To try forcibly to evade the intermediate phases, heart-rending as some of these must be, is as foolish as any other premature interference with the natural laws of social growth. For instance, I heard lately of a benevolent landowner who, distressed by the overcrowded condition of the slums, and the dearth of people in the country, built a model village with delightful cottages and gardens, recreation hall and library, church, club-room, inn, baths, and everything else that could be desired for health and happiness. He then transplanted slum-dwellers who were known to be in actual desti-tution - terally starving - nd provided them with varieties. of wage-earning occupation under the most healthy and liberal regulations. At the end of a year his village was deserted; all the starving shimmers had gone back, of their deliberate choice, to the misery whence he had taken them. Such facts would at first sight appear to be baffling. They do but illustrate the old adage, "You may take a horse to the water, but you can't make him drink." Those slum-people had not yet had their fill of slum experience, and were by no means thirsty for the refreshing life of the country. Wretched as they were, they had not reached the limit of their capacity for enduring squalor and getting some mysterious good out of it. Their turning-point had not yet come. Their evolution had been forcibly interrupted, and their blind instinct in returning to take it up where it had been broken off was a sound one, strange as it may look on the surface.
A friend, who for years had had slum-dwellers driven down in brake-loads of fifty for summer days in her fields and gardens, told me once that her heart had never ached for them with quite such intolerable bitterness since she had heard from their spiritual pastor, that as they drew up one evening at the entrance to their alley after one of these outings, one of them had said, as if voicing the general sentiment, " The country's fine for a 'oliday, mates, but, arter all, this smells like 'ome! "
There are many athirst for a country life, but they are not necessarily dwellers in the slums, though they may be found there, as in any other quarter of our crowded towns. Perhaps we should waste less time in futile regret over the depopulation of our villages if we could look upon our cities as the great mills of evolution into which the slow, massive, yokel strength has inevitably to be drawn and ground "exceeding small," even to the dust of physical wreckage, that the nervous matter of the brain may be developed and exercised at all costs. It is those who have gone through the mill who are ready for the country : whose nervous systems have been developed to the point of exhaustion by the strain and grind of city life for, it may be, two or three generations, and whose brains are as restless and alert as the ploughboy's are dull and apathetic, whose nerves need repose as much as his need tension. The weary governess, the neurotic dressmaker, the dyspeptic bank-clerk, the anaemic student, the worn-out mother, these are they who crave for the country as prisoners crave for air and light, and these are the types which, in my experience, are to some extent counterbalancing the current that sets from village to town, for these are among the applicants for ' small holdings,' in the hope - etimes forlorn enough - making a livelihood out of market gardening, chicken, bee, flower, and fruit farming. Many are the mistakes, and grievous the disappointments and even failures which they must suffer; for as a rule they have little capital, less health, and no experience, and yet, in spite of all, so intense and deep-seated is their instinct for country life that they often manage to struggle through the first few years of hardship and make the modest living they desire.
To those whose experience has brought them into more or less intimate touch with widely different classes of the community, there are not a few indications that the farming industries of England are being recruited from social levels entirely unlike those of old days.
It used to be almost a joke among the Bushey art-students that if anyone married before his profession could support him he turned cottar-farmer ; and certainly some of them succeeded as such in the face of overwhelming difficulties, by the very simple and sensible device of throwing conventional ideas of fitness to the winds, and doing in England, without false shame, the work they would have done as a matter of course if they had gone "out West," or to the Colonies, to "take up land." These men and women, in most cases of delicate constitution and highly nervous temperament, have pitted themselves against conditions which to the labouring and artisan class would have seemed hopeless, and by sheer force of the cultivated intelligence that comes of good birth and breeding have won against long odds. One couple who started with 100Z. capital and no income, on a tumble-down little farm of twenty acres, of which ten were so '' foul " that no farmer in his senses would have taken the place - the docks and thistles having to be scythed down before the horse could be coaxed to pull the plough through them! - have done so well that they have now moved on to a sixty-acre farm in the next county which has been under intensive culture for many years.
The full story of their experiences - some of them as comic as others were tragic - I hope to tell elsewhere another day.'