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Decorative Leaves & Flowers

We have been desirous to aid this movement to the extent of our power; and in the ten plates of leaves and flowers which accompany this chapter, we have gathered together many of those natural types which we thought best calculated to awaken a recognition of the natural laws which prevail in the distribution of form. But, indeed, these laws will be found to be so universal, that they are as well seen in one leaf as in a thousand. The single example of the chestnut leaf, Plate XCI., contains the whole of the laws which are to be found in Nature: no art can rival the perfect grace of its form, the perfect proportional distribution of the areas, the radiation from the parent stem, the tangential curvatures of the lines, or the even distribution of the surface decoration.

Horse Chestnut Leaves
Horse Chestnut Leaves, Plate XCI.

We may gather this from a single leaf. But if we further study the law of their growth, we may see in an assemblage of leaves of the vine or the ivy, that the same law which prevails in the formation of the single leaf prevails also in the assemblage of leaves. As in the chestnut leaf, Plate XCI., the area of each lobe diminishes in equal proportion as it approaches the stem, so in any combination of leaves each leaf is everywhere in harmony with the group: as in one leaf the areas are so perfectly distributed that the repose of the eye is maintained, it is equally so in the group: we never find a disproportionate leaf interfering to destroy the repose of the group.

Various Flowers in Plan and Elevation
Various Flowers in Plan and Elevation, Plate XCVIII.

This universal law of equilibrium is everywhere apparent in Plates XCVIII., XCIX., C. The same laws prevail in the distribution of lines on the surface of flowers; not a line upon the surfaces but tends more surely to develop the form,-not a line which could be removed, and leave the form more perfect; and this, why ? Because the beauty arises naturally from the law of the growth of each plant. The life-blood, the sap, as it leaves the stem, takes the readiest way of reaching the confines of the surface, however varied that surface may be; the greater the distance it has to travel, or the weight it has to support, the thicker will be its substance. (See Convolvulus, XCVIII., XCIX.)

Honeysuckle and Convolvulus
Honeysuckle and Convolvulus, Plate XCIX.

On Plate XCVIII. we have shown several varieties of flowers, in plan and elevation, from which it will be seen that the basis of all form is geometry, the impulse which forms the surface, starting from the centre with equal force, necessarily stops at equal distances; the result is symmetry and regularity.

Passion Flowers
Passion Flowers, Plate C.

Who, then, will dare say that there is nothing left for us but to copy the five or seven-lobed flowers of the thirteenth century; the Honeysuckle of the Greeks or the Acanthus of the Romans, - that this alone can produce art? Is Nature so tied? See how various the forms, and how unvarying the principles. We feel persuaded that there is yet a future open to us; we have but to arouse from our slumbers. The Creator has not made all things beautiful, that we should thus set a limit to our admiration; on the contrary, as all His works are offered for our enjoyment, so are they offered for our study. They are there to awaken a natural instinct implanted in us,-a desire to emulate in the works of our bands the order, the symmetry, the grace, the fitness, which the Creator has sown broadcast over the earth.

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