Back to the Land: 10 Acres Is Enough

This is a reprint from an 1864 book about city folk adjusting to the country lifestyle and going back to the land.
By James Miller
January/February 1976
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Some people dream of a big city life and owning their own business. For the author of this excerpt, 10 acres was enough.
PHOTO: FOTOLIA/SMULSKY


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I don't know who said it first, but he or she was absolutely right: The more things change, the more they stay the same. 

Take today's "new" back-to-the-land movement, for instance. It isn't new at all. The whole history of this country is founded on one back-to-the-land movement after another, dating from the growth of the first towns established on this continent. In short, as long as great numbers of people have flocked to our cities, a lesser number of (possibly more intelligent) folks have been trying to getaway from them.  

Nor have the details of this constantly self-renewing swap changed in the slightest. Big farmers have always been squeezed out of the country by even bigger ones (and the lure of those "easy" dollars in town). And back-to-the-landers have always had a struggle getting enough money together to buy their little dream place out in the sticks. And they've always felt that most of the chunks of property offered to them "out there" are too big, or too small, or too expensive. And they've always worried about what life would be like once they really made the break and left the city behind. And they've always — at least the ones dedicated enough to roll up their sleeves and make a life for themselves out in the country — been damn glad in later years that they made the switch.  

You don't believe it? You don't think that the very same problems you're now facing have been faced ten times ten thousand times before? Then you haven't read the history of this country as it was written by the people who've gone before.  

Here, for instance (thanks to Mrs. Joe E. Hanauer of Dixon, Missouri), is an excerpt from Ten Acres Enough, a book penned by a fellow named James Miller away back in 1864. Sure, the prices were lower back then but everything Mr. Miller had to say 112 years ago is still being said in almost exactly the same words by the average homesteader of 1976.  

As the old saying goes, "The more things change."   

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 tomorrow.

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.

Every thing I saw in the journals 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 every thing 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.

Practical Views — Safety of Investments in Land

There was not a particle of romance in my aspirations for a farm, neither had I formed a single visionary theory which was there to be tested. My notions were all sober and prosaic.

I had struggled all my life for dollars, because abundance of them produces pecuniary comfort: and the change to country life was to be, in reality, a mere continuation of the struggle, but lightened by the assurance that if the dollars thus to be acquired were fewer in number, the certainty of earning enough of them was likely to be greater. Crops might fail under skies at one time too watery, at another too brassy, but no such disaster could equal those to which commercial pursuits are uninterruptedly exposed. They have brassy skies above them as well as farmers.

For nearly twenty years I had been hampered with having notes of my own or of other parties to pay. But of all the farmers I had visited, only one had ever given a note, and he had made a vow never to give another. My wife was shrewd enough to observe and remark on this fact at the time, it was so different from my own experience. She admitted there must be some satisfaction in carrying on a business which did not require the giving of notes.

Looking at the matter of removal to the country in a practical light, I found that in the city I was paying three hundred dollars per annum rent for a dwelling house. It was the interest of five thousand dollars, yet it afforded nothing but a shelter for my family.

I might continue to pay that rent for fifty years, without, at the end of that time, having acquired the ownership of either a stone upon the chimney, or a shingle in the roof. If the house rose in value, the rise would be to the owner's benefit, not to mine. It would really be injurious to me, as the rise would lead him to demand an increase of his rent.

But put the value of the house into a farm, or even the half of it and the farm would have a dwelling house upon it, in which my family would find as good a shelter, while the land, if cultivated as industriously as I had always cultivated business, would belie the flood of evidence I had been studying for many years if it failed to yield to my efforts the returns which it was manifestly returning to others.

We could live contentedly on a thousand dollars a year on the farm and we should have no landlord to pay. My wife, in pinching times, has financiered us through the year on several hundred less. I confess to having lived as well on the diminished rations as I wanted to. Indeed, until one tries it for himself, it is incredible what dignity there is in an old hat, what virtue in a time worn coat, and how savory the dinner table can be made without sirloin steaks or cranberry tarts.

Thus, let it be remembered, my views and aspirations had no tinge of extravagance. My rule was moderation. The tortures of a city struggle without capital, had sobered me down to being contented with a bare competency.

I might fail in some particulars at the outset, from ignorance, but I was in the prime of life, strong, active, industrious, and tractable, and what I did not know I could soon learn from others, for farmers have no secrets. Then I had seen too much of the uncertainty of banks and stocks, and ledger accounts, and promissory notes, to be willing to invest any thing in either as a permanency. At best they are fluctuating and uncertain, up today and down tomorrow. My great preference had always been for land.

In looking around among my wide circle of city acquaintances, especially among the older families, I could not fail to notice that most of them had grown rich by the ownership of land.

More than once had I seen the values of all city property, improved and unimproved, apparently disappear: lots without purchasers, and houses without tenants, the community so poor and panic stricken that real estate became the merest drug. Yesterday the collapse was caused by the destruction of the National Bank, today it is the Tariff. Sheriffs played havoc with houses and lands incumbered by mortgages, and lawyers fattened on the rich harvest of fees inaugurated by a Bankrupt Law.

But those who, undismayed by the wreck around them, courageously held on to land, came through in safety. The storm, having run its course and exhausted its wrath, gave place to skies commercially serene, and real estate swung back with an irrepressible momentum to its former value, only to keep on advancing to one even greater. I became convinced that safety lay in the ownership of land.

The reader may look back over every monetary convulsion he may be able to remember, and he will find that in all of them the agricultural community came through with less disaster than any other interest. Wheat grows and corn ripens though all the banks in the world may break, for seed time and harvest is one of the divine promises to man, never to be broken, because of its divine origin. They grew and ripened before banks were invented, and will continue to do so when banks and railroad bonds shall have become obsolete.

What, then, is the safest fund in which to invest, in this country? What is the only fund which the experience of the last fifty years has shown, with very few exceptions, would be absolutely safe as a provision for heirs? How many men, within that period, assuming to act as trustees for estates, have kept the trust fund invested in stocks, and when distributing the principal among the heirs, have found that most of it had vanished! Under corporate insolvency it had melted into air. No prudent man, accepting such a trust, and guaranteeing its integrity, would invest the fund in stocks.

But lands, or a fund secured by real estate, is unquestionably not only the highest security, but in the hands of heirs it is the only one likely to survive a single generation.

Hence the wisdom of the common law, which neither permits the guardian to sell the lands of his ward, nor even the court, in its discretion, to grant authority for their sale, except upon sufficient grounds shown: as a necessity for raising a fund for the support and education of the ward. Even a lord chancellor can only touch so sacred a fund for this or similar reasons. The common law is wise on this subject, as on most others. It is thus the experience and observation of mankind that such a fund is the safest, and hence the provisions of the law.

Resolved to Go — Escape From Business — Choosing a Location 

The last thirty years have been prolific of great pecuniary convulsions. I need not recapitulate them here, as too many of them are yet dark spots on the memory of some who will read this. Their frequency, as well as their recurrence at shorter intervals than at the beginning of the century, are among their most remarkable features, baffling the calculations of older heads, and confounding those of younger ones.

As the century advanced, these convulsions increased in number and violence. The whole business horizon seemed full of coming storms, which burst successively with desolating severity, not only on merchants and manufacturers, but on others who had long before retired from business. No one could foresee this state of things. I will not stop to argue causes, but confine myself to facts which none will care to contradict.

These disasters made beggars of thousands in every branch of business, and spread discouragement over every community. I passed through several of them, striving and struggling, and oppressed beyond all power of description. How many more the community was to encounter I did not know. But I conceived it the part of prudence to place myself beyond the circle of their influence before I also had been prostrated.

In spite of the losses thus encountered, I had been saving something annually for several years, when the stricture of 1854 came on, premonitory of the tremendous crash of 1857.

The trials of that incipient crisis determined me to abandon the city. I found that by realizing all I then possessed, I could command means enough to purchase ten to twenty acres, and I had grown nervous and apprehensive of the future. While possessed of a little, I resolved to make that little sure by investing it in land. I had worked for the landlord long enough. My excellent wife was now entirely willing to make the change, and our six children clapped their hands with joy when they heard that "father was going to live in the country."

I had long determined in my mind what sort of farming was likely to prove profitable enough to keep us with comfort, and that was the raising of small fruits for the city markets. My attention had always been particularly directed to the berries. Some strawberries I had raised in my city garden with prodigious success.

My friends, when they heard of my project, expressed fears that the market would soon be glutted, not exactly by the crops which I was to raise, but they could not exactly answer how. They confessed that they were extremely fond of berries, and that at no time in the season could they afford to eat enough a confession which seemed to explode all apprehension of the market being overstocked.

But my wife and myself had both examined the hucksters who called at the door with small fruits, as to the monstrous prices they demanded, and had begged them, if ever a glut occurred, that they would call and let us know. But none had ever called with such information. It was the same thing with those who occupied stalls in the various city markets. They rarely had a surplus left unsold, and their prices were always high. A glut of fruit was a thing almost unknown to them. It was a safe presumption that the market would not be depressed by the quantity that I might raise.

But here let me say something by way of parenthesis, touching this common idea of the danger of overstocking the fruit market of the great cities. It is a curious fact that this idea is entertained only by those who are not fruit growers. The latter never harbored it. Their whole experience runs the other way, they know it to be a gross absurdity. Yet somehow, the question of a glut has always been debated.

Twenty years ago the nurserymen were advised to close up their sales and abandon the business, as they would soon have no customers for trees since everybody was supplied. But trees have continued to be planted from that day to this, and where hundreds were sold twenty years ago, thousands are disposed of now. Old established nurseries. have been trebled in size, while countless new ones have been planted. The nursery business has grown to a magnitude truly gigantic, because the market for fruit has been annually growing larger, and no business enlarges itself unless it is proved to be profitable.

The market cannot be glutted with good fruit. The multiplication of mouths to consume it is far more rapid than the increase of any supply that growers can effect. Within ten years the masses have had a slight taste of choice fruits, and but little more. Indulgence has only served to whet their appetites. The more of them there is offered in the market, the more will there be consumed.

Every huckster in her shamble, every vender of peanuts in the street, will testify to this. The modern art of semi-cookery for fruit, and of preserving it in cans and jars, has made sale for enormous quantities of those choicer kinds which return the highest profit to the grower. It is in the grain market that panic often rages, but never in the fruit market. If it ever enters the latter, the struggle is to obtain the fruit, not to get rid of it.

Buying a Farm — A Long Search — Anxiety to Sell — Forced to Quit 

I had in round numbers a clear two thousand dollars, with which to buy and stock a farm, and keep my family while my first crops were growing. As I was entirely free from debt, so I determined to avoid it in the future. Debt had been the bitter portion of my life, not from choice, but of necessity. My wife took strong ground in support of this resolution what we had she wanted us to keep.

I had settled it in my mind that I would use one thousand dollars in the purchase of land, and that I could make Ten Acres Enough. This I was determined to pay for at once, and have it covered by no man's parchment. But when we set out on our search, we found some difficulties.

Every county in New Jersey contained a hundred farms that were for sale. Most of them were too large for my slender purse, though otherwise most eligibly situated. Then we must have a decent house, even if we were forced to put up with less land.

Numerous locations of this kind were offered. The trouble was — keeping my slender purse — in view that the farms were either too large or too small. My wife was not fastidious about having a fine house. On the contrary, I was often surprised to find her pleased with such as to me looked small and mean. Indeed, it seemed, after ten days' search, that the tables had been turned — she was more easily suited than myself. But the same deference which I paid to her wishes, she uniformly paid to mine.

It was curious to note the anxiety of so many land owners to sell, and to hear the discordant reason which they gave for desiring to do so. The quantity in market was enormous. All the real-estate agents had large books filled with descriptions of farms and fancy country seats for sale, some to be had by paying one-fourth of the purchase money down, and some which the owners would exchange for merchandise, or traps, or houses in the city.

Many of the sellers appeared simply to want something else for what they already had. They were tired of holding, and desired a change of some kind, better if they could make it, and worse if they could not. City merchants, or thriving mechanics, had built country cottages, and then wearied of them — it was found inconvenient to be going to and fro — in fact, they had soon discovered that the city alone was their place. Many such told us that their wives did not like the country.

Others had bought farms and spent great sums in improving them, only to sell at a loss. Farming did not pay an owner who lived away off in the city. Another class had taken land for debt, and wanted to realize. They expected to lose anyhow, and would sell cheap,.

Then there was another body of owners who, though born and raised upon the land, were tired of country life, and wanted to sell and embark in business in the city. Some few were desirous of going to the West. Change of some kind seemed to be the general craving.

As I discovered that much of all this land was covered with mortgages of greater or less amount, it was natural to suppose the sheriff would occasionally turn up, and so it really was. There were columns in some of the county papers filled with his advertisements. I sometimes thought the whole country was for sale.

But yet there was a vast body of owners, many of them descendants of the early settlers, whom no consideration of price could tempt to abandon their inheritances. They seemed to know and understand the value of their ancestral acres. We met with other parties, recent purchasers, who had bought for a permanency, and who could not be induced to sell.

In short, there seemed to be two constantly flowing streams of people — one tending from city to country, the other from country to city. Doubtless it is the same way with all our large cities. I think the latter stream was the larger. If it were not so, our cities could not grow in population at a rate so much more rapid than the country. At numerous farm houses inquiries were made if we knew of any openings in the city in which boys and young men could be placed. The city was evidently the coveted goal with too large a number.

This glut of the land-market did not discourage us. We could not be induced to believe that land had no value because so many were anxious to dispose of it. We saw that it did not suit those who held it, and knew that it would suit us. But we could not but lament over the infatuation of many owners, who we felt certain would be ruined by turning their wide acres into money, and exposing it to the hazards of an untried business in the city. I doubt not that many of the very parties we then encountered have, long before this, realized the sad fate we feared, and learned too late that lands are better than merchandise.

One morning, about the middle of March, we found the very spot we had been seeking. It lay upon the Amboy Railroad, within a few miles of Philadelphia, within gunshot of a railroad station, and on the outskirts of a town containing churches, schools, and stores, with quite an educated society.

The grounds comprised eleven acres, and the dwelling house was quite large enough for my family. It struck the fancy of my wife the moment we came up to it; and when she had gone over the house, looked into the kitchen, explored the cellar, and walked round the garden, she expressed the strongest desire to make it our home.

There was barn enough to accommodate a horse and cow, with a ton or two of hay, quite an extensive shed, and I noticed that the barnyard contained a good pile of manure which was to go with the property. The buildings were of modern date, the fences were good, and there was evidence that a former occupant had exercised a taste for fruit and ornamental trees, while the garden was in very fair condition.

But the land had been wholly neglected. All outside of the garden was a perfect scarecrow of tall weeds, thousands of which stood clear up to the fence top, making sure that they had scattered seeds enough for twenty future crops.

Still, I noticed that the land directly opposite our potential farm was in the most admirable condition, and I saw at a glance that the soil must be adapted to the very purpose to which it was to be applied. The opposite ground was matted with a luxuriant growth of strawberries, while rows of stalwart raspberries held up their vigorous canes in testimony of the goodness of the soil. A fine peach orchard on the same neighboring property, seemed impatient to put forth and blossom unto harvest.

The eleven acres we were considering could be no worse land than this, and though I had a horror of weeds, yet I was not to be frightened by them. I knew that weeds were more indigenous to New Jersey than even watermelons.

This miniature plantation of eleven acres belonged to a merchant in the city. He had taken it to secure a debt of eleven hundred dollars, but had pledged himself to pay the former owner whatever excess over that sum he might obtain for it. But pledges of that loose character seldom amount to much since the creditor consults his own interest, not that of the debtor.

The debtor had long been trying to sell, but in vain, and now the creditor had become equally embarrassed, and needed money even more urgently than the debtor had done.

The whole property had cost the debtor eighteen hundred dollars and his views in founding it were similar to mine. He meant to establish for himself a home, to which at some future period he might retire. But he made the sad mistake of continuing in business in the city, and one disaster succeeding another, he had been compelled to abandon his anticipated refuge nearly a year before we came along.

Making a Purchase — First Impressions 

The owner of these eleven acres had been for some months in the furnace of pecuniary affliction. He was going the way of nine-tenths of all the business flesh within the circle of my acquaintance.

As a purchaser I did not seek the owner, nor to his representative did myself or my wife let fall a single word indicating that we were pleased with tire property. When fifteen hundred dollars were named as the price, I did indulge in some expression of surprise, thinking it was quite enough.

Discovering subsequently that the owner was an old city acquaintance, I dropped in one morning to see him, and for an hour we talked over the times, the markets, the savage rates demanded for money, and how the spring business was likely to turn out. On real estate I was mute as a mouse, except giving it as my decided opinion that some holders were asking greater prices than they would be likely to realize This side thrust brought my friend out. He mentioned his house and eleven acres, and eagerly inquired if I did not know of some one who would buy.

With as much indifference as I could assume, I asked the owner his terms. He told me with great frankness that he was compelled to sell, and that his need of money was so great, that he might possibly do so whether the debtor got anything or not. He urged me to find him a purchaser, and finally gave me the refusal of the place for a few days.

Now, the plain truth was, that my anxiety to buy was quite as great as his was to sell. During the next week we met several times, when he invariably inquired as to the prospect of a purchaser. But I had no encouragement to offer.

When I thought I had fought shy long enough, I surprised the owner by saying that I knew of a purchaser who was ready to take the property at a thousand dollars. He sat down and indulged in some figuring, then for a few moments was silent, then inquired if the offer was 'a cash one, and when the money could be had. I replied, the moment his deed was ready for delivery.

It was evident that the offer of instant payment determined him to sell at so low a price: cash was everything. Opening his desk, he took out a deed for the property, ready to execute whenever the grantee's name, the date and the consideration should have been inserted, handed it to me, and said he accepted the offer if he could have the money as quickly as possible.

I confess to both exultation and surprise. I had secured an unmistakable bargain, The ready made deed surprised me, but it showed the owner's necessities, and that he had been prepared to let the property go at the first decent offer. The natural selfishness of human nature has since induced me to believe that I could have bought for even less, had I not been so precipitate. His searches and brief of title were also ready: a single day or two was enough to bring them up. He had been determined to sell.

The transaction seemed to involve a succession of surprises. The owner's came when he found that I had inserted my wife's name in the deed. So, paying him his thousand dollars, I returned with the deed to my wife, telling her that she had now a home of her own. That, come what might, the property was hers. That the laws of New Jersey secured it to her, and that no subsequent destitution of mine could wrest it from her.

This little act of consideration was as gratifying a surprise to my wife as any that either buyer or seller had experienced. If she had rejoiced at my having secured the place, this added twist gave the transaction a new interest in her estimation, and fixed and made permanent the attachment she had spontaneously acquired for it. Her gratification only served to increase my own.

It is thus that small acts of kindness make life pleasant and desirable. Every dark object is made light by them, and many scalding tears of sorrow are thus easily brushed away. When the heart is sad, and despondency sits at the entrance of the soul, a little kindness drives despair away, and makes the path cheerful and pleasant.

Who then will refuse a kind act? It costs the giver nothing but it is invaluable to the receiver. No broader acres, no more stately mansion, whether in town or country, could now tempt my wife to leave this humble refuge. Here she has been ever happy, and here, I doubt not, she will end her earthly career.

In a week the house was vacated and cleansed, and we were in full possession. My wife was satisfied, my children were delighted, and I had realized the dream of twenty years!

One strong fact forced itself on my attention the first night I passed under my new roof. The drain of three hundred dollars per annum into the pocket of my city landlord had been stopped. My family received as safe a shelter for the interest of a thousand dollars, as he had given them for the interest of five thousand!

The feeling of relief from this unappeasable demand was indescribable. Curiously enough, my wife voluntarily suggested that the same feeling of relief had been presented to her. But in addition to this huge equivalent for the investment of a thousand dollars, there was that which might be hereafter realized from the cultivation of eleven acres of land.

This lodgment was effected on the first of April, 1855. When all our household fixings had been snugly arranged, and I took my first walk over my little plantation, on a soft and balmy morning, my feeling of contentment seemed to be perfect.

I knew I was not rich, but it was certain that I was not poor. In contrasting my condition with that of others, both higher and lower upon fortune's ladder, I found a thousand causes for congratulation, but none for regret.

With all his wealth, Rothschild must be satisfied with the same sky that was spread over me. He cannot order a private sunrise, that he may enjoy it with a select circle of friends, nor add a single glory to the gorgeous spectacle of the setting sun. The millionaire could not have more than his share of the pure atmosphere that I was breathing, while the poorest of all men could have as much. God only can give all these, and to many of the poor he has thus given.

All that is most valuable can be had for nothing. They come as presents from the hand of an indulgent Father, and neither air nor sky, nor beauty, genius, health, or strength, can be bought or sold. Whatever may be one's condition in life, the great art is to learn to be content and happy, indulging in no feverish longings for what we have not, but satisfied and thankful for what we have,

I had no sooner made myself snug upon my little farm when the tornado of 1857 toppled my former establishment into utter ruin. My successor was made a bankrupt, and his business was destroyed, leaving him overwhelmed with debt. He had lost all, while I had saved all. Had I not sold when I did, and secured what the sale yielded me, I too should have been among the wrecks of that terrific visitation.

But I heard its warring in the quiet of my little farm house, where it brought me neither anxiety nor loss. My position was like that of one sitting peacefully by his wintry fireside, gazing on the thick storm without, and listening to the patter of tire snow flakes as the tempest drove them angrily against the window pane, while all within was calm and genial.

Instead of regrets for what I had failed to grasp, my heart overflowed with thankfulness for the comparative abundance that remained to me. My peace of mind was perfect. The unspeakable satisfaction was felt of being out of business, out of debt, and out of danger. Not rich, but possessed of enough.

The thoughtful reader may well believe that subsequent disturbances, rebellion, war, and even a more wide spread bankruptcy from all of which my humble position made me secure have only served to intensify my gratitude to that Divine Providence which so mercifully shaped my ways.


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MOTHER EARTH NEWS is the guide to living — as one reader stated — “with little money and abundant happiness.” Every issue is an invaluable guide to leading a more sustainable life, covering ideas from fighting rising energy costs and protecting the environment to avoiding unnecessary spending on processed food. You’ll find tips for slashing heating bills; growing fresh, natural produce at home; and more. MOTHER EARTH NEWS helps you cut costs without sacrificing modern luxuries.

At MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we are dedicated to conserving our planet’s natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. That’s why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.00 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.00 for 6 issues.