The purport of this book is shown in the letter following which I addressed to the editor of the Daily News some months ago:—
“I thank you for reminding your readers, by reference to my humble work, that the delight of growing orchids can be enjoyed by persons of very modest fortune. To spread that knowledge is my contribution to philanthropy, and I make bold to say that it ranks as high as some which are commended from pulpits and platforms. For your leader-writer is inexact, though complimentary, in assuming that any ‘special genius’ enables me to cultivate orchids without more expense than other greenhouse plants entail, or even without a gardener. I am happy to know that scores of worthy gentlemen—ladies too—not more gifted than their neighbours in any sense, find no greater difficulty. If the pleasure of one of these be due to any writings of mine, I have wrought some good in my generation.”
With the same hope I have collected those writings, dispersed and buried more or less in periodicals. The articles in this volume are collected—with permission which I gratefully acknowledge—from The Standard, Saturday Review, St. James’s Gazette, National Review, and Longman’s Magazine. With some pride I discover, on reading them again, that hardly a statement needs correction, for they contain many statements, and some were published years ago. But in this, as in other lore, a student still gathers facts. The essays have been brought up to date by additions—in especial that upon “Hybridizing,” a theme which has not interested the great public hitherto, simply because the great public knows nothing about it. There is not, in fact, so far as I am aware, any general record of the amazing and delightful achievements which have been made therein of late years. It does not fall within my province to frame such a record. But at least any person who reads this unscientific account, not daunted by the title, will understand the fascination of the study.
These essays profess to be no more than chat of a literary man about orchids. They contain a multitude of facts, told in some detail where such attention seems necessary, which can only be found elsewhere in baldest outline if found at all. Everything that relates to orchids has a charm for me, and I have learned to hold it as an article of faith that pursuits which interest one member of the cultured public will interest all, if displayed clearly and pleasantly, in a form to catch attention at the outset. Savants and professionals have kept the delights of orchidology to themselves as yet. They smother them in scientific treatises, or commit them to dry earth burial in gardening books. Very few outsiders suspect that any amusement could be found therein. Orchids are environed by mystery, pierced now and again by a brief announcement that something with an incredible name has been sold for a fabulous number of guineas; which passing glimpse into an unknown world makes it more legendary than before. It is high time such noxious superstitions were dispersed. Surely, I think, this volume will do the good work—if the public will read it.