In attempting a solution of this difficulty, the old question of 'demand and supply' is once more raised. The upholsterers declare themselves willing to give more attention to the subject of design as soon as the nature of public taste becomes defined. The public, on the other hand, complain that they can only choose from what they see in the shops. It is not improbable that there is a little apathy on both sides, but it is desirable that one should now take the lead; and we venture to predict that as soon as well-designed and artistic furniture is offered for sale, under proper management, there will be no difficulty in finding purchasers.

There is no portion of a modern house which indicates more respect for the early traditions of art, as applied to furniture, than the entrance-hall. The dining-room may have succumbed to the influence of fashion in its upholstery; the drawing-room may be crowded with silly knick-knacks, crazy chairs and tables, and all those shapeless extravagances which pass for elegance in the nineteenth century; the bedrooms may depend for their decoration on the taste of a man-milliner; but the fittings of the hall at least assume an appearance of solidity which is characteristic of a better aim in design. No doubt this peculiarity is mainly due to the fact that, being only used as a means of communication between the street and the habitable portion of a house, it is not thought necessary that its furniture should be of that light and easily moveable description which is deemed requisite elsewhere. And here it may be as well that I should call attention to two facts connected with this point: first, that although it may be desirable to make drawing-room chairs and tables conveniently light, it is no convenience to find them so light as to be fragile, rickety, and easily upset; secondly, that there is no reasonable condition of modern convenience with which true principles of design are not compatible. The hall-table is, then, generally made of oak, in a plain and substantial manner, flanked by chairs of the same material, with a hat and umbrella-stand to correspond. Sometimes a bench is substituted for the chairs, but in any case this group of furniture is generally the best in the house, on account of its extreme simplicity.

The design given in the following woodcut shows how the ordinary type of hall-table for small houses may be varied without increasing its cost, at least to any appreciable extent, and supposing both articles to be of sound workmanship and material.

I would especially caution my readers against the contemptible specimens of that would-be Gothic joinery which is manufactured in the back-shops of Soho. No doubt good examples of mediaeval furniture and cabinetwork are occasionally to be met with in the curiosity shops of Wardour Street; but, as a rule, the 'Glastonbury ' chairs and 'antique' bookcases which are sold in that venerable thoroughfare will prove on examination to be nothing but gross libels on the style of art which they are supposed to represent. A fragment of Jacobean wood-carving, or a single 'linen-fold' panel, is frequently considered a sufficient authority for the construction of a massive sideboard, which bears no more relation to the genuine work of the Middle Ages than the diaphanous paper of recent invention does to the stained-glass of our old cathedrals. In other words, these elaborate fittings for the hall and library are forgeries, made up of odds and ends grafted on modern carpentry of a weak and paltry description. Not only is the rudeness of old carving parodied, without an atom of its real spirit, but the very construction of the articles in question is defective. Nails and screws are substituted for the stout wooden pins and tenon-joints used in mediaeval framing; mouldings, instead of being worked in the solid wood, are 'run' in separate strips, and only glued into their places; cracks and fissures are filled up with putty, and the whole surface is often smeared thickly over with a dark varnish, partly to conceal these flaws, and partly to give that appearance of age which the mere virtuoso will always regard with interest.

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Now, though the age of old woodwork does, indeed, enhance the beauty of its colour, this is by no means its highest recommendation. The real secret of its value lies in the immense superiority of ancient over modern workmanship, both as regards joinery and decorative carving. For the last fifty years, at least, the former art has so fallen off that it would now be extremely difficult, if not impossible - except, perhaps, in some remote provincial town - to meet with a specimen of thoroughly good work exposed for ordinary sale. Of course, where direct supervision is exercised by a qualified architect, or in the case of furniture which is made to order at what are now called 'ecclesiastical' warehouses, more attention is given to this branch, and the result is very different; but the goods kept in stock at your fashionable upholsterer's, however showy in appearance, are, in nine cases out of ten, put together in completely false principles of construction. The best proof of this is, that whereas an old oaken chair or table made a century or two ago will be frequently found in excellent condition at the present day, our modern furniture becomes rickety in a few years, and rarely, if ever, survives a lifetime.

The sketch of a hall-chair which appears as an illustration to this chapter is taken, by the kind permission of its owner, from one in the possession of the Earl of Mount-Edgcumbe at Cothele, a charming old Tudor mansion on the Cornish side of the River Tamar, where there are many excellent and interesting specimens of ancient English furniture.

As for carving, its degeneracy is the more to be lamented, because there never was an age when the hand of the artisan was more apt, or his tools more excellent, than at the present time. There are hundreds of Englishmen now following this trade who will imitate with astonishing precision and delicacy the feathered forms of dead game, or reproduce, line for line and leaf for leaf, a festoon of real flowers. I am sorry to tell those of my fair readers who have not turned their attention to these matters that the carver's skill is utterly wasted on such work. It is an established principle in the theory of design, that decorative art is degraded when it passes into a direct imitation of natural objects. Young ladies who may find this difficult to understand, should remember that they recognise the selfsame principle in a hundred different ways on matters of ordinary and even conventional taste. You admire the roses and azaleas which the most skilful flower-painter of our day - Miss Mutrie - groups together for a picture-subject, but what would you say to see them transferred as a pattern to the skirt of your dress, or even to the tablecloth of your boudoir ? Well, then, precisely as your good taste shows you that a naturally shaded and coloured representation of flowers would be out of place on silk or damask, so you may conceive that to an educated eye a literal reproduction in wood or stone of the actual forms assumed by animal or vegetable life is by no means agreeable. The truth is, that, under such circumstances, nature may be typified or symbolised, but not actually imitated. The beauty of Indian shawls, and indeed of all Oriental objects of textile fabric, is too universally admitted to need any comment in these pages. Did you ever see any picture of bird, beast, or flower on these specimens of Eastern manufacture ? Would you not at once set down as vulgar and commonplace any attempt in this direction, whether for articles of dress or tapisserie? Renounce then henceforth, and for analogous reasons, those trophies of slaughtered hares and partridges which you may occasionally see standing out in bold relief from the backboard of a buffet or the door of a cabinet. Many of them are cleverly executed, it is true, but they are in a bad and vicious style of art. Wood- carving applied as a means of decoration in such places should be treated after a thoroughly abstract fashion, and made subservient to the general design of the furniture. If you desire an example of this mode of treatment, examine the choir-stalls of the next cathedral which you visit, and do not suppose that the sacred nature of the edifice influenced in the least degree the character of the carved work. If you were to light upon an old 'armoire' or buttery-safe of the same period, you would find precisely the same spirit of design, although the design itself might be of a different character. Many people suppose that Gothic architecture means ecclesiastical architecture, simply because the best specimens of that style are to be found in all old churches and conventual buildings. But though in the Middle Ages there was but one sort of architecture at a time, no one ever thought of giving an ordinary domestic house the appearance of a church, or of allowing a church to appear like anything but what it was. Each structure at once proclaimed its object - not by a difference of style, but by a certain fitness of arrangement which it was impossible to mistake. We fall into the double error of adopting endless varieties of style at one time, and yet allowing buildings raised for totally opposite purposes to resemble each other in form. The same fallacy is repeated throughout the whole system of British manufacture. We copy the bronzes of France, the mosaics of Italy, the pottery of China, the carpets of Turkey, with indifferent success; and, not content with this jumble, we invest objects constructed of one material with the form and ornamental character which should be the attributes of another. By this means decorative art has been degraded in this country to a level from which it is only now beginning to rise.

Hall Chair at Cothele, Devon, in the possession of the Earl of Mount Edgcumbe.

Hall Chair at Cothele, Devon, in the possession of the Earl of Mount Edgcumbe.

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