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Monday, April 1, 2013

The Pleasures of the American Winter

"Table-Talk," Appletons' Journal of Literature, Science and Art vol. 4, no. 90 (12 Dec. 1870), p. 742, 

HAWTHORNE, after spending a winter in Rome, declared that thereafter he would, if possible, pass that inclement season in some part of the globe where it is recognized as a legitimate institution. Hawthorne has not been the only traveller who has descanted upon the discomforts of winter when experienced in a climate where frost is but an irregular and uncertain visitor.  Olmsted, in his account of his winter travels in Texas, describes feelingly some of the sufferings underwent from the cold "northers," against which the imperfectly-constructed houses afforded a very inadequate protection. Winter, indeed, is only an affliction in places or with people where or with whom there is no suitable means for guarding against its rigors. To well-fed, well-housed, well-clothed people, winter is as delightful as any other season of the year. Its pleasures, of course, are essentially different from those of summer, but they are no less vivid and no less genuine. Not to mention those out-of-door sports, such as skating and sleighing, that are unexcelled by any of other seasons, it is within-doors that the winter supplies us with some of its best delights. In summer the hill-top, the brookside, the garden, the porch, the open window -- all places, in fact, that afford us quiet and pleasant air, have equal claims upon our affection; but it is only in winter that we come to understand the full significance of the word home. When the storm is shaking our casements, and the night is black and dangerous, then, within the drawn curtains and around the blazing fire, we discover how secure, and glowing, and peaceful, and rich in affections, are "hearth and home." Just as in spring the first blossoms give us delight, so in winter does the fire when first lighted give us singular pleasure. Perhaps of all our boyhood recollections those of the old winter's fireside are the keenest and the most delightful. When the first snow-fall comes this season, let the reader take down his copy of Whittier's "Snow-bound," and read the poem by the brisk blaze of crackling logs, with the sound of the outward blast reaching his ear in melancholy menace, and see what a relish the old-fashioned picture will have for him. By the brisk blaze of crackling logs! Alas! if he reads it at all, in all probability it will be over the hot air of a register, or by the burnt iron of a stove. Firesides and hearthstones are things of the past, and with their departure have gone nearly all the best charms of a winter-home. Modern life is surrounded with a good many conveniences, but every innovation in our households seems to signalize the death of some treasured pleasure. Your furnace, no doubt, diffuses an even warmth through the house, but, in shutting up the fireplace, it scatters the household and breaks up the old-time family-circle. It drives out of the home an artist who was wont to paint delicious pictures on your walls, and tint the cheeks of your dear ones with a rare glow. It excludes a friend whose bright, sparkling chatter once entertained you many a long evening, and whose blaze and glow rarely failed to fill your heart with cheerfulness and gratitude. There are a few old-fashioned people who cling to wood-fires, but many of the younger generation remain ignorant of what was once the greatest charm of a winter-home. "Coal," says Ik Marvel [Donald Grant Mitchell, Connecticut essayist 1822-1908], "may have its uses in the furnace, which takes off the sharp edge of winter from the whole interior of the house, and keeps up a night-and-day struggle with Boreas for the mastery, but a country home without some one open chimney around which, in time of winter twilight, when snows are beating against the panes, the family may gather, and watch the fire flashing, and crackling, and flaming, and waving, until the girls clap their hands and the boys shout in a kind of exultant thankfulness, is not worthy the name."

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