An Eye for Color

I SUFFER — and I am blessed — with an eye. Like our good friend Elia, who bemoaned his lack of an ear, my difficulties come not from physical qualities or imperfections, but from an inner sense of which the optic nerve is the outward sentinel. My eyes are externally as those of my neighbors, not too beautiful for daily use, demanding the aid of spectacles when I take fine stitches, calm and gray and noncommital — but educated.

Herein lies my cause for self-searching. Are the entries greater upon the credit or debit side of my ledger of joy in life, because of the years and money spent in training the instinct for beauty with which I was born ? At the age of ten, my desire for artistic expression led me to perpetrate an object of yellow plush, shaped like a palette, bedizened with bright blue ribbons, and hand-painted (by myself) with daisies and forget-menots, and supporting a useless thermometer two inches long. My joy in this production was almost complete, though marred by the artist feeling that I had not yet brought forth the best that was in me.

At twenty-five, after a course in an art school, a long attendance upon exhibitions, lectures, and various sources of culture, as a bride I was saddened by daily association with yellow oak dining-room furniture and dumpy plated silver handme-downs, not to be dignified by the name of heirlooms, when my soul would have been satisfied to its deeps by the vision of slender Colonial silver, reflected in polished mahogany.

The bosom friend of my childhood, married to a common-place pudgy little man, and living in a common-place pudgy little house, was perfectly complacent and happy with her blue plush parlor set, her cerise “throw” on the mantel, tastefully tied back with blue ribbons, and her gilt and onyx table topped with her handpainted lamp.

Did she get more out of life or did I, looking ruefully at my yellow oak sideboard, but thrilling with secret satisfaction because I could appreciate the highbred arch of my husband’s nose, and the subtle strength in the lines of his brow and cheek ? Was my pleasure in my one piece of Favrile glass — a lovely bit of flame cooled in dew and moonlight — a purer satisfaction, tempered as it was by the aforesaid yellow oak, than her complete happiness with her blue parlor set and her cerise “throw”? Was I happier at ten, when the yellow plush thermometer satisfied my desire to create the beautiful, or at twenty-five, when I knew ?

On October days the little tide river which my windows overlook flashes like a cut sapphire to a sparkling sky, while the tawny browns of the long sedge grasses make a wonderful color harmony enriched by the deep russet tones of the distant hills. It is wonderful enough, to take my breath away and I am deeply thankful that I have eyes to see it; but— from another window I see my neighbor’s costly house decked out wuth the domes and minarets of a Turkish mosque, I see his front lawn decorated with a star of variegated colors, and blue spruces set about like exclamation points of painted tin.

Would it be better to be comfortably blind alike to blue spruce and blue river ? Strangely enough the color sense seems often not to become more acute as people advance intellectually. I feel hurt when my sallow friends wear squirrel furs, or jackets of that dead color known as covert cloth. I am offended when a redhaired girl wears a peacock-blue dress, but I forgive the world all its buffets when I meet a woman with copper-colored hair, red-brown eyes, a fair, pale skin, and a brown velvet gown. It is my sincere and deep conviction that magenta is the unpardonable sin.

But scientists tell us that in the world of flowers magenta has its definite and useful place in the evolution of a type. The flowers of reddish purple and its allied shades are the great middle class, which attract the crowds of commonplace, middle-class insects, while the stately lily, the pale yellow primrose, the fragrant honeysuckle, the long trumpet flower, high-bred creatures of delicate form and color, set a table for special highly organized visitors, not trying to make themselves so attractive to the multitudes of humble bees. Hence the majority of magenta blossoms.

I believe that some such truth holds in the world of people, who must at a certain time pass through the magenta stage before they reach the plane of a finer vision. I am certain that my neighbor is now in the magenta period of development. Many things prove my contention. A large crimson rambler rose climbs on a lattice over his piazza which, when it has reached the stage of last summer’s millinery, is joined by the prolific purplish pink roses which share the lattice. His peonies are purplish pink, likewise his phlox, his petunias, and his altheas, which bloom modestly against a background of goldeuglow. Even his little daughter is a magenta-colored child, with carroty hair and pale blue eyes, whose mother dresses her in pink! That man is a good husband and father, he has made money, much of it, and he is entirely unaware that he is a crime against society. He is simply in the process of evolution, and it may be that the grandchildren of that magenta little girl will be quite as alive as I am to the charm in the tracery of a green lichen on a gray rock, or the beauty of color in a velvety chestnut burr with the rich brown of the smooth nuts within. They may see as much and be as poor according to material standards as I.

But the question remains — does my neighbor get more out of life, or do I ? Is he happier with his automobile, his yacht, his hideous luxuries which satisfy him, and his blindness, or am I happier with my treasures which he would regard as puerile ? I believe that, after all, I would not exchange for several diamond tiaras the memory that I have of one perfect day under a sapphire sky, with a sapphire ocean rolling off to the horizon, and great dunes of golden sand with their clumps of grayish-green beach grass making a perfect chord of color. My neighbor could never have seen that gold and green and heavenly blue as anything but sandhills. I am sure my home is happier because I see beauty in the glow of flame under the ashy tip of a cigar, than it would be if I nagged because I don’t like the smell of tobacco.