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A DAY BY THE FIRE.
AM one of those that delight in a fireside, and
can enjoy it without even the help of a cat or a tea-kettle. To cats, indeed, I have an aversion, as animals that only affect a sociality,
without caring a jot for any thing but their own luxury ; * and my tea-kettle, I frankly confess, has long been displaced, or rather dismissed, by a bronze-colored and graceful urn; though, between ourselves, I am not sure that I have gained any thing by the exchange. Cowper, it is true, talks of the “bubbling and loud-hissing urn," which —
“Throws up a steamy column ;” but there was something so primitive and unaffected, so warm-hearted and unpresuming, in the tea-kettle, — its song was so much more cheerful and continued, and it kept the water so hot and comfortable as long as you wanted it, — that I sometimes feel as if I had sent off a good, plain, faithful old friend, who had but one wish to serve me, for a superficial, smooth-faced upstart of a fellow, who, after a little promising and vaporing, grows cold
* This was written in the early days of Leigh Hunt's literary career ; but years after, when he was older and wiser, he did full and complete justice to the familiar household cat, in an admirable paper, entitled, “The Cat by the Fire," published in “The Seer.” – Ed.
and contemptuous, and thinks himself bound to do nothing but stand on a rug and have his person admired by the circle. To this admiration, in fact, I have been obliged to resort, in order to make myself think well of my bargain, if possible ; and, accordingly, I say to myself every now and then during the tea, “A pretty look with it, — that urn;" or, “ It's wonderful what a taste the Greeks had ;” or, “ The eye might have a great many enjoyments, if people would but look after forms and shapes.” In the mean while, the urn leaves off its “bubbling and hissing," — but then there is such an air with it! My tea is made of cold water, — but then, the Greeks were such a nation !
If there is any one thing that can reconcile me to the loss of my kettle, more than another, it is that my fire has been left to itself: it has full room to breathe and to blaze, and I can poke it as I please. What recollections does that idea excite ? — Poke it as I please! Think, benevolent reader, — think of the pride and pleasure of having in your hand that awful, but at the same time artless, weapon, a poker, — of putting it into the proper bar, gently levering up the coals, and seeing the instant and bustling flame above ! * To what can I compare that moment? that sudden, empyreal enthusiasm ? that fiery expression of vivification ? that ardent acknowledgment, as it were, of the care and kindliness of the operator ? Let me consider a moment: it is very odd; I was always reckoned a lively hand at a simile ; but language and combination absolutely fail me here. If it is like any thing, it must be something beyond every thing in beauty and life. Oh, I have it now: think, reader, if you are one of those who
* Charles Lamb's friend and school-mate, Le Grice, wrote a book on the “Art of Poking the Fire." - ED.
can muster up sufficient sprightliness to engage in a game of forfeits,- on Twelfth night, for instance, — think of a blooming girl who is condemned to “open her mouth and shut her eyes, and see what heaven,” in the shape of a mischievous young fellow, “ will send her.” Her mouth is opened accordingly, the fire of her eyes is dead, her face assumes a doleful air ; up walks the aforesaid heaven or mischievous young fellow (young Ouranos, Hesiod would have called him), and, instead of a piece of paper, a thimble, or a cinder, claps into her mouth a peg of orange or a long slice of citron; then her eyes above instantly light up again, the smiles wreath about, the sparklings burst forth, and all is warmth, brilliancy, and delight. I am aware that this simile is not perfect; but if it would do for an epic poem, as I think it might, after Virgil's whipping-tops and Homer's jackasses and black-puddings, the reader, perhaps, will not quarrel with it.
But to describe my feelings in an orderly manner, I must request the reader to go with me through a day's enjoyments by the fireside. It is part of my business to look about for helps to reflection; and, for this reason, among many others, I indulge myself in keeping a good fire from morning till night. I have also a reflective turn for an easy chair, and a very thinking attachment to comfort in general. But of this as I proceed. Imprimis, then: the morning is clear and cold ; time, half-past seven; scene, a breakfast-room. Some persons, by the by, prefer a thick and rainy morning, with a sobbing wind, and the clatter of pattens along the streets; but I confess, for my own part, that being a sedentary person, and too apt to sin against the duties of exercise, I have somewhat too sensitive a consciousness of bad weather, and feel a heavy sky go over me like a feather-bed, or rather like a