The dear old house indeed! It was surprising how soon the love of this place took possession of us, claiming our loyal allegiance as if we had lived there always. I perceived that the excellent domicile was doing exactly what it had promised to do when I sat on its knee the summer before and it won me to it; that is, it was fitting itself to our need with the wise kindliness of age and experience, luring us also insensibly to fit ourselves to it.
It is of course not every one who can live in an old house; some must perforce build. I hesitate therefore to indulge too freely in comparisons which may appear ungracious. But, as a warning to those who may choose, and as a sympathetic congratulation to those who have already chosen the old, a few remarks on the subject may not come amiss.
There is no more fallacious theory than that which maintains that a man expresses his nature in the construction of his new house, builds himself out in plaster and mortar, stands confessed in wall and turret. A young house, like a young person, expresses only itself. If it did indeed express its builder, heaven have mercy on the fantastic natures which inhabit our city suburbs! ' Whereas, as a matter of fact, we all know they are not fantastic at all, but good, plain, honest people, the plainer—by some odd working of things— the more gimcracks there are on the roof. "Come, look at me!" the young house cries, usurping all attention. "See my dumb-waiter, my hardwood floors; hear my electric bell!" Accordingly, meekly, the people come, greatly depressed but obedient. They creep cautiously over the polished floors, holding to chairs and tables; they admire the bath-rooms, and tell great lies concerning the wall-papers. They observe their hostess scarcely at all. She— poor thing!—conducts them about with a strangely weary expression. She has not sat down for a peaceful chat with a friend in so long that she has forgotten all but the terms of ciceronage. Her life is a somewhat difficult one, rattling loosely in the midst of her uncompromising environment, striving to fit, to merge herself. All the work of adjustment is hers; the environment, flaunting, vainglorious, will not help her at all.
Whereas, the old house—how different! It makes no appreciable stir when the new human life comes into it; but it wakes from its slumber, and watches and waits, it is patiently aware. The atmosphere of its long-past days fills all the dusky rooms, so that, unfurnished, it is not bare, and with six chairs it is better provided than a new house with a dozen. There is nothing like the fine reserve with which it keeps itself in the background,fashioning forth the new occupants' mood to surprise them presently withal. It can do this better than they can themselves, for it knows them better than they know themselves; it understands the whole, of which they are but a part.
The truth of the matter is, I suppose, that expression is a difficult thing, seldom to be wrought alone, never consciously and deliberately. To body forth a man the surrounding universe must conspire when he least expects it.
"Surrounding universe" is a large term to apply to an old house? Well, when I speak of our old house, I mean of course the orchard too. The orchard depends for much of its meaning on the presence of the valley and hills. The hills lean up against the sky. I am not sure that there is not as much universe in my home as there is anywhere.
Excerpt from Humphrey, Zephine, Over Against Green Peak, Henry Holt and Company, 1909