Girls and Women Part 7

I know a young lady who is the only highly educated musician in a little country village. She sings in the choir and makes the church service a new thing. She good-naturedly steps in and trains the children in their choruses for festival occasions. She has invited half a dozen young fellows to form a glee club and sing one evening a week in her parlor.

They all have musical talent, and they are capable of appreciating her attractive manners, but they had not before thought of any better way of spending their evenings than in screaming about the streets. If a poor girl has a good voice, this young lady finds time to teach her to sing.

I do not think it ever entered her mind that she was doing charitable work. The work was directly in her pathway. She could do it, and having a large, loving heart, she has done it. But there is no one in the village who has done so much to raise the tone of life there.

So the improvement of a country town goes on exactly in proportion to the loving-kindness of the people and their willingness to share whatever material and mental treasures they may have. Perhaps the same is true in the city; but the number of treasures to be shared, as well as the number of people to share them, is so bewildering that it is next to impossible to bring form out of the chaos without employing scientific middlemen, and the fascination about helping others almost vanishes.

Nevertheless, let us cling to the doctrine that

"'T is love, 't is love, 't is love that makes the world go round,"

and even in the city we may all have hope.



Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith.

That is, it is the family which makes the home, and this is even truer of the mother and her daughters than of the father and his sons.

Sometimes even one sunshiny spirit in a house transforms it, and where all the family are in harmony there cannot fail to be a home in the best sense.

But there are virtues and virtues. "I admire Miss Strong, indeed I love her," I heard a lady say not long ago, "but I can't imagine her making a beautiful home under any circumstances." Yet Miss Strong is gentle, sweet-tempered, thoroughly unselfish and high-minded, quiet and unobtrusive, neat and well-bred. Then what is wanting in Miss Strong?

"I think it will be best for Jenny to teach," wrote another lady in regard to a young girl in whom she was deeply interested, and whose gifts and graces she had been cataloguing at great length. "At least, what else is there for a woman to do who is thoroughly feminine but not at all domestic?"

We think of unselfishness as the first need of a woman who is to be the presiding genius of a home; but both Miss Strong and Jenny are conspicuously unselfish.

It seems that though a fine character, and particularly a loving one, must be the foundation of the home, yet certain special qualities are necessary. Among the thousands who have read "Robert Elsmere" does any one feel that Catherine, with all her earnestness and deep love of others, made her girlhood's home a pleasant place? She was ready to give up a home of her own, thinking her mother and sisters needed her, and yet her sister Rose, at least, was secretly longing to be free from the constant influence of such severe moral standards. In short, Catherine did not make her home comfortable.

Comfort, I think, enters into every idea of a home. We wish to be unrestrained there. That, however, is a different thing from being lawless. There must be moral restraints, even for the sake of the comfort itself. Otherwise, the freedom of one interferes with the freedom of another, and finally the reaction tells in the discomfort of all.

Physical comfort is necessary in a home. Some of the best women do not understand this. They are disgusted with the sarcasm that "The road to a man's heart is through his dinner." That would be disgusting if it were the whole truth. But we must all eat every day of our lives, and appetizing food prettily served adds much to the comfort of the day.

Indeed, without it only a boor or a saint can be really comfortable.

Women who are good cooks are sometimes ill-tempered and refuse to exercise their art. But discomfort in the matter of dinner usually comes from a different kind of housekeeper. There are some women who think it is a weakness to care about food. Their rule is, "Eat what is set before you, asking no questions," a sufficiently good rule for those who are dining, but a miserable one for the housekeeper to force upon others.

There are still other women who have a definite opinion as to diet. They have studied food from a hygienic point of view, and they watch the effect of every mouthful. Such a study ought to be useful, but in point of fact it is a frequent source of discomfort. Nothing ever digests well when our mind is concentrated on our digestion. One difficulty may be this. The women who have turned their attention to this subject have often done so because they were invalids. They find certain food injurious to them and decide it is injurious to everybody. So a whole healthy household is restricted to the invalid's bill of fare. The housekeeper is so certain she is doing her duty, that she easily steels her heart against the murmurs of her family, and the discomfort continues. A thoroughly healthy woman, however, will provide all the better for her family if she understands the effect of different articles of diet.

To be comfortable, a house should be warm enough. Of course, I do not mean that we need to breathe the superheated atmosphere which foreigners criticise in most American houses. It is the mother of the family who must correct this. She can easily do so, because she has it entirely in her power to form the habits of her children in this particular, and it is rarely the case that a man likes an overheated room until he has been trained by his more sensitive wife to bear it.

But I mean that nothing physical takes from the comfort of a home so much as chilliness. So long as we are warm enough we may relish a very frugal dinner, but a feast is unappetizing in a cold room. Indeed, I believe we may economize in anything better than in fuel. It gives a great sense of comfort in going into a house to find it warm all through. Many people, however, cannot afford such luxury. But if you can only have one fire in the house, see that that is always burning; and if it must be in the kitchen in the cooking-stove, keep the stove so bright that its black ugliness is a centre radiating cheerfulness. There are plenty of homes in which there is no need of stint, where through carelessness and neglect there are times when everybody in the house is shivering, while perhaps at other times half the rooms are at a red heat.

I remember one of Charles Reade's heroes who was wavering between the attractions of two women, and the novelist represents the simpler of the two as being careful that there should always be a blazing hearth when the lover came. This innocent device gave him a sense of comfort which almost won his heart. It seemed to me a touch of truth.

We cannot all afford open wood fires, though their beauty and healthfulness make us wish we could; but most of us can keep the "clear fire" and the "clean hearth," which Mrs. Battle wisely considered the proper preliminaries to the "rigor of the game."

Though we want warm homes, we do not want close ones. Most houses are not very well ventilated, and if we keep our windows open in winter weather, we must expect our bill for fuel to be a large one. Some of us are too poor to disregard this fact, but most of us could probably afford to save enough in our dress to meet what I may call this necessary extravagance. I have seen a great many landladies who looked so severe on seeing a window open in a room where the register was also open, that the unhappy boarder felt at once like a culprit for even desiring both warmth and fresh air at the same time. Once, however, I had the good fortune to know a woman of different views. She bought a house expressly with the intention of letting it to transient lodgers.

She found, as is common, that the furnace-heated air which passed through the registers into the rooms came from the cellar. She immediately made alterations, so that the fresh outside air should be heated and carried over the house. "It costs more," she said, "but dear me! what is expense to fresh air?" Moreover she said so much to her lodgers about the necessity of fresh air, that all the windows in the house were always streaming open. "I once knew a lady who died of pneumonia from airing her room too much," said the landlady, "but that was a beautiful death!"

I doubt whether there is comfort under a system of ventilation which induces pneumonia, but it certainly is luxury as well as comfort to let in all the fresh air we want and not to stint fuel.

Plenty of light is another essential in a home. Most city houses are deficient in sunlight, and most of them, however richly furnished, are accordingly depressing. Whether or not the dreams of socialists can ever be realized we do not know, but none is more alluring than that of the disappearance of blocks of houses. If every house could stand in the midst of its own garden, the gain would be as great in inner comfort as in outward beauty.

No one can tell the amount of near-sightedness caused by the effort to read and write in our dark city houses. Rich people ought to be extravagant in the matter of light. Corner lots are worth buying, and it is worth while to live on "streets with only one side."

And when natural light fails let us have enough of the artificial. Even the poor who cannot have electricity or gas hardly need economize here with kerosene at its present rates. A kerosene lamp, to be sure, is not often a beautiful or poetical object, but with the right kind of care the vile odor may be suppressed, and though this involves an additional burden for the housekeeper, light is too essential for the work to be grudged. A sufficient number of _clean_ kerosene lamps will make a house cheerful from one end to the other. Now I have often noticed that women who are compelled to economize in little things are inclined to economize in all things. They will strain their eyes for fifteen minutes after it is too dark to sew, they will sit in a room dimly lighted by one lamp when two are necessary to make it attractive, without stopping to think that twelve or fifteen cents worth of oil would supply three large lamps for a week! And in this way they sacrifice not only cheerfulness, but opportunities for all the family to do easy and comfortable work.

Cleanliness is as essential in a home as over-neatness is destructive to it. There is nothing homelike in any room that is in perfect order; but, on the other hand, there is little of the home feeling in a room that is not bright and fresh with cleanliness. Tables littered with books, chairs and sofas strewn with gloves and ribbons, and even a floor encumbered with a prostrate doll or two, are cheerful; a trail of leaves and mosses from a basket of woodland treasures is endurable dirt.

But dust in the corners which shows the dirt to be chronic and not accidental, unwashed windows, dingy mirrors, etc., etc., have no redeeming quality. It is a good thing for the mother of the family to love order, but there is ample scope for that in keeping every closet and drawer and box and basket in a dainty condition. However neat a room may be, it is odious the moment an open drawer or closet reveals disorder. The meaning of this is that the disorder which comes from daily happy living is delightful, and that is what we see in the large confusion of a room when in use; but the disorder which comes from carelessness about finding a convenient place for everything, and from laziness about putting things in their places when we have done using them, is not beautiful.

For the kind of neatness which makes a home homelike we must have room enough, but not too much room. This is rather a vague statement, I know, but the actual measurements of a house should vary with circumstances; for example, a large room with few people in it will always be stiff, even if it is splendid; while a small room filled with useless _bric-a-brac_ will be uncomfortable even with a solitary occupant. On the subject of _bric-a-brac_ I feel strongly, and I will speak of it more fully elsewhere.

But I do not include pictures in the term _bric-a-brac._ There ought to be pictures in every home for their intrinsic value. Fortunately they take up little room and are easily kept in order. Many of us do not agree about pictures. Most Americans who buy oil paintings advertise their want of cultivation in their choice, and even those who rigidly confine themselves to engravings and photographs of the old masters do not succeed much better. I remember a man, the son of a country minister, who knew pictures only from the literary side. He was a great reader, and had been familiar with the names of Raphael and Da Vinci and Durer from childhood. He knew well what were their masterpieces, and when he went abroad he bought hundreds of photographs of these works.

His house was full of pictures; there was not one among them which was not a copy of something really beautiful, and not one copy which had any beauty in itself. This man had not the sense of beauty, though he had the moral sense which led him always to wish for the best.

But all any of us can do is to express the best we know. The essential quality in pictures in our own homes is that they should express the best we ourselves have reached. Still, many pictures of high artistic merit are wanting in the real home charm. I believe most of those which hang on our walls and are always before our eyes should be cheerful in character. I sympathize with the old abbess who chose to have her rooms frescoed with Correggio's happy cherubs, and who liked to have constantly before her, though in a convent, his goddess Diana, whose smile some one has said is full of "resolute sweetness."

I remember once having to pass a bitter hour of waiting in the drawing-room of a physician well known for his high culture. Every picture in the room was a work of art, but every one was solemn and even severe. Dante, Savonarola, the tombs of the Medici, etc., etc., afforded no escape from sad thoughts. The only relief was in the sweet serenity of Emerson's face, and even in this instance the most severe of all the portraits had been chosen. There was not one point of color in any of the pictures, but indeed most of us cannot afford paintings that are good for anything, so I could not quarrel with that.

For a daily companion I would rather have a Raphael than a Michael Angelo, and though for love I would slip in a Millet or two, I should not want a room full of Millets.

The heavy furniture of a home should be comfortable first of all. The chairs should not all be of the same size and height any more than the people. Arm-chairs are better than rocking-chairs, as they are less in the way. The furniture should not be light enough to be easily overturned, but the castors should always run easily. A lounge is a homelike piece of furniture, but let us hope it need not be much used.

A word more to the young woman who is choosing furniture for half a life-time. Fancy you have it to dust! You may have an army of servants, but certain patterns of furniture can never be kept clean. I remember two friends who chose furniture at the same time. It was the era of black walnut and green rep, and they chose sets looking much alike. But in one case the walnut was elaborately carved,--by machinery, which made it all the rougher,--and there were many little grooves to invite the dust in the upholstery; while in the other case the wood was simply moulded and polished, and the cloth was so put on that one or two vigorous strokes of a brush would cleanse it. It is true that heavy wood carved by hand is beautiful enough to repay us for its care, but that being smoothly finished does not catch very much dust.

The evening should be the crown of the day in a home. There are few homes where the evenings are as homelike as they could easily be. This is partly because there are so many outside attractions both in the city and country. Now I am not of those who think it praiseworthy to be always at home. I was told the other day of a steady young man who had not been out an evening in three years. I felt no enthusiasm about him.

I think outside interests are absolutely necessary for any fresh or large life. But I think when we find ourselves going out as many as half our evenings, we are really dissipated, unless the circumstances are of a very unusual character, for we need as many as three or four evenings in a week to develop true home life. But in stay-at-home families, though the evenings are pleasant, I think they are seldom ideal. The reason for this is that the days are so crowded. The father and mother are tired, and, moreover, the father has no other time to read his unnecessarily voluminous newspaper, and the mother has no other time to do her unnecessarily elaborate sewing, while the children generally have lessons to study. Even then, a cosy room, with plenty of fire and light, where all the family meet together and feel no restraint, is a cheerful though a silent place. And we cannot all escape overwork however valiantly we fight our battle with non-essentials. Those who work ten hours in a factory, for example, have very little space for the other essentials of life, and there must be crowding. But some of us could simplify the day and so find room for unmitigated enjoyment in the evening. Sometimes sewing is pleasant in itself when cheerful conversation or reading is going on about us. I suppose the mother's work-basket will usually form an attractive nucleus in any home picture, and if there is not too much or too anxious sewing, I believe most women like it. And a moderate newspaper need not monopolize a whole evening. There are occasionally times when a careless child should be made to study a lesson at night. But the ideal evening at home is social, and its occupations are such that all can join in them. For myself I believe very fully in reading aloud. But in any household happy enough to consist of father, mother, and children, any book read aloud ought to be one which has some interest for all. The father and mother may both be intensely interested in the philosophy of Hegel, but I should not like to think they would ask the children to be quiet that they might read it aloud to each other. Books of travel, biography, novels, and poetry, appeal to all but the very young members of the family who ought to be in bed betimes. Of course the children do not take in everything in such books, but that is not necessary. If they only understand enough for enjoyment, it is a healthful stimulus to meet with something they do not understand. Perhaps the father and mother will say regretfully that they have no other time for their special studies. In the end the light literature may do them as much good as solid work, but even if it does not, they can better lose something themselves in intellectual development while their brood of children is about them than to miss the full rounding of their home life. If they live long, they will have too many quiet hours by themselves. In many families, however, the youngsters are more ready for solid reading than the older people. It is often the elder sister who has to give up her German and science to read travels and stories to her parents as well as to the children.

Drawing, fancy work, sewing, and whittling can all go on without disturbing the reading, or a tired mother can lie on the lounge and listen; but if any one must sit idle, reading may grow tedious, though good plays in which each can take his part are generally enjoyed. I was once in a home in Switzerland where the family spent most of the evenings in reading Racine, Moliere, and Corneille.

No home is complete without music. Even a large piano which has seen its best days does not seem to be altogether a cumberer of the ground where another equally bulky piece of furniture would be unendurable. But unless some member of the family has decided musical ability, the best use of a piano or organ in a home is to sustain the uncertain voices in singing. Home singing is almost a necessity even where no one sings very well. I should not wish to encourage the unmusical to display their voices outside their own doors; but if half a dozen members of a family are able to "carry a tune," and one of them can play a simple accompaniment correctly, I think the singing of fine hymns and pleasant ballads at home will prove most delightful to them all, besides bearing good fruit morally and physically. A family happy enough to have a little higher endowment, and a little more cultivation, so that one plays a violin, one a flute, and so on, may have a little private orchestra which may give as much enjoyment, and, all things considered, may be as elevating, as the perfect work of great musicians. It seems to me that any father and mother who wish the home to be dear to their children can afford to spend money on music far better than on many things considered more essential--clothes for, example.

But all the family circle ought be able to join in the evening occupations. If only one is a musician, but a small part of each evening can be given to music. On the other hand, I have no mercy for the young lady who has had time and money lavished on her musical education, who will not take the trouble to play to her brothers in the evening. If she distrusts her powers she need never play to other people who may ask her out of compliment; but when brothers ask their sisters to play, they mean that they want the music, and they should have it.

Chatting is pleasant in the evening, and does not interfere with a dozen other occupations. One can even read a newspaper or a novel while the rest are talking. Little twilight chats by the fire when the children confess their misdemeanors to their mother, or when the mother tells stories to the children, are full of the spirit of home, and there always ought to be some leisurely hours in every family when the father and mother and the grandfather and grandmother can relate old experiences to the younger generation. If the older people would only remember to tell these tales for the sake of the younger and not to gratify their own garrulity, so that they would dwell more on the events and customs and people of the past which ought to have a permanent interest, I believe such chat would always be of the highest value, and that the young would like it as well as the old; but when it is mere gossip about people long dead the young have a right to be restless.

There is always danger that chat will degenerate into gossip, so it is not generally best to have too many evenings devoted entirely to conversation.

The right kind of reading and music seem to me far better occupations for home evenings than games. There is too much hard work in chess and whist and too little sociability to make them in any way desirable.

Euchre and backgammon seem invented to pass away time, which is so precious to most of us that we should like to feel we had something at the end of an hour by which our lives were richer than at the beginning.

Yet games have their place. Young-people have their times of liking them. If they really enjoy them and play with thorough good temper, they get true recreation from them, and all innocent enjoyment has a moral effect as valuable as the intellectual effect of a good book. So a mother who wishes to make a true home for her children will not grudge whole evenings spent in games which would be unspeakably wearisome to her if played with people of her own age; indeed, the chances are she will thoroughly enjoy such evenings, and be as interested in capping verses or asking twenty questions as any of the youngsters, while if she is a worn and anxious mother, such simple pastime may be the best refreshment. I believe there is less to be said in favor of cards than of other games, but I often think of the words of a friend, "We are strict people," she said, "but when the boys were growing up and began to be wild for cards, we played regularly every evening till they were tired of it, and I think they did not care to play elsewhere."

Chapter end

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