Jun. 13th, 2016

lblanchard: (swannfountain)
[This is an occasional series of postings inspired by Abigail Rorer, Mimpish Squinnies: Reginald Farrer's Short Guide to Worthless Plants. Rorer's book includes prints of fourteen plants Farrer considered worthless-- an interesting hybrid of botanically accurate and...different. You can see her work, including all fourteen mimpish squinnies, here: http://www.theloneoakpress.com/prints/newer.html ]

I’m continuing to read The Rainbow Bridge, Farrer’s posthumously published account of his 1915 trip to Kansu and Tibet with Bill Purdom and assorted Chinese and Tibetan staff. Primula farreriana makes a cameo appearance toward the end, but this is mostly about the loss of a trowel and the malefactions of his staff. There’s a lot of mock tragedy and high hilarity in this account.

But, to start, here’s a sketch of “My Primula,” as Farrer calls it, from his own hand. It is not in any way a squinny, nor is it mimpish, so Rorer made no engraving of it.

published in The Rainbow Bridge

So that the ultimate disaster befell me unperceived, and when, at last, after very long weariful toilings round the fell, I came back to the crest of the pass, it was to discover that my faithful trowel had somewhere eluded my vigilance, and now lay lost, like a Slaughtered Saint's Bones, somewhere on these enormous Alpine mountains cold.

This was a crushing blow. I have a cult for my collecting trowels, and set my pride in never losing them. I had brought four to China ; two had been lost, indeed (for shame !), in the first week at Siku, but these calamities had braced me to such a constancy of caution that both the remaining trowels had hitherto survived all the vicissitudes of travel. And now it was by my own remissness that the culminating crime had been committed. In itself this was a culmination : if treasures ARE to be broken or lost or spoiled, let this, at all events, happen through someone else, as then one can at least save something out of the wreckage by showing oneself magnanimous, and mitigating the matter : whereas if oneself is alone responsible, the irretrievable disaster is complicated by an irretrievable loss of self-respect. Even damns are too dim to illuminate the darkness of one's wrath when oneself is the object. So that it was in a mood of penitential depression that at length I found myself nearing the col.

Suddenly there was a crash overhead, a succession of dull thuds and a huge square black boulder like a gravestone came crashing and bounding down upon me from the arête overhead, in a series of widening kangaroo leaps that gashed and tore the hard flank of the fell as if it had been cheese. As I stood and pondered the matter, another followed and another : clearly the promise of that solar rainbow was being fulfilled, and my last day was upon me, at the hands of the high angry Gods of these hills. But really people who lose trowels, what else can they either deserve or expect ? In a philosophic pessimism I proceeded across the danger stretch and the unctuous rich black gashes in the flesh of the fell. No more evil, however, overtook me till I came to the col. For now I found that Mafu's jealous domineeringness had refused to let the Wa-wa put the teaping into my saddle-bag at starting. And so there were I, and the arête, and all of us, as irremediably dry as any epitome of Herbert Spencer. Without my bottle of tea, how were the crusts and the sausage to go down ? Crossly I chumped and choked : they wouldn't and didn't. Even more than for the trowel I wailed for my tea-ping : while Bill gave Mafu another rough side of his tongue for such a further instance of neglect, and Mafu went more and more blank with rage at such a stripping of his "face" before Go-go and Mâ.

However, this concatenation of calamities inspired me with such a salutary vigour of rage, that, after assimilating the unmoistened sausage, I plucked up heart to go back all along those fells again, on a vague roving quest for the trowel. It might be lying anywhere indeed on those mountainsides : but the sausage gradually suffused me with inspiration as to one particular spot in the last of my Primula gullies where it might very possibly be. However, when, at long last, I got there, no sign of it could be seen, though all around the silt was untidy with the ruddy scatteration it had made of the rich fat earth. But, though I kicked and sifted the debris up and down, I could find no trowel, and was returning disconsolate and downcast, when there, sprawling loose at my feet upon the open moorland, far from any plants on which it could have been employed, the steely gleam of its blade caught my eye. It must have inexplicably fallen from my pocket : which blunted the acutest edge of my self-reproach. All the same, I beat myself with it severely, to inculcate caution : and then returned, in a high radiance of relief, round to the col again, to where Bill was now photographing a large group of my Primula, looking very made-up, and bedded-out, and artificial as, indeed, it always does, though (thanks to its habit of always growing in colonies of nicely-disposed single crowns or clumps, instead of in a confusion of masses and tufts all close together) quite as much when wild in a stretch of scree, as when carefully arranged to have its portrait taken.

I believe this may be the very photograph of P. farreriana that Purdom was taking in this passage:

From The English Rock-Garden, vol. II

And finally, here is the type specimen, from the Natural History Museum, London. (The notes appear to be in Farrer's hand.)


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