This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
IF we have, in former pages, descanted rather largely on the importance of having a pursuit in a retirement to the country, it has been from a conviction of its absolute necessity for permanent enjoyment. What that pursuit, should be, will depend very much upon individual taste and previous education. But every one can have a fancy for, and pursue, Neatness. An agreeable writer of eminent talent, runs on somewhat after this fashion. I counsel you, my friend, if you are ever disheartened about some example which has been pressed upon you, of the evil which is in this world; if you get vexed, and worried, and depressed, about some evil in the government of your country, or of your county; if you have done all you can to think how the evil may be remedied; and if you know that further brooding over the subject would only vex, and sting, and do no good; - if all this should ever be so, then I counsel you to have resort to the great refuge, - Tidiness. Don't sit over your library fire, brooding and bothering; don't fly to sugar-plums, or wine, - they will not avail.
There is a corner of one of your fields that is grown up with nettles; there is a bit .of wall or fence that is out of repair; there is a yard of the edging of a shrubbery walk out of order; there is a bed in the garden which is not so scrupulously tidy as it ought to be; or there is a drawer of papers which for weeks has been in great confusion; or a division of your bookcase, where the books might be better arranged. See to these things forthwith. The out-of-door matters are the best. Get your assistants and go forth and see things made tidy; and see that they are done thoroughly; work half done will not serve for our present purpose. Let every nettle or mullein be cut down and carried off from the neglected corner; then let the ground be dug up and levelled, and sown with grass seed; it will make the seed take root at once. Let the wall or fence be made better than when it was new; let a wheelbarrow of fresh green turf be brought; let it be laid down in place of some decayed point; let it be cut accurately as a watch's machinery; let the gravel beside it be raked and rolled: then put your hands in your pockets, and survey the effect with delight.
All this will occupy you, interest you, dirty you, for a couple of hours, and you will come in again to your library fireside, quite hopeful and cheerful. The worry and depression will be entirely gone; you will see your course beautifully: you have sacrificed to the good genius of Neatness, and you are rewarded accordingly. This is simply to state a phenomenon - a fact - and not to explain causes. To put things right, and to know that things are put right, has a wonderful effect in enlivening and cheering. You cannot tell why it is so; but you come in a very different being from what you were when you went out. You see things in quite another way. You wonder how you could have plagued yourself so much before. We all know that powerful effects are often produced on our minds, by causes which have no logical connection with those effects. Change of scene helps people to get over losses and disappointments, though not by any process of logic. To most ordinary people as well as extraordinary, neatness is a constant source of temperate satisfaction. It is upon record, that a certain ancient emperor who had ruled the greatest empire this world ever saw, found it a pleasant change to lay the sceptre and the crown aside, and, descending from the throne, to take to cultivating cabbages.
And as he looked upon the tidy rows and the bunchy heads, he declared that he had changed his condition for the better; that neatness in a cabbage-garden could make a man happier than the imperial throne of the Roman empire. It is well that it should be so, as in this world there are many more cabbage-gardens than imperial thrones; and tidiness is obtainable by many by whom empire is unattainable.
A disposition towards energetic neatness is a perennial source of quiet satisfaction. It always provides something for us to think of and to do; it affords scope for a little ingenuity and contrivance; it carries us out of ourselves, and prevents our leading an unhealtlry, subjective life. It gratifies the instinctive love of seeing things right, which is in the healthy human being. And it is founded upon the philosophical fact, that there is a peculiar satisfaction in having a thing, great or small, which was wrong, put right. You have a greater pleasure in such a thing, when it has been fairly set to rights, than if it never had been wrong. And the human being who systematically keeps right, and sets right all things, even the smallest, within his own little dominion, enjoys a pleasure which has a dignified foundation - which is real, simple, innocent, and lasting. We cannot, from the make of our being, be always or be long in an excitement. Such things wear us and themselves out, and cannot last.
The real and substantial happy people of this world are always calm and quiet, at least after the hey-day of youth is passed.
But though the excitements of youth be gone, there still remains to the middle-aged the calm pleasure of looking at the backs of the well-arranged volumes on his book-shelves; of seeing that his gravel walks are nicely raked and rolled, and his grass-plots smoothly mown; of having his carriage, his horses, and his harness, in scrupulous order. Now, all these little things will appear little only to very unthinking people. From such little things comes the quiet content of common-place, middle life, of matter-of-fact old age; and from this partly-borrowed little essay, some thinking reader, somewhere in this great country, may devise a pursuit even if he has none already, and resolve henceforward that his whole domain shall be a model of neatness, tidiness, and order. And if he is possessed of a hobby already, let him mount this also, and our word for it he will be the happier.