"Dwarfed Trees" from Laurence Oliphant's Narrative

       Laurence Oliphant (1829-1888) was private secretary to Lord Elgin and assembled a history of the proceedings of the Special Mission to China and Japan.  A year was passed in each country, and all comparisons made with the Celestial Empire were in favour of Japan.  Briefly, British and French forces had seized Canton in 1856, precipitating a new Anglo-Chinese War.  Elgin was sent and helped negotiate the Treaties of Tientsin by late June 1858 to end the War.  China agreed to open more ports to Britain, France, the United States, and Russia.  Meanwhile the treacherous attack at Taku upon Sir Frederick Bruce led to a renewal of hostilities in the north, and the English diplomat Sir Harry Smith Parkes was ordered up to serve as interpreter and adviser to Lord Elgin in July, 1860.  In pursuance of these duties he went in advance of the army to the city of Tungchow, near Peking, to arrange a meeting between Lord Elgin and the Chinese commissioners who had been appointed to draw up the preliminaries of peace.  While thus engaged he, Mr. (afterwards Lord) Loch, Mr. de Norman (Lord Elgin's secretary of legation), Mr Bowlby (the Times correspondent), and others, were treacherously taken prisoners on Sept. 18, 1860.  Parkes and Loch were carried off to the prison of the board of punishments at Peking, where they were separately herded with the lowest class of criminals.  After ten days confinement in this den of iniquity they were removed to a temple in the city, where they were comfortably housed and fed, and from which, after a further detention, they were granted their liberty.  For this signal instance of treachery Lord Elgin burned down the Summer Palace of the emperor.  Towards the end of 1860 Parkes returned to his post at Canton.  Canton was restored to the China in October 1861.  1

Laurence Oliphant

       Narrative of the Earl of Elgin's Mission to China and Japan in the Years 1857, 1858 and 1859  (1859):

       Yew-trees, cut into fantastic shapes, and dwarfed trees, extending their deformed arms as if for assistance and support, are favourite garden ornaments [in Japan].  (Vol. II, pg. 165)

        The botanical gardens themselves did not exactly correspond to our notions on the subject.  There were neither fine old trees in great variety, nor a large and curious collection of all descriptions of plants.  The rage of horticulturists in this country seemed to be grasses, mosses, and ferns of all sorts, added to which there was an extensive assortment of dwarfed trees.  Instead of glass greenhouses, there were long mat-sheds for the more delicate specimens; while ranged upon stands, as in England, were quantities of porcelain pots of various shapes and colours, but generally blue, with a piece of rock in the centre, and a root of grass or moss growing round it.  But a Japanese gardener chiefly prides himself upon his skill in dwarfing.  The most venerable forest-trees may here be seen in flower-pots, their old stems, gnarled and twisted as if writhing under the torture of distortion [sic], perhaps scarce two feet high, while their unnatural branches spread out laterally like the fingers of a deformed hand.  One of the Dutch Factory told a story of a box three inches long by two broad, containing a fir-tree, a bamboo, and a plum-tree in full blossom, which was sold for a sum equal to twelve hundred dollars.   (Vol. II, pg. 173) 


1       From the Preface to the Narrative (see below), pp. v and vi; James Trager  The People's Chronology (New York: Henry Holt and Company, revised 1994 edition), pp. 469, 475; Sir Harry Smith Parkes, ttp://www.1911encyclopedia.org/P/PA/PARKES_SIR_HARRY_SMITH.htm.

2       Oliphant, Laurence   Narrative of the Earl of Elgin's Mission to China and Japan in the Years 1857, 1858 and 1859  (New York: Augustus M. Kelley, Publishers; 1969.  First edition 1859 by William Blackwood and Sons, Edinburgh & London).  For additional background on Elgin, see John Newsinger's "Elgin in China" article in New Left Review, 15, May-June 2002, pp. 119-140. 

        Image from here.

        The Project Gutenberg E-Book of  Letters and Journals of James, Eighth Earl of Elgin, Governor of Jamaica, Governor-General of Canada, Envoy to China, Viceroy of India, edited by Theodore Walrond, C.B. (1872) contains two additional references:

         March 21, 1858 -- [Chusan, off of China and near Hong Kong,] is a most charming island.  [We stopped outside of the town of Tinghae.]  After he had given us tea, the missionary accompanied us in our walk.  He first took us to a sort of cottage-villa, belonging to one of the rich inhabitants, consisting of about a couple of acres of ground, covered by kiosks and grottos and dwarf-trees, and ups and downs and zigzags,--all in the most approved Chinese fashion.  (Chapter VIII)

          August 22, 1859 -- Beyond [Yeddo, the capital of Japan], we got into the country, consisting at first of a sort of long street of quaint cottages with thatched or tiled roofs, embosomed in gardens, and interspersed with avenues conducting to temples.  Further on were cultivated fields, with luxuriant crops of great variety: rice, sweet potato, egg-plant, peas, millet, yams, taro, melons, &c. &c.  At last, we reached a place of refreshment, consisting of a number of kiosques, on the bank of a stream, with a waterfall hard by, and gardens with rock-work (not _mesquin,_ as in China, but really pretty and in good taste) opposite.  Here we had luncheon.  Fruits, and a kind of Julienne soup; not bad, but rather _maigre,_ served to us by charming young ladies, who presented on their knees the trays with the little dishes upon them.  The repast finished, we set out on our return (for we had overshot our mark), and visited the gardens, which were the object of our expedition.  They had the appearance of nursery gardens, with rows of pots containing dwarf-trees and all manner of quaint products; all this, moreover, in a prettily _accidenté_ country, abounding in forest trees and luxuriant undergrowth.  (Chapter X)

The French translation of Oliphant, La Chine et Le Japon Mission du Comte D'Elgin Pendant Les Années 1857, 1858 et 1859 Racontée Par Laurence Oliphant, Traduction Nouvelle. -- Précédée D'Une Introduction Par M. Guizot (Paris: Michel Lévy Frères; 1860), Vol. 2, pp. 150-151, has this passage:

          "Un bosquet touffu d'arbres aux branches pendantes offrait un ombrage agréable sous les rayons du so-[151] leil d'août, tandis que de petites barrières d'osier ouvraient dans des jardins qui formaient un cadre de fleurs aux chaumières s'élevant au milieu.  Les jardins botaniques proprement dits ne répondaient pas précisément à nos idées sur ce sujet.  Il n'y avait pas une grande variété de vieux arbres, ni une collection curieuse et considérable de plantes de tout genre.  La rage des horticulteurs de ce pays-ci paraît être les herbes, les mousses et les fougères de tout genre auxquelles il faut ajouter un immense assortiment d'arbres nains.  Au lieu de serres en verre, il y avait de longs hangars de nattes pour les espèces les plus délicates, tandis qu'on avait rangé sur des étagères, comme en Angleterre, une quantité de vases de porcelaine de différentes formes et de différentes couleurs, bien que le bleu fût la nuance dominante; au milieu des vases s'élevait un petit rocher autour duquel croissait une touffe d'herbe ou de mousse.  Mais les jardiniers japonais sont fiers surtout de leur talent pour produire des arbres nains.  On voit dans des pots à fleurs les arbres forestiers les plus vénérables; leurs vieux troncs, tordus et contournés comme s'ils étaient a la torture, ne s'élèvent pas à plus de deux pieds, tandis que leurs branches déformées s'étendent des deux côtés comme les doigts d'une main estropiée.  On nous raconta, à Décima, l'histoire d'une boîte longue de trois pouces sur une largeur de deux pouces, qui contenait un sapin, un bambou et un prunier en pleine fleur, qui s'était vendue douze cents dollars.  Il y avait derrière les jardins un bois de pins contenant de charmantes retraites et des coteaux artificiels surmontés de pavillons. Ces jardins sont également très-fréquentés par les amateurs de pique-niques de Yédo."

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