Short Stories
All Titles

In Association with Amazon.com

Home > Authors Index > Browse all available works of George William Curtis > Text of Urbs And Rus

An essay by George William Curtis

Urbs And Rus

Title:     Urbs And Rus
Author: George William Curtis [More Titles by Curtis]

Mr. Tibs, who has an observing eye for many aspects of life, lately informed the Easy Chair of his conclusion that there are some serious objections to a suburban residence. This is a subject in which so many intelligent and judicious readers of these pages are interested, that the Easy Chair could not be indifferent to Mr. Tibs's conclusions. The population which "sleeps out of town," which goes and comes daily to and from the neighborhood of every great city in every part of the country, is immense and increasing, and it has always rather an air of lofty sympathy and pity for those who still cling to the "sweet seclusion of streets." This is the more observable and amusing because the denizens of town upon their part assume that their fellow-creatures who resort to the country as a residence are mainly impelled by motives of economy. For who would live out of town if he could live comfortably in it?

"You must find it very annoying to be tied to exact hours of trains and boats," says Urbs to Rus, "and it is not the pleasantest thing in the world to be obliged to pick your way through the river streets to the ferry, or wait at stations. However, you probably calculated the waste of time and the trouble before you decided to live in Frogtown."

"Every choice has its inconveniences, undoubtedly," responds Rus, "but I concluded that I preferred fresh air for my children to the atmosphere of sewers and gas factories, and I have a prejudice for breakfasting by sunlight rather than by gas. Then my wife enjoys the singing of birds in the morning more than the cry of the milkman, and the silence at night secures a sweeter sleep than the rattle of the horse-cars. It is true that we have no brick block opposite, and no windows of houses behind commanding our own. But to set off such deprivations there are pleasant hills and wooded slopes and gardens. They are not sidewalks, to be sure, but they satisfy us."

"Yes, yes; I see," says Urbs. "We are more to be pitied than I thought. If we must go out in the evening, we don't have the advantage of stumbling over hummocks and sinking in the mud or dust in the dark; we can only go dry-shod upon clean flagging abundantly lighted. Then we have nothing but Thomas's orchestra and the opera and the bright little theatre to console us for the loss of the frog and tree-toad concert and the tent-circus. Instead of plodding everywhere upon our own feet, which is so pleasant after running round upon them all day in town, we have nothing but cars and stages at hand to carry us to our own doors. I see clearly there are great disadvantages in city life. If a friend and his wife drop in suddenly in the evening or to dine, it is monstrously inconvenient to have an oyster-shop round the corner whence to improvise a supper or a dinner. It would be so much better to have nothing but the village grocery a mile or two away. The advantages are conspicuous. I wonder the entire population of the city doesn't go out to live in Frogtown."

Rus always feels in secret that he is at a disadvantage so long as he must go to town every day to attend to his business. He reasons plausibly that the train or the boat is no more than the horse-car, and he proves conclusively that he can be at his office within half an hour of his friend who lives in Fiftieth Street. But his friend irritatingly replies that on pleasant mornings he prefers not to take the car. He walks down in the bright air and through the busy street. With twinkling and triumphant eyes he invites Rus to do the same.

Rus gayly replies that the sun is quite as bright upon green fields as upon brick blocks or stone flagging, and the shifting panorama from the car window is a lovely picture. Urbs assents, and adds that the dust and cinders also give great zest to the enjoyment, and that dragging through tunnels is full of delight and beauty.

But the real sorrow that Rus feels has not yet been touched. It is the grief which Mr. Tibs has observed and confided to the Easy Chair. It haunts his happy hours with sad foreboding. He cannot look from his window but he sees it. He cannot celebrate the charms of country and suburban life but it seems to mock him. It turns his joy to ashes. He looks upon the wife of his bosom with anguish as he thinks of it. He gazes ruefully into his children's eyes; pretty innocents, they know naught of the impending blow. It is a Shadow, as Thackeray would have solemnly said, with Bulwerian impressiveness, which Pursues Him at Mid Day. It Awakens Him at Mid Night, and Says to Him, Sleep No More! What is it, do you ask? inquires Mr. Tibs, in his most startling manner. Brethren, 'tis the fell hand of improvement. That is it. It is that which harrows the suburban soul and destroys suburban peace. No man who lives in the neighborhood of the city, or in any little settlement, community, hamlet, thorp, village, or town which is occupied with people doing business in the city, but is exposed in his rural retirement, in his suburban home, to the ravages of improvement.

There are suburban neighborhoods of New York which are said to be subject to malaria, to fever and ague. It is false, as every denizen of Bay Ridge and Flushing knows. There are others which are alleged to be a prey to mosquitoes and chills. 'Tis a base fabrication, as every Staten Islander and dweller by the Newark marshes is ready to swear. It is notorious, and is established upon the very best authority, namely, that of the inhabitants of the districts themselves, that no shores are so salubrious as those of the bay of New York. Strict justice, indeed, demands--and to nothing so much as strict justice and truthfulness in these matters are the peaceful people of those shores devoted--strict justice and truth demand that it should not be denied that single, exceptional, but upon the whole sufficiently well attested cases of malarial trouble have been known. But they were always brought from abroad, probably from that losel Yankee-land from which most of the woe of New York has proceeded. While, therefore, it is a wanton calumny--and the corroboration of all suburban property-holders is invited to the statement--to assert that any portion of the neighborhood of New York, or of any other great city, let it be Philadelphia, Chicago, or St. Louis, Boston, Baltimore, or Savannah, is subject to malaria, or is otherwise than the true sanitarium of the continent, yet it must be owned with sorrow that every suburban region is infested with the spirit of improvement.

Edwin and Angelina were married yesterday, and will devote their honey-moon to the quest of a place in which to build their permanent nest. They find it at last in the most delightful of suburban neighborhoods. They build the pretty cottage. They spread out smooth green lawns, and plant trees and shrubs, and hide themselves in flowers. They have made a sweet sylvan seclusion, in which they sit and smile at the eloquence of Urbs, who pities their exile and depicts the charm of streets. Streets are charming, respond Edwin and Angelina in connubial chorus, but we will have none of them. Fond, foolish pair! For even at that moment the desolating spirit of improvement is staking out a street across their most emerald lawn and through their most sacred grove; their trees and flowers and turf are doomed, and their seclusion is to be turned into a dusty highway.

Suburban improvement is the ruthless devastator of home. There is no remedy. To oppose the ruin of the place which you have carefully made, which has grown around you in increasing beauty with the growth and development of your family, which is associated with all that is happiest in your life, and which is in some sort the flowering and expression of yourself, is to be derided as withstanding the public benefit and the advantage of those less fortunate than yourself. The instinct of protecting the home that you have made is denounced as sentimental selfishness, and the law steps forward, cuts down your trees, plows up your lawn, lays a gutter under your window, destroys your home, and hands you some dollars for what it calls compensation, or demands them for what it styles improvement.

I am of opinion, therefore, says Mr. Tibs, and the Easy Chair commends the reflection to those intending matrimony and thinking of a country home, that there are some serious objections to a suburban residence.

[The end]
George William Curtis's essay: Urbs And Rus