" IF you or any man of taste wish to have a fit of the blues let him come to the village of---. I have just settled here; and all my ideas of rural beauty have been put to flight by what I see around me every day. Old wooden houses out of repair, and looking rickety and dejected; new wooden houses, distressingly lean in their proportions, chalky white in their clapboards, and spinachy green in their blinds. The church is absolutely hideous, -a long box of cardboard, with a huge pepperbox on the top. There is not a tree in the streets; and if it were not for fields of refreshing verdure that surround the place, I should have the ophthalmia as well as the blue-devils. Is there no way of instilling some rudiments of taste into the minds of dwellers in remote country places?"
We beg our correspondent, from whose letter we quote the above paragraph, not to despair. There are always wise and good purposes hidden in the most common events of life; and we have no doubt Providence has sent him to the village of - , as an apostle of taste, to instil some ideas of beauty and fitness into the minds of its inhabitants.
That the aspect of a large part of our rural villages, out of New England, is distressing to a man of taste is undeniable. Not from want of means; for the inhabitants of these villages are thriving, industrious people, and poverty is very little known there. Not from want of materials; for both nature and the useful arts are ready to give them everything needful, to impart a cheerful, tasteful, and inviting aspect to their homes; but simply from a poverty of ideas and a dormant sense of the enjoyment to be derived from orderly, tasteful, and agreeable dwellings and streets, do these villages merit the condemnation of all men of taste and right feeling.
* Original date of June, 1849.
The first duty of an inhabitant of forlorn neighborhoods, like the village of--, is to use all possible influence to have the streets planted with trees. To plant trees costs little trouble or expense to each property holder; and once planted, there is some assurance that, with the aid of lime and nature, we can at least cast a graceful veil over the deformity of a country home, if we cannot wholly remodel its features. Indeed a village whose streets are bare of trees ought to be looked upon as in a condition not less pitiable than a community without a schoolmaster, or a teacher of religion; for certain it is, when the affections are so dull, and the domestic virtues so blunt that men do not care how their own homes and villages look, they care very little for fulfilling any moral obligations not made compulsory by the strong arm of the law; while, on the other hand, show us a Massachusetts village, adorned by its avenues of elms, and made tasteful by the affection of its inhabitants and you also place before us the fact, that it is there where order, good character, and virtuous deportment most of all adorn the lives and daily conduct of its people.
Our correspondents who, like the one just quoted, are apostles of taste, must not be discouraged by lukewarmness and opposition on the part of the inhabitants of these graceless villages. They must expect sneers and derision from the ignorant and prejudiced; for, strange to say, poor human nature does not love to be shown that it is ignorant and prejudiced; and men who would think a cowshed good enough to live in, if only their wants were concerned, take pleasure in pronouncing every man a visionary whose ideas rise above the level of their own accustomed vision. But, as an offset to this, it should always be remembered that there are two great principles at the bottom of our national character, which the apostle of taste in the most benighted graceless village may safely count upon. One of these is the principle of imitation, which will never allow a Yankee to be outdone by his neighbors; and the other, the principle of progress, which will not allow him to stand still when he discovers that his neighbor has really made an improvement.
Begin then by planting the first half-dozen trees in the public streets. "They will grow," as Sir Walter observed, "while you sleep;" and once fairly settled in their new congregation, so that they get the use of their arms, and especially of their tongues, it is quite extraordinary what sermons they will preach to those dull and tasteless villagers. Not a breeze that blows but you will hear these tongues of theirs (which some look upon merely as leaves) whispering the most eloquent appeals to any passer by. There are some doubtless whose auriculars are so obtuse that they do not understand this language of the trees; but let even one of these walk home in a hot July day, when the sun that shines on the American continent has a face brighter than California gold, and if he does not return thanks devoutly for the cool shade of our half dozen trees, as he approaches them and rests beneath their cool boughs, then is he a worse heathen than any piratical Malay of the Indian Ocean. But even such a man is sometimes convinced by an appeal to the only chord that vibrates in the narrow compass of his soul, that of utility, when he sees with surprise a fine row of trees in a village stretching out their leafy canopy as a barrier to a destructive fire that otherwise would have crossed the street and burnt down the other half of the best houses in the village.
The next step to improve the graceless village is to persuade some of those who are erecting new buildings to adopt more tasteful models. And by this we mean not necessarily what builders call a "fancy house," decorated with various ornaments that are supposed to give beauty to a cottage; but rather to copy some design, or some other building, where good proportions, pleasing form and fitness for the use intended give the beauty sought for without calling in the aid of ornaments, which may heighten but never create beauty. If you cannot find such a house ready built to copy from, procure works where such designs exist, or still better, a rough and cheap sketch from a competent architect, as a guide. Persuade your neighbor, who is about to build, that even if his house is to cost but $600, there is no economy that he can practise in the expenditure of that sum so indisputable or which he will so completely realize the value of afterwards as $10 or $20 worth of advice, with a few pen or pencil marks to fix the ideas upon paper, from an architect of acknowledged taste and judgment. Whether the house is to look awkward and ugly or whether it is to be comfortable and pleasing for years all depend upon the idea of that house which previously exists in somebody's mind, either architect, owner, or mechanic, whoever in short conceives what that house shall be before it becomes "a local habitation," or has any name among other houses already born in the hitherto graceless village.