« PreviousContinue »
The relations which exist between wealth and those works of art that adorn and beautify a country, have not received that degree of attention which their influence on the economy of communities would seem to demand. Having observed that architecture and other arts, designed to improve and gratify the taste, are always associated with wealth, men have been led to regard them in the light of parasites possessing no power to affect the financial or social condition of communities in which they are not fostered. But, upon investigation, it will be found that although the embellishments of a city or country may be the offspring of wealth, yet they become in time its most efficient and firmest supporters.
A superior order of architecture, displayed in public and private buildings ; public parks and gardens skilfully designed and tastefully ornamented; artificial fountains and pleasant villas, possess permanent attractions which continually draw wealth from the remotest borders of civilization. Thither resort the pretenders to taste as well as those who possess true refinement; and he who by the toil of many years has accumulated a competency there establishes his abode, and there enjoys the wealth acquired in some distant and less improved region. Such has been the influence of the ornamental arts in every age and in all countries. And although none of our American cities can boast of a high degree of excellence in works of this nature, yet owing to the neglect of architecture and other ornamental improvements in civic and rural districts, the artistic attractions of the eastern cities exert a most potent influence on the financial condition of the interior—especially in the southern and western states.
The money expended in traveling, including board at hotels and admission to places of amusement, is totally lost to the community in which it was produced. And while it serves to swell the volume of wealth and increase the power of capital at the principal points of popular attraction, the producing districts become poorer and less able to encourage the ornamental arts at home. Of this we have striking instances in the economical history and present condition of the older states of the South; and we have to regret that their example in this respect has thus far been copied by the people of the west.
As much as we deprecate our present system of commerce, with its constant tendency to draw the money capital of the nation to one point, yet we are persuaded that even that is less ruinous in its effects than the prevailing custom of traveling east for amusement. In our commercial transactions, though carried on under a system which operates against us, we receive something in exchange for our commodities; but for the money which our citizens spend in their travels the country receives nothing in return.
We ask the people of the South and West, if it be possible for their country to prosper and increase in wealth so long as this custom continues. This evil, though long existing, is becoming more apparent each succeeding year. Now, as soon as the buds of spring appear, thousands begin to prepare for a trip to the east; and, that they may not be short of funds, they collect their dues with great severity: while they defer the payment of their own small debts until their return in autumn; and, consequently, by midsummer the smaller channels of circulation are as dry as the ravines of a desert. Owing to these causes, during that season of the year when the handy craftsman and others who rely upon their vocations for support should be most profitably engaged they are left almost without employment, and experience great difficulty in supplying themselves and families with the necessaries of life. The same causes are also breaking down our retail merchants,—especially those who deal in the more costly kind of goods, -- for their customers are not only absent for several months of the year, but, while on their travels, make purchases to supply their wants after their return.
If this system continues, the handycraftsmen, who constitute by
far the larger portion of the manufacturing population in every country, will cease to seek employment and a home in the west; and we shall, every year, become more dependent upon the east for the ordinary appliances of comfort.
If a people, highly intelligent, jealous of their political rights, enterprising and ardent in the pursuit of wealth and, withal, patriotic and proud of their country, permit themselves to be drawn into habits and customs which tend to exhaust the region they occupy of all that can make it desirable, it is strong proof that notwithstanding the discoveries and improvements of the age there are yet defects in our modern system of civilization, which will in time, if not corrected, prove fatal to its progress.
The danger would seem to lie in placing too high an estimate upon new and extraordinary facilities of producing and exchanging useful commodities ; while we neglect to guard against the centralizing tendency of Capital and Commerce.
A system of civilization, to be enduring, must be diffused: its burthens should be borne and its benefits enjoyed in an equal degree by all its constituents; else while one portion progresses, the other will retrograde, until revolution becomes necessary for the purpose of severing their relations or of placing the parties upon a more equal footing.
Objects necessary to the enjoyment of a high state of civilization, – which cannot be transported from place to place — should be located or produced at convenient and proper places throughout the land; or a portion of the people can never enjoy the benefits which they are calculated to impart. Architecture and horticulture may be regarded as essential elements of a refined civilization. Architecture elevates man’s estimate of his own dignity in the scale of beings: Horticulture harmonizes his feelings with external nature ; enlarges and refines his social qualities, and brings him into communion with the author of the universe. The two combined inspire man with self-respect, social love, patriotism and devotion.
The ancients comprehended the value and influence of a refined architecture and other embellishments; and it was the policy of their more distinguished rulers to signalize their government and perpetuate their names by embellishing their principal cities with works of art.
In a republican government like ours such works must be left
chiefly to the taste and enterprise of the citizens, for the legislature possesses no power over the subject. The civic governments however may do much to adorn their respective cities. Their constituents are inmediately interested in checking the current of traveling to the east, and the system of absenteeism that is gradually developing itself in the west; and they should do every thing in their power to make the residence of the citizen and the sojourn of the stranger agreeable.
We verily believe that a reasonable amount appropriated to the purchase and embellishment of grounds, for public resort, and other improvements which are obviously needed, would be more beneficial to the city of St. Louis, than if subscribed for the construction of railways, either to the east or west. For these railways, when completed, will serve but to facilitate the escape of.our citizens from a place that possesses few attractions as a residence, at least during the summer season.
How can one, whose feelings and interests are identified with the west, contemplate our present relations with the east, and the consequences to which they must lead, without experiencing a sense of profound humiliation, which should induce him to do everything in his power to produce a change. But how is this change to be effected?
It were easy to prescribe a remedy which would save to individuals all the expense of travelling, and to the community the inconvenience arising from a scarcity of money, if our people could be persuaded to forego the enjoyment of their accustomed indulgences for a season with a view to the attainment of objects far more excellent. But this is an old argument which has been urged upon mankind, since the period of the deluge, with but little effect. The manners and habits of a people are interwoven with their most cherished reminiscences, and constitute a part of their nature; and hence it is scarcely practicable to abolish or change them by arguments addressed to their reason. One who would reform the follies and vices of a community should begin by sowing the seeds of wisdom and virtue ; and rely upon the skilfull cultivation and vigorous growth of these to root out and destroy the poisonous plants that incumber and exhaust the moral field.
We must counteract and supplant the propensity and general desire to travel abroad by encouraging, at home, the production of objects similar to those which attract our people to distant lands.