It is both surprising and pleasant to one accustomed to watch the development of the human soul to see the gradual but certain effect of building one really good and tasteful house in a graceless village. Just as certain as there is a dormant spark of the love of beauty, which underlies all natures extant, in that village, so certain will it awaken at the sight of that house. You will hear nothing about it; or if you do, perhaps you may, at first, even hear all kinds of facetious comments on Mr. - —'s new house. But next year you will find the old mode abandoned by him who builds a new house. He has a new idea; he strives to make his dwelling manifest it; and this process goes on till by-and-by you wonder what new genius has so changed the aspect of this village and turned its neglected, bare, and lanky streets into avenues of fine foliage, and streets of neat and tasteful houses.
It is an old adage that "a cobbler's family has no shoes." We are forced to call the adage up for an explanation of the curious fact that in five villages out of six in the United States there does not appear to have been room enough in which properly to lay out the streets or place the houses. Why on a continent so broad that the mere public lands amount to an area of fifty acres for every man, woman, and child in the commonwealth, there should not be found space sufficient to lay out country towns so that the streets shall be wide enough for avenues and the house-lots broad enough to allow sufficient trees and shrubbery to give a little privacy and seclusion, is one of the unexplained phenomena in the natural history of our continent, which, along with the boulders and glaciers, we leave to the learned and ingenious Professor Agassiz. Certain it is our ancestors did not bring over this national trait from England; for in that small, and yet great kingdom, not larger than one of our largest states, there is one city — London — which has more acres devoted to public parks, than can be numbered for this purpose in all America.
It may appear too soon to talk of village greens and village squares or small parks planted with trees and open to the common enjoyment of the inhabitants in the case of graceless villages, where there is yet not a shade-tree standing in one of the streets. But this will come gradually; and all the sooner, just in proportion as the apostles of taste multiply in various parts of the country. Persons interested in these improvements and who are not aware of what has been done in some parts of New England, should immediately visit New Haven and Springfield. The former city is a bower of elms; and the inhabitants who now walk beneath spacious avenues of this finest of American trees speak with gratitude of the energy, public spirit and taste of the late Mr. Hillhouse, who was the great apostle of taste for that city, years ago, when the streets were as bare as those of the most graceless villages in the land. And what stranger has passed through Springfield and not recognized immediately a superior spirit in the place, which long since suggested and planted the pretty little square which now ornaments the town?
But we should be doing injustice to the principle of progress, to which we have already referred, if we did not mention here the signs of the times which we have lately noticed; signs that prove the spirit of rural improvement is fairly awake over this broad continent. We have received accounts within the last month of the doings of ornamental tree associations lately formed in five different states from New Hampshire to Tennessee. The object of these associations is to do precisely what nobody in particular thinks it his business to do; that is, to rouse the public mind to the importance of embellishing the streets of towns and villages and to induce everybody to plant trees in front of his own premises.
While we are writing this, we have received the printed report of one of these associations, The Rockingham Farmers' Club, of Exeter, New Hampshire. The whole report is so much to the point, that we republish it entire in our Domestic Notices of the month; but there is so much earnest enthusiasm in the first paragraph of the report, and it is so entirely apposite to our present remarks, that we must also introduce it here:
"Why are not the streets of all our villages shaded and adorned with trees? Why are so many of our dwellings still unprotected from the burning heat of summer, and the pelting of the pitiless storms of winter? Is it because in New England hearts, hurried and pressed as they are by care and business, there is no just appreciation of the importance of the subject? Or is it the failure in the attempt, which almost every man has made once in his life, in this way to ornament his home, has led many to the belief that there is some mystery passing the comprehension of common men about this matter of transplanting trees? The answer may be found, we apprehend, partly in each of the reasons suggested. Ask your neighbor why he has not more trees about his home, and he will tell you that they are of no great use, and besides that it is very difficult to make them grow; that he has tried it once or twice and they have all died. Now these, the common reasons, are both ill-founded. It is of use for every man to surround himself with objects of interest, to cultivate a taste for the beautiful in all things, and especially in the works of nature. It is of use for every family to have a home, a pleasant, happy home, hallowed by purifying influences. It is of use that every child should be educated, not only in sciences, and arts, and dead languages, but that his affections and his taste should be developed and refined; that the book of nature should be laid open to him; and that he should learn to read her language in the flower and the leaf, written everywhere, in the valley and on the hill-side, and hear it in the songs of birds and the murmuring of the forest. If you would keep pure the heart of your child and make his youth innocent and happy, surround him with objects of interest and beauty at home. If you would prevent a restless spirit, if you would save him from that lowest species of idolatry, 'the love of money,' and teach him to 'love what is lovely,' adorn your dwellings, your places of worship, your schoolhouses, your streets and public squares, with trees and hedges, and lawns and flowers, so that his heart may early and ever be impressed with the love of Him who made them all".
What more can we add to this eloquent appeal from the committee of a farmer's club in a village of New Hampshire? Only to entreat other farmers' clubs to go and do likewise; other ornamental tree societies to carry on the good work of adorning the country; other apostles of taste not to be discouraged, but to be unceasing in their efforts, till they see the clouds of ignorance and prejudice dispersing; and, finally, all who live in the country and have an affection for it to take hold of this good work of rural improvement till not a graceless village can be found from the Penobscot to the Rio Grande, or a man of intelligence who is not ashamed to be found living in such a village.