Story type: Essay
The Drawer will still bet on the rose. This is not a wager, but only a strong expression of opinion. The rose will win. It does not look so now. To all appearances, this is the age of the chrysanthemum. What this gaudy flower will be, daily expanding and varying to suit the whim of fashion, no one can tell. It may be made to bloom like the cabbage; it may spread out like an umbrella–it can never be large enough nor showy enough to suit us. Undeniably it is very effective, especially in masses of gorgeous color. In its innumerable shades and enlarging proportions, it is a triumph of the gardener. It is a rival to the analine dyes and to the marabout feathers. It goes along with all the conceits and fantastic unrest of the decorative art. Indeed, but for the discovery of the capacities of the chrysanthemum, modern life would have experienced a fatal hitch in its development. It helps out our age of plush with a flame of color. There is nothing shamefaced or retiring about it, and it already takes all provinces for its own. One would be only half-married–civilly, and not fashionably–without a chrysanthemum wedding; and it lights the way to the tomb. The maiden wears a bunch of it in her corsage in token of her blooming expectations, and the young man flaunts it on his coat lapel in an effort to be at once effective and in the mode. Young love that used to express its timid desire with the violet, or, in its ardor, with the carnation, now seeks to bring its emotions to light by the help of the chrysanthemum. And it can express every shade of feeling, from the rich yellow of prosperous wooing to the brick-colored weariness of life that is hardly distinguishable from the liver complaint. It is a little stringy for a boutonniere, but it fills the modern-trained eye as no other flower can fill it. We used to say that a girl was as sweet as a rose; we have forgotten that language. We used to call those tender additions to society, on the eve of their event into that world which is always so eager to receive fresh young life, “rose-buds”; we say now simply “buds,” but we mean chrysanthemum buds. They are as beautiful as ever; they excite the same exquisite interest; perhaps in their maiden hearts they are one or another variety of that flower which bears such a sweet perfume in all literature; but can it make no difference in character whether a young girl comes out into the garish world as a rose or as a chrysanthemum? Is her life set to the note of display, of color and show, with little sweetness, or to that retiring modesty which needs a little encouragement before it fully reveals its beauty and its perfume? If one were to pass his life in moving in a palace car from one plush hotel to another, a bunch of chrysanthemums in his hand would seem to be a good symbol of his life. There are aged people who can remember that they used to choose various roses, as to their color, odor, and degree of unfolding, to express the delicate shades of advancing passion and of devotion. What can one do with this new favorite? Is not a bunch of chrysanthemums a sort of take-it-or-leave-it declaration, boldly and showily made, an offer without discrimination, a tender without romance? A young man will catch the whole family with this flaming message, but where is that sentiment that once set the maiden heart in a flutter? Will she press a chrysanthemum, and keep it till the faint perfume reminds her of the sweetest moment of her life?
Are we exaggerating this astonishing rise, development, and spread of the chrysanthemum? As a fashion it is not so extraordinary as the hoop-skirt, or as the neck ruff, which is again rising as a background to the lovely head. But the remarkable thing about it is that heretofore in all nations and times, and in all changes of fashion in dress, the rose has held its own as the queen of flowers and as the finest expression of sentiment. But here comes a flaunting thing with no desirable perfume, looking as if it were cut with scissors out of tissue-paper, but capable of taking infinite varieties of color, and growing as big as a curtain tassel, that literally captures the world, and spreads all over the globe, like the Canada thistle. The florists have no eye for anything else, and the biggest floral prizes are awarded for the production of its eccentricities. Is the rage for this flower typical of this fast and flaring age?
The Drawer is not an enemy to the chrysanthemum, nor to the sunflower, nor to any other gorgeous production of nature. But it has an old-fashioned love for the modest and unobtrusive virtues, and an abiding faith that they will win over the strained and strident displays of life. There is the violet: all efforts of cultivation fail to make it as big as the peony, and it would be no more dear to the heart if it were quadrupled in size. We do, indeed, know that satisfying beauty and refinement are apt to escape us when we strive too much and force nature into extraordinary display, and we know how difficult it is to get mere bigness and show without vulgarity. Cultivation has its limits. After we have produced it, we find that the biggest rose even is not the most precious; and lovely as woman is, we instinctively in our admiration put a limit to her size. There being, then, certain laws that ultimately fetch us all up standing, so to speak, it does seem probable that the chrysanthemum rage will end in a gorgeous sunset of its splendor; that fashion will tire of it, and that the rose, with its secret heart of love; the rose, with its exquisite form; the rose, with its capacity of shyly and reluctantly unfolding its beauty; the rose, with that odor–of the first garden exhaled and yet kept down through all the ages of sin –will become again the fashion, and be more passionately admired for its temporary banishment. Perhaps the poet will then come back again and sing. What poet could now sing of the “awful chrysanthemum of dawn”?