The third class of the disappointed, consists of those who are astonished at the cost of life in the country. They left town not only for the healthful breezes of the hilltops, but also to make a small income do the business of a large one. To their great surprise they find the country dear. Every thing they grow on their land costs them as much as when bought (because they produce it with hired labor); and every thing they do to improve their estate calls for a mint of money because with us labor is always costly. But in fact the great secret of the matter is this - they have brought as many as possible of their town habits into the country, and find that a moderate income, applied in this way, gives less here than in town. To live economically in the country one must adopt the rustic habits of country life. Labor must be understood, closely watched, and even shared, to give the farm products at a cost likely to increase the income; and pates defoie gras, or perigord pies must be given up for boiled mutton and turnips. (And, between them and us, it is not so difficult as might be imagined, when the mistress of the house is a woman of genius, to give as refined an expression to country life with the latter as the former.
The way of doing things is, in these matters, as important as the means.)
Now a word or two, touching the second source of evil in country life, - undertaking too much.
There is, apparently, as much fascination in the idea of a large landed estate as in the eye of a serpent. Notwithstanding our institutions, our habits, above all the continual distribution of our fortunes, every thing, in short, teaching us so plainly the folly of improving large landed estates, human nature and the love of distinction, every now and then, triumph over all. What a homily might there not be written on the extravagance of Americans! We can point at once to half a dozen examples of country residences that have cost between one and two hundred thousand dollars; and every one of which either already has been, or soon will be, enjoyed by others than those who constructed them. This is the great and glaring mistake of our wealthy men, ambitious of taste, - that of supposing that only by large places and great expenditures can the problem of rural beauty and enjoyment be solved. The truth is, that with us, a large fortune does not and cannot (at least at the present time) produce the increased enjoyment which it does abroad.
Large estates, large houses, large establishments, only make slaves of their possessors; for the service, to be done daily by those who must hold aloft this dazzling canopy of wealth, is so indifferently performed, servants are so time-serving and unworthy in this country, where intelligent labor finds independent channels for itself, that the lord of the manor finds his life overburdened with the drudgery of watching his drudges.
* How great the change at Winnepissauke since that day! - F. A. W.
Hence the true philosophy of living in America is to be found in moderate desires, a moderate establishment, and moderate expenditures. We have seen so many more examples of success in those of even less moderate size, that we had almost said, with Cowley "a little cheerful house, a little company, and a very little feast." *
But among those who undertake too much, by far the largest class is that whose members do so through ignorance of what is to be done.
Although the world is pretty well aware of the existence of professional builders and planters, still the majority of those who build and plant in this country do it without the advice of experienced persons. There is apparently a latent conviction at the bottom of every man's heart that he can build a villa or a cottage and lay out its grounds in a more perfect, or, at least, a much more satisfactory manner than any of his predecessors or contemporaries. Fatal delusion I One may plead his own case in law, or even write a lay sermon, like Sir Walter Scott, with more chance of success than he will have in realizing, in solid walls, the perfect model of beauty and convenience that floats dimly in his head. We mean this to apply chiefly to the production as a work of art.
* An extremely sound philosophy for any land or any age. - Editor.
As a matter of economy, it is still worse. If the improver selects an experienced architect and contracts with a responsible and trustworthy builder he knows within twenty per cent at the farthest of what his edifice will cost. If he undertakes to play the amateur, and corrects and revises his work, as most amateurs do, while the house is in progress, he will have the mortification of paying twice as much as he should have done, without any just satisfaction at last.
What is the result of this course of proceeding of the new resident in the country? That he has obtained a large and showy house, of which, if he is alive to improvement, he will live to regret the bad taste, and that he has laid the foundation of expenditures far beyond his income.
He finds himself now in a dilemma, of which there are two horns. One of them is the necessity of laying out and keeping up large pleasure grounds, gardens, etc., to correspond to the style and character of his house. The other is to allow the house to remain in the midst of beggarly surroundings of meadow and stubble; or, at the most, with half executed and miserably kept grounds on every side of it.