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Building a House - the Tree of Knowledge


His mother looked at him with astonishment; his father became serious, and said :"Paul, this house satisfies your mother just as it is, and me too; you three - your two sisters and yourself - were all born here; my father left it to me, and I have added to it only what has been neces sary. There is not a corner in this house but is associated with some happy or mournful reminiscence; it has been consecrated by the labours of three generations of honour able occupants. All the people of the neighbourhood, who please to give it the name of the Chateau, know that they may look for bread here when they want it, clothes for their little ones, advice in their differences, and relief if they are ill. They do not need to be shown the staircase that leads to your mother's room or my study, for they know it as well as we do; they know as well as we do those break-neck places' on which you are so severe, and do not get lost in the long passages. If the kitchen is a little too far from the dining-room, it is large enough to hold, the harvest-men when they come to supper, and the shepherds when they come to settle their accounts. I do not think I should be justified in altering all this, for this house belongs, I may say, to the neighbourhood; and you should not forget any more than I do that, in 1793, my grandfather remained here alone with his wife and my father without molestation, while all the neighbouring chateaux were abandoned and pillaged.

"When we are gone - your mother and I - you will do what you think fit with this house; but if there is one piece of advice I would impress upon you, it is - Keep it as it is, for it may outlast you and your children. Keep it, for you must have committed many faults before it can cease to be a shelter for our family.

"I know as well as you - perhaps better - all that it needs to adapt it to the taste of the day; and if I were to sell it to some wealthy proprietor, he would probably soon demolish it and build a house or a chateau more com fortable, and better suited to modern habits. What such a purchaser might do I cannot, I ought not to do.

"The good people with wooden shoes on their feet and woollen cloaks on their backs who come here to talk with me, and who would protect my old house, if need were (I have had proof of it), would cease to come into a new dwelling with which they were not familiar, - where everything would have a tendency to repel them, if not to arouse envious reflections in them. I should become un accustomed to see them; and while it seems to me quite natural to see them at any time in this house - which only recalls the past, and where all is simple and somewhat rough, like themselves - it would probably appear to me strange to introduce them into apartments arranged and decorated in modern taste.

"It is undesirable to disturb visual associations; our simple-minded neighbours connect in thought the inhabitant with the house : change the latter, and they will no longer recognize the former.

"Your cousin knows still better than you or I what are the defects of our old mansion, and how it might be rendered much more attractive; yet he has never suggested modifications to me, because he perceives, as I do, that by making any change in such buildings acquired habits among those around us would be disturbed in a way that could only be injurious.

"And here are you - an architect of two or three hours' standing, and before you know whether you could im prove on the house as it is - thinking of pulling it down. Be a little more modest; when you have studied some time and seen more, you will know that a dwelling ought to be, to a man and his family, a well-suited dress, and that when a residence is perfectly adapted to the manners and habits of those it shelters, it is excellent. How many proprietors have I seen who, while destroying their ancestral mansion, to replace it by a habitation conformable as they thought to the requirements of the moment, have by the same act ruptured the tie which attached their family to the humble inhabitants of the neighbourhood !" The only reply Paul offered to these arguments was to go and embrace his mother and father; and no better could have been thought of.

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mother, father, little, habits and family