CITY AND COUNTRY
By William Lyon Phelps
It is generally assumed that the country is more romantic, more poetical than the city; but it would not be so easy to prove this, if one were put to the test. "God made the country and man made the town," said William Cowper, which meant simply that he preferred rural life.
It is rather amusing to consider that in our age, which is so often called the age of machines, and when many people are afraid that simplicity and individuality will be lost, country places, mountain scenery, and the wilderness are more popular
than ever before.
Now there are fashions in outdoor nature just as there are fashions in clothes. Today every-one must profess a love for mountains whether one really likes them or not; for mountains are very fashionable. Switzerland is the play-ground of the world; and the inhabitants make a larger income off their barren rocks than most communities make off fertile and productive plains.
But it is only within two hundred years that mountains have been generally admired. Before that time they were usually regarded as ugly excrescences, both disagreeable and dangerous; and at the best they were no more to be regarded as objects of beauty than pimples.
English gentlemen who made the Grand Tour in the seventeenth century thought the Alps were disgusting; they were a monstrous and abominable barrier that must be crossed before the traveller could reach the smiling landscape of Italy.
When Addison wrote home from his travels in 1701, he said that he had had "a very trouble-some journey over the Alps. My head is still giddy with mountains and precipices; and you can't imagine how much I am pleased with the sight of a plain!"
Such a remark would injure the reputation of a modern pilgrim; but Addison made it in perfect good faith, and with no apology.
Perhaps some of our contemporary love of wild scenery is owing to the comfortable circumstances in which we behold it; transportation, tunnels, fine hotels, luxuries of every description enable us to view mountains in security and serenity; but if we had to pass over them in acute discomfort and in constant danger, our attitude might be more like Addison's. This by no means explains why the once "horrid" has
become fashionable; but it helps to explain the modern love of wild scenery.
Had Addison been told that two centuries later people would build hotels on the edge of Alpine precipices, he would have dismissed the idea as a silly dream; no one would put a road-house there. "But, Mr. Addison, I am not talk ing of roadhouses. These hotels are not on the way to something else; they are not a means, they are an end. People will travel three thousand miles from California to New York, sail three thousand miles from New York to Europe just to spend the summer in a mountain hotel, where it costs twenty dollars a day-" he would have regarded the coming generation as idiotic.
It was Thomas Gray, author of the Elegy, who was one of the first English travellers to see the beauty of the Alps, and it was he therefore who is originally responsible for making them fash-ionable. He and Horace Walpole drove over the mountains in a chaise, and Gray wrote to his friend West, "Not a precipice, not a torrent, not a cliff, but is pregnant with religion and poetry.
There are certain scenes that would awe an atheist into belief." This was a new note in literature.
It is my belief that mountains and wild scenery are more appreciated today by citified folk who love them for the change and novelty than they are by those who are forced to live among them all the time. When I was young, I walked with three of my college mates from New Haven to the White Mountains; it was a fine expedition, and took us some three weeks. I remember toward twilight on a certain day we entered a gorge and passed through into a place surrounded by austere mountains.
A farmer addressed us: "Where do you boys come from?"
He slowly and solemnly repeated the word CONN-ECT-ICUT-as though he were saying MESOPOTAMIA, and added, "My, I'd like to see Connecticut."
We told him it was not so very remark-able. "We have no such mountains as these in Con-necticut." He replied, "Oh, damn these mountains! I'm sick of the sight of them." And it appeared that he had never been out of that valley.
I spend a quarter of my life in the country, and love it, but if I had to choose between living all my life in the country or in a large city, I should choose the city immediately. And I believe this is true of most people.
A crowd of unemployed some years ago stood in line at the Detroit city hall. A man came up and offered every one in turn good wages, good food, a good place to sleep, and plenty of fresh air, if he would take for the summer a job on a farm. Every one of the men laughed at him.
Some of us more fortunate folks are irritated by this, for in America everybody thinks that every body else ought to be a farmer. But the truth is that man does not live by bread alone. People do not live in order to live-merely for healthy surroundings and good food. They want excitement, they want something interesting.
Who can blame them? Don't you feel that way yourself ?
We should all contribute to the Fresh Air Funds, because little children of the slums ought to have a chance to see unimpaired nature. But very few of the children would be willing to stay there, and in some cases after a few days they are homesick for their native filth. The city is one continuous theatre, admission free; the street is the best playground in this world. There is a fire, a street fight, the appearance of policemen,
an arrest, an automobile accident-all the day and all the night, "something doing."
Thus it is not at all strange that the majority prefer the crowded conditions of the slums to the fresh air of the country; for other things being equal, isn't that about the way we all feel?