The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
An Interlude.

by M. Lawrence.
Volume 13, 1902, pg. 94-98

"Let us then be what we are." -- Longfellow.

It spoke to me--that footstool! As I saw in the quaint little parlour, this is the sermon it preached.

"Look at me, here I am,--a footstool. No disguise you notice. I do not fling a piece of carpet over myself to hide my nature. I am a footstool pure and simple. You can put your feet on me without fear of damaging the paint; I have no paint to damage. You may even sit on me with confidence; observe my four solid legs, short and stout, not fantastically carved and varnished. I am what I appear to be, I have nothing to conceal."

I had been sitting in the room some time wondering what it was that made the noise of town life, which I had left that day, seem far-off and dreamlike. Now that footstool seemed to be a concrete expression of the idea that was slowly forming in my mind, namely, that I was in a room where there was no attempt at artifice. While my hostess was making tea and murmuring soft nothings to a year-old baby, I glanced round to see if the sermon of the footstool was carried out.

The room was in a little white-washed cottage in the midst of an old-fashioned garden. A square of carpet occupied the centre of the floor, but round the edges one could see the bricks, would have had them boarded over or Aspinall-enamelled. The furniture was simple and in keeping with the room; antique high-backed chairs, devoid of those hateful antimacassars, an oval table and an old oak chest, formed the sole articles of furniture save a well-filled bookcase; on the open fireplace the pine-logs blazed cheerily, for it was mid-winter.

Why had these people foregone the conventionalities of town life? The village lay a few miles outside a busy manufacturing town where my host was engaged in business. After living for some years in the midst of the town, he could bear it no longer, so sought refuge in the country, where at least he could spend his evenings. It seemed that I had come across some people who did not go blindly with the crowd. With this thought in my mind, I tried to draw out my hostess in conversation.

I began by admiring the fire and saying what a pretty picture it made.

"Have you ever noticed," was the reply, "what pains people take to disguise a fireplace in summer? 'Come!' they seem to say; 'this won't do, a fireplace in summer; how improper!' So they drape it with cheap art muslin or purchase an exceedingly hideous Japanese fan to form a fire-screen. Then they are happy. The more refined bring in ferns from the conservatory and form a miniature greenhouse. And after all their exertions the bars of the grate can be seen peeping round the corner or between the ferns. Why all this effort?"

"But," I object, "it would look bare to leave it empty."

"Oh no! that's because you are used to seeing your grates crammed with all sorts of things. Well, why not have a fire laid? You may need it any time in a climate like ours. In the summer time here we just brought a few logs and laid them in the fireplace, so when you wanted a fire all was ready."

"Logs may be picturesque." I admitted, "but there is little beauty in an old newspaper and a half-penny bundle of wood."

"Well, you could put a small log or two if you are ashamed of half-penny bundles."

Undoubtedly she had views of her own, but I was not going to be so soon defeated.

"Of course," I assented, "many fire-screens are hideous, those coloured shavings"--here we both shivered, such things seemed to belong to another planet--"but I have seen really beautiful fire-screens; you would not have just the bare necessaries round you and abolish ornament, would you?"

"Not at all," was the vigorous response, "as the sun colours the flowers, so art colours life, but if everything were overloaded with ornament we should appreciate nothing. You need a plain background to form a relief. Nature shows us the importance of such backgrounds to bring out her charms. Have you never seen a quiet stretch of green fields surrounding one full of poppies or some other brilliant flower? That field would lose half its charm without the quiet setting."

"I suppose," I interrupted, "that is why your walls are painted instead of papered."

"Yes, Wallpapers with patterns are apt to detract from the beauty of the pictures. When I see pictures on an elaborate background I am reminded of a solo where the accompaniment drowns the voice."

At that moment the sound of wheels put an end to our talk. The door opened and the master of the house entered. He looked tired, and dropped wearily into his chair.

"Have you got Charlie's bricks?" enquired his wife, as soon as he was settled.

He shook his head. "My dear, I've ransacked the town and I simply can't get them."

"Why!" I ejaculated, "you can buy them at any toy shop."

"Not the sort I want. They show you all manner of carved and painted bricks, but the plain building bricks that were common enough once, you can't find. Their charm lay in their absolute simplicity."

Back to my mind came a vision of a box of bricks my brother and I shared in childhood's days. Among them was a glass window with blue shutters painted on, and two carved pillars. Invariably the window and the pillars were left in the box, while for the possession of the others we fought fiercely. What instinct had made us choose the plain and leave the fancy ones? Then I bethought me that my hostess would have views of her own on toys.

Her voice broke in on my reverie.

"I don't believe in giving children many toys, it dwarfs their imagination."

"Dwarfs their imagination?" I echoed, feeling this was new ground.

"Certainly. Everything is a toy to a little child; chairs, cushions, tables, it's all one big game. Man's originality and ingenuity are not equal to a child's'; so man cannot make a toy that will satisfy the child's imagination."

Such talk made me dive again into the realm of childhood. Dolls I had loathed, but a certain hard round cushion had been my constant playfellow. How I wept when the knob came off the top!

After that our talk grew so interesting that I was sorry when the old Dutch clock struck sixteen. "That means eleven," said my hostess, "it means well, that clock, but the cold weather seems to upset it."

"Try butter," I suggested, for I felt these people knew Lewis Carroll.

"Afraid of the crumbs," murmured my host, holding out his hand to wish me good-night.

After our talk, I was curious to see my bedroom. It was exactly what I expected to find it. What pleased me most were the walls, which were white-washed. I suffer from insomnia and often burn a light all night. It is no exaggeration to say that the wall-paper of my room in town keeps me awake. Wild roses of a scarlet hue chase each other madly over the four walls. The eye fixes on one and willy-nilly is compelled to seek the stalk and leaves attached to that particular blossom. It is a futile search; the eye roves from ceiling to floor but cannot disentangle them. If I could move that Pear's soap advertisement picture I might find them, but I do not know.

True, I did not sleep well that night; there were too many trains of thought started in my mind to allow that. Still, it was restful just to look on the snowy whiteness of the walls, with the woodwork picked out in rich brown. Reviewing our conversation, I was surprised how freely we had expressed our thoughts, though I had known these people only a short time. Then my thoughts flew to the town life I had just left. It all appeared in a new light; things I had applauded as smart seemed mean and belittling now, the murmur of the day's worries died away in the great silence here. It was a moment in which one could look into one's soul and read what was written there. In the rush and competition of the town, we have little time for self-knowledge. This weary striving to keep up appearances, to make ourselves seem a little richer and a little better than we really are, what daily misery it brings to many!

Next morning at breakfast, my hostess enquired after my night's rest. A graceful thing to have said would have been, "It is a pleasure to be awake in such a room," but in common with the rest of my race, I never think of the right thing to say till too late. I remarked rather lamely that my room had seemed lighter than usual, presumably because it was smaller.

"Don't you think," suggested my host, "it was because the white walls served as reflectors to your light?"

"Of course," I assented, "I didn't think of that."

My vivacious hostess came to the fore. "It's astonishing how little we do study cause and effect. In hundreds of little ways we could see the workings of the laws of the universe if we cared about it; but we go through the world with our eyes shut, our amusements and recreations come from outside, we have so little resource in ourselves."

"Don't you ever find it dull out here?" I asked.

"Never! There seems more to observe and think about here, than when one is cooped up in town."

"In short," broke in my host,

    'The world is so full of a number of things,
    I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings.'

But to return to plain prose, we must start in five minutes to catch our train."

Good-bye was said with genuine regret on my part, for I felt I had much to learn. "What are you thinking of?" asked my host as we drove to the station.

"I should like to send six of the most shallow, affected people I know to your house for a week."

"Kind of you to suggest it, but let it be when I'm away for my holidays; besides it would do them no good."

But I know it would.

Typed by happi, Aug 2019; Proofread by LNL, Apr 2020