Yet I cannot but confess to a difference between sunlight and the light of a wood-fire. The sunshine is entirely untamed. Where it rages most freely it tends to evoke the brilliancy rather than the harmonious satisfactions of nature. The monstrous growths and the flaming colors of the tropics contrast with our more subdued loveliness of foliage and bloom. The birds of the middle region dazzle with their contrasts of plumage, and their voices are for screaming rather than singing. I presume the new experiments in sound would project a macaw’s voice in very tangled and inharmonious lines of light. I suspect that the fiercest sunlight puts people, as well as animals and vegetables, on extremes in all ways. A wood-fire on the hearth is a kindler of the domestic virtues. It brings in cheerfulness, and a family center, and, besides, it is artistic. I should like to know if an artist could ever represent on canvas a happy family gathered round a hole in the floor called a register. Given a fireplace, and a tolerable artist could almost create a pleasant family round it. But what could he conjure out of a register? If there was any virtue among our ancestors,—and they labored under a great many disadvantages, and had few of the aids which we have to excellence of life,—I am convinced they drew it mostly from the fireside. If it was difficult to read the eleven commandments by the light of a pine-knot, it was not difficult to get the sweet spirit of them from the countenance of the serene mother knitting in the chimney-corner.
When the fire is made, you want to sit in front of it and grow genial in its effulgence. I have never been upon a throne,—except in moments of a traveler’s curiosity, about as long as a South American dictator remains on one,—but I have no idea that it compares, for pleasantness, with a seat before a wood-fire. A whole leisure day before you, a good novel in hand, and the backlog only just beginning to kindle, with uncounted hours of comfort in it, has life anything more delicious? For “novel” you can substitute “Calvin’s Institutes,” if you wish to be virtuous as well as happy. Even Calvin would melt before a wood-fire. A great snowstorm, visible on three sides of your wide-windowed room, loading the evergreens, blown in fine powder from the great chestnut-tops, piled up in ever accumulating masses, covering the paths, the shrubbery, the hedges, drifting and clinging in fantastic deposits, deepening your sense of security, and taking away the sin of idleness by making it a necessity, this is an excellent ground to your day by the fire.