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.
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.