LUTHER BURBANK-HIS BOYHOOD ON A MASSACHUSETTS FARM
THE CONCEPTION OF AN IDEA AND THE BIRTH OF A GREAT AMBITION
Had my father been a superstitious man my advent would perhaps have been unwelcome, for I was my father's thirteenth child. I have no reason to suppose, however, that this fact was ever given a thought. It is indeed very likely that at the time of my coming no one counted heads carefully enough to find out that the newcomer had drawn the traditionally unlucky number. In point of fact, it was only by reference to the Family Bible that anyone was likely to know the full roll of the fraternity, for several of my father's children had died in infancy, and some of the oldest ones had gone out into the world before the date of my arrival. I speak of "my father's children" because my mother was his third wife, and she had borne only two children before my birth, both of whom had died in infancy. So there was a considerable gap between me and the next older child, and as I ranked eldest in the new coterie, which comprised presently two other children-my sister Emily and my brother Alfred respectively-I occupied in a sense the position of an elder brother in the fraternity, my half brothers and sisters being so much senior to me as to seem almost like members of an older generation. In my work of later years I was to attain my successes very largely through practice in plant breeding of the method of "quantity production," as the reader of these volumes is aware. I have sometimes said facetiously that I gained a clue to this method by contemplation of my own relation to the fraternity into which I was born. Our household, like so many other New England households of the period, furnished an illustration of quantity production in the breeding of the human race. And I have more than once reflected with amusement that if my father had been content with a family of twelve offspring, which in these later days would be considered a not insignificant brood, there would have been no horticulturist bearing his name, and it would perhaps never have been known that the factors of a devoted plant developer were in the Burbank heredity. In so far, then, as my work may have been useful to the human race, the principle of quantity production has been justified. Viewing the matter in less facetious mood, I should perhaps hasten to add that the inherent love of nature which was the stimulus to my life work was inherited, in all probability, from my mother. I was her third child, only, as already noted, and of course the fact that my father had children by earlier wives had no bearing on the hereditary influences that she contributed, which, as just suggested, were probably largely responsible for the impelling bent that has always dominated me. So, in the last analysis, it is necessary to recall that, in so far as we may draw analogies between plant heredities and human heredities, the production of a horticultural Burbank illustrated a principle lying back of and taking precedence over quantity production-the principle, namely, of the selection of the right racial strains for blending. It is useless to produce plants in quantity unless the parent plants are endowed with the right potentialities. And doubtless my father never would have had a child who was an ardent nature worshiper had he not married for his third wife a woman who was a nature lover. It must not be forgotten, to be sure, that my father had a cousin, Professor Levi Sumner Burbank, who was a man of strong scientific proclivities, and who, indeed, was in part responsible for stimulating my love of nature, inasumch as he lived with us at times, and I often rambled with him in the woods and gained from him a knowledge of the names of rocks and flowvers and trees. This Burbank cousin was a friend of Agassiz. He was an early member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He wrote books on technical aspects of geology, one of these, it is recalled, being entitled "The Eozonal Limestones of Eastern Massachusetts". He often took long trips with Agassiz to places of scientific interest. He was for some time curator of geology of the Boston Society of Natural History, and he had a large and well selected geological collection. Through him I gained a certain knowledge of geology, and in particular of the work of Agassiz, although I met the great scientist himself on one occasion only.
THE HEREDITARY BACKGROUND
I mention this scientific Burbank cousin as suggesting that there were certain proclivities that might in part account for the instincts of a plant developer in the strains of Burbank heredity. But, as what has just been said will further suggest, these were seemingly of a somewhat formal and technically scientific order, whereas the inspiration for my work has been found rather in an ardent love of nature. I desired to deal with the forces of life and mold the plastic forms of living organisms rather than to classify the fixed and immutable phenomena of dead ones, which would appear to be the province of the geologist. Doubtless, however, the strain of interest in matters scientific that was evidenced in the geological proclivities of my Burbank cousin constituted an important hereditary element that, mingled with the more poetical and sympathetic elements of nature-worship which were in the hereditary strains of my mother's family, rounded out the characteristics of an essentially practical plant developer who loved his task for the very doing of it, yet who never forgot that practical ends must be achieved. My father, Samuel Walton Burbank, was a man of sterling integrity, scholarly tastes, strong convictions, and unusually good business abilities. He was very indulgent, and fond of his children, and gave to each the best education within his power. He was much respected by his neighbors, and greatly enjoyed associating with them. He was a sincere man, noted in the neighborhood as one who could always be depended upon; not for a display of his views in words but for his sterling example. There were men in the community who advocated one course and followed another; my father was known always as a man who was true to his principles. What he preached he would practice; his acts were always in accord with the tenets of his belief. I have always chosen to believe that these homely and traditional New England virtues, bred in the bone, were not likely to have been omitted from the heritage of my father's children. My mother, whose maiden name was Olive Ross, was an active and intelligent woman, who looked after her multiform household duties with scrupulous care. Being naturally expert in reading human character, she was of great assistance to my father in his business, as he employed much help, and dealt with men of all classes and of various nationalities. My mother was fond of flowers, and despite her exacting duties, she had the place surrounded by them. I have always felt that my passionate love of flowers, which is said to have been manifested in infancy, was inherited from her. Despite the poetical element in her temperament, my mother was eminently practical. She seemed always to know where anything that was wanted could be found, and better still, she was usually able to find it. She was in the truest sense a helpmate to her husband in all respects. Being of mature years when she married, she bore only five children, and she outlived my father by many years, reaching the age of ninety-six years, and passing her declining days in my home at Santa Rosa, active to the very last and keenly alive to all that was going on around her. As to aspects of remoter heredity, I have never very greatly concerned myself. It is said, however, that one branch of the family on my father's side was probably Belgian-Dutch far back in the fifteenth century, this stock supplying the first authentic trace of our ancestral line. We next hear of the Burbanks in the North of England, from which place five Burbank brothers emigrated to America. We find by Custom House records that Joseph Burbank came in the ship Abigail from London in 1635, and that John Burbank, from whom our family descended, was made a voter at Rowley, Massachusetts, in 1640. My father's mother was Ruth Felch, originally from Wales. My mother's family, the Rosses, came from Scotland. Her mother's name was Burpee, and her family was said to be of French descent. Thus it will be seen that my ancestry, like that of most people in America, includes strains of several nationalities. In talking with people who seem to me over-zealous about their ancestors, I am sometimes moved to say that although I never discovered that any royal or exceptionally aristocratic blood flows in our veins, yet, on the other hand, there appears to be no record that any ancestor was ever detected as a criminal-which, perhaps, from the standpoint of the student of heredity, is a matter of far greater importance than the other. The Burbanks, so far as I personally know of them, were generally farmers, paper manufacturers, railroad men, teachers, and clergymen; while on the Ross side my ancestors were more often merchants, mechanics, and horticulturists. Few families of New England, I suppose, have a better-sustained record of representation in the learned professions, in civic duties, in military stations, and in public reforms, than the Burbanks.
THE PHYSICAL AND MENTAL ENVIRONMENT OF CHILDHOOD
My father's farm was located about three miles north of the little village of Lancaster, Massachusetts, just off the main road to Harvard. There I was born, at least so the great family Bible and the family traditions assure me, March 7th of the year 1849. And there my childhood and boyhood days were passed. The town of Lancaster is one of the most picturesque spots in all New England. Its scenery is of the English type. There are rows of queenly elms of wonderful size arching its highways and gracefully ornamenting its meadows. The typical New England hills and valleys; a river-the Nashua-placidly flowing, and small wood-encircled lakes to give variety to the landscape; sloping hills and picturesque vistas, with the usual complement of woods and shrubs and flowers, these things, treasured in memory, make up a picture of rare charm and beauty. As to the town of Lancaster itself, it is one of those old New England villages that has a personality. The life in such a town is as individual in its way as the traditional life in Athens, or the present-day life of Edinburgh or Tokyo or Concord. The picture of the life in Lancaster in the middle of the nineteenth century is as distinctive as a portrait by Van Dyke or a statue by Phidias. Whoever would understand the intellectual development of our time must comprehend in some measure the unique and distinctive character of such communities as Lancaster, the influence of which is not to be measured by any numerical count of inhabitants any more than the potentialities of the seed of a plant are to be predicated from observation of its size. Our home at Lancaster was charged with intellectual activity during the years of my youth, for it was a rendezvous for ministers, teachers, and lecturers. My father was interested in all of the subjects that were before the public at that time, and we children had great advantages from the associations that he established. And that was indeed a notable era in the history of civilization. It was the time in which New England was being transformed by the migration of hosts of its best people to the new fields of the middle and far west. In the year of my birth, as it chanced, gold was discovered in California, and the excitement in the region of Boston I am told was greater than had probably been known since the occasion of the memorable "tea party." Many of the more venturesome prepared to cross the plains, led by the golden lure. And those that remained were full of eager expectancy as they waited for news from the new Eldorado. The reminiscences of this excitement were still in the air in my early boyhood. But before I came to adolescence there were other burning questions that took precedence even over the gold fever. The long-smouldering antislavery fires were preparing to burst forth. And just at the time when the great civic conflict was becoming more and more obviously inevitable, an intellectual and religious turmoil of world wide scope was evoked by the pronouncements of Darwin and Wallace, which seemed to shake the fundamental notions as to man's creation, his past history, and his destiny. These disturbing questions of national policy and intellectual and spiritual welfare were part and parcel of our everyday life in Lancaster during the years when I was passing from boyhood into adolescence. As a child, I listened eagerly to the discussions long before I could more than half understand them, when on not rare occasions a visiting minister or lecturer was entertained at my father's table. Only the eager desire to hear these discussions overcame the awe of a strange face that led me always to dread the coming of a stranger even though I longed to hear his message. In my earliest boyhood, as my sister and mother in later years recalled with amusement, I was likely to shun the table when a place was laid for a strange guest, assuring my mother that I did not care for dinner, and running to the fields to escape being seen by the newcomer. Even a boy's appetite could not master bashfulness. I myself well recall that even in somewhat later years I cringed before the kindly scrutiny of our visitors and was dumb before their questions, though drinking in their words with eager interest so long as they were not addressed to me in particular. It was the same kind of childish timidity, which I take it is the common endowment of children whose mental development tends to outrun the physical, that made my first school-going an ordeal. I could not at first find voice to recite in the awesome presence of half a hundred schoolmates. And the semi-weekly recitation day, on which each pupil was supposed to come to the platform and declaim, was looked forward to by me with about the same degree of anguished solicitude, I verily believe, with which a condemned criminal contemplates his execution day. Fortunately a sympathetic teacher presently permitted me to write an essay weekly in lieu of declaiming; and after that the school days were days of almost unalloyed pleasure. Yet I shall always feel that I was sent to school far earlier than was good for me. This, of course, was no fault of my parents. They but followed the traditions of the times. Who could blame the New England housewife of that period, with duties that nowadays would be thought to require a coterie of servants, and with a child always at the breast and another scarcely out of the cradle, if she sent the entire brood of her progeny who were old enough to walk to the shelter of the schoolroom, where at least they were out of her way and out of physical danger for the larger part of the day? Not, indeed, that the New England housewife herself would have stated the matter just in this way. She, in common with her husband, believed that her offspring were born with the traditions of the sin of our first ancestors weighing upon them, and that only the most rigid intellectual discipline combined with the most persistent spiritual teaching by precept and example could release them from that hereditary bondage. That the doctrines of the Catechism and the rules of the three R's should be ground into the brain of the child while it was still at its most plastic stage, was accepted as unchallengeable. The belief that the schoolhouse on every hilltop and the church in every valley constitute the landmarks of civilization was an ingrained fundamental of the New England tradition. And so youngsters who should have been in the fields gathering flowers and revelling in the sunshine, drinking in the music of the birds and gaining strength and health for the tasks of mature life were instead crowded into schoolrooms that in winter were overheated and ill-ventilated, and forced to the unwelcome and unnatural and harmful task of scanning pages of pothooks and cramming their unwilling brains with formulae, to their permanent detriment. Not even on Saturday was there a respite; except that each second week school was dismissed at noon on that day in order that opportunity might be given in the afternoon for the washing of the children's clothes. Even a thrifty housewife who had a dozen or fifteen boys and girls of graded sizes and ages to look after could not be expected to provide more than a single suit of underwear for each member of her brood. So it was jestingly said, and the jest was not altogether without its savor of reality, that it was often necessary to put the children in barrels while their clothes were in the wash-tub. But in any event, the necessity for maintaining a certain measure of cleanliness had the effect of permitting the children to have a half holiday once in two weeks. And I opine that most of them were more benefited by that half holiday, even though it were spent in a barrel or its equivalent, than they would have been by following their school tasks during the same period. The week that was so largely devoted to school going was rounded out on the Sabbath by a strenuous course in church going. There was one service in the forenoon, Sunday school at noon, and another service in the afternoon. It was not considered seemly that little children should wander in the woods or engage in any frolicsome pastime in the interval of church going. But our parents were peculiarly indulgent and they sometimes permitted us to walk quietly into the garden or orchard to look at the corn or apple-blossoms, always with the proviso that we must be very quiet.
THE RELIGIOUS ENVIRONMENT
It is a little difficult for the present generation to gain a clear conception of the New England Sabbath of the time of my boyhood; but this outline at least will give a general impression of its lugubriousness, and it may readily be inferred that the day thus given over to dolorous tasks was not one to which the child would look forward joyously. Nor, for the most part, do those who were children in that generation look back upon the Sabbath day experiences with satisfaction. At least they served the purpose, however, of supplying a church-going experience adequate for a lifetime. Little did the good people who so sedulously led their flocks to church and subjected them to the bombardment of repeated sermons, suspect that they were cultivating an attitude of mind that would insure that the churches of succeeding decades should be nearly vacant. Indeed, they would have been horrified had they been told such a thing; yet I think we need not doubt that on the whole such was the influence of their well meant efforts. It adds to our understanding of the curiously archaic relation of the church to the community, even in that comparatively recent period, to reflect that it was obligatory in Lancaster a short time before for each family to contribute to the support of the Unitarian Church. My father was not a Unitarian-regarding that sect rather as heretical-yet he supplied sundry loads of bricks without charge for the building of a new Unitarian Church. In subsequent years the law that made the Church practically a part of the civic organism had been repealed, and thenceforward people were allowed to follow their own inclinations in the matter of church contributions. But this severance of church and state, so to speak, did not so much represent a reaction against the doctrines of a particular church, as a general reaction against the obligatory recognition of any church whatever. For there had come about in the course of one or two decades a most iconoclastic change in the attitude of mind of the leaders of thought throughout Christendom towards the tenets that had hitherto been thought essential to man's spiritual welfare. Following the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species in 1859, the intellectual world was in a ferment, and nowhere was the influence of the new ideas more quickly felt or tumultuously argued than in New England. I was ten years old when Darwin's iconoclastic document was promulgated, and hence I grew into adolescence in the very period when it was most ardently bruited. The idea that animals and plants have not originated through special creation but have evolved one form from another throughout long ages; and the logical culmination of that idea in the inclusion of man himself in the evolutionary chain-these are commonplaces today. They are familiar doctrines that might find expression from every orthodox pulpit. But in those stormy days of the sixties, such ideas were not merely heretical-they seemed absolutely revolutionary. If this new view were accepted, in the minds of a large proportion of those who expounded the subject in the early days in New England, nothing good would remain. Of course the history of the spread of this new doctrine duplicated the history of every other new idea. For the most part, people of the elder generation could no more change their old views and accept new ones than they could make over their stature or the color of their eyes. But, on the other hand, we of the younger generation were quick to see the logicality of the new conception, and were not hampered in its acceptance by any cherished beliefs of a contradictory kind. Not, indeed, that we children for the most part concerned ourselves greatly about the matter. We went through our regular task of Bible reading and church-going and learned our Sunday school lessons, just as we performed other tasks that we could not escape. But none the less were there instilled into the very substructure of our minds the essentials of the new manner of thinking, the new attitude toward the world in which we live and all its organic creatures. And when in later years we went out into the world and came to choose our own paths and to adopt mental and religious garbs of our own choosing, the subconscious influence of the new teaching everywhere made itself felt, determining a receptive attitude of mind that presaged the new intellectual era. If ever there was a time when it was true that "the old order changeth" in the profoundest application of the words to the most sacred beliefs of men, that time was the closing epoch of the nineteenth century.
PLAY AND WORK
It is worth while to dwell on these less tangible aspects of the environment of boyhood, because their influence was probably more important than that of many events that have to do with the regular routine of the workaday world. As to that routine, not much need be said, because there was little associated with it that was individual or characteristic or that was largely influential in determining the activities of my later years. The recreations of such scant leisure hours as the New England child of this period could find were the usual recreations of childhood. I was rather too frail of body to enter with full enthusiasm into the rougher sports. But in general the sports and amusements of the New England child were of rather a subdued order, as became the intellectual atmosphere in which we lived. Coasting and skating were among our most boisterous pastimes, and the more usual recreations included such functions as spelling-bees and husking-bees. I recall with a good deal of pleasure that on one occasion I personally built a dam across a large trout stream on our farm and flooding a neighboring meadow so that we could have a large skating pond. I was about nine or ten years of age at the time, if memory serves me, and the damming of the stream was permitted on the plea that it would increase the crop of cranberries. But of course what I chiefly had in mind was the making of a place for skating, that being a sport of which I was especially fond. I well remember my hard work through the October and November days, though where the time was found in the intervals of schooling cannot be surmised, in building the dam which later flooded not only my father's cranberry meadows but a great number of acres adjoining. One of the happiest days of my life was Christmas of that year, when the great glassy sheet of ice was alive with my schoolmates and companions, darting here and there singing and shouting, enjoying to the utmost a New England skating party. Incidentally, it may be recalled that the same meadows, at another season, furnished the interesting experience of gathering cranberries with long handled rakes. The berries were raked from the bushes into sacks fastened on the rake handles. A single man could gather several bushels in an hour. My brother David has recalled in recent years the keen enjoyment I manifested in watching this operation when but a child. But the chief occupations of our leisure hours were of a more prosaic character than sledding or skating. My father was an unusually prosperous farmer, but he was also a manufacturer. With so large a family, he found it necessary to supplement the resources of field and orchard. It chanced that on the farm there was an extensive bank of fine clay, and as pottery was in great demand at that time my father engaged in its manufacture successfully for several years. But later there were mammoth manufacturing plants established in the vicinity, and these created so great a demand for building material that it was found profitable to transform the pottery into a brick yard. As it required wood to burn brick, my father began buying woodlands, ultimately acquiring large holdings. His judgment of the value of growing woodlands was good, and his business prospered. He employed a large number of men each summer to make and burn the brick, some of whom were engaged during the winter in chopping wood and in hauling brick to the railroad stations or to the various towns within fifty miles of our farm. And of course we boys were pressed into the service so soon as we were large enough, to lend a hand at various of the simpler phases of brickmaking. It is recalled by my brother that I did not undertake the turning of brick, which is a work that is rather hard on delicate hands, with unusual enthusiasm. But, on the other hand, my brother Alfred and myself when quite young, perhaps only six or eight years of age, used to drive the oxen with loads of brick to Clinton, Lancaster Village, Harvard, and other nearby towns, and this part of the work I found thoroughly enjoyable. My father also furnished much material from the farm woodlands for the powder and paper mills in town; and it was a great treat to me when taking material to the manufacturers of carpet, paper, cloth, and wire to see the wonderful processes employed in transforming the raw material into such intricate forms of utility and beauty. When the time came for me to take up a definite occupation, I not unnaturally turned to one of the factories, the more willingly because of always having had the keenest interest in things mechanical. Indeed, the love of experimenting with the making of windmills, water wheels, statuary, and ornamental pottery had always been but slightly subordinate to the love of wandering in the woods and studying the flowers and trees and wild creatures. It was recalled by my elders that from earliest boyhood I had taken delight in the investigation of a little wooden cradle in the attic; also that an old spinning wheel and sundry delapidated pieces of furniture had particularly allured me. A little later I had experimented in the back yard with an old tea-kettle, and developed an untiring steam whistle that aroused but probably did not especially please the neighborhood. In due course my mechanical experiment continued until a miniature steam engine was perfected which had such practicality that I afterwards sold it to be used in propelling a small pleasure boat. So I might claim to have been an innovater in the development of the now popular motor boat. My experiments, however, were made a few decades too early. At the Lancaster Academy, which I attended after gaining sufficient preliminary knowledge in the district school, I was particularly interested in free hand drawing, which was found very easy, and I had always an interest in designing. So my father, observing these propensities, concluded that his son be a mechanic. An uncle, Luther Ross, was superintendent of the wood working department of the great Ames Manufacturing Company which had plants at Worcester, Groten, and Chicopee, Mass. So a place was readily secured for me in the factory at Worcester. When entering on my duties I was first employed in turning plow-rounds, for which I received the munificent sum of 50 cents a day. I also paid 50 cents a day for board. And as there are seven days in the week when one must have food and shelter and only six working days, it is obvious that I was 50 cents in arrears at the close of each week. As this arrangement did not appeal to my business instincts, I induced my uncle to grant me the privilege of working by the piece instead of by the day. By special activity under this arrangement I was able to make two or three times as much as formerly. But I had not been long at the work before the knack at contriving things mechanical came to my aid. I conceived an improvement in the turning lathe that would enable me, I thought, to perform the work much more expeditiously. The invention proved a success, and with its aid I was enabled to earn as much as sixteen dollars a day-a very notable advance on my initial wage. The company were pleased with the invention, and I might have remained indefinitely in their employ at a remunerative salary. But the clouds of dust that came from the oak lumber began to impair my health and it was thought best to leave the shop for a while at least. So my experience as a manufacturer of wood products ended. My subsequent work was to be performed in the open; except, indeed, for a brief period when I returned to the Ames works for temporary employment at turning and at pattern making.
CHOOSING A PROFESSION
I was always frail of body and of delicate physique, although wiry of build and not without good powers of endurance. But shop life further weakened me, and I had the misfortune soon after leaving the shop to be partially overcome by the heat, owing to a three mile run on an exceedingly hot day to notify the local officers of the Boston and Maine Railroad that sparks from one of their locomotives had set my father's wood lots on fire, and to obtain aid in controlling the flames. Perhaps it was this experience in particular that led me to think of taking up medicine as a profession. On the whole it seemed to me that this would be most congenial, and I studied for a year with the intention of becoming a doctor. I have had occasion constantly to realize in later life how valuable this experience was. The knowledge of physiology and practical hygiene thus gained could many times be applied to the direction and interpretation of plant experiments. It is quite possible that I should have continued my studies and have graduated in medicine had not the death of my father occurred at this time. This changed all our plans. The family moved to Groton-now Ayer-Massachusetts, where we lived for two years and where I took up the line of work that was to reveal an inherent bent and to lay the foundations of future activities. That is to say, I became a practical nurseryman and gardener. It was perhaps inevitable that I should have come ultimately to take up this line of work, because from earliest childhood my chief delight had been found in the study of nature and in particular in the companionship of flowers. It is recorded by those who watched tenderly over me in my childhood that I was a quiet, serious child, whose most notable trait was a love, amounting almost to reverence, for flowers of every kind. "A blossom placed in the baby hands," writes my sister, "would always stay his falling tears. Flowers were never destroyed by him, but if, perchance, one fell to pieces his effort was always to reconstruct it. Flowers were hs first toys, and when he was old enough to toddle about they became his pets. Especially dear to his heart was a thornless cactus (Epiphyllum) which he carried about in his arms, until in an unhappy moment he stumbled and fell, breaking pot and plant. This was his first great sorrow, although by persistent effort and care the plant was made to flourish again." Conceivably this early association with a thornless cactus may not have been without its subconscious influence in determining an interest in the development of new races of thornless cactus half a century later. Be that as it may, the inherent fondness for plants that the incident illustrates was accentuated year by year. My earliest recollections center about the pleasure experienced in wandering in the woods, gathering wild flowers in summer and in winter making excursions among the walnuts, birches, oaks, and pines that, viewed in perspective, seem to have been almost of the proportions of Sequoias, but which visits of later years revealed as trees of very ordinary proportions. Even while employed in the turning factory I spent every spare moment in wandering about the country, and the letters home were full of references to the beauties of field and trees and flowers, the songs of birds, the piping of the frogs, and all the homely manifestations of animate nature that appeal to the eye and ear that are receptive to them. So, as was said, it was perhaps inevitable that sooner or later an occupation should be taken up that would bring me hourly in contact with nature. But it was not until my twenty-first year that I entered specifically on the work, although of course I had been trained in all the tasks of the gardener and fruit grower on my father's farm from earliest childhood. I had all along been serving an apprenticeship that stood me in good stead now that the work of market gardener and seed raiser was taken up as a business. Yet it is not certain that I should have been led to put this knowledge to practical use at this time had it not been for the stimulation and fresh enthusiasm that came from the reading of an extraordinary book. This book was Darwin's Animals and Plants Under Domestication. The work was first published, it will be recalled, in 1868. It probably fell into my hands a year or so later. It came to me with a message that was not merely stimulating but compelling. It aroused my imagination, gave me insight into the world of plant life, and developed within me an insistent desire to go into the field and find the answer to the problems that the book only suggested. In particular it showed to me the plants of the field in a new light. I had understood from Darwin's earlier work that all life has evolved from lower forms; that, therefore, species are not fixed and immutable but are plastic, and amenable to the influences of their environment. But I had not before understood to what an extent species of every kind all about us vary, and what possibilities of modification of existing forms are contingent on such variation. From that hour plant life presented to me a sort of challenge to test its capacities, to investigate its traits, to invent new ideals of growth and to endeavor to mould the plant in accordance with these ideals. Thus, thanks to the inspiration of Darwin's work, my ideas were finally crystallized. The philosophical bent inherited from my father and the love of nature that I owed to my mother were to work now in harmony. Guided by the practical instincts that were perhaps a joint heritage from both strains of my ancestors, and the love of mechanics that was only second to my love of nature, the inventive propensities that had found earlier vent in the manufacture of steam engines and new turning devices were to be applied to the plastic material of the living plant. Just where it all might lead no one could say. The field I was entering had been but little developed, but to my aroused imagination it seemed a field of picturesque possibilities. Meantime, of course, it was necessary that I should gauge my enthusiasms in accordance with the practicalities. I must make a living., So I purchased a seventeen-acre tract of land in the village of Lunenberg and began to raise garden vegetables and seeds for the market. Something of the practical success achieved has been suggested here and there in connection with accounts of later plant experiments. In particular, it may be recalled that I found ways of cultivating sweet corn to meet the demands of an early market; and it may be said that in general my garden products were of exceptional quality. Something has been said also as to the hybridizing experiments that were performed from the outset, including in particular the work with corn and with various races of beans. The experiments were by no means confined to these plants, however. I was like an explorer in a new and strange land full of inviting pathways and alluring vistas. I undertook to experiment in this direction and in that, giving every moment of spare time to the work of investigating the mysteries of plant life. Every plant in the garden and every shrub and tree and herb in field or woods was scrutinized now with new interest, always with first thought as to its tendency to variation. Where I had casually noticed before that individual flowers of a species differed in details as to form or color or productivity, accurate notes were now made of such variations and the query was raised as to whether they gave suggestion of the possibility of developing new races under cultivation. Some of the early experiments were full of interest, and the knowledge gained through making them laid the foundation for later successes in plant development. But I had not proceeded far before it seemed clear that such experiments as were contemplated could not be carried out to best advantage in the climate of New England. My thoughts turned to California, whither two of my half brothers had gone many years before. What was reported of the climate of the Pacific Coast region suggested this as the location where such experiments as were planned might best be carried out. And when the first conspicuous success in the development of a new race of plants had been achieved, through the production of the Burbank potato-with the story of which the reader is already familiar-I determined at all hazards to move to California. With the taking of the practical steps that followed that determination, in the year 1875, a new epoch of my life began.
-I desired to deal with the forces of life, and to mold the plastic forms of living organisms rather than to spend my life in classifying the fixed and immutable phenomena of dead organism.
This text is from: Luther Burbank: his methods and discoveries and their practical application. Volume 12 Chapter 1