Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

Parents are ambitious of intellectual success for their chil. dren; children, taking up life where their parents left it, must still move forward ; wealth, or the show of wealth, is reckoned indispensable; the smallest dwellings are likely to be, not modest homes, but miniature palaces, and, save in cases of real abundance, solid comforts are sacrificed to gilded emptinesses. Out of these tendencies – which are rather exaggerations and perversions of essentially good elements than radical evils — there have come mischief and grief into our homes. Sometimes a foolish ambition and selfish luxuriousness so far prevail as to prevent altogether the formation of homes, because of the unmanageable expenditures which a life of fashion or of quasi-fashion imposes. Small and plain dwellings, plainly furnished, that simple attire which is so much finer than finery, those modest entertainments which may be repeated again and again without danger of satiety, a practical recognition of the honor and grace that attend domestic labors and make the name of housewife a name of honor, - these do not suit the ambitions of our day, and those who should be building their dwellings are still occupied with counting the cost. It is a condition of things which, as the Scriptures remind us, obtains and justly in the heavens, but it is a very bad condition of things for this world, and those whose examples would have weight in a community where each man is singularly given to doing what his neighbor does, may well ask themselves whether a severer simplicity is not demanded of them, were it only out of regard to their imitators. The utmost that can come of very

humble ways and equipage is a failure to win any notice, and for the first years of one's household life this is anything but a misfortune, - indeed, the best thing that can possibly happen to us: then we inay perhaps put forth a root that shall bear up wide-spreading branches, and gather up the juices of a heavy foliage and of not a little luscious fruit. And too often, when the experiment of householding is tried, the

energies of the experimenters are all lavished upon the external means and appliances, they “keep the house," as they say, but they can hardly be said to live in it, — they have no time left for that; when neatness and elegance and etiquette and luxury have had their portions, the hours are all exhausted. If you would know to what much of all this comes, go into the churchyards and read the gravestones sacred to the memories of many a poor wife and mother, each one of whom sought to do with one pair of hands and one aching brain the work of a legion, and never rested till she reached the last resting-place, — till time was somehow

, found for her to die in. We want houses to live in, not merely to take charge of; and in estimating the price of any article of luxury, we should add a hundred per cent to its cost by way of provision for safe-keeping and suitable care.

Too much labor, then, the times demand within the household, — more than that quiet, patient, steady, cheerful, methodical industry which one would see realized at home, at least, if nowhere else, - too much labor, leaving no time and no spirits for enjoyment, — too much labor of the hands and brain, leaving no opportunity for the tasks upon which the heart enters so gladly. And the weary come home to the weary, — the care-worn meets the care-worn. The pressure upon a multitude of business and professional men is really frightful; combined with the necessity in many cases of going long distances to their places of duty, it produces little short of an absolute separation from their families, and may gradually establish a positive disrelish for domestic quiet. There are fathers in our community who are almost strangers to their own children, — who do not

, know one half so much about them as their school teachers, indeed, can scarcely be said to see them at all except on the Lord's Day, which happily is still kept sacred from most week-day occupations. The appropriate work and play and worship of the home cannot be so much as begun in many dwellings, and anything is caught at which promises to relieve parents from work which they can find no time to do. Moreover, whilst this excessive laboriousness exhausts the heads of the household, the same weary round must very often be travelled by the children as well. Amongst them also the same mad ambition to get on holds sway. Stimulated by what would seem an unwise appeal to the passion of emulation, spurred on by the offer of school medals, as if our whole social scheme were not one huge, frightful, maddening medal system, the young people commit book after book to memory, and greet you at your coming, not with gay words, kisses, smiles, and questions about common things which you would gladly answer, but with problems in arithmetic, or questions in geography, or even with more abstruse difficulties, - matters, it may be, beyond your own humble shallows. They have no time for household sports, and, if you are not on the watch, are already in school before you have had an opportunity to offer the morning prayer. They are too studious of geography to look at the earth, and too much devoted to astronomy to gaze up at the heavens, and so much given to physiology as to have no time left for the care of their health. They must be got on. The mark is made for the most gifted, and the rest must forever be trying without success to reach it, acquiring a positive disrelish for good learning. In what book of wisdom, sacred or profane, is it written that the active life of man or woman must begin at twenty-one or at eighteen? Why should we insist that precocity shall give the rule to mediocrity, or be impatient with our children if they are in no haste to succeed to the places of men who seem to be in no haste to leave them ? Just as the warehouses of commerce are thrusting the family mansion into the suburbs of the city, so the competitions of business, and the ambitious pursuit of knowledge, and the general haste of the times, are restricting the sphere of the home within those quiet rural districts where time is not thought

to be too valuable for unpretending home purposes.

Such spots are still to be found, fertile villages and sunny hillsides graced by old homesteads worthy of the name, homesteads which are more than “tenements” of so much or so little frontage and depth, capacious, irregular, approached not by a gravelled carriage-way, but only by the scarcely-marked wheel-path through the green yard, well sheltered by our noble elms and by farm buildings of every size and description,- stables for the beasts, barns for the hay, and garners for the corn. Though such an abode may be far from architecturally beautiful, one can have associations with it that would be wholly out of the question within the limits of a city, that has resigned its old gardens to the housebuilder, and banished the children from private playrooms, and all the old nooks and haunts which childhood loves, to the public gymnasium. There are descendants of Puritans who celebrate Thanksgiving eve in such old and oaken-framed dwellings, as their English ancestors, before they became Puritans, celebrated Christmas Eve in English farm-houses.

It should be added, that the luxurious habits which have inevitably followed an increase of prosperity must be reckoned amongst the hinderances to a true development of household life. The generation that has accumulated wealth seldom learns to expend it with judgment, and is ready to substitute for an attractive simplicity a profusion which vitiates the appetite bodily and mental, destroying even the keen relish of childhood, condemns the young to the satiety and fastidiousness of those who have exhausted in years of enjoyment every fountain of pleasure, and can find nothing new under the sun any longer. A love of display may seriously interfere with the informal amusements and festivities of the home, and prevent the household from enjoying itself at all because it cannot enjoy itself in fashionable ways.

And, moreover, it is a question well deserving to be

asked, whether we are not doing more than is wise to draw away from their homes, to evening lectures and the like, those whose hours belong to their families, and who would be quite as much instructed and entertained by home readings of pleasant books, by music and drawing and household games, as by discourses upon literature and science, which are so often exceedingly superficial, if not positively unsound? Does any one who has a home need a place in which, as the phrase is, “ to spend his evenings”? It would seem to be quite as wise, whilst we are providing unions, and libraries, and lectures for homeless apprentices exposed to all the temptations of a city life, to imitate the example of that practical philanthropist, the late Joseph Curtis of New York city, and try to make these young people homeless no longer, by opening for them abidingplaces where they can have something more than food and shelter. Lectures and public meetings, religious and secular, are very well in their way, but they are no substitutes for homes, and are very likely to minister to mental and spiritual dissipation. Indeed, every assembling of men and women which comes as a rival to the household, whether it be styled institute or club, or even vestry, should be closely scrutinized, and anything like usurpation of home rights should be stoutly resisted.

And now it is but justice to follow these warnings against encroachments, actual or meditated, by a hearty recognition of what the earnest activity of the times will be sure to accomplish for the Home just in proportion as the good and wise strive to turn the wonderful material and intellectual resources of the age to the best account. Who can tell the multitude of comforts and elegances which modern skill and industry have poured into the dwellings of the humblest classes, — carpets, unknown not many generations since to princes, garments as tasteful as they are cheap, pictures of the different members of the household not equalled for accuracy and beauty by the portraits

« VorigeDoorgaan »