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An essay by George William Curtis

Spring Pictures

Title:     Spring Pictures
Author: George William Curtis [More Titles by Curtis]

ON a late beautiful spring afternoon the Easy Chair rolled itself into the suburbs for a stroll. There were everywhere the signs of the advance of a great city and the pathetic forlornness of the municipal frontier. Pleasant country-houses, spacious, rambling, with broad piazzas and gardens and lawns, had been apparently suddenly overtaken by streets and stone sidewalks and lamps. There were the rattle and shriek of the incessant railway trains near by. Tall factory chimneys smoked and machinery hummed and steam-whistles blew all around the quiet old houses. The contrast gave them a kind of conscious life. They seemed to be aware of the incongruity of their character with the new neighborhood. They had a helpless air, as if nothing remained but submission to division into regular building lots and the absolute extinction of rural seclusion and charm. There was the impression of a faint and futile struggle between city and country, in which, indeed, for a moment the excellence of each was lost, but the result of which was not doubtful.

As the Easy Chair pushed on, it saw in fancy the old pastoral peace and retirement of the places when they were indeed in the country. It recalled the noted men of that older day who sought here relaxation and repose. There was the placid river, on which no restless steamer foamed, but only silent sloops drifted or careened. Yonder were the leafy coves under the wooded and rocky banks, from which the Indian had but recently paddled his canoe. No railroad harmed the virgin shyness of the shore. It was El Dorado, Arcadia, the land of Goshen. It was the home of peace, of plenty, of content.

Such a poet, such a painter, is idealizing memory on a spring afternoon in the suburbs. It seemed so gross a wrong that sidewalks and gas lamps and factory chimneys and steam-whistles should invade and devastate the tranquil fields that indignant imagination filled them as fact with all the fancies that tranquil fields suggest. Doubtless in the closets of those quiet houses there were the bones of plenty of old skeletons. Those spacious, sunny rooms were the scenes of the familiar domestic tragedies against which not the most romantic of country-houses can shut the door. Up those steps have swayed and hesitated the doubtful feet of the oldest son, heir of precious hopes and child of fervent prayers, hesitating and lingering at hours long past midnight, watched for and waited for by the mother's heart that breaks but does not falter. In that broad hall, on the brightest of May mornings, the daughter of the house has stood, radiant as the day, and crowned with orange blossoms. There have met the hopes and joys of youth, the tears and blessings and farewells of older years. The pretty pageant filled the house, and faded slowly and utterly away. The old house has known, too, the solemn shadow that falls on every house. It seems to regretful memory the abode of unchanging delight. But from that door the slow procession moved, and those whose hospitable smile and word had hallowed every room returned no more. They are gone, the bride, the parent, the friend; "they are all gone, the old familiar faces," the age, the society, the politics, the interests. They are all gone. Why should not the house go too?

It was early spring, and the Easy Chair, looking up, saw half a dozen kites flying in the air. A little further, and laughing girls were skipping rope. Boys were spinning peg-tops and playing marbles and driving hoops. The boys and girls who lived in the quiet old country-house did the same a hundred years ago. They flew kites and drove hoops, and that little bride skipped rope and carried dolls. The age, the society, the politics, the interests, were very different. They are, indeed, all changed. But tops are changeless, marbles are immortal, and so are boys and girls. They know nothing of the old house over which the Easy Chair becomes pensive. They belong to the new time, which demands its demolition.

[The end]
George William Curtis's essay: Spring Pictures