xt7qft8dg500 https://exploreuk.uky.edu/dips/xt7qft8dg500/data/mets.xml Comfort, Will Levington, 1878-1932. 1916  books b92-190-30610480 English George H. Doran, : New York : Contact the Special Collections Research Center for information regarding rights and use of this collection. Education. Country life. Child and country  : a book of the younger generation / by Will Levington Comfort. text Child and country  : a book of the younger generation / by Will Levington Comfort. 1916 2002 true xt7qft8dg500 section xt7qft8dg500 


        LoT  COMPANY
        RED FLEECE

          NEW YORK



and Country

     A Book of the
  Younger Generation


         NEW YORK


      Copyright, 19x6,


          TO THOSE




 This page in the original text is blank.



  . . . To-day the first glimpse of this manu-
script as a whole. It was all detached pieces be-
fore, done over a period of many months, with
many intervening tasks, the main idea slightly
drifting from time to time. . . . The purpose on
setting out, was to relate the adventure of home-
making in the country, with its incidents of ma-
sonry, child and rose culture, and shore-conserva-
tion. It was not to tell others how to build a
house or plant a garden, or how to conduct one's
life on a shore-acre or two. Not at this late day.
I was impelled rather to relate how we found
plenty with a little; how we entered upon a new
dimension of health and length of days; and from
the safe distance of the desk, I wanted to laugh
over a city man's adventures with drains and east
winds, country people and the meshes of posses-
  In a way, our second coming to the country
was like the landing of the Swiss Family Robin-
son upon that little world of theirs in the midst
                    [ vii ]

                FORE WORD
of the sea. Town life had become a subtle perse-
cution. We hadn't been wrecked exactly, but
there had been times in which we were torn and
weary, understanding only vaguely that it was
the manner of our days in the midst of the crowd
that was dulling the edge of health and taking
the bloom from life. I had long been troubled
about the little children in school-the winter
sicknesses, the amount of vitality required to resist
contagions, mental and physical-the whole
tendency of the school toward making an efficient
and a uniform product, rather than to develop the
intrinsic and inimitable gift of each child.
  We entered half-humorously upon the educa-
tion of children at home, but out of this activity
emerged the main theme of the days and the work
at hand. The building of a house proved a nat-
ural setting for that; gardens and woods and
shore rambles are a part; the new poetry and all
the fine things of the time belong most intensely
to that. Others of the coming generation gath-
ered about the work here; and many more rare
young beings who belong, but have not yet come,
send us letters from the fronts of their struggle.
  It has all been very deep and dramatic to me,
a study of certain builders of to-morrow taking
their place higher and higher day by day in the
thought and action of our life. They have given
me more than I could possibly give them. They
have monopolised the manuscript. Chapter after
                    [ vi ]


chapter are before me-revelations they have
brought-and over all, if I can express it, is a
dream of the education of the future. So the
children and the twenty-year-olds are on every
page almost, even in the title.
  Meanwhile the world-madness descended, and
all Europe became a spectacle. There is no in-
clination to discuss that, although there have been
days of quiet here by the fire in which it seemed
that we could see the crumbling of the rock of
ages and the glimmering of the New Age above
the red chaos of the East. And standing a little
apart, we perceived convincing signs of the long-
promised ignition on the part of America-signs
as yet without splendour, to be sure. These things
have to do with the very breath we draw; they
relate themselves to our children and to every
conception of home-not the war itself, but the
forming of the new social order, the message
thrilling for utterance in the breasts of the rising
generation. For they are the builders who are
to follow the wreckers of war.
  Making a place to live on the lake shore, the
development of bluff and land, the building of
study and stable and finally the stone house (a
pool of water in the centre, a roof open to the
sunlight, the outer walls broken with chimneys for
the inner fires), these are but exterior cultiva-
tions, the establishment of a visible order that is
                     [ ix ]


but a symbol of the intenser activity of the natures
   Quiet, a clean heart, a fragrant fire, a press
for garments, a bin of food, a friendly neighbour, a
stretch of distance from the casements-these are
sane desirable matters to gather together; but the
fundamental of it all is, that they correspond to a
picture of the builder's ideal. There is a bleak-
ness about buying one's house built; in fact, a
man cannot really possess anything unless he has
an organised receptivity-a conception of its util-
ities that has come from long need. A man might
buy the most perfect violin, but it is nothing more
than a curio to him unless he can bring out its
wisdom. It is the same in mating with a woman
or fathering a child.
  There is a good reason why one man keeps pigs
and another bees, why one man plants petunias
and another roses, why the many can get along
with maples when elms and beeches are to be
had, why one man will exchange a roomful of
man-fired porcelain for one bowl of sunlit ala-
baster. No chance anywhere. We call unto our-
selves that which corresponds to our own key and
tempo; and so long as we live, there is a con-
tinual re-adjustment without, the more unerringly
to meet the order within.
  The stone house is finished, roses have bloomed,
but the story of the cultivation of the human spirits
is really just beginning- work so joyous and pro-
                     [ x ]

                FORE WORD
ductive that I would take any pains to set forth
with clearness the effort to develop each intrinsic
gift, to establish a deep breathing of each mind-
a fulness of expression on the one hand, and a
selfless receptivity on the other. We can only
breathe deeply when we are at peace. This is
true mentally as well as physically, and soulfully,
so far as one can see. The human fabric is at
peace only when its faculties are held in rhythm
by the task designed for them. Expression of to-
day makes the mind ready for the inspiration of
  It may be well finally to make it clear that there
is no personal ambition here to become identified
with education in the accepted sense. Those who
come bring nothing in their hands, and answer no
call save that which they are sensitive enough to
hear without words. Hearing that, they belong,
indeed. Authorship is the work of Stonestudy,
and shall always be; but first and last is the con-
viction that literature and art are but incident to
life; that we are here to become masters of life--
artists, if possible, but in any case, men.
  . . . To-day the glimpse of it all-that this is
to be a book of the younger generation. . . . I re-
member in the zeal of a novice, how earnestly I
planned to relate the joys of rose-culture, when
some yellow teas came into their lovely being in
answer to the long preparation. It seemed to me
that a man could do little better for his quiet joy
                     [ xi ]

than to raise roses; that nothing was so perfectly
designed to keep romance perennial in his soul.
Then the truth appeared-greater things that
were going on here the cultivation of young and
living minds, minds still fluid, eager to give their
faith and take the story of life; minds that are
changed in an instant and lifted for all time, if
the story is well told. ... So in the glimpse of
this book as a whole, as it comes to-day (an East
wind rising and the gulls blwn inland) I find
that a man may build a more substantial thing
than a stone house, may realise an intenser culti-
vation than even tea-roses require; and of this
I want to tell simply and with something of order
from the beginning.

  STONESTUDY, March, 1916.




THE ABBOT   . . . .
A MAN'S OWN   . .       .
                   E xii]


        . 28
        . 38
        . 55

        . 78
        . 113
        . . 63
... . i86
.1... I96
... . 202
... . 217
... . 222



MIRACLES . . . .
LETTERS  . . . . .
THE DAKOTAN (Continued)
THE HILL RocKs . . .

  ... .  . 230
. .  ....     248
....  ..  259
...  . .  . 270
  ... .  . 301
  ... .   313
  ... .  . 319
...... .........330
 .' 0 O   339




 This page in the original text is blank.





IN another place, I have touched upon our
     first adventure in the country. It was be-
     fore the children came. We went to live in
     a good district, but there was no peace there.
I felt forgotten. I had not the stuff to stand that.
My life was shallow and artificial enough then
to require the vibration of the town; and at the
end of a few weeks it was feverishly missed. The
soil gave me nothing. I look back upon that fact
now with something like amazement, but I was
young. Lights and shining surfaces were dear;
all waste and stimulation a part of necessity, and
that which the many rushed after seemed the
things which a man should have. Though the air
was dripping with fragrance and the early sum-
mer ineffable with fruit-blossoms, the sense of self
    Midstream, 1914, George H. Doran Co., New York.


poisoned the paradise. I disdained even to make
a place of order of that little plot. There was
no inner order in my heart-on the contrary,
chaos in and out. I had not been man-handled
enough to return with love and gratefulness to
the old Mother. Some of us must go the full
route of the Prodigal, even to the swine and the
husks, before we can accept the healing of Nature.
  So deep was the imprint of this experience
that I said for years: "The country is good, but
it is not for me." . . . I loved to read about the
country, enjoyed hearing men talk about their
little places, but always felt a temperamental ex-
ile from their dahlias and gladioli and wistaria.
I knew what would happen to me if I went again
to the country to live, for I judged by the former
adventure. Work would stop; all mental activity
would sink into a bovine rumination.
  Yet during all these years, the illusions were
falling away. It is true that there is never an
end to illusions, but they become more and more
subtle to meet our equipment. I had long since
lost my love for the roads of the many-the
crowded roads that run so straight to pain. A
sentence had stood up again and again before me,
that the voice of the devil is the voice of the
  Though I did not yet turn back to the land, I
had come to see prolonged city-life as one of the
ranking menaces of the human spirit, though at
                    [ 18 ]


our present stage of evolution it appears a neces-
sary school for a time. Two paragraphs from
an earlier paper on the subject suggest one of
the larger issues:
   "The higher the moral and intellectual status
of a people, the more essential become space,
leisure and soul-expression for bringing children
into the world. When evolving persons have
reached individuality, and the elements of great-
ness are formative within them, they pay the price
for reversion to worldliness in the extinction of
name. The race that produced Emerson and
Thoreau and Whitman, that founded our culture
and gave us a name in English, is following the
red Indian westward off the face of the earth.
  "Trade makes the city; congestion makes for
commonness and the death of the individual.
Only the younger and physical races, or the rem-
nant of that race of instinctive tradesmen which
has failed as a spiritual experiment, can exist in
the midst of the tendencies and conditions of met-
ropolitan America. One of the most enthralling
mysteries of life is that children will not come to
highly evolved men and women who have turned
back upon their spiritual obligations and clouded
the vision which was their birthright."
  It is very clear to me that the Anglo-Saxons at
least, after a generation or two of town-life, must
give up trade and emerge from the City for the


recreating part of their year, or else suffer in
deeper ways than death. The City will do for
those younger-souled peoples that have not had
their taste of its cruel order and complicating pres-
sures; for the Mediterranean peoples already
touched with decadence; for the strong yet sim-
ple peasant vitalities of Northern Europe, but the
flower of the American entity has already re-
mained too long in the ruck of life.
  There came a Spring at last in which there was
but one elm-tree. The rest was flat-buildings and
asphalt and motor-puddled air. I was working
long in those April days, while the great elm-
tree broke into life at the window. There is
a green all its own to the young elm-leaves, and
that green was all our Spring. Voices of the street
came up through it, and whispers of the wind. I
remember one smoky moon, and there was a cer-
tain dawn in which I loved, more strangely than
ever, the cut-leaved profile against the grey-red
East. The spirit of it seemed to come to me, and
all that the elm-tree meant-hill-cabins and coun-
try dusks, bees and blooms and stars, and the plain
holy life of kindliness and aspiration. In this
dawn I found myself dreaming, thirsting, wasting
for all that the elm-tree knew-as if I were exiled
from the very flesh that could bring the good low
earth to my senses again.
  Could it be that something was changed within
-that we were ready at last One of those
                     [ 20 ]


Spring days, in the midst of a forenoon's work,
I stopped short with the will to go to the country
to look for a place to rent. I left the garret, found
Penelope, who was ready in fifteen minutes. We
crossed the river first of all into Canada, because
the American side within fifty miles in every di-
rection had been sorted over again and again, by
those who had followed just such an impulse. In
the smaller city opposite, we learned that there
were two suburban cars-one that would take us
to the Lake St. Claire shore, and another that
crossed the country to Lake Erie, travelling along
her northern indentations for nearly ten miles.
  "We'll take the car that leaves here first,"
said I.
  It was the Erie car. In the smoking compart-
ment I fell into conversation with a countryman
who told me all that could possibly be synthesised
by one mind regarding the locality we were pass-
ing through. He suggested that we try our for-
tune in the little town where the car first meets
the Lake. This we did and looked up and down
that Main Street. It was quiet and quaint, but
something pressed home to us that was not all
joy-the tightness of old scar-tissue in the chest.
. . . The countryman came running to us from
the still standing car, though this was not his des-
tination, and pointing to a little grey man in the
street, said:
  "He can tell you more than I can."
                     [ 21 ]


  I regarded the new person with awe if he could
do that. . . . In a way it was true. He was a
leisurely-minded man, who knew what he was go-
ing to say before he spoke, had it correctly in mind.
The product came forth edited. He called men
by 'phone-names strange to me then that have
become household names since-while we sat by
smiling and silent in his little newspaper shop.
. . . And those who came wanted to know if we
drank, when they talked of renting their cottages;
and if we were actors.
  Not that we looked like actors, but it transpired
that actor-folk had rented one of the cottages an-
other year, and had sat up late and had not always
clothed themselves continually full-length. Once,
other actor people had motored down, and it was
said that those on the back seats of the car had
been rigid among beer-cases.
  We were given the values and disadvantages of
the East shore and also of the West shore, the
town between. . . . Somehow we always turn to
the East in our best moments and it was so this
day. . . . We were directed to the house of a man
who owned two little cottages just a mile from
town. He was not well that day, but his boy
went with us to show the cottages. That boy you
shall be glad to know.
  We walked together down the long lane, and I
did not seem able to reach our guide's heart, so we
were silent, but Penelope came between us. He
                    L 22 J


would have been strange, indeed, had she failed.
. . . I look back now from where I sit-to that
long lane. I love it very much for it led to the
very edge of a willowed bluff-to the end of the
land. Erie brimmed before us. It led to a new
life, too.
  I had always disliked Erie-as one who lived
in the Lake Country and chose his own. I ap-
proved mildly of St. Claire; Michigan awed me
from a little boy's summer; Huron was familiar
from another summer, but Erie heretofore had
meant only something to be crossed-something
shallow and petulant. Here she lay in the sun-
light, with bars of orange light darkening to ocean
blue, and one far sparkling line in the West. Then
I knew that I had wronged her. She seemed not
to mind, but leisurely to wait. We faced the
South from the bluffs, and I thought of the stars
from this vantage. . . . If a man built his house
here, he could explain where he lived by the near-
est map in a Japanese house, or in a Russian peas-
ant's house, for Erie to them is as clear a name as
Baikal or the Inland Sea is to us. I had heard
Japanese children repeat the names of the Great
Lakes. When you come to a shore like this you
are at the end of the landscape. You must pause.
Somehow I think-we are pausing still. One must
pause to project a dream.
  . . . For weeks there, in a little rented place,
we were so happy that we hardly ventured to speak
                    [ 23 ]


of it. We had expected so little, and had brought
such weariness. Day after day unfolded in the
very fulness of life, and the small flower-beds
there on the stranger's land held the cosmic an-
swer. All that summer Jupiter marked time
across the southern heavens; and I shall never for-
get the sense of conquest in hiving the first swarm
of bees. They had to be carried on a branch down
a deep gulley, and several hundred feet beyond.
Two-thirds of the huge cluster were in the air
about me, before the super was lifted. Yet there
was not a sting from the tens of thousands. We
had the true thirst that year. Little things were
enough; we were innocent, even of possession, and
brought back to the good land all the sensitizing
that the City had given. There were days in
which we were so happy-that another summer of
such life would have seemed too much to ask.
  I had lived three weeks, when I remembered that
formerly I read newspapers, and opened the near-
est. The mystery and foreignness of it was as
complete as the red fire of Antares that gleamed so
balefully every night across the Lake-a hell of
trials and jealousy and suicide, obscenity and pas-
sion. It all came up from the sheet to my nostrils
like the smell of blood.

  . . .There are men and women in town who
are dying for the country; literally this is so, and
such numbers of them that any one who lives apart


from the crowds and calls forth guests from time
to time, can find these sufferers among his little
circle of friends. They come here for week-ends
and freshen up like newly watered plants-turn-
ing back with set faces early Monday morning. I
think of a flat of celery plants that have grown to
the end of the nourishment of their crowded space,
and begin to yellow and wither, sick of each other.
. . . One does not say what one thinks. It is not
a simple thing for those whose life and work is
altogether identified with the crowded places, to
uproot for roomy planting in the country. But
the fact remains, many are dying to be free.
  The City, intolerable as it is in itself-in its
very nature against the growth of the body and
soul of man after a certain time-is nevertheless
the chief of those urging forces which shall bring
us to simplicity and naturalness at the last. Man-
hood is built quite as much by learning to avoid
evil as by cultivating the aspiration for the good.
  Just as certainly as there are thousands suffering
for the freedom of spaces, far advanced in a losing
fight of vitality against the cruel tension of
city life, there are whole races of men who have
yet to meet and pass through this terrifying com-
plication of the crowds, which brings a refining
gained in no other way. All growth is a passage
through hollows and over hills, though the jour-
ney regarded as a whole is an ascent.
  A great leader of men who has never met the



crowds face to face is inconceivable. He must
have fought for life in the depths and pandemoni-
ums, to achieve that excellence of equipment
which makes men turn to him for his word and
his strength. We are so made that none of us can
remain sensitive to prolonged beauty; neither can
we endure continuously the stifling hollows be-
tween the hills. Be very sure the year-round
countryman does not see what you see coming
tired and half-broken from the town; and those
who are caught and maimed by the City cannot
conceive their plight, as do you, returning to them
again from the country replenished and refreshed.
  The great names of trade have been country-
bred boys, but it is equally true that the most suc-
cessful farmers of to-day are men who have re-
turned to Nature from the town, some of them
having been driven to the last ditch physically and
commanded to return or die. It is in the turnings
of life that we bring a fresh eye to circumstances
and events.
  Probably in a nation of bad workmen, no work
is so stupidly done as the farming. Great areas
of land have merely been scratched. There are
men within an hour's ride from here who plant
corn in the same fields every year, and check it
throughout in severing the lateral roots by deep
cultivation. They and their fathers have planted
corn, and yet they have not the remotest idea of
what takes place in their fields during the long
                     [ 26 ]



summer from the seedling to the full ear; and very
rarely in the heart of the countryman is there room
for rapture. Though they have the breadth of the
horizon line and all the skies to breathe in, few
men look up more seldom.

[27 I



TEHERE is no playground like a sandy
         shore-and this was sheltered from the
         north by a high clay bluff that tempered
         all voices from below and made a sound-
ing board for the winds. The beach, however,
was not as broad then as now. To the east for a
mile is a shallow sickle of shore with breakers on
the point. In itself this indentation is but a squab
of the main Pigeon Bay, which stretches around
for twenty miles and is formed of Pelee Point, the
most southern extension of Canada. The nearer
and lesser point is like a bit of the Mediterranean.
It takes the greys of the rain-days with a beauty
and power of its own, and the mornings flash upon
it. I call it the Other Shore, a structure of ideal-
ism forming upon it from much contemplation at
the desk. The young people turn to it often from
the classes.
  The height of land from which the Other Shore
is best visible had merely been seen so far. from
                    f 28 ]



the swimming place in front of the rented cot-
tages. It was while in the water that I determined
to explore. The first thing that impressed me
when I reached the eminence was the silence. It
was something to be dreamed of, when the Lake
was also still. There was no road; a hay field
came down to the very edge of the bluff, and the
shore fifty feet below was narrow and rocky. Very
few people passed there. That most comfortable
little town was lying against the rear horizon to
the West. I used to come in the evenings and
smoke as the sun went down.    Sometimes the
beauty of it was all I could bear-the voices of
children in the distance and the Pelee light flashing
every seven seconds far out in the Lake.
  I first saw it in dry summer weather and did
not know that a bumper crop of frogs had been
harvested that Spring from the deep, grass-covered
hollows formed by the removal of clay for a brick-
business long ago. There was good forage on the
mounds, which I did not appreciate at the time.
The fact is these mounds were formed of pure dark
loam, as fine a soil as anywhere in the Lake Coun-
  Those of the dim eyes say that once upon a time
an orchard and brick-house stood on a bluff in
front of the brick-yard, on a natural point, but
that the Lake had nibbled and nibbled, finally
digesting the property, fruit-trees, brick-house and



  I could well believe it when the first storm came.
An East wind for three days brought steady del-
uges of high water that wore down the shore-line
almost visibly. A week later came a West wind
that enfiladed, so that what remained of the little
point was caught in the cross-play of the weathers.
If some one did not intervene, the brick-yard site
would follow the orchard-that was clear.
  . . . Three or four times the owner came to
see me. We had rejoiced in the rented property,
rejoiced in owning nothing, yet having it all. . .
Thoreau in his daily westward migrations studied
it all with the same critical delight, and found his
abode where others did not care to follow. We
look twice at the spot we choose to build our
house. That second look is not so free and inno.
cent. . . . Yet a man may build his house. Tho-
reau had no little brood coming up, and I have
doubted many times, even in moments of austere
admiration, if he wouldn't have lived longer, had
there been a woman about to nourish him. She
would have insisted upon a better roof, at least.
     I told the neighbour-man I would buy the
brick-yard, if he didn't stop pestering me about it.
He smiled and came once too often.
  The day before, standing upon that height of
land (not too near the edge, for it looked higher in
those days) I had gazed across the Lake, at one
with it all, a friendly voyager of the skies, com-
rade of the yarrow and the daisy. I remember the
                    I so  



long grass of the hollows, the peculiar soft bloom
of it, and what a place it was to lie and dream,
until one became a part of the solution of sunshine
and tinted immensity.
  So I lost the universe for a bit of bluff on the
Lake shore.
  When the East wind came, I saw with pro-
prietary alarm the point wearing away. That
which coloured the Lake was fine rose-clay and it
was mine, bought by the foot-front. . .  A man
may build his house.
  Every one who came along told me how to save
the point. For weeks they came. Heavy drift-
wood was placed in times of peace, so that the sand
would be trapped in storm. No one failed me in
advice, but the East wind made match-wood of all
arrangements. .  . The high water would wash
and weaken the base, and in the heaviness of the
rains the bulk of earth above would fall-only to
be carried out again by the waves. The base had
to be saved if a natural slope was ever to be se-
cured. Farther down the shore I noted one day
that a row of boulders placed at right angles with
the shore had formed a small point, and that a
clump of willows behind had retained it. This
was a bit of advice that had not come so authori-
tatively, but I followed the cue, and began rolling
up rocks now like an ancient Peruvian. It was a
little jetty, that looked like a lot of labour to a city
man, and it remained as it was for several days.
                     [31 ]



One morning I came forth in lashing weather-
and rubbed my eyes. The jetty was not in sight.
It was covered with a foot of sand, and the clay
was dry at the base. A day's work with a team
after that in low water, snaking the big boulders
into line with a chain-a sixty-foot jetty by sun-
down, built on top of the baby spine I had poked
together. No man ever spent a few dollars more
profitably. Even these stones were covered in
time, and there was over a yard-deep of sand but-
tressing the base of the clay and -hinning out on
the slope of shore to the end of the stones. Later,
when building, I took four hundred yards of sand
from the east side of the stone jetty, and it was
all brought back by the next storm....
  I read somewhere with deep and ardent sanc-
tion that a man isn't worth his spiritual salt if he
lets a locality hold him, or possessions possess him;
and yet, the spell was broken a little when we
came to buy. Whenever you play with the meshes
of possession, a devil is near at hand to weave you
in. It is true that we took only enough Lake-
frontage for quiet, and enough depth for a per-
manent fruit-garden-all for the price of a fifty-
foot lot in the City; but these things call upon one
for a certain property-mindedness and desiring,
in the usage of which the human mind is common
and far from admirable. There were days in the
thrall of stone-work and grading and drainage, in
which I forgot the sun-path and the cloud-
                     [ 32 ]


           B LU F F AND S HO RE

shadows; nights in which I saw fireplaces and
sleeping-porches (still innocent of matter to make
the dreams come true), instead of the immortal
signatures of the heavens.
  But we had learned our City lessons rather well,
and these disturbers did not continue to defile. A
man may build his house, if he can also forget it.
A few good things-perennials, by all means an
elm-tree, stone-work and an oaken door; the things
that need not replenishing in materials, that grow
old with you, or reach their prime after you have
passed-these are enough. For a home that does
not promote your naturalness, is a place of vexa-
tion to you and to your children.
  Yet it is through this breaking of the husks of il-
lusion-through the very artificialities that we
come to love the sane and holy things. The man
of great lands, who draws his livelihood from the
soil, can never know the healing nor the tender
loveliness that came up to us that first summer.
One must know the maiming of the cities to
bring to the land a surface that nature floods with
ecstasies.  Carlyle thundered against artificial
things all his wonderful life, exalted the splen-
dours of simplicity which permit a man to forget
himself-just missing the fact that a man must
be artificial before he can be natural; that we
learn by suffering and come up through the hell
and complication of cities only to show us wherein
our treasure lies.



  The narrow non-sensitive consciousness of the
peasant, with its squirrel-dream of filled b