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The Simple Home
THE SPIRIT OF THE HOME
HOME life antedates the period of man by many evolutionary cycles. The aerie of the eagle, the woven cradle of the oriole, the tunneled retreat of the field mouse, all are homes in the truest sense. They are shelters from the world, where motherhood makes her eternal sacrifice, where family life and love find full expression, and where offspring are shielded and reared. The animal home differs primarily from the human home in its transitoriness. A few weeks or months suffice for the weaning of the litter or the fledging of the brood, and then the family scatters to the four winds. Even with primitive men the home is scarce more than a shelter for a brief interval in their nomadic life; but with advancing culture, it becomes a more permanent affair. Groups of huts are clustered in a village which is the abiding-place of the tribe for years or generations. Then for the first time is developed an architecture.
Native architecture, like civilized architecture, is a natural growth. The nearest available material is worked into a shelter, and the tradition of form once established is handed down through generations. Thus the plains Indians of North America make their teepee in the form of a tent-shaped frame of poles covered with buffalo or deer hide; the Pueblos of New Mexico build their fortified house of stone or adobe and enter it by the roof; the Eskimo construct a topek of sods with frame of' whale-bone and roof of walrus skin, or, in the far North, build their igloo of snow masonry with tunneled entrance; the Tahitians make beautiful bamboo fares like baskets or bird-cages roofed with thatched pandanus leaves; the whare of the New Zealand Maori is of marvelously carved wooden slabs with intervening panels of bound grass and with thatched roof of flax leaves. So, wherever we may go among native tribes, a new type of architecture presents itself with every new race, each using the materials at band in a natural and direct fashion to produce the needed shelter.
In the matter of privacy, it may be noted, the native is far less exacting than the civilized man. Nearly all so-called savage races are communistic in their lives. There may be distinctions of class or caste, but the stranger is made welcome in the home circle, and the family is apt to be a large and elastic group, comprising many distant and doubtful relations, who live under one roof and in one apartment. It is perhaps not too much to say that the dominant idea of the native home is hospitality. In Tahiti the customary salutation to a stranger, after the universal greeting, "Iorana," is, "Come in and have something to eat." A savage shares his food and home with the stranger quite as a matter of course, never as a benefaction.
Something of this native spontaneous hospitality has persisted in the traditions of California, where the mission and ranch life of the Mexicans had an almost savage na´vetÚ in the matter of entertaining guests. In those simple days before the gringo came, a stranger could journey from San Diego to Sonoma and be sure of a welcome and hospitality wherever he chose to stop. Not only would a room and food be provided him, but upon his table, covered with a napkin, was a pile of uncounted silver known as guest money, from which he was to take what he needed to speed him on his way. We still have the tradition, but we have grown sophisticated since the coming of the Argonauts.
The ideal home is one in which the family may be most completely sheltered to develop in love, graciousness and individuality, and which is at the same time most accessible to friends, toward whom hospitality is as unconscious and spontaneous as it is abundant. Emerson says that the ornament of a house is the friends who frequent it.
In the conventional home, both the richness of family intercourse and the freedom of hospitality is restrained. A life hedged in with formality is like a plant stifled by surrounding weeds. Many people mistake formality for politeness, or even for good morals. There is a vast difference between good etiquette and right conduct. How depressing it is to go into a home where every act is punctuated with the formalism of polite society!
The home must suggest the life it is to encompass. The mere architecture and furnishings of the house do not make the man any more than do his clothes, but they certainly have an effect in modifying him. A large nature may rise above his environment and live in a dream world of his own fashioning, but most of us are mollusks after all, and are shaped and sized by the walls which we build about us. When we enter a room and see tawdry furniture, sham ornaments and vulgar daubs of pictures displayed, do we not feel convinced that the occupants of the home have a tawdry and vulgar streak in their natures? Or if all is cold and formal in architecture and furnishings, do we not instinctively nerve ourselves to meet the shock of a politely proper reception?
The average modern American home is a reflex in miniature of the life of the people. It is quickly made and lightly abandoned. If it were constructed like the Japanese house of bamboo and paper, or like a native hut of thatch, it might charm from its simplicity and lack of ostentation; or if, like the homes of our ancestors, it were made of mortised logs chinked with mud, it would have a rude dignity and inevitableness which would put it in harmony with the surrounding nature. But these things no longer satisfy. We must all have palaces to house us — petty makeshifts, to be sure, with imitation turrets, spires, porticos, corbels and elaborate bracket-work excrescences — palaces of crumbling plaster, with walls papered in gaudy patterns and carpets of insolent device — palaces furnished in cracking veneer, with marble mantels and elaborate chandeliers. It is a shoddy home, the makeshift of a shoddy age. It is the natural outgrowth of our prosperous democracy. Machinery has enabled us to manifold shams to a degree heretofore undreamed. We ornament our persons with imitation pearls and diamonds; we dress in felt wadding that, for a week or two, looks like wool;. we wear. silk that tears at a touch, and our homes are likewise adorned with imitations and baubles. We botch our carpentering and trust to putty, paint and paper to cover up the defects. On Sundays we preach about the goodly apple rotten at the heart, and all the week we make houses of veneer and stucco. Our defense is that we do not expect to tarry long where we are encamped, so why build for the grandchildren of the stranger?
Happily, a change is coming into our lives. Nowhere in the country is it more marked than in California. From small beginnings it has spread slowly at first, but soon with added momentum. The thought of the simple life is being worked out in the home. In the simple home all is quiet in effect, restrained in tone, yet natural and joyous in its frank use of unadorned material. Harmony of line and balance of proportion is not obscured by meaningless ornamentation; harmony of color is not marred by violent contrasts. Much of the construction shows, and therefore good workmanship is required and the craft of the carpenter is restored to its old-time dignity.
Blessed is he who lives in such a home and who makes life conform to his surroundings, — who is hospitable not only to friends, but to the sweet ministration of the elements, who holds abundant intercourse with sun and air, with bird voices sounding from the shrubbery without and human voices within singing their answer. In such a home, inspiring in its touch with art and books, glorified by mother love and child sunshine, may the human spirit grow in strength and grace to the fullness of years.