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E'en in the stilling bosom of the town
THE TASK, BOOK 4.
ON THE APPLICATION OF THE CLOSED PLAN IN IMPROVING
THE CONDITION OF THE POOR.
AMONG the numerous useful applications of the glazed cases, there is one which I believe to be of paramount importance, and well deserving the attention of every philanthropist : I mean its application to the relief of the physical and moral wants of densely crowded populations in large cities. Among the members of this population there are numbers, who, either from early associations, or from that love of Nature which exists to a greater or less degree in the bosom of all, are passionately fond of flowers, and endeavour to gratify their taste at no small toil. But before I proceed to show how this may be effected, there is one point of so much importance to the well-being of every individual, that I cannot pass it by without notice. This is the free admission of light * into their dwellings. I have already alluded to the effects of light upon vegetation; and its influence upon the animal economy, although not so immediately obvious, is not the less striking. This has been proved by the experiments of Dr. Edwards.
* “Let in the sun and you shut out the doctor,” says an old Italian proverb.
“ He has shown that if tadpoles be nourished with proper food, and are exposed to the constantly renewed action of water (so that their branchial respiration may be maintained), but are entirely deprived of light, their growth continues, but their metamorphosis into the condition of air-breathing animals is arrested, and they remain in the form of large tadpoles. Dr. Edwards also observes, that persons who live in caves and cellars, or in very dark and narrow streets, are apt to produce deformed children; and that men who work in mines are liable to disease and deformity beyond what the simple closeness of the atmosphere would be likely to produce. It has recently been stated, on the authority of Sir A. Wylie, that the cases of disease in the dark side of an extensive barrack at St. Petersburgh, have been uniformly, for many years, in the proportion of three to one to those on the side exposed to strong light. On the contrary, the more the body is exposed to the influence of light the more freedom do we find, cæteris paribus, from irregular action and conformation. Humboldt has remarked that among several nations of South America, who wear very little clothing, he never saw a single individual with a natural deformity; and Linnæus, in his account of his tour through Lapland, enumerates constant exposure to solar light as one of the causes which render a summer's journey through high northern latitudes, so peculiarly healthful and invigorating."*
I will now endeavour to show how the glazed cases may be made subservient to the benefit of the poor, and to point out how cheaply and easily this may be effected. A box lined with zinc, and having three or four open
* Carpenter's Physiology.
ings in the bottom, will be required for the reception of the plants; and glazed frames can be procured anywhere, well painted and puttied, at about one shilling the square foot. The plants to furnish it can be procured abundantly in the woods in the neighbourhood of London. Of these I will mention a few. The common Ivy grows most beautifully, and can be trained over any part of the case, agreeably to the pleasure of the owner. The Primroses, * in early spring, will abundantly repay the labour of fetching them, continuing for seven or eight weeks in succession to flower as sweetly as in their native woods. So likewise does the Wood-sorrel, the Anemone, the Honeysuckle, and a host of other plants, independently of numerous species of mosses and of ferns. Some of these latter are more valuable than others, in consequence of the longer duration of their fronds, such as Lastrea dilatata and its numerous varieties. There are likewise many cultivated plants procurable at little or no cost, which grow without the slightest trouble, such as the Lycopodium denticulatum, the common Musk-plant, Myrtles, Jasmines, &c. All the vacant spaces in the case may be employed in raising small salads, radishes, &c.; and I think that a man would be a bad manager who could not,
* There is, perhaps, no plant which offers so striking an illustration of the protection afforded by the glass as the common Primrose. Place, side by side, in a tub outside any smoky window with an eastern aspect, and where there is no artificial heat, two roots of Primroses, supplying them with water if needed. Cover one of these with a glass; and the difference in flowering is so great, that I cannot illustrate it better than by comparing it to the difference which takes place in the burning of charcoal, or any other combustible substance, in oxygen gas and in the
in the course of a twelvemonth, pay for his case out of its proceeds. These remarks apply chiefly to situations where there is but little solar light. Where there is more sun, a greater number and variety of flowering plants will be found to thrive, such as several kinds of Roses, Passion-flowers, Geraniums, &c., with numerous beautiful annuals, viz.Ipomæa coccinea, the species of Nemophila, Convolvulus, and a host of others : the vegetation in fact can be diversified in an endless degree, not only in proportion to the differing degrees of light and heat, but likewise by varying the quantity of moisture ; thus, with precisely the same aspect, ferns and bog plants might be grown in one case, and Aloes, Cactuses, Mesembryanthemums, and other succulent plants in another.
These cases form the most beautiful blinds that can be imagined, as there is not a window in London which cannot command throughout the year the most luxuriant verdure. The condensation of the moisture upon the colder surface of the glass effectually obscures the view from without, and at the same time admits far more light than is allowed to enter by ordinary blinds. Nothing can be conceived more cheerful than the
of rooms thus furnished. As these cases become more general among the higher and middle classes, a new field of healthful industry will thus be opened to the poor, who might not only be employed in procuring plants for these cases from the country, but whose ingenuity might be called into play in executing various models of old towers, ruins, &c., in sand-stone, chalk, or other suitable material, which, at the same time that it served to ornament the case, would afford a suitable place for the growth of little Sedums and any plants that require less moisture