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Reading 2: Arrival at Cornish
In his autobiography Saint-Gaudens described his arrival in Cornish, New Hampshire:
Now let me turn to other pleasures, and among them to my coming in 1885 to Cornish, New Hampshire, or Windsor, Vermont, as it is often called since that is the town in which we obtain our mail. For this coming made the beginning of a new side of my existence. I had been a boy of the streets and sidewalks all my life. So, hitherto, although no one could have enjoyed the fields and woods more heartily than I when I was in them for a few days, I soon tired and longed for my four walls and work. But during the first summer in the country, I was 37 at the time, it dawned upon me seriously how much there was outside my little world. We hit upon Cornish because, while casting about for a summer residence, Mr. C.C. Beaman told me that if I would go up there with him, he had an old house which he would sell me for what he paid for it, five-hundred dollars. However, all this side of life was so secondary to my work at that time that I refused to assume any responsibility of the kind, insisting that I was not wealthy enough to spend that amount. Especially was this feeling active when I first caught sight of the building on a dark, rainy day in April, for then it appeared so forbidding and relentless that one might have imagined a skeleton half-hanging out of the window, shrieking and dangling in the gale, with the sound of clanking bones. I was for fleeing at once and returning to my beloved sidewalks of New York. But as Mrs. Saint-Gaudens saw the future of sunny days that would follow, she detained me until Mr. Beaman agreed to rent the house to me at a low price for as long as I wished.
To persuade me to come, Mr. Beaman had said that there were "plenty of Lincoln-shaped men up there." He was right. So much for the first summer. But as the experiment had proved so successful, I had done a lot of work, and I was so enchanted with the life and scenery, I told Mr. Beaman that, if his offer was still open, I would purchase the place under the conditions he originally stated. He replied that he preferred not, as it had developed in a way far beyond his expectations, and as he thought it his duty to reserve it for his children. Instead he proposed that I rent it for as long as I wished on the conditions first named, which were most liberal. But the house and the life attracted me until I soon found that I expended on this place, which was not mine, every dollar I earned, and many I had not yet earned, whereas all of my friends who had followed had bought their homes and surrounding land. So I explained to Mr. Beaman that I could not continue in this way, and that he must sell to me, or I should look elsewhere for green fields and pastures new. The result was that for a certain amount and a bronze portrait of Mr. Beaman, the property came to me.
As I have said, despite its reputation, my dwelling first looked more as if it had been abandoned for the murders and other crimes therein committed than as a home wherein to live, move, and have one's being. For it stood out bleak, gaunt, austere, and forbidding, without a trace of charm. And the longer I stayed in it, the more its puritanical austerity irritated me, until at last I begged my friend Mr. George Fletcher Babb, the architect: "For mercy's sake, make this house smile, or I shall clear out and go elsewhere!" This he did beautifully, to my great delight. Inside he held the ornament of one or two modest mantels, which seemed pathetic in their subdued and gentle attempt at beauty in the grim surroundings, while outside, as our idea was to lower and spread the building, holding it down to the ground, so to speak, I devised the wide terrace that I know was a serious help for, before its construction, you stepped straight from the barren field into the house. As it is now, my friend, Mr. Edward Simmons, of multitudinous and witty speeches declares that it "looks like an austere, upright New England farmer with a new set of false teeth...."
Questions for Reading 2
1. Why did Saint-Gaudens agree to rent and then buy this property if he was initially appalled at the place?
2. What was unusual or different about the terms of sale that Saint-Gaudens made with Mr. Beaman? Do you think a sale such as this could be enacted in American society today? Why or why not?
3. What was it about the house that Saint-Gaudens did not like at first? How did he ask the architect to change it?
Reading 2 was excerpted from Homer Saint-Gaudens, ed. The Reminiscences of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, vol. 1 (New York: The Century Company, 1913).