+ ~ -
Please report pronunciation problems here. Select and sample other voices. Options Pause Play
Report an Error


ON New Year's Day in the year 1837, a
traveller was proceeding, in a native boat, on
a difficult exploration up the river Berbice
in Demerara, when, on arriving at a point
where the river expanded and formed a
currentless basin, his attention was attracted
to the southern margin of the lake by an
extraordinary object. He caused his crew
to paddle quickly towards it. The nearer
he approached, the higher his curiosity was
raised. Though an accomplished botanist,
and especially familiar with the Flora of South
America, he had never seen anything like it
before. It was a Titanic water-plant, in size
and shape unlike any other known plant. "I
felt as a botanist," says Sir Robert Schomburgk
''and felt myself rewarded! All calamities
were forgotten. A gigantic leaf, from five to
six feet in diameter, salver-shaped, with a
broad rim, of a light-green above, and a vivid
crimson below, rested upon the water! Quite
in character with the wonderful leaf was the
luxuriant flower, consisting of an immense
number of petals, passing in alternate tints
from pure white to rose and pink" [and,
in some instances, measuring fifteen inches
across]. "The smooth water was covered
with blossoms, and, as I rowed from one to
the other, I always observed something new
to admire."

Such flowers Polyphemus must have
gathered for Galatea's nosegay; but Sir Robert
Schomburgk, not content with mere flowers,
dug up whole plants; and sent first them, and,
afterwards seeds, to England, where the
magnificent lily was named the "Victoria Regia."
After some unsuccessful attempts, the task of
forcing it to blossom in an artificial climate,
was confided to Mr. Paxton, the celebrated
horticulturist of the Duke of Devonshire's
celebrated Chatsworth.

Mr. Paxtona man of high scientific attainments
is not a mere academic savant. His
Alma Mater is Nature. When the Victoria
Regia was to be flowered, Mr. Paxton
determined to imitate Nature so closely as to make
that innocent offspring of the Great Mother
fancy itself back again in the broad waters
and under the burning heats of British Guiana.
He deceived the roots by imbedding them in
a hillock of burned loam and peat; he deluded
the great lubberly leaves by letting them float
in a tank, to which he communicated, by
means of a little wheel, the gentle ripple of
their own tranquil river; and he coaxed the
flower into bloom by manufacturing a
Berbician climate in a tiny South America,
under a glass case.

With that glass case our history properly
commences. In imitation of a philosophic
French Cook, who began a chapter on stewed-
apples with an essay on the Creation, we have
thought it wise to start with the parentage
and gestation, before proceeding to the birth
and development of the Great Giant in Hyde
Park; for by a curious apposition, the first
parent of the most extensive building in
Europe was the largest known floral structure
in the world. Although, co-relatively, they
differ as widely as the popular disparity of
St. Paul's and a China orange; yet the one
proceeded from the other, as consequently as
oaks grow from acorns.

Mr. Paxton had already effected many
improvements in horticultural buildings; the
workmanship of which has always been
unnecessarily massive. With the conviction
that glass houses are not Egyptian tombs
built for darkness and eternity, he set about
making them lighter than of old, both as
regards actinism and architecture. He
discarded as much as practicable all ponderous
and opake materials. He pared away all
clumsy sash-bars, whose broad shadows
robbed plants of the sun's light and heat during
the best parts of the day; he abolished dirty
and leaking overlaps, by using large panes,
and inserting them in wooden grooves,
rendered water-tight by a sparing use of putty.
Lastly, finding, that into the ordinary sloping
roof the sunbeams enter at an indirect and
unprofitable angle, Mr. Paxton invented a
horizontal glazing composed of angular
ridges, the glass presenting itself to the sun's
rays so as to admit them to the plants in
a straight line at almost any time of day; but
especially early and late.

In a green-house constructed with some
of these improvements, and acclimated as
we have already explained, a Victoria Regia
was planted on the tenth of August, 1849.
So well had everything been prepared for
its reception, that it flourished as vigor-