« AnkstesnisTęsti »
For lovers of books, however, a house without books is no house at all; and in a family where books make a great part of the pleasure of living, they must be where they can be got at without trouble, and, what is of more importance, where they can share in the life about them and receive some touches of the humanity they supply and feed. The little child plays up and down the room and runs his fingers across their backs, or pushes them in and out, or knows the one that has pictures in it, and pats it approvingly with
his flattened palm. The young girl runs over them with her eye, and taps a little here and there with a rosy reflective fingertip, then draws out one that promises, or one long known, and saunters with it to the favorite reading-place. For all who enjoy them, use them, depend upon them, the books are there at hand; not shut up, like clothes in a wardrobe, or silver in a chest, but free to the hand like the basket of apples or the pitcher of water on the sideboard.
There are "practical" objections in plenty against the use of doors for book-cases. They stick; the key is always lost; they hide the sight of some of the books when the door is of glass, and when they are solid, how is one to know that the case holds books at all? Then, when the doors are opened they are awkwardly in the way, and if there are children or young people in the house, they are sure to be left open, and to be run against.
But, after all, my chief objection to doors on book-cases is, that they are inhospitable, and hinder close acquaintance. To have to ask for a key, or even to open a door unlocked before we can put our hand on a book, or look the shelves over to find one that suits us, is as bad as having to tug off a glove to seize a friend's hand. And what is more like a true friend than a book-case filled with real books?
"Dust!" says Martha, as she reads this. "What a place for dust such a book-case as yours must be!" It is true that dust does collect, but not much, if reasonable care be taken, and if the books are often used, and, at any rate, I maintain that dust, or the danger of it, is, of the two evils, rather to be chosen than the danger of not using the books at all; of having the family grow up without the habit of reading books, consulting them, seeking refuge in them. These habits, early and naturally formed, have more to do with culture than might be thought. The young people go to school or college, and hear lectures on English literature, or study books on the subject, and they come away with few ideas and little knowledge. Then, as they go out into the world, they come, perhaps, to think they would like to know something more, or perhaps they feel the need of knowing more, and so attend lectures, or listen to readings, to get in a hurry what they need. But knowledge got in a hurry is as poor stuff as leather tanned the new way, or kiln-dried timber, or bread made with baking-powders, or any of the modern substitutes for the old-time methods of time and patience. The only way really to know anything about English literature, or any other literature, is to grow up with it, to summer and winter with it, to eat it, drink it, and sleep with it, and this can never be if the book-case that holds the books in the house we grow up in has doors that lock.
If we must cover our books, for fear of dust, a curtain is all that can be allowed, and a curtain is little less troublesome than a door. I am not sure that a curtain is not more troublesome than any door. To be as little in the way as possible, it should be of some thin silk, and should slide with metal rings on a metal rod as lightly and easily as can be contrived, and, after all this trouble, the amount of dust kept out will be found to be but small. Besides, a curtain hides the books from sight, and one might as well hope to be warmed by a fire he couldn't see as to get their full service out of books shut up behind doors or curtains.
Glass doors have this to say for themselves, that they do give some glimpse of what is behind them, and show a little hospitality.
Some years ago, in an exhibition of furniture held in London, there was a book-case made, I believe, by Mr. Burges, the architect, which was closed by a curtain; but this was a small affair, and so not liable to the objections that would hold against closing a book-case, such as is shown in the first illustration of this chapter, with curtains running along the whole front, or even along each division. This was only, in fact, a square box with shelves, set up on a table, and with a curtain hung across its front. The curtain was of plush, if I remember; but that was not a good material, and all the effect obtained might have been got as well by using silk. It hung by rings from a wire that was stretched across the outside of the upper edge of the box, so that when it was drawn it showed the whole of all the shelves and all the books. The book-case was made of plain wood, and painted with some good decoration on a red ground, and the curtain was of a gold yellow cut on a red ground. In the upper left-hand corner of this square of plush there was embroidered a beehive, and the bees were flying back and forth in a straggling line between their hive and the lower right-hand corner. In the upper righthand corner might have been written some motto-a line from Milton:
"They at their flowery work do sing,"
or the like. This was a pretty piece of furniture to hold a hundred books or so, small copies of favorite authors that one likes to have at hand, and, being meant for a parlor piece, a little more elegance was admissible than would have been fitting for a work-aday book-case.
We feel a little pity sometimes for the Roman bookish people who had no books, properly speaking, but only scrolls. And to our modern hands, scrolls are unmanageable things. But there's much in habit, and the Japanese to-day, who make great use of scrolls (though they also have books in plenty), know how to use them, unrolling them and rolling them at the same time, as they read them or study their pictures. But there was one advantage in the Roman scrolls, they were not heavy, and when
they moved about they put them into a box like a bandbox, setting them up on end, so that a considerable number of volumes could be carried about on their journeys without
CURTAINS HUNG BY ROD AND RINGS.
adding inconveniently to their baggage. Our books, however, are too heavy for any such arrangement, and a very few add seriously to the weight of a trunk. This is sometimes an inconvenience: when one is taking a long journey, it is pleasant to have books, and they are the one thing not to be had. Cicero, our school-boy readers will remember, if we are fortunate enough to have them,-when he is praising books, praises them, among other things, because they can go into the country with us. If he had not been too "swell" for such a condescension, he might have carried a small library with him in his hand, as one of us might carry a hat-box.
This, by the way. My point is, that the books in a house-the books the family is to be fed on-ought to be made as accessible as possible. There will often be a few books, rare editions in costly bindings, that are to be locked up and not to be exposed to promiscuous handling; but these are really not books-they are bric-à-brac, curios, and no true lover of books would care to have many of them in his possession.
Mr. Burges's "curtain" suggests the remark that a delightful field is open to women, one in which they would be sure to find pleasant employment, and where certain faculties they have peculiar to their sex would be exercised and made useful. This is the art of embroidery. "What!" all the
women will cry at once. "Embroidery, do
place, the arts of embroidery have been inspired with new life, and have enlisted in their service a number of good talents, who have not only given pleasure to the public, but have found pleasure and profit in it for themselves. Some of the ladies belonging
CURTAIN FOR AN EVERY-DAY WINDOW.
to the families of the house of Morris, Marshall & Co., have distinguished themselves by the beauty and originality of their designs, and no less for the excellence of the workmanship; and they have become important members of the business, their work and their taste having not a little to do with the success of the enterprise. These ladies make their own designs for the most part, though they also execute designs furnished them either by the firm or by outsiders. Nor are they by any means the only persons in England who do this sort of work. There is an important business interest slowly growing up there in the field of designs for stuffs and embroideries, and many women are contributing to the success of the new industry. As I have said before, there has not been for a hundred years and over, such a time as ours for the beauty and excellence of the stuffs that are used in household decoration. Any one who will go into Herter's or Cottier's, and look over their plushes, silks, serges, and all the
nameless materials that are being made nowadays in England, France, and Austria, will easily see enough in half an hour to justify my remark. Many of these materials are very costly and out of reach of most purses; but many of them, especially the English things, are not costlier than is reasonable in the beginning, and they have a capacity for wear in them that makes them cheap in the end. Besides, it must always be remembered that every good thing is better for showing in moderation signs of wear; and stuffs, particularly, never look just right till they have the gloss of newness rubbed off them. I know this isn't what is called American doctrine; certainly it is not New York doctrine, where we cannot have things new and scrubbed enough; but it is artistic doctrine, and every artistic nature will recognize its truth by imagination, if it do not already know it to be true by experience.
A want long felt having been provided for in the success of these new stuffs and these new colors, it was natural there should be felt a need for decorators whose work should be in harmony with the new materials. I believe that, in fact, much of the proficiency of modern English women in embroidery, and much of the enthusiasm for it among them date back to the rise of the Ritualistic Revival there; but it has found a wider field since then, and a more rich development in the service of household art. Besides, most of the ecclesiastical decorative work was conventional and copied, cramped in its expression and pinched to the uses of a narrow creed. But, working in the service of human love and feeling, the artist was free to express herself and follow the flight of her own fancy. The result has been, that many works of embroidery are produced to-day in England which show the old skill and taste to be still alive, and only waiting for the opportunity of exercise.
We have had but few beautiful works in this sort produced here, partly because there has been no social movement that caused the art to revive naturally, partly because there has been no market for such works if they had been produced. Some of our readers may have had the pleasure of seeing-it is now some three or four years since a small collection of pieces of embroidery executed by a young lady in Boston from her own designs. They were every way exquisite; and, although it was evident she had been stimulated by the
Japanese design, yet there was no resemblance to Japanese work except in what, for want of a better word, we call "the motive." The pieces produced were not "useful"-they were only intended for ornament; to be fastened upon a wall, to be framed, to be brought out and looked at upon occasion. Squares of silk or satin were taken, the color selected for its suitability to the design to be worked upon it. These designs were bits of external nature transferred by silk threads, instead of oil or water colors, to the lady's silk or satin "canvas." Her morning's walk, her stroll in the garden, suggested to her the day's delightful work. Now, on a pale sapphire silk, she made a flight of apple-blossom petals drift before the wind, at one side the branch that
do well to study it and base her embroidery upon it. But it ought to be done with a constant reference to nature, and it is better to fail in putting our own observation into silk and worsted, than to succeed in working up into painful perfection Mrs. German Something-or-other's conventionalities of design and eye-scratching colors.
against a weltering sky of gray; or hips and haws, or black elderberries, or anything. The lady worked as she pleased and as Heaven directed, and had no fear of "schools" or of "laws" before her eyes.
There is much interest felt of late among the young people in this matter of embroidery, but most of them are hampered by the difficulty of making a start. It is almost inevitable that we should be thrown upon the Japanese for our first hints and instruction; their art is so perfect as decoration, their methods so varied, and their materials suited to every subject and belonging to our own time, and we so rich in its productions. Other art is strange to us-belongs to other times and to modes of life that once were those of men of our own world, but now outworn and laid aside. The Japanese live in moon-land; their ways are not ours, and it is impossible for us to put ourselves into sympathy with them. But their art comes out of themselves, and they are producing it now in our day on the models they have been following for centuries and with much of the spirit of the antique time. And therefore it has a vitality for us, and knocks at little secret doors in our own natures and gets some sort of response, though, for the most part, it is but the wind whistling through the key-hole. Still, if a woman can enjoy it, if it attracts her, she will
In my last month's chapter I touched upon the subject of curtains, but merely with a word. Next to carpets, there is no subject that comes so near to all women's housekeeping hearts as curtains, and there is no subject that bothers them so much. And they are for the most part, rude and unfeeling as it is to say it, utterly wrong in their ways of solving the troublesome problem. They are all agreed that cornices are indispensable, and the upholsterers and furniturepeople, finding this an easy and expensive way of suiting their delightfully troublesome clients, would go on putting up cornices for them till doomsday, and assuring them that there is no other way.
Now, a "cornice" ought never under any circumstances to be thought necessary in a private house. In fitting up concert-rooms, ball-rooms, and public places, where a certain frigid formal suggestion of domestic hospitality is to be given, it might, perhaps, be allowed; but only a commonplace designer, a sort of misfit architect, would try to get off with such a substitute for design. I suppose "cornices" for curtains to have come to be thought necessary when "cornices" for rooms began to be " the thing" everywhere. And there is as much necessity for one as for the other.
What is the use of a curtain? Part of its use is its usefulness, and part of it is its beauty, or the sense of comfort it gives. It is useful to shut out the light and to keep out the cold air, and, as in all our household decoration, usefulness is the first thing to be secured, we must consider first how these two ends are to be gained. To get all the light we may ever, at any time, want from a window, we must be able to have the whole glass clear; to draw curtains, if there be curtains, completely away from the glass, and keep them well to either side. Now, if there is a cornice, the curtain is either nailed to it (on the inside), or it runs with rings on a rod that is stretched across the cornice on the inside. If it be nailed to the cornice, so that it only opens in the middle, it can never be so drawn as to give us all the light we may need. And, if it slides on a rod, there is no need of a cornice, and no