Intensive Living: Reflections on the Well-to-Do Woman's Problem
BY CORNELIA A. P. COMER
SAID Honoria casually, —
‘When I was in town yesterday, I went to see Adelaide in her new house.’
The others looked up alertly, Martha from her darning, Grace from her Irish crochet.
‘Oh, really? And how did you like the house?’
Honoria hesitated, looking to the wide view for clarification. The three sat on a cottage-verandah in the foothills of Southern California, one February day. In front of them the landscape ran, laughing, down-hill to the sea. Spread beneath them like a map were thirty miles of town and country: orange orchards brave with fruit; eucalyptus groves appealing to the sky; friendly roofs inclosed in deep-sheltering trees; great open spaces where the wind moved free; round-topped hills, green near at hand (for the rains had come and gone thus early), changing to a dusky blue out yonder where the bright Pacific flashed at the end of the long, delightful view. For love of this prospect Martha had lately left steep, sturdy hills, brown brooks, elmshaded streets and old friends, girding at herself as she did so. Honoria had lived here many years, while Grace was but a winter’s guest in Honoria’s home, whose hospitable brown gables, low and wide-spreading, were visible beyond the cypress hedge encircling Martha’s cottage.
‘It is a good-looking mansion. She had a capable architect. The building is Tudor, — consistent, graceful, well proportioned. For two people it is a very large house indeed, but it is a good house, and I see perfectly how Adelaide means it to express the idea of dignified comfortable living. The decorator was not bad of his kind, either.’
‘All this sounds like praise,’ said Grace, ‘yet I feel that you are keeping something back. What is the matter with Adelaide’s house?’
Again Honoria hesitated.
‘It seems ungracious to find fault with such a perfectly worthy performance, yet I came away chilled and uncomfortable, almost unhappy, indeed. Thinking about the matter on the way home, it became clear to me at last that the house is too large for Adelaide’s personality. You know how perfectly she pervaded that old house of hers. Old-fashioned, in some respects inconvenient, with far less perfect fittings, it still was thoroughly delightful, for where the rugs failed or the draperies faltered, Adelaide’s personality somehow stepped in and eked out all insufficiencies, corrected all errors. It was hers entirely. In this blameless achievement of architect and decorator, there are no insufficiencies to be eked out, and so Adelaide’s personality seems to slip and slide helplessly upon a kind of glacial surface which it cannot penetrate and make its own. I may be expressing myself very poorly, but I know I have hold of something real. Adelaide’s new house, good-looking as it is, is not interesting, — that is what I mean, — and even the dear woman herself seems less interesting, and less herself now that she is enfolded in it.'
‘Did you know,’ interposed Martha, ‘ that the first winter in a new house the heating actually requires more coal than is ever needed again?’
' No, I did n’t know that — but I can well believe it. Why should n’t it take more coal to warm it when it evidently takes more vitality to cheer it? It’s a serious business, this breaking in of a large house to one’s self late in life, as so many Americans do. The draughts upon their vital forces are more taxing than the coal bills.’
‘We all ought to live in inherited homesteads,’ suggested Grace, ‘where the humanizing of the bricks and mortar has been done for us by our own people.’
‘Honoria,’ Martha demanded, ignoring this unpractical suggestion, ‘tell me the truth! If you were in Adelaide’s place and had carte blanche to incarnate your idea of a house for yourself and your family, would n’t you over-build and over-decorate too? I should enjoy doing it! The furniture in my bungalow is altogether too sketchy at present, and I am tired of eking it out with personality. You would feel differently if you had n’t brought your old mahogany when you came West!’
Honoria set a few stitches, and looked at her friends with eyes in which conviction flamed.
‘ I don’t over-dress, and I don’t overeat, though I have abundant opportunity,’ she said, ‘but it may be that I would over-build and over-decorate, or at least that I would have done so until yesterday. I don’t think I would do it to-day — now that I know what ails Adelaide’s house. As for your bungalow, Martha, it is comfortable and it is alive. There is n’t a picture on the wall nor an ornament on the mantel that has n’t a reason for being exactly where it is. That is triumph, and you know it. I don’t believe you would really exchange your house for Adelaide’s.’
‘Try me and see! I would like just for once to ignore beauty and suitability, and go in for size and sheer, luxurious comfort.’
‘You would go distracted in two weeks in a place that was “sheer luxurious comfort" and nothing else,’ returned Honoria decidedly. ‘You would hate it as you hate everything smug and fat and complacent. I have known you too long, Martha, not to know the ways of you with a house. To satisfy you, a domicile has to be livable. If you consider all the houses, little and big, of your friends, you will see that there are fixed limits to the amount of space in them that is truly and pleasantly habitable. You can’t get the lovable “lived-in look” in rooms where you do not actually live, and you can’t live all over a house that is bigger than your needs. Why! life is n’t long enough, especially if you seldom stay at home! Think how dreary are most of the great houses we know. Consider Mrs. King’s new marble palace with its commanding site and its ninety rooms. There is n’t a single spot in it except her own bed-room and sittingroom that would n’t give your spirit a congestive chill if you sat there for an hour. I know a woman in Colorado who so loathed her big new house as it left the hands of a New York decorator, that she would have moved back into the old one if she had n’t been afraid of her friends’ laughter. And, Grace, even inherited homesteads are sometimes as difficult as uncongenial kin. Old houses have ways and wills of their own.’
‘Houses are curious things,’ said Grace. ‘We take a morsel of illimitable space and wall it in and roof it over. Suddenly it ceases to be part of God’s out-of-doors and becomes an entity with an atmosphere of its own. We warm it with our fires, we animate it with our affections, we furnish it with such things as seem good in our eyes. We do this to get shelter for our bodies, but we acquire as well an instrument for our spirits that reacts on us in its turn.’
‘In other words,’ returned Honoria, warming to her subject, ‘ as we live our way into a house, adapting it to our need, the bricks and mortar, the paint and plaster, cease to be inert matter and become alive. Superficial sociologists have taunted woman with being “more anabolic or plant-like” than man, but I count it her second glory. The plant is an organism that “slowly turns lifeless into living matter,” and this is the thing that woman has done from the beginning with her shelter! In our houses we achieve almost an organic extension of our very selves. That is part of what I was trying to say. But, obviously, there should exist some reasonable ratio between the self and its extensions. I take it, the modern multitude of over-grown mansions, like the Kings’ or the Clays’ or even Adelaide’s smaller dwelling, — all these places whose owners never find out why they are not at home in them,— are symptoms of our modern disease of materialism. The essence of that disease is the desire to grasp more matter than the spirit can fully animate. That the infection can lay hold on Adelaide shows how all pervading it is, gripping the just as well as the unjust. When I saw her tired and dissatisfied; when I felt the lack of charm and quality in the house, and remembered how full of both her old house and garden had been, I tried to think it out. It all works around to just this: you can’t have quality, you can’t have charm in your material environment unless you put them into it yourself. It is a plain question of your ability to choose, arrange and vitalize things. And the latter requisite is by far the most important of the three. For I have really seen, with these eyes, poor, mean rooms where absolutely nothing was beautiful or noteworthy, so charged with a gracious and comforting personality that you forgot their shabbiness and said, “ What a home-like place! ” Please note that that is the adjective we always use of places that draw us by their personality — as if personality and nothing else were the essence of home.
‘Now Adelaide’s old house had personality; it was completely vitalized. It was all under her hand, and as high as her heart. But Adelaide’s big new house is as yet barren and chilly, for it is not vitalized at all. Of course I know that after she has lived in it longer, it is bound to improve, because it is her nature to humanize and modify all her surroundings. But the crucial question is — how big a house can she humanize? Something bigger than a cottage probably — but certainly something much smaller than a hotel. The longer I looked at this question, the more it seemed to me that unconsciously I had put my finger on the vital query that, in the ideal state, should underlie all property, all education, all privilege.
’I have been talking about houses, — they are the most intimate, the most organic of a woman’s possessions, — but the argument applies to all we own. It is the mark of our era to want more of everything than we can use, yet when we get the Too-Much we demand, we are crushed by it, as Tarpeia was crushed by the shields.’
‘I have often thought,’ said Grace, ‘that the sheer, brute mass of life — of people to know, of books to read, of plays to hear, of pictures to see, of things to do, buy, learn, enjoy — within reach of the well-to-do person in the modern world, far outruns the capacity of any human being to take it in and make of it the sane whole that a life should be.’
‘Yes — yet we go crazily on, trying to expand to illimitable possibilities, thinking we shall be happier so soon as we have discarded all our present belongings and opportunities for bigger, newer, richer ones. How many people do you know who have not met a substantial increase of income with a corresponding enlargement of their whole scale of living, a senseless expansion sometimes out-running their increased ability to provide for it? There is no future but chaos for a society with such ambitions. They are centrifugal and can only lead to disintegration.
‘The truth is, we have no notion of the value and necessity of a doctrine of limitations. Just as an illustration — not once in all the mass of matter printed in the last twenty years about the gyro-car, the aeroplane or other inventions capable of enormous swiftness, have I seen the faintest intimation that human beings could not intelligently direct a speed of two hundred miles an hour — yet the railroads are now tardily discovering that the capacity of engineers is seriously taxed by sixty miles!
‘Don’t mistake my meaning. I am not preaching the moral value of poverty. I am no convert to asceticism. That method of ridding one’s self of the over-weight, of the material life is too extreme to be the correct solution. I am simply calling attention with all my might to the æsthetic and vital value of Not-Too-Much. I am not afraid of Enough. I am greatly afraid of TooMuch. And the reason I am afraid is this: —
’Just as the capacity of the human stomach is limited to a certain quantity of food, so also is limited the capacity of the human spirit for appropriating and assimilating property in its different forms. Beyond a certain somewhat variable point, material possessions do the holder no more good. The common saying, “All you get in this world is your board and clothes,” is the popular acknowledgment of this restricted capacity. The affirmation of bounds to our capacity holds good as regards the property of the mind — education, cultivation, æsthetic satisfactions— just as it does of material goods. There is a definite limit to what we can effectively make our own. Beyond that limit, possession is a detriment.
‘ The direct result of helping ourselves to too much of anything is to coarsen and degrade. We can see this clearly as regards the primal necessity of food. Nature promptly writes it, in large letters, all over the man or woman of gross appetites.
‘It is as plainly printed, if in smaller type, on the faces of those who want too much of other things, — houses, notoriety, money, power, — what you will. The porcine brand is there, however disguised. Personally, I fear the Mark of the Pig as I fear nothing else on earth. Shaler says that certain lines of evolution terminate in such grotesque effects that one almost believes the guiding thought behind the process was humorous. I never see a stye with its squealing, shouldering inhabitants, without thinking how tremendously satiric it is — a master-caricature of human greed, not over-drawn! And I say, “Brother Pig, Heaven grant that I keep my voracities better concealed than thou.”’
Her companions regarded Honoria, in type thin, nervous, ardent, with a keen and vivid face. The comparison was certainly not apparent — but the heart knoweth its own gluttonies.
‘You are doing fairly well at it thus far,’ said Martha dryly. ‘What’s the next step in your argument, Honoria?’
‘Since our capacity is limited, and since to glut ourselves beyond it burdens and degrades, clearly the thing for each individual with intelligence to do is to find out where, for him, lies the golden point beyond which riches turns to the poverty of burden. When even the wise and earnest Adelaides get their houses too big and don’t know what is the matter, it is time to formulate the principles of First Aid to the Prosperous. I believe the point from which the women of the comfortable classes should attack the problem of a saner living is this doctrine of limitation and selection, and that we should attack it first of all in our homes.
‘Now, we human beings really do something to our immediate material surroundings which I can best describe as charging them with our personality. With the revolution of the days, personality accumulates in the things we handle and love and live with, much as electricity gathers upon the accumulator of a static machine with the revolution of the plates. This idea has always been popular with the poets and artists, but people who advance it in everyday life always do so apologetically, with the air of saying, “I know this is slightly fantastic, but does n’t it seem true?” Yet most housekeepers know its utter truth. I never doubted from the time I consciously began to care for old furniture, old rugs, old china — all the beautiful cast-offs of vanished lives — that a vast part of their charm was atmosphere, something imparted to them by the affection of those forgotten ones and now inhering, for the perceptive vision, in their very substance. The craftsman of those elder days is not the only creator of the beauty that has come down to us. Whoever has loved another’s work has thereby added something to it. Is it not so? And I, in my turn, ought to be beautifying my belongings for those who come after me.’
Grace and Martha nodded readily enough, for this doctrine needs no long expounding to any woman who has lived her way into her material possessions, and distilled atmosphere from them for the comfort of her household. She knows what she has done, and knows, though she says little about it, that this business of turning lifeless into living things is one of her important natural functions.
‘When I studied physics,’ Honoria went on, ‘I learned that science had been compelled to posit ether, an allpervading, absolutely elastic, wavebearing substance, to explain the commonest facts of our physical experience. Later yet, I learned that the passage of thought-waves through ether had found defenders among men of the exact sciences. Naturally I said to myself, “Ah, the scientists are growing ‘warm.’ Next, they will be demonstrating some of the things women have always known. They will show how we send out vibrations that get caught and entangled in our intimate belongings, never to be wholly freed again. The thing will be worked out and demonstrated like a problem in geometry. Doubtless they will be measuring everybody’s wave-lengths and teaching children in the Eighth Grade easy ways of charging their belongings with their personality so unmistakably that stealing will have to become a lost art.” Well! They have n’t done it yet. In fact, they don’t seem so near doing it as they once did. The mechanism of the process by which I take a chair fresh from Grand Rapids and in the course of years make it my chair and no other woman’s, is a secret still, but I don’t have to argue with anybody who ever had a favorite chair that the thing is as I have stated it. Neither do I have to argue that I could not so appropriate and make my own the out-put of an entire factory. It must be equally obvious that the dignified, proper environment for me and my family contains what we can thus make our own, and not much more.’
‘Of course there are people,’ said Martha reflectively, ‘the routine of whose living demands large and formal apartments, impossible to do anything with from your point of view.’
‘Assuredly there are such people,’ Honoria admitted, ‘just as there are people whose entertaining must be in the line of banquets rather than little dinners. I am not predicating a world full of model cottages, even though I think it might prove the happiest world. Still, outside of official circles, the need of state drawing-rooms is certainly not general, and it is of the very gist of my argument — my argument is n’t all developed yet, Martha, don’t think it! — that for the sake of developing a finer and more individual quality in our possessions, we should cut off some superfluous ones. Please listen patiently while I carry the idea to its logical limit, even though that limit lies beyond the bounds of practicability.
‘ Economists profess that, in an ideal distribution of goods, each man would have as much as he could consume without waste. But this takes no account of the differing needs of men, developed through ages of the upward struggle, nor of their different capabilities of turning goods to account. If you are going to dabble at all in theories of ideal distribution, why not have one that is genuinely ideal — that is, non-material? The true distribution would require that each man should possess what goods he could animate and vitalize. Even so, how vastly would possessions differ in amount and quality!
‘If life could be adjusted on this basis, it would automatically become simplified, charged with beauty and with character. We should slough off ugly and useless possessions, or, if we retained through affection things ugly in themselves, that very affection would impart to them a certain importance and distinction. We should then, at least, live in a world in which everything had significance. Think of the infinite satisfaction of that!’
‘What do you mean when you say, “ if life could be adjusted on this basis,” Honoria?’ Grace inquired. ‘Are you implying some kind of a final socialistic state which calls for an omniscient Distributor of Goods who shall know how much each man can vitalize?’
‘Really, Grace, I am not a fool, even when I am evolving a reformed society!’ returned Honoria promptly. ‘ Most conceptions of an improved state demand God for their Chief Executive and an enormous force of government officials with the fine honor which, thus far, has only been developed in human nature by conditions entirely different from those the visionaries are forecasting. Unquestionably we have fallen into the habit of thinking that if we only pass a law, any wrong at which we aim is regulated. In fact, however, so long as that law only expresses the practice of a minority, its enforcement will be evaded. Legislation without character is as helpless as a motor without fuel, — and my little reform, like every other effective change, must proceed from within outward.
‘So I believe that if I wish to live in a world where nobody has more food, clothes, houses, wealth, power, than he can make significant and vital use of, it is up to me to remake my own life on that basis first. I am, if not the only woman whom I can reform, at least the most suitable subject for my experimentation. And I admit that I have too many possessions. Sometimes I am ridden to exhaustion by the care of my “things,” modest as they are when compared to the goods of my neighbors. I know that if thousands of people did not feel as I do, the “simple life” slogan would never have acquired the popularity it had some years ago. We no longer hear much of the simple life, but we need it increasingly. Personally, I am persuaded that the method I am trying to set forth is workable.
‘Why should n’t a human being, seeking to get the most out of life, take lessons from the husbandman seeking to get the richest returns from the soil? It used to be thought that to cultivate many acres superficially was the way to feed the world and enrich the farmer. But the study of the soil as a science has taught us that we must resort, instead, to the intensive farming which gives greater returns from reduced acreage. What is true of the returns earth makes to our granaries, is true of the returns life makes to our spirits. We need a science of intensive living that we may get the larger crop from the smaller field. It will be worked out by women, and if must begin in their domain, which still is, in spite of the sociologists, the home.’
‘The Norwegian maid who cared for my rooms at the hotel last winter had figured out something of the sort for herself.’ said Grace. ‘After I had put a few bits of things about, she said to me, “I like dis room. It look like Norway. Dere iss more moneys in America, but in Norway t’ings iss more pretty. Even de kitchen iss good to see. Dere iss shelves an’ copper cooking-dishes all shiny, all so happy-looking. I like dem way best. It iss better not so much moneys to haf, but to be more happy wit’ one’s t’ings!”’
‘That is the doctrine in a nutshell! In its poorer, more restricted days, the world learned that secret of the art of living, and it still lingers in corners that our blatant, crashing “civilization” passes by — so that a Norwegian peasant’s daughter may know far more than an American girl “who has always had everything” about the priceless secret of being “happy wit’ one’s t’ings.” It is the richest knowledge a woman can possess.’
‘What is the real, rock-bottom reason why people go on piling up money after they have enough?’ Martha demanded.
‘I imagine,’ said Honoria, ‘that excessive accumulation is a form of egotism. Now, if public opinion, the race-ideal, or what you please, once demanded that we vitalize all our possessions; if it were once admitted to be unspeakably gross to demand more property than we can animate, as gross as it now is to over-eat, then the stress upon possession would be transferred at once from “How much” to “How,” and large possessions would really become what some of the undistinguished rich now fondly imagine them to be — a direct and sensitive register of the finer qualities.’
Martha suddenly and irresistibly chuckled.
‘I have a story for you, Honoria,’ she said. ‘A lot of ranchers over there,’ she vaguely gestured toward the southwest across the hills, ‘have grown suddenly rich, raising sugar beets, and have bought motor-cars and other paraphernalia proper to their improved condition. One of them was heard to say, “I b’lieve these college graduates that teach school ’round here really think they’re as good as us rich folks.” That is the real attitude of your “undistinguished rich” toward the gifts of culture and the finer qualities!’
‘Honoria,’ said Grace, ‘have n’t the sages always said, “Give me neither poverty nor riches ” ? Why should your propaganda succeed where Job and Socrates have failed? Job lived a long while ago! If the race were going to be converted to his view, the process ought to be more advanced. You will need very strong arguments for your doctrine of limitations.’
‘Arguments are to be had for the picking up,’ returned Honoria. ‘What kind will you have? Reasonable limitation on the material side always brings some amazing flowering of mind or spirit like the blossoming of a rootbound plant. If you want a racial argument, consider the Irish — the poorest people in Europe and therefore the richest in spirit. Poverty forced them to concentrate their attention upon their neighbors; there resulted an astonishing increase in sympathy, wit, and general humanness. — If you want an argument from Art, consider the Middle Ages. Peering out of a narrow world, hemmed in by ignorance and squalor, the mediæval artist caught sight of beauty and immediately loved it with such fervent, personal passion that everything he made in its image was vital and wonderful. As his world broadened in the Renaissance, much of his art grew florid and meaningless, lacking that marvelous, intimate quality of the earlier, restricted day. — If you want an argument from literary material, there’s the Picciola of Saintine. You can make an imperishable literary masterpiece out of a convict’s love for a tiny plant struggling up between two stones in a prison-yard, but you cannot make men listen to tales of great possessions. The interest in Monte Cristo centres upon the process of acquirement, and it is the same in any successful money-romance. Midas is only fit to point a moral, never to adorn a tale. — If you want an argument from philology, consider that the diminutives in every language show the lesser thing to be the dearer thing, always. Remember Marie Antoinette and the Little Trianon! Consider the increasing specialization in science — science which always falls on its feet! I know a thousand arguments! The thing I am in need of is converts!’
‘If you could get them,’said Martha, ‘there might really be a Woman’s Reformation, only it would begin at home instead of at the polls.’
‘What other permanent thing is there in life but the hearthstone? Nations rise and fall, laws and institutions come and go — but that remains, the one fixed point in human society. I take it, therefore, it is the one point from which the lever can successfully be brought to bear on human society. If anything is to be moved or altered, the force must be applied there.’
‘But human society has changed, Honoria,’ urged Grace. ‘Look at all our new powers and possessions! Steam and electricity have remade the world, and we are not yet adjusted to the alteration. No generation ever lived under our conditions; thus we have no traditions for handling our new environment. No heritage of ancestral wisdom tells us what of the hundreds of new opportunities to accept, what to reject. Save in so far as we are thinking beings — and that is not very far — we are as much at the mercy of our desires as babies in a toy-shop, grabbing now this and now that, heaping up a lapful of futilities and calling it a life.’
‘Yes. But why should we make steam and electricity serve our greed only? Why use them chiefly to darken the world and make life a horror? Dare you affirm that we women and our demands are not at the very centre of the tragic tangle of modern living? Is n’t all this horrible speeding-up of business largely an outgrowth of our exactions? What do men do business for, anyhow, except to get us what we want! Homes are to other material possessions what souls are to the bodies — the centre from which the life moves outward. If there is no greed in the home, is there not bound to be less greed in the offices ?'
‘I’m not so sure, Honoria,’ Grace returned. ‘No amount of intensiveness in the home would eliminate man’s love of power for its own sake.’
‘Perhaps. Yet is n’t the lust for power a secondary development? We begin by being greedy because we want things; we keep on after we have more things than we know what to do with, because greed has created the power-lust. It is the aftermath from that ugly root. If the pressure the home puts on the man for money were suddenly slackened all along the line, above the point of poverty, might not the matter of unseemly accumulations correct itself? If we women of the more favored classes avowedly undertook to give quality to our belongings, instead of demanding belongings which we hope will confer quality upon us, there would surely be both a lessening in the stress of life and an improvement in its texture. I can think of nothing else but the Golden Rule that would help to solve so many menacing problems, such as the high cost of living, the commercialization of life, and the divorce problem. Oh, it would be very farreaching, that attitude, if we could only achieve it! ’
‘Why would n’t plain Christianity do all your reforming, and do it better?’ demanded Martha abruptly.
‘Assuredly it would — if Christianity were more generally a condition instead of a theory among us. I would n’t undertake to say off-hand why the sanctions of common sense seem more precious to the present generation than the sanctions of religion, when in so many points they are identical, but I must conform my theorizings to the fact. Yet with all our neglect of religion the traditions of the spirit have not changed! They are the same from everlasting to everlasting. And one of the things the nineteenth century most wonderfully made clear was that the evolution of the spirit is the thing Nature has been seeking for hundreds of millions of years. I don’t suppose that age-long process with the tremendous impetus of all creation behind it is really going to be upset by the turmoil of one materialistic generation. But I do believe that if we go with the current of materialism, we and all our works shall be tossed aside as refuse, thrown into Nature’s garbage-can. I tell you, I can’t bear the disgrace of it.’
‘ Honoria, you almost persuade me to be intensive,’ said Grace, ‘but I am not reconciled to the doctrine at one point — the question of beauty. I admit that one cannot vitalize a lot of senseless luxury. I admit, too, that comfort and a certain amount of beauty can always be successfully domesticated and charged with personality, as you phrase it, and that the result is completely satisfying. But is one never to indulge one’s self in all the beauty money will buy, never to have everything of an absolute perfection? You are against great houses, but there is Mountly House, at home. It is big, but so beautiful that you are at home in it all over. What of it, and others like it?’
‘Big and beautiful it is, but it is on my side of the argument, none the less. If you remember, the architect was also the decorator. It is the triumph of his imagination. He designed it as a background for a woman of opulent beauty and domestic tastes. He ransacked Europe for the furnishings, tapestries, all sorts of exquisite ancient things. He was a great artist and he created a work of art. The family fit into the picture more or less awkwardly. It is his house, not theirs at all. And I truly believe that the ultimate purpose of our houses excludes our going up and down another’s stairs.
‘Yet I believe in all the beauty one can vitalize. It is essentially wholesome. It does not lend itself to morbid demands. The collector’s passion looks like greed, and doubtless for a time it is greed. But, sooner or later, Too-Much sickens them. Their adorable possessions teach them there is profanation in having more wonderful things than they can enter into personal relation with. Therefore the inevitable end of all overgrown collections is the museum or the auction-room. I have seen it too often not to know it is true! — If you want a perfect illustration of this in literature read Mrs. Wharton’s The Daunt Diana. It cuts down like a knife to the essential fact that our relations with beauty must be limited enough to have the personal quality. And —don’t you see?—this automatic destruction of greed that beauty finally teaches to the collector, is the same automatic destruction of it that I dare think intensive living in our homes might bring to all greed. It is a proof of the theory on another plane.’
‘I think one might own a Mountly House without greed,’ persisted Grace wistfully. ‘Having no house at all, I naturally refuse to think of myself as ending my days in any less perfect domicile. What do you mean by the “ultimate purpose” of our houses?’
‘Ah! that,’ said Honoria, with a quick indrawing of her breath, ‘is the very core of all my thought, and I don’t know how to make you see it!’
She rose abruptly and walked to the end of the verandah. She stood there a while, looking across at the spreading gables of her own brown bungalow, with the yearning on her face that only house-mothers know. Yonder was her home. Set on a mighty shoulder of the earth, facing the sunset and the sea, it clung to the soil as the brown rocks cling. Behind it were the mighty Sierras with their crests of snow; before it, the sweetest land God ever smiled upon; within it, all the treasures of her eyes, her mind, her heart. Just as it stood there in the February sun, it was an abode compact of love, of aspiration, of desire. The ancient love of man for his shelter had gone into it, and the love of woman for the place of her appointed suffering. Desire for beauty and hope of peace were in its making. Its walls had heard the birth-cries; her children had played about its doors; out from it had been borne her dead. Inconsiderable speck on the vast hillshoulder that it was, it could defy time and the elements, even as she defied them, for she had given it of her own immortality.
‘I have not yet said it all,’ she said a little thickly. ‘It is hard to say, even to you. I have found an attitude of mind, a path, a way of life I call intensive, for lack of a better name, and I believe in it, not only because it increases my sane satisfaction in living, but also because it finally leads out — out of all this tangle of our material lives, into the eternal spaces.
‘ I see the world of men’s business activities chiefly as a place of wrath and greed, and yet even the most grasping must be blindly seeking through their greed an ultimate satisfaction — not more houses or more automobiles, or railroads, or mines, or even power, but something dimly apprehended as beyond all these and more than they —something that is good and that endures. For we all want the Enduring Thing. One man sees it here, another there. As for me, I see it in my house. I tell you, the Greeks and Romans did not make a religion of the hearthstone; they merely recognized the religion that the hearthstone is. Under that quiet roof I have learned that it is a woman’s business to take stones and make them bread. Only she can make our surroundings live and nourish us.
‘Beyond the need for bread, a woman’s needs are two; deeper than all cravings save the mother’s passion, firm-rooted in our endless past, is the hearth-hunger. The trees that sweep my chimney have their roots at the world’s core! The flowers in my dooryard have grown there for a thousand years! What milleniums have done, shall decades undo? We are not so shallow, so plastic as that! We will go into the mills, the shops, the offices, if we must, but we know we are off the track of life. Neither our desire nor our power is there.
‘I have talked glibly enough about restricting superfluous possessions for the sake of developing a finer quality in those we have; I have said only personality gives that quality to our surroundings — but I have not said the final thing. It is this: I believe that in the humble business of loving the material things that are given to us to own and love, in shaping our homes around them, in making them vital and therefore beautiful, so that they serve our spirits in their turn, we are not only making the most of our resources in this life, but are doing more than that. Somehow, I cannot tell you how, I know that we are getting them across — into the timeless places! In making them vital we are making them enduring.
‘Christ tells us to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven. What did that mean to you when you were young? I thought it meant a procession of selfdenials and charities, more or less lifeless because the offering was made slightly against the grain! I had no idea that when I loved somebody very much or pitied somebody very much, when I shared my heart or shared my roof eagerly, that I was doing the commanded thing. Still less did I realize, when I worked hard to make my home more comfortable or more beautiful, that I was sending vibrations from my everyday world right into the eternal one — every deed an actual hammerstroke on my house not made with hands. But so sure as that our mortal shall put on immortality, I now hold it that what we first find in the eternal world will be the things into which we have unstintingly flung our vitality, our feeling, while we are briefly here.
‘ Here we have no continuing city. But when I am making my house live, I and no other, putting into it as I best may something of the serenity of Athens and the sacredness of Jerusalem and the beauty of Siena, then it is taking its place beside my greater loves. Then I am creating a home, not only in this world, but in the next. I have put something over into the eternal world that fire cannot burn, nor floods destroy, nor moth and rust corrupt. It is safe, even from myself, forever! No Heaven can be holy to me if I have not made this spot holy. I shall not ask, even from the mercy of the Merciful, a heavenly mansion if I have failed to make this earthly dwelling live. Eternity begins beside my hearth, shaped by my will. A woman knows!’