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The season drives us within doors, and presses upon us the question, “ What is our age making of Home?” Will the readers of the Monthly spend a few moments with me in looking at the New England homes of our day, their condition and prospects, the disabilities which press upon them, the agencies which may be employed to adorn and build them up, the influences which may even make them at least shadowy types of heavenly homes, - at least the outer courts of bright and peaceful mansions in the House not made with hands?
I shall not commence with the assumption that once there was a perfect New England Home, bathed in sunshine, and redolent with the breath of flowers, and resounding with songs of joy, and proceed to the assertion that, since what are called the old times have passed away, this perfect Home has disappeared from the sight of sorrowing mortals. I do not believe that we ever had any paradise of this sort to lose. Indeed, I can easily reach the conclusion, that many things in the old New England home must have been unspeakably tedious to ingenuous youth, and not in the least conducive VOL. XXIII.
to the growth of those graces which thrive in an atmosphere of love. I remember myself to have heard once from the lips of the son of a stern Puritan of the straitest possible sect, that he never ventured to make a simple boy's request of his father, to offer so much as a petition for a knife or a ball, without putting it into writing in due form. One can hardly regard such a generation of fathers as exhausting all the genial elements which should be found in the head of a household. The old times are not so different from the new times; only we may hope that the new are a little better. But there are in every age specially favorable and specially unfavorable influences to be cherished or averted by the guardian of the home, and, without attributing all virtues to the fathers, or admitting of the children only degeneracy, we may take a survey of helps and hinderances to the healthy life of that most ancient and most enduring type of society, the Home.
What ought the Home to be, and what ought it to afford ? Briefly, the Home should be a house of quiet industry, of practical instruction, of innocent entertainment, of hearty and informal worship; a busy place, and yet a refuge from some of life's sorest and most distracting cares; a school, and yet without the tasks and the taskmasters of scholastic discipline, abounding in pleasures, and yet not appointed and sustained simply to excite and amuse; a church, and yet not so much by any formal exercises as by the unceasing yet scarcely conscious inflowing and outflowing of the very spirit of holiness and love through the simplest words and acts of the every-day life, the bread broken for the hungry, or the cup of water proffered to the thirsty. The Home should be a fortress in other senses than those which the law recognizes, a strong-hold against the intrusions of a world ever bent upon usurpation, and eager to occupy every spot of earth with its industries and its pedantries, with its excitements and its pageants. The material necessities which are provided for by our Homes are designed to be so many hints and suggestions of more inward and spiritual wants that should be supplied by our household fellowships. Hearts as well as hands are to be joined in love, not only for a day, but so long as the heart liveth. Outward economies should remind us continually of that wise thrift which is ever laying up treasure in heaven, - those costly jewels that are worn in God's own mansions by meek and quiet spirits, those robes of purple and fine linen which Dives cannot purchase with all his wealth, but which Lazarus may have for the asking. The Home is the gathering-place and resting-place, not merely of bodies, but of souls, more than a dormitory or robing-room, or saloon or banquethall. You have gone over houses, passing from apartment to apartment, each appropriated to one or another household purpose, and admirably adjusted to meet the special want; and yet in all, and through all, you found no Home, no single spot where the soul could rest its full weight, where hearts could repose from their cares and exercise their fine courtesies. As a pile of stones, a network of timbers, as an expanse of surface for the decorator, as a model of mechanical skill, the building may be everything, and yet it may not be a Home at all; and should it be your lot to reside in it, as the word is, you would ever be hoping some day or other to go home, to find some place to live in, some place in which a man may live and die and be buried from. The value and the charm of an old house are derived from the continual adjustments of outward materials and forms which have been made in obedience to the household necessities. What was at first perhaps angular and dreary, stiff and cold, and scarcely habitable, has been shaped into more graceful proportions, and covered with soft, warm colors. You will be sure to find the nooks and sheltered recesses which contemplation demanded, the cheerful sun-lighted and sunwarmed room for the aged, the infirm, or the saddened, apartments which seem almost to have fashioned themselves about the inmates to serve the various ends that the Home
proposes. Many generations must live and love and rejoice and suffer within the walls of a house to make it what it should be; the most skilful architect cannot give you out. right the plan of such a habitation; they who estimate an old homestead only as so much building material, and are ready, in obedience to every whim of improvement, to speed on the work of its destruction, do not realize how much besides bricks and mortar and timber enters into the fabric of a true dwelling. But I must hasten to add, that a Home is well ordered and discharging its various functions, when its labors are not excessive, and when time, opportunity, and means are afforded for the lessons, the amusements, and the devotions of the household. When the outward and material exigencies of a family absorb and exhaust the best energies of the householders, the ends are sacrificed to the means of living. When out-of-door duties and interests encroach upon domestic pursuits, the home is virtually treated as subordinate, as having no rights when brought into comparison with the aims of commercial enterprise, or professional ambition, or intellectual curiosity, or of that vague entity known as society. What the Home claims is simply its own, the right to close its doors upon occasion, and mind its own business, and teach and amuse its own children, and waste an hour or two, if the thrifty will persist in calling such an expenditure of the time a waste, in trying to make human beings happy. Is it hard for the Home to make good this claim ? Are there any strong circumstances in the world's present condition which do not favor, but hinder, the development of a healthy household life? This is our inquiry.
As I have already intimated, it is not my intention to eulogize the past, and to decry the present. I see no occasion for any such procedure. But although there may be no call for a Jeremiade, it may yet be proper to say that there are encroachments by the outside world upon home prerogatives which ought to be faithfully pointed out and steadily resisted. It is, as we are ever saying, an ambitious, enterprising, laborious, thrifty age, and countries that we call civilized are vast workshops, and most men and women who try to do anything are doing their utmost. Our industry is styled material, and it is busied upon matter, but with the powers of mind, and miracles of art are the results, whilst the work of subduing the earth is pushed into the heart of that Africa which even our childhood was content to regard as a wilderness, and up or down mighty streams, of which, a few years since, we had scarcely heard the names. The pulse of the city has ever tended towards the fever-stroke; cities have never been very quiet places, especially when nourished by commerce or the arts; all the hopeful and all the dreary elements of human life come out into the light of day in crowded streets. But it has not been the case until of late that the fever of the city has spread into the country along iron paths, and by curious nerves of wire; it is only during the past few years that we have been threatened with the loss of that dividing sea which has heretofore cooled the heats of mental excitement, as well as the hot airs of one and the other hemisphere, and are bidden to regard the loss of that measure of privacy which the continents have enjoyed for thousands of years as a great gain. Now this feverish and all-pervading activity threatens that peculiar life of the home which must be by comparison exceedingly quiet, the dwelling of the family becomes a place of wearying labor and care, and the time which belongs to the household is seized by the world. Enterprise is the catchword of the times.
One might as well die utterly, and relieve the world of his presence, as not be enterprising. We must all be getting on, as we phrase it; by which we mean, not always happily, rising out of the station into which we were born, however respectable that may be, into a position that is, or seems to be, higher. In all worldly matters, our ambition is unbounded. Housekeepers, merchants, professional men, mechanics, all are ambitious.