Copyright
Francis Hall.

The Century, Volume 11 online

. (page 61 of 163)
Online LibraryFrancis HallThe Century, Volume 11 → online text (page 61 of 163)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


feel that we can depend on them. Mr.
John F. Miller, who is too well-known for
me to praise him, is one of the best-trained
architects we have, and one of the most
refined men in his taste, though he is, per-
haps, more devoted to the Gothic than is
likely to bring him favor in these days. He
has designed many pieces of furniture for
rae, and his brother, Mr. Matt. Miller, has
made them, and better work than Matt.
Miller's was never done anywhere in any
time that I know any thing about The
secret of his good workmanship is, not as he
thinks, if he modestly thinks about it, that
he went through the painful drill of appren-
ticeship, nor that he had a good master,
nor even that he had been trained in the
solid school of Leopold Eidlitz and his
brother John, but that he loves his trade,
believes in it, and puts all his mind, and heart,
and character into it. The wood of which
my furniture is made has been chosen by
him with as much knowledge and care as
Van Eyck would have used in selecting a
panel for a picture, and, like the Deacon's
one-horse shay, it will last till it can last
no more, and then must all go to powder at
once, for one piece is as perfect as another.
The construction is as admirable as the mate-
rial, and in it one may see the carpentry of
the times of our great grandfathers brought
back, for here are no make-shifts, no nails,
nor glue — except where Saint Joseph him-
self would have ordered it ; but the whole
is held together by science and by con-
science. If it might be, I would send some
of his work to the Centennial — not, of course,
for any brag, for what had I to do with it ? —
but to praise him, and to show what work
has been done by one American carpenter,
taught and trained at home.

Of course, if we would give our carpen-
ters more such work to do, there would be



more Matthias Millers than there are. It
would be greatly to our advantage to do so,
and a good thing if we could learn to do
without much of the sort of furniture made
by so-called cabinet-makers. Matthias Mil-
ler tells me that he remembers when there
was no such trade in New York as " cabi-
net-making;" when plain house-carpenters
like himself made all the furniture that was
made, and it was better designed and better
made than the most of what is made even
at expensive establishments in New York
to-day. The trade of carpentry, however,
is in such a state in this country to-day,
that no carpenter I know can be trusted to
design a piece of furniture, even of a very
simple kind. But the expense of getting
designs firom an architect is comparatively
small, and certainly the satisfaction in get-
ting a good design, and having it well
carried out, is great enough to make it worth
the trouble and expense.

Cuts Nos. 6 and 7 are a little premature
in this article. They are intended to go.
No 6 with what is to be said about curtains
and hangings, and No. 7 with some chat
about screens, in the next article. They
are both of them incidents in a story of real
life which might be good to tell, if I were
in for a serial tale. I dare say the reader
will enjoy looking at Mr. Lathrop's little
pictures quite as much as l^e would, if
he knew more about this quaint Crusoeish
hut and its occupants. He can, at all
events, see that it looks a comfortable place,
though not painfully proper and conven-
tional. He shall learn more about it, if we
can get permission, in the next article for this
series. Meanwhile, if he should be led by
it, to think it a good notion to divide a
large room up by screens and curtains in-
stead of always by formal and permanent
partitions, the little pictiu:e will be doing a .
part of its duty. To many people a large
room is a great pleasure. Indeed, I think,
most people like to have plenty of space in
which to move about, but as we all like pn-
vacy sometimes, and seclusion fi'om the
doings of others, if for no other end than to
have the temptation to talk and to look
about us removed, it is good to have easy
ways of attaining our object. The long,
narrow parlors that are such an affliction to
New Yciiw housekeepers are much more
elegantly divided by screens, which may be
made as rich or as plain as we choose, or
by curtains, than by the ordinary partition
and sliding-door. For comfort and for
coziness they often need to be divided, and



Digitized by



Google



3S6



BEDS AND TABLES, STOOLS AND CANDLESTICKS



yet they often need also, when company
comes, to be left free from end to end. But,
more of this by and by. The window and
curtain in cut No. 6 are at the other end of
the room shown in No. 7. In our formal
way of hanging curtains from a so-called
cornice, we lose the freedom and artistic
movement of a piece of stuff such as this
ciutain is made of; it becomes a mere piece
of machinery, and calls the dumb-waiter
brother, and the furnace-register sister.
But, hung by rings and hooks to a brass
rod, and moved back and forth at pleasure,
it becomes another creature, and is second
cousin at least to the pictures and casts.
From being a pesky, troublesome, dust-col-
lecting member of the family, it is now a
docile, cheerful, neat-handed minister of
sunHght and cool shade, no trouble to any-
body, and only pleasant to live with.

Cuts Nos. 8 and 9 are ^tag^res, both
of Chinese make; one of them, No. 8, has
a cupboard beneath it, and both of diem
are lifted from the floor by stands which are
movable at pleasure. Both are handsome
pieces ; but No. 8 is of a more useful kind
than No. 9, and better suited, perhaps, to
a dining-room than to the parlor; certainly
it would be found very useful in a room
where there are tea-things, especially if they
were pretty ones, to put under lock-and-
key. No. 8 is of die black wood the
Chinese so much affect, and which they
carve and polish so skillfully. No. 9 is of
a wood resembling mahogany, but without
the magic translucent lights that make
mahogany so noble a member of the wood
family. Giorgione's and Titian's women,
with their red-gold hair, m^y have been,
after all, only the Hamadryads of the
mahogany-tree, seen by the painters in vis-
ion. This Chinese wood is, however, less
rich than mahogany ; but it is handsome, and
makes a good contrast to the darker piece.
Both these shelves were bought at Syphefs,
and were of moderate price; nor is there
anything so rare about them as to make it
impossible to meet their mates some day.
But many of our readers will, we are sure,
see how superior they are to the general run
of ftimiture in the shops. The object on the
top of No. 9 is a jade dish supported on a
stand of carved oak, and over the shelves
there hangs on the wall, a sconce of beaten
brass for three candles, specimens of which
are always to be seen at Cottier's and Tif-
fany's, and there are often excellent ones to
be foimd at the rooms of the " Household
Art Company," in Boston. No. 10 is a jolly



bit of old iron-work, a double candlestick
picked up at a Christmas booth in Paris
streets, and since, for many a day, found a
most useftil table companion to one whd
always works at night by candle-light. It
lifts easily by the strong projecting handle,
and is not to be upset

I had promised myself, too, the amuse-
ment of a tilt against pianos as we make
them in this the present year of grace —
" bow-legged megatheriums," as somebodjr
has hit them off, die ugliest pieces of ftuni-
ture which we of this generation, fertile in
ugliness, have as yet succeeded in inventing.
The first pianos were prettier than any that
have been made since, but they were too
spindle-legged for real beauty, and owed
too much to the color of the wood they
were made of, with its pretty inlayings and
marquetry, and painted panels above the
key-board — too htde to the excellence of
their form. A handsome piano, one that
an artist could enjoy the sight of, does not
exist to-day out of museums, nor is made
by any one of the legion of manufacturers.
But a piano, even a " square" or a " grand,"
might be made a stately ornament to our
drawing-rooms, and even the "uprights,"
which try to be as ugly as their four-
footed and hooved brethren, but cannot
wholly succeed, might be made much
better than they are, in artistic hands. I
wish some one would try the experiment
of a plain case, were it even of pine, and let
it be decorated with color simply, after the
fashion of the clavichord in cut No. 11.
This rests upon a stand, and the raised lid
has a pastoral landscape with figures painted
on the inside. There has been for some
time at GoupiFs a water-color by one of the
new men, Rossi, in which a lady is seated
at a piano, in the style of Louis XIV., very
ornate with flourishing carving and gilding
not exacdy to be recommended, but having
the inside of the lid delightfiilly painted with
a dance of Cupids, or some sacred m)rstery
of that sort. Why can't some of oiu' young
artists plot and plan to induce some one
of the young piano-makers with his fortune
to make, to combine with some clever
designer, and devise a case for them to
paint ? The result might be delightful, and
even if the first go-off were not wholly suc-
cessful, it would show the way. It would
be good to see a herd of the present heavy-
footed antediluvians that stretch their huge
bulks about our drawing-rooms, turned out
of their luxurious quarters and sent lumber-
ing down the avenue, yielding place to



Digitized by



Google



CHILDHOOnS FANCIES.



357



something that would seem more like an
instrument of music. As it is now, the love-
liest woman that sits down to play at a
modem piano is a little dimmed ; the instru-
ment, instead of setting off her beauty,
seems to do its best to disparage it

No. II. was drawn on the block by Mr.
Lathrop, from an etching that appeared in
die "Zeitschrift fur Bildende Kunst" (vol.
vii, p. 8, 1872). The etching is by W.



Unger, after a picture by Gonzales Coques,
which is in the Gallery at Cassel. It is
called " Ein junger Gelehrter mit seiner
Frau im Zimraer." The etching is one of
Unger*s best, but Mr. Henry Marsh's wood-
cut from Mr. Lathrop's reduction, is no less
a masterpiece in its way. I had it done
mainly for the clavichord, but it will be of
much use to us with relation to other mat-
ters.



CHILDHOOD'S FANCIES.



I AM accustomed to make 'great use of an
invaluable little volume, the ''Brief Bio-
graphical Dictionary," and it contains one
fine that often arrests my attention, and has
for me an inexhaustible charm. The plan
of the book is simply to give in alphabetical
order the name of each noted person, with
his occupation, his biographer, and the dates
of birth and death ; thus preserving in the
smallest space, as in an um-ftill of white
dust, the substance of each career. And
among these condensed memorials — ^inserted
between " Fleming, John, Scottish Natural-
ist," and " Fleming, Patrick, Irish Roman
Ecclesiastic" — occurs this line:

<* Fleming, Marjoric, Pet. (life by J. Brown, M.
D.) i8o3-i8ii.»'

That is all; but it is to me as touching
as the epitaphs of children in the Greek
"Anthology." Those who have read in
Dr. Brown's "Spare Hours" his delicious
sketch of the fascinating littie creature thus
commemorated, will not wonder that her
life of eight years obtained for her a niche
in feme's temple as enduring as that of any
of her maturer clansmen. Nay, what to us
is a mere " Scottish Naturalist" or " Roman
Ecclesiastic" beside " Pet Marjorie ? "

I would fain take this adoption of this
rare httle maiden into the Biographical Dic-
tionary as an indication that we are begin-
ning a more careful and reverent study of
childish ways. It is wrong to leave this
mine of quaintness and originality to be
the mere wonder of a day in the household,
when even the savants are beginning to talk
about "Psychological Embryology," dius
vouchsafing us two polysyllables, beneath
whose protecting shadow we may enter on
pleasant themes. Why should we praise
Agassiz for spending four hours a day at the



microscope, watching the growth of a tur-
de's egg, and yet recklessly waste our
opportunities for observing a far more
wondrous growth? Or why should the
scientific societies send agents to study the
Chinook jargon, or the legends of the Flat-
head Indians, when the more delicious jar-
gon of these more untamable little nomads
remains imrecorded? Mr. G. P. Marsh
has drawn important inferences as to lan-
guage fi:om the broken English of children ;
and there are themes of study, more absorb-
ing still, in their broken and fantastic imag-
inations.

Care and duty hem us in so closely dur-
ing maturer years, that we should become
dry and desolate but for constandy recur-
ring to the one period of life when the
limitations of space and time do not oppress
us, and the far off is as the near. The baby
who puts oul^is little hand for the moon is
compelled to draw it back empty, yet he
puts it forth many rimes again. My fiiend's
little daughter, after having the stars for the
first time pointed out to her, requested next
day to have " two litde stars with sugar on
them for breakfast" And in their first deal-
ings with human beings children set aside
the petty barriers of generations and centu-
ries m the same fine way. " Mamma," said
in my hearing the httle daughter of a certain
poetess, " did t ever see Mr. Shakespeare ? "
It was at the dinner-table and between two
bites of an apple. On another occasion
the same child said with equal confidence,
" Mamma, did you ever know Cleopatra ? "
There was no affectation about it; she was
accustomed to seeing literary people and
other notabilities at her mother's house;
and Shakespeare and Cleopatra might have
come and gone, arm in arm, without excit-
ing her half so much as the arrival of a new



Digitized by



Google



3S8



CHILDHOOiyS FANCIES.



paper doll. Thus a child traveling with
me, and seeing me salute, at a railway sta-
tion, a certain Methodist minister of great
dimensions, inquired, with casual interest,
whether that was the Pope ? To assign to
the Pope his proper place in space, and to
Shakespeare or his heroines their rightful
position in time, — what have children to do
with such trifles ? Matters more important
claim their attention ; are there not hoops
and skipping-ropes and limcheon ?

And when the imagination of children
thus sets out on its travels, it embraces with
the same easy sweep the whole realm of
mythology and fairyland, still without ques-
tioning or surprise. A young gendeman of
my acquaintance, aged seven, who had
already traveled in Greece with his father,
and who was familiar by hearsay with the
Homeric legends, formed lately a plan of
vast compass for summer entertainment.
He proposed to his father that they should
erect a hotel on one of the Plymouth (Mas-
sachusetts) hills, and should engage all the
Greek gods and goddesses as permanent
attractions for the possible, boarders. He
suggested that these deities had been
"turned out" so long that they would
doubtless be glad to get places, and he
could afford to pay them handsome salaries
out of the profits. It was a part of the
scheme that Agamemnon, Ulysses, and
others, should also be engaged to "preach"
at the hotel, giving in their discourses a
narrative of the Trojan war. This course
of lectures was to last ten years, and to be
repeated in every decade; and finally
Orpheus and the Nine Muses were to give
a series of concerts for the benefit of the
enterprise. This plan he devised for him-
self and quite independently of his fether,
but wished that gentleman to use his influ-
ence with the colleges toward securing the
necessary spectators. This appeal was met
by the generous pledge of a hundred tickets
firom Cambridge alone, whenever this
" grand combination of attractions," as the
programmes say, should be brought together.

In what land of blissful fancy do children
dwell, when they build up such visions as
this — eager to talk about them, wounded if
they are ridiculed, desolate if they are
crushed, and yet never absolutely believing
them to be wholly true ? In maturer years
we still yield ourselves with some readiness
to fancy; we weep at the theater; actors
themselves weep. Charles Lamb's friend
Bwbara S. remembered, in old age, how
her neck had been scalded in childhood by



the hot tears that fell fiom the eyes of Mis.
Porter, as Isabella. It does not even
require the illusion of the visible stage in
order to produce such emotions. When
Richardson was writing "Clarissa Har-
lowe" he had letters by scores, imploring
him to save his heroine from impending
despair, or to bring back Lovelace to virtue.
"Pray, reform him; will you not save a
soul, sir?" wrote one correspondent; and
CoUey Gibber vowed that he should lose
his faith in a mercifid Providence unless
Clarissa were protected. Nor were these
the mere whims pf a fantastic period, for
who does not remember the general groan
of dismay among the young women of
America when Miss Alcott, in her second
volume, forbade the banns between Jo and
Laurie. Yet how far do even these instances
fall short of the intensity of childhood's
emotions !

I knew a litde girl who was found sob-
bing in bed, one night, unable to close her
eyes, long after her usual time of slumber.
With much reluctance and after long cross-
examination, she owned that her sorrow
related solely to the woes of " Long Tail"
and " Blue Eyes," two devoted rats, whose
highly wrought adventures she had just
been reading in a child's magazine. " Blue
Eyes" had been caught in a trap, fix)m
which "Long Tail" had finally rescued
her, but their sufferings had been so vividly
described, that it was long before she could
be induced to view it as anythmg but a real
tragedy. Less easy of persuasion was a
child once under my charge, a boy of
twelve, unusually strong and active, spend-
ing almost his whole time in the open air,
who was yet moved by the story of " Un-
dine" to such exaggerated emotion, that he
lay awake the greater part of the night, in
an agony of tears, which grew worse and
worse till I hit upon a happy thought, and
imagined for him a wholly new ending to
the tale, — bringing Undine out of the water
and re-uniring her to Hildebrand, so that
all should live happily ever after. Being
offered this entirely ideal reftige from an
equally ideal woe, my poor little pupil dried
up his tears and was asleep in ten min-
utes.

We are apt to be amazed that children
should thus lend themselves to be profoundly
moved by what they do not, after all, accept
as truth. But what know they of real or
unreal ? The bulk of the world's assumed
knowledge — ^as that the earth revolves around
the sun-^is to them as remote firom per-



Digitized by



Googl



t



CHILDHOOnS FANCIES,



359



sonal verification as their fairy stories, and
scans more improbable. They have to take
almost everything for granted, and the
feculty of "make-believe" is really in con-
stant exercise, whether in study or play.
"Only the Encyclopedia to learn," said
Lord Chatham, with doubtful encourage-
ment, to his boy; but, so long as it is all
hearsay, how is any one to draw the line
where the wonders of the Encyclopedia end,
and those of the "Arabian Nights" begin ?

" I should think," said my litde cousin to
nie, as he hung enraptured over the " Pil-
grim's Progress," " that those Apollyons must
be a bad kind of fellows to have about ! "
He would have taken the same view of
rattlesnakes, never having actually seen either
species of monster. Sir Philip Sidngy says,
when speaking of the old theatrical practice
of labeling the stage-scenery, " What child
b there, that, cbming to a play, and seeing
* Thebes' written on an old door, doth
belicTe that it is Thebes ? " But all history,
and art, and science are but so many stage-
doors to the child, and they are all labeled
TTiebcs, or something still more incompre-
hensible. Even Keats begins his classifica-
tion of the universe with " things real, as
sun, moon, and passages of Shakespeare."
The truth is, that the child does not trouble
himself to discriminate between the real and
idea] worlds at all, but simply goes his way,
accepts as valid whatever appeals to his
imagination, and meanwhile lives out the
day and makes sure of his dinner. Luckily,
you can by no means put him oflf with any
Barmecide delusion about that.

We do not sufficiently remember that the
most hum-drum daily life is essentially ideal
to an imaginative child, or is, at least, easily
idealized. One secret of the charm of
" Charles Auchester" b, that in the early
chapters it describes the enchantment pro-
duced by music on many a susceptible
child, portraying emotions such as many
have experienced, but none had ever before
dared to describe. There is nothing in it
which overstates what I can remember to
have felt in childhood when lying awake in
bed^ after dark, and listening to my sister's
piano. It may have been a nightiy ten min-
utes, at most, but I perceive now, in looking
bade, that the music lulled all childish sorrows
to sleep, and drew a curtain of enchantment
over the experience of every day. And even
widiout such melodious aid, children will
take the echoes of the most prosaic events
and weave them into ^ng and legend for
themselves. How vivid the picture of the



lonely life of the Bronte household, with their
nightly dramas, into which Bonaparte and
the Duke of Wellington enter, and the way-
faring man at the door is caught up into
the romance. But a thousand such childish
experiences are unrecorded. We go to visit
the families of our friends, and find that we
have long served as dramatis persona to
their children. They have only heard of
us, have never seen us ; but they have long
since painted us in their pictures, played us
in their games, named dolls or boats after
us, and taken us with them on imaginary
voyages to the North Pole. They have
supplemented their own lives, in short, by
including in fancy the experiences of every
life with which they have come in contact.

It is a common thing for children to live
in some worid of their own, apart fix>m all
their daily duties and belongings. In one
household of my acquaintance, two little
girls possess a private fairyland named
" Blab." All their play hours are passed in
it ; its secrets are known to them only: even
their parents are not admitted; but their
baby sister, not yet two years old, is by
birthright a citizen of the realm, and acts
with great dignity her part in its pageants.
They have invented for this enchanted land
a language, both spoken and written, —
their father, it should be said, is an eminent
linguist, — and they have devised novel com-
binations of letters, to express sounds not
represented in the English tongue.

I knew another child ^o spent her sum-
mers on a charming estate by the sea-shore,
with her grandfather for chief playmate.
They jointiy peopled with a fairy worid the
woods and rocks around them ; every rocky
cave, every hollow tree, every hole in the
ground was full of enchantment. There
were paths and ravines where it was for-
bidden to walk fast or speak aloud. The
two playmates would steal off by themselves
and hold secret converse, for hours, con-
cerning these wonders, tiU, on one unlucky
day, the elder conspirator forgot himself so
far as to speak disrespectfully of the prime
minister of the Court of Fairyland. No
actual peril could have taken more apparent
hold of the child's imagination. She walked
up and down, wringing her hands, and
endeavoring to propitiate the supposed
wrath of these beings unseen, by such
highly wrought appeals as this :

" I come to implore you in behalf of my
beloved grandpapa I Spare him ! O respect-
able Green Bird! do his doom lightly!"

Another child of my acquaintance created



Digitized by



Google



360



CHILDHOOiyS FANCIES.



for himself, before he could speak plain,
a realm less fairy-like but more fantastic,
whose ideal hero was named " Mr. Dowdy."
The materials for his career were all drawn
from the incidents of daily Hfe in the streets
of Boston, where the child dwelt; and noth-
ing was seen from the windows that was
not immediately glorified among the inci-
dents of Mr. Dowdy's life. Going once to
spend a night at the house, I found the
elder members of the family quite excited
about a public meeting which they had
attended, and which had been broken up
by a mob. I had petitioned, as usual, that
the little boy might sleep with me, for his



Online LibraryFrancis HallThe Century, Volume 11 → online text (page 61 of 163)