Sisterly Discourse with John's Wife Concerning John,
The Family Purse,
The Parable of the Rich Woman and the Farmer's Wife,
Little Things that are Trifles,
A Mistake on John's Part,
Must-haves and May-bes,
What Good Will It Do?
Shall I Pass It On?
"Only Her Nerves,"
The Rule of Two,
The Perfect Work of Patience,
According to His Folly,
Is Marriage Reformatory?
And Other Relations-in-Law,
A Timid Word for the Step-mother,
Children as Helpers,
Children as Burden-bearers,
Our Young Person,
Getting Along in Years,
The Gospel of Conventionalities,
Familiar, or Intimate?
Cheerfulness as a Christian Duty,
The Family Invalid,
A Temperance Talk,
A Parting Word for Boy,
Homely, But Important,
AN OPEN SECRET.
Some one asked me the other day, if I were not "weary of being so often put forward to talk of 'How to Make Home Happy,' a subject upon which nothing new could be said."
My answer was then what it is now: Were I to undertake to utter one-thousandth part that the importance of the theme demands, the contest would be between me and Time. I should need "all the time there is."
Henry Ward Beecher once prefaced a lecture delivered during the Civil War by saying: "The Copperhead species chancing to abound in this locality, I have been requested to select as my subject this evening something that will not be likely to lead to the mention of Slavery."
"I confess myself to be somewhat perplexed by this petition," the orator went on to say, with the twinkle in his eye we all recollect--"for I have yet to learn of any subject that could not easily lead me up to the discussion of a sin against God and man which I could not exaggerate were every letter a Mt. Sinai--I mean, American Slavery."
Likening the lesser to the greater, allow me to say that I cannot imagine any topic worthy the attention of God-fearing, humanity-loving men and women that would not be connected in some degree, near or remote, with "Home, and How to Make Home Happy."
The general principles underlying home-making of the right kind are as well-known as the fact that what is named gravitation draws falling bodies to the earth. These principles may be set down roughly as Order, Kindness and Mutual Forbearance. Upon one or another of these pegs hangs everything which enters into the comfort and pleasure of the household, taken collectively and individually. They are the beams, the uprights and the roofing of the building.
The chats, more or less confidential and altogether unconventional, which I propose to hold with the readers of this modest volume have to do with certain sub-laws which are so often overlooked that--to return to the figure of the building--the wind finds its way through chinks; the floors creak and the general impression is that of bare homeliness. House and Home go together upon tongue and upon pen as naturally as hook-and-eye, shovel-and-tongs, knife-and-fork,--yet the coupling is rather a trick learned through habit than an act of reason. The words are not synonyms of necessity or in fact.
Upon these, the first pages of my unconventional book, I avow my knowledge of what, so far from humiliating, stimulates me--to wit, that nine-tenths of those who will look beyond the title-page will be women. This is well, and as I would have it to be, for without feminine agency no house, however well appointed, can be anything higher than an official residence.
Man's first possession in a world then unmarred by sin was a dwelling-place--but Eden was not a home until the woman joined him there. Throughout the ages and all over the world, as mother, wife, sister, daughter (often, let me observe in passing, as old-maid aunt) she has stood with him as the representative of the rest, sympathy and love to be found nowhere except under his own roof-tree, and beside his own fireside. It is not the house that makes the home, any more than it is the jeweled case that makes the watch, or the body that makes the human being. It is the Presence, the nameless influence which is the earliest acknowledged by the child, and the latest to be forgotten by man or woman. The establishment of this power is essentially woman's prerogative.
In this one respect--I dare not say in any other--we outrank our brothers. They can build palaces and the furniture that fits them up in regal state; they can, even better than we, prepare for the royal tables food convenient for them, and fashion the attire of the revelers, and make the music and sing the songs and write the books and paint the pictures of the world. They may make and execute our laws and sail our seas, and fight our battles, and--after dutiful consultation with us--cast our votes. There is no magnanimity in admitting all this. It is the due of that noblest work of God, a strong, good, gentle man to receive the concession and to know how frankly we make it. To them as theologians, logicians, impartial historians, as priests, prophets, and kings--we do cheerful obeisance, yet with the look of one who but half hides a happy secret in her heart that compensates for all she resigns. There is not a true-hearted woman alive who would give up her birthright to become--we will say Christopher Columbus himself.
It must be a fine thing, though, to be a man on some accounts;--to be emancipated forever-and-a-day from the thraldom of skirts for instance, and to push through a crowd to read the interjectional headlines upon a bulletin board, instead of going meekly and unenlightened home, to be told by John three hours later that "a woman's curiosity passes masculine comprehension, and that he is too tired and hungry to talk." It must be a satisfaction to be able to hit another nail with a hammer than that attached to one's own thumb, and to hurl a stone from the shoulder instead of tossing it from the wrist; there must be sublimity in the thrill with which the stroke-oar of the 'Varsity's crew bends to his work, and the ecstasy of the successful crack pitcher of a baseball team passes the descriptive power of a woman's tongue. Nevertheless, the greatest architectural genius who ever astonished the world with a pyramid, a cathedral, or a triumphal street-arch, could never create and keep a Home. The meanest hut in the Jersey meadows, the doorway of which frames in the dusk of evening the figure of a woman with a baby in her arms, silhouetted upon the red background of fire and lamp kindled to welcome the returning husband and father, harbors as guest a viewless but "incomparable sweet" angel that never visits the superb club-house where men go from spirit to spirit in the vain attempt to make home of that which is no home.
"You write--do you?" snarled Napoleon I, insolently to the wittiest woman of the Paris salons. "What, for instance, have been some of your works since you have been in this country?"
"Three children, sire!" retorted the mother of Madame Emile de Girardin.
It was this same ready witted mother whom another woman pronounced the happiest of mortals.
"She does everything well--children, books and preserves."
Her range was wide. Comparatively few of her sex can grasp that octave. Upon the simplest, as upon the wisest, Heaven has bestowed the talent of home-making, precious and incommunicable.
Woman's Work in the Home! Taking up, without irreverence, the magnificent hyperbole of the beloved disciple, I may truly say, "that if they should be written, every one, I suppose the world itself would not contain the books that would be written."
Let us touch one or two points very briefly. I have said that men can furnish houses more artistically than we, and that as professional cooks they surpass us. It should follow naturally that men, to whose hearts the stomach is the shortest thoroughfare, would, in a body, resort to hotels for daily food. There is but one satisfactory explanation of the unphilosophical fact that the substantial citizen who, during a domestic interregnum, makes the experiment of three meals a day for one month at the best restaurant in New York City (and there are no better anywhere) returns with gladness and singleness of heart to his own extension-table--and that were I to put the question "Contract Cookery or Home Cookery?" to the few Johns who deign to peruse these lines, the acclaim would be--"Better, as everyday fare, is a broiled beefsteak and a mealy potato at home, than a palatial hotel and ten courses."
There is individuality in the steak broiled for John's very self, and sentiment in the pains taken to keep the starch in his potato, and solid satisfaction in putting one's knees under his own mahogany. The least romantic of gourmands objects to stirring his appetite into a common vat with five hundred others. But there is something back of all this that makes home-fare delicious, when the house mother smiles across the dish she has sweetened with love and spiced with good-will, and thus transformed it into a message from her heart to the hearts of the dear ones to whom she ministers.
John--being of the masculine gender according to a decree of Nature, and, therefore, irresponsible for the slow pace at which his wits move--may not be able at once to analyze the odd heartache he feels in surveying the apartments fitted up by the upholsterer--or to tell you why they become no longer a tri-syllabled word, but "our rooms," within a day after wife and daughters have taken possession of them. The honest fellow cannot see but that the furniture is the same, and each article standing in the same place--but the new atmosphere "which is the old," greets him upon the threshold, and steals into his heart before he has fairly entered. Anybody could have shaken the stiffness out of that portière, and put a low, shaded lamp under the picture he likes best, and broken up the formal symmetry of the bric-a-brac that reminded him, although he did not dare confess it, of a china shop, and set a slender vaselet with one big ragged golden globe of a chrysanthemum in it here, and over there a bowl of long-stemmed roses--(his favorite Bon Silenes, too). But what hireling, O blind and dear John! would have left a bit of fancy work with the needle sticking in it, and scissors lying upon it, on the table in library or smoking room, and put the song you always ask for at twilight upon the open piano, and, just where you would choose to cast yourself down to listen, your especial Sleepy Hollow of chair or lounge with the slumber robe worked last Christmas by loving fingers thrown invitingly across it?
What professional art could make the vestibule of your house--a rented cottage, maybe--the gateway to another, and a purer, higher, happier sphere than the world you shut out with the closing of the front door? You would never get upon so much as bowing terms with your better self but for that front door and the latch key which lets you into the hall brightened by loving smiles, made merry by welcoming voices.
Talk of the prose of everyday life! When Poetry is hounded from every other nook of the earth which the Maker of it meant should be one vast, sublime epic, she will find an inviolable retreat under the Lares and Penates guarding the ingleside, and crown as priestess forever the wife and mother who makes and keeps the Home.
It could hardly be otherwise. To no other of his co-workers does the Lord of life grant such opportunities as to woman. Her baby is laid in the mother's arms to have, and to hold, and to fashion, without let or hindrance. His mind and heart are unwritten paper, and Nature and Providence unite in waving aside all who would interfere with what she chooses to inscribe thereupon. Her growing boys and girls believe in her with absoluteness no other friend will ever inspire--not in her love alone, but in her infallibility and her omnipotence. It is a moment of terror and often the turning point in a child's life, when first he comprehends that there are hurts his mother cannot heal, knowledge which he needs and she cannot impart.
If the boundaries of home seem sometimes to circumscribe a woman's sphere, they are also a safe barricade within which husband, and the children who have come to man's estate, find retreat from the outer storm and stress, a sanctuary where love feeds the flame upon the domestic altar. There, the atmosphere, like that of St. Peter's Church, never changes. It refreshes when the breath of the world is a simoon, withering heart and strength. When the winds of adversity are bleak, the shivering wanderer returns to the fold, "curtained and closed and warm--" to gather force for to-morrow's strain.
"Love, rest and home!"
we sing with moistened eyes. The blessed three are put in trust with woman. Other stations of honor and usefulness may be opened to her, but this is the realm of which nothing can dispossess her. The leaven that leavens the nations is wrought by her hands. Hers is the seedtime that determines what harvest the Master shall reap. To her is committed the holy task of preserving all that we can know of a lost paradise until we see the light flash out for our eager eyes from the wide doors of what--when we would draw it nearest and make it dearest to our hearts--we call our Changeless Home.