The Two Gardeners

An anti-intellectual French horticultural fable.

Illustration by <a href=''>Jean Ignace Isidore Gérard</a> aka JJ Grandville, <a href=''>Wikimedia Commons</a>

Illustration by Jean Ignace Isidore Gérard aka JJ Grandville, Wikimedia Commons

Another scraper now adds short excerpts to my Barcelona history minisite from the gardening almanac on the excellent Barcelona urban horticulture site, HortUrbà.com.

The greatest of all Spanish almanacs, Calendario Zaragozano-El Firmamento, still sells pretty well in Barcelona, but I have the feeling that they’re not as popular here as in places like Holland. The underlying cause is probably religion: the Dutch read their Bibles, while Spanish priests did little until rather late to encourage literacy; and, while the Dutch had binned their calendar of saints, Spanish priests from the pulpit and market gardeners on the land used it generally as a mnemonic until quite recently.

The mother of the Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian, author of the following gardening almanac fable, was Spanish, and I think some of his work may have influenced Hispanicist romanticists like Charles Nodier. But it would be going too far to attribute its anti-intellectualism to Spanish influence:

Two brother gardeners had the lot
To fall heirs to a garden spot.
They halved in peace the legacy,
Working together day by day,
Living in perfect amity,
Each managing in his own way.
One of the two, whose name was John,
A gift of speech much doted on.
He thought himself a man of wit,
That e’en for LL.D. was fit.
He had the knack
Of conning o’er the almanac.
Of books and charts he kept a stock,
And daily eyed the weather-cock.
Still to his genius giving wing,
He sought to know
How from one single pea could spring
The thousand peas that from it grow;—
Why from the linden’s tiny seed
A tree so lofty should proceed,
While from the bean’s far ampler size
A mere shrub comes that shortly dies;
And, above all, how beans should know
Their branches up from earth to throw,
Yet downwards thrust their roots below.
But while in search of truths like these,
He quite forgets his cabbages.
His wat’ring pot
Is too forgot.
He fails his fig-trees to protect,
Against the cold north winds that freeze,
While wilted drops his lettuces,
And all things suffer from neglect.
He has no fruit; and, what is worse,
There is no money in his purse;
So that our learned doctor lacks,
In spite of all his almanacs,
The means wherewith to live,
And fain must take what others give.

His brother, up at break of day,
Went to his work with right good will;
Sung with the birds a cheerful lay,
And never failed his lot to till.
Setting aside the things unknown,
And mindful of his crops alone,
In simple faith he sow’d his field,
And was rewarded by the yield.
He dug and water’d ev’rything,
From gooseberry to apricot;
And none to market e’er could bring
Of fruits and plants a finer lot.
Hence he had money and to spare,
And with his brother well could share.
“How is’t,” said John, “my brother dear,
That you know how to thrive so well?”
His brother answered: “‘Tis quite clear;
We need not on the myst’ry dwell,
I go to work and till the ground,
While you do naught but rack your brains;
And while with me all things abound,
You get but labor for your pains.
The question, then, I leave to you,
Which is the wiser of the two?”

The English translation is by a distinguished madman called John Wolcott Phelps, and here’s the Spanish version by the substantially saner and for my money less talented Gaspar Zavala y Zamora:

Los dos Jardineros

Tocóles por herencia á dos hermanos
Un jardin muy ameno,
Y cada cual su parte cultivaba
Con diferente esmero.
El mayor de los dos (Juan, de buena alma),
Mozo de gran talento,
Gran charlatan, y de doctor preciado,
Pasaba el dia entero
En consultar el almanac del año,
En observar los vientos
Y el orden de las sabias estaciones.
Quería con empeño
Investigar la gran naturaleza
Con todos sus misterios;
Y entre tanto que el fatuo miserable
Así perdía el tiempo,
Sus verdes espinacas y lechugas,
Por la falta del riego,
Quedaron abrasadas; sus higueras
Al cabo se perdieron;
De modo que el cuitado al fin del año
Se encontró sin remedio,
Perdidas sus verduras y frutales,
Su bolsa sin dinero,
Y atenido al socorro de su hermano.
Éste, siempre mas cuerdo,
Levantábase al alba, y muy alegre
Cavaba con esmero
Y regaba su rico patrimonio,
Sin malgastar el tiempo
En penetrar inútiles arcanos;
Con cuyo sabio medio
Le sobraba el caudal y la alegría.
Admirado en estremo
El señor Juan, le dijo: ¿en qué consiste
Que, igual siendo el terreno,
Hayas cogido tú tanta verdura
En tu pequeño huerto,
Tanta y tan rica fruta, y tantas flores,
Cuando el mio está seco?
–Hombre, le respondió: muy poco tiene
Que entender el misterio:
Mientras tú discurrías, yo cavaba;
Mientras tú, majadero,
El calendario todo revolvías,
Yo con mucho desvelo
Regaba mi hortaliza y mis frutales.
Alegre y satisfecho
Con tan pequeña ciencia, no aspiraba
A saber mas de aquello
Que debe asegurar mi subsistencia.
De modo que ahora veo
Que sin saber leer soy yo mas sabio
Que tú y otros mil necios
Que, por saber tal vez lo que no importa,
Olvidais lo que os fuera de provecho.

Gardening metaphors will be no stranger to anyone who has read Candide, but I also like the way this reworks the Parable of the Talents.

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