George Bell and Sons
These pages are inscribed with affection and esteem
These essays on the furnishing and decoration of the home appeared in the "Pall Mall Gazette" under the heading of "Wares of Autolycus," and are reprinted by perpemission of the Editor.
"There might ye see the peony spread wide, The full-blown rose, the shepherd and his lass, Lapdog and lambkin with black staring eyes, And parrots with twin cherries in their beak."
"THE ground," says Artemus Ward, " flew up and hit me on the head;" which deplorable episode, unhappily, is far from being unique or even uncommon. Many carpets do; to say nothing of other kinds of floor-covering, and are, in consequence, gey ill to live wi'. To be sure, there is at the present time a very fair proportion of really admirable modern carpets, but a few years ago there was no room for selection; it was merely a case of Hobson's choice. If you could afford Persian carpets you took them and were happy- if not, you must needs either have raised the faculty of ignoring to the rank of a fine art, or lived as much as possible out of doors. Nothing imaginable could be more blatantly offensive in every decorative sense, even from the most rudimentary point of view, than the carpets of yesteryear, with their hard, noisy colours, their base and demonstrative designs, now made in simulation of some glaringly inappropriate natural object, now aping the textile semblance of other fabrics with a sickening verisimilitude that haunts the memory like the recollection of a bad dream, or of some especially idiotic comic song long out of date. Perhaps these counterfeit presentments of blowsy flowers, sprawling ferns, seaweeds, watered silk, and so forth, were at their very worst when made in Brussels carpeting; but even the softening influence of deep pile was of small avail as a disguise to their native, invincible hideousness, which outraged every law of taste, and laughed, naked and unashamed, in the face of fitness.
Carpets, like wall-coverings-and it may be even to a greater degree-must act primarily as backgrounds for all objects placed over them: harmonious, unobtrusive, at least a tone or two lower than aught else in the room, the ideal carpet should be seen, not noticed. The design of it, like the design of a Monticelli, must never jump to the eyes, but only detach itself in deliberate revealment under stress of earnest contemplation. Form must dissolve into form, tone into tone, colour into colour, with the pleasant dimness of underwoods in summer, or reflections in a dark glass or a shadowed pool. The design may be as intricate as you please, or as simple, but it must not assert, it must not obviously repeat itself. As an accomplished artist dissimulates his mastery of line, so must the carpet designer weave around and over the fine curves, the symmetrical forms of his pattern, a clear obscurity of illusion that shall enhance while half veiling their graces.
As for colour, it may be as rich as you please (always considering the scheme and key of the room), but it must, before all, be mellow. A carpet should, as it were, glow forth with a subdued splendour of colour from between the furniture set upon it, keeping at the same time its proper place in the general harmony, and fulfilling the first law of its being by an appearance of reposeful reticence and sober wealth. It is easy to err in the matter of carpeting; when floors were strewn with rushes, there was little latitude for ill-doing, but now there is every opportunity for the heedless, together with a multiplicity of temptations for the tasteless. A large design carried out definitely in rich, striking colours will destroy your furniture as certainly as a hungry, able-bodied cat will absorb an unprotected canary; while the self-same patterning, rendered in dim, low-toned dyes, may, on the other hand, look all that a fond heart could wish.
To-day there are three alternatives-the last indubitably the best, albeit, perhaps, the costliest. The deep pile carpet of one rich, dull hue, with an arabesque, renaissance, or geometrically patterned border, is good, and very good; and altogether estimable, again, is that which bears a powdering-in a lighter tone of the same colour as the ground-of finely-conventionalized forms at proper intervals, blurred with a becoming vagueness. Pleasing species of this genus, for example, are presented in a colour-chord of green, dim, yet pure in quality, bearing a device of Empire laurel-garlands, tied (as it will be remembered) with graceful knots of ribbon; and in a symphony of lapis-lazuli and a fainter blue, the pattern of which is a charmingly conceived Japanese convention for a lotus. Both these, of course, have appropriate borders. But comely and reviving though they, and some others into the bargain, may be, an old Persian carpet, in a good state of preservation, is infinitely to be preferred. The broken tones, the delightful variations of the pile, the jewelled maze of colour, with its myriad surprises; dim, for all its splendour, as a rose under water in prison; the strangely beautiful, outlandish shapes, born of an ancient civilization, another race and time, and placed much as a master of painting places his composition on the canvas- all this, fair with an unfamiliar excellence, charms always and charms wisely. Age cannot wither nor custom stale the attractions of a really fine Persian carpet; its indistinct and infinite variety -half dissimulated under the pious presence of repetition-would alone keep your affection for it quick and lively, your fidelity firm. In such case you may possibly change your faiths, your friends, but not-most assuredly not-your carpet.
Time was when the possession of a Turkey carpet was almost as recognizedly the outward and visible sign of financial and respectable grace as that of a gig; and, indeed, it is always estimable if often unattractive. When very old and faded it is decidedly a thing to be desired, but the ordinary Turkey carpet of commerce rejoices in a magenta movement that massacres everything in its neighbourhood. Like a late distinguished warrior, it charges the enemy with horrid imprecations and notable effect; wherefore, in spite of its pleasing texture, it were better let alone.
For rooms where the decorations are set in a high key, with white and gold, and painted flower engarlanded walls, nothing but an Aubusson is possible. The pearly, yet warm, greys and fawns, besprent with faint delicate traceries of roses and ribbons, of this veritable Ronsard among carpets, suit admirably with the pale elegance of a certain type of decoration, the type that is penetrated with a sentiment of stately frivolity, and an old world atmosphere of faded gaieties and forgotten galas. And if, as may very well be, real Aubusson be out of reach, there is now no lack of excellent modern replicas from which to choose.
The floor itself should, obviously, be darker than the carpet, in the same proportion as the carpet is darker than the rest of the room; old or new parquet, of variously coloured woods; or plain, perfectly laid and fitted, planks of oak almost black with age, or of -Indian teak, are all admirable alternatives. And, failing these, the parquet that is in reality but a cunning veneer, bought by the yard, and laid at inconsiderable cost, is eminently satisfactory.
Halls and stairs and corridors are best carpeted when completely covered with thick pile of one deep full colour: best, that is to say, in a house that harbours no children, dogs, or cats-a house wherein the dwellers are few, and dainty of habit. The heedless comings and goings of a large family mean perpetual demoralization to a plain carpet, whereon the mark of a muddyboot is as conspicuous as the memorable footstep of Friday, and little less startling. And here a new kind of carpet, called Roman, offers itself, and seems to solve the difficulty. It is thick and substantial, with a pleasing coarseness of grain, that does not make at all for hardness of effect. The colours are good, and there is just enough patterning, artistically blurred -the small, conventional designs are scattered over a plain ground-to ignore, if not to dissemble, the filthy witness of the street. Of the dismal, the disgustful, oilcloth; of the dreary, tessellated pavement, invariably (and wherefore?) odious in design and colour to boot, there is nothing to be said-their case is desperate and unalterable, and their popularity founded on the solid rock of bad taste. It is more profitable to reflect upon the large alternating diamonds of black marble and white that still pave some old halls, both here and in Holland, and also upon a comely sort of coarse mosaic, recently produced, which is made of thick dull glass.
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