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The Atlantic Monthly, Volume 02, No. 10, August, 1858 online

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hog-pen, fragrant and musical. Proceeding no farther in this
direction, we look directly across the road, to where the barn stands,
like the hull of a great black ship-of-the-line, with its port-holes
opened threateningly upon the fort opposite, out of one of which a
horse has thrust his head for the possible purpose of examining the
strength of the works. An old ox-sled is turned up against the wall
close by, where it will have the privilege of rotting. This whole
establishment was contrived with a single eye to utility. The barn
was built in such a manner that its deposits might be convenient to
the road which divides the farm, while the sty was made an attachment
of the house for convenience in feeding its occupants.

We enter the house at the back door, and find the family at dinner in
the kitchen. A kettle of soap-grease is stewing upon the stove, and
the fumes of this, mingled with those that were generated by boiling
the cabbage which we see upon the table, and by perspiring men in
shirt-sleeves, and by boots that have forgotten or do not care where
they have been, make the air anything but agreeable to those who are
not accustomed to it. This is the place where the family live. They
cook everything here for themselves and their hogs. They eat every
meal here. They sit here every evening, and here they receive their
friends. The women in this kitchen toil incessantly, from the time
they rise in the morning until they go to bed at night. Here man and
woman, sons and daughters, live, in the belief that work is the great
thing, that efficiency in work is the crowning excellence of manhood
and womanhood, and willingly go so far into essential self-debasement,
sometimes, as to contemn beauty and those who love it, and to glory
above all things in brute strength and brute endurance.

Here we are ready to state the point and the lesson of our
discussion: - The real reason for the deterioration of agriculture in
New England is to be found in the fact, that the farmer's life and the
farmer's home, generally, are unloved and unlovable things, and in the
multitude of causes which have tended to make them so. Let the son of
such a home as we have pictured get a taste of a better life than
this, or, through sensibilities which he did not inherit, apprehend a
worthier style of existence, and what inducements, save those which
necessity imposes, can retain him there? He hates the farm, and will
flee from it at the first opportunity. If the New England farmer's
life were a loved and lovable thing, the New England boys could hardly
be driven from the New England hills. They would not only find a way
to live here, but they would make farming profitable. They would honor
the employment to which they are bred, and would leave it, save in
exceptional instances, for no other. It is not strange that the
country grows thin and the city plethoric. It is not strange that
mercantile and mechanical employments are thronged by young men,
running all risks for success, when the alternative is a life in which
they find no meaning, and no inspiring and ennobling influence.

The popular ideal of the farmer's life and home, to which we have
alluded, we believe to be what God intended. That life contemplates
the institution and maintenance of personal and social habits, and the
cultivation of tastes and faculties, separate from, and above, labor.
Every farm-house should be a residence of men and women, boys and
girls, who, appreciating something of the meaning and end of life,
rise from every period of labor into an atmosphere of intellectual and
social activity, or into some form of refined family enjoyment. It is
impossible to do this while surrounded with all the associations of
labor. If there is a room in every farmer's house where the work of
the family is done, there should be a room in every farmer's house
where the family should live, - where beauty should appeal to the eye,
where genuine comfort of appointments should invite to repose, where
books should be gathered, where neatness and propriety of dress should
be observed, and where labor may be forgotten. The life led here
should be labor's exceeding great reward. A family living like
this - and there are families that live thus - will ennoble and beautify
all their surroundings. There will be trees at their door, and
flowers in their garden, and pleasant and graceful architectural ideas
in their dwelling. Human life will stand in the foreground of such a
home, - human life, crowned with its dignities and graces, - while
animal life will be removed among the shadows, and the gross material
utilities, tastefully disguised, will be made to retire into an
unoffending and harmonious perspective.

But we have alluded to other causes than labor as in some measure
responsible for the unattractiveness of the farmer's life, and
affecting adversely the farming interest. These touch the matter at
various points, and are charged with greater or less importance. We
know of no one cause more responsible for whatever there may be of
physical degeneracy among the farming population than the treatment of
its child-bearing women; and this, after all, is but a result of
entire devotion to the tyrannical idea of labor. If there be one
office or character higher than all others, it is the office or
character of mother. Surely, the bringing into existence of so
marvellous a thing as a human being, and the training of that being
until it assumes a recognized relation to God and human society, is a
sacred office, and one which does not yield in dignity and importance
to any other under heaven. For a woman who faithfully fulfils this
office, who submits without murmuring to all its pains, who patiently
performs its duties, and who exhausts her life in a ceaseless overflow
of love upon those whom God has given her, no words can express a true
man's veneration. She claims the homage of our hearts, the service of
our hands, the devotion of our lives.

Yet what is the position of the mother in the New England farmer's
home? The farmer is careful of every animal he possesses. The
farm-yard and the stall are replenished with young, by creatures for
months dismissed from labor, or handled with intelligent care while
carrying their burden; because the farmer knows that only in this way
can he secure improvement, and sound, symmetrical development, to the
stock of his farm. In this he is a true, practical philosopher. But
what is his treatment of her who bears his children? The same
physiological laws apply to her that apply to the brute. Their strict
observance is greatly more imperative, because of her finer
organization; yet they are not thought of; and if the farm-yard fail
to shame the nursery, if the mother bear beautiful and well-organized
children, Heaven be thanked for a merciful interference with the
operation of its own laws! Is the mother in a farm-house ever regarded
as a sacred being? Look at her hands! Look at her face! Look at her
bent and clumsy form! Is it more important to raise fine colts than
fine men and women? Is human life to be made secondary and subordinate
to animal life? Is not she who should receive the tenderest and most
considerate ministries of the farmer's home, in all its appointments
and in all its service, made the ceaseless minister and servant of the
home and all within it, with utter disregard of her office? To expect
a population to improve greatly under this method is simply to expect
miracles; and to expect a farmer's life and a farmer's home to be
attractive, where the mother is a drudge, and secures less
consideration than the pets of the stall, is to expect impossibilities.

Another cause which has tended to the deterioration of the farmer's
life is its solitariness. The towns in New England which were settled
when the Indians were in possession of the country, and which, for
purposes of defence, were settled in villages, have enjoyed great
blessings; but a large portion of agricultural New England was
differently settled. It is difficult to determine why isolation
should produce the effect it does upon the family development. The
Western pioneer, who, leaving a New England community, plants himself
and his young wife in the forest, will generally become a coarse man,
and will be the father of coarse children. The lack of the social
element in the farmer's life is doubtless a cause of some of its most
repulsive characteristics. Men are constituted in such a manner, that
constant social contact is necessary to the healthfulness of their
sympathies, the quickness of their intellects, and the symmetrical
development of their powers. It matters little whether a family be
placed in the depths of a Western forest, or upon the top of a New
England hill; the result of solitude will be the same in kind, if not
in degree.

Now the farmer, partly from isolation and partly from absorption in
labor, is the most unsocial man in New England. The farmers are
comparatively few who go into society at all, who ever dine with their
neighbors, or who take any genuine satisfaction in the company of the
women whom their wives invite to tea. They may possibly be
farmers among farmers, but they are not men among men and
women. Intellectually, they are very apt to leave life where they
begin it. Socially, they become dead for years before they die. The
inhabitants of a city can have but a poor apprehension of the amount
of enjoyment and development that comes to them through social
stimulus. Like gold, humanity becomes bright by friction, and grows
dim for lack of it. So, we say, the farmer's life and home can never
be what they should be, - can never be attractive by the side of other
life containing a true social element, - until they have become more
social. The individual life must not only occupy a place above that of
a beast of burden, but that life must be associated with all congenial
life within its reach. The tree that springs in the open field, though
it be fed by the juices of a rood, through absorbents that penetrate
where they will, will present a hard and stunted growth; while the
little sapling of the forest, seeking for life among a million roots,
or growing in the crevice of a rock, will lift to the light its cap of
leaves upon a graceful stem, and whisper, even-headed, with the
stateliest of its neighbors. Men, like trees, were made to grow
together, and both history and philosophy declare that this Divine
intention cannot be ignored or frustrated with impunity.

Traditional routine has also operated powerfully to diminish the
attractiveness of agricultural employments. This cause, very happily,
grows less powerful from year to year. The purse is seen to have an
intimate sympathy with intelligent farming. Were we to say that God
had so constituted the human mind that routine will tire and disgust
it, we should say in effect that he never intended the farmer's life
to be one of routine. Nature has done all she can to break up routine.
While the earth swings round its orbit once a year, and turns on its
axis once in twenty-four hours, - while the tide ebbs and flows twice
daily, and the seasons come and go in rotation, every atom changes its
relations to every other atom every moment. Influences are tossed into
these skeleton cycles of motion and event which start a myriad of
diverse currents, and break up the whole surface of life and being
into a healthful confusion. There are never two days alike. The
motherly sky never gives birth to twin clouds. The weather shakes its
bundle of mysteries in our faces, and banters us with, "Don't you wish
you knew?" We prophesy rain upon the morrow, and wake with a bar of
golden sunlight on the coverlet. We foretell a hard winter, and,
before it is half gone, become nervous lest we should miss our supply
of ice. The fly, the murrain, the potato-rot, and the grasshoppers,
all have a divine office in tipping over our calculations. The
phantom host of the great North come out for parade without
announcement, and shoot their arrows toward the zenith, and flout the
stars with their rosy flags, and retire, leaving us looking into
heaven and wondering. Long weeks of drought parch the earth, and then
comes the sweet rain, and sets the flowers and the foliage
dancing. All the seasons are either very late or very early, or, for
some reason, "the most remarkable within the memory of man."

This is God's management for destroying routine within the law of
stated revolution, and for bringing the mind constantly into contact
with fresh influences. The soul, encased by a wall of adamantine
circumstances, and driven around a track of unvarying duties,
shrivels, or gets diseased. But these circumstances need not imprison
the farmer, nor these duties become the polished pavement of his
cell. He has his life among the most beautiful scenes of Nature and
the most interesting facts of Science. Chemistry, geology, botany,
meteorology, entomology, and a dozen other related or constituent
sciences, - what is intelligent farming but a series of experiments,
involving, first and last, all of these? What is a farm but a
laboratory where the most important and interesting scientific
problems are solved? The moment that any field of labor becomes
intelligently experimental, that moment routine ceases, and that field
becomes attractive. The most repulsive things under heaven become
attractive, on being invested with a scientific interest. All,
therefore, that a farmer has to do, to break up the traditional
routine of his method and his labor, is to become a scientific
farmer. He will then have an interest in his labor and its results
above their bare utilities. Labor that does not engage the mind has no
dignity; else the ox and the ass are kings in the world, and we are
but younger brothers in the royal family. So we say to every
farmer, - If you would make your calling attractive to yourself and
your boys, seek that knowledge which will break up routine, and make
your calling, to yourself and to them, an intelligent pursuit.

A recent traveller in England speaks enthusiastically of a visit which
he paid to an old farm-house in that country, and of the garden-farm
upon which it stood, which had descended from father to son through a
period of five hundred years. He found a family of charming
intelligence and the politest culture. That hallowed soil was a
beautiful body, of which the family interests and associations were
the soul. To be dissociated from that soil forever would be
regarded by its proprietors as almost equivalent to family
annihilation. Proprietorship in English soil is one of the prime
ambitions of the true Englishman; but we do not find in New England
any kindred sentiments of pride in landed property and family
affection for the paternal acres. The nomadic tribes of Asia would
seem to have quite as strong local attachments as Yankee landholders,
most of whom will sell their homesteads as readily as they will their
horses. This fact we cannot but regard as one among the many causes
which have conspired to despoil the farmer's calling of some of its
legitimate attractions. The son slips away from the old homestead as
easily as he does from the door of a hotel. Very likely his father has
rooted up all home attachments by talking of removing Westward ever
since the boy saw the light. This lack of affection for the family
acres is doubtless owing somewhat to the fact that in this country
landed property is not associated with political privilege, as it has
been in England; but this cannot be the sole reason; for the sentiment
has a genuine basis in nature, and, in not a few instances, an actual
existence amongst us.

Resulting from the operation of all the causes which we have briefly
noticed, there is another cause of the deterioration of farming life
in New England, which cannot be recovered from in many years. Actual
farming life has been brought into such harsh contrast with other
life, that its best materials have been sifted out of it, have slid
away from it. An inquiry at the doors of the great majority of farmers
would exhibit the general fact, that the brightest boys have gone to
college, or have become mechanics, or are teaching school, or are in
trade, or have emigrated to the West. There have been taken directly
out from the New England farming population its best elements, - its
quickest intelligence, its most stirring enterprise, its noblest and
most ambitious natures, - precisely those elements which were necessary
to elevate the standard of the farmer's calling and make it what it
should be. It is very easy to see why these men have not been retained
in the past; it is safe to predict that they will not be retained in
the future, unless a thorough reform be instituted. These men cannot
be kept on a routine farm, or tied to a home which has no higher life
than that of a workshop or a boarding-house. It is not because the
work of the farm is hard that men shun it. They will work harder and
longer in other callings for the sake of a better style of individual
and social life. They will go to the city, and cling to it while half
starving, rather than engage in the dry details and the hard and
homely associations of the life which they forsook.

The boys are not the only members of the farmer's family that flee
from the farmer's life. The most intelligent and most enterprising of
the farmer's daughters become school-teachers, or tenders of shops, or
factory-girls. They contemn the calling of their father, and will,
nine times in ten, marry a mechanic in preference to a farmer. They
know that marrying a farmer is a very serious business. They remember
their worn-out mothers. They thoroughly understand that the vow that
binds them in marriage to a farmer seals them to a severe and homely
service that will end only in death.

As a consequence of this sifting process, to which we have given but a
glance, a very decidedly depressing element is now being rapidly
introduced into New England farming life. The Irish girls have found
their way into the farmer's kitchen, and the Irish laborer has become
the annual "hired man." At present, there are no means of measuring
the effect of this new element; but it cannot fail to depress the tone
of farming society, and surround it with a new swarm of menial
associations.

In our judgment, there is but little in the improved modes of farming,
in scientific discoveries, and new mechanical appliances, to be relied
upon for the elevation of New England agriculture and the emancipation
of New England farming life. The farmer needs new ideas more than he
needs new implements. The process of regeneration must begin in the
mind, and not in the soil. The proprietor of that soil should be the
true New England gentleman. His house should be the home of
hospitality, the embodiment of solid comfort and liberal taste, the
theatre of an exalted family-life which shall be the master and not
the servant of labor, and the central sun of a bright and happy social
atmosphere. When this standard shall be reached, there will be no
fear for New England agriculture. The noblest race of men and women
the sun ever shone upon will cultivate these valleys and build their
dwellings upon these hills; and they will cling to a life which
blesses them with health, plenty, individual development, and social
progress and happiness. This is what the farmer's life may be and
should be; and if it ever rise to this in New England, neither prairie
nor savanna can entice her children away; and waste land will become
as scarce, at last, as vacant lots in Paradise.




LES SALONS DE PARIS.[1]


The title is an ambitious one, for the _salons_ of Paris are
Paris itself; and, from the days of the Fronde and of the Hôtel
Rambouillet down to our own, you may judge pretty accurately of what
is going on upon the great political stage of France by what is
observable in those green-rooms and _coulisses_ called the
Parisian drawing-rooms, and where, more or less, the actors of all
parties may be seen, either rehearsing their parts before the
performance, or seeking, after the performance is over, the several
private echoes of the general public sentiment that has burst forth
before the light of the foot-lamps. Shakspeare's declaration, that
"all the world's a stage," is nowhere so true as in the capital of
Gaul. There, most truly may it be said, are


- - "All the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts."


Therefore might a profound and comprehensive study of the
drawing-rooms of Paris be in a manner a history of France in our own
times.

Madame Ancelot's little volume does not aim so high; nor, had it done
so, would its author have possessed the talent requisite for carrying
out such a design. Madame Ancelot is a writer of essentially
second-rate and subordinate capacity, and consequently her account of
those _salons de Paris_ that she has seen (and she by no means
saw them all) derives no charm from the point of view she takes. To
say the truth, she has no "point of view" of her own; she tells what
she saw, and (thus far we must praise her) she tells it very
conscientiously. Having waited in every instance till the people she
has to speak of were dead, Mme. Ancelot has a pretty fair field before
her for the display of her sincerity, and we, the public, who are
neither kith nor kin of the deceased, are the gainers thereby.

So interesting and so amusing is the subject Madame Ancelot has
chosen, that, in spite of her decided want of originality or even
talent in treating it, her book is both an amusing and an interesting
one. It is even more than that; for those who wish to have a correct
notion of certain epochs of the social civilization of modern France,
and of certain predominant types in French society during the
last forty years, Madame Ancelot's little volume is full of
instruction. Perhaps in no society, so much as in that of France, have
the political convulsions of the state reacted so forcibly upon the
relations of man to man, revolutionizing the homes of private persons,
even as the government and the monarchy were revolutionized. In
England, nothing of this kind is to be observed; and if you study
English society ten years, or twenty years, or fifty years after the
fall of Charles I., after the establishment of the Commonwealth, or
after the restoration of Charles II., the definitive exile of the
Stuarts, and the advent of a foreign dynasty to the throne, you find
everywhere its constitutive elements the same, - modified only by such
changes of time, circumstance, and fashion, as naturally, in every
country, modify the superficial aspect of all society. But in France,
it is the very _substratum_ of the social soil that is overturned, it
is the constitutive elements of society that are displaced; and the
consequence is a general derangement of all relative positions.

In what is still termed _la vieille société Française_, little or
nothing was left to chance, and one of its great characteristics was
order and the perfectly regular play of its machinery. Everything was
set down, _noted_, as it were, beforehand, - as strictly so as the
ceremonies of a grand diplomatic ceremony, after some treaty, or
marriage, or other occasion of solemn conference. Under this
_régime_, which endured till the Revolution of '93, (and even,
strangely enough, _beyond_ that period,) politeness was, of
course, the one chief quality of whosoever was well brought
up, - urbanity was the first sign of good company, - and for the simple
reason, that no one sought to infringe. There was no cause for
insolence, or for what in England is called "exclusiveness," because
there was no necessity to repel any disposition to encroach. No one
dreamed of the possibility of encroaching upon his neighbor's grounds,
or of taking, in the slightest degree, his neighbor's place.

The first French Revolution caused no such sudden and total disruption
of the old social traditions as has been generally supposed; and as
far as mere social intercourse and social conventionalities were
concerned, there was, even amongst the terrible popular dictators of
1793, more of the _tone_ of the _ci-devant_ good company
than could possibly be imagined. In later times, every one who knew
Fouché remembers that he was constantly in the habit of expressing his
indignation at the want of good-breeding of the young exquisites of
the Empire, and used perpetually to exclaim, "In _my time_" this
or that "would not have been allowed," or, "In _my_ time we were
accustomed to do" so and so. Now Fouché's "time" was that which is


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Online LibraryVariousThe Atlantic Monthly, Volume 02, No. 10, August, 1858 → online text (page 13 of 20)