THE WRITINGS OF HARRIET BEECHER STOWE
WITH BIOGRAPHICAL INTRODUCTIONS PORTRAITS, AND OTHER ILLUSTRATIONS
IN SIXTEEN VOLUMES VOLUME VIII
HOUGHTON MIFFLIN & CO
HOUSEHOLD PAPERS AND STORIES
BY HARRIET BEECHER STOWE
BOSTON AND NEW YORK HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN AND COMPANY The Riverside Press, Cambridge 1896
Copyright, 1868, By TICKNOR & FIELDS.
Copyright, 1864, 1892, 1896, By HARRIET BEECHER STOWE.
Copyright, 1896, By HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN & CO.
All rights reserved.
The Riverside Press, Cambridge, Mass., U. S. A. Electrotyped and Printed by H. O. Houghton & Co.
INTRODUCTORY NOTE vii
HOUSE AND HOME PAPERS I. The Ravages of a Carpet 1 II. Homekeeping vs. Housekeeping 16 III. What is a Home? 33 IV. The Economy of the Beautiful 54 V. Raking Up the Fire 69 VI. The Lady who does her own Work 85 VII. What can be got in America 101 VIII. Economy 112 IX. Servants 133 X. Cookery 153 XI. Our House 182 XII. Home Religion 212
THE CHIMNEY-CORNER I. What will You do with Her? or, The Woman Question 231 II. Woman's Sphere 249 III. A Family Talk on Reconstruction 274 IV. Is Woman a Worker? 300 V. The Transition 316 VI. Bodily Religion: A Sermon on Good Health 330 VII. How shall we entertain our Company? 347 VIII. How shall we be Amused? 362 IX. Dress, or Who makes the Fashions 374 X. What are the Sources of Beauty in Dress? 395 XI. The Cathedral 412 XII. The New Year 425 XIII. The Noble Army of Martyrs 438
OUR SECOND GIRL 449
A SCHOLAR'S ADVENTURES IN THE COUNTRY 473
TRIALS OF A HOUSEKEEPER 487
The frontispiece is from a photograph of Mrs. Stowe taken in 1884. The vignette of Mrs. Stowe's later Hartford home is from a drawing by Charles Copeland.
Mrs. Stowe had early and very practical acquaintance with the art of housekeeping. It strikes one at first as a little incongruous that an author who devoted her great powers to stirring the conscience of a nation should from time to time, and at one period especially, give her mind to the ordering of family life, but a moment's consideration will show that the same woman was earnestly at the bottom of each effort. In a letter to the late Lord Denman, written in 1853, Mrs. Stowe, speaking of Uncle Tom's Cabin, said: "I wrote what I did because, as a woman, as a mother, I was oppressed and heartbroken with the sorrows and injustice which I saw, and because, as a Christian, I felt the dishonor to Christianity." Not under the stress of passionate emotion, yet largely from a sense of real responsibility as a woman, a mother, and a Christian, she occupied herself with those concerns of every-day life which so distinctly appeal to a woman's mind. How to order a household, how to administer that little kingdom over which a woman rules, and, above all, how to make family life stable, pure, and conservative of the highest happiness, these were the questions which she asked herself constantly, and which she tried to solve, not only incidentally in her fiction, but directly in her essays, and in that field of one tenth fiction and nine tenths didacticism, which constitutes most of the present volume.
A Scholar's Adventures in the Country and Trials of a Housekeeper appeared in the miscellany to which she gave the name of The Mayflower, and reflect humorously the Cincinnati experiences which again are playfully recounted in letters published in her son's Life. The former, contributed in 1850 to The National Era, was drawn pretty closely from the experiments of Professor Stowe. It is noticeable that in this paper and in Our Second Girl, which was contributed to The Atlantic Monthly for January, 1868, the author poses as the masculine member of the household, as if this assumption gave her some advantage in the point of view. At any rate, she adopted the same role when she came more deliberately to survey a wide field in a series of articles.
The House and Home Papers were contributed first to The Atlantic Monthly, and afterward published in book form as the production of one Christopher Crowfield, though there was not the slightest attempt otherwise at disguising the authorship. The immediate occasion of the papers was no doubt the removal of the Stowes from Andover and their establishment in Hartford, an event which took place shortly before the papers began to appear in The Atlantic. The years which followed during the first Hartford residence saw also a marriage in the family and new problems of daily life constantly presenting themselves, so that a similar series appeared in the same magazine, purporting to be from the same householder, entitled The Chimney Corner. This series, indeed, entered rather more seriously into questions of social morality, and deepened in feeling as it proceeded. The eleventh section is a warm appreciation of the woman who figured so largely in Mrs. Stowe's early life, and the last two papers rose, as the reader will see, to the height of national memories. Mrs. Fields has preserved for us, in her Days with Mrs. Stowe, a striking record of the mingling of the great and the near in this writer's mind. The period of which she writes is that in which The Chimney Corner series was drawing to a close:—
"In the autumn of 1864 she wrote: 'I feel I need to write in these days, to keep me from thinking of things that make me dizzy and blind, and fill my eyes with tears, so that I cannot see the paper. I mean such things as are being done where our heroes are dying as Shaw died. It is not wise that all our literature should run in a rut cut through our hearts and red with our blood. I feel the need of a little gentle household merriment and talk of common things, to indulge which I have devised the following.'
"Notwithstanding her view of the need, and her skillfully devised plans to meet it, she soon sent another epistle, showing how impossible it was to stem the current of her thought:—
"'November 29, 1864.
"'MY DEAR FRIEND,—
"'I have sent my New Year's article, the result of one of those peculiar experiences which sometimes occur to us writers. I had planned an article, gay, sprightly, wholly domestic; but as I began and sketched the pleasant home and quiet fireside, an irresistible impulse wrote for me what followed,—an offering of sympathy to the suffering and agonized, whose homes have forever been darkened. Many causes united at once to force on me this vision, from which generally I shrink, but which sometimes will not be denied,—will make itself felt.
"'Just before I went to New York two of my earliest and most intimate friends lost their oldest sons, captains and majors,—splendid fellows physically and morally, beautiful, brave, religious, uniting the courage of soldiers to the faith of martyrs,—and when I went to Brooklyn it seemed as if I were hearing some such thing almost every day; and Henry, in his profession as minister, has so many letters full of imploring anguish, the cry of hearts breaking that ask help of him.'"...
HOUSEHOLD PAPERS AND STORIES
HOUSE AND HOME PAPERS
THE RAVAGES OF A CARPET
"My dear, it's so cheap!"
These words were spoken by my wife, as she sat gracefully on a roll of Brussels carpet which was spread out in flowery lengths on the floor of Messrs. Ketchem & Co.
"It's so cheap!"
Milton says that the love of fame is the last infirmity of noble minds. I think he had not rightly considered the subject. I believe that last infirmity is the love of getting things cheap! Understand me, now. I don't mean the love of getting cheap things, by which one understands showy, trashy, ill-made, spurious articles, bearing certain apparent resemblances to better things. All really sensible people are quite superior to that sort of cheapness. But those fortunate accidents, which put within the power of a man things really good and valuable for half or a third of their value, what mortal virtue and resolution can withstand? My friend Brown has a genuine Murillo, the joy of his heart and the light of his eyes, but he never fails to tell you, as its crowning merit, how he bought it in South America for just nothing,—how it hung smoky and deserted in the back of a counting-room, and was thrown in as a makeweight to bind a bargain, and, upon being cleaned turned out a genuine Murillo; and then he takes out his cigar, and calls your attention to the points in it; he adjusts the curtain to let the sunlight fall just in the right spot; he takes you to this and the other point of view; and all this time you must confess that, in your mind as well as his, the consideration that he got all this beauty for ten dollars adds lustre to the painting. Brown has paintings there for which he paid his thousands, and, being well advised, they are worth the thousands he paid; but this ewe lamb that he got for nothing always gives him a secret exaltation in his own eyes. He seems to have credited to himself personally merit to the amount of what he should have paid for the picture. Then there is Mrs. Croesus, at the party yesterday evening, expatiating to my wife on the surprising cheapness of her point-lace set. "Got for just nothing at all, my dear!" and a circle of admiring listeners echoes the sound. "Did you ever hear anything like it? I never heard of such a thing in my life;" and away sails Mrs. Croesus as if she had a collar composed of all the cardinal virtues. In fact, she is buoyed up with a secret sense of merit, so that her satin slippers scarcely touch the carpet. Even I myself am fond of showing a first edition of "Paradise Lost" for which I gave a shilling in a London bookstall, and stating that I would not take a hundred dollars for it. Even I must confess there are points on which I am mortal.
But all this while my wife sits on her roll of carpet, looking into my face for approbation, and Marianne and Jenny are pouring into my ear a running fire of "How sweet! How lovely! Just like that one of Mrs. Tweedleum's!"
"And she gave two dollars and seventy-five cents a yard for hers, and this is"—
My wife here put her hand to her mouth and pronounced the incredible sum in a whisper, with a species of sacred awe, common, as I have observed, to females in such interesting crises. In fact Mr. Ketchem, standing smiling and amiable by, remarked to me that really he hoped Mrs. Crowfield would not name generally what she gave for the article, for positively it was so far below the usual rate of prices that he might give offense to other customers; but this was the very last of the pattern, and they were anxious to close off the old stock, and we had always traded with them, and he had a great respect for my wife's father, who had always traded with their firm, and so, when there were any little bargains to be thrown in any one's way, why, he naturally, of course—And here Mr. Ketchem bowed gracefully over the yardstick to my wife, and I consented.
Yes, I consented; but whenever I think of myself at that moment, I always am reminded, in a small way, of Adam taking the apple; and my wife, seated on that roll of carpet, has more than once suggested to my mind the classic image of Pandora opening her unlucky box. In fact, from the moment I had blandly assented to Mr. Ketchem's remarks, and said to my wife, with a gentle air of dignity, "Well, my dear, since it suits you, I think you had better take it," there came a load on my prophetic soul which not all the fluttering and chattering of my delighted girls and the more placid complacency of my wife could entirely dissipate. I presaged I know not what of coming woe, and all I presaged came to pass.
In order to know just what came to pass, I must give you a view of the house and home into which this carpet was introduced.
My wife and I were somewhat advanced housekeepers, and our dwelling was first furnished by her father, in the old-fashioned jog-trot days when furniture was made with a view to its lasting from generation to generation. Everything was strong and comfortable,—heavy mahogany, guiltless of the modern device of veneering, and hewed out with a square solidity which had not an idea of change. It was, so to speak, a sort of granite foundation of the household structure. Then we commenced housekeeping with the full idea that our house was a thing to be lived in, and that furniture was made to be used. That most sensible of women, Mrs. Crowfield, agreed fully with me that in our house there was to be nothing too good for ourselves,—no room shut up in holiday attire to be enjoyed by strangers for three or four days in the year, while we lived in holes and corners; no best parlor from which we were to be excluded; no silver plate to be kept in the safe in the bank, and brought home only in case of a grand festival, while our daily meals were served with dingy Britannia. "Strike a broad, plain average," I said to my wife; "have everything abundant, serviceable, and give all our friends exactly what we have ourselves, no better and no worse;" and my wife smiled approval on my sentiment.
Smile? she did more than smile. My wife resembles one of those convex mirrors I have sometimes seen. Every idea I threw out, plain and simple, she reflected back upon me in a thousand little glitters and twinkles of her own; she made my crude conceptions come back to me in such perfectly dazzling performances that I hardly recognized them. My mind warms up when I think what a home that woman made of our house from the very first day she moved into it. The great, large, airy parlor, with its ample bow-window, when she had arranged it, seemed a perfect trap to catch sunbeams. There was none of that discouraging trimness and newness that often repel a man's bachelor friends after the first call, and make them feel, "Oh, well, one cannot go in at Crowfield's now, unless one is dressed; one might put them out." The first thing our parlor said to any one was, that we were not people to be put out, that we were widespread, easy-going, and jolly folk. Even if Tom Brown brought in Ponto and his shooting-bag, there was nothing in that parlor to strike terror into man and dog; for it was written on the face of things that everybody there was to do just as he or she pleased. There were my books and my writing-table spread out with all its miscellaneous confusion of papers on one side of the fireplace, and there were my wife's great, ample sofa and work-table on the other; there I wrote my articles for the "North American;" and there she turned and ripped and altered her dresses; and there lay crochet and knitting and embroidery side by side with a weekly basket of family mending, and in neighborly contiguity with the last book of the season, which my wife turned over as she took her after-dinner lounge on the sofa. And in the bow-window were canaries always singing, and a great stand of plants always fresh and blooming, and ivy which grew and clambered and twined about the pictures. Best of all, there was in our parlor that household altar, the blazing wood fire, whose wholesome, hearty crackle is the truest household inspiration. I quite agree with one celebrated American author who holds that an open fireplace is an altar of patriotism. Would our Revolutionary fathers have gone barefooted and bleeding over snows to defend air-tight stoves and cooking-ranges? I trow not. It was the memory of the great open kitchen-fire, with its back log and fore stick of cord-wood, its roaring, hilarious voice of invitation, its dancing tongues of flame, that called to them through the snows of that dreadful winter to keep up their courage, that made their hearts warm and bright with a thousand reflected memories. Our neighbors said that it was delightful to sit by our fire,—but then, for their part, they could not afford it, wood was so ruinously dear, and all that. Most of these people could not, for the simple reason that they felt compelled, in order to maintain the family dignity, to keep up a parlor with great pomp and circumstance of upholstery, where they sat only on dress occasions, and of course the wood fire was out of the question.
When children began to make their appearance in our establishment, my wife, like a well-conducted housekeeper, had the best of nursery arrangements,—a room all warmed, lighted, and ventilated, and abounding in every proper resource of amusement to the rising race; but it was astonishing to see how, notwithstanding this, the centripetal attraction drew every pair of little pattering feet to our parlor.
"My dear, why don't you take your blocks upstairs?"
"I want to be where oo are," said with a piteous under lip, was generally a most convincing answer.
Then, the small people could not be disabused of the idea that certain chief treasures of their own would be safer under papa's writing-table or mamma's sofa than in the safest closet of their domains. My writing-table was dockyard for Arthur's new ship, and stable for little Tom's pepper-and-salt-colored pony, and carriage-house for Charley's new wagon, while whole armies of paper dolls kept house in the recess behind mamma's sofa.
And then, in due time, came the tribe of pets who followed the little ones and rejoiced in the blaze of the firelight. The boys had a splendid Newfoundland, which, knowing our weakness, we warned them with awful gravity was never to be a parlor dog; but somehow, what with little beggings and pleadings on the part of Arthur and Tom, and the piteous melancholy with which Rover would look through the window-panes when shut out from the blazing warmth into the dark, cold veranda, it at last came to pass that Rover gained a regular corner at the hearth, a regular status in every family convocation. And then came a little black-and-tan English terrier for the girls; and then a fleecy poodle, who established himself on the corner of my wife's sofa; and for each of these some little voice pleaded, and some little heart would be so near broken at any slight that my wife and I resigned ourselves to live in a menagerie, the more so as we were obliged to confess a lurking weakness towards these four-footed children ourselves.
So we grew and flourished together,—children, dogs, birds, flowers, and all; and although my wife often, in paroxysms of housewifeliness to which the best of women are subject, would declare that we never were fit to be seen, yet I comforted her with the reflection that there were few people whose friends seemed to consider them better worth seeing, judging by the stream of visitors and loungers which was always setting towards our parlor. People seemed to find it good to be there; they said it was somehow home-like and pleasant, and that there was a kind of charm about it that made it easy to talk and easy to live; and as my girls and boys grew up, there seemed always to be some merry doing or other going on there. Arty and Tom brought home their college friends, who straightway took root there and seemed to fancy themselves a part of us. We had no reception-rooms apart, where the girls were to receive young gentlemen; all the courting and flirting that were to be done had for their arena the ample variety of surface presented by our parlor, which, with sofas and screens and lounges and recesses, and writing and work tables, disposed here and there, and the genuine laisser aller of the whole menage, seemed, on the whole, to have offered ample advantages enough; for at the time I write of, two daughters were already established in marriage, while my youngest was busy, as yet, in performing that little domestic ballet of the cat with the mouse, in the case of a most submissive youth of the neighborhood.
All this time our parlor furniture, though of that granitic formation I have indicated, began to show marks of that decay to which things sublunary are liable. I cannot say that I dislike this look in a room. Take a fine, ample, hospitable apartment, where all things, freely and generously used, softly and indefinably grow old together, there is a sort of mellow tone and keeping which pleases my eye. What if the seams of the great inviting armchair, where so many friends have sat and lounged, do grow white? What, in fact, if some easy couch has an undeniable hole worn in its friendly cover? I regard with tenderness even these mortal weaknesses of these servants and witnesses of our good times and social fellowship. No vulgar touch wore them; they may be called, rather, the marks and indentations which the glittering in and out of the tide of social happiness has worn in the rocks of our strand. I would no more disturb the gradual toning-down and aging of a well-used set of furniture by smart improvements than I would have a modern dauber paint in emendations in a fine old picture.
So we men reason, but women do not always think as we do. There is a virulent demon of housekeeping not wholly cast out in the best of them, and which often breaks out in unguarded moments. In fact Miss Marianne, being on the lookout for furniture wherewith to begin a new establishment, and Jenny, who had accompanied her in her peregrinations, had more than once thrown out little disparaging remarks on the time-worn appearance of our establishment, suggesting comparison with those of more modern furnished rooms.
"It is positively scandalous, the way our furniture looks," I one day heard one of them declaring to her mother; "and this old rag of a carpet!"
My feelings were hurt, not the less so that I knew that the large cloth which covered the middle of the floor, and which the women call a bocking, had been bought and nailed down there, after a solemn family council, as the best means of concealing the too evident darns which years of good cheer had made needful in our stanch old household friend, the three-ply carpet, made in those days when to be a three-ply was a pledge of continuance and service.
Well, it was a joyous and bustling day when, after one of those domestic whirlwinds which the women are fond of denominating house-cleaning, the new Brussels carpet was at length brought in and nailed down, and its beauty praised from mouth to mouth. Our old friends called in and admired, and all seemed to be well, except that I had that light and delicate presage of changes to come which indefinitely brooded over me.
The first premonitory symptom was the look of apprehensive suspicion with which the female senate regarded the genial sunbeams that had always glorified our bow-window.
"This house ought to have inside blinds," said Marianne, with all the confident decision of youth; "this carpet will be ruined if that sun is allowed to come in like that."
"And that dirty little canary must really be hung in the kitchen," said Jenny; "he always did make such a litter, scattering his seed chippings about; and he never takes his bath without flirting out some water. And, mamma, it appears to me it will never do to have the plants here. Plants are always either leaking through the pots upon the carpet, or scattering bits of blossoms and dead leaves, or some accident upsets or breaks a pot. It was no matter, you know, when we had the old carpet; but this we really want to have kept nice."
Mamma stood her ground for the plants,—darlings of her heart for many a year,—but temporized, and showed that disposition towards compromise which is most inviting to aggression.
I confess I trembled; for, of all radicals on earth, none are to be compared to females that have once in hand a course of domestic innovation and reform. The sacred fire, the divine furor, burns in their bosoms; they become perfect Pythonesses, and every chair they sit on assumes the magic properties of the tripod. Hence the dismay that lodges in the bosoms of us males at the fateful spring and autumn seasons denominated house-cleaning. Who can say whither the awful gods, the prophetic fates, may drive our fair household divinities; what sins of ours may be brought to light; what indulgences and compliances, which uninspired woman has granted in her ordinary mortal hours, may be torn from us? He who has been allowed to keep a pair of pet slippers in a concealed corner, and by the fireside indulged with a chair which he might ad libitum fill with all sorts of pamphlets and miscellaneous literature, suddenly finds himself reformed out of knowledge, his pamphlets tucked away into pigeonholes and corners, and his slippers put in their place in the hall, with, perhaps, a brisk insinuation about the shocking dust and disorder that men will tolerate.
The fact was, that the very first night after the advent of the new carpet I had a prophetic dream. Among our treasures of art was a little etching, by an English artist friend, the subject of which was the gambols of the household fairies in a baronial library after the household were in bed. The little people are represented in every attitude of frolic enjoyment. Some escalade the great armchair, and look down from its top as from a domestic Mont Blanc; some climb about the bellows; some scale the shaft of the shovel; while some, forming in magic ring, dance festively on the yet glowing hearth. Tiny troops promenade the writing-table. One perches himself quaintly on the top of the inkstand, and holds colloquy with another who sits cross-legged on a paper weight, while a companion looks down on them from the top of the sandbox. It was an ingenious little device, and gave me the idea, which I often expressed to my wife, that much of the peculiar feeling of security, composure, and enjoyment which seems to be the atmosphere of some rooms and houses came from the unsuspected presence of these little people, the household fairies, so that the belief in their existence became a solemn article of faith with me.
Accordingly, that evening, after the installation of the carpet, when my wife and daughters had gone to bed, as I sat with my slippered feet before the last coals of the fire, I fell asleep in my chair, and, lo! my own parlor presented to my eye a scene of busy life. The little people in green were tripping to and fro, but in great confusion. Evidently something was wrong among them; for they were fussing and chattering with each other, as if preparatory to a general movement. In the region of the bow-window I observed a tribe of them standing with tiny valises and carpetbags in their hands, as though about to depart on a journey. On my writing-table another set stood around my inkstand and pen-rack, who, pointing to those on the floor, seemed to debate some question among themselves; while others of them appeared to be collecting and packing away in tiny trunks certain fairy treasures, preparatory to a general departure. When I looked at the social hearth, at my wife's sofa and work-basket, I saw similar appearances of dissatisfaction and confusion. It was evident that the household fairies were discussing the question of a general and simultaneous removal. I groaned in spirit, and, stretching out my hand, began a conciliatory address, when whisk went the whole scene from before my eyes, and I awaked to behold the form of my wife asking me if I were ill, or had had the nightmare, that I groaned so. I told her my dream, and we laughed at it together.
"We must give way to the girls a little," she said. "It is natural, you know, that they should wish us to appear a little as other people do. The fact is, our parlor is somewhat dilapidated; think how many years we have lived in it without an article of new furniture."
"I hate new furniture," I remarked, in the bitterness of my soul. "I hate anything new."
My wife answered me discreetly, according to approved principles of diplomacy. I was right. She sympathized with me. At the same time, it was not necessary, she remarked, that we should keep a hole in our sofa-cover and armchair,—there would certainly be no harm in sending them to the upholsterer's to be new-covered; she didn't much mind, for her part, moving her plants to the south back room; and the bird would do well enough in the kitchen: I had often complained of him for singing vociferously when I was reading aloud.
So our sofa went to the upholsterer's; but the upholsterer was struck with such horror at its clumsy, antiquated, unfashionable appearance that he felt bound to make representations to my wife and daughters: positively, it would be better for them to get a new one, of a tempting pattern which he showed them, than to try to do anything with that. With a stitch or so here and there it might do for a basement dining-room; but, for a parlor, he gave it as his disinterested opinion,—he must say, if the case were his own, he should get, etc., etc. In short, we had a new sofa and new chairs, and the plants and the birds were banished, and some dark-green blinds were put up to exclude the sun from the parlor, and the blessed luminary was allowed there only at rare intervals, when my wife and daughters were out shopping, and I acted out my uncivilized male instincts by pulling up every shade and vivifying the apartment as in days of old.
But this was not the worst of it. The new furniture and new carpet formed an opposition party in the room. I believe in my heart that for every little household fairy that went out with the dear old things there came in a tribe of discontented brownies with the new ones. These little wretches were always twitching at the gowns of my wife and daughters, jogging their elbows, and suggesting odious comparisons between the smart new articles and what remained of the old ones. They disparaged my writing-table in the corner; they disparaged the old-fashioned lounge in the other corner, which had been the maternal throne for years; they disparaged the work-table, the work-basket, with constant suggestions of how such things as these would look in certain well-kept parlors where new-fashioned furniture of the same sort as ours existed.
"We don't have any parlor," said Jenny one day. "Our parlor has always been a sort of log cabin,—library, study, nursery, greenhouse, all combined. We never have had things like other people."
"Yes, and this open fire makes such a dust; and this carpet is one that shows every speck of dust; it keeps one always on the watch."
"I wonder why papa never had a study to himself; I'm sure I should think he would like it better than sitting here among us all. Now there's the great south room off the dining-room; if he would only move his things there and have his open fire, we could then close up the fireplace and put lounges in the recesses, and mamma could have her things in the nursery,—and then we should have a parlor fit to be seen."
I overheard all this, though I pretended not to,—the little busy chits supposing me entirely buried in the recesses of a German book over which I was poring.
There are certain crises in a man's life when the female element in his household asserts itself in dominant forms that seem to threaten to overwhelm him. The fair creatures, who in most matters have depended on his judgment, evidently look upon him at these seasons as only a forlorn, incapable male creature, to be cajoled and flattered and persuaded out of his native blindness and absurdity into the fairyland of their wishes.
"Of course, mamma," said the busy voices, "men can't understand such things. What can men know of housekeeping, and how things ought to look? Papa never goes into company; he don't know and don't care how the world is doing, and don't see that nobody now is living as we do."
"Aha, my little mistresses, are you there?" I thought; and I mentally resolved on opposing a great force of what our politicians call backbone to this pretty domestic conspiracy.
"When you get my writing-table out of this corner, my pretty dears, I'd thank you to let me know it."
Thus spake I in my blindness, fool that I was. Jupiter might as soon keep awake when Juno came in best bib and tucker, and with the cestus of Venus, to get him to sleep. Poor Slender might as well hope to get the better of pretty Mistress Anne Page as one of us clumsy-footed men might endeavor to escape from the tangled labyrinth of female wiles.
In short, in less than a year it was all done, without any quarrel, any noise, any violence,—done, I scarce knew when or how, but with the utmost deference to my wishes, the most amiable hopes that I would not put myself out, the most sincere protestations that, if I liked it better as it was, my goddesses would give up and acquiesce. In fact I seemed to do it of myself, constrained thereto by what the Emperor Napoleon has so happily called the logic of events,—that old, well-known logic by which the man who has once said A must say B, and he who has said B must say the whole alphabet. In a year we had a parlor with two lounges in decorous recesses, a fashionable sofa, and six chairs and a looking-glass, and a grate always shut up, and a hole in the floor which kept the parlor warm, and great, heavy curtains that kept out all the light that was not already excluded by the green shades.
It was as proper and orderly a parlor as those of our most fashionable neighbors; and when our friends called, we took them stumbling into its darkened solitude, and opened a faint crack in one of the window-shades, and came down in our best clothes and talked with them there. Our old friends rebelled at this, and asked what they had done to be treated so, and complained so bitterly that gradually we let them into the secret that there was a great south room, which I had taken for my study, where we all sat; where the old carpet was down; where the sun shone in at the great window; where my wife's plants flourished, and the canary-bird sang, and my wife had her sofa in the corner, and the old brass andirons glistened, and the wood fire crackled,—in short, a room to which all the household fairies had emigrated.
When they once had found that out, it was difficult to get any of them to sit in our parlor. I had purposely christened the new room my study, that I might stand on my rights as master of ceremonies there, though I opened wide arms of welcome to any who chose to come. So, then, it would often come to pass that, when we were sitting round the fire in my study of an evening, the girls would say,—
"Come, what do we always stay here for? Why don't we ever sit in the parlor?"
And then there would be manifested among guests and family friends a general unwillingness to move.
"Oh, hang it, girls!" would Arthur say; "the parlor is well enough, all right; let it stay as it is, and let a fellow stay where he can do as he pleases and feels at home;" and to this view of the matter would respond divers of the nice young bachelors who were Arthur's and Tom's sworn friends.
In fact nobody wanted to stay in our parlor now. It was a cold, correct, accomplished fact; the household fairies had left it,—and when the fairies leave a room, nobody ever feels at home in it. No pictures, curtains, no wealth of mirrors, no elegance of lounges, can in the least make up for their absence. They are a capricious little set; there are rooms where they will not stay, and rooms where they will; but no one can ever have a good time without them.
HOMEKEEPING VERSUS HOUSEKEEPING
I am a frank-hearted man, as perhaps you have by this time perceived, and you will not, therefore, be surprised to know that I read my last article on the carpet to my wife and the girls before I sent it to the "Atlantic," and we had a hearty laugh over it together. My wife and the girls, in fact, felt that they could afford to laugh, for they had carried their point, their reproach among women was taken away, they had become like other folks. Like other folks they had a parlor, an undeniable best parlor, shut up and darkened, with all proper carpets, curtains, lounges, and marble-topped tables, too good for human nature's daily food; and being sustained by this consciousness, they cheerfully went on receiving their friends in the study, and having good times in the old free-and-easy way; for did not everybody know that this room was not their best? and if the furniture was old-fashioned and a little the worse for antiquity, was it not certain that they had better, which they could use if they would?
"And supposing we wanted to give a party," said Jenny, "how nicely our parlor would light up! Not that we ever do give parties, but if we should,—and for a wedding-reception, you know."
I felt the force of the necessity; it was evident that the four or five hundred extra which we had expended was no more than such solemn possibilities required.
"Now, papa thinks we have been foolish," said Marianne, "and he has his own way of making a good story of it; but, after all, I desire to know if people are never to get a new carpet. Must we keep the old one till it actually wears to tatters?"
This is a specimen of the reductio ad absurdum which our fair antagonists of the other sex are fond of employing. They strip what we say of all delicate shadings and illusory phrases, and reduce it to some bare question of fact, with which they make a home-thrust at us.
"Yes, that's it; are people never to get a new carpet?" echoed Jenny.
"My dears," I replied, "it is a fact that to introduce anything new into an apartment hallowed by many home associations, where all things have grown old together, requires as much care and adroitness as for an architect to restore an arch or niche in a fine old ruin. The fault of our carpet was that it was in another style from everything in our room, and made everything in it look dilapidated. Its colors, material, and air belonged to another manner of life, and were a constant plea for alterations; and you see it actually drove out and expelled the whole furniture of the room, and I am not sure yet that it may not entail on us the necessity of refurnishing the whole house."
"My dear!" said my wife, in a tone of remonstrance; but Jane and Marianne laughed and colored.
"Confess, now," said I, looking at them; "have you not had secret designs on the hall and stair carpet?"
"Now, papa, how could you know it? I only said to Marianne that to have Brussels in the parlor and that old mean-looking ingrain carpet in the hall did not seem exactly the thing; and in fact you know, mamma, Messrs. Ketchem & Co. showed us such a lovely pattern, designed to harmonize with our parlor carpet."
"I know it, girls," said my wife; "but you know I said at once that such an expense was not to be thought of."
"Now, girls," said I, "let me tell you a story I heard once of a very sensible old New England minister, who lived, as our country ministers generally do, rather near to the bone, but still quite contentedly. It was in the days when knee-breeches and long stockings were worn, and this good man was offered a present of a very nice pair of black silk hose. He declined, saying he 'could not afford to wear them.'"
"'Not afford it?' said the friend; 'why, I give them to you.'
"'Exactly; but it will cost me not less than two hundred dollars to take them, and I cannot do it.'
"'How is that?'
"'Why, in the first place, I shall no sooner put them on than my wife will say, "My dear, you must have a new pair of knee-breeches," and I shall get them. Then my wife will say, "My dear, how shabby your coat is! You must have a new one," and I shall get a new coat. Then she will say, "Now, my dear, that hat will never do," and then I shall have a new hat; and then I shall say, "My dear, it will never do for me to be so fine and you to wear your old gown," and so my wife will get a new gown; and then the new gown will require a new shawl and a new bonnet; all of which we shall not feel the need of if I don't take this pair of silk stockings, for, as long as we don't see them, our old things seem very well suited to each other.'"
The girls laughed at this story, and I then added, in my most determined manner,—
"But I must warn you, girls, that I have compromised to the utmost extent of my power, and that I intend to plant myself on the old stair carpet in determined resistance. I have no mind to be forbidden the use of the front stairs, or condemned to get up into my bedroom by a private ladder, as I should be immediately if there were a new carpet down."
"Would it not be so? Can the sun shine in the parlor now for fear of fading the carpet? Can we keep a fire there for fear of making dust, or use the lounges and sofas for fear of wearing them out? If you got a new entry and stair carpet, as I said, I should have to be at the expense of another staircase to get up to our bedroom."
"Oh no, papa," said Jane innocently; "there are very pretty druggets now for covering stair carpets, so that they can be used without hurting them."
"Put one over the old carpet, then," said I, "and our acquaintance will never know but it is a new one."
All the female senate laughed at this proposal, and said it sounded just like a man.
"Well," said I, standing up resolutely for my sex, "a man's ideas on woman's matters may be worth some attention. I flatter myself that an intelligent, educated man doesn't think upon and observe with interest any particular subject for years of his life without gaining some ideas respecting it that are good for something; at all events, I have written another article for the 'Atlantic,' which I will read to you."
"Well, wait one minute, papa, till we get our work," said the girls, who, to say the truth, always exhibit a flattering interest in anything their papa writes, and who have the good taste never to interrupt his readings with any conversations in an undertone on cross-stitch and floss-silks, as the manner of some is. Hence the little feminine bustle of arranging all these matters beforehand. Jane, or Jenny, as I call her in my good-natured moods, put on a fresh clear stick of hickory, of that species denominated shagbark, which is full of most charming slivers, burning with such a clear flame, and emitting such a delicious perfume in burning, that I would not change it with the millionaire who kept up his fire with cinnamon.
You must know, my dear Mr. Atlantic, and you, my confidential friends of the reading public, that there is a certain magic or spiritualism which I have the knack of in regard to these mine articles, in virtue of which my wife and daughters never hear or see the little personalities respecting them which form parts of my papers. By a peculiar arrangement which I have made with the elves of the inkstand and the familiar spirits of the quill, a sort of glamour falls on their eyes and ears when I am reading, or when they read the parts personal to themselves; otherwise their sense of feminine propriety would be shocked at the free way in which they and their most internal affairs are confidentially spoken of between me and you, O loving readers.
Thus, in an undertone, I tell you that my little Jenny, as she is zealously and systematically arranging the fire, and trimly whisking every untidy particle of ashes from the hearth, shows in every movement of her little hands, in the cock of her head, in the knowing, observing glance of her eye, and in all her energetic movements, that her small person is endued and made up of the very expressed essence of housewifeliness,—she is the very attar, not of roses, but of housekeeping. Care-taking and thrift and neatness are a nature to her; she is as dainty and delicate in her person as a white cat, as everlastingly busy as a bee; and all the most needful faculties of time, weight, measure, and proportion ought to be fully developed in her skull, if there is any truth in phrenology. Besides all this, she has a sort of hard-grained little vein of common sense, against which my fanciful conceptions and poetical notions are apt to hit with just a little sharp grating, if they are not well put. In fact, this kind of woman needs carefully to be idealized in the process of education, or she will stiffen and dry, as she grows old, into a veritable household Pharisee, a sort of domestic tyrant. She needs to be trained in artistic values and artistic weights and measures, to study all the arts and sciences of the beautiful, and then she is charming. Most useful, most needful, these little women: they have the centripetal force which keeps all the domestic planets from gyrating and frisking in unseemly orbits, and, properly trained, they fill a house with the beauty of order, the harmony and consistency of proportion, the melody of things moving in time and tune, without violating the graceful appearance of ease which Art requires.
So I had an eye to Jenny's education in my article which I unfolded and read, and which was entitled
HOMEKEEPING VERSUS HOUSEKEEPING
There are many women who know how to keep a house, but there are but few that know how to keep a home. To keep a house may seem a complicated affair, but it is a thing that may be learned; it lies in the region of the material; in the region of weight, measure, color, and the positive forces of life. To keep a home lies not merely in the sphere of all these, but it takes in the intellectual, the social, the spiritual, the immortal.
* * * * *
Here the hickory stick broke in two, and the two brands fell controversially out and apart on the hearth, scattering the ashes and coals, and calling for Jenny and the hearth-brush. Your wood fire has this foible, that it needs something to be done to it every five minutes; but, after all, these little interruptions of our bright-faced genius are like the piquant sallies of a clever friend,—they do not strike us as unreasonable.
When Jenny had laid down her brush she said,—
"Seems to me, papa, you are beginning to soar into metaphysics."
"Everything in creation is metaphysical in its abstract terms," said I, with a look calculated to reduce her to a respectful condition. "Everything has a subjective and an objective mode of presentation."
"There papa goes with subjective and objective!" said Marianne. "For my part, I never can remember which is which."
"I remember," said Jenny; "it's what our old nurse used to call internal and out-ternal,—I always remember by that."
"Come, my dears," said my wife, "let your father read;" so I went on as follows:—
* * * * *
I remember in my bachelor days going with my boon companion, Bill Carberry, to look at the house to which he was in a few weeks to introduce his bride. Bill was a gallant, free-hearted, open-handed fellow, the life of our whole set, and we felt that natural aversion to losing him that bachelor friends would. How could we tell under what strange aspects he might look forth upon us, when once he had passed into "that undiscovered country" of matrimony? But Bill laughed to scorn our apprehensions.
"I'll tell you what, Chris," he said, as he sprang cheerily up the steps and unlocked the door of his future dwelling, "do you know what I chose this house for? Because it's a social-looking house. Look there, now," he said, as he ushered me into a pair of parlors,—"look at those long south windows, the sun lies there nearly all day long; see what a capital corner there is for a lounging-chair; fancy us, Chris, with our books or our paper, spread out loose and easy, and Sophie gliding in and out like a sunbeam. I'm getting poetical, you see. Then, did you ever see a better, wider, airier dining-room? What capital suppers and things we'll have there! the nicest times,—everything free and easy, you know,—just what I've always wanted a house for. I tell you, Chris, you and Tom Innis shall have latch-keys just like mine, and there is a capital chamber there at the head of the stairs, so that you can be free to come and go. And here now's the library,—fancy this full of books and engravings from the ceiling to the floor; here you shall come just as you please and ask no questions,—all the same as if it were your own, you know."
"And Sophie, what will she say to all this?"
"Why, you know Sophie is a prime friend to both of you, and a capital girl to keep things going. Oh, Sophie'll make a house of this, you may depend!"
A day or two after, Bill dragged me stumbling over boxes and through straw and wrappings to show me the glories of the parlor furniture, with which he seemed pleased as a child with a new toy.
"Look here," he said; "see these chairs, garnet-colored satin, with a pattern on each; well, the sofa's just like them, and the curtains to match, and the carpets made for the floor with centrepieces and borders. I never saw anything more magnificent in my life. Sophie's governor furnishes the house, and everything is to be A No. 1, and all that, you see. Messrs. Curtain & Collamore are coming to make the rooms up, and her mother is busy as a bee getting us in order."
"Why, Bill," said I, "you are going to be lodged like a prince. I hope you'll be able to keep it up; but law business comes in rather slowly at first, old fellow."
"Well, you know it isn't the way I should furnish, if my capital was the one to cash the bills; but then, you see, Sophie's people do it, and let them,—a girl doesn't want to come down out of the style she has always lived in."
I said nothing, but had an oppressive presentiment that social freedom would expire in that house, crushed under a weight of upholstery.
But there came in due time the wedding and the wedding-reception, and we all went to see Bill in his new house, splendidly lighted up and complete from top to toe, and everybody said what a lucky fellow he was; but that was about the end of it, so far as our visiting was concerned. The running in, and dropping in, and keeping latch-keys, and making informal calls, that had been forespoken, seemed about as likely as if Bill had lodged in the Tuileries.
Sophie, who had always been one of your snapping, sparkling, busy sort of girls, began at once to develop her womanhood and show her principles, and was as different from her former self as your careworn, mousing old cat is from your rollicking, frisky kitten. Not but that Sophie was a good girl. She had a capital heart, a good, true womanly one, and was loving and obliging; but still she was one of the desperately painstaking, conscientious sort of women whose very blood, as they grow older, is devoured with anxiety, and she came of a race of women in whom housekeeping was more than an art or a science,—it was, so to speak, a religion. Sophie's mother, aunts, and grandmothers, for nameless generations back, were known and celebrated housekeepers. They might have been genuine descendants of the inhabitants of that Hollandic town of Broeck, celebrated by Washington Irving, where the cows' tails are kept tied up with unsullied blue ribbons, and the ends of the fire-wood are painted white. He relates how a celebrated preacher, visiting this town, found it impossible to draw these housewives from their earthly views and employments, until he took to preaching on the neatness of the celestial city, the unsullied crystal of its walls and the polish of its golden pavement, when the faces of all the housewives were set Zionward at once.
Now this solemn and earnest view of housekeeping is onerous enough when a poor girl first enters on the care of a moderately furnished house, where the articles are not too expensive to be reasonably renewed as time and use wear them; but it is infinitely worse when a cataract of splendid furniture is heaped upon her care,—when splendid crystals cut into her conscience, and mirrors reflect her duties, and moth and rust stand ever ready to devour and sully in every room and passageway.
Sophie was solemnly warned and instructed by all the mothers and aunts,—she was warned of moths, warned of cockroaches, warned of flies, warned of dust; all the articles of furniture had their covers, made of cold Holland linen, in which they looked like bodies laid out,—even the curtain tassels had each its little shroud,—and bundles of receipts, and of rites and ceremonies necessary for the preservation and purification and care of all these articles, were stuffed into the poor girl's head, before guiltless of cares as the feathers that floated above it.
Poor Bill found very soon that his house and furniture were to be kept at such an ideal point of perfection that he needed another house to live in,—for, poor fellow, he found the difference between having a house and a home. It was only a year or two after that my wife and I started our menage on very different principles, and Bill would often drop in upon us, wistfully lingering in the cosy armchair between my writing-table and my wife's sofa, and saying with a sigh how confoundedly pleasant things looked there,—so pleasant to have a bright, open fire, and geraniums and roses and birds, and all that sort of thing, and to dare to stretch out one's legs and move without thinking what one was going to hit. "Sophie is a good girl!" he would say, "and wants to have everything right, but you see they won't let her. They've loaded her with so many things that have to be kept in lavender that the poor girl is actually getting thin and losing her health; and then, you see, there's Aunt Zeruah, she mounts guard at our house, and keeps up such strict police regulations that a fellow can't do a thing. The parlors are splendid, but so lonesome and dismal!—not a ray of sunshine, in fact not a ray of light, except when a visitor is calling, and then they open a crack. They're afraid of flies, and yet, dear knows, they keep every looking-glass and picture-frame muffled to its throat from March to December. I'd like, for curiosity, to see what a fly would do in our parlors!"
"Well," said I, "can't you have some little family sitting-room where you can make yourselves cosy?"
"Not a bit of it. Sophie and Aunt Zeruah have fixed their throne up in our bedroom, and there they sit all day long, except at calling-hours, and then Sophie dresses herself and comes down. Aunt Zeruah insists upon it that the way is to put the whole house in order, and shut all the blinds, and sit in your bedroom, and then, she says, nothing gets out of place; and she tells poor Sophie the most hocus-pocus stories about her grandmothers and aunts, who always kept everything in their houses so that they could go and lay their hands on it in the darkest night. I'll bet they could in our house. From end to end it is kept looking as if we had shut it up and gone to Europe,—not a book, not a paper, not a glove, or any trace of a human being in sight; the piano shut tight, the bookcases shut and locked, the engravings locked up, all the drawers and closets locked. Why, if I want to take a fellow into the library, in the first place it smells like a vault, and I have to unbarricade windows, and unlock and rummage for half an hour before I can get at anything; and I know Aunt Zeruah is standing tiptoe at the door, ready to whip everything back and lock up again. A fellow can't be social, or take any comfort in showing his books and pictures that way. Then there's our great, light dining-room, with its sunny south windows,—Aunt Zeruah got us out of that early in April, because she said the flies would speck the frescoes and get into the china-closet, and we have been eating in a little dingy den, with a window looking out on a back alley, ever since; and Aunt Zeruah says that now the dining-room is always in perfect order, and that it is such a care off Sophie's mind that I ought to be willing to eat down cellar to the end of the chapter. Now, you see, Chris, my position is a delicate one, because Sophie's folks all agree that, if there is anything in creation that is ignorant and dreadful and mustn't be allowed his way anywhere, it's 'a man.' Why, you'd think, to hear Aunt Zeruah talk, that we were all like bulls in a china-shop, ready to toss and tear and rend, if we are not kept down cellar and chained; and she worries Sophie, and Sophie's mother comes in and worries, and if I try to get anything done differently Sophie cries, and says she don't know what to do, and so I give it up. Now, if I want to ask a few of our set in sociably to dinner, I can't have them where we eat down cellar,—oh, that would never do! Aunt Zeruah and Sophie's mother and the whole family would think the family honor was forever ruined and undone. We mustn't ask them unless we open the dining-room, and have out all the best china, and get the silver home from the bank; and if we do that, Aunt Zeruah doesn't sleep for a week beforehand, getting ready for it, and for a week after, getting things put away; and then she tells me that, in Sophie's delicate state, it really is abominable for me to increase her cares, and so I invite fellows to dine with me at Delmonico's, and then Sophie cries, and Sophie's mother says it doesn't look respectable for a family man to be dining at public places; but, hang it, a fellow wants a home somewhere!"
My wife soothed the chafed spirit, and spake comfortably unto him, and told him that he knew there was the old lounging-chair always ready for him at our fireside. "And you know," she said, "our things are all so plain that we are never tempted to mount any guard over them; our carpets are nothing, and therefore we let the sun fade them, and live on the sunshine and the flowers."
"That's it," said Bill bitterly. "Carpets fading,—that's Aunt Zeruah's monomania. These women think that the great object of houses is to keep out sunshine. What a fool I was when I gloated over the prospect of our sunny south windows! Why, man, there are three distinct sets of fortifications against the sunshine in those windows: first, outside blinds; then solid, folding, inside shutters; and, lastly, heavy, thick, lined damask curtains, which loop quite down to the floor. What's the use of my pictures, I desire to know? They are hung in that room, and it's a regular campaign to get light enough to see what they are."
"But, at all events, you can light them up with gas in the evening."
"In the evening! Why, do you know my wife never wants to sit there in the evening? She says she has so much sewing to do that she and Aunt Zeruah must sit up in the bedroom, because it wouldn't do to bring work into the parlor. Didn't you know that? Don't you know there mustn't be such a thing as a bit of real work ever seen in a parlor? What if some threads should drop on the carpet? Aunt Zeruah would have to open all the fortifications next day, and search Jerusalem with candles to find them. No; in the evening the gas is lighted at half-cock, you know; and if I turn it up, and bring in my newspapers and spread about me, and pull down some books to read, I can feel the nervousness through the chamber floor. Aunt Zeruah looks in at eight, and at a quarter past, and at half past, and at nine, and at ten, to see if I am done, so that she may fold up the papers and put a book on them, and lock up the books in their cases. Nobody ever comes in to spend an evening. They used to try it when we were first married, but I believe the uninhabited appearance of our parlors discouraged them. Everybody has stopped coming now, and Aunt Zeruah says 'it is such a comfort, for now the rooms are always in order. How poor Mrs. Crowfield lives, with her house such a thoroughfare, she is sure she can't see. Sophie never would have strength for it; but then, to be sure, some folks ain't as particular as others. Sophie was brought up in a family of very particular housekeepers.'"
My wife smiled, with that calm, easy, amused smile that has brightened up her sofa for so many years.
Bill added bitterly,—
"Of course, I couldn't say that I wished the whole set and system of housekeeping women at the—what-'s-his-name?—because Sophie would have cried for a week, and been utterly forlorn and disconsolate. I know it's not the poor girl's fault; I try sometimes to reason with her, but you can't reason with the whole of your wife's family, to the third and fourth generation backwards; but I'm sure it's hurting her health,—wearing her out. Why, you know Sophie used to be the life of our set; and now she really seems eaten up with care from morning to night, there are so many things in the house that something dreadful is happening to all the while, and the servants we get are so clumsy. Why, when I sit with Sophie and Aunt Zeruah, it's nothing but a constant string of complaints about the girls in the kitchen. We keep changing our servants all the time, and they break and destroy so that now we are turned out of the use of all our things. We not only eat in the basement, but all our pretty table-things are put away, and we have all the cracked plates and cracked tumblers and cracked teacups and old buck-handled knives that can be raised out of chaos. I could use these things and be merry if I didn't know we had better ones; and I can't help wondering whether there isn't some way that our table could be set to look like a gentleman's table; but Aunt Zeruah says that 'it would cost thousands, and what difference does it make as long as nobody sees it but us?' You see, there is no medium in her mind between china and crystal and cracked earthenware. Well, I'm wondering how all these laws of the Medes and Persians are going to work when the children come along. I'm in hopes the children will soften off the old folks, and make the house more habitable."
Well, children did come, a good many of them, in time. There was Tom, a broad-shouldered, chubby-cheeked, active, hilarious son of mischief, born in the very image of his father; and there was Charlie, and Jim, and Louisa, and Sophie the second, and Frank,—and a better, brighter, more joy-giving household, as far as temperament and nature were concerned, never existed.
But their whole childhood was a long battle,—children versus furniture, and furniture always carried the day. The first step of the housekeeping powers was to choose the least agreeable and least available room in the house for the children's nursery, and to fit it up with all the old, cracked, rickety furniture a neighboring auction-shop could afford, and then to keep them in it. Now everybody knows that to bring up children to be upright, true, generous, and religious needs so much discipline, so much restraint and correction, and so many rules and regulations, that it is all that the parents can carry out, and all the children can bear. There is only a certain amount of the vital force for parents or children to use in this business of education, and one must choose what it shall be used for. The Aunt Zeruah faction chose to use it for keeping the house and furniture, and the children's education proceeded accordingly. The rules of right and wrong of which they heard most frequently were all of this sort: Naughty children were those who went up the front stairs, or sat on the best sofa, or fingered any of the books in the library, or got out one of the best teacups, or drank out of the cut-glass goblets.
Why did they ever want to do it? If there ever is a forbidden fruit in an Eden, will not our young Adams and Eves risk soul and body to find out how it tastes? Little Tom, the oldest boy, had the courage and enterprise and perseverance of a Captain Parry or Dr. Kane, and he used them all in voyages of discovery to forbidden grounds. He stole Aunt Zeruah's keys, unlocked her cupboards and closets, saw, handled, and tasted everything for himself, and gloried in his sins.
"Don't you know, Tom," said the nurse to him once, "if you are so noisy and rude, you'll disturb your dear mamma? She's sick, and she may die, if you're not careful."
"Will she die?" says Tom gravely.
"Why, she may."
"Then," said Tom, turning on his heel,—"then I'll go up the front stairs."
As soon as ever the little rebel was old enough, he was sent away to boarding-school, and then there was never found a time when it was convenient to have him come home again. He could not come in the spring, for then they were house-cleaning, nor in the autumn, because then they were house-cleaning; and so he spent his vacations at school, unless, by good luck, a companion who was so fortunate as to have a home invited him there. His associations, associates, habits, principles, were as little known to his mother as if she had sent him to China. Aunt Zeruah used to congratulate herself on the rest there was at home, now he was gone, and say she was only living in hopes of the time when Charlie and Jim would be big enough to send away, too; and meanwhile Charlie and Jim, turned out of the charmed circle which should hold growing boys to the father's and mother's side, detesting the dingy, lonely playroom, used to run the city streets, and hang round the railroad depots or docks. Parents may depend upon it that, if they do not make an attractive resort for their boys, Satan will. There are places enough, kept warm and light and bright and merry, where boys can go whose mothers' parlors are too fine for them to sit in. There are enough to be found to clap them on the back, and tell them stories that their mothers must not hear, and laugh when they compass with their little piping voices the dreadful litanies of sin and shame. In middle life, our poor Sophie, who as a girl was so gay and frolicsome, so full of spirits, had dried and sharpened into a hard-visaged, angular woman,—careful and troubled about many things, and forgetful that one thing is needful. One of the boys had run away to sea; I believe he has never been heard of. As to Tom, the eldest, he ran a career wild and hard enough for a time, first at school and then in college, and there came a time when he came home, in the full might of six feet two, and almost broke his mother's heart with his assertions of his home rights and privileges. Mothers who throw away the key of their children's hearts and childhood sometimes have a sad retribution. As the children never were considered when they were little and helpless, so they do not consider when they are strong and powerful. Tom spread wide desolation among the household gods, lounging on the sofas, spitting tobacco juice on the carpets, scattering books and engravings hither and thither, and throwing all the family traditions into wild disorder, as he would never have done had not all his childish remembrances of them been embittered by the association of restraint and privation. He actually seemed to hate any appearance of luxury or taste or order,—he was a perfect Philistine.
As for my friend Bill, from being the pleasantest and most genial of fellows, he became a morose, misanthropic man. Dr. Franklin has a significant proverb,—"Silks and satins put out the kitchen fire." Silks and satins—meaning by them the luxuries of housekeeping—often put out not only the parlor fire, but that more sacred flame, the fire of domestic love. It is the greatest possible misery to a man and to his children to be homeless; and many a man has a splendid house, but no home.
"Papa," said Jenny, "you ought to write and tell what are your ideas of keeping a home."
"Girls, you have only to think how your mother has brought you up."
* * * * *
Nevertheless, I think, being so fortunate a husband, I might reduce my wife's system to an analysis, and my next paper shall be, What is a Home, and How to Keep it.
WHAT IS A HOME
It is among the sibylline secrets which lie mysteriously between you and me, O reader, that these papers, besides their public aspect, have a private one proper to the bosom of mine own particular family. They are not merely an ex post facto protest in regard to that carpet and parlor of celebrated memory, but they are forth-looking towards other homes that may yet arise near us. For, among my other confidences, you may recollect I stated to you that our Marianne was busy in those interesting cares and details which relate to the preparing and ordering of another dwelling.
Now, when any such matter is going on in a family, I have observed that every feminine instinct is in a state of fluttering vitality,—every woman, old or young, is alive with womanliness to the tips of her fingers; and it becomes us of the other sex, however consciously respected, to walk softly and put forth our sentiments discreetly, and with due reverence for the mysterious powers that reign in the feminine breast.
I had been too well advised to offer one word of direct counsel on a subject where there were such charming voices, so able to convict me of absurdity at every turn. I had merely so arranged my affairs as to put into the hands of my bankers, subject to my wife's order, the very modest marriage portion which I could place at my girl's disposal; and Marianne and Jenny, unused to the handling of money, were incessant in their discussions with ever patient mamma as to what was to be done with it. I say Marianne and Jenny, for, though the case undoubtedly is Marianne's, yet, like everything else in our domestic proceedings, it seems to fall, somehow or other, into Jenny's hands, through the intensity and liveliness of her domesticity of nature. Little Jenny is so bright and wide awake, and with so many active plans and fancies touching anything in the housekeeping world, that, though the youngest sister and second party in this affair, a stranger, hearkening to the daily discussions, might listen a half-hour at a time without finding out that it was not Jenny's future establishment that was in question. Marianne is a soft, thoughtful, quiet girl, not given to many words; and though, when you come fairly at it, you will find that, like most quiet girls, she has a will five times as inflexible as one who talks more, yet in all family counsels it is Jenny and mamma that do the discussion, and her own little well-considered "Yes" or "No" that finally settles each case.
I must add to this family tableau the portrait of the excellent Bob Stephens, who figured as future proprietor and householder in these consultations. So far as the question of financial possibilities is concerned, it is important to remark that Bob belongs to the class of young Edmunds celebrated by the poet:—
"Wisdom and worth were all he had."
He is, in fact, an excellent-hearted and clever fellow, with a world of agreeable talents, a good tenor in a parlor duet, a good actor at a charade, a lively, off-hand conversationist, well up in all the current literature of the day, and what is more, in my eyes, a well-read lawyer, just admitted to the bar, and with as fair business prospects as usually fall to the lot of young aspirants in that profession.
Of course, he and my girl are duly and truly in love, in all the proper moods and tenses; but as to this work they have in hand of being householders, managing fuel, rent, provision, taxes, gas and water rates, they seem to my older eyes about as sagacious as a pair of this year's robins. Nevertheless, as the robins of each year do somehow learn to build nests as well as their ancestors, there is reason to hope as much for each new pair of human creatures. But it is one of the fatalities of our ill-jointed life that houses are usually furnished for future homes by young people in just this state of blissful ignorance of what they are really wanted for, or what is likely to be done with the things in them.
Now, to people of large incomes, with ready wealth for the rectification of mistakes, it doesn't much matter how the menage is arranged at first; they will, if they have good sense, soon rid themselves of the little infelicities and absurdities of their first arrangements, and bring their establishment to meet their more instructed tastes.
But to that greater class who have only a modest investment for this first start in domestic life, mistakes are far more serious. I have known people go on for years groaning under the weight of domestic possessions they did not want, and pining in vain for others which they did, simply from the fact that all their first purchases were made in this time of blissful ignorance.
I had been a quiet auditor to many animated discussions among the young people as to what they wanted and were to get, in which the subject of prudence and economy was discussed, with quotations of advice thereon given in serious good faith by various friends and relations who lived easily on incomes four or five times larger than our own. Who can show the ways of elegant economy more perfectly than people thus at ease in their possessions? From what serene heights do they instruct the inexperienced beginners! Ten thousand a year gives one leisure for reflection, and elegant leisure enables one to view household economies dispassionately; hence the unction with which these gifted daughters of upper air delight to exhort young neophytes.
"Depend upon it, my dear," Aunt Sophia Easygo had said, "it's always the best economy to get the best things. They cost more in the beginning, but see how they last! These velvet carpets on my floor have been in constant wear for ten years, and look how they wear! I never have an ingrain carpet in my house,—not even on the chambers. Velvet and Brussels cost more to begin with, but then they last. Then I cannot recommend the fashion that is creeping in of having plate instead of solid silver. Plate wears off, and has to be renewed, which comes to about the same thing in the end as if you bought all solid at first. If I were beginning as Marianne is, I should just set aside a thousand dollars for my silver, and be content with a few plain articles. She should buy all her furniture at Messrs. David & Saul's. People call them dear, but their work will prove cheapest in the end, and there is an air and style about their things that can be told anywhere. Of course, you won't go to any extravagant lengths,—simplicity is a grace of itself."
The waters of the family council were troubled when Jenny, flaming with enthusiasm, brought home the report of this conversation. When my wife proceeded, with her well-trained business knowledge, to compare the prices of the simplest elegancies recommended by Aunt Easygo with the sum total to be drawn on, faces lengthened perceptibly.
"How are people to go to housekeeping," said Jenny, "if everything costs so much?"
My wife quietly remarked that we had had great comfort in our own home,—had entertained unnumbered friends, and had only ingrain carpets on our chambers and a three-ply on our parlor, and she doubted if any guest had ever thought of it,—if the rooms had been a shade less pleasant; and as to durability, Aunt Easygo had renewed her carpets oftener than we. Such as ours were, they had worn longer than hers.
"But, mamma, you know everything has gone on since your day. Everybody must at least approach a certain style nowadays. One can't furnish so far behind other people."
My wife answered in her quiet way, setting forth her doctrine of a plain average to go through the whole establishment, placing parlors, chambers, kitchen, pantries, and the unseen depths of linen-closets in harmonious relations of just proportion, and showed by calm estimates how far the sum given could go towards this result. There the limits were inexorable. There is nothing so damping to the ardor of youthful economies as the hard, positive logic of figures. It is so delightful to think in some airy way that the things we like best are the cheapest, and that a sort of rigorous duty compels us to get them at any sacrifice. There is no remedy for this illusion but to show by the multiplication and addition tables what things are and are not possible. My wife's figures met Aunt Easygo's assertions, and there was a lull among the high contracting parties for a season; nevertheless, I could see Jenny was secretly uneasy. I began to hear of journeys made to far places, here and there, where expensive articles of luxury were selling at reduced prices. Now a gilded mirror was discussed, and now a velvet carpet which chance had brought down temptingly near the sphere of financial possibility. I thought of our parlor, and prayed the good fairies to avert the advent of ill-assorted articles.
"Pray keep common sense uppermost in the girls' heads, if you can," said I to Mrs. Crowfield, "and don't let the poor little puss spend her money for what she won't care a button about by and by."
"I shall try," she said; "but you know Marianne is inexperienced, and Jenny is so ardent and active, and so confident, too. Then they both, I think, have the impression that we are a little behind the age. To say the truth, my dear, I think your papers afford a good opportunity of dropping a thought now and then in their minds. Jenny was asking last night when you were going to write your next paper. The girl has a bright, active mind, and thinks of what she hears."
So flattered, by the best of flatterers, I sat down to write on my theme; and that evening, at firelight time, I read to my little senate as follows:—
WHAT IS A HOME, AND HOW TO KEEP IT
I have shown that a dwelling, rented or owned by a man, in which his own wife keeps house, is not always, or of course, a home. What is it, then, that makes a home? All men and women have the indefinite knowledge of what they want and long for when that word is spoken. "Home!" sighs the disconsolate bachelor, tired of boarding-house fare and buttonless shirts. "Home!" says the wanderer in foreign lands, and thinks of mother's love, of wife and sister and child. Nay, the word has in it a higher meaning hallowed by religion; and when the Christian would express the highest of his hopes for a better life, he speaks of his home beyond the grave. The word "home" has in it the elements of love, rest, permanency, and liberty; but, besides these, it has in it the idea of an education by which all that is purest within us is developed into nobler forms, fit for a higher life. The little child by the home-fireside was taken on the Master's knee when he would explain to his disciples the mysteries of the kingdom.
Of so great dignity and worth is this holy and sacred thing, that the power to create a HOME ought to be ranked above all creative faculties. The sculptor who brings out the breathing statue from cold marble, the painter who warms the canvas into a deathless glow of beauty, the architect who built cathedrals and hung the world-like dome of St. Peter's in midair, is not to be compared, in sanctity and worthiness, to the humblest artist who, out of the poor materials afforded by this shifting, changing, selfish world, creates the secure Eden of a home.
A true home should be called the noblest work of art possible to human creatures, inasmuch as it is the very image chosen to represent the last and highest rest of the soul, the consummation of man's blessedness.
Not without reason does the oldest Christian church require of those entering on marriage the most solemn review of all the past life, the confession and repentance of every sin of thought, word, and deed, and the reception of the holy sacrament; for thus the man and woman who approach the august duty of creating a home are reminded of the sanctity and beauty of what they undertake.
In this art of homemaking I have set down in my mind certain first principles, like the axioms of Euclid, and the first is,—
No home is possible without love.
All business marriages and marriages of convenience, all mere culinary marriages and marriages of mere animal passion, make the creation of a true home impossible in the outset. Love is the jeweled foundation of this New Jerusalem descending from God out of heaven, and takes as many bright forms as the amethyst, topaz, and sapphire of that mysterious vision. In this range of creative art all things are possible to him that loveth, but without love nothing is possible.
We hear of most convenient marriages in foreign lands, which may better be described as commercial partnerships. The money on each side is counted; there is enough between the parties to carry on the firm, each having the appropriate sum allotted to each. No love is pretended, but there is great politeness. All is so legally and thoroughly arranged that there seems to be nothing left for future quarrels to fasten on. Monsieur and Madame have each their apartments, their carriages, their servants, their income, their friends, their pursuits,—understand the solemn vows of marriage to mean simply that they are to treat each other with urbanity in those few situations where the path of life must necessarily bring them together.
We are sorry that such an idea of marriage should be gaining foothold in America. It has its root in an ignoble view of life,—an utter and pagan darkness as to all that man and woman are called to do in that highest relation where they act as one. It is a mean and low contrivance on both sides, by which all the grand work of home-building, all the noble pains and heroic toils of home education—that education where the parents learn more than they teach—shall be (let us use the expressive Yankee idiom) shirked.
It is a curious fact that, in those countries where this system of marriages is the general rule, there is no word corresponding to our English word "home." In many polite languages of Europe it would be impossible neatly to translate the sentiment with which we began this essay, that a man's house is not always his home.
Let any one try to render the song, "Sweet Home," into French, and one finds how Anglo-Saxon is the very genius of the word. The structure of life, in all its relations, in countries where marriages are matter of arrangement and not of love, excludes the idea of home.
How does life run in such countries? The girl is recalled from her convent or boarding-school, and told that her father has found a husband for her. No objection on her part is contemplated or provided for; none generally occurs, for the child is only too happy to obtain the fine clothes and the liberty which she has been taught come only with marriage. Be the man handsome or homely, interesting or stupid, still he brings these.
How intolerable such a marriage! we say, with the close intimacies of Anglo-Saxon life in our minds. They are not intolerable, because they are provided for by arrangements which make it possible for each to go his or her several way, seeing very little of the other. The son or daughter, which in due time makes its appearance in this menage, is sent out to nurse in infancy, sent to boarding-school in youth, and in maturity portioned and married, to repeat the same process for another generation. Meanwhile father and mother keep a quiet establishment and pursue their several pleasures. Such is the system.
Houses built for this kind of life become mere sets of reception-rooms, such as are the greater proportion of apartments to let in Paris, where a hearty English or American family, with their children about them, could scarcely find room to establish themselves. Individual character, it is true, does something to modify this programme. There are charming homes in France and Italy, where warm and noble natures, thrown together perhaps by accident, or mated by wise paternal choice, infuse warmth into the coldness of the system under which they live. There are in all states of society some of such domesticity of nature that they will create a home around themselves under any circumstances, however barren. Besides, so kindly is human nature, that Love, uninvited before marriage, often becomes a guest after, and with Love always comes a home.
My next axiom is,—
There can be no true home without liberty.
The very idea of home is of a retreat where we shall be free to act out personal and individual tastes and peculiarities, as we cannot do before the wide world. We are to have our meals at what hour we will, served in what style suits us. Our hours of going and coming are to be as we please. Our favorite haunts are to be here or there; our pictures and books so disposed as seems to us good; and our whole arrangements the expression, so far as our means can compass it, of our own personal ideas of what is pleasant and desirable in life. This element of liberty, if we think of it, is the chief charm of home. "Here I can do as I please," is the thought with which the tempest-tossed earth-pilgrim blesses himself or herself, turning inward from the crowded ways of the world. This thought blesses the man of business, as he turns from his day's care and crosses the sacred threshold. It is as restful to him as the slippers and gown and easy-chair by the fireside. Everybody understands him here. Everybody is well content that he should take his ease in his own way. Such is the case in the ideal home. That such is not always the case in the real home comes often from the mistakes in the house-furnishing. Much house-furnishing is too fine for liberty.
In America there is no such thing as rank and station which impose a sort of prescriptive style on people of certain income. The consequence is that all sorts of furniture and belongings, which in the Old World have a recognized relation to certain possibilities of income, and which require certain other accessories to make them in good keeping, are thrown in the way of all sorts of people.
Young people who cannot expect by any reasonable possibility to keep more than two or three servants, if they happen to have the means in the outset furnish a house with just such articles as in England would suit an establishment of sixteen. We have seen houses in England having two or three housemaids, and tables served by a butler and two waiters, where the furniture, carpets, china, crystal, and silver were in one and the same style with some establishments in America where the family was hard pressed to keep three Irish servants.
This want of servants is the one thing that must modify everything in American life; it is, and will long continue to be, a leading feature in the life of a country so rich in openings for man and woman that domestic service can be only the stepping-stone to something higher. Nevertheless we Americans are great travelers; we are sensitive, appreciative, fond of novelty, apt to receive and incorporate into our own life what seems fair and graceful in that of other people. Our women's wardrobes are made elaborate with the thousand elegancies of French toilet,—our houses filled with a thousand knick-knacks of which our plain ancestors never dreamed. Cleopatra did not set sail on the Nile in more state and beauty than that in which our young American bride is often ushered into her new home,—her wardrobe all gossamer lace and quaint frill and crimp and embroidery, her house a museum of elegant and costly gewgaws, and, amid the whole collection of elegancies and fragilities, she, perhaps, the frailest.
Then comes the tug of war. The young wife becomes a mother, and while she is retired to her chamber, blundering Biddy rusts the elegant knives, or takes off the ivory handles by soaking in hot water; the silver is washed in greasy soapsuds, and refreshed now and then with a thump, which cocks the nose of the teapot awry, or makes the handle assume an air of drunken defiance. The fragile china is chipped here and there around its edges with those minute gaps so vexatious to a woman's soul; the handles fly hither and thither in the wild confusion of Biddy's washing-day hurry, when cook wants her to help hang out the clothes. Meanwhile Bridget sweeps the parlor with a hard broom, and shakes out showers of ashes from the grate, forgetting to cover the damask lounges, and they directly look as rusty and time-worn as if they had come from an auction-store; and all together unite in making such havoc of the delicate ruffles and laces of the bridal outfit and baby layette that, when the poor young wife comes out of her chamber after her nurse has left her, and, weakened and embarrassed with the demands of the newcomer, begins to look once more into the affairs of her little world, she is ready to sink with vexation and discouragement. Poor little princess! Her clothes are made as princesses wear them, her baby's clothes like a young duke's, her house furnished like a lord's, and only Bridget and Biddy and Polly to do the work of cook, scullery-maid, butler, footman, laundress, nursery-maid, housemaid, and lady's maid. Such is the array that in the Old Country would be deemed necessary to take care of an establishment got up like hers. Everything in it is too fine,—not too fine to be pretty, not in bad taste in itself, but too fine for the situation, too fine for comfort or liberty.
What ensues in a house so furnished? Too often, ceaseless fretting of the nerves, in the wife's despairing, conscientious efforts to keep things as they should be. There is no freedom in a house where things are too expensive and choice to be freely handled and easily replaced. Life becomes a series of petty embarrassments and restrictions, something is always going wrong, and the man finds his fireside oppressive,—the various articles of his parlor and table seem like so many temper-traps and spring-guns, menacing explosion and disaster.
There may be, indeed, the most perfect home-feeling, the utmost cosiness and restfulness, in apartments crusted with gilding, carpeted with velvet, and upholstered with satin. I have seen such, where the home-like look and air of free use was as genuine as in a Western log cabin; but this was in a range of princely income that made all these things as easy to be obtained or replaced as the most ordinary of our domestic furniture. But so long as articles must be shrouded from use, or used with fear and trembling, because their cost is above the general level of our means, we had better be without them, even though the most lucky of accidents may put their possession in our power.
But it is not merely by the effort to maintain too much elegance that the sense of home liberty is banished from a house. It is sometimes expelled in another way, with all painstaking and conscientious strictness, by the worthiest and best of human beings, the blessed followers of Saint Martha. Have we not known them, the deaf, worthy creatures, up before daylight, causing most scrupulous lustrations of every pane of glass and inch of paint in our parlors, in consequence whereof every shutter and blind must be kept closed for days to come, lest the flies should speck the freshly washed windows and wainscoting? Dear shade of Aunt Mehitabel, forgive our boldness! Have we not been driven for days, in our youth, to read our newspaper in the front veranda, in the kitchen, out in the barn,—anywhere, in fact, where sunshine could be found,—because there was not a room in the house that was not cleaned, shut up, and darkened? Have we not shivered with cold, all the glowering, gloomy month of May, because, the august front parlor having undergone the spring cleaning, the andirons were snugly tied up in the tissue-paper, and an elegant frill of the same material was trembling before the mouth of the once glowing fireplace? Even so, dear soul, full of loving-kindness and hospitality as thou wast, yet ever making our house seem like a tomb! And with what patience wouldst thou sit sewing by a crack in the shutters an inch wide, rejoicing in thy immaculate paint and clear glass! But was there ever a thing of thy spotless and unsullied belongings which a boy might use? How I trembled to touch thy scoured tins, that hung in appalling brightness! with what awe I asked for a basket to pick strawberries! and where in the house could I find a place to eat a piece of gingerbread? How like a ruffian, a Tartar, a pirate, I always felt when I entered thy domains! and how, from day to day, I wondered at the immeasurable depths of depravity which were always leading me to upset something, or break or tear or derange something, in thy exquisitely kept premises! Somehow the impression was burned with overpowering force into my mind that houses and furniture, scrubbed floors, white curtains, bright tins and brasses, were the great, awful, permanent facts of existence; and that men and women, and particularly children, were the meddlesome intruders upon this divine order, every trace of whose intermeddling must be scrubbed out and obliterated in the quickest way possible. It seemed evident to me that houses would be far more perfect if nobody lived in them at all, but that, as men had really and absurdly taken to living in them, they must live as little as possible. My only idea of a house was a place full of traps and pitfalls for boys, a deadly temptation to sins which beset one every moment; and when I read about a sailor's free life on the ocean, I felt an untold longing to go forth and be free in like manner.
But a truce to these fancies, and back again to our essay.
If liberty in a house is a comfort to a husband, it is a necessity to children. When we say liberty, we do not mean license. We do not mean that Master Johnny be allowed to handle elegant volumes with bread-and-butter fingers, or that little Miss be suffered to drum on the piano, or practice line-drawing with a pin on varnished furniture. Still it is essential that the family parlors be not too fine for the family to sit in,—too fine for the ordinary accidents, haps and mishaps of reasonably well-trained children. The elegance of the parlor where papa and mamma sit and receive their friends should wear an inviting, not a hostile and bristling, aspect to little people. Its beauty and its order gradually form in the little mind a love of beauty and order, and the insensible carefulness of regard.
Nothing is worse for a child than to shut him up in a room which he understands is his, because he is disorderly,—where he is expected, of course, to maintain and keep disorder. We have sometimes pitied the poor little victims who show their faces longingly at the doors of elegant parlors, and are forthwith collared by the domestic police and consigned to some attic apartment, called a playroom, where chaos continually reigns. It is a mistake to suppose, because children derange a well-furnished apartment, that they like confusion. Order and beauty are always pleasant to them as to grown people, and disorder and defacement are painful; but they know neither how to create the one nor to prevent the other,—their little lives are a series of experiments, often making disorder by aiming at some new form of order. Yet, for all this, I am not one of those who feel that in a family everything should bend to the sway of these little people. They are the worst of tyrants in such houses: still, where children are, though the fact must not appear to them, nothing must be done without a wise thought of them.
Here, as in all high art, the old motto is in force, "Ars est celare artem." Children who are taught too plainly, by every anxious look and word of their parents, by every family arrangement, by the impressment of every chance guest into the service, that their parents consider their education as the one important matter in creation, are apt to grow up fantastical, artificial, and hopelessly self-conscious. The stars cannot stop in their courses, even for our personal improvement, and the sooner children learn this the better. The great art is to organize a home which shall move on with a strong, wide, generous movement, where the little people shall act themselves out as freely and impulsively as can consist with the comfort of the whole, and where the anxious watching and planning for them shall be kept as secret from them as possible.
It is well that one of the sunniest and airiest rooms in the house be the children's nursery. It is good philosophy, too, to furnish it attractively, even if the sum expended lower the standard of parlor luxuries. It is well that the children's chamber, which is to act constantly on their impressible natures for years, should command a better prospect, a sunnier aspect, than one which serves for a day's occupancy of the transient guest. It is well that journeys should be made or put off in view of the interests of the children; that guests should be invited with a view to their improvement; that some intimacies should be chosen and some rejected on their account. But it is not well that all this should, from infancy, be daily talked out before the child, and he grow up in egotism from moving in a sphere where everything from first to last is calculated and arranged with reference to himself. A little appearance of wholesome neglect combined with real care and never ceasing watchfulness has often seemed to do wonders in this work of setting human beings on their own feet for the life journey.
Education is the highest object of home, but education in the widest sense,—education of the parents no less than of the children. In a true home the man and the woman receive, through their cares, their watchings, their hospitality, their charity, the last and highest finish that earth can put upon them. From that they must pass upward, for earth can teach them no more.
The home education is incomplete unless it include the idea of hospitality and charity. Hospitality is a Biblical and apostolic virtue, and not so often recommended in Holy Writ without reason. Hospitality is much neglected in America for the very reasons touched upon above. We have received our ideas of propriety and elegance of living from old countries, where labor is cheap, where domestic service is a well-understood, permanent occupation, adopted cheerfully for life, and where of course there is such a subdivision of labor as insures great thoroughness in all its branches. We are ashamed or afraid to conform honestly and hardily to a state of things purely American. We have not yet accomplished what our friend the Doctor calls "our weaning," and learned that dinners with circuitous courses and divers other Continental and English refinements, well enough in their way, cannot be accomplished in families with two or three untrained servants, without an expense of care and anxiety which makes them heart-withering to the delicate wife, and too severe a trial to occur often. America is the land of subdivided fortunes, of a general average of wealth and comfort, and there ought to be, therefore, an understanding in the social basis far more simple than in the Old World.
Many families of small fortunes know this,—they are quietly living so,—but they have not the steadiness to share their daily average living with a friend, a traveler, or guest, just as the Arab shares his tent and the Indian his bowl of succotash. They cannot have company, they say. Why? Because it is such a fuss to get out the best things, and then to put them back again. But why get out the best things! Why not give your friend what he would like a thousand times better,—a bit of your average home life, a seat at any time at your board, a seat at your fire? If he sees that there is a handle off your teacup, and that there is a crack across one of your plates, he only thinks, with a sigh of relief, "Well, mine aren't the only things that meet with accidents," and he feels nearer to you ever after; he will let you come to his table and see the cracks in his teacups, and you will condole with each other on the transient nature of earthly possessions. If it become apparent in these entirely undressed rehearsals that your children are sometimes disorderly, and that your cook sometimes overdoes the meat, and that your second girl sometimes is awkward in waiting, or has forgotten a table propriety, your friend only feels, "Ah, well, other people have trials as well as I," and he thinks, if you come to see him, he shall feel easy with you.