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Ten Acres Enough
Chapter I.—City Experiences—Moderate Expectations


My life, up to the age of forty, had been spent in my native city of Philadelphia. Like thousands of others before me, I began the world without a dollar, and with a very few friends in a condition to assist me. Having saved a few hundred dollars by dint of close application to business, and avoiding taverns, oyster-houses, theatres, and fashionable tailors, I married and went into business the same year. These two contemporaneous drafts upon my little capital proving heavier than I expected, they soon used it up, leaving me thereafter greatly straitened for means. It is true my business kept me, but as it was constantly expanding, and was of such a nature that a large proportion of my annual gain was neces­sarily invested in tools, fixtures, and machinery, I was nearly always short of ready cash to carry on my operations with comfort. At certain times, also, it ceased to be profitable. The crisis of 1837 nearly ruined me, and I was kept struggling along during the five succeeding years of hard times, until the revival of 1842 came round. Previous to this crisis, necessity had driven me to the banks for discounts, one of the sore evils of doing business upon insufficient capital. As is always the case with these in­stitutions, they compelled me to return the borrowed money at the very time it was least convenient for me to do so—they needed it as urgently as myself. But to refund them I was compelled to borrow else­where, and that too at excessive rates of interest, thus increasing the burden while laboring to shake it off.

Thousands have gone through the same unhappy experience, and been crushed by the load. Such can anticipate my trials and privations. Yet I was not insolvent. My property had cost me far more than I owed, yet if offered for sale at a time when the whole community seemed to want money only, no one could have been found to give cost. I could not use it as the basis of a loan, neither could I part with it without abandoning my business. Hence I struggled on through that exhausting crisis, haunted by perpetual fears of being dishonored at bank,—lying down at night, not to peaceful slumber, but to dream of fresh expedients to preserve my credit for to-mor­row. I have sometimes thought that the pecuniary cares of that struggle were severe enough to have shortened my life, had they been much longer pro­tracted.

Besides the mental anxieties they occasioned, they compelled a pinching economy in my family. But in this latter effort I discovered my wife to be a jewel of priceless value, coming up heroically to the task, and relieving me of a world of care. Without her aid, her skill, her management, her uncomplaining cheerfulness, her sympathy in struggles so inade­quately rewarded as mine were, I should have sunk into utter bankruptcy. Her economy was not the mean, penny-wise, pound foolish policy which many mistake for true economy. It was the art of calculation joined to the habit of order, and the power of proportioning our wishes to the means of gratifying them. The little pilfering temper of a wife is despi­cable and odious to every man of sense; but there is a judicious, graceful economy, which has no con­nection with an avaricious temper, and which, as it depends upon the understanding, can be expected only from cultivated minds. Women who have been well educated, far from despising domestic duties, will hold them in high respect, because they will see that the whole happiness of life is made up of the happi­ness of each particular day and hour, and that much of the enjoyment of these must depend upon the punctual practice of virtues which are more valuable than splendid.

If I survived that crisis, it was owing to my wife's admirable management of my household expenses. She saw that our embarrassment was due to no imprudence or neglect of mine. She thus consented to severe privations, uttering no complaint, hinting no reproach, never disheartened, and so rarely out of humor that she never failed to welcome my return with a smile.

But in this country one convulsion follows another with disheartening frequency. I lived through that of 1837, paid my debts, and had managed to save some money. My wife's system of economy had been so long adhered to, that in the end it became to some extent habitual to her, and she still continued to practice great frugality. I became insensibly accustomed to it myself. Children were multiplying around us, and we thought the skies had brightened for all future time. When in difficulty, we had often debated the propriety of quitting the city and its terrible business trials, and settling on a few acres in the country, where we could raise our own food, and spend the remainder of our days in cultivating ground which would be sure to yield us at least a re­spectable subsistence. We had no longing for excessive wealth: a mere competency, though earned by daily toil, so that it was reasonably sure, and free from the drag of continued indebtedness to others, was all we coveted.

I had always loved the country, but my wife preferred the city. I could take no step but such as would be likely to promote her happiness. So long as times continued fair, we ceased to canvass the propriety of a removal. We had children to educate, and to her the city seemed the best and most convenient place for qualifying them for future usefulness. Then, most of our relations resided near us. Our habits were eminently social. We had made numerous friends, and among our neighbors there had turned up many valuable families. We felt even the thought of breaking away from all these cordial ties to be a trying one. But the refuge of a removal to the country had taken strong hold of my mind.

Indeed it may be said that I was born with a passion for living on a farm. It was fixed and strengthened by my long experience of the business vicissi­tudes of city life. For many years I had been a constant subscriber for several agricultural journals, whose contents I read as carefully as I did those of the daily papers. My wife also, being a great reader, came in time to study them almost as attentively. Everything I saw in them only tended to confirm my longing for the country, while they gave definite views of what kind of farming I was fit for. In fact they educated me for the position before I assumed it. I am sure they exercised a powerful influence in removing most of my wife's objections to living in the country. I studied their contents as carefully as did the writers who prepared them. I watched the reports of crops, of experiments, and of profits. The leading idea in my mind was this—that a man of ordinary industry and intelligence, by choosing a proper location within hourly reach of a great city market, could so cultivate a few acres as to insure a maintenance for his family, free from the ruinous vibrations of trade or commerce in the metropolis. All my reading served to convince me of its soundness. I did not assume that he could get rich on the few acres which I ever expected to own; but I felt assured that he could place himself above want. I knew that his peace of mind would be sure. With me this was dearer than all. My reading had satisfied me that such a man would find Ten Acres Enough, and these I could certainly command.

As I did not contemplate undertaking the management of a large grain farm, so my studies did not run in that direction. Yet I read everything that came before me in relation to such, and not without profit. But I graduated my views to my means, and so noted with the utmost care the experiences of the small cultivators who farmed five to ten acres thoroughly. I noted their failures as watchfully as their successes, knowing that the former were to be avoided, as the latter were to be imitated. As opportunity offered, I made repeated excursions, year after year, in every direction around Philadelphia, visiting the small farmers or truckers who supplied the city market with fruit and vegetables, examining, inquiring, and treasuring up all that I saw and heard. The fund of knowledge thus acquired was not only prodigious, but it has been of lasting value to me in my subsequent operations. I found multitudes of truckers who were raising large families on five acres of ground, while others, owning only thirty acres, had become rich.

On most of these numerous excursions I was careful to have my wife with me. I wanted her to see and hear for herself, and by convincing her judgment, to overcome her evidently diminishing reluctance to leaving the city. My uniform consideration for her comfort at last secured the object I had in view. She saw so many homes in which a quiet abundance was found, so many contented men and women, so many robust and bouncing children, that long before I was ready to leave the city, she was quite impatient to be gone.


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