Besides, I am quite ready to admit the attractiveness of the little Japanese children; some of them are most fascinating. But how is it that their charm vanishes so rapidly and is so quickly replaced by the elderly grimace, the smiling ugliness, the monkeyish face?
My mother-in-law Madame Renoncule’s small garden is, without exception, one of the most melancholy spots I have seen during all my peregrinations through the world.
Oh, the slow, enervating, dull hours spent in idle and diffuse conversation in the dimly lighted verandah! Oh, the horrid peppered jam in the microscopic pots! In the middle of the town, enclosed by four walls, is this park of five yards square, with little lakes, little mountains, and little rocks, where all wears an antiquated appearance, and everything is covered with a greenish moldiness from want of sun.
Nevertheless a true feeling for nature has inspired this tiny representation of a wild spot. The rocks are well placed, the dwarf cedars, no taller than cabbages, stretch their gnarled boughs over the valleys in the attitude of giants wearied by the weight of centuries; and their look of big trees perplexes one and falsifies the perspective. When from the dark recesses of the apartment one perceives at a certain distance this diminutive landscape dimly lighted up, the wonder is whether it is all artificial, or whether one is not oneself the victim of some morbid illusion; and if it is not indeed a real country view seen through a distorted vision out of focus, or through the wrong end of a telescope.
To any one familiar with Japanese life my mother-in-law’s house in itself reveals a refined nature,—complete nudity, two or three screens placed here and there, a teapot, a vase full of lotus-flowers, and nothing more. Woodwork devoid of paint or varnish, but carved in most elaborate and capricious openwork, the whiteness of the pinewood being kept up by constant scrubbings of soap and water. The posts and beams of the framework are varied by the most fanciful taste: some are cut in precise geometrical forms; others artificially twisted, imitating trunks of old trees covered with tropical creepers. Everywhere little hiding-places, little nooks, little closets concealed in the most ingenious and unexpected manner under the immaculate uniformity of the white paper panels.
I cannot help smiling when I think of some of the so-called Japanese drawing-rooms, overcrowded with knick-knacks and curios and hung with coarse gold embroideries on exported satins, of our Parisian fine ladies. I would advise those persons to come and look at the houses of people of taste out here; to visit the white solitudes of the palaces at Yeddo. In France we have works of art in order to enjoy them; here they possess them merely to ticket them and lock them up carefully in a kind of mysterious underground room shut in by iron gratings called a godoun. On rare occasions, only to honor some visitor of distinction, do they open this impenetrable depositary. The true Japanese manner of understanding luxury consists in a scrupulous and indeed almost excessive cleanliness, white mats and white woodwork; an appearance of extreme simplicity, and an incredible nicety in the most infinitesimal details.