Harper's New Monthly Magazine,  7 (1883–84), 42–59.

Nature's Serial Story Ch. 1  [1/13]

E P Roe


Novel, Serial

Relevant illustrations:

eng. [6]


Agriculture, Laboratories, Alchemy, Experiment, Imagination, Materialism, Natural Law, Theory, Energy, Microscopy, Horticulture, Climatology, Breeding, Natural History, Animal Behaviour

    Introduces the reader to the Clifford family and their 'old-fashioned homestead' in the Hudson River Valley, and states, 'We shall take part in their rural labors, and learn from them the secret of obtaining from nature that which nourishes both soul and body' (45). In describing the various members of the family, observes of Webb Clifford that the 'farm was to him a laboratory, and with something of the spirit of the old alchemists he read, studied, and brooded over the problem of producing the largest results at the least cost'; notes that the 'majority of his labors had the character of experiments'. Although Webb was 'by no means deficient in imagination', his 'imagination had become materialistic, and led only to an eager quest after the obscure laws of cause and effect'. Nevertheless, he 'understood that the forces with which he was dealing were well-nigh infinite; and it was his delight to study them, to combine them, and make them his servants. It was his theory that the energy in nature was like a vast motive power, over which man could throw the belt of his skill and knowledge, and so produce results commensurate with the force of which he availed himself'. (47) Later, in a discussion as to whether 'ten degrees of cold below zero' will always destroy the 'fruit germs' of peach and cherry buds, which is occasioned by the questions of Amy Winfield, an orphan ward whom the family have taken in, Webb exclaims, 'I can make clear to you with the aid of a microscope [...] much better than I can explain'. He also explains to another member of the family, who holds that the 'higher you go up the colder it gets', that the 'height of the [Hudson] Highlands was not sufficient to cause any material change in climate, while on still nights the coldest air sank to the lowest levels'. (52) Webb then advises that there is 'as much to be gained in the careful and long-continued selection of fruits and vegetables as in the judicious breeding of stock', especially as a means of preventing 'the yellows [...] a disease due chiefly to careless or dishonest propagation' of peach buds (54). He also relates how some rabbits 'must have climbed into a bushy tree at least eighteen inches from the snow, in order to have reached the twigs I found cut', to which his brother Leonard exclaims 'A rabbit up a tree [...] Who ever heard of such a thing?' (56). Because of the snowy weather, Leonard's wife instructs him 'to put a tub of water in the flower-room; that will draw the frost from the plants' (58).


Roe 1885

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