This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
A country house without a porch is like a man without an eyebrow; it gives expression, and gives expression where you most want it. The least office of a porch is that of affording protection against the rain-beat and the sun-beat. It is an interpreter of character; it humanizes bald walls and windows; it emphasizes architectural tone; it gives hint of hospitality; it is a hand stretched out (figuratively and lum-beringly, often) from the world within to the world without.
At a church door even, a porch seems to me to be a blessed thing, and a most worthy and patent demonstration of the overflowing Christian charity, and of the wish to give shelter. Of all the images of wayside country churches which stay in my mind, those hang most persistently and agreeably, which show their jutting, defensive rooflets to keep the brunt of the storm from the church-goer while he yet fingers at the latch of entrance.
I doubt if there be not something beguiling in a porch over the door of a country shop - something that relieves the odium of bargaining, and imbues even the small grocer with a flavor of cheap hospitalities.
The verandas (which is but a long translation of porch) that stretch along the great river front of the Bellevue Hospital diffuse somehow a gladsome cheer over that prodigious caravansery of the sick; and I never see the poor creatures in their bandaged heads and their flannel gowns enjoying their convalescence in the sunshine of those exterior corridors, but I reckon the old corridors for as much as the young doctors, in bringing them from convalescence into strength, and a new fight with the bedevil-ments of the world.
What shall we say, too, of inn porches? Does anybody doubt their fitness ? Is there any question of the fact - with any person of reasonably imaginative mood - that Falstaff and Nym and Bardolph, and the rest, once lolled upon the benches of the porch that overhung the door of the Boar's Head Tavern, Eastcheap? Any question about a porch, and a generous one, at the Taberd, Southwark - presided over by that wonderful host who so quickened the storytelling humors of the Canterbury pilgrims of Master Chaucer?
Then again, in our time, if one were to peel away the verandas and the exterior corridors from our vast watering-place hostelries, what an arid baldness of wall and of character would be left I All sentiment, all glowing memories, all the music of girlish foot-falls, all echoes of laughter and banter, and rollicking mirth, and tenderly uttered vows would be gone.
King David, when he gave out to his son Solomon the designs for the building of the Temple, included among the very first of them (1 Chronicles xxviii. 11) the "pattern of a porch." It is not, however, of porches of shittim-wood and of gold that I mean to talk in this paper - nor even of those elaborate architectural features which will belong of necessity to the entrance-way of every complete study of a country house. I plead only for some little mantling hood about every exterior door-way, however humble.
There are hundreds of naked, vulgar-looking dwellings, scattered up and down our country high-roads, which only need a little deft and adroit adaptation of the hospitable feature, which I have made the subject of this paper, to assume an air of modest grace, in place of the present indecorous exposure of a wanton.
But let no one suppose that porch-building, as applied to the homely lines of a staid old house of thirty or fifty years since, can be safely given over to the judgment of our present ambitious carpenters. Ten to one, they will equip a barren simplicity with an odious tawdriness. A town-bred girl will slip into the millinery bedizenment of the town haberdasher without making show of any odious incongruity; but let some buxom, round-cheeked, stout-ankled lass of the back country adopt the same, and we laugh at the enormity. In the same way, every man of a discerning taste must smile derisively at the adornment of an unpretentious farm-house with the startling decorative features of the shop joinery of the day - the endless scroll-work (done cheaply, by new methods of machine sawing) - the portentous molding - the arches, whose outlines are from Byzantium or the new Louvre - columns whose proportions are improved from the Greeks - capitals whose fretting sculpture outranks the acanthus! Seriously, I think the carpenters, if left to their own efflorescence, nowadays, can outmatch Demorest or any of the wide-hooped milliners. We seem to have drifted into an epoch of the largest and crudest flamboyance - in morals, in brokerage, in carpentry, in (may I not say?) congressional eloquence.
A sober, simple-minded man is worse than lost in this brood of improvers. Why measure things by what they are really good for, when the larger part of the world measures them only by what they seem to be good for?
Notwithstanding all this, I venture to plead for a wholesome severity of taste; if simple material is to be dealt with, it should be dealt with simply. If we have a homely old-style house to modify and render attractive, do not let us make its modification a mockery by the blazon of Chinese scroll-work. There is a way of dealing with what is old, in keeping with what is old, and of dealing with what is homely, in keeping with what is homely. A sensible middle-aged lady of the old school, if she have occasion to present herself afresh in society, and assert her prerogatives once more, will not surely do so by tying tow-bags at the back of her head and widening her skirts indecorously. But she will bring her old manner with her, and so equip the old manner by the devices of a judicious art that we shall wonder and admire in spite of ourselves.
In illustration of my views about homely porches, I venture to give a rough drawing of one of the plainest conceivable. (No. 82.) A sort of cross between the Dutch stoop and the lumbering rooflet which in old times overhung many a doorway of a New England farm-house. It offers shelter and rest; it is no way pretentious; it declares its character at a glance; you can not laugh at it for any air of assumption that it carries; you can find no such shapen thing in any of the architectural books. What then! Must it needs be condemned for this reason 1