Wednesday, March 1, 2017

1886 - E. Lewis Sturtevant's "A Study of the Dandeliion"

I really can't tell you why I enjoy Sturtevant's works so much...but I do. 
 And! - now that
spring is fast approaching it is the right time to share his A Study of the Dandelion 

He is putting forth the idea that all stable forms of a plant in cultivation are merely forms which could be found in nature.  Too be frank, I don't know what his point is...or maybe, why is he making this point.  

No matter, dandelions make a charming botanical illustration and this is the place to share them!

The following article has illustrations I like, only one plain line drawing was in the original.  

The comments in brown italics are mine as well.



THE dandelion is a plant of northern climates, especially found growing amidst the herbage of meadows, and as a weed in gardens. Its common name is a corruption of dent de leon, a word which is met with in the Welsh Dant y Llew of the 13th century.  (Interesting link related to ancient botanical names - 1815Antiquæ Linguæ Britannicæ Thesaurus; being a British or Welsh-English.)

Its vernacular names in various languages have usually reference to the peculiar indentation of the leaves, or to some other resemblance or character of the plant. By commentators it has been identified with the 

  • aphake of Theophrastus, a in composition signifying absence of, and phake lentils, or the name perhaps signifying that the plant can be used as a green before lentils appear in the spring (?);
  • the ambubeia of Pliny may suggest the scattering of the seed, ambulo meaning the going backward and forward, but some commentators assign this name to the wild endive or chicory;
  • the hedypnois of Pliny is but doubtfully identified with our dandelion, and appears to be derived from two Greek words signifying sweet breath, and may refer to the sweet smell of the flowers.
  • Pinaeus, 1561, calls it Dens Leonis, Dens Caninus, caput Monachi, Rostruporcinum or Ambubeia, the aphake of Theophrastus;
  • by the French, Pissenlit or Dent de Lyon
  • by the Germans, Pfaffen roerlin.
  • Pena and Lobel, 1570, give additional names of Urinaria,
  • German, Korlkraut und Phaffenblat,  (I love this name!)
  • Belgian, Pappen cruyt,
  • English, Dent de Lyon

The modern vernacular names are: 

(I put in my blog comments in brown italics.)

  • English -  dandelion, swine's snout (Prior);  (Ah ha!! A chance search return yields this: Proverbs.11:22 As a jewel of gold in a swine's snout, so is a fair woman which is without discretion.  Perhaps the dandelion is the "jewel of gold"? )
  • France  - pissenlit, dent-de-lion (Vilm.);  (Pissenlit/Piss In Bed -Etymology. The vulgar name by which it is familiar to children, the French Pissenlit, and equivalent synonyms in other languages, indicate the long and general acquaintance of the people with its diuretic qualities.)
  • German -  löwensahn (Lenz); (?)
  • Flanders  - molsalaad (Vilm.); (?)
  • Danish -  moelkebtte (Vilm.); (Yup, that's a dandelion.)
  • Italian -  tarassaco (Lenz), dente de leone, virasole dei prati (Vilm.); (The first one translates.)
  • Spanish -  diente de leon, Amargon (Vilm.); (This first one translates, too!)
  • Greek -  agriomaroulia (Sibth.), pikraphake (Fraas); (Hmm...none of these turn up as a translation for dandelion. Are they phonetic?  πικραλίδα = dandelion)
  • Japanese fosei or usually fudsina or tsugumi gusee or tampopo (Pick.). (The only one that Google translates nowadays as dandelion is tampopo.)

Bauhin, in his Pinax, edition of 1623, enumerates two varieties of dandelion, one the Dens Leonis latiore filio carried back in his synonomy to Brunselsius, 1539; the other, Dens Leonis angustiore folio, carried back in like manner to Caesalpinus, 1583.

The first kind, he says, has a large and a medium variety, the leaves sometimes pointed,  sometimes obtuse.

In the Flore Naturelle et Economique, Paris, 1803, the same varieties, apparently, are mentioned, one with narrow leaves and the other with large and rounded leaves.

In Martyn's Millers Dictionary, 1807, the leaves of the dandelion are said to vary from pinnatifid or deeply runcinate in a very dry situation to nearly entire in a very moist one, generally smooth, but sometimes a little rough, and Leontodon palustre is described as scarcely more than a variety, as varying very much in its leaves which have few notches or are almost entire, the plant smoother, neater, more levigated and more glaucous than the common dandelion. (Wow, he does like a long sentence!)

In Geneva, N. Y., on the grounds of the New York Agricultural Experiment Station, a large number of varieties are to be commonly noted, both in the habit and appearance of the plant and irrespective of difference of soil or exposure, as varieties may readily be separated whose roots are intertwined.

Some plants grow with quite erect leaves, others with their leaves closely adpressed to the soil; some have broad, others narrow leaves; some have runcinate leaves, others leaves much cut and almost fringed, and yet others the leaves  nearly entire; 

some have almost sessile leaves, some have smooth leaves, others roughened leaves; some have thin, others thick leaves; some as varieties grow to a larger size, others are always dwarfer; some have an open manner of growth, others a close, etc.

These leaves are from here...

The use of the wild plant as a vegetable seems to have been common from remote times, but its culture is modern.   

  • In 1836 a Mr. Corey, of Brookline, Mass., grew dandelions for the Boston market, the seed obtained from the largest of the wild plants (Mass. Hort. Soc. Trans., 1884, 128);
  • in 1863 dandelions are described among garden esculents by Burr (Field and Gard. Veg. of America, 345), but the context not indicating any especial varieties;
  • in 1828 Fessenden (New Am. Gardener) says the wild plant is used but never cultivated.
  • In 1874 the seed appears for sale in seed catalogues (Briggs Bros. Cat, 1874), perhaps earlier, and the various seed catalogues of 1885 offer six names, one of which is the " common." 

In England, dandelion culture is not mentioned in Mawe's Gardiner, 1778, nor in Martyn's Millers Dictionary, 1807; the first notice I find is in the Gardeners' Chronicle, 1846 (p. 340), where an instance of cultivation is noted, the herbage forming "a beautiful and delicate blanched salad." 
Pissenlit Mousse

In 1880 its culture had not become common, as this year its cultivation in France, and not in England, is noted (Jenkins Jour. R. A. S., xvi, 94). 

In France, Noisette, 1829 (Man. du Jard., 1829, 356) gives cultural directions, and says the wild plant furnishes a spring pot-herb; the plant is, however, not mentioned in L'Horticulteur Francais, 1824-5, nor in Nouveau Dictionnaire du Jardinage, 1826. 

Vilmorin (Bon Jardinier, 1882) states its culture in France as dating from 1868, and the firm of Vilmorin, Andrioux & Cie in 1885 offer four sorts of seed, one, the "improved moss" as new. 

In Vilmorin's Les Plantes Potageres, 1883, two forms are figured, Pissenlit ameliore a coeur plein and Pissenlit ameliore tres hatif. The first of these is named in Album de Cliches, Pissenlit ameliore frise, and a fourth name or third form is figured, the Pissenlit mousse.

  1. The type of the Pissenlit mousse can be readily found among the wild plants of the station grounds, very closely resembling Vilmorin's figure in every respect when growing on rich soil except that the leaf divisions are scarcely as much crowded.
  2. The type of the Pissenlit ameliore a coeur plein is perhaps to be recognized in Anton Pinaeus' figure, 156r, and is certainly to be found growing wild at the station.
  3. The Pissenlit-ameliore tres hatif is figured in 1616, the resemblance between the two figures, the one by Dodonaeus and the other by Vilmorin, is very close. It is also to be found growing wild on the station grounds.

Above illustrations from

The Vegetable Garden,
J. Murray, 1885

P.J. Redouté
The influence of rich soil and protected growth upon the dandelion is to give increased size and succulency to the plant, and to thicken the branching of the leaves, in the direction of answering the description of a coeur plein; but this influence appears to be limited by the heredity of the plant, as the types do not react to an equal extent. 

This fullness, or hearting, in No. 2 seems to come from the strong tendency in plants of this type to divide the root into a group of crowns; the leaves, also, in rich soil, grow rather upright with the upper portion curving outwards, giving a curled appearance to the plant, and thus justifying Vilmorin's alternate name "frise." 

The No. 3 form is more succulent in rich soil than the others, attains size distinctly earlier, is less crowded and less upright in growth, and in some cases is very closely adpressed to the ground. 

No. 1 type does not in all cases seem to be a depauperate (lacking in numbers or variety of species) form, as it is found on fertile soil along with the rest, it is usually small, but in some instances is of fair size and quite bunchy growth. A form with nearly entire leaves has not yet reached culture under a distinct name; this type is distinctly smaller than the rest, and some plants have sessile and thickened leaves, other plants long petioled and spatulate-like thin leaves. In all the forms some plants may be looked for with hairy and roughened leaves.
detail - P.J. Redouté

In view of the limited extent of the present culture of the dandelion, and the short time since its cultivation was first attempted, as well as to the fact that its present culture about Geneva (New York) seems unknown, it seems unreasonable to infer that our plants are escapes from cultivation, and much more so when it is considered that these same described types are common elsewhere in Western New York. 

If not escapes from cultivation the inference seems strongly established that our cultivated varieties did not originate under cultivation, but are simply selections from wild types. If this be granted it may be legitimately questioned whether other of our cultivated form-species in other plants are not likewise of natural origin.

A careful investigation into the history of the origin of our cultivated varieties fully justifies the statement that I have as yet secured no data which justifies the belief that form-species in culture are other than of natural origin, and I have secured much evidence in favor of the view that form-species are introductions from natural variations. Before, however, such a radical belief can receive countenance, much must be done in the herbarium study of varieties as collected from various sources, in order that we may have wild forms to which our cultivated types can be referred. 

Our so-called modern vegetables, introduced as novelties, often seem to be such only because we are unfamiliar with what our predecessors possessed. Thus the figure that Pinaeus gives, in 1561, of a lettuce answers to our stone tennis-ball variety as closely as do the figures in our seed catalogues to the varieties whose name they carry;   the deer-tongue lettuce introduced as a novelty in 1883 seems nearly identical with the Lactuca folio oblongo acuto of Bauhin's Prodromus, 1671; a large number of our capsicums or peppers seem to be identical with the varieties figured in Hortus Eystettensis, 1623; new types of squash followed the appearance of the Valparaiso from Chili in the early part of the present century, etc., etc.

Under the hypothesis that the form-species of cultivation are originally from nature, we can explain the permanency of these form-species, and their resistance to change from cross fertilization, the tendency seeming strongly towards trueness to type, and the purging themselves from contaminations unless restrained perhaps by human selection. Thus two form-species of maize, when crossed, have not produced intermediates in their crop, but the parent types without intermediates, and the continuous planting of the progeny tended toward a complete separation into the original types. Various crossings of a like kind, made at the Experiment station, seem confirmatory of this view, and seem to suggest in addition that seeming sports are often the result of atavism.

Appended are a few of the variations which are to be found in the leaves of the dandelion, selected rather as representative than as exceptional. A series could readily have been selected showing a passage from one type to another, as frequently leaves of quite different appearance appear on the same plant.

Want more? 


(Note: Any references by Sturtevant to colored plates were not supported by any of the 
sources available online that I found, which had no illustrations at all!)

January, 1886, I published a paper in the American Naturalist in which I claimed as 
Real Jardin Botanico, Madrid , Spain
probable that all our cultivated varieties of Dandelion were removes from nature and not garden originations, and I also implied that in the case of our cultivated vegetables in general, all the types were likewise derived from natural varieties or variations. 

The importance of this proposition is such that I may not seek excuse for offering a demonstration in the case of the Dandelion, and I can not refrain from also claiming that all the data gained by years of attention justifies the belief that in nature we are to seek and find the types of every cultivated vegetable, and that the modifications produced by protective culture and its concomitants are far less than usually credited, being always within the limits that are discoverable in the feral plant. 

From careful observation and study I think I can properly claim that varieties in nature are indicative of the varieties that appear under culture; that variations in nature are indicative of variations that shall appear under culture; that variation under cultivation furnishes guidance to variation to be sought for in nature; that varieties in cultivation have like varieties in the feral condition of the species. 

Should this generalization prove to be correct, as I firmly believe it will be, we are supplied a method by which the history of cultivated plants can be traced, and by which their geographical distribution can be correctly followed through the assistance of historical data.
Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C., U.S.A.

 To accomplish this, however, means herbarium collections which shall include varieties and variations of species, together with notes on the habitat.

 The influence of the factors which find concrete expression in the words climate, soil, culture, requires careful attention and study. The effect of these factors in their power to turn plants from their hereditary aptitudes seems far less than is usually allowed, and it is difficult to assign exact value to either the components or the totality, but the greater effect is undoubtedly either increase or diminution in size (including duplication of parts or its opposite), and tendency towards reversion to some earlier condition.
This is not the place, however, to discuss these propositions, as my object is but to demonstrate in the case of the Dandelion the variability of the wild species, and the practical identity between the wild forms and cultivated varieties. 

This brings us face to face with the question of the limitations of evolution as influenced by human control.

The Dandelion, Taraxacum dens-leonis of Gray's Manual is one of the most common spring plants at Nonquit, a summer resort on the west shore of Buzzard's Bay, six miles south of New Bedford.  

 It is there found flourishing not only in the lawns and dry plains, but notably in copses, occasionally in the forest, and quite abundantly on the borders of brackish swamps, less so in the edges; in the clear sand of the dunes bordering the line of high tide, and on piles of decaying eel-grass, in abandoned gardens, etc. 

Five types of varieties, or centers of variations within the species, are readily discernable, and to which as varieties a large number of variables can be readily assigned. While it is probable that a wider area of collections would connect these five variables through successive gradations, yet for the purpose of a local flora they may be considered as distinct. As I have not had access to herbariums, I prefer at the present time not to assign these varieties to described species (of some botanists) with which they appear to be synonymous. 

I have indicated them by letters of the alphabet. 

Variety A. 
  • This has pinnate (?) leaves; the scapes usually not longer than the leaves, and frequently with a bract upon the upper portion;the calyx scales usually upright or spreading, but often reflexed; size, small.

    It occurs abundantly in dry and moist pastures, often bordering on the beach, and does not attain a large size even when found alongside of larger samples of other varieties which indicate very fertile soil. The plant has either prostrate or erect foliage. The colored figures exhibited show the normal form and size; the herbarium specimens the variables as well.
Variety B.
  • This has pinnate (?) leaves, but the divisions linear triangular, or linear and pinnatifid (?) and distant. It obtains often a considerable size, and occurs in pastures, gardens, and on heaps of decaying eel-grass. It is little variable at Nonquit, but very variable at Geneva, N. Y.

    This variety is noticeable for its tendency to form clustered root stocks, and hence a clumpy appearance to the foliage. The midribs are usually slender. In very fertile soil the leaves become somewhat thickened with a tendency to curl on the borders. In Geneva the leaves often appear cut and laciniated, the laciniae occasionally curled and overlapping and crowded. The plant usually with rather erect foliage.

    The colored figure exhibited represents a less crowded form than is commonly found in rich soil, the herbarium samples a common form. 

Variety C. 

  • This form is abundant in copses, occasionally in dense woods, less common in localities exposed to full sunlight, and attains a great length of leaf when found in rich soil, among the high grass in the copses.

    The pinnae (?) are frequently alternate on some of the leaves. The root frequently supports many crowns, thus affording a dense clumpy plant. The leaves not observed to be clustered, usually very upright. The leaf often quite broad between the pinnae (?).

    One sample collected on the roadside had 52 leaves and 22 flowering scapes. There are quite a large number of variables within the type of this form. The colored figure represents the type, and the herbarium samples some of the variations. 

Variety D

  • This form, with somewhat entire leaves, is very frequent, and extremely variable, growing either in the sun or shade. In rich soil it often attains a large size, the leaf often very thick, bullate and crimpled, and up to six and one-half inches wide. In shaded position the leaf becomes narrower and elongated, approaching to spatulate at times. The petioles are frequently bordered to the base. The colored figure represents the type and the herbarium samples exhibit variations including leaves six and one-half inches wide. 

Variety E. 

  • This form, with long, broad leaves more or less triangular dentate, and with usually broadly bordered petioles, in rich soil, has the surface of the leaves strongly waved or bullate. It occurs in shaded locations, as in abandoned gardens, orchards, and under scattered trees, less common in sunny exposures, rarely in copses.

    The scapes often attain a length of thirty inches. The calyx scales are either in two or three rows. The colored figure represents the type, and the herbarium samples variations up to leaves twenty-two inches long.

    The cultivated Dandelion is of modern introduction. The earliest record I can find in America being in 1836, in the vicinity of Boston; in England an instance is dated 1846. Its market culture in France dates from 1868, according to Vilmorin, and its seed appeared in American seed catalogues in 1874, perhaps a few years earlier.

    The removal of the roots of the wild plants to gardens, annually, for the purpose of blanching for salad use, is mentioned by Stevenson in his Gardner's Kalendar for March, 1765, and by Miller, in his Gardner's Dictionary, edition of 1771.

    In 1885 Vilmorin describes five varieties as distinct, and certainly these varieties offer sufficient contrast to excite our interested attention, if, as is claimed, such have originated through art during the short period under which its culture has existed. This view is, however, a mistaken one, and that our cultivated varieties so apparently diverse are but feral varieties slightly modified by protected growth and fertile soil, is demonstrable; first, from the fact that the types of each variety are to be found growing wild; second, because any point or points noticed in descriptions (or in the growing plant as well), are discoverable in the wild plant.

    In support of these statements, I exhibit colored drawings of typical leaves from the cultivated variety of the Dandelion, as kindly furnished by Mr. E. S. Goff, of the New York Agricultural Experiment Station, to whom I am under obligation, and corresponding leaves from the Dandelion as found growing wild. I also exhibit in herbarium specimens a collection of variable leaves, taken from both wild and cultivated varieties, and which taken as a whole, exhibit the great number of variations which commonly occur in the species, and which, in the wild form, by selective effort, are subject to appearance as cultivated varieties in the future.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

1807 - Michael Floy, Seedsman, "Upper End of Broadway", New York

Michael Floy was a good businessman, a good writer, a good seedsman and nurseryman, who lived a good and prosperous life. 

Following his father into the trade he unfortunately had no offspring interested in the business.

In 1847 his basic history was noted :
About fifty years since, a nursery was established near Rivington, east of Sheriff-street, which street derived its name from Mr. Sheriff, the proprietor. 

Mr. Michael Floy, now living, succeeded Mr. S. in this nursery. He afterward occupied land in Greenwich~lane, and in 1807 removed from thence toward the North River, his nursery being situated between King and Barrow-street, extending across Hudson-street, that beautiful and spacious thoroughfare, to Greenwich-street.

This nursery being required for building lots, he was induced in 1820, to start a nursery on the Brevoort estate, immediately north of the Sailors Snug Harbor, which he carried on until the year 1827, since which time he purchased fourteen acres of land in Harlem, where he at present resides. 
 Snug Harbor Looking North

We thus see that the march of improvement has driven the nurserymen and market-gardeners far from the fields of their early exertions, and that where “once a garden smiled,” now stand the mansions of adventurous merchants and successful tradesmen.

Transactions of the American Institute: Of the City of New-York
(This is an interesting read if you are interested in New York.)

Following up on the theme of Floy moving around a lot considering he was a nurseryman is information on land speculators in the early 1800s buying up what used to be farmland surrounding the city.  Here is more detail on why he moved taken from an interesting dissertation cited at the end.  It is a good read.
In 1835 "speculators" offered Manhattan nurseryman Michael Floy ten times what he had originally paid for land in Harlem. The following year Floy's son excitedly penned in his diary; "A gentleman today offered father a fine farm at Jamaica for $10,000, and at the same time offered only $140,000 for our Nursery! The temptation is almost too great." Thus, high prices encouraged considerable areas of farmland to transfer from farmer to speculator.
 Manhattan nurseryman and author Michael Floy intended to leave the family business to his son Michael, with whom he operated the family business. Yet twenty-eight year-old Michael died unexpectedly in the spring of 1837, and his father continued on alone until his death in 1854. Floy's oldest son James, a successful clergyman, had no interest in horticulture. Apparently, neither did his daughters or their husbands.  
Suspecting that upon his death the nursery would be sold, the elder Floy empowered his executors to sell the entire stock of plants, shrubs and trees. The language of the senior Floy's will also suggests that potentially serious obstacles awaited the heirs of valuable properties; whether to sell, rent or develop, or to keep the land intact.  
In Floy's case the nurseryman purchased a ten acre parcel of land between Fourth and Fifth Avenues from 125th to 127th Streets for $8,500 in 1827.  A quarter-century later it had quadrupled in value. Apparently anticipating some disagreement over the dispersal of the estate after the death of his wife (who inherited use rights) Floy requested that the executors "come into agreement" with his family over whether to sell the property "or to improve it."    In 1854 the Harlem properties included four houses and lots, the nursery, plus the "house I now occupy in Harlem and also the lot 25 feet by one-half block in depth, on which the house stands.   The Floy heirs appear to have managed through the pitfalls of probate, but other families were less fortunate.
Manhattan nurseryman Michael Floy described his first encounter with an " awkward and ineffective one-horse cultivator" in the summer of 1834: 
Father had a great notion to buy an instrument called a "cultivator," so he borrowed Mr. Hall's. We put up the old Gray before it, but it made sad work, and might be truly called a "cultivator," for I believe it cultivated the weeds so as to make them grow better than before. ...
Wednesday, January 7, 1835: Clear sky and most intensely cold; thermometer but one above zero. . . . The frost has got in the little Green-house, and I do not know when we shall be able to get it out. I laid all the fault to the coal, so Father got a ton of Schuylkill; if he had not done so we should have been frozen all up.  
Thursday, January 8, 1835: Same as yesterday. By keeping two fires constantly going, got the frost out of the little Green-house. I do not wish to see Jack there again; the plants do not relish such a companion.

  • The Diary of Michael Floy, Jr., Bowery Village 1833-1837 (New York: Yale University Press. 1941).
  •  Last Will and Testament of Michael Floy, New York, New York (Proved 10 May 1854) vol. 110, pp. 82-86, New York County Probate Court. 
Tremante, Louis P. III, "Agriculture and farm life in the New York City region, 1820-1870 " (2000). Retrospective Theses and Dissertations. 12290.

The best Dwarf Marrowfats (peas) we have ever had, were some purchased the last year from Michael Floy, seedsman, New-York. 
Testimonial from The Southern Agriculturist and Register of Rural Affairs, 1830

New York, Dec. 27, 1828. 
I send you the quantity of Bishop's Early Dwarf Prolific Pea, ordered by you, being of the same kind as presented by me to the Horticultural Society of this city. 
Agreeably to your request, I will give you a short account of its origin, peculiar properties, and mode of treatment. 

In the year 1826, they made their first appearance in London, having been sent, as I am informed, from some part of Scotland, where they were originally raised by a practical gardener, of the name of Bishop. 

In the year 1817, so great a reputation had they obtained in the neighbourhood of London, that they were readily sold by the nursery men there at a guinea a pint; and in the spring of that year I received a small portion of them as a present from an eminent horticulturist, who, in the letter accompanying them writes as follows: 
"These peas are making a great noise here, and knowing they would be highly acceptable to you, I have, with some difficulty, procured you a small quantity. Its peculiar excellences Appear to be these: its great productiveness, equalling, if not surpassing any variety hitherto known; its earliness and its remarkable dwarf habit, seldom attaining, even in the best soils, the height of twelve inches, which of itself would make it a most valuable acquisition, more especially for small gardens." 
In addition to what is here stated, I remark from my own experience, that this pea fully realizes the description here given, and the following appears the most judicious method of treating them: 

They should be planted three, or at any rate two inches apart in the rows, as from their dwarfishness and spreading habit they do not do so well if sown closer; hence it is obvious there will be a great saving of seed, as a pint of these Peas will go as far as two or three quarts of any other, sown in the usual manner. 
They commence blooming when not three inches high, bear most abundantly, and are very fine eating. If a few were planted weekly, a constant succession of Green Peas might be obtained all the summer and autumn, as from the habit of their growth they appear better calculated to withstand the heat of an American summer than any variety with which I am acquainted. 

I have still a few quarts left; which are offered to those desirous of cultivating an excellent vegetable, at one dollar per quart. Persons at a distance, by remitting the cash by letter (post paid) will receive them by any conveyance they may designate.              

Michael Floy
Seedsman, &c., New York.

The author of the The Cottage Garden of AmericaWalter Elder, said in 1850:
Michael Floy, nurseryman and florist, New York City, is an excellent writer ; his edition and additions of Lindley's “Guide to the Orchard" is a valuable book on fruits.

The Diary of Michael Floy Jr. is not available online...sigh. ..BUT I got a copy for $3.48 on ABE!!! Can't wait til it gets here :-)

Mr. Brooks Edits Michael Floy's Diary, A Vivid Picture Of Life In The 1830's
By Katherine Eisenhart '42

The Diary of Michael Floy Jr. edited by Professor Richard Brooks of the English department, has just been published, in celebration of 75th anniversary and as a memorial to Margaret Floy Washburn.   Washburn,  professor of psychology at Vassar from 1903 to 1937, discovered the diary of her uncle and began the work of preparation for publication. 

The diary covers the period from October 1, 1833 to February 1837. It is of great interest because, as Miss Washburn says in her introductory note, it gives "a vivid picture of American life at a period and in a social medium of which there is little contemporary record." 

Started In Nursery Business 

Michael Floy. Jr.. was a young New Yorker, who after his graduation from Columbia, joined his father in the nursery business, and did very well, particularly with dahlias and camellias (also canaries on the side).    The Floy family lived in a brick house in the Bowery which in 1893 was a rather a different place than it is today.   Through his daily records that range from weather observations to philosophical inquiry, one sees clearly the New York of that time and at the same time gathers a very distinct picture of the author who is chiefly remarkable for the variety of his interests. 

Above and beyond his work m the nursery (which required a daily trip to Harlem to care for the fruit trees and watermelons) he was an ardent Wesleyan Methodist and regularly attended a round of religious functions.  The Sunday school that he taught, he took very seriously and confessed at one place that "it requires a person of pretty firm muscle to manage a Sunday school of youngsters." 

Floy is Versatile 

In spite of this arduous religious life, he treats it in such a way that in Mr. Brooks' words, "his diary will contribute toward a reestimate of the Puritan as portrayed by writers at the end of the century."   He was enormously susceptible to women, and having spontaneously proposed to a Miss Deborah S. from Poughkeepsie he spends several years disengaging himself.  Besides all this, he was a voracious reader of anything from the Bible to Byron, and an amateur mathematician, musing on tibei ical trigonometry and geometric proportion, and an active member of the Anti-Slavery Association.

 The diary is a delightfully frank expose of his moods, activities, and the changing state of his health. It seems quaint in some places, amazingly contemporary in others. Even in 1833 the price of travel from New York to Poughkeepsie was $1.50.

Not especially related to this story but I liked this illustration of the Sailors Snug Harbor.