The Carpets of the Year

— We find but slight allusion to carpets in that literature which refers to the interior domestic life of the ancients ; indeed, the flighty gyrations attributed to these fabrics on a certain Eve of St. Agnes would go to show their primitive character at this period. Although Virgil, in the Æneid, speaks of costly carpets in a way that should bring a flutter of delighted interest to the breast of a young housekeeper intent on Eastlake and Colonial bricabrac, still the subject must be considered a comparatively modern one, whose origin is wrapped in mysterious uncertainty. We have all thrilled with sympathetic horror over the murder of Thomas à Becket, a victim of his taste for sinful luxury in that he had his floor spread with rushes, the nearest approach to British carpeting feasible in that day. Had the worthy prelate contented himself with the sentiment that the groves were God’s first temples, he might have been spared so much of martyrdom as was to be fairly attributable to the alleged specification.

Walking over the fields of our native province, be that province anywhere on this fair continent, it would seem as though such decoration, such sumptuary ameublement, as the carpet would have been among the first suggestions that Nature would offer to Art. If we owe to pine-tree and rifted rock the Gothic shapes which impart severity to sacerdotal or ecclesiastical ornamentation, it is fair to suppose that man would be ready also to take account of the benign colors of the fields he trod, and to bring them, so far as art would permit, into the warp and woof of home decoration.

There are certain privileges vouchsafed to him whose mantle is the sky, whose “ lamp you star,” and whose carpet is the surface of the broad fields, — privileges withheld from all who abide constantly in man’s dwellings, be those dwellings the houses of princes. In the wide palace of Nature one luxury has always been my especial delight, — the play and blending of pale hues in the flowers that go to form the spring carpet. Every floral color - chord, foiled by the stronger tones of the vigorous grass, whispers of “youth, and hope, and gladness,” spring’s “ wind-winged emblems.” And as if to leave nothing undone to secure that unfailing consistency which is Nature’s charm, the very skies stoop down to add further softness and freshness to these vernal tints. Our spring carpet presents, in places, an almost uniform diversity of recurring patterns ; say, violet, buttercup, cress, claytonia. As we go along, there will be a preponderance of one line of color, deepening in hollow, lightening on hillock ; calling in the aid of flowers hitherto unnoticed, but now struggling through and informing the groundwork : all which change is so subtly accomplished as to suggest to a musician the chord of the diminished ninth. The violet still accompanies us, contentedly ranging by high ground and low, through sun and shade. I know not why violets that grow upon the hillsides are so often paler than those whose abiding-place is the moister lowland, nor why their odor is of a more delicate character, resembling rather that of the woodviolet. Yet such has been my observation of this flower.

As we descend toward the brook or the marsh, we notice how the green of our carpet deepens, and the suggestion of irrigation is borne out by the addition of small, weak-stemmed, lissom weeds that smile upon us as if yon alien element, the water, would meet us halfway to welcome us. Down and down, until the grass becomes sedge, rushes, flags ; until the flowers, now amphibious, assume a semi-nautical character ; until, finally, the supremacy of the liquid element is confessed in that royal combination of fragrance, richness, and purity, the water lily. Once here, we find ourselves inclined to pause, saying, This is better than the upland ; surely, Nature is here the more affluent ; leaf and flower are fresher, perfume is more intense ; or is it that our appreciation is quickened by the pervasive coolness of the place ?

Yet let us consider the carpet of the upland : the airy flame of the sorrel, the sprinkled gold of the buttercup, the dimpling laughter of the daisy patch, now implore the pausing step. Even while we pause, the high noon of ardent summer is upon us, presenting evidences of all too rapid combustion. And now an adust thread is gradually woven into the warp of our carpet. Here and there the carpet is turned to hay ; giving off a perfume fainter, but more subtle, than that of the mown hay so fragrant to all the world. Such flowers only as can well resist the sun now bedeck our living floor. Yet even these, when they have borne the burthen and heat of the day, have often a frayed and weary look, like the wings of a wrecked butterfly, and recover themselves only by the dewy bath of evening. Prominent among these summer flowers is the wild rose which adorns our fields at that period the Spaniard refers to as el sol de medio dia. There is of the gracious family of untamed roses a modest member, of paler mood, which is wont to descend from the bushy elevation of its fellows and add itself to the pattern of our carpet. Our step must needs be the daintier for this presence. If, as the most sensitive of poets avers, it must follow that a wild rose is entitled to kindred immunity.

“ A lover would not tread
A cowslip on the head,”

The autumn has come. The joyous foliage of summer is being slowly replaced by hues of russet and dull wine. With a changing of the tapestries — and what is tapestry but a hanging carpet ? — there comes an altered tint in the fields below. The yearning goldenrod, the asters blonde or dark, the crimson of the sumac, the bronzed gold of the withering fern, go to form a fabric which might worthily have adorned King Solomon’s temple : a congeries of dyes so mad in fantastic revel as to hint that now Nature is holding her carnival of color, in view of the approaching season of penitential sackcloth and hoddengray “ retreat.” Thus reinforced as by the purpureos flores sprinkled in Virgil’s Æneid, our carpet is prepared to survive t’he earlier frosts and outstay the fleeing birds ; and there are moments when a scene of almost supra-mortal beauty is lighted up by the splendor of our autumnal sunsets, — moments in which earth and sky vie hue for hue with each other.

But now the days so melancholy to all but the nut-gathering schoolboy have overtaken us. It is no longer the pathos of departing Summer, but the chill apprehension of coming winter, that pervades our spirits. The frost has penetrated the heart of the season. A soddening rain falls upon the dead leaves, blackening the trunks of the trees. Our color-chords are now of charred embers and extinguished fires. If the vernal harmony had power to waken in us a gladness and a content that were as much physical as spiritual, the color-chords of autumn bring a more than balancing degree of depression and discomfort. He whose sensitiveness makes him the slave of all fantastic impressions will often find himself almost absurdly subject to the psychic influences of color ; and these influences will usually possess the quality of being inexplicable. There is surely no reason why yellow leaves scattered upon a chocolate ground should make a strong man of athletic habits dizzy almost to the extent of illness ; yet so it is. There is no reason why certain other sequences of color should produce a mood exultant, hopeful ; yet so it is. The dun and russet floor of the fields and woodsides seems to swim in the “ charmed eddies of the autumnal wind.”

The carpet and its hues no longer rest the eye. A brief interval, and the drop curtain of the snow covers all with white, echoless silence, as welcome to the disturbed sense of color as to the fields that lie wrapped in secure and soft neutrality until the dawn of a new springtime.