Harper's New Monthly Magazine,  11 (1885–86), 365–82.

The Blue-grass Region of Kentucky

James Lane Allen


Essay, Travelogue


Botany, Acclimatization, Race, Imperialism, Natural Economy, Natural History, Idealism, Agriculture, Breeding, Anti-Scientism, Aesthetics, Geology, Physical Geography

People mentioned:

John Burroughs

    Although the famous blue-grass of Kentucky is 'always green, of course, never blue' (366), it deserves to be called 'Saxon grass' because, like the doughty humans of that particular race, it has come to America 'uprooting inferior aborigines, but stoutly defending its new domain against all fresh invaders' (365). This 'wonderful grass' has drawn 'all needful nourishment from the constantly disintegrating limestone below' (366), while the renowned 'Kentucky live stock' have in turn 'drawn from' the grass's 'inexhaustible richness [...] their unequalled form and quality and organization' (367). In the woods of Kentucky, moreover, 'one often finds [...] the perfection of tree forms [...] that exceedingly rare development which enables the extremities of the boughs to be carried out to the very limit of the curve that nature intends the tree to define as the peculiar shape of its species' (368). Reflects that nature 'unceasingly struggles to cover herself with bushes of all sorts and nameless annual weeds and grasses', and whenever there is a new space in nature's economy 'communistic vegetation [...] rushes there to fight for life, from the minutest creeping vines to forest trees. Every neglected fence corner becomes an area for a fresh colony' (372). Observes that the 'transition from material conditions to the forms of life that they insure is here natural', and in horse racing the 'muscular fibre of the blue grass animal' is justly famous, although when 'taken to the Eastern States, in twelve generations he is no longer the same breed of horse'. Similarly, 'Jersey cattle brought here increase in size', and 'Sires come to Kentucky to make themselves and their offspring famous'. Complains that the new 'scientific agriculture' is 'less picturesque' than previous modes of 'primitive husbandry', and states that the 'artist will leave the field as soon as possible' when the 'old work of the reaper is done by a fat man with a flaming face, sitting on a cast-iron machine'. (374) Also notes the advent of the 'newer barbed-wire fence—an economic device that will probably become [...] popular' across the agricultural regions of the nation (375). Remarks that the 'soil of this region is what scientists call sedentary—called so because it sits quietly on the rocks, not because the people sit quietly on it' (376).

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