The Friendship of Art

by Bliss Carman



    MOVING-DAY is not a festival the sentimentalist loves. For him it is a time of memories, redolent of old sorrows and vanished joys; he clings to his associations, and changes his home reluctantly. It is his habit to invest things with an aroma of dedication, if I may say so, as ancient churches are saturated with incense. Everything he has ever owned possesses for the sentimentalist attachments hardly known to the literal mind. And the larger, the more universal the possession, the stronger the attachment. So that his home, his town, his native country, take hold of the sentimentalist’s heart with ropes of perdurable toughness. In this respect you may say that the sentimentalist belongs to the cat family. [Page 34] He is very imperfectly domesticated, but his habit of locality is phenomenally developed. He has none of that doggy loyalty which would lead him to desert the ancestral fireside without a pang, if ever friendship should demand the move. Thinking himself all heart, he is sometimes a heartless creature, living on atmosphere and losing the solider joys of loving.

    Your true sentimentalist, too, is a prince of procrastinators. He cannot bring himself to a decision, and action affects him like the rheumatism. Witness “Sentimental Tommy,” whose soul abhorred the necessity of choosing, as a hen abhors water. While other men are making fortunes, building houses, marrying beauties, discovering the south pole, establishing trusts, ruling savages, or overturning empires, your sentimentalist is making up his precious mind. Like the rustic, he waits for the river to run by; and, while he stands emotionalizing and moralizing, the stream of events has moved swiftly on, carrying the [Page 35] flotsam of fortune beyond his grasp. You may even hear him bemoaning his destiny, when a little timeliness, a little presence of mind, a little zest and courage would have saved the day.

    To move, to break up one place of abode, to carry all his household deities to a new altar (to flit, as the Scotch idiom so picturesquely has it) is an abhorrence to the sentimentalist. I confess I am very much of his turn of mind in this matter. Unless one has been ill or unhappy in a place, with what misgivings one leaves it! The last stick of furniture has been carried out, the last picture unhung, the last grip packed and ready, even the cane and umbrella are strapped together. Then as you take another look through the familiar rooms, so changed by the desolation, have you not a horrible foreboding qualm? If ever the fluctuating sentimentalist in you is to get the upper hand, now is his time. And it may need some stout common bravery of heart to keep him in place. [Page 36]

    But the more sane and courageous attitude toward change accepts it as a step in growth, in development. The moral of “The Cambered Nautilus” will come home to every one, and we may sweeten the uses of adversity by a severe resignation. The new dwelling must often be narrower and less commodious than the old. But what are the requisites we look for in seeking an abiding-place? Light, air, sun, good soil, neighbours, quiet. And still there is one thing more too often neglected — the personal atmosphere of the new room or the new dwelling. Every room, if we would but try to perceive it, has its own peculiar atmosphere. It affects us pleasantly or unpleasantly, as the case may be. All its past history, the lives and passions, comedies and woes, aspirations and failures, of its former occupants have all left upon it traces of their influence; and thereafter it is impossible for a new occupant to dwell there without sharing in the experience of the old one. An inheritance of association passes on [Page 37] with every house to its new tenant, and this we cannot escape. It is useless to try to ignore it; it were wiser to recognize the subtle quality of each room we go into, to cultivate a sensitiveness in that direction, and never to do violence to it if we can help ourselves. This would be a novel consideration in home-making and house-hunting. We should not look at the locks and the paint alone, nor consider the costliness of construction; we should close our eyes and feel the atmosphere of the place; we should try to tell whether or not we are likely to be happy there, whether or not we are in sympathy with the former owner, whether we are to be aided or annoyed by the endowment of association he has left behind him.

    Of course, there are our own discarded impediments as well. If we are to be so particular about the atmosphere into which we move, we shall have to see to it that the associations we leave behind us are not inimical [Page 38] to the happiness of others, at least that they are not evil.

    The spirit, too, has its moving-days and its times of house-cleaning, as well as the body. For months and years we may be dependents on some great spiritual teacher, Carlyle, or Arnold, or Newman, or one of the ancients. We go in and out, and carry on our daily subsistence, as tenants of his philosophy, secure in his sheltering thought. But some fine May morning along comes a gust of fancy and persuades us to move. We find ourselves dissatisfied with the old lodgings and set out to seek for new; or perhaps in racing down some unexpected street we have come upon a domicile that took our eye. Plato can detain us no longer; we are going to become retainers of Aristotle. So the spirit passes from one master to another, from one abiding-place to the next on the long quest for a perfect dwelling. None of them, perhaps, will be found perfect, though none is to be despised. Serenity, [Page 39] cheer, encouragement, valour, are to be found under many a roof where we least expect them. These are the qualities to look for in the new lodging. [Page 40]