Copyright
Will Levington Comfort.

Child and country; a book of the younger generation online

. (page 1 of 18)
Online LibraryWill Levington ComfortChild and country; a book of the younger generation → online text (page 1 of 18)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Produced by David Garcia, Barbara Kosker and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net (This
file was produced from images generously made available
by The Kentuckiana Digital Library)









CHILD AND COUNTRY




BY WILL LEVINGTON COMFORT

LOT & COMPANY
RED FLEECE
MIDSTREAM
DOWN AMONG MEN
FATHERLAND




GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY
NEW YORK








Child and Country

_A Book of the
Younger Generation_


BY

WILL LEVINGTON COMFORT

AUTHOR OF "MIDSTREAM," "LOT & COMPANY,"
"DOWN AMONG MEN," "ROUTLEDGE
RIDES ALONE," ETC., ETC.




NEW YORK
GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY




Copyright, 1916,
BY GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY




TO THOSE

WHO COME AFTER THE WRECKERS

TO THE BUILDERS

OF THE RISING GENERATION




FOREWORD


... To-day the first glimpse of this manuscript as a whole. It was all
detached pieces before, done over a period of many months, with many
intervening tasks, the main idea slightly drifting from time to time....
The purpose on setting out, was to relate the adventure of home-making
in the country, with its incidents of masonry, child and rose culture,
and shore-conservation. It was not to tell others how to build a house
or plant a garden, or how to conduct one's life on a shore-acre or two.
Not at this late day. I was impelled rather to relate how we found
plenty with a little; how we entered upon a new dimension of health and
length of days; and from the safe distance of the desk, I wanted to
laugh over a city man's adventures with drains and east winds, country
people and the meshes of possession.

In a way, our second coming to the country was like the landing of the
Swiss Family Robinson upon that little world of theirs in the midst of
the sea. Town life had become a subtle persecution. We hadn't been
wrecked exactly, but there had been times in which we were torn and
weary, understanding only vaguely that it was the manner of our days in
the midst of the crowd that was dulling the edge of health and taking
the bloom from life. I had long been troubled about the little children
in school - the winter sicknesses, the amount of vitality required to
resist contagions, mental and physical - the whole tendency of the school
toward making an efficient and a uniform product, rather than to develop
the intrinsic and inimitable gift of each child.

We entered half-humorously upon the education of children at home, but
out of this activity emerged the main theme of the days and the work at
hand. The building of a house proved a natural setting for that; gardens
and woods and shore rambles are a part; the new poetry and all the fine
things of the time belong most intensely to that. Others of the coming
generation gathered about the work here; and many more rare young beings
who belong, but have not yet come, send us letters from the fronts of
their struggle.

It has all been very deep and dramatic to me, a study of certain
builders of to-morrow taking their place higher and higher day by day in
the thought and action of our life. They have given me more than I could
possibly give them. They have monopolised the manuscript. Chapter after
chapter are before me - revelations they have brought - and over all, if
I can express it, is a dream of the education of the future. So the
children and the twenty-year-olds are on every page almost, even in the
title.

Meanwhile the world-madness descended, and all Europe became a
spectacle. There is no inclination to discuss that, although there have
been days of quiet here by the fire in which it seemed that we could see
the crumbling of the rock of ages and the glimmering of the New Age
above the red chaos of the East. And standing a little apart, we
perceived convincing signs of the long-promised ignition on the part of
America - signs as yet without splendour, to be sure. These things have
to do with the very breath we draw; they relate themselves to our
children and to every conception of home - not the war itself, but the
forming of the new social order, the message thrilling for utterance in
the breasts of the rising generation. For they are the builders who are
to follow the wreckers of war.

Making a place to live on the lake shore, the development of bluff and
land, the building of study and stable and finally the stone house (a
pool of water in the centre, a roof open to the sunlight, the outer
walls broken with chimneys for the inner fires), these are but exterior
cultivations, the establishment of a visible order that is but a symbol
of the intenser activity of the natures within.

Quiet, a clean heart, a fragrant fire, a press for garments, a bin of
food, a friendly neighbour, a stretch of distance from the
casements - these are sane desirable matters to gather together; but the
fundamental of it all is, that they correspond to a picture of the
builder's ideal. There is a bleakness about buying one's house built; in
fact, a man cannot really possess anything unless he has an organised
receptivity - a conception of its utilities that has come from long need.
A man might buy the most perfect violin, but it is nothing more than a
curio to him unless he can bring out its wisdom. It is the same in
mating with a woman or fathering a child.

There is a good reason why one man keeps pigs and another bees, why one
man plants petunias and another roses, why the many can get along with
maples when elms and beeches are to be had, why one man will exchange a
roomful of man-fired porcelain for one bowl of sunlit alabaster. No
chance anywhere. We call unto ourselves that which corresponds to our
own key and tempo; and so long as we live, there is a continual
re-adjustment without, the more unerringly to meet the order within.

The stone house is finished, roses have bloomed, but the story of the
cultivation of the human spirits is really just beginning - a work so
joyous and productive that I would take any pains to set forth with
clearness the effort to develop each intrinsic gift, to establish a deep
breathing of each mind - a fulness of expression on the one hand, and a
selfless receptivity on the other. We can only breathe deeply when we
are at peace. This is true mentally as well as physically, and
soulfully, so far as one can see. The human fabric is at peace only when
its faculties are held in rhythm by the task designed for them.
Expression of to-day makes the mind ready for the inspiration of
to-morrow.

It may be well finally to make it clear that there is no personal
ambition here to become identified with education in the accepted sense.
Those who come bring nothing in their hands, and answer no call save
that which they are sensitive enough to hear without words. Hearing
that, they belong, indeed. Authorship is the work of Stonestudy, and
shall always be; but first and last is the conviction that literature
and art are but incident to life; that we are here to become masters of
life - artists, if possible, but in any case, men.

... To-day the glimpse of it all - that this is to be a book of the
younger generation.... I remember in the zeal of a novice, how earnestly
I planned to relate the joys of rose-culture, when some yellow teas came
into their lovely being in answer to the long preparation. It seemed to
me that a man could do little better for his quiet joy than to raise
roses; that nothing was so perfectly designed to keep romance perennial
in his soul. Then the truth appeared - greater things that were going on
here - the cultivation of young and living minds, minds still fluid,
eager to give their faith and take the story of life; minds that are
changed in an instant and lifted for all time, if the story is well
told.... So in the glimpse of this book as a whole, as it comes to-day
(an East wind rising and the gulls blown inland) I find that a man may
build a more substantial thing than a stone house, may realise an
intenser cultivation than even tea-roses require; and of this I want to
tell simply and with something of order from the beginning.

WILL LEVINGTON COMFORT.

STONESTUDY, March, 1916.




CONTENTS


PAGE

BEES AND BLOOMS 17

BLUFF AND SHORE 28

STONESTUDY 38

IMAGINATION 43

WILD GEESE 55

WORKMANSHIP 65

THE LITTLE GIRL 78

THE ABBOT 90

THE VALLEY-ROAD GIRL 102

COMPASSION 113

THE LITTLE GIRL'S WORK 123

TEARING-DOWN SENTIMENT 134

NATURAL CRUELTY 151

CHILDREN CHANGE 163

A MAN'S OWN 171

THE PLAN IS ONE 186

THE IRISH CHAPTER 196

THE BLEAKEST HOUR 202

THE NEW SOCIAL ORDER 217

COMMON CLAY BRICK 222

THE HIGHEST OF THE ARTS 230

MIRACLES 248

MORE ABOUT ORDER 259

THE FRESH EYE 270

THE CHOICE OF THE MANY 279

THE ROSE CHAPTER 284

LETTERS 294

THE ABBOT DEPARTS 301

THE DAKOTAN 313

THE DAKOTAN (_Continued_) 319

THE HILL ROCKS 330

ASSEMBLY OF PARTS 339




CHILD AND COUNTRY




CHILD AND COUNTRY




1

BEES AND BLOOMS


In another place,[1] I have touched upon our first adventure in the
country. It was before the children came. We went to live in a good
district, but there was no peace there. I felt _forgotten_. I had not
the stuff to stand that. My life was shallow and artificial enough then
to require the vibration of the town; and at the end of a few weeks it
was feverishly missed. The soil gave me nothing. I look back upon that
fact now with something like amazement, but I was young. Lights and
shining surfaces were dear; all waste and stimulation a part of
necessity, and that which the many rushed after seemed the things which
a man should have. Though the air was dripping with fragrance and the
early summer ineffable with fruit-blossoms, the sense of self poisoned
the paradise. I disdained even to make a place of order of that little
plot. There was no inner order in my heart - on the contrary, chaos in
and out. I had not been manhandled enough to return with love and
gratefulness to the old Mother. Some of us must go the full route of the
Prodigal, even to the swine and the husks, before we can accept the
healing of Nature.

So deep was the imprint of this experience that I said for years: "The
country is good, but it is not for me...." I loved to read about the
country, enjoyed hearing men talk about their little places, but always
felt a temperamental exile from their dahlias and gladioli and wistaria.
I knew what would happen to me if I went again to the country to live,
for I judged by the former adventure. Work would stop; all mental
activity would sink into a bovine rumination.

Yet during all these years, the illusions were falling away. It is true
that there is never an end to illusions, but they become more and more
subtle to meet our equipment. I had long since lost my love for the
roads of the many - the crowded roads that run so straight to pain. A
sentence had stood up again and again before me, that the voice of the
devil is the voice of the crowd.

Though I did not yet turn back to the land, I had come to see prolonged
city-life as one of the ranking menaces of the human spirit, though at
our present stage of evolution it appears a necessary school for a
time. Two paragraphs from an earlier paper on the subject suggest one of
the larger issues:

"The higher the moral and intellectual status of a people, the more
essential become space, leisure and soul-expression for bringing
children into the world. When evolving persons have reached
individuality, and the elements of greatness are formative within them,
they pay the price for reversion to worldliness in the extinction of
name. The race that produced Emerson and Thoreau and Whitman, that
founded our culture and gave us a name in English, is following the red
Indian _westward_ off the face of the earth.

"Trade makes the city; congestion makes for commonness and the death of
the individual. Only the younger and physical races, or the remnant of
that race of instinctive tradesmen which has failed as a spiritual
experiment, can exist in the midst of the tendencies and conditions of
metropolitan America. One of the most enthralling mysteries of life is
that children will not come to highly evolved men and women who have
turned back upon their spiritual obligations and clouded the vision
which was their birthright."

It is very clear to me that the Anglo-Saxons at least, after a
generation or two of town-life, must give up trade and emerge from the
City for the recreating part of their year, or else suffer in deeper
ways than death. The City will do for those younger-souled peoples that
have not had their taste of its cruel order and complicating pressures;
for the Mediterranean peoples already touched with decadence; for the
strong yet simple peasant vitalities of Northern Europe, but the flower
of the American entity has already remained too long in the ruck of
life.

There came a Spring at last in which there was but one elm-tree. The
rest was flat-buildings and asphalt and motor-puddled air. I was working
long in those April days, while the great elm-tree broke into life at
the window. There is a green all its own to the young elm-leaves, and
that green was all our Spring. Voices of the street came up through it,
and whispers of the wind. I remember one smoky moon, and there was a
certain dawn in which I loved, more strangely than ever, the cut-leaved
profile against the grey-red East. The spirit of it seemed to come to
me, and all that the elm-tree meant - hill-cabins and country dusks, bees
and blooms and stars, and the plain holy life of kindliness and
aspiration. In this dawn I found myself dreaming, thirsting, wasting for
all that the elm-tree knew - as if I were exiled from the very flesh that
could bring the good low earth to my senses again.

Could it be that something was changed within - that we were ready at
last? One of those Spring days, in the midst of a forenoon's work, I
stopped short with the will to go to the country to look for a place to
rent. I left the garret, found Penelope, who was ready in fifteen
minutes. We crossed the river first of all into Canada, because the
American side within fifty miles in every direction had been sorted over
again and again, by those who had followed just such an impulse. In the
smaller city opposite, we learned that there were two suburban cars - one
that would take us to the Lake St. Claire shore, and another that
crossed the country to Lake Erie, travelling along her northern
indentations for nearly ten miles.

"We'll take the car that leaves here first," said I.

It was the Erie car. In the smoking compartment I fell into conversation
with a countryman who told me all that could possibly be synthesised by
one mind regarding the locality we were passing through. He suggested
that we try our fortune in the little town where the car first meets the
Lake. This we did and looked up and down that Main Street. It was quiet
and quaint, but something pressed home to us that was not all joy - the
tightness of old scar-tissue in the chest.... The countryman came
running to us from the still standing car, though this was not his
destination, and pointing to a little grey man in the street, said:

"He can tell you more than I can."

I regarded the new person with awe if he could do that.... In a way it
was true. He was a leisurely-minded man, who knew what he was going to
say before he spoke, had it correctly in mind. The product came forth
edited. He called men by 'phone - names strange to me then that have
become household names since - while we sat by smiling and silent in his
little newspaper shop.... And those who came wanted to know if we drank,
when they talked of renting their cottages; and if we were actors.

Not that we looked like actors, but it transpired that actor-folk had
rented one of the cottages another year, and had sat up late and had not
always clothed themselves continually full-length. Once, other actor
people had motored down, and it was said that those on the back seats of
the car had been rigid among beer-cases.

We were given the values and disadvantages of the East shore and also of
the West shore, the town between.... Somehow we always turn to the East
in our best moments and it was so this day.... We were directed to the
house of a man who owned two little cottages just a mile from town. He
was not well that day, but his boy went with us to show the cottages.
That boy you shall be glad to know.

We walked together down the long lane, and I did not seem able to reach
our guide's heart, so we were silent, but Penelope came between us. He
would have been strange, indeed, had she failed.... I look back now
from where I sit - to that long lane. I love it very much for it led to
the very edge of a willowed bluff - to the end of the land. Erie brimmed
before us. It led to a new life, too.

I had always disliked Erie - as one who lived in the Lake Country and
chose his own. I approved mildly of St. Claire; Michigan awed me from a
little boy's summer; Huron was familiar from another summer, but Erie
heretofore had meant only something to be crossed - something shallow and
petulant. Here she lay in the sunlight, with bars of orange light
darkening to ocean blue, and one far sparkling line in the West. Then I
knew that I had wronged her. She seemed not to mind, but leisurely to
wait. We faced the South from the bluffs, and I thought of the stars
from this vantage.... If a man built his house here, he could explain
where he lived by the nearest map in a Japanese house, or in a Russian
peasant's house, for Erie to them is as clear a name as Baikal or the
Inland Sea is to us. I had heard Japanese children repeat the names of
the Great Lakes. When you come to a shore like this you are at the end
of the landscape. You must pause. Somehow I think - we are pausing still.
One must pause to project a dream.

... For weeks there, in a little rented place, we were so happy that we
hardly ventured to speak of it. We had expected so little, and had
brought such weariness. Day after day unfolded in the very fulness of
life, and the small flower-beds there on the stranger's land held the
cosmic answer. All that summer Jupiter marked time across the southern
heavens; and I shall never forget the sense of conquest in hiving the
first swarm of bees. They had to be carried on a branch down a deep
gulley, and several hundred feet beyond. Two-thirds of the huge cluster
were in the air about me, before the super was lifted. Yet there was not
a sting from the tens of thousands. We had the true thirst that year.
Little things were enough; we were innocent, even of possession, and
brought back to the good land all the sensitizing that the City had
given. There were days in which we were so happy - that another summer of
such life would have seemed too much to ask.

I had lived three weeks, when I remembered that formerly I read
newspapers, and opened the nearest. The mystery and foreignness of it
was as complete as the red fire of Antares that gleamed so balefully
every night across the Lake - a hell of trials and jealousy and suicide,
obscenity and passion. It all came up from the sheet to my nostrils like
the smell of blood.

* * * * *

... There are men and women in town who are dying for the country;
literally this is so, and such numbers of them that any one who lives
apart from the crowds and calls forth guests from time to time, can
find these sufferers among his little circle of friends. They come here
for week-ends and freshen up like newly watered plants - turning back
with set faces early Monday morning. I think of a flat of celery plants
that have grown to the end of the nourishment of their crowded space,
and begin to yellow and wither, sick of each other.... One does not say
what one thinks. It is not a simple thing for those whose life and work
is altogether identified with the crowded places, to uproot for roomy
planting in the country. But the fact remains, many are dying to be
free.

The City, intolerable as it is in itself - in its very nature against the
growth of the body and soul of man after a certain time - is nevertheless
the chief of those urging forces which shall bring us to simplicity and
naturalness at the last. Manhood is built quite as much by learning to
avoid evil as by cultivating the aspiration for the good.

Just as certainly as there are thousands suffering for the freedom of
spaces, far advanced in a losing fight of vitality against the cruel
tension of city life, there are whole races of men who have yet to meet
and pass through this terrifying complication of the crowds, which
brings a refining gained in no other way. All growth is a passage
through hollows and over hills, though the journey regarded as a whole
is an ascent.

A great leader of men who has never met the crowds face to face is
inconceivable. He must have fought for life in the depths and
pandemoniums, to achieve that excellence of equipment which makes men
turn to him for his word and his strength. We are so made that none of
us can remain sensitive to prolonged beauty; neither can we endure
continuously the stifling hollows between the hills. Be very sure the
year-round countryman does not see what you see coming tired and
half-broken from the town; and those who are caught and maimed by the
City cannot conceive their plight, as do you, returning to them again
from the country replenished and refreshed.

The great names of trade have been country-bred boys, but it is equally
true that the most successful farmers of to-day are men who have
returned to Nature from the town, some of them having been driven to the
last ditch physically and commanded to return or die. It is in the
turnings of life that we bring a fresh eye to circumstances and events.

Probably in a nation of bad workmen, no work is so stupidly done as the
farming. Great areas of land have merely been scratched. There are men
within an hour's ride from here who plant corn in the same fields every
year, and check it throughout in severing the lateral roots by deep
cultivation. They and their fathers have planted corn, and yet they have
not the remotest idea of what takes place in their fields during the
long summer from the seedling to the full ear; and very rarely in the
heart of the countryman is there room for rapture. Though they have the
breadth of the horizon line and all the skies to breathe in, few men
look up more seldom.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Midstream, 1914, George H. Doran Co., New York.




2

BLUFF AND SHORE


There is no playground like a sandy shore - and this was sheltered from
the north by a high clay bluff that tempered all voices from below and
made a sounding board for the winds. The beach, however, was not as
broad then as now. To the east for a mile is a shallow sickle of shore
with breakers on the point. In itself this indentation is but a squab of
the main Pigeon Bay, which stretches around for twenty miles and is
formed of Pelee Point, the most southern extension of Canada. The nearer
and lesser point is like a bit of the Mediterranean. It takes the greys
of the rain-days with a beauty and power of its own, and the mornings
flash upon it. I call it the Other Shore, a structure of idealism
forming upon it from much contemplation at the desk. The young people
turn to it often from the classes.

The height of land from which the Other Shore is best visible had merely
been seen so far from the swimming place in front of the rented
cottages. It was while in the water that I determined to explore. The
first thing that impressed me when I reached the eminence was the
silence. It was something to be dreamed of, when the Lake was also
still. There was no road; a hay field came down to the very edge of the
bluff, and the shore fifty feet below was narrow and rocky. Very few
people passed there. That most comfortable little town was lying against
the rear horizon to the West. I used to come in the evenings and smoke
as the sun went down. Sometimes the beauty of it was all I could
bear - the voices of children in the distance and the Pelee light
flashing every seven seconds far out in the Lake.


1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18

Online LibraryWill Levington ComfortChild and country; a book of the younger generation → online text (page 1 of 18)