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female presiding at your breakfast-table, with hands tapering out of her long sleeves, eyes with a touch of Sir Peter Lely in them, and a face set in a little oval frame of muslin tied under the chin, and retaining a certain tinge of the pillow without its cloudiness. This is, indeed, the finishing grace of a fireside, though it is impossible to have it at all times, and perhaps not always politic, - especially for the studious.
From breakfast to dinner, the quantity and quality of enjoyment depend very much on the nature of one's concerns; and occupation of any kind, if we pursue it properly, will hinder us from paying a critical attention to the fireside. It is sufficient, if our employments do not take us away from it, or at least from the genial warmth of a room which it adorns, — unless, indeed, we are enabled to have recourse to exercise; and in that case, I am not so unjust as to deny that walking or riding has its merits, and that the general glow they diffuse throughout the frame has something in it so extremely pleasurable and encouraging; nay, I must not scruple to confess that, without some preparation of this kind, the enjoyment of the fireside, humanly speaking, is not absolutely perfect, as I have latterly been convinced by a variety of incontestable arguments in the shape of headaches, rheumatisms, mote-haunted eyes, and other logical appeals to one's feelings which are in great use with physicians. Supposing, therefore, the morning to be passed, and the due portion of exercise to have been taken, the firesidèr fixes rather an early hour for dinner, particularly in the winter-time; for he has not only been early at breakfast, but there are two luxurious intervals to enjoy between dinner and the time of candles : one that supposes a party round the fire with their wine and fruit; the other, the hour of twilight, of which it has been reasonably doubted whether it is not the most luxurious point of time which a fireside can present ;
but opinions will naturally be divided on this as on all other subjects, and every degree of pleasure depends upon so many contingencies, and upon such a variety of associations, induced by habit and opinion, that I should be as unwilling as I am unable to decide on the matter. This, however, is certain, that no true firesider can dislike an hour so composing to his thoughts, and so cherishing to his whole faculties; and it is equally certain that he will be little inclined to protract the dinner beyond what he can help, for if ever a fireside becomes unpleasant, it is during that gross and pernicious prolongation of eating and drinking, to which this latter age has given itself up, and which threatens to make the rising generation regard a meal of repletion as the ultimatum of enjoy-. ment.
The inconvenience to which I allude is owing to the way in which we sit at dinner, for the persons who have their backs to the fire are liable to be scorched, while, at the same time, they render the persons opposite them liable to be frozen : so that the fire becomes uncomfortable to the former, and tantalizing to the latter; and thus three evils are produced, of a most absurd and scandalous nature: in the first place, the fireside loses a degree of its character, and awakens feelings the very reverse of what it should ; secondly, the position of the back towards it is a neglect and affront, which it becomes it to resent; and finally, its beauties, its proffered kindness, and its sprightly social effect are at once cut off from the company by the interposition of those invidious and idle surfaces called
This abuse is the more ridiculous, inasmuch as the remedy is so easy: for we have nothing to do but to
use semicircular dining-tables, with the base unoccupied towards the fireplace, and the whole annoyance vanishes at once; the master or mistress might preside in the middle, as was the custom with the Romans, and thus propriety would be observed, while everybody had the sight and benefit of the fire; not to mention that, by this fashion, the table might be brought nearer to it, that the servants would have better access to the dishes, and that screens, if at all necessary, might be turned to better purpose as a general enclosure instead of a separation.
But I hasten from dinner, according to notice ; and cannot but observe that, if you have a small set of visitors who enter into your feelings on this head, there is no movement so pleasant as a general one from the table to the fireside, each person taking his glass with him, and a small, slim-legged table being introduced into the circle for the purpose of holding the wine, and perhaps a poet or two, a glee-book, or a lute. If this practice should become general among those who know how to enjoy luxuries in such temperance as not to destroy conversation, it would soon gain for us another social advantage, by putting an end to the barbarous custom of sending away the ladies after dinner, a gross
violation of those chivalrous graces of life, for which modern times are so highly indebted to the persons whom they are pleased to term Gothic. And here I might digress, with no great impropriety, to show the snug notions that were entertained by the knights and damsels of old in all particulars relating to domestic enjoyment, especially in the article of mixed company; but I must not quit the fireside, and will only observe that, as the ladies formed its chief ornament, so they constituted its most familiar delight.
“The minstralcie, the service at the feste,
CHAUCER. The word snug, however, reminds me that amidst all the languages, ancient and modern, it belongs exclusively to our own ; and that nothing but a want of ideas suggested by that soul-wrapping epithet could have induced certain frigid connoisseurs to tax our climate with want of genius, -supposing, forsooth, that because we have not the sunshine of the Southern countries, we have no other warmth for our veins, and that, because our skies are not hot enough to keep us in doors, we have no excursiveness of wit and range of imagination. It seems to me that a great deal of good argument in refutation of these calumnies has been wasted upon Monsieur du Bos and the Herr Winckelman: the one a narrow-minded, pedantic Frenchman, to whom the freedom of our genius was incomprehensible; the other, an Italianized German, who being suddenly transported into the sunshine, began frisking about with unwieldy vivacity, and concluded that nobody could be great or bewitching out of the pale of his advantages. Milton, it is true, in his “Paradise Lost,” expresses an injudicious apprehension lest
“An age too late, or cold
Climate, or years, damp his intended wing ;” but the very complaint which foreign critics bring against him, as well as Shakespeare, is that his wing was not damped enough, - that it was too daring and unsubdued ; and he not only avenges himself nobly of his fears by a flight beyond all Italian poetry, but shows, like the rest of his countrymen, that he could turn the coldness of his climate into a new species of inspiration, as I shall presently make manifest. Not to mention, however, that the Greeks and Româns, Homer in particular, saw a great deal worse weather than these critics would have us imagine; the question is, would the poets themselves have thought as they did ? Would Tyrtæus, the singer of patriotism, have complained of being an Englishman ? Would Virgil, who delighted in husbandry, and whose first wish was to be a philosopher, have complained of living in our pastures, and being the countryman of Newton ? Would Homer, the observer of character, the panegyrist of freedom, the painter of storms, of landscapes, and of domestic tenderness, — aye, and the lover of snug house-room and a good dinner, would he have complained of our humors, of our liberty, of our shifting skies, of our ever-green fields, our conjugal happiness, our firesides, and our hospitality ? I only wish the reader and I had him at this party of ours after dinner, with a lyre on his knee, and a goblet, as he says, to drink as he pleased,
“Piein, hote thumos anogoi."
Odyss. lib. viii. v. 70. I am much mistaken if our blazing fire and our freedom of speech would not give him a warmer inspiration than ever he felt in the person of Demodocus, even though placed on a lofty seat, and regaled with slices of brawn from a prince's table. The ancients, in fact, were by no means deficient in enthusiasm at sight of a good fire ; and it is to be presumed that, if they had enjoyed such firesides