Miniature Trees by Germain Felix Meylan (1830)

"Miniature Trees"
from Sketches of the Manners and Usages of Japan by Germain Felix Meylan

        Germain Felix Meylan (aka Meijlan) (1785-1831) was Opperhoofd (director) from 1826-1830 of the Dutch factory at Deshima.  He was one of Philipp Von Siebold's superiors.  From 1826 till 1831, the Kambang-trade (private "signboard" trade of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) merchants, officially forbidden but quietly accepted in all trading posts of the VOC in South East Asia) was carried on by the "Societeit van Particuliere Handel op Japan" (Society for the Private Trade with Japan), a creation of Meylan.  The purpose was to cut the expenses by buying and selling on joint account.  Only the officials on Deshima and the captains of the ships, trading to Japan, could participate.  Unfortunately, Meylan's scheme did not come up to expectations, for various reasons.  From 1835 till 1855 the Kambang-trade was farmed out to a Batavia (Java) merchant, while the officials at Deshima got a compensation for the loss of extra income.  After 1855 the Government of the Dutch Indies took charge of it.  Another work by Meylan is Geschichte des Handels der Europäer in Japan (Leipzig: Voigt and Günther; 1861). 1

       Sketches of the Manners and Usages of Japan by Germain Felix Meylan (1830), as an excerpt from a book review:

      "If we assume the perfection of the arts of tillage and manufacture as a test of civilization, Japan may at least compete with any oriental nation.  Mr. Meylan places it higher than any.  He extols their field cultivation, but they appear to neglect their great opportunities for horticulture, as far as the kitchen and the dessert are concerned.  As florists they are conspicuous, and the beauty of the productions of the soil in this department is known to every possessor of a greenhouse and proprietor of a camelia.  The singular art of producing miniature samples of the larger products of vegetation, unknown, we believe, in Europe, is practiced by [the Japanese] to an extraordinary degree.*  Mr. Meylan speaks as an eye-witness of a box offered for sale to the Dutch governor, three inches long by one wide, in which were flourishing a fir-tree, a bamboo, and a plum-tree, the latter in blossom.  The price demanded was twelve hundred florins..."

* For the mode of effecting this as practiced in China, the reader may consult an interesting work lately published - 'Wanderings in New South Wales, &c.' by G. Bennett, vol. ii. Chap. 5.  2


1     "Archives of the Dutch Factory in Japan,";

"Western entrepreneurs and the opening of Japanese ports (c. 1858-1868),"

2     The Quarterly Review by Daniele Vare, (London: John Murray; Vol. LII, No. CIV, November 1, 1834), review of Japan, voorgesteld in Schetsen over de Zeden en Gebruiken van dat Rijk; by zander over de Ingezetenen der Stad Nagasaky by Door G. F. Meijlan, Opperhoofd aldaar (Amsterdam; 1830), pg. 306.  On the following page the exchange rate of ten millions of Dutch florins is given as equivalent to about £840,000.  Thus, 1200 florins equals about £100.8.  There is also a review of Bijdrage tot de Kennis van het Japansche Rijk by Door J. F. van Overmeer Fischer, Ambteenaar van Neerlandsch Indie (Amsterdam; 1833),

The article with this passage was also presented in The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction (London: J. Limbird), Vol. XXIV, No. 697, December 20, 1834 ("Abridged from an amusing Paper in the Quarterly Review, just published"), pg. 436-437; Farmer's Register (Shellbanks, VA) Vol. II, No. 10, March 1835, (this passage only), pg. 614; The Museum of Foreign Literature and Science (Philadelphia/New York), Vol. XXVI, January to June 1835, pg. 196-197); Essays on History, Biography, Geography, Engineering &c. Contributed to the Quarterly Review by Francis Egerton Ellesmere (London: John Murray; 1858), pg. 16-17, Southern Rose Bud by Caroline Howard Gilman, Printed for the editor, Mrs. C. Gilman, by James S. Burges, 1835. Item notes: v.3 (Sept. 1834-Aug. 1835), pg. 134; Tait's Edinburgh Magazine, Vol. VIII, 1841, pg. 332; "Notices of Japan, No. IX," The Chinese Repository (Canton), Vol. X, January to December 1841, pg. 285 (reprinted in 2003 by Adamant Media Corporation, pg. 285); and, of course, quoted in Siebold also in 1841, who was then further quoted. Other references on this website are:  International Magazine (1851), Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry's Narrative (1856), Scientific American (1860), Yedo and Peking (1863), Industries of Japan (1889), and The Home Library of Entertainment Instruction and Amusement (1902), among others.

Other retellings include:
"Prunus Mume, a yellow-fruited Plum, used only for pickles, like our Cucumbers, and producing many hundred varieties; also employed by the Japanese for dwarfing; upon which subject is the following curious statement.  'The Japanese have an incredible fondness for dwarf trees, and with reference to this the cultivation of the Mume is one of the most general and lucrative employments of the country.  Such plants are increased by inarching, and by this means specimens are obtained which have the peculiar habit of the Weeping Willow.  A nurseryman offered me for sale, in the year 1826, a plant in flower, which was scarcely three inches high; this chef d'oeuvre of gardening was grown in a little lacquered box of three tiers, similar to those filled with drugs, which the Japanese carry in their belts.  In the upper tier was this Mume, in the second row a little Spruce fir, and in the lowest a Bamboo, scarcely an inch and a half high.'"  (From "Miscellaneous Notices," Edwards's Botanical Register (London: James Ridgway), Vol. XXVI, No. 1, Jan. 1840, pg. 6);

     "JAPANESE TASTE IN ARBORICULTURE. -- The Japanese gardeners, it is well known, succeed in dwarfing almost every tree.  It is said that they select the very smallest seeds, taken from the very smallest plants; two circumstances which are certainly rational and conformable to all the facts known to us in connection with varieties of race.  No doubt, indeed, exists about the operation thus far; but the following assertions are much more apocryphal.
     "It is said that as soon as the plants have germinated, the Japanese cover them with fluid honey, or with dissolved sugar; that they afterwards paint them with a camel's hair pencil, using the same material; and that they afterwards introduce into the little box, which serves as a green house to these marvellous pigmies, a nest of little ants, whose eggs soon hatch and produce an active colony, greedy of sugar, and incessantly running over the plants, which, though alive, have really been converted into a cold preserve.  Gardeners know very well that aphides, scale insects, the cocci, and other vegetable leprosies, do in fact torture and distort plants till they are quite disfigured.  The everlasting play of these insects, which are always running over every part of the plant, keeps up a peculiar excitement, which ends by producing the state of dwarfness so much admired in that part of the world, at least this is what the Japanese say.  The Fir, of which Dr. SIEBOLDT spoke as being only three inches high, and growing on the second stage of the box, was the Pinus massoniana, the 'Wo-matza' of the Japanese, or the 'Koks-jo' of the Chinese.  THUNBERG mistook it for the Scotch Fir.  Its history is very curious, and is also given in the 'Flora Japonica,' p. 25, vol. 2.  Of all the conifers, (the pine family,) we found this the commonest, through the whole empire of Japan.  In places where it docs not grow wild, it has been universally cultivated.  It has a great reputation on account of the fables, miraculous stories, and idle tales of all sorts, mixed up with its history, and is a religious symbol in the ceremonies and festivals of the people.  The 'Wo-matza' and a 'Mume' (a sort of plum) are planted before the residence of MIKADO [the emperor of Japan].  It forms groves round the temple of the sun-god, of saints, and of holy men; and it overshadows all the little chapels and gardens adjoining the dwelling houses, &c.  On the high road it forms alleys 100 leagues [about 300 miles or 480 km] long; and the course of every highway is marked by hillocks planted with this pine, and with species of nettle trees.  The art of the Japanese gardener is exhausted in the cultivation of these pines.  They are clipped and cut into all sorts of shapes; their branches are spread into fans, or horizontal trellises, and are thus fashioned into a sort of flat dish.  In this kind of gardening, extremes are made to touch, and the traveller is astonished to find specimens of an immense size placed by the side of others of the most tiny dimensions.  While staying at Phosaka I went to see the celebrated pine tree before the Navi-waja Tea-house, the branches of which arc artificially spread out into a circumference of 136 feet.  On the other hand, they showed me at Jeddo, a dwarf tree, in a lacquered box with branches not occupying more than 2 square inches! They even know how to graft the pine family in Japan, and we saw dwarfed specimens on which almost every variety of pines known in Japan was fixed by grafting." -- Botanical Register  (From "Foreign Notices," The Horticulturist and the Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste (Albany: Luther Tucker), Vol. I, No. 9, March 1847, pg. 426); and

"JAPANESE GARDENERS -- The gardeners in Japan display the most astonishing art.  The plum-tree which is a great favorite is so trained and cultivated that the blossoms are as big as those of dahlies.  Their great triumph however is to bring forth plants and trees into the compass of the little garden attached to the houses in the cities.  With this veiw [sic] they have gradually suceeding [sic] in dwarfing the fig [sic] plum, and cherry tree, and the vine, to a stature so diminutive as scarcely to be credited by a European, and yet those dwarf trees are covered with blossoms and leaves.  Maylon, whose work on Japan, was published in Amsterdam in 1830, states that the Dutch agent of commerce, in Nagenei, was offered a snuff box one inch in thickness and three high, in which grew a fig tree, a bamboo, and a plum tree in bloom.  Some of the gardens resemble pictures, in which nature is skillfully modeled in minature -- but it is living, natural."  (From "Horticultural," The Repository (New-London, CT: W.H. Starr & Co.), Vol. I, No. 30, September 15, 1858, a weekly, pg. 237).

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