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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

But in 1867 Frances Dana Gage Doesn't Salute HER Stove

Frances Dana Gage, like William Ray, is also a lesser-known C19th American whose acquaintance it's worth making.  She was a great reformer -- abolitionist, equal rights campaigner, temperance advocate -- and also somebody with quite a public life, as a lecturer, journalist, author of children's books, etc.  (See or search for her in Google Books.)

I came across her 1867 poem "The Fire On the Hearth" in The New England Farmer 1:11 [new series] (No. 1867): 521, but you can also get it in her collected Poems (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1867),, pp. 45-47.  It strikes me as a classic of mid-Victorian nostalgia.  The interesting thing is that this kind of nostalgia for the dear departed open fire first appears in print years -- decades! -- before stove ownership and use became general, though by the time of Gage's poem these things had already happened, in the Northern states at least, and were advancing fast even in the back country of the ex-Confederate South.

[p. 45] There is a luxury rare in the carpet of Brussels, /
And splendor in pictures that hang on the wall, /
And grace in the curtain, with rainbow-hued tassels, /
And brilliance in gas-light, that flashes o'er all; /
But give me the glow of the bright-blazing fire, /
That sparkles and snaps as it echoes your mirth, /
And leaps, in its joy, up the chimney still higher, /
When the cold winds without make us draw near the hearth; /
The old-fashioned fire, the cheerful wood fire, /
The maple-wood fire, that burns on the hearth.

As I feel its warm glow, I remember my childhood, /
And the circle of loved ones that drew round our board; /
The winter eve sports, with the nuts from the wild /
The apples and cider from cellars well stored; /
I hear in its roar the wild shout of my brothers, /
And the laugh of my sisters, in innocent mirth, /
And the voice of my sire, as he reads to my mother, /
Who knits by the firelight that glows from the hearth; /
[p. 46] The old open fire, the health-giving fire, /
The home-cheering fire that glows on the hearth.

Like the strong and true-hearted, it warms its surroundings, /
The jamb and the mantle, the hearth-stone and wall, /
And over the household gives out its aboundings, /
Till a rose-tinted radiance is spread over all. /
If you lay on the fuel, it never burns brightly, /
Till the day's work is done, and we lay by our mirth; /
Then we gather the embers and bury them lightly, /
At morn to renew the fresh fire on the hearth -- /
The old fashioned fire, the life-giving fire, /
The broad-glowing fire that burns on the hearth.

It reminds us of friends that we draw to the nearer, /
When winds of misfortune blow heavy and chill, /
And feel with each blast, they are warmer and dearer, /
And ready to help us and comfort us still! -- /
Friends that never grow cold till the long day is ended, /
And the ashes are laid to their rest in the earth, /
And the spirit, still glowing, to God hath ascended, /
To rekindle new fires, like the coal on the hearth; /
Then give me the fire, the fresh-glowing fire. /
The bright open fire, that burns on the hearth.

[p. 47]

You will tell me a stove heats a room in a minute, /
Expels the cold air, and I know it is so; /
But open a door, is there anything in it? -- /
Your warmth is all gone -- there's not even a glow; /
Just like modern friends, one is every day meeting, /
All professions and smiles, as the impulse gives birth, /
But as black and as cold, at the next hour of greeting, /
As your stove that has banished the fire from the hearth; /
Then give me the fire, the old-fashioned fire, /
The bright-glowing fire, that burns on the hearth.

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