A Historical Love Letter About Making a Home Together

A Historical Love Letter About Making a Home Together

Carolyn Purnell
Aug 28, 2014
(Image credit: WikiQuote)

Our homes are built out of objects, love, and memories, but it's easy to forget how often they are also built on fantasies. We imagine the things we'd like to have, dream about the people who will be with us, and fantasize about the richness of life that will take place within our four walls. I recently stumbled upon a letter written by G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936) to his fiancée Frances Blogg, in which he beautifully described his fantasy of making a home together.

Chesterton was a jack of all trades; among other things, he was an English poet, philosopher, journalist, dramatist, critic, biographer, and lay theologian. He was known for his fictional priest-detective Father Brown, who starred in fifty-one short stories, and he was friendly with a number of equally witty writers, whose names you may recognize: George Bernard Shaw, P.G. Wodehouse, and Hilaire Belloc.

These quotations are from a letter that Chesterton wrote around 1898. More excerpts can be found here. And for more on Frances, see this article.

When we set up a house, darling (honeysuckle porch, yew clips hedge, bees, poetry and eight shillings a week), I think you will have to do the shopping. Particularly at Felixstowe. There was a great and glorious man who said, ‘Give us the luxuries of life and we will dispense with the necessities.’ That I think would be a splendid motto to write (in letters of brown gold) over the porch of our hypothetical home.
There will be a sofa for you, for example, but no chairs, for I prefer the floor. There will be a select store of chocolate-creams (to make you do the Carp with) and the rest will be bread and water. We will each retain a suit of evening dress for great occasions, and at other times clothe ourselves in the skins of wild beasts (how pretty you would look) which would fit your taste in furs and be economical.
I have sometimes thought it would be very fine to take an ordinary house, a very poor, commonplace house in West Kensington, say, and make it symbolic. Not artistic – Heaven – O Heaven forbid. My blood boils when I think of the affronts put by knock-kneed pictorial epicures on the strong, honest, ugly, patient shapes of necessary things: the brave old bones of life. There are aesthetic pattering prigs who can look on a saucepan without one tear of joy or sadness: mongrel decadents that can see no dignity in the honourable scars of a kettle. So they concentrate all their house decoration on coloured windows that nobody looks out of, and vases of lilies that everybody wishes out of the way. No: my idea (which is much cheaper) is to make a house really (allegoric) really explain its own essential meaning.
Mystical or ancient sayings should be inscribed on every object, the more prosaic the object the better; and the more coarsely and rudely the inscription was traced the better. ‘Hast thou sent the Rain upon the Earth?’ should be inscribed on the Umbrella-Stand: perhaps on the Umbrella. ‘Even the Hairs of your Head are all numbered’ would give a tremendous significance to one’s hairbrushes: the words about ‘living water’ would reveal the music and sanctity of the sink: while ‘Our God is a consuming Fire’ might be written over the kitchen-grate, to assist the mystic musings of the cook – Shall we ever try that experiment, dearest. Perhaps not, for no words would be golden enough for the tools you had to touch: you would be beauty enough for one house…”

For me, this letter is a beautiful portrait of the sorts of dreams that we have about our lives together (or even about the lives we lead singly in our homes). Like Chesterton, I dream of filling my home with meaningful, essential objects, and the beauty of a plain life filled with joy and mindfulness. I aspire to laughter, love, and furnishings catered to the exact way I live my life–not the furnishings that tradition or wealth tell me I need.

What kinds of things do you dream about when you dream about your home? What values figure centrally in the way you design your home and live in it? And what kinds of objects, and which people, do you treasure most?

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