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Homes and How to Make Them

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My Dear John:

Now that your "ship" is at last approaching the harbor, I am confident your first demonstration in honor of its arrival will be building yourself a house; exchanging your charmingly good-for-nothing air-castle for an actual flesh-and-blood, matter-of-fact dwelling-house, two-storied and French-roofed it may be, with all the modern improvements. In many respects, you will find the real house far less satisfactory and more perplexing than the creation of your fancy. Air-castles have some splendid qualities. There are no masons' and carpenters' contracts to be made, no plumbers' bills to be vexed over, the furnaces never smoke, and the water-pipes never freeze; they need no insurance, and you have no vain regrets over mistakes in your plans, for you may have alterations and additions whenever you please without making a small pandemonium and eating dust and ashes while they are in process. Nevertheless, I have no doubt you will plunge at once into the mysteries and miseries of building, and, knowing your inexperience, I cannot at such a juncture leave you wholly to your own devices.

It is a solemn thing to build even the outside of a house. You not only influence your fellow-men, but reveal your own character; for houses have a facial expression as marked as that of human beings, often strangely like their owners, and, in most cases, far more lasting. Some destroy your faith in human nature, and give you an ague chill when you pass them; others look impudently defiant, while many make you cry out, "Vanity of vanities!" If you are disposed to investigate the matter, you will find that the history of nations may be clearly traced in the visible moral expression of the homes of the people;—in the portable home-tents of the Arabs; the homely solidity of the houses in Germany and Holland; the cheerful, wide-spreading hospitality of Switzerland; the superficial elegance and extravagance of France; the thoroughness and self-assertion of the English; and in the heterogeneous conglomerations of America, made up of importations from every land and nation under the sun,—a constant striving and changing,—a mass of problems yet unsolved.

A friend once said to me while we were passing an incurably ugly house, "The man who built that must have had a very good excuse for it!" It was a profound remark, but if that particular building were the only one needing apology for its ugliness, or if there were no common faults of construction and interior arrangement, I should not think you in special need of warning or counsel from me. There are, however, so many ill-looking and badly contrived houses, so few really tasteful ones, while year after year it costs more and more to provide the comfortable and convenient home which every man wants and needs for himself and family, that I am sure you will be grateful for any help I may be able to give you.

We are told that all men, women, and children ought to be healthy, handsome, and happy. I have strong convictions that every man should also have a home, healthful, happy, and beautiful; that it is a right, a duty, and therefore a possibility....