This section is from the book "Hints On Household Taste In Furniture, Upholstery And Other Details", by Charles L. Eastlake. Also available from Amazon: Hints on Household Taste in Furniture, Upholstery and Other Details.
A few lines in explanation of the object and origin of this book may not be out of place by way of preface to its contents.
Some time ago a little essay of mine on 'The Fashion of Furniture,' which appeared in the 'Cornhill Magazine,' led to my being invited by the Editor of 'The Queen' to write for that journal a series of articles on the same subject. Those articles, combined with others recently contributed to the 'London Review,' have formed, after considerable revision and additions, material for the present volume.
The illustrations, which did not appear with the original text, are, with a few exceptions (for which I am chiefly indebted to the assistance of Mr. H. W. Brewer and Mr. E. J. Tarver), either drawn on wood by myself, or engraved, by Mr. C. Hancock's photographic process, from my sketches - roughly executed, I fear, in some instances, but sufficiently accurate, I hope, to illustrate the character of design which I advocate.
I might have wished to add to their number, but this was impossible without materially increasing the cost of my book, and thus to some extent interfering with its object, which is, in a word, to suggest some fixed principles of taste for the popular guidance of those who are not accustomed to hear such principles defined.
For, though the question of style and design in art-manufacture has been from time to time treated in various works after a technical, a theoretical and an historical fashion, I am not aware that it has yet been discussed in a manner sufficiently practical and familiar to ensure the attention of the general public, without whose support, as every artist knows, all attempts in the direction of aes-thetical reform are hopeless.
It is to supply this deficiency that my 'Hints on Household Taste' are published: and if the virtuoso should find them wanting in antiquarian research, the scientific man in technical information, and the sentimentalist, in the poetry of art - it must be remembered that I have neither desired nor attempted in the following pages to do more than show my readers how they may furnish their houses in accordance with a sense of the picturesque which shall not interfere with modern notions of comfort and convenience.
I avail myself of the opportunity afforded by the issue of a second edition to reply, in general terms, to some of the criticisms and suggestions which have appeared in reviews of my book by the public journals. On the whole I have no reason to complain of adverse comment, and indeed I am gratified to find - not only that the question of 'Household Taste' is considered worthy of serious discussion elsewhere - but that opinions on the subject, which I have ventured to put forth, have been so generally understood and accepted by the press.
It has indeed been objected that I have failed to notice certain practical efforts which have been recently made by educated designers in the field of art manufacture. To this I would answer, first, that such efforts have not hitherto, as it seems to me, been calculated either to improve or satisfy a popular taste in objects of common use, but have rather been confined to those examples of refined workmanship which are only within reach of the wealthy; and secondly that it would have been difficult to describe them in detail without entering on a field of criticism which it would be presumptuous for me to occupy.
Some of my critics have taken exception to what they not unjustifiably call my medioeval predilections, and as there are not a few people to whom the very mention of Gothic furniture is very naturally associated with everything that is incommodious and pedantic, let me briefly explain what I had hoped would have been apparent to all who have read my book with attention, viz. : - that I recommend the re-adoption of no specific type of ancient furniture which is unsuited, whether in detail or general design, to the habits of modern life. It is the spirit and principles of early manufacture which I desire to see revived, and not the absolute forms in which they found embodiment.
I am aware that many of the sketches which I have supplied, as suggestive of a reform in design, are unlike any objects in ordinary use. I should be sorry if they were not, believing, as I do, that most of our present household furniture is constructed on false principles. But the question of convenience is another matter, and one which I trust I have in no case ignored.
If people of education would but lay aside the prejudices which have unfortunately become identified with the very name of a style, and set themselves seriously to estimate the value of what was once a national and unperverted tradition in design, we might look more hopefully on the future of architecture, and the industrial arts of this country. As it is, our British amateurs are apt to range themselves under the respective standards of 'Gothic' and 'Classic;' and the result, it must be confessed, is on the whole not very advantageous to either cause.
Lastly it has been asked, and with reason, how an improvement in the present fashion of furniture can possibly be initiated. If ordinary manufacturers cannot be trusted to design it, who are capable of doing so?
The answer is, I think, a plain one. Fifty years ago an architect would probably have considered it beneath his dignity to give attention to the details of cabinet-work, upholstery, and decorative painting. But I believe there are many now, especially among the younger members of the profession, who would readily accept commissions for such supervision if they were adequately remunerative, and that they might become so is evident from the fact that the furniture of a new house frequently costs as much if not more than the house itself. And when clients lead the way, we may be sure that manufacturers will seek assistance from the same source.
Half the effect of every room which is planned must ultimately depend on the manner in which it is fitted up, and if our national taste is ever to assume a definite character, let us hope that the interior of our dwellings will reflect it no less than the walls by which they are enclosed.
Charles L. Eastlake.
6 Upper Berkeley Street West, Hyde Park, W.