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.
Strang*, but not lees true, are the inconsistencies of human nature! While most of us are ready to admit the limited extent of our knowledge, how different is our practice from our theory. In the face of this free admission on our part, are we daily arguing, aye, and acting too, upon immatured thoughts, drawing conclusions from false premises, and regulating our conduct upon them, as though oar hasty opinions were the unerring decisions of minds possessed of in fallible wisdom.
We have been led into this train of thought from the circumstance, that it is not un-frequent still to hear the question asked, " of what use is rural taste." It will be found that the inquiry proceeds either from those who have not devoted, perhaps, an hour to the consideration of the subject, or whose position in life has not afforded them opportunity for the observation, much less the appreciation of the amenities of country life, and the attractions of rural beauty - now it might well be supposed that the advantage, or "use " of rural taste is so apparent, as a means to an important end, that this truth would occur to the mind as quickly as thought presents the question to it. Experience tells us this is not the case, and therefore, we propose to discuss it.
Let us, however, before we proceed to answer the question, thoroughly understand what we are about to discuss; and ask the previous question, what do we mean by " rural taste?" For few things conduce more to the elucidation of an argument, than a distinct apprehension of the subject at starting.
By "rural taste," then, we mean that perception of the combination of beauty with utility, in adapting the wilds of nature to the wants of civilised life, which is agreeable to our feelings. So that each natural feature when brought into the foreground of our observation, may be so presented to us, that whilst it is made subservient to our purpose, it at the same time is introduced under a pleasing aspect.
Let us now proceed to our principle inquiry, " of what u$e is rural taste?"
It is not too much to advance, if we assert that rural taste is itself a necessary adjunct to civilication, the advantages of which the purest utilitarian will admit and advocate. For the practice of rural taste is only the application to rural economy to the very same principles which in city life we regard as too completely matters of course to admit of question. From what source have originated the palace residences of our city merchants, with their gorgeous furniture, their tapestried carpets and their embroideried hangings, but from the indulgence of that taste in domestic affairs, which when directed to rural economy expends its energies in drawing out the beauties of nature for our admiration - while we apply her productions to our use, instead of (as in the former case) availing ourselves of the discoveries of art. Yet, however much we may hear the prudence of particular individuals, called in question, for lavish expenditure upon their town residences, we seldom hear the propriety or the utility of the elegancies of life which they possess, called in question; unless it be by some cynic whose jaundiced eye and ill regulated mind, has been distorted by the suggestions of avarice, or by some pharisaical enthusiast, who seeks to find a merit in refusing the enjoyment of those results of the skill of his fellow men, which the conventionalities of social life have provided for his use.
Let it ever be borne in mind, that the lavish expenditure of the man whose diligent labor has given him the means of surrounding himself with a large portion of the luxuries of life, is the stepping stone to riches for those of his fellow countrymen whose handiwork his liberality purchases. The ascetic miser may by niggardliness increase his ability for accumulating in the eyes of his associates; but, it is the man who receives with one hand, to spend prudently with the other, that in every social community, is the advancer of the wealth of his country. Because he, it is, that in so doing, provides the market for the labor of industry, and the money to pay the well earned wages of the gifted artisan.
But do these principles apply to the question before us? Undoubtedly they do, for if it be conceded that these conveniences of life are proper, and tend to the increase of national prosperity when applied to city life, they will be found equally true when directed to country life and rural taste. Because in the latter case as in the former, it is impossible to put them in practice without some expenditure, be it greater or less, which again affords the means of livelihood or of increased comforts to those engaged in the production of its refinements.
There are other considerations of equal and even of greater weight, which evince as distinctly the "use " of rural taste. Diligence and activity of body and mind are no less beneficial to us, in the persuit of our innocent amusements, than they are instrumental to our prosperity in business occupations; and whether we turn our thoughts to the private gentleman, or to the merchant retired from busy life - to the former, or to the artizan in his cottage, we shall not be disappointed in our expectation, if we calculate upon- finding that each one, who employs his leisure hours, be they many or few, in the embellishment of his country home, adds thereby daily accessions to his stock of health, while he at the same time imparts renewed elasticity to his mental energies by their healthy exercise in his favorite pursuits. And we are sure it will be granted that to add increased health to body and mind is to make good " use " of our time, whatever be its employment.
Another and a great "use," (the importance of which it is scarcely possible to overestimate,) in the cultivation of rural taste, is to be found in the powerful influence which experience bears testimony to its exercising, over the social intercourse of a neighborhood. We could, in support of this view, instance numerous parts of our country which, happily, are ever present proofs of its truth. The kindly relations, the good offices, and the interest in each other's rural enjoyments, which the practice and extension of rural taste in any neighborhood, never (ails to draw forth, are ample proofs, that if it be commendable " to love one another;" to contribute to the comforts of our neighbors; and to associate our rising generation with a state of things around them that is calculated to call forth their study of the adaptation of nature to the social wants of man: if these objects are commendable, then rural taste has its " use".
Moreover, if we have failed to convince by our arguments, we have only to appeal to the unerring evidence of the history of the world, to find a proof that there is a " use " in rural taste. For that, be it what it may, which experience shows to have been a constant requirement of every succeeding generation of man, must, by us in our generation, be admitted to be a want of the human race. And that which supplies a want which has proved so constant as to be universal in its extent, must be admitted to have its appropriate use. From the garden of Eden to the gardens of Solomon, who " planted himself vineyards, and made gardens and orchards, and planted trees in them of all kinds of fruits, and pools of water therewith, to water the wood that bringeth forth trees;" and again, from the hanging gardens of Babylon to those of the Athenians, (who Meason observes " preferred a residence in the country, and in villa gardening borrowed from Asia Minor,") the evidence of history, both sacred and profane, bears one continued stream of testimony to the love for and pursuit of rural taste. The direction of it, has varied with time and place, but its influence upon man has been as continuous as the return of the seasons.