"The Lady's Country Companion : or, How to Enjoy a Country Life Rationally." by Mrs. Jane Loudon (1807-1858) London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, c1845.
"Happiness, I suspect, in most cases, depends more upon ourselves than we are generally willing to allow; and I am quite sure that young married people who are attached to each other, and have a competency, may be happy if they will, particularly in the country, where their principal amusements must all centre in home. You will, perhaps, be surprised to find that I think this a cause of happiness, but you will find in time that I am right; and that our chances of being happy decrease in proportion as we depend upon others for our enjoyments."
Jane Webb was born at Ritwell House, near Birmingham, England, in 1807. When she was 17 her father died, and the orphaned Jane turned to her pen in an attempt to support herself. Under a pseudonym, she published "a strange wild novel" called "The Mummy", which predicted futuristic innovations in the science and social life of the twenty-second century. References to a steam plough caught the attention of John Loudon, a well-respected landscape gardener and writer. Upon being introduced by a mutual friend, Loudon was startled to discover that the author was not a man, but a much-younger lady. The Loudons were married within the year. Though she may have known little about gardening when they married, Jane learned quickly, working closely with her husband throughout his life on a number of major works, and continuing to write after his death.
"The Lady's Country Companion" is presented as a set of letters from the author to a young bride who has recently married and moved from the city to the country. There she must learn the management of a considerable country estate, and ensure that her servants are doing their jobs properly. Loudon phrases her advice so that it would be equally useful to someone doing a job herself, and indeed, she encourages her reader to become actively involved in the pursuits of country life. One can imagine her as the Martha Stewart of the 1840's, dispensing a mixture of tasteful recommendation and "how to" information to the masses and the wealthy. Part of the charm of the book is the mix of personal advice (such as how to convince ones' husband to cut down encroaching trees) with practical advice (how to pickle hams, lay out a greenhouse, or care for young chickens in the poultry yard).
I was enchanted by Jane's recipe for Devonshire syllabub: "A Devonshire syllabub, or junket, is made by putting a pint of cider, with two table-spoonfuls of brandy, and sugar to the taste, into a large bowl, and milking upon it till the bowl is nearly full. In twenty minutes some clotted cream is heaped up in the middle of the dish, and powdered cinnamon, grated nutmeg, and Harlequin comfits strewed over the top. When cider cannot be procured, half a pint of port is used instead, omitting the brandy; and when a cow is not accessible, lukewarm milk poured from a coffee-pot spout, held up as high as possible, will do almost as well."
For most of us nowadays, a cow is not accessible! We would not think of taking our mixing bowl to the dairy and "milking upon it." Jane Loudon's book opens a fascinating window into day-to-day domestic life in the country houses of 1700 or 1800's England. It is packed with vivid details of how such an estate operated day to day. If you want to create a garden, her advice is still useful and interesting, as are many of her other recommendations. I hope you will enjoy reading them.
"The great secret of being happy is, to be able to occupy ourselves with the objects around us, so as to feel an interest in watching their changes; and, when you can once do this in your present situation, you will no longer complain of dulness or want of excitement. ... All that is wanted to give an interest in any subject is, a sufficient degree of knowledge respecting it to be aware of its changes, and our own natural love of variety will do the rest."