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Girls and Women Part 8

If a home is to be ideal, it must contain a father and mother and children. A lonely man or woman who is so unfortunate as not to have this ideal home should, I think, try to find as many of its elements as possible. A man should not live altogether at his club, and it is a pity for a woman to live permanently with women alone. And a home is so incomplete without children that it seems almost necessary that every childless man or woman should adopt one or two. Unfortunately this is often impossible, and then it becomes the more essential to seek for a boarding-place where we may get a little of the cheer of other people's children and at the same time practice some of the virtues which children always call out in older people. No home is truly homelike in which there is not a large hospitality. I have so much to say on this head that I must leave it for another chapter.

I have said little about the qualities of character which make a happy home. Beyond a loving nature, on which all the others rest, I know of nothing more essential than a serene temper. Let a woman be "mistress of herself, though china fall." The daily temptations to irritation are incessant, and irritability will destroy the comfort of any home, even if it is well warmed and lighted and furnished with easy-chairs and sofas, even if everybody is high minded and ready to take part in refined pleasures, and even if room is made in the family circle for a host of agreeable friends.

XI.

HOSPITALITY.

No home is genuine which is not also hospitable. Just as we must go out to get fresh life, we must welcome fresh life which comes in to us. And further than that it would be a poor nature which found no one to love outside the home circle. If we love any one we wish to share our life with our friend.

But it is impossible to be hospitable except by welcoming our visitors to our every-day life. If we depart much from our usual customs, our freedom is checked, and the visit becomes a burden, willingly borne, perhaps, for the time, but sure to be felt if often laid upon us.

A friend, well known in literary circles, inviting me to visit her in a Western city through which I was to pass on my way to another State wrote, "You must stay more than a day or two, for, if not, I shall have to give up my time to you, and I can't interrupt my daily work! I go into my library at nine o'clock every morning and stay till two. But in the afternoon I drive, and when in the evening my husband comes home from business and my children from school I give myself up to my family."

Upon this invitation I determined to stay a week. "You must not come into my library in the morning unless I invite you," said my friend laughing; "but there is another library adjoining your room where I shall not venture to disturb you without leave!"

I remember a home which opened very hospitable doors to me when I was a young girl,--that of a widow with two young daughters. They were in straitened circumstances, and could not effectively heat the large and handsome house left by the father of the family. "I ask you to come in the winter, my dear," the lady used to say to me, "because you live in the country and can sleep comfortably in a cold room: I ask my city friends to come in the summer." That, I think, showed a true spirit of hospitality. She gave what she had to those who could enjoy it. I shall never forget the cosy afternoons I have passed in her warm sitting-room, while one read aloud and the rest did fancy work, or sometimes the plainest of sewing. We read novels, some first rate, some second, or even third rate, without a thought of getting any benefit from them. But we chatted and laughed and enjoyed ourselves. Or sometimes some of us would go into town to a matinee, and coming home tingling with cold would find a hot and savory supper awaiting us in the bright dining-room, prepared by those who had stayed at home, and who were eager to hear everything about the play which we were eager to tell.

There was no servant to trouble us, and we all enjoyed ourselves together in washing the dishes. We sat up as long as we pleased and toasted our feet, and in zero weather even wrapped up a hot brick to take to our chilly beds.

But this lady was not without ambition. She wished she could entertain more as other people did. She thought she ought to give some parties, especially as she liked to go to other people's entertainments. And so, on one occasion, she did give a party. It was a grand affair. The whole house was set in order and decorated. Caterers came from the city, and her tables were beautifully laid with exactly the same salads and cakes that she was in the habit of eating at other houses. Her cards of invitation were of the choicest style, and her house was filled with fashionable people, since, in spite of her reduced circumstances, she had a perfectly assured position in society, and there was also a respectable number of unfashionable people present, for she was too truly hospitable to leave out anybody she liked. She was a skillful manager, and succeeded in carrying through her undertaking for half the expense usual in such a case; but it cost her sleepless nights. Of course, "The labor we delight in physics pain," and I am sure she thoroughly enjoyed her grand party which everybody said was perfect in all its appointments. Nevertheless, her bills amounted to one sixth of the yearly income of the family, so that she never gave another party till later in life, when fortune suddenly smiled upon her again and put her in possession of a million. I do not condemn her party, but merely use it to point my statement that we cannot often exercise hospitality except as we admit our friends to our daily life.

A friend of mine who was making a tour of the South bethought her of a cousin in New Orleans whom she had not seen since the war. She wrote to her, "I am going to New Orleans for a week or two and wish you might find me a boarding-place near you, so that I could see you as well as the sights." The Southern cousin at once replied with a cordial invitation that the Northern cousin should visit her. The Northerner had no idea of making a convenience of her almost unknown relative, and declined; but the Southerner insisted that the visit would be a real favor to herself. "That is," she added, "if you can be comfortable in the way we live." The Northerner could hardly refuse longer, but having certain fastidious ideas, she was rather startled on reaching New Orleans to find that her cousin's family, in which there were eight children, lived in a house of five rooms! She felt, in spite of her precautions, she must be an intruder. But the husband of her cousin said sweetly, "Where there is room in the heart, there is room in the house," and she stayed, and had one of the most delightful experiences of her life.

I am afraid few Northerners judged by this standard can be said to have "room in the heart," though I remember gratefully a minister's family in Massachusetts who lived in a little house and with narrow means, and yet received with bright smiles all their friends from the towns around who chose to stay with them. A brother minister would drive over with his whole family and stay a few days, and no one ever suggested there was not room for everybody. All the young collegiate cousins took this home in their way on their vacation tramps, and brought with them as many of their classmates as chose to come, never thinking it necessary to give any warning of their approach. I have known as many as a dozen young cousins to be gathered in the house at one time, the boys from Yale and Amherst, girls from New York and Philadelphia, or from quiet country boarding-schools,--one indeed came all the way from London,--and they enjoyed themselves as much as the visitors in an English country-house.

They did not "ride to the meet," of course, or attend a county ball; but they went blackberrying together, and they sang songs, and played duets, and had games of croquet, and read French, and acted Shakespeare under the apple-trees; they climbed a mountain, and rowed on the pond, and took long botanical expeditions. The minister's wife was herself a delectable cook, but she must have wrinkled her brow many a time in planning how to get enough bread and butter to go round even with the aid of the blackberries, and some of the young fellows had to sleep on the hay in the barn, though happily they had a natural bath-tub provided in a stream among the bushes behind the house.

The achievement of this hostess is the more notable because she was a New England housekeeper, and her standard of neatness was high. If she had attempted anything but the simplest manner of entertainment she would certainly have had nervous prostration. But her simplicity of living saved her, and she is still hale and hearty, though she has passed the limit of threescore and ten.

A friend who has lived much at the South, in speaking of the beautiful hospitality for which Southerners are distinguished, says that it comes partly from their easy way of taking life. They do not think it necessary to put the house in order because guests are coming, but let the guests take them as they find them. More than that, they are less given to "pursuits" than Northerners, and so less easily disturbed.

Believing, however, in the value of "pursuits," I have been interested in observing the manner of hospitality in a family among my friends. The family consists of the father, mother, and three grown-up daughters.

All the daughters are earning their own living, and the mother is much occupied in household cares. It is a highly intellectual family. All are readers and keep abreast of the literature of the day. Beyond that, one or another of them is always studying German, or French, or history, or mineralogy, or taking up some social reform. Two of them find time to write acceptably for magazines. It would seem as if they could not have much leisure to entertain friends, yet their great rambling house, which stands in the midst of a shady old-fashioned yard and garden just outside the city, is seldom without a guest or two, and there never was a place where a tired soul and body could find sweeter rest. A cup and plate at table and a bed to sleep in are provided for the visitor, and so far there is not much trouble. The family meet at the table,--when convenient,--and there is plenty of delightful chat. One or another is often at leisure for a walk or a row or some other pastime, but no one appears to feel it necessary to give up any of her ordinary occupations for the sake of the visitor. I consider myself rather a particular friend of three of the family, yet I have often passed a Sunday there without seeing more than one of the three. The others had something to do on their own account. One of them, tired with her week's work, likes to rest all day in her own room. Another is an ardent Episcopalian, and wishes to follow all the church services from early morning through the evening. As there are so many agreeable people in the family one is not often obliged to be alone, but when left alone the sense of home comfort is only increased. There are plenty of lounges and easy-chairs; the large, comfortable tables are strewn with all the latest magazines; the bookcases are full of readable books, and the young ladies all have their individual collections of Soule's photographs, which are well worth lounging over. The fires are always bright within, and the long windows opening everywhere on piazzas and balconies command extensive and beautiful views. The rooms are sweet with flowers in winter, and the gardens are fragrant in summer. One can lounge and read all day, or take a walk, or do a dozen other things. The cheerful, interesting conversation at table, and in the odds and ends of time through the day, would be sufficient stimulus to all but the most exacting guests; while, as a matter of fact, there are always a few hours in the evening when everybody seems to be at leisure, and these form the social centre of the day. For my part I would much rather be entertained in this way than to have my footsteps dogged all day by some well-meaning and self-sacrificing devotee who tries conscientiously to amuse me.

One of the most hospitable homes I ever knew was made by two young ladies in Boston. One of them was a country girl of genius and refinement who came to the city to do literary work. Here she formed a friendship with another young lady who liked to pass most of the time in Boston for the sake of its advantages in music, art, and the theatre.

Neither was rich, but together they had a very respectable income. They found a nice little flat of six convenient rooms in an accessible and pleasant but unfashionable street, and furnished it with exactly the things they wanted to use every day. The furnishings were thus simple, but they combined comfort and beauty, for both the young ladies had excellent taste. I am tempted to describe all their original and charming arrangements, only that would lead me too far. I will only speak of their hospitality which was perfect. They gave no parties nor even afternoon teas. How could they without a servant? Indeed, though they had the luxury of getting their own breakfast in their sitting-room at any hour of the day when they liked to eat it, they were too much in the habit of eating their dinner at any restaurant near which they might happen to be when they were hungry to have inaugurated any extensive housekeeping. Moreover, they could see their city friends whenever they chose for an hour or two at a time without the trouble of providing a feast or a band of music. They always had bread and butter and fruit and various appetizing knickknacks stored away, so that if a caller stayed till any one was hungry a sufficient lunch could be served on the spot.

But they exercised their hospitality chiefly for the benefit of their country friends whom they could not otherwise see. Many a nice old lady or bright young girl passed a week with them, who would otherwise have hurried through her season's shopping in a day and have had no time left for music or pictures. Most of these friends could amuse themselves very well through the day. If they did not know the way about, one of the hostesses conducted them to the libraries or museums as she went her own way to her daily occupation. There was always bread and cheese for them to eat if they chose, and if they cared for something more they could find it at a restaurant as their entertainers did, or they could cook it for themselves in the hospitable little kitchen. A folding bed could always be let down for them at night, and in times of stress another bed could be made on the sofa.

The hostesses spent little money or thought or time on their guests, except so far as they really wanted to do so, and yet they entertained great numbers of people most satisfactorily. They did not ask anybody to visit them from a sense of duty, but they always asked everybody they fancied they should like to see without a thought as to convenience, because it always was convenient to have anybody they liked with them.

We know that men enjoy giving invitations in this free way, but they seldom have the power--for two reasons; either their wives are not satisfied to entertain the friends of their husbands in simple every-day fashion, or the husbands themselves are not satisfied to have them so entertained.

Every one knows the great difference between city and country hospitality. Very few people in the city appear to be really pleased to see an uninvited guest, and they are far less likely to invite guests, except perhaps when giving a party, than those of the same means in the country. They are not altogether to blame in this. There are so many more people to see in the city than in the country that every one becomes a new burden, and the friendship must be very close indeed that survives such a strain. But I fear it is also true that in the city the non-essentials of life have undue weight.

XII.

BRIC-a-BRAC.

Our lives are clogged with _bric-a-brac_. Every separate article in a room may be pretty in itself, and yet the room may be hideous through overcrowding with objects which have no meaning.

The disease of _bric-a-brac_ I think, is due to two influences,--the desire of uncreative minds to create beauty, and the mania for giving Christmas presents. Both these influences have a noble source, and will probably reach more beautiful results at last. Any mind awake to beauty must try to create it, and if its power and originality are not very great, what can it do better than to apply itself to humble, every-day trifles and try to decorate them? This is certainly right, if the old principle of architecture is always remembered: "Decorate construction, do not construct decoration." A few illustrations of my meaning may be needed.

I am obliged to use blotting-paper when I write. I have always been grateful to a friend who sent me a beautiful blue blotting book, with a bunch of white clover charmingly painted on the first page. It gives me pleasure every time I write a letter. I am glad that one of my friends was artistic enough to embroider some fine handkerchiefs for me with a beautiful initial. One of my dearest possessions is the lining for a bureau drawer made of pale blue silk, with scented wadding tied in with knots of narrow white ribbon. This lies in the bottom of the drawer, and owing to the kindness of my friends shown at various times, I am able to lay upon the top of each pile of underclothing either a handkerchief case or a scent bag of blue silk or satin. Some of these trifles are corded with heavy silk, some are embroidered with rosebuds, some are ornamented with bows of ribbon, and altogether they make the drawer a "thing of beauty" which to me personally "is a joy forever," and they are never in anybody's way.

My friend has been less fortunate in the tributes of affection she has received. She has several elaborate and even pretty ties which she is obliged to append to her sofas and easy-chairs. They are believed to add to the harmony of coloring in her sitting-room, but they are very likely to be askew when the sofas and easy-chairs are in use; and as they always have to be rearranged during the process of dusting, they form an argument for delaying that duty as long as possible. She also has several head-rests and foot-rests, in which the embroidery is exquisite in itself, but which are so ill-contrived that they afford no rest to either head or foot. "They are worth having, though," she says, "because of their beauty, just as a picture is worth having though you cannot use it." "Yes," replies her husband, "they are worth having, but not worth having in the way. I do not want even the Sistine Madonna propped up in my easy-chair." Most of her friends are learning to paint, and many of them have chosen to give her at Christmas specimens of their progress mounted on pasteboard easels. These cover the tables and mantels and brackets of her sitting-room. "Ah!" she says softly, under her breath, "if they had only thought to paint book-marks instead One can never have enough book-marks. It would be delightful to have one in every book in the library, and the more beautiful the better, while the ugly ones, which perhaps come from our dearest friends, would be blessed for their usefulness besides being unobtrusive."

Sweet temper is certainly essential to a happy home; but if my friend were not too sweet tempered to hide these offerings from constant sight, her sitting-room would not be so exasperating a place. There is no room for a work-basket or a book on the tables. One is continually upsetting some frail structure, or tumbling over some well-meant aesthetic convenience.

Christmas presents are worse than any others. Even a hideous and useless gift offered at any other season may be acceptable, and we need not grudge it room, because being spontaneous, it represents love. But even the most genuine Christmas presents are becoming subject to the suspicion that they are given from a sense of duty, because gifts at that season have become a habit. I have no reason to suppose that any of my numerous kind friends grudge the Christmas presents they so generously give me; but I often find myself wondering how many of them would think of giving me anything as often as once a year if there were no special date to recall the custom to their minds.

Gifts would be far more likely to be spontaneous if they were never given regularly; if, for instance, we avoided giving anything next Christmas to anybody whom we had remembered this year--excepting always to little children, to servants, and to the poor--the three classes to whom we never venture to give _bric-a-brac_, knowing well they would laugh us to scorn instead of flattering us by calling our contributions "perfectly lovely." Now, when a gift is spontaneous, its value is quite irrespective of its use, but at the same time it is far more likely to be both beautiful and useful. We read a book that moves us. How we wish we could share it with one friend who particularly enjoys such a book!

We send it to her, and it is exactly the thing she wants. On the other hand, Christmas is approaching. What shall we give our friend? She likes books. Well, then, here is a prettily bound volume which is well spoken of. We have no time to look farther, and we send it to her. She thanks us in a pretty note, but is too busy in writing a hundred notes of thanks to read the book then. It is laid by and perhaps forgotten.

We are making another friend an informal visit. We see that her needle-book is getting shabby. We hasten to get bits of kid and silk and flannel, and make her a new one with our daintiest stitches, and she is delighted. She uses it every day, and likes to remember that we thought of her comfort. But what shall we give her for Christmas? We think she has everything. We have too many friends to remember now, for time for such a dainty piece of sewing. Let us buy her some kind of an ornament.

It is true that the French clock and the vases and the match receivers and two or three pictures on easels already crowd the mantel-piece, but there is an odd little bronze image which would not be amiss among them.

It costs rather more than we can afford to pay, but we love her, and wish to give her something, and are at our wits' end to know what. She receives it graciously, and every time she dusts her ornaments she remembers us affectionately. "I don't grudge dusting this," she says sweetly to herself, "for my dear friend gave it to me, and I would do a great deal more than this for her." Of course, in a family where a servant dusts, the present is forgotten the moment it is placed on the shelf.

I remember the dearest of little girls who once made me a Christmas present of a purse of her own embroidering. The colors she chose were brilliant, but hardly beautiful; the material rather flimsy, the sewing was far beyond criticism, and if I had ever been rash enough to intrust any money to such a purse, I should have returned home penniless. But I was enchanted with the gift. I shall keep it as long as I live wrapped in the crumpled tissue paper in which this darling child folded it in her wish to make it look as attractive as possible. I can never even think of this gift without fancying the tiny unskillful fingers as they toilsomely labored over those silks that would catch and twist, and I think of the sweet brow and eyes which bent over the work, and am as sure as if I had seen it of the loving smile which hovered about the childish lips at the thought that she was going to give me a pleasant surprise.

But as this little maiden grew up the cares of Christmas multiplied.

There came a time when she had money to spend, and a host of friends to spend it upon, and when she certainly had not time personally to conduct the making of the number of Christmas presents she thought necessary to bestow. She was much too loyal to leave me out on this occasion, and if I were to judge of the degree of her affection by the proportion of her money which she spent upon me, she must have regarded me still as one of her dearest friends. She gave me a pair of exquisite cut glass vases, which, when placed in the sunshine, were certainly most beautiful with the flashing of colors. Their outline too was a lovely curve, but unfortunately such that it was impossible to put any flowers in the vases. At the base they were too slender to receive even one rose-stalk, while they were so broad at the top that it would have required a whole nosegay to fill them. If I had had a vast empty drawing-room which was to be filled with _bric-a-brac_, I could have found a place for them; but they were too delicate for my tiny parlor where there is so little elbow-room that slight things are in danger of being overturned. Of course I prize the vases and love the giver, but I know she never would have given them to me but for the feeling that the time had come to make a present; and so, while I shall cherish the little purse as long as I live, I have resolved that if the vases are ever broken, I will not treasure the fragments.

From these two roots, the love of creating beauty and the desire to express love for our friends on the same day of every year, such luxuriant vines have grown that unless we prune them carefully we are in danger of being completely entangled by them. There are still, perhaps, some waste places which our useless _bric-a-brac_ might make beautiful, and if we know any bare homes, let us by all means do something to brighten them; but let us not make for ourselves or give to our friends any small article which does not express use as well as beauty. We need not be at a loss if we remember Oscar Wilde's declaration that every article used in a house should be something which had given pleasure to the maker, that is, that it should be artistic. When all useful _bric-a-brac_ has become beautiful, we shall no longer desire to make or possess beautiful _bric-a-brac_ which is not useful. Of course I know that "Beauty is its own excuse for being," and I see in a fine picture, for instance, an appeal to the higher faculties which is more useful than usefulness. This I do not see in _bric-a-brac_, certainly not if the objects are to be so crowded in a small room that no one can see anything more than prettiness in them. Instead of my beautiful vases with their shifting lights, which do, after all, give me real pleasure sometimes when I am not too anxious lest I should break them, cut glass tumblers would have given me the same aesthetic enjoyment renewed at every meal. I might break a tumbler to be sure, but I should have the full enjoyment of it while it lasted.

XIII.

EMOTIONAL WOMEN.

A highly emotional young lady was once defending the reasoning powers of her sex at the dinner-table of a cultivated and fair-minded physician who finally took occasion to say sweetly to her: "No doubt the reason of women equals that of men; but I believe the trouble is that all men like a woman a little better if she is governed by feeling rather than by reason."

"Oh," said the young lady in a glow, "that is like saying that you would a little rather a woman would not be truthful!"

"I hope not," said the physician.

The friend who told me the anecdote added that of the two young ladies who were at the time members of the physician's family, there was no question that he greatly preferred the one who was most reasonable and least emotional!

Some one else tells me of a clever young lady who applied for a position as dramatic critic upon a newspaper. The editor recognized her ability and her knowledge of the drama, but he said he was afraid to employ a woman in such a department, lest her feelings should prevent her telling the exact truth. She would be biased herself, and praise the things she liked, and then she would have her personal favorites among the actors. The young lady who believed herself capable of justice was greatly hurt.

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