‘Now, anybody can describe a room ... to make a reader feel a room’s presence, its infinite, intimate charm, is a different thing, given supremely to just a few,’ says a recent Contributor; and she goes on to name the authors she would like to have furnish a room or plan a garden for her. I, too, would trust several novelists and poets for interior decoration and landscapegardening, and in the main my choice chimes with hers. Tennyson for my trees and lawns, but Morris for my
Set thick with lily and red rose.
There are other poets in plenty to help — poets and gardens belong to each other. But I too should distrust Tennyson in furniture. He was too much Queen Victoria’s friend for that.
I should choose Henry James to go with me on my furniture quest; his friendly shade would surely know to what auction-room the Spoils of Poynton have been borne by the ruthless vans of Time and Change. And I should ask Anne Douglas Sedgwick to help me arrange those delicately gleaming surfaces into a harmony of exquisitely interlaced tones and forms. Not Galsworthy — no, never the man who could ruin that lovely glimmering white room by putting crimson roses in a jade-green bowl. Narcissus it should have been, or, to echo the firelight, pale flame-colored azaleas. If it must be roses for the fragrance, let them have yellow, curling petals, disclosing a tinge of translucent coral.
For furnishing and landscaping there are literary lights in plenty. But who is there to do the really fundamental work of planning and designing the house? Not, this time, a fairy palace, or a castle in Spain, but a house for generation after generation to make a home of, to live in and to love? What novelist could have been an architect? Hardy, we know, was trained for that profession, but it shows chiefly, I think, in his descriptions of natural objects, as when he notes the Moorish-arch effect of the rear view of a cow. His houses, somehow, have never won my heart. I prefer Kipling’s Habitation Enforced, and I feel the mystic spell of John Buchan’s Full Circle. But for an architect to deal with, a man who would understand a family’s most intimate needs, and at the same time a man with a sound knowledge of design and plan, combined with impeccable taste, give me Anthony Trollope.
‘What, poor old plodding MidVictorian Anthony, with his sloppy English and his sordid views of his art — rely on his taste?’ Yes, Mid-Victorian Anthony, who, in the midst of his era, kept his head free from all the architectural falsities of his time, and his eye clear for the best of earlier days. It is not everything old that meets his approval. Witness Courcy Castle, ‘built in the days of William III, which, though they were grand days for the const ruction of the constitution, ere not very grand for architecture of a more material description.’
So, too, in regard to the Tudor houses — which arc what he loves best — he is keenly critical. He does no sentimentalizing over the gauds and trappings, the elaborate carvings, the showy half-timber work that catch the untrained eye. His heart went out to the good tawny stone of Barsetshire, wrought into graceful gabled houses, with well-placed chimneys and simple square-topped mullioned windows, arranged in that irregular yet balanced rhythm which is the admiration and despair of modern designers. He saw and felt these fundamental matters of mass and proportion and material as only the few of any time, and especially of his, have seen and felt them. And he makes them clear to us. Other writers might make us feel the charm of the Great House at Allington, or of Ullathorne Court. He adds to that power such exactness of description that a draughtsman could draw the front elevation of the Great House, and all the elevations and the plan of Ullathorne. Indeed, one of our own ablest architects, Mr. Ernest Flagg, himself a man of keen eye for the fundamentals, says in a recent book that the plan of one of his houses is based on Ullathorne.
Another reason for choosing Trollope to plan my house is his flair for the creature comforts. lie would not foist on me the romantic picturesqueness that is so hard to live with. The carpets would not rise along the gusty floors. The windows would fit, the chimneys would draw, the rooms would be spacious without being vast. The bookroom would be quiet, the breakfast-room would face east, the drawingroom would open on the garden, with long windows like the ones in the Small House that opened to the light hand of Lily Dale.
And the dining-room — what a dining-room that lover of good dinners would plan! Meet for Matching Priory, ‘the most comfortable countryhouse in England.’ Yes, I could trust Trollope with my dining-room.
But the kitchen — no Englishman, and no Victorian, man or woman, would I trust to plan a livable kitchen. Trollope would have some comprehension of the case, for he loved to have his soup hot, and his potatoes served before the mutton grew chill, and could be brought to see the consequent desirability of placing the kitchen somewhere near the dining-room. But, faced with the present-day paucity of servants and plethora of equipment, he would be the first to see the need of expert advice. And I should have the expert’s name on the tip of my tongue. It would be the creator of that long sunny kitchen, with its shining range, boiler, and sink, its geraniums and easy-chair, where Understood Betsey learned to make apple sauce.