"Dwarf-Trees" from China: Its Costume, Arts, Manufactures, &c.
by Henri Leonard Jean Baptiste Bertin


          Henri Leonard Jean Baptiste Bertin (1719 or 1720-1792) was French Minister of State.  Received as an avocat at Bordaux (1741), he served as both conseiller and president to the Grand Conseil (1749), and then served successively as Intendant of Roussillon, Intendant of Lyon, and Lieutenant General of the Paris police (1757).  Twice he was appointed Comptroller General of Finances (1759; 1774).  A protector of arts and letters, he sponsored various agricultural societies, the first veterinary school in Lyon, the gathering of the nation's archives, and the development of the manufacture de Sèvres.  Named an honorary member of the Académie des Sciences (1763) and of the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres (1772), he retired to his home at Chatou (1781).  Benjamin Franklin, William Temple Franklin and John Adams visited him in late May, 1778.  Proprietor of a forge, he manufactured cannon for the Americans. 1

      China: Its Costume, Arts, Manufactures, &c. (1812):

       "The florists in China have not, like our people, little carts or panniers drawn or carried by horses or donkeys, to display their commodities, but carry them over their shoulders, like rabbit-men, only with the addition of two boards suspended [42] like scales at each extremity of the bamboo. This cane is light, solid, and elastic; when one shoulder is tired, they change it cleverly to the other, by sliding it along the nape of their neck.
       "The gardens of the Chinese are not distinguished for the rarity and selection of their plants.  As has been previously intimated, their sole aim is to imitate nature m miniature.  Private individuals who have vases of flowers, whether on their terraces or in their houses, prefer a collection of every kind of indigenous dwarf-plants, to those exotics which could only be derived from foreign countries and at a great expense.
       "The method which the Chinese gardeners have of giving to a mere branch, the appearance of a grown tree, is as follows: from a bough which bears fruit, they remove a circular band of the bark, about an inch wide, covering the part with mould, which is kept in its place by [43] a piece of mat: above it is suspended either a pot or a horn, with a small hole at the bottom, through which the water, falling drop by drop, constantly keeps up the humidity of the soil, and the branch pushes out roots above the place where the bark was peeled from.  This first operation is made in the spring; and, in this state, it remains till autumn, when the branch is cut, transplanted either into a jar or into the open ground, and it produces fruit the following year.
       "They take care to lop off the extremities of these dwarf-trees, to impede their growth, and force them to push the lateral branches, which are tied with brass wire, and the gardener trains them in whatever direction he thinks fit.  If they wish the tree to appear small and decayed, it is coated, at different times, with successive layers of treacle or molasses, which attracts millions of ants; these, not satisfied with devouring the substance, of which they are excessively [44] fond, attack the bark of the tree, and give it the same appearance which it would assume from decay consequent on age.
       "They do not select merely fruit-trees, such as the orange, apple, &c. for this purpose: they frequently ornament their terraces with little forests of oak, pine, and fir, not more than two or three feet high." 2


NOTES

1      "Bertin, Henri-Léonard-Jean-Baptiste," http://www.franklinpapers.org/franklin/framedNames.jsp?ssn=001-93-1139.


2     China: Its Costume, Arts, Manufactures, &c., Edited Principally From the Originals in the Cabinet of the Late M. Henri Leonard Jean Baptiste Bertin, with Observations, Explanatory, Historical, and Literary by Jean Baptiste Joseph Breton (London: J. J. Stockdate; 1812, second edition), Vol. 3, pg. 41-44.  Translated from the French ed. La Chine en miniature: ou Choix de costumes, arts et métiers de cet empire ... à l'usage de la jeunesse (Paris : Nepveu, 1811).

Per Beach, Frederick Converse (Ed.-in-Chief) and George Edwin Rines (Managing Ed.)  The Americana: A Universal Reference Library, Comprising the Arts and Sciences, Literature, History, Biography, Geography, Commerce, Etc., of the World (New York: Scientific American compiling department, 1912), Vol. 3, pg. 610,
     Jean-Baptiste Joseph Breton de la Martinière (1777-1852), his public career as journalist and stenographer was nearly parallel with representative government in France. He was present as stenographer at the session of 10 Aug. 1792, when the power passed from the hands of the king to those of an assembly of the new government; and of 2 Dec. 1851, when it passed from the hands of an assembly to those of an individual, Napoleon III.  His services were also in constant requisition at the courts as an interpreter for English, German, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, and Flemish suitors.  He was a frequent contributor to the Dictionnaire de la Conversation and among other papers wrote the article on stenography.  Breton was the author and translator of many other historical works, including a four-volume study of the costume and arts of China.  In 1804 his translation of Sir George Macartney's notes was published as Voyage en Chine et en Tartarie, and three years later his translation of John Barrow's was published as Voyage en Chine, a la suite de l'ambassade de Lord Macartney.

Texturing using ants is also mentioned in Macartney and Livingstone.  Bertin's references to the ingenious dripping horn for keeping air layered roots damp and the use of brass wire are unique.  Where did Bertin get his information, and how much did Breton contribute?

The Analectic Magazine, Containing Selections From Foreign Reviews and Magazines of Such Articles As Are Most Valuable, Curious, or Entertaining (Philadelphia), Vol. I, May 1813, on pg. 416 includes the following paragraph in a review (pp. 412-418) of Breton's book as found in the January 1813 issue of Literary Panorama:
     "In summer it is customary to place in the chimney [of the apartment of a lady of high rank] a square vase, in which grows a dwarf tree; in winter they seldom make fires, except in close stoves.  They scarcely ever burn wood, but coal, which is brought from the mountains of the province of Canton; before they use it, it is generally prepared, by mixing the coal dust with clay, which they also make into square bricks."


Now, per Kiktavi, John   How to Grow and Cultivate Miniature Living Trees (Inglewood, CA: Living Ming Trees, National Nursery Supply; July 1949), pg. 1,
     "Throughout the Centuries Ambassadors from various nations all over the world became engrossed in this fascination [with dwarf potted trees].  It is history [sic] that even Napoleon Bonaparte [III] and the Crown Prince of Germany both took time away from their military feats to fondle these trees about which they had heard so much from their Ambassadors."

It is known for a fact that Napoleon did meet with envoys from Japan on April 13, 1862.  By inference of the above quote, Napoleon III's exposure to bonsai would have occurred because of this meeting.  (Napoleon I (1769-1821) -- uncle of III -- probably could not have learned of bonsai from his ambassadors, as Japan did not establish official relations with France until 1858.  But what may have come out of earlier relations with China, which preceded the first modern treaty between the two nations in 1844?)  Papinot, E.  Historical and Geographical Dictionary of Japan (Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Company, Inc.; 1972. Reprinting of original 1910 work. Seventh printing, 1982), pg. 676.


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