“Home” an old, very old Gothic word formed from gund-hus, a word that intends the meaning, “god-house”. You might remember that few of us when Goths lived in houses, that most civilized persons packed themselves into the Lord’s, into the strong-man’s Hall, into his Manor: think, “Beowulf”. Few of us would choose to house our families in the woods alone, subject to thieves, ghosts, night mares, those evil, female spirits who suffocated men in sleep. True, there were huts, hamlets; yet, all who worked the Manor slept in the Manor Hall, as-many-as a hundred, sometimes, more.
Why, do you suppose, so many made the Atlantic crossing with expectation of almost certain death in the mostly failed, colonial outposts. If you were a XVII Century peasant crowded into a Manor Hall with a hundred others, doing what all do in evening, night, morning, might you not say, “Yes!” when honey suggests that you make heel for America no matter the cost, no matter the risk …
… think I too would choose to master my own family in my own castle where honey and I might make a family in our own manor, free of the mastery of some Lord. You get the picture. No need to wonder why our grandparents and their grandparents were diligent in work, why they despise the current softness, sloth, and silliness. Pardon that bit of moralizing … couldn’t be helped.
Peasants, when in houses, were most often renters who could not leave the Manor, move to the Lord next-door; no, the peasant family was bound to the Lord, a Lord who all but owned the peasant family. And these peasant houses were of logs stacked, bound with mud and straw and dung, dirt for floor, hay for roof, one-room crowded, cold, dirty, dark. You might have one, three leg stool; a bed where all the family slept – a bed, well, a pile of rag, fur, straw, sometimes pillowed, sometimes not, you know, that place where you would “hit the hay”; one iron pot, lucky with two; wormy, spongy boards, troths, something alike a plate … right, should mention: the chickens, pigs, cows, if you had them, slept in the house, next to you. Do you suppose I am exaggerating. I am not.
All the ceremony, all the activities of your life were by permission of the Lord: to marry, to market, to garden, to stead, and then, if you were allowed to keep a house, you were required to pay rent. And where would you earn funds to pay rent, most often, from the Lord, of course. “Home”, yes, well, haimaz (German), heimr (Norse), heem (Dutch), haims (Gothic), a place meaning “fixed residence”, house, village, manor, the Lord’s Manor, most often.
“Heem sweit heem”, we like to say, since we peasants came to own our own homes. Yet, how from serf, peasant, slave, possessed of almost nothing, did we come to own homes. By experiment in colonies, proof that socialism fails, that personal responsibility succeeds. You will remember: the colonists held all in common, that many of the colonists were indolent, and expected the diligent to provide, to stock the company’s stores. We all understand that when a person benefits from not working, a person will not work; that not everyone provides for themselves, by inclination.
John Rolfe, husband of Pocahontas, observed that by opportunity for private, personal property, men engaged in “gathering and reaping the fruits of their labors with much joy and comfort.” By experiment in our founding colonies, by discovery that desire for personal property increased the wealth of all, we became Americans, a people active, diligent, virtuous, a people whose genius for invention became a model for all the world … home ownership, the sweet desert of economic liberty, of republican virtue.
“Home Sweet Home” we like to say, seldom giving thought to the meaning of the phrase. Once upon a time, we were bound to the land, to the Lord of the Manor, the “Duke”, the “Prince”, the “Queen”, the “King”. In the town where I live, Alexandria, Virginia, these royal designations are the names of streets, nailed to posts that were carved from the land of Thomas, 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron, Baron of Scotland, Resident Peer of America. You see, we are not so very far removed from our peasant roots, bound into the land. What now we have in “home” remembers something of our wandering*, something of our desire for re-rooting.
True, we are mostly Greek, mostly Roman, with some Hebrew through Britain, as is this song from an American opera, mostly Greek; “opera”, you know, “musicals”, that poetic, artistic form fashioned after the precedent of our first, Athenian dramatists, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes … though here, sweetened by Gaelic Romance,
“Home, Sweet Home” an American song by John Howard Payne for his 1823 opera, “Clari, or the Maid of Milan”:
Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam
Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home
A charm from the skies seems to hallow us there
Which seek thro’ the world, is ne’er met elsewhere
Sweet, sweet home!
There’s no place like home
There’s no place like home!
An exile from home splendor dazzles in vain
Oh give me my lowly thatched cottage again
The birds singing gaily that came at my call
And gave me the peace of mind dearer than all
Home, home, sweet, sweet home
There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home!
… and the unique, American romance of our poets:
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Stay, stay at home, my heart and rest;
Home-keeping hearts are the happiest,
For those that wander they know not where
Are full of trouble and full of care;
To stay at home is best.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
A house is made with walls and beams;
a home is built with love and dreams.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
For there we loved, and where we love is home,
Home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts,
Though o’er us shine the jasper-lighted dome:—
The chain may lengthen, but it never parts!
…and other commonalities you might enjoy:
“Home is where our story begins.”
“Home is the starting place of love, hope and dreams.”
“May your home always be too small to hold your friends.”
“Life takes you to unexpected places; love brings you home.”
“The best journey takes you home.”
…and this true sentiment by an unknown author:
Bless our house as we come and go.
Bless our home as the children grow.
Bless our families as they gather in.
Bless our home with love and friends.
…aah, and this quaint prayer from the sweet, Helen Taylor:
Bless this house, Oh Lord we pray
Make it safe by night and day.
Bless these walls so firm and stout
Keeping want and trouble out.
Bless the roof and chimneys tall.
Let thy peace lie over all.
Bless this door that it may prove
Ever open to joy and love.
Bless these windows shining bright
Letting in God’s heavenly light.
Bless the hearth, a-blazing there
With smoke ascending like a prayer.
Bless the people here within.
Keep them pure and free from sin.
Bless us all that we may be
Fit Oh Lord to dwell with thee.
Bless us all that one day we
May dwell O Lord with thee.
* All those of all the places of the world who find home, here.
* * *
…because in the spirit of this brief essay, my prefatory from the original posting (in the quaint, previous TBH site), below:
So, here we are, behind the door,
ready to open to you before;
hand on the knob, ready to turn,
that you might enter and here to learn
of what we were, of what we might be,
a people of goodness, in liberty free
to choose what is best, to do what is right
as much as the spirit of God gives us sight.
Hum, well, did not expect that verse to come; yet,
verses will happen when mind has its way,
when mind more than brain has something to say.
* * *
Featured image: American Sampler, details unknown. credit: The National Society of The Colonial Dames
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A sculptor, painter, historian, architectural designer, and poet, Michael Curtis has taught and lectured at universities, colleges, and museums, including The Institute of Classical Architecture, The Center for Creative Studies, and The National Gallery of Art;
his pictures and statues are housed in over 400 private and public collections, including The Library of Congress, The National Portrait Gallery, and The Supreme Court;
he has made statues of presidents, generals, Supreme Court Justices, captains of industry and national heroes, including Davey Crockett, General Eisenhower, and Justice Thurgood Marshall;
his relief and medals are especially fine, they include, among others, presidents Truman and Reagan, Justice John Marshall, George Washington, and, his History of Texas, containing over one-hundred figures, is the largest American relief sculpture of the 20th Century;
his monuments and memorials, buildings and houses, including The New American Home, 2011, are found coast-to-coast;
his plays, essays, verse and translations have been published in over 30 journals (Trinacria, Society of Classical Poets, Expansive Poetry, et cetera), and his most recent nonfiction books are, Occasional Poetry: How to Write Poems for Any Occasion (available through The Studio Press), and The Classical Architecture and Monuments of Washington, D.C. (available through The History Press);
Mr. Curtis is the National Civic Art Society’s 2021-2022 Research Scholar.