Her house is one of many in a long unlovely street; it is furnished according to the most corrupt dictates of bestial Philistinism—that is, with a view to comfort. There are no subtle harmonies in the papers and chintzes; there are no hidden suggestions of form and tone in the cornices and bell handles; all is barren of proportion, concord, and meaning. Still, this poor woman, with her inartistic eye and foolish heart, loves this wretched shelter, and would pour out her idiotic tears if she were leaving it for Paradise.
But if we descend from our aesthetic heights to the lowly level of the biped Smith, we may see Mrs. S. in a totally different atmosphere, and certain lights and shadows will play about her with a radiance not altogether without beauty. She is a single-minded woman, anxious to make her husband and children comfortable and happy in their home,—and dreaming of nothing beyond this. She is full of homely wisdom; a hundred little economies she practises with forethought and unwearying assiduity tend to make her husband and children love her and regard her as a paragon of domestic policy. Her husband’s affection and her children’s affection are all the world to her; music and painting and poetry, Mr. Ruskin, Phidias, Praxiteles, Holman Hunt, and Mr. Whistler pale away into shadows of shadows in presence of the indications of love she receives from that baby. And this intense single-minded love elevates her within its own compass. She sees in that baby’s eyes the light that never was on sea or land, the consecration and the mother’s dream. She broods over it till she effects for it in her own maternal fancy an apotheosis; and round its image in her heart there glows a bright halo of poetry. She sees through the fat. The grossness disappears before her rapt gaze. There remains the spirit from heaven:—
Sweet spirit newly
come from Heaven
With all the God upon thee, still
Beams of no earthly light are given
Thy heart e’en yet to bless and fill.
Thy soul a sky whose sun has set,
Wears glory hovering round it yet;
And childhood’s eve glows sadly bright
Ere life hath deepened into night.
So with the husband; so with the home; a glory gathers round them, which she alone, the intense worshipper, sees; and this unaesthetic Mrs. Smith, altogether unsatisfactory to the artistic eye, most practical, most commonplace, carries within her some of the Promethean flame, and is worthy of that halo of homely joy and affection with which she is crowned.
[February 19, 1880.]
I first met him driving home from cutcherry in his buggy. He was a fat man in the early afternoon of life. In his blue eyes lay the mystery of many a secret salad and unwritten milk-punch; but though he smoked the longest cheroots of Trichinopoly and Dindigul, his hand was still steady and still grasped a cue or a long tumbler, with the unerring certainty of early youth and unshaken health.