Country Life

"Country Life" was the opening lecture of a course given by Mr. Emerson at the Freeman Place Chapel in Boston, in March, 1858. It was followed by "Works and Days" (printed in Society and Solitude), "Powers of the Mind," "Natural Method of Mental Philosophy," "Memory" (the matter of these three mostly now found in Natural History of Intellect), and "Self Possession." "Concord Walks," which will be printed in connection with "Country Life" in the last volume of the Centenary Edition of Mr. Emerson's works, was originally a part of the lecture, as given by him to his neighbors in the village Lyceum.—Edward W. Emerson
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The Teutonic race have been marked in all ages by a trait which has received the name of Earth-hunger, a love of possessing land. It is not less visible in that branch of the family which inhabits America. Nor is it confined to farmers, speculators, and filibusters, or conquerors. The land, the care of land, seems to be the calling of the people of this new country, of those, at least, who have not some decided bias, driving them to a particular craft, as a born sailor or machinist. The capable and generous, let them spend their talent on the land. Plant it, adorn it, study it,—it will develop in the cultivator the talent it requires.

The avarice of real estate, native to us all, covers instincts of great generosity, namely, all that is called the love of nature, comprising the largest use and the whole beauty of a farm or landed estate. Travel and walking have this apology, that nature has impressed on savage men periodical or secular impulses to emigrate, as upon lemmings, rats and birds. The Indians go in summer to the coast for fishing; in winter, to the woods. The nomads wander over vast territory, to find their pasture. Other impulses hold us to other habits. As the increasing population finds new values in the ground the nomad life is given up for settled homes. But the necessity of exercise and the nomadic instinct are always stirring the wish to travel, and in the spring and summer it commonly gets the victory. Chaucer notes of the month of April,

Than longen folk to goon on pilgrymages,
And palmers for to seken straunge strandes,
To ferne halwes, couthe in sondry loudes.

And, in the country, nature is always inviting to the compromise of walking as soon as we are released from severe labor. Linnæus, early in life, read a discourse at the University of Upsala On the necessity of travelling in one's own country, based on the conviction that nature was inexhaustibly rich, and that in every district were swamps, or beaches, or rocks, or mountains, which were now nuisances, but, if explored and turned to account, were capable of yielding immense benefit. At Upsala, therefore, he instituted what were called herborizations: he summoned his class to go with him on excursions on foot into the country, to collect plants, and insects, birds, and eggs. These parties started at seven in the morning, and stayed out till nine in the evening; the Professor was generally attended by two hundred students, and, when they returned, they marched through the streets of Upsala in a festive procession, with flowers in their hats, to the music of drums and trumpets, and with loads of natural productions collected on the way.

Let me remind you what this walker found in his walks. He went into Oland, and found that the farms on the shore were perpetually encroached on by the sea, and ruined by blowing sand. He discovered that the arundo arenaris, or beach grass, had long firm roots, and he taught them to plant it for the protection of their shores. In Tornea, he found the people suffering every spring from the loss of their cattle, which died by some frightful distemper, to the number of fifty or a hundred in a year. Linnæus walked out to examine the meadow into which they were first turned out to grass, and found it a bog, where the water-hemlock grew in abundance, and had evidently been cropped plentifully by the animals in feeding. He found the plant also dried in their cut hay. He showed them that the whole evil might be prevented by employing a woman for a month to eradicate the noxious plants. When the shipyards were infested with rot, Linnæus was sent to provide some remedy. He studied the insects that infested the timber, and found that they laid their eggs in the logs within certain days in April, and he directed that during ten days, at that time of the year, the logs should be immersed under the water, which being done, the timber was found to be uninjured.

He found that the gout, to which he was subject, was cured by wood-strawberries. He had other remedies. When Kalm returned from America, Linnæus was laid up with severe gout. But the joy in his return, and the curiosity to see his plants, restored him instantly, and he found an old friend as good as the treatment by wood-strawberries. He learned the secret of making pearls in the riverpearl mussel. He found out that a terrible distemper which sometimes proves fatal in the North of Europe, was occasioned by an animalcule, which he called Furia infernalis, which falls from the air on the face, or hand, or other uncovered part, burrows into it, multiplies, and kills the sufferer. By timely attention, it is easily extracted.

He examined eight thousand plants; and examined fishes, insects, birds, quadrupeds; and distributed the animal, vegetable and mineral kingdoms. And if, instead of running about in the hotels and theatres of Europe, we would manlike see what grows, or might grow, in Massachusetts, stock its gardens, drain its bogs, plant its miles and miles of barren waste with oak and pine; and following what is usually the natural suggestion of these pursuits, ponder the moral secrets which, in her solitudes, Nature has to whisper to us, we were better patriots and happier men.

We have the finest climate in the world, for this purpose, in Massachusetts. If we have coarse days, and dogdays, and white days, and days that are like iceblinks, we have also yellow days, and crystal days,—days which are neither hot nor cold, but the perfection of temperature. New England has a good climate,—yet, in choosing a farm, we like a Southern exposure, whilst Massachusetts, it must be owned, is on the Northem slope, towards the Arctic circle, and the Pole. Our climate is a series of surprises, and among our many prognostics of the weather, the only trustworthy one that I know is that, when it is warm, it is a sign that it is going to be cold. The climate needs, therefore, to be corrected by a little anthracite coal,—a little coal indoors, during much of the year, and thick coats and shoes must be recommended to walkers. I own I prefer the solar to the polar climates. "I have no enthusiasm for nature," said a French writer, "which the slightest chill will not instantly destroy."

But we cannot overpraise the comfort and the beauty of the climate in the best days of the year. In summer, we have for weeks a sky of Calcutta, yielding the richest growth, maturing plants which require strongest sunshine, and scores of days when the heat is so rich, and yet so tempered, that it is delicious to live.

The importance to the intellect of exposing the body and brain to the fine mineral and imponderable agents of the air makes the chief interest in the subject. "So exquisite is the structure of the cortical glands," said the old physiologist Malpighi, "that when the atmosphere is ever so slightly vitiated or altered, the brain is the first part to sympathize and to undergo a change of state." We are very sensible of this, when, in midsummer, we go to the seashore, or to mountains, or when, after much confinement to the house, we go abroad into the landscape, with any leisure to attend to its soothing and expanding influences. The power of the air was the first explanation offered by the early philosophers of the mutual understanding that men have. "The air," said Anaximenes, "is the soul, and the essence of life. By breathing it, we become intelligent, and, because we breathe the same air, understand one another." Plutarch thought it contained the knowledge of the future. "If it be true, that souls are naturally endowed with the faculty of prediction, and that the chief cause that excites that faculty is a certain temperature of air and winds," etc. Even Lord Bacon said, "The Stars inject their imagination or influence into the air."

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