WITHOUT any boasting it may safely be said that the natural features of our common country (as the speakers in Congress call her) are as agreeable and prepossessing as those of any other land, whether merry England, la belle France, or the German fatherland. We have greater lakes, larger rivers, broader and more fertile prairies than the old world can show; and if the Alleghanies are rather dwarfish when compared to the Alps, there are peaks and summits, "castle hills" and volcanoes, in our great backbone range of the Pacific - the Rocky Mountains - which may safely hold up their heads along with Mont Blanc and the Jungfrau.
Providence, then, has blessed this country - our country - with "natural born" features which we may look upon and be glad. But how have we sought to deform the fair landscape here and there by little, miserable shabby-looking towns and villages; not miserable and shabby-looking from the poverty and wretchedness of the inhabitants - for in no land is there more peace and plenty - but miserable and shabby-looking from the absence of taste, symmetry, order, space, proportion, - all that constitutes beauty. Ah, well and truly did Cowper say, "God made the country, but man made the town".
For in the one we everywhere see utility and beauty harmoniously combined, while the other presents us but too often the reverse, that is to say, the marriage of utility and deformity. Some of our readers may remind us that we have already preached a sermon from this text. No matter; we should be glad to preach fifty; yes, or even establish a sect, - as that seems the only way of making proselytes now, - whose duty it should be to convert people living in the country towns to the true faith; we mean the true rural faith, viz., that it is immoral and uncivilized to live in mean and uncouth villages, where there is no poverty, or want of intelligence in the inhabitants; that there is nothing laudable in having a pianoforte and mahogany chairs in the parlor where the streets outside are barren of shade trees, destitute of sidewalks, and populous with pigs and geese.
* Original date of June, 1850.
We are bound to admit (with a little shame and humiliation, - being a native of New York, the "Empire State"), that there is one part of the Union where the millennium of country towns, and good government and rural taste has not only commenced but is in full domination. We mean, of course, Massachusetts. The traveller may go from one end of that state to the other, and find flourishing villages with broad streets lined with maples and elms, behind which are goodly rows of neat and substantial dwellings, full of evidences of order, comfort and taste. Throughout the whole state no animals are allowed to run at large in the streets of towns and villages. Hence so much more cleanliness than elsewhere; so much more order and neatness; so many more pretty rural lanes; so many inviting flower gardens and orchards, only separated from the passer-by by a low railing or hedge instead of a formidable board fence. Now if you cross the state line into New York - a state of far greater wealth than Massachusetts, as long settled and nearly as populous - you feel directly that you are in the land of "pigs and poultry," in the least agreeable sense of the word.
In passing through villages and towns the truth is still more striking as you go to the south and west; and you feel little or nothing of that sense, of "how pleasant it must be to live here," which the traveller through Berkshire, or the Connecticut valley, or the pretty villages about Boston, feels moving his heart within him. You are rather inclined to wish there were two new commandments, viz.: thou shalt plant trees, to hide the nakedness of the streets; and thou shalt not keep pigs, except in the back yard! *
Our more reflective and inquiring readers will naturally ask why is this better condition of things - a condition that denotes better citizens, better laws, and higher civilization - confined almost wholly to Massachusetts? To save them an infinite deal of painstaking, research and investigation, we will tell them in a few words. That state is better educated than the rest. She sees the advantage, morally and socially, of orderly, neat, tasteful villages; in producing better citizens, in causing the laws to be respected in making homes dearer and more sacred, in making domestic life and the enjoyment of property to be more truly and rightly estimated.
And these are the legitimate and natural results of this kind of improvement we so ardently desire in the outward life and appearance of rural towns. If our readers suppose us anxious for the building of good houses, and the planting of street avenues, solely that the country may look more beautiful to the eye and that the taste shall be gratified they do us an injustice. This is only the external sign by which we would have the country's health and beauty known, as we look for the health and beauty of its fair daughters in the presence of the rose on their cheeks. But as the latter only blooms lastingly there when a good constitution is joined with healthful habits of mind and body, so the tasteful appearance which we long for in our country towns we seek as the outward mark of education, moral sentiment, love of home, and refined cultivation, which makes the main difference between Massachusetts and Madagascar.
* We believe we must lay this latter sin at the doors of our hardworking emigrants from the Emerald Isle. Wherever they settle, they cling to their ancient fraternity of porkers; and think it "no free country where pigs can't have their liberty." Newburgh is by no means a well-planned village, though scarcely surpassed for scenery; but we believe it may claim the credit of being the only one among all the towns, cities and villages of New York, where pigs and geese have not the freedom of the streets. - A. J. D. This savory footnote has been retained for its remarkable historic interest. - F. A. W.