated to the public, through the medium of our Memoirs. After Mr Dickson’s experiments are published, every cultivator of potatoes will have himself an opportunity of determining their value, by the test of future experience. But at whatever rate their value may finally be estimated, it is the unanimous opinion of the committee of judges, that Mr Dickson is entitled-to a public murk of the Society’s approbation,-for the expence, the labour, the attention he has bestowed, and for the exertions-of his genius on this interesting subject. It is the wish of your council, not only to publish his opinions to the world,-but also to give a fair trial to his proposal, by a series of experiments conducted under their own direction.

Of all the memoirs that have been communicated, it would not be consistent with the business of the present meeting to speak. To read even a list of their titles, would take up too great a portion of your time. I shall only observe that twenty-six different communications, on subjects of no inconsiderable importance, have been read at our meetings; and that no fewer than fifty-two medals, or premiums in place of medals, have been awarded to different individuals. Of the medals, several have been awarded to Ladies for their excellence in the preparation of Currant Wine; and this I will venture to say, is, in the present state of the nation, an object of very great importance. That the wines of foreign countries, afford indeed to the inhabitants of the British Empire, some of their greatest luxuries, and. most useful cordials, will not be denied; and it is the glory of civilized Society, that by the intervention of commerce, every nation on the face of the habitable globe, may be freely supplied with the produce of every other. Till the reign of terror in France, the genius and industry of our mechanics,—of a Bolton, an Arkwright, a Wedgwood, and others, was repaid to themselves, - and to: the. nation, by the-best wines, which France could afford. But amidst tyranny and war, we are necessarily deprived of many of the blessings of peace; and it is the duty of the patriotic citizen, either to submit to these privations, or to supply them by the produce of our own islands, and of our own colonies. It has long been known, that from the fruit of the currant-bush, growing luxuriantly and affording abundant crops in every part of the British isles, aided by the sugar furnished front our plantations in the West Indies: if the fermentation which takes place be properly conducted, a generous wine may be produced; well calculated either for cheering the hearts of those in a state of health, of for alleviating the distress of many when subjected to disease. Of this, incontestible proof has been afforded; by the many excellent specimens of cufrant-Wine which have been sent to the Society, by Competitors for our honorary premium. Some of these specimens;, after the wine, previously fermented for a proper time in the cask, had’ been kept in bottles for more than' twenty years; afforded evident proof, that the art is neither new, nor the liquor, when properly prepared; a very. perishable one. But in the preparation of currant-wine, as in other arts, very great improvements have of late been made, particularly by the means of Regulating the fermentation; and there is reason to hope, that by the aid of the saccharometerj and other contrivances, this most important part of the process, although it can never perhaps be reduced to certain rules, may be regulated with much greater accuracy than is commonly the case.

All the Ladies, after whose wines premiums have been awarded, have communicated to the Society a particular account of their method of proceeding. Of these, however, I shall at present say nothing. But permit me to observe,-that by a judicious abstract from the specifications in the hands of our Secretary, there is reason to hope, that much useful information may be communicated to the public, respecting the preparation of good wine, at a moderate expense, from currants growing in our own gardens: For, from the specimens presented to this Society, it appears that the best currant wines are not prepared according to the most expensive receipts.

I have thus pointed out two subjects, the Prevention of the Curl. in Potato, and the Manufacture of Currant Wine, with regard to which, I flatter myself, that the communications made to this Society, will be productive of no inconsiderable national advantage. Of many other useful suggestions, I might say much; particularly with regard to the best methods of destroying different insects that infest fruit-trees; the best means for bringing fruit-trees, particularly the finer sorts of French pears, into full bearing; and the best means of increasing the effects of manure. But for a particular account of these, I must refer, you to our Memoirs when presented to the public.

After these cursory, remarks on what has. already been done, I shall next briefly mention some important objects which your Council have hereafter in view. On this subject, I must candidly acknowledge, that my expectations are in all probability, much more sanguine than they ought to be. But I well know, that, in the improvement of horticulture, by the. exertions of industry and genius, much may be done; and, I confidently hope, that not a little .will be done.

Discoveries are chiefly to be made by judicious experiment. And it is by the test of experience alone, that the suggestions of genius can be duly appreciated, can be confirmed, or refuted. It is therefore an object of great importance, not only to encourage a zeal for experiment by proper rewards, but to recommend it by example, and to put the alleged results of the experiments of others, to future trials under our own inspection.

It is indeed true, as was long since observed, by an ancient writer of the first eminence, that life is short, art long, opportunity fleeting, experiment precarious, and judgment difficult. It must also be admitted, that those horticultural experiments, which your Council have in view, cannot be executed without very considerable expense, as well as much labour .and attention. But we have reason to believe, that to the fund arising from the annual contributions of Ordinary Members, a considerable addition may be made by the donations of those who have patronised the Society, by accepting of the rank of Honorary Members. And some of our number are not without hopes, that our exertions may be forwarded even by Royal Patronage and Royal aid. They imagine, that for the purpose of our experiments, a grant of a small portion of that ground in the vicinity of -Edinburgh which is the property of the Crown, and which is at present in an almost: uncultivated state, may be obtained from our Most Gracious Sovereign, or his Representative, our Most Excellent Regent.

The best chance we have of obtaining Royal Patronage, is, by demonstrating that we deserve it: And we ought, without delay, to begin experiments, although upon a small scale, With this view, your Council take the liberty of recommending to you to appoint two new officers to the Society; an experimenter for; conducting such trials as the Society may judge proper; and a painter of fruits, flowers, roots, and. such other vegetable productions as may serve to illustrate arid to demonstrate the result of experiments.

It is indeed true, that the present state of our funds will not enable us to give an adequate remuneration to men, qualified for discharging the duties of these offices. But your Council have good; reason to believe, that there are men in our Society, who, from an ardent zeal for horticultural pursuits, will (like our Secretaries and Treasurer) cheerfully, dedicate some portion of their time and talents to your service, without any pecuniary reward.

By these means, and by such aid, I would fain hope, that the useful exertions of this Society, may not only be continued, but increased; and that it will thus afford rational amusement, and interesting information to all who have already joined and patronised it, or who may hereafter be ranked among the number of its members.

The Society, after hearing the preceding discourse, entered on the consideration of the proposal from the Council respecting the appointment of an Experimenter, and a Painter. That proposal met with unanimous and cordial approbation.

On the recommendation of the Council, Mr John Fletcher was immediately appointed Experimenter, and Mr Patrick Syme was appointed Painter.

After these appointments, Mr Thomas Dickson, whose paper on the Curl in Potatoes had been honoured with the first Gold Medal given by the Society, was unanimously elected Secretary, for supplying the vacancy occasioned by the death of the late Mr Walter Nicoh.

Volume 1  |  Volume 2  |  Volume 3  |  Volume 4


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