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XLII. city and country living.

The newspapers are circulating a curious statement by Mr. Grant Allen--who is understood to be a Canadian by birth and an Englishman by residence — to the effect that Americans do not like country life, and that those who are able to do so flee from the rural regions as if there were a pestilence there. This is a curious caricature of the real facts-almost as curious as when the same writer finds something melancholy in the dandelions and violets, the asters and golden-rod, along our roadsides, and condemns them all as “weeds.” he evidently has not tried, with Lowell, to “win the secret of a weed's plain heart,” and to him probably the gorse and heather of Scotland or the stately English foxglove would be “nothing but weeds.”

The mistake he makes is in regarding this tendency to cities as in any way an American monopoly. It is, in truth, a feature of modern civilization. Owen Pike, in his remarkable work, “The history of Crime in England,” has shown that this very tendency has been in operation among our English [213] kinsfolk ever since the reign of Edward II. (1307-1327), that is, for more than five centuries. In Edward's time the rural population of England was about eleven-twelfths, or more than ninety-one per cent., of the whole. In the year 1861 it had fallen to forty per cent., and in 1871 to thirty-eight per cent. Pike attributes this change mainly to the great inventors of the last and the present centuries, who have created new and remunerative occupations. “In the great bulk of the nation,” he says, “they have substituted town life for country life.” 1 This is a far stronger statement than could be made of the most thickly settled parts of the United States; and with our nation as a whole “the great bulk” is still enormously in the ranks of rural life.

It would be easy to show that this change goes far beyond the English-speaking nations. The concentration of French life in Paris has long been seen and lamented, and it has extended so far that the provinces are hardly credited with independent opinions. “To ask what the provinces think,” said a celebrated Frenchman, “is like asking what a man's legs think.” The practice of subdividing small rural properties everywhere had tended, it was supposed, to anchor the French peasantry to the soil, and yet the latest observers point out that this tic is wholly [214] ineffectual. In the first number of the Quarterly Journal of Economics its enlightened Paris correspondent, Arthur Mangin, says that in France “the development of industrial labor and the great works undertaken by the State and by .cities have brought about a steady emigration of peasants to the cities, and a rise in agricultural wages, which in some regions is from 200 to 300 per cent.” 2 Even in Russia, the newspapers tell us, anxiety is felt at the tendency of the former serfs to abandon their lands, and congregate around larger employers of labor or else in cities.

But the true solution of the matter appears to lie in a direction where Mr. Allen, perhaps from having made too rapid a trip through “the States,” has failed to find it. In the older parts of the American Union, side by side with the abandonment of the rural regions as the sole or permanent residence, has come up an enormous increase of those who are, so to speak, double residents of city and country — the one in the winter, the other in the summer. In the mild winters of England, where there is not a month in the year in which some flower does not bloom out-of-doors, and hardly one in which some bird does not build its nest, this distinction is less sharp; and Americans are always surprised to find [215] their English cousins staying in the country till Christmas, and then in London till July. But in our Northern States the distinction of seasons is so very marked as to be destined to mould the permanent habit of our people, and a marked change has begun within forty years. Before that time almost every one lived either in city or country, and few had a home in each. Now, with the more well-to-do classes, the alternation is becoming universal; the sea — side, from Campobello to Chesapeake Bay, is becoming one long line of summer cottages or hotels; and in the wildest mountain regions the traveller comes suddenly upon vast lighted corridors with city luxuries and prices, billiards and lawn-tennis. The summer vacation itself is in its present form a recent evolution; schools that formerly gave but three or four weeks now give eight, and Harvard University, which in 1846 had but six weeks of such interval, has now fourteen.

All this extraordinary change is a tribute to summer, and to the summer habits of the people. We flee from the country in October or November, but only to return to it in May or June. In other words, we are adapting our social life to the characteristics of the American climate. That the final arrangement has been reached it is impossible to say, and the present fancy in our Northern Atlantic States for tobogganing and other Canadian winter [216] sports may point to some further modification. But at present it may certainly be claimed that in the most thickly settled parts of the nation there is a distinct acceptance of the old English maxim, “All summer in the field, all winter in the study.” Those who have the right of choice will not forego, if they can help it, the winter pleasures of the city or the town, its lighted streets, its gay passers-by, its social intercourse, its concerts, theatres, libraries. But neither will they forego the rural or sea-side enjoyments of the summer. When the season of migration comes, you can no more hold them back than you could keep back the bluebirds and the orioles.

1 “ The History of Crime in England,” vol. II., p. 409.

2 Quarterly Journal of Economics, p. 98.

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