The fireplace wants to be all aglow, the wind rising, the night heavy and black above, but light with sifting snow on the earth, a background of inclemency for the illumined room with its pictured walls, tables heaped with books, capacious easy-chairs and their occupants,—it needs, I say, to glow and throw its rays far through the crystal of the broad windows, in order that we may rightly appreciate the relation of the wide-jambed chimney to domestic architecture in our climate. We fell to talking about it; and, as is usual when the conversation is professedly on one subject, we wandered all around it. The young lady staying with us was roasting chestnuts in the ashes, and the frequent explosions required considerable attention. The mistress, too, sat somewhat alert, ready to rise at any instant and minister to the fancied want of this or that guest, forgetting the reposeful truth that people about a fireside will not have any wants if they are not suggested. The worst of them, if they desire anything, only want something hot, and that later in the evening. And it is an open question whether you ought to associate with people who want that.
I was saying that nothing had been so slow in its progress in the world as domestic architecture. Temples, palaces, bridges, aqueducts, cathedrals, towers of marvelous delicacy and strength, grew to perfection while the common people lived in hovels, and the richest lodged in the most gloomy and contracted quarters. The dwelling-house is a modern institution. It is a curious fact that it has only improved with the social elevation of women. Men were never more brilliant in arms and letters than in the age of Elizabeth, and yet they had no homes. They made themselves thick-walled castles, with slits in the masonry for windows, for defense, and magnificent banquet-halls for pleasure; the stone rooms into which they crawled for the night were often little better than dog-kennels. The Pompeians had no comfortable night-quarters. The most singular thing to me, however, is that, especially interested as woman is in the house, she has never done anything for architecture. And yet woman is reputed to be an ingenious creature.
Herbert. I doubt if woman has real ingenuity; she has great adaptability. I don’t say that she will do the same thing twice alike, like a Chinaman, but she is most cunning in suiting herself to circumstances.
The fire-tender. Oh, if you speak of constructive, creative ingenuity, perhaps not; but in the higher ranges of achievement—that of accomplishing any purpose dear to her heart, for instance—her ingenuity is simply incomprehensible to me.
Herbert. Yes, if you mean doing things by indirection.
The mistress. When you men assume all the direction, what else is left to us?
The fire-tender. Did you ever see a woman refurnish a house?