Friday, April 25, 2008


A Spot Fit for Hermits

G.K. Chesterton, What's Wrong with the World, Part I (The Homelessness of Man), Chapter VIII (The Wildness of Domesticity):
For the truth is, that to the moderately poor the home is the only place of liberty. Nay, it is the only place of anarchy. It is the only spot on the earth where a man can alter arrangements suddenly, make an experiment or indulge in a whim. Everywhere else he goes he must accept the strict rules of the shop, inn, club, or museum that he happens to enter. He can eat his meals on the floor in his own house if he likes. I often do it myself; it gives a curious, childish, poetic, picnic feeling. There would be considerable trouble if I tried to do it in an A.B.C. tea-shop. A man can wear a dressing gown and slippers in his house; while I am sure that this would not be permitted at the Savoy, though I never actually tested the point. If you go to a restaurant you must drink some of the wines on the wine list, all of them if you insist, but certainly some of them. But if you have a house and garden you can try to make hollyhock tea or convolvulus wine if you like. For a plain, hard-working man the home is not the one tame place in the world of adventure. It is the one wild place in the world of rules and set tasks. The home is the one place where he can put the carpet on the ceiling or the slates on the floor if he wants to.
The poet John Clare was a poor man who wanted a home of his own. He imagined what such a home would be like in Proposals for Building a Cottage, The Wish, and the following untitled poem:
O give me a house in an untrodden glen
Far away from all paths that bring trouble to men
Where spring might bring primroses close to the door
& the chat after insects pop in on the floor

O give me the rest of a wood hidden place
Where I might see the squirrel sit washing his face
& pelt him with acorns right round the old tree
Till he pattered his feet & fell hissing at me

In a spot fit for hermits which toil never tilled
O give me the peace where the pigeon might build
Just over the chimney all covered in boughs
& just within hearing of men at their ploughs

Where the rabbit its burrows made close to the wall
& often came bolt in the house at the call
Of the hunter who hallooed the fox brushing bye
That turned back in fear at a cottage so nigh

In my chair with a book I could sit down & see
The thrush build her nest by the side of a tree
That propt its grey body so close to the house
As even to chafe at the glass with its boughs

Where close to the door autumn littered her leaves
& the oak in a wind chafed the thatch from the eaves
O give me the hut in the midst of the wild
Where the world & its follys neer entered or smiled
Jasper Francis Cropsey, Fisherman's House, Greenwood Lake

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