The Works of Edgar Allan Poe — Volume 5, p.1part #5 of The Works of Edgar Allan Poe Series by Edgar Allan Poe / Fantasy
Produced by David Widger
THE WORKS OF EDGAR ALLAN POE
IN FIVE VOLUMES
The Raven Edition
Philosophy of Furniture A Tale of Jerusalem The Sphinx Hop Frog The Man of the Crowd Never Bet the Devill Your Head Thou Art the Man Why the Little Frenchman Wears his Hand in a Sling Bon-Bon Some words with a Mummy The Poetic Principle Old English Poetry
Poems of Later Life
The Raven The Bells Ulalume To Helen Annabel Lee A Valentine An Enigma To my Mother For Annie To F---- To Frances S. Osgood Eldorado Eulalie A Dream within a Dream To Marie Louise (Shew) To the Same The City in the Sea The Sleeper Bridal Ballad Notes
Poems of Manhood
Lenore To One in Paradise The Coliseum The Haunted Palace The Conqueror Worm Silence Dreamland Hymn To Zante Scenes from Politian Note
Poems of Youth
Introduction (1831) Sonnet--To Science Al Aaraaf Tamerlane To Helen The Valley of Unrest Israfel To -- (The Bowers Whereat, in Dreams I See) To -- (I Heed not That my Earthly Lot) To the River -- Song A Dream Romance Fairyland The Lake To-- The Happiest Day Imitation Hymn. Translation from the Greek In Youth I Have Known One A Paean Notes
Alone To Isadore The Village Street The Forest Reverie Notes
PHILOSOPHY OF FURNITURE.
In the internal decoration, if not in the external architecture oftheir residences, the English are supreme. The Italians have but littlesentiment beyond marbles and colours. In France, _meliora probant,deteriora _sequuntur--the people are too much a race of gadabouts tomaintain those household proprieties of which, indeed, they have adelicate appreciation, or at least the elements of a proper sense. TheChinese and most of the eastern races have a warm but inappropriatefancy. The Scotch are _poor _decorists. The Dutch have, perhaps, anindeterminate idea that a curtain is not a cabbage. In Spain they are_all _curtains--a nation of hangmen. The Russians do not furnish. TheHottentots and Kickapoos are very well in their way. The Yankees aloneare preposterous.
How this happens, it is not difficult to see. We have no aristocracy ofblood, and having therefore as a natural, and indeed as an inevitablething, fashioned for ourselves an aristocracy of dollars, the _displayof wealth _has here to take the place and perform the office of theheraldic display in monarchical countries. By a transition readilyunderstood, and which might have been as readily foreseen, we have beenbrought to merge in simple _show_ our notions of taste itself.
To speak less abstractly. In England, for example, no mere paradeof costly appurtenances would be so likely as with us, to createan impression of the beautiful in respect to the appurtenancesthemselves--or of taste as regards the proprietor:--this for the reason,first, that wealth is not, in England, the loftiest object of ambitionas constituting a nobility; and secondly, that there, the true nobilityof blood, confining itself within the strict limits of legitimate taste,rather avoids than affects that mere costliness in which a _parvenu_rivalry may at any time be successfully attempted.
The people _will _imitate the nobles, and the result is a thoroughdiffusion of the proper feeling. But in America, the coins current beingthe sole arms of the aristocracy, their display may be said, in general,to be the sole means of the aristocratic distinction; and the populace,looking always upward for models, are insensibly led to confound the twoentirely separate ideas of magnificence and beauty. In short, the costof an article of furniture has at length come to be, with us, nearlythe sole test of its merit in a decorative point of view--and this test,once established, has led the way to many analogous errors, readilytraceable to the one primitive folly.
There could be nothing more directly offensive to the eye of an artistthan the interior of what is termed in the United States--that is tosay, in Appallachia--a well-furnished apartment. Its most usual defectis a want of keeping. We speak of the keeping of a room as we would ofthe keeping of a picture--for both the picture and the room are amenableto those undeviating principles which regulate all varieties of art; andvery nearly the same laws by which we decide on the higher merits of apainting, suffice for decision on the adjustment of a chamber.
A want of keeping is observable sometimes in the character of theseveral pieces of furniture, but generally in their colours or modes ofadaptation to use _Very _often the eye is offended by their inartisticarrangement. Straight lines are too prevalent--too uninterruptedlycontinued--or clumsily interrupted at right angles. If curved linesoccur, they are repeated into unpleasant uniformity. By undue precision,the appearance of many a fine apartment is utterly spoiled.
Curtains are rarely well disposed, or well chosen in respect to otherdecorations. With formal furniture, curtains are out of place; and anextensive volume of drapery of any kind is, under any circumstance,irreconcilable with good taste--the proper quantum, as well as theproper adjustment, depending upon the character of the general effect.
Carpets are better understood of late than of ancient days, but westill very frequently err in their patterns and colours. The soul of theapartment is the carpet. From it are deduced not only the hues but theforms of all objects incumbent. A judge at common law may be an ordinaryman; a good judge of a carpet _must be _a genius. Yet we have hearddiscoursing of carpets, with the air _d'un mouton qui reve, _fellowswho should not and who could not be entrusted with the management oftheir own _moustaches. _Every one knows that a large floor _may _have acovering of large figures, and that a small one must have a coveringof small--yet this is not all the knowledge in the world. Asregards texture, the Saxony is alone admissible. Brussels is thepreterpluperfect tense of fashion, and Turkey is taste in its dyingagonies. Touching pattern--a carpet should _not _be bedizzened out likea Riccaree Indian--all red chalk, yellow ochre, and cock's feathers. Inbrief--distinct grounds, and vivid circular or cycloid figures, _ofno meaning, _are here Median laws. The abomination of flowers, orrepresentations of well-known objects of any kind, should not beendured within the limits of Christendom. Indeed, whether on carpets,or curtains, or tapestry, or ottoman coverings, all upholstery of thisnature should be rigidly Arabesque. As for those antique floor-cloth &still occasionally seen in the dwellings of the rabble--cloths of huge,sprawling, and radiating devises, stripe-interspersed, and gloriouswith all hues, among which no ground is intelligible--these are but thewicked invention of a race of time-servers and money-lovers--childrenof Baal and worshippers of Mammon--Benthams, who, to spare thoughtand economize fancy, first cruelly invented the Kaleidoscope, and thenestablished joint-stock companies to twirl it by steam.
_Glare_ is a leading error in the philosophy of American householddecoration--an error easily recognised as deduced from the perversion oftaste just specified., We are violently enamoured of gas and of glass.The former is totally inadmissible within doors. Its harsh and unsteadylight offends. No one having both brains and eyes will use it. A mild,or what artists term a cool light, with its consequent warm shadows,will do wonders for even an ill-furnished apartment. Never was a morelovely thought than that of the astral lamp. We mean, of course,the astral lamp proper--the lamp of Argand, with its original plainground-glass shade, and its tempered and uniform moonlight rays. Thecut-glass shade is a weak invention of the enemy. The eagerness withwhich we have adopted it, partly on account of its _flashiness,_ butprincipally on account of its _greater rest,_ is a good commentary onthe proposition with which we began. It is not too much to say, that thedeliberate employer of a cut-glass shade, is either radically deficientin taste, or blindly subservient to the caprices of fashion. The lightproceeding from one of these gaudy abominations is unequal broken, andpainful. It alone is sufficient to mar a world of good effect in thefurniture subjected to its influence. Female loveliness, in especial, ismore than one-half disenchanted beneath its evil eye.
In the matter of glass, generally, we proceed upon false principles. Itsleading feature is _glitter--_and in that one word how much of all thatis detestable do we express! Flickering, unquiet lights, are _sometimes_pleasing--to children and idiots always so--but in the embellishmentof a room they should be scrupulously avoided. In truth, even strong_steady _lights are inadmissible. The huge and unmeaning glasschandeliers, prism-cut, gas-lighted, and without shade, which dangle inour most fashionable drawing-rooms, may be cited as the quintessence ofall that is false in taste or preposterous in folly.
The rage for _glitter-_because its idea has become as we beforeobserved, confounded with that of magnificence in the abstract--hasled us, also, to the exaggerated employment of mirrors. We line ourdwellings with great British plates, and then imagine we have done afine thing. Now the slightest thought will be sufficient to convinceany one who has an eye at all, of the ill effect of numerouslooking-glasses, and especially of large ones. Regarded apart fromits reflection, the mirror presents a continuous, flat, colourless,unrelieved surface,--a thing always and obviously unpleasant. Consideredas a reflector, it is potent in producing a monstrous and odiousuniformity: and the evil is here aggravated, not in merely directproportion with the augmentation of its sources, but in a ratioconstantly increasing. In fact, a room with four or five mirrorsarranged at random, is, for all purposes of artistic show, a room ofno shape at all. If we add to this evil, the attendant glitter uponglitter, we have a perfect farrago of discordant and displeasingeffects. The veriest bumpkin, on entering an apartment so bedizzened,would be instantly aware of something wrong, although he might bealtogether unable to assign a cause for his dissatisfaction. But letthe same person be led into a room tastefully furnished, and he would bestartled into an exclamation of pleasure and surprise.
It is an evil growing out of our republican institutions, that here aman of large purse has usually a very little soul which he keeps init. The corruption of taste is a portion or a pendant of thedollar-manufacture. As we grow rich, our ideas grow rusty. It is,therefore, not among _our _aristocracy that we must look (if at all, inAppallachia), for the spirituality of a British _boudoir. _But we haveseen apartments in the tenure of Americans of moderns [possibly modestor moderate] means, which, in negative merit at least, might vie withany of the _or-molu'd _cabinets of our friends across the water. Even_now_, there is present to our mind's eye a small and not, ostentatiouschamber with whose decorations no fault can be found. The proprietorlies asleep on a sofa--the weather is cool--the time is near midnight:we will make a sketch of the room during his slumber.
It is oblong--some thirty feet in length and twenty-five in breadth--ashape affording the best(ordinary) opportunities for the adjustment offurniture. It has but one door--by no means a wide one--which is at oneend of the parallelogram, and but two windows, which are at theother. These latter are large, reaching down to the floor--have deeprecesses--and open on an Italian _veranda. _Their panes are of acrimson-tinted glass, set in rose-wood framings, more massive thanusual. They are curtained within the recess, by a thick silver tissueadapted to the shape of the window, and hanging loosely in smallvolumes. Without the recess are curtains of an exceedingly rich crimsonsilk, fringed with a deep network of gold, and lined with silver tissue,which is the material of the exterior blind. There are no cornices; butthe folds of the whole fabric (which are sharp rather than massive, andhave an airy appearance), issue from beneath a broad entablature of richgiltwork, which encircles the room at the junction of the ceiling andwalls. The drapery is thrown open also, or closed, by means of a thickrope of gold loosely enveloping it, and resolving itself readily intoa knot; no pins or other such devices are apparent. The colours ofthe curtains and their fringe--the tints of crimson and gold--appeareverywhere in profusion, and determine the _character _of the room. Thecarpet--of Saxony material--is quite half an inch thick, and is of thesame crimson ground, relieved simply by the appearance of a gold cord(like that festooning the curtains) slightly relieved above the surfaceof the _ground, _and thrown upon it in such a manner as to form asuccession of short irregular curves--one occasionally overlaying theother. The walls are prepared with a glossy paper of a silver gray tint,spotted with small Arabesque devices of a fainter hue of the prevalentcrimson. Many paintings relieve the expanse of paper. These are chieflylandscapes of an imaginative cast--such as the fairy grottoes ofStanfield, or the lake of the Dismal Swamp of Chapman. Thereare, nevertheless, three or four female heads, of an etherealbeauty-portraits in the manner of Sully. The tone of each picture iswarm, but dark. There are no brilliant effects. _Repose _speaks inall. Not one is of small size. Diminutive paintings give that _spotty_look to a room, which is the blemish of so many a fine work of Artovertouched. The frames are broad but not deep, and richly carved,without being _dulled _or filagreed. They have the whole lustre ofburnished gold. They lie flat on the walls, and do not hang off withcords. The designs themselves are often seen to better advantage in thislatter position, but the general appearance of the chamber is injured.But one mirror--and this not a very large one--is visible. In shape itis nearly circular--and it is hung so that a reflection of the personcan be obtained from it in none of the ordinary sitting-places of theroom. Two large low sofas of rosewood and crimson silk, gold-flowered,form the only seats, with the exception of two light conversationchairs, also of rose-wood. There is a pianoforte (rose-wood, also),without cover, and thrown open. An octagonal table, formed altogether ofthe richest gold-threaded marble, is placed near one of the sofas. Thisis also without cover--the drapery of the curtains has been thoughtsufficient.. Four large and gorgeous Sevres vases, in which bloom aprofusion of sweet and vivid flowers, occupy the slightly rounded anglesof the room. A tall candelabrum, bearing a small antique lamp withhighly perfumed oil, is standing near the head of my sleeping friend.Some light and graceful hanging shelves, with golden edges and crimsonsilk cords with gold tassels, sustain two or three hundred magnificentlybound books. Beyond these things, there is no furniture, if we exceptan Argand lamp, with a plain crimson-tinted ground glass shade, whichdepends from He lofty vaulted ceiling by a single slender gold chain,and throws a tranquil but magical radiance over all.