IN another essay we offered a few words to our readers on the subject of choosing a country seat. As the subject was only slightly touched upon we propose to say something more regarding it now.
There are few or no magnificent country seats in America, if we take as a standard such residences as Chatsworth, Woburn, Blenheim, and other well known English places — with parks a dozen miles round, and palaces in their midst larger than our largest public buildings. But any one who notices in the suburbs of our towns and cities, and on the borders of our great rivers and railroads, in the older parts of the Union, the rapidity with which cottages and villa residences are increasing, each one of which costs from three, to thirty or forty thousand dollars, will find that the aggregate amount of money expended in American rural homes, for the last ten years, is perhaps larger than has been spent in any part of the world. Our Anglo-Saxon nature leads our successful business men always to look forward to a home out of the city; and the ease with which freehold property may be obtained here offers every encouragement to the growth of the natural instinct for landed proprietorship.†
This large class of citizens turning country folk, which every season's revolution is increasing, which every successful business year greatly augments, and every fortune made in California helps to swell in number, is one which, perhaps, spends its means more freely, and with more of the feeling of getting its full value, than any other class.
* Original date of February, 1852.
† Such country estates have multiplied many fold and have increased enormously in magnificence by the expenditure of vast sums of money in the 69 years since this essay was written. — F. A. W.
But do they get its full value? Are there not many who are disgusted with the country after a few years' trial, mainly because they find country places and country life as they have tried them more expensive than a residence in town? And is there not something that may be done to warn the new beginners of the dangers of the voyage of pleasure on which they are about to embark with the fullest faith that it is all smooth water?
We think so: and as we are daily brought into contact with precisely this class of citizens, seeking for and building country places, we should be glad to be able to offer some useful hints to those who are not too wise to find them of value.
Perhaps the foundation of all the miscalculations that arise, as to expenditure in forming a country residence, is that citizens are in the habit of thinking everything in the country cheap. Land in the town is sold by the foot, in the country by the acre. The price of a good house in town is, perhaps, three times the cost of one of the best farms in the country. The town buys everything: the country raises everything. To live on your own estate, be it one acre or a thousand, to have your own milk, butter and eggs, to raise your own chickens and gather your own strawberries, with nature to keep the account instead of your grocer and market-woman, that is something like a rational life; and more than rational, it must be cheap. So argues the citizen about retiring, not only to enjoy his otium cum dignitate, but to make a thousand dollars of his income produce him more of the comforts of life than two thousand did before.
Well, he goes into the country. He buys a farm (run down with poor tenants and bad tillage). He builds a new house, with his own ignorance instead of architect and master-builder, and is cheated roundly by those who take advantage of this masterly ignorance in the matter of bricks and mortar; or he repairs an old house at the full cost of a new one, and has an unsatisfactory dwelling forever afterwards. He undertakes high farming, and knowing nothing of the practical economy of husbandry, every bushel of corn that he raises costs him the price of a bushel and a half in the market. Used in town to a neat and orderly condition of his premises, he is disgusted with old tottering fences, half drained fields and worn-out pastures, and employs all the laboring force of the neighborhood to put his grounds in good order.
Now there is no objection to all this for its own sake. On the contrary, good buildings, good fences, and rich pasture fields are what especially delight us in the country. What then is the reason that, as the country place gets to wear a smiling aspect, its citizen owner begins to look serious and unhappy? Why is it that country life does not satisfy and content him? Is the country, which all poets and philosophers have celebrated as the Arcadia of this world, — is the country treacherous? Is nature a cheat, and do seed-time and harvest conspire against the peace of mind of the retired citizen?
Alas! It is a matter of money. Everything seems to be a matter of money now-a-days. The country life of the old world, of the poets and romancers, is cheap. The country life of our republic is dear. It is for the good of the many that labor should be high, and it is high labor that makes country life heavy and oppressive to such men only because it shows a balance, increasing year after year, on the wrong side of the ledger. Here is the source of all the trouble and dissatisfaction in what may be called the country life of gentlemen amateurs, or citizens, in this country — "it don't pay." Land is cheap, nature is beautiful, the country is healthy, and all these conspire to draw our well-to-do citizen into the country. But labor is dear, experience is dearer, and a series of experiments in unprofitable crops the dearest of all; and our citizen friend himself, as we have said, is in the situation of a man who has set out on a delightful voyage, on a smooth sea, and with a cheerful ship's company; but who discovers, also, that the ship has sprung a leak — not large enough to make it necessary to call all hands to the pump — not large enough perhaps to attract anybody's attention but his own, but quite large enough to make it certain that he must leave her or be swamped — and quite large enough to make his voyage a serious piece of business.