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.
Is it fair that we should be always harping on the advantages that citizens derive from the country? That we should ignore the pleasures and information which may be obtained by country folks, however refined, in a visit to the town. Are we not too much in the habit of hugging our own enjoyments in rural occupations, and of looking askance at the "poor souls" confined in that penitentiary composed of brick walls hung with birds in cages?
Perhaps it is so, but the country people cannot be accused of undervaluing those advantages which a city afford. A London alderman at a city feast drank with gusto the toast of "the blessings of Providence," with an "Ah yes - that is where our turtle comes from;" in allusion to the island of New Providence, famous for its export of the material for soup! So we who "go to town" for our books and other mental condiments, should not look down upon the spot which not only fills our heads with information, but also supplies us with the true " fashion," whether of manners or ribbons. But we are afraid the majority of country people visit town to be amused or to shop. An opera sung by the wood robin and blackbird we do not enough consider as amusing as the notes of the newest prima donna or the everlasting bones and jokes of the white-nigger, whose occupation seems to have taken root and to flourish better than some of the foreign evergreen trees. Music is the product of closely packed communities; in the country we have to be like the French author, who said when he wanted books, he made them himself 1
But great cities are also the great storehouses of Art and Knowledge. In America, we have the Dusseldorf Gallery, etc, if we have not much in the way of the most world-renowned pictures to study; we are fortunately situated in regard to books, and can have, and do have, as good books and more easily accessible libraries, cheaper printing, and a more general love of reading, than the old world can boast. True, masses of the books that are disseminated among our rural population are worthless, but appreciative persons are growing up in every section who can distinguish the good from the bad, and these love a trip to town; their "bundle," if you will notice it in the car, is not composed entirely of bonnets or hats, seeds or baskets, but contains material for thought and study. A good turn-over of a well-furnished book store, is to our notion, a better preparation for a rainy day in retirement, than a morning passed in pulling to pieces the shelves of Stewart, Levy, or any of their compeers in Broadway or Chestnut street.
Then there are natural history museums, such as the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences, where all the known birds are collected and displayed in the perfect beauty of their plumage and attitudes, and in greater variety than in any other city; where are assembled specimens of the world's geology and botany, and a vast amount of the true scientific books which the best students of nature have left us as their gift of wealth for generations. There may mostly be found the learner, drinking in bit by bit the scraps collected by previous searchers, combining, adapting, and appearing to quench a thirst, which, however liberally fed, is unquenchable, when once the mind begins to expand and survey the Creator's works with an enlightened eye.
To cities then, we must resort, and forget their disagreeables, in order to bring home materials to wear and to read. Lectures may be heard to advantage there which cannot be listened to in the country, though for our own part we prefer to read six or ten, which we can do in the time required for attendance on one.
In the city too, may be found the best productions of the country, there centered as in a mart where all can see and be satisfied; it is, in reality, no uncommon thing for the suburban farmer to send to the city for choice productions which he has not succeeded in raising quite as well as some one else; a piece of fine beef, an ice, or a pine apple, often make their way to the fanners who might be supposed to possess at least the two first in their own neighborhood. An exchange is thus perpetually going on, to the advantage of both town and country.
There is one drawback to country people in their trips to town which needs a remedy. Citizens can come to rural scenes and obtain boarding for five dollars a week, more or less; but when rurality is to be exchanged for the city, especially in winter, the best boarding houses are either filled, or so expensive as to repel, rather than invite one; and two dollars and a half a day at the hotel counts up faster than the potatoe or parsnip crop will admit Ladies too who visit the city for a day or less are sometimes sadly puzzled to get a respectable dinner. Their modesty will not permit them to obtrude on a private family, and as a general rule our American towns are very imperfectly supplied with good private restaurants.
What we sadly want is a system of " furnished apartments," such as you can hire for a dollar a day, (including a sitting and bed room,) with the privilege of purchasing from the owner any description of food you fancy or require at moderate charges. You can breakfast on tea, bread and butter, or toast and an egg, for twenty cents in very aristocratic lodgings in any part of the continent of Europe, while if you stop at the Girard House or the Clarendon, very likely you have to pay a dollar, though you take nothing more. This European plan creeps in by degrees in Philadelphia and New York, but has not yet become so common as to give one a choice either of locality or accommodations. Thousands of country people would like very well to pass two or three of the colder months in city society and surrounded by city comforts, books, pictures and music, but can find nobody who is willing to take moderate compensation.Travellers are paying daily, by thousands twice as much as the worth of what they receive in the way of food and accommodation.