We are more crossed than any other nation in the history of the world, and here we meet the same results that are always seen in a much-crossed race of plants: all the worst as well as all the best qualities of each are brought out in their fullest intensities. Right here is where selective environment counts. When all the necessary crossing has been done, then comes the work of elimination, the work of refining, until we shall get an ultimate product that should be the finest race ever known. The best characteristics of the many peoples that make up this nation will show in the composite: the finished product will be the race of the future.
In my work with plants and flowers I introduce color here, shape there, size or perfume, according to the product desired. In such processes the teachings of nature are followed. Its great forces only are employed. All that has been done for plants and flowers by crossing, nature has already accomplished for the American people. By the crossings of types, strength has in one instance been secured; in another, intellectuality; in still another, moral force. Nature alone has done this. The work of man's head and hands has not yet been summoned to prescribe for the development of a race. So far a preconceived and mapped-out crossing of bloods finds no place in the making of peoples and nations. But when nature has already done its duty, and the crossing leaves a product which in the rough displays the best human attributes, all that is left to be done falls to selective environment.
But when two different plants have been crossed, that is only the beginning. It is only one step, however important; the great work lies beyond-the care, the nurture, the influence of surroundings, selection, the separation of the best from the poorest, all of which are embraced in the words I have used-selective environment.
How, then, shall the principles of plant culture have any bearing upon the development of the descendants of this mighty mingling of races?
All animal life is sensitive to environment, but of all living things the child is the most sensitive. Surroundings act upon it as the outside world acts upon the plate of the camera. Every possible influence will leave its impress upon the child, and the traits which it inherited will be overcome to a certain extent, in many cases being even more apparent than heredity. The child is like a cut diamond, its many facets receiving sharp, clear impressions not possible to a pebble, with this difference, however, that the change wrought in the child from the influences without becomes constitutional and ingrained. A child absorbs environment. It is the most susceptible thing in the world to influence, and if that force be applied rightly and constantly when the child is in its most receptive condition, the effect will be pronounced, immediate, and permanent.
Where shall we begin? Just where we begin with the plant, at the very beginning. It has been said that the way to reform a man is to begin with his grandfather. But this is only a half-truth; begin with his grandfather, but begin with the grandfather when he is a child. I find the following quoted from the great kindergartner Froebel:
While recognizing the good that has been accomplished in the early kindergarten training of children, I must enter a most earnest protest against beginning education, as we commonly use the word, at the kindergarten age. No boy or girl should see the inside of a school-house until at least ten years old. I am speaking now of the boy or girl who can be reared in the only place that is truly fit to bring up a boy or a plant-the country, the small town or the country, the nearer to nature the better. In the case of children born in the city and compelled to live there, the temptations are so great, the life so artificial, the atmosphere so like that of the hothouse, that the child must be placed in school earlier as a matter of safeguarding.
But, some one asks, How can you ever expect a boy to graduate from college or university if his education does not begin until he is ten years of age? He will be far too old.
First I answer that the curse of
modern child-life in America is over-education. For the first ten years of this, the most
sensitive and delicate, the most pliable life in the world, I would prepare it. The
properly prepared child will make such progress that the difference in time of graduation
is not likely to be noticeable; but, even if it should be a year or two later, what real
difference would it make? Do we expect a normal plant to begin bearing fruit a few weeks
after it is born? It must have time, ample time, to be prepared for the work before it.
Above all else, the child must be a healthy animal. I do not work with diseased plants.
They do not cure themselves of disease. They only spread disease among their fellows and
die before their time.
(This is the text version. See the photographed version.)