Such indiscriminate collection defeats its own aim. Compare the way Giovanni
Bellini fits up St. Jerome's study for him in the National Gallery. There is no stint of money evidently ; the Saint gets all that he can properly want, and he gets over and above - the addition born of his denial - the look of peace and calm in his room, that can so seldom be found with us. Another reason why our rooms are so glaringly over-furnished is, that many of us aim at a standard of profusion, in forgetfulness of the circumstances which created that standard. Families, whose descent has been historic, and whose home has been their pride, accumulate, in the lapse of time, heirlooms of many kinds - pictures, furniture, trinkets, etc. - and as these increase in numbers, the rooms in which they are contained become filled and crowded beyond what beauty or comfort permits, and such sacrifice is justly made for the demands of filial pride.
This emotion is so conspicuously an honourable one that we are all eager to possess and give scope to our own, and so long as the scope is honest there is nothing more laudable.
But the temptation is to add to our uninherited display in this particular by substitutes, and to surround ourselves with immemorable articles, the justification of whose presence really should be that they form part of the history of our lives in more important respects than the mere occasions of their purchase.
It is this unreasoning ambition that leads to the rivalling of princely houses by the acquisition of " family portraits purchased in Wardour Street" - the rivalling of historic libraries by the purchase of thousands of books to form our yesterday's libraries of undisturbed volumes - the rivalling of memorable chairs and tables, by recently bought articles of our own, crowded in imitation of our model with innumerable trifles, to the infinite tax of our space, our patience, and our purse.
Our want of care and restraint in the selection of our furniture affects both its design and manufacture.
Constantly articles are bought for temporary use - we postponing the responsibility of wise purchase until we have more time, or else we buy what is not precisely what we want but which must do, since we cannot wait to have the exact things made, and have not the time to search elsewhere for them.
Furniture, in response to this demand, must be made either so striking as to arrest the eye, or so variedly serviceable as to meet some considerable proportion of the conflicting requirements made on it by the chance intending purchaser, or else it must fall back on the impregnable basis of antiquity and silence all argument with the canon that what the late Mr. Chippendale did was bound to be " good taste."
"There should be a place for everything, and everything in its place." Very true. But in the exercise of our orderliness we require the hearty co-operation of the " place' itself. 'Tis a wonderful aid when the place fits the object it is intended to contain.
Take the common male chest of drawers as a case in point. Its function is to hold a man's shirts and his clothes, articles of a known and constant size. Why are the drawers not made proportionate for their duty ? Why are they so few and so deep that when filled - as they needs must be - they are uneasy to draw out, and to obtain the particular article of which we are in quest, and which of course is at the bottom, we must burrow into the heavy superincumbent mass of clothes in our search, and - that successful - spend a weary while in contriving to repack the ill-disposed space. It can hardly be economy of labour and material that dictates this, for - if so - why is the usual hanging wardrobe made so preposterously too tall ? Does the idiot maker suppose that a woman's dress is hung all in one piece, body and skirt, from the nape of the neck, to trail its extremest length ?
The art of buying furniture, or having it made for us, is to be acquired only by study and pains, and we must either pursue the necessary education, or depute the furnishing of our rooms to competent hands : and the responsibility does not end here, for there is the duty of discovering who are competent, and this must be done indirectly since direct inquiry only elicits the one criterion, omnipotent, omnipresent, of cost.
The object to be gained in furnishing a room is to supply the just requirements of the occupants, to accentuate or further the character of the room, and to indicate the individual habits and tastes of the owner.
Each piece should be beautiful in itself, and, still more important, should minister to and increase the beauty of the others. Collective beauty is to be aimed at; not so much individual.
Proportion is another essential. Not that the proportions of furniture should vary with the size of the rooms : the dimensions of chairs, height of tables, sizes of doors, have long been all fixed and, having direct reference to the human body, are immutable.
Substantially, the size of man's body is the same and has been the same from the dawn of history until now, and will be the same whether in a cottage parlour or the Albert Hall. But there is a proportion in the relations of the spaces of a room to its furniture which must be secured. If this is not done, no individual beauty of the objects in the room will repair the lost harmony or be compensation for the picture that might have been.
A museum of beautiful objects has its educational value, but no one pretends that it claims to be more than a storehouse of beauty.
The painter who crowds his canvas with the innumerable spots of colour that can be squeezed out of every tube of beautiful paint that the colourman sells, is no nearer his goal than he who fills his rooms with a heterogeneous miscellany of articles swept together from every clime and of every age.