Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
An Old House in Boston
By Edmund Quincy (18081877)
[Born in Boston, Mass., 1808. Died at Dedham, Mass., 1877. The Haunted Adjutant, and Other Stories. 1885.]
THE GOOD old class of garden-houses, in which it is recorded that Milton always chose to live, is now almost as entirely extinct here as in London itself. How well do I remember one of these, in which some of my happiest days and merriest nights were spent! It stood with its end to the street, overshadowed by a magnificent elm of aboriginal growth, which made strange and solemn music in my boyish ears when the autumn winds called forth its hidden harmonies at midnight. Entering the gate, you proceeded on a flagged walk, having the house close to you on your left, and on your right the courtyard, filled with flowers of all hues, and fragrant shrubs, each forming the mathematical centre of an exact circle cut in the velvet greensward. When within the front door, you had on your left hand the best parlor, opened only on high solemnities, and which used to excite in my young mind a mysterious feeling of mingled curiosity and awe whenever I stole a glance at its darkened interior, with its curiously carved mahogany chairs black as ebony with age, its blue damask curtains, the rare piece of tapestry which served as a carpetall reflected in the tall mirror, with its crown and sceptred top, between the windows. I remember it used to put me in mind of the fatal blue chamber in Bluebeard. I am not sure now that there was not something supernatural about it.
But it was the parlor opposite that was the very quintessence of snugness and comfort, worth half a hundred fantastic boudoirs and modern drawing-rooms bedizened with French finery. On your right hand as you entered were two windows opening upon the courtyard above commemorated, with their convenient window-seatsan accommodation which I sadly misswith their appropriate green velvet cushions, a little the worse for wear. On the opposite side of the room to the windows was a glass door opening into the garden,a pleasant sight to see, with its rectangular box-lined gravel walks, its abundant vegetables, its luxuriant fruit-trees, its vine trained over the stable-wall. As you returned to the house through the garden-door, you had on your right the door of a closet with a window looking into the garden, which was entitled the study, having been appropriated to that purpose by the deceased master of the house. This recess possessed substantial charms to my infant imagination as the perennial fountain of cakes and apples, which my good auntof whom presentlyconducted in a never-failing stream to the never-satisfied mouth of an urchin of six years old. I thought they grew there by some spontaneous process of reproduction.
A little farther on, nearer to the study-door than the one by which we entered, was the fireplace, fit shrine for the Penates of such a household; its ample circumference adorned with Dutch tiles, where stout shepherdesses in hoops and high-heeled shoes gave sidelong looks of love to kneeling swains in cocked hats and trunk-hose; while their dogs and sheep had grown so much alike from long intimacy as to be scarcely distinguishable. How I loved those little glimpses into pastoral life! I have one of them now, which I rescued from the wreck of matter when the house came down. Within the ample jaws of the chimney, which might have swallowed up at a mouthful a century of patent grates, crackled and roared the merry wood fire,fed with massy logs which it would take two men to lift, as men are now,casting its cheerful light as evening drew in on the panelled walls, bringing out the curious egg-and-anchor carvings, which were my special pride and wonder, and flashing back from the mirror globe which depended from the beam which divided the comfortable low ceiling into two unequal parts. And let me not forget the mantelpiece, adorned with grotesque heads in wood and clusters of fruit and flowers, of which Grinling Gibbons himself need not have been ashamed. And then the Turkey carpet, covering the breadth, but not the length, of the room; and the books,the Spectators short face in his title-page, the original Tatler, the first editions of Pope. But time would fail me were I to record all the well-remembered contents of that dear old room,the sofa or settee, of narrow capacity, looking as if three single chairs had been rolled into one; the card-table, with its corners for candles, and its pools for fish scooped out of the verdant champaign of green broadcloth. But enough: let us now approach the divinity whose penetralia we have entered, and who well befits such a shrine.
In an elbow-chair at the right of the fireplace, sat my excellent aunt, Mrs. Margaret Champion, widow of the Honorable John Champion, long one of His Majestys Council for this Province. When I first remember her, she had passed her seventieth year, and she lived in a green old age till near a hundred winters had passed over her head. What a picture of serene and beautiful old age! Her placid countenance, which a cheerful piety and constitutional philosophy had kept almost unwrinkled; her large black eyes, in which the fires of youth were not yet wholly extinguished; the benevolent smile which was seldom absent from her lipsspoke of a frame on which Time had laid a gentle hand, and of a mind at ease. When I knew her, the profane importunities of the fairer part of her relatives had obtained a reluctant consent to abandon the gently swelling hoop and lowering crape cushion in which she once rejoiced. But you could never have seen how she became her decent white lace cap, her flowing black lace shade, her rich silks for common wear, and her stiff brocades for high solemnities, and not have known that she was a gentlewoman born.