Everything which a citizen does in the country, costs him an incredible sum. In Europe (heaven save the masses), you may have the best of laboring men for twenty or thirty cents a day. Here you must pay them a dollar,* at least our amateur must, though the farmers contrive to get their labor for eight or ten dollars a month and board. The citizen's home once built, he looks upon all heavy expenditures as over; but how many hundreds, perhaps thousands, has he not paid for out-buildings, for fences, for roads, etc. Cutting down yonder hill, which made an ugly blotch in the view, - it looked like a trifling task; yet there were $500 swept clean out of his bank account, and there seems almost nothing to show for it. You would not believe now that any hill ever stood there - or at least that nature had not arranged it all (as you feel she ought to have done), just as you see it. Your favorite cattle and horses have died, and the flock of sheep have been sadly diminished by the dogs, all to be replaced - and a careful account of the men's time, labor and manure on the grain fields, shows that for some reason that you cannot understand, the crop - which is a fair one, has actually cost you a trifle more than it is worth in a good market.
To cut a long story short, the larger part of our citizens who retire upon a farm to make it a country residence, are not aware of the fact that capital cannot be profitably employed on land in the Atlantic states without a thoroughly practical knowledge of farming.* A close and systematic economy, upon a good soil, may enable, and does enable some gentlemen farmers that we could name, to make a good profit out of their land, but citizens who launch boldly into farming, hiring farm laborers at high prices, and trusting operations to others that should be managed under the master's eye, are very likely to find their farms a sinking fund that will drive them back into business again.
* Think of those exorbitant days, when farm laborers got a dollar for twelve hours' work! - F. A. W.
* Mr. Downing, after the fashion of his time, used italics very freely in his essays. Following the taste of our time I have put most of his italics into Roman type; but in this case I have allowed it to stand as he wrote it, sorry only that I cannot underscore his statement further. His observation is just as true and just as important now as it was in 1852. - F. A. W.
To be happy in any business or occupation (and country life on a farm is a matter of business), we must have some kind of success in it; and there is no success without profit, and no profit without practical knowledge of farming.
The lesson that we would deduce from these reflections is this; that no mere amateur should buy a large farm for a country residence with the expectation of finding pleasure and profit in it for the rest of his life, unless, like some citizens that we have known - rare exceptions - they have a genius for all manner of business, and can master the whole of farming, as they would learn a running hand in six easy lessons. Farming, in the older states, where the natural wealth of the soil has been exhausted, is not a profitable business for amateurs - but quite the reverse. And a citizen who has a sufficient income without farming had better not damage it by engaging in so expensive an amusement.
"But we must have something to do; we have been busy near all our lives, and cannot retire into the country to fold our hands and sit in the sunshine to be idle." Precisely so. But you need not therefore ruin yourself on a large farm. Do not be ambitious of being great landed proprietors. Assume that you need occupation and interest, and buy a small piece of ground - a few acres only - as few as you please - but without any regard for profit. Leave that to those who have learned farming in a more practical school. You think, perhaps, that you can find nothing to do on a few acres of ground. But that is the greatest of mistakes. A half a dozen acres, the capacities of which are fully developed, will give you more pleasure than five hundred poorly cultivated. And the advantage for you is that you can, upon your few acres, spend just as little or just as much as you please. If you wish to be prudent, lay out your little estate in a simple way, with grass and trees, and a few walks, and a single man may then take care of it. If you wish to indulge your taste, you may fill it with shrubberies, and arboretums, and conservatories, and flower-gardens, till every tree and plant and fruit in the whole vegetable kingdom, of really superior beauty and interest, is in your collection.
Or, if you wish to turn a penny, you will find it easier to take up certain fruits or plants and grow them to high perfection so as to command a profit in the market than you will to manage the various operations of a large farm. We could point to ten acres of ground from which a larger income has been produced than from any farm of five hundred acres in the country. Gardening, too, offers more variety of interest to a citizen than farming; its operations are less rude and toilsome, and its pleasures more immediate and refined. Citizens, ignorant of farming, should therefore buy small places rather than large ones, if they wish to consult their own true interest and happiness.