The Home And The Freehold
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
A story is told of one of New York's greatest merchants, we think A. T. Stewart, that he determined to build a fine residence on Fifth Avenue. An aged Irishwoman owned a little hut on the spot where the merchant prince wished to build his palace. It never occurred to the merchant that he could not buy the poor woman's house and tear it away from the spot where it had stood for half a century. He accordingly purchased the adjoining lands and made extensive preparations to build his great house. In the course of time he sent his agent to purchase the little estate of the poor old woman. She told the agent that she would not sell it ; it had been her home since her husband, now long dead, had brought her there from the marriage altar. She had toiled for many years to pay the high taxes and keep her little estate free from debt. She was now old and could not expect to live much longer, but while she lived she must live in that home, on that spot, and she was sure she could live in no other. The great merchant, somewhat chagrined at the refusal of the widow, but touched by the pathos of the story, sent his agent to offer twice the purchase money that the estate was supposed to be worth. But the agent was no more successful the second time than the first. The poor woman was greatly attached to the home where she had passed her life. Mr. Stewart felt that he must have the widow's home. He wished her no wrong, he would do her no injury, but have that home he must and would, if it cost him ten times its value. One day the merchant's fine carriage rolled up to the widow's door. Mr. Stewart himself rapped, entered and sought to negotiate for the freehold. He told the woman that he wished to build a fine residence, that he owned the adjoining property and only needed the corner lot to give him the site that he desired for his new house. He told the poor woman that he would pay her thrice its value. She told the merchant that it had been her home since she was married, that she and her husband had lived in it through many happy years. Here were the associations of her life. They were all she had left as a solace for her old age, and she begged the great man to leave her in peace to the day of her death in her own home. But Mr. Stewart urged his suit, offered her four and five times, and at last ten times the value of the little property ; but the poor woman remained firm to the last. She felt that she could not leave that holy spot with its sacred memories, even for the gold of New York's richest merchant. In desperation Mr. Stewart offered to buy her the finest house that she would name and pension her for life, so that she might live in plenty during her declining years. He even offered to buy another lot and move the old house, and let her enjoy the associations of her home, only in another place. The poor woman was not untouched by this munificent offer of the merchant prince, but the home feeling was too strong for any temptation. The place with its tender memories was too dear for her. The old house, with its rooms, was to her the most lovely spot on earth, and with tears in her eyes she told Mr. Stewart that she could not sell it, and the man with more than the fabled treasures of Croesus was obliged to go home without completing his purchase. Mr. Stewart thought the tenacity with which the poor woman held to her home was mere stubbornness. He accordingly set the wheels of the law in motion and endeavored to have the courts of the great commonwealth of New York compel the poor woman to sell her property. But the laws of that great state protected the aged woman in her right, and the merchant prince was obliged to build his stately residence with the widow's house still upon the corner, and there the princely munificence of A. T. Stewart stood beside the honorable poverty of the Irishwoman for some years, until her death, when the old house was bought up and removed. All glory to the laws of the great state of New York that protected this simple-hearted woman in her rights. The laws of that great commonwealth, in the decision passed upon this case, say to the humblest and the poorest of her citizens, that they can hold their houses so long as they own them, and the wealth of a Stewart, or a Vanderbilt, or a Gould, or all combined, cannot buy them.
Our sympathies are with the Irishwoman in her intense home-feeling. She was right. It was her home. It was more to her than it could possibly be to the millionaire who would have covered the spot with stately bricks and mortar. Had I been Stewart, the old house should have stood there while I lived, and the poor woman should never have known poverty and want while she lived. Had I been Stewart I would have encased that lowly home in glass, if need be, that the millionaires of the great metropolis might know that there is nothing so precious in America as the American home. The lowly hut beside that grand house is the most potent sermon on the sanctity of home that was ever preached in this land. Why was this widow's home so precious to her ? Why could she not part with it, even to please a millionaire? Simply because, as Holland says, " home is an institution." Simply because the experiences of the poor woman's life were a part of that home. Transplanted to another place, they could not be the same nor have the same enduring happiness for her declining years. In the place where she had lived and suffered, in the place made sacred by the birth of children, by the marriage of daughters, by the death of husband and sons, the old woman, with the race of life almost spent, felt that she must die there. Oh, the unspeakable meanness of a man who would deprive her of that last privilege of her life !
It is this feeling of ownership in a freehold that gives to home one of its securest and most endearing charms. If a man and woman have toiled together and saved the earnings of their toil and have purchased a home, be it humble or magnificent, they have the natural condition of the true home feeling. One of the most deplorable circumstances of our American life is that a million homes must be torn to, pieces on the first of every April. The household gods are no sooner planted in one place than they must be transferred to another. A family no sooner begins to feel the home-life stealing over them than they must break up and move into another house. This is a most senseless way to live. If people could be content to live quietly and economically in such houses as their incomes would buy, there would be some. thing more like home in our American houses. A house in which people live may or may not be a home. A house never becomes a home until its walls are hallowed by the associations of years. One of the most lasting memories to those of us who were reared in rural houses upon the farms in the country is the old homestead where our childhood and youth was spent. And when the gray hairs have sprinkled our heads with signs of age, the old house away back in the memories of youth is still the dearest spot. on earth. A place whose endearments are equalled only by those of that other home where our own children have been born and have grown into life. It is all important, we think, for a family to on its home—to have a freehold, for which no man can collect rent and which no man can buy. The author once knew a lawyer who had been a poor boy and worked his way to eminence and fortune. When fairly launched upon his profession, he married a sweet girl with a dowry of six hundred dollars. They invested this trifling fortune in a modest village home.. The lawyer became a skillful advocate and amassed a large fortune, and still they lived in the little home, and would not leave it. He is a now a gray-haired man. The girls of the family, one after another, have been married and gone from home, each of them with ten times their mother's dowry. The aged couple are left in their old home together. Honors and wealth have been heaped upon them. And still they live in the little house that cost but six hundred dollars forty years ago. The happiness of the early years, while they were struggling in the beginning, was so great, and the attachment to the house so strong that they never could bring themselves to leave it for a better home. This, it seems to us, is the true feeling that should exist in a genuine home. Nothing can be more touching than the devotion of those two people to the home of their early married life. Had they yielded to the natural ambition for a fine residence and an. extravagant home, the charm might have been broken and the years of peace, that have rested like a benediction upon that family, might. have been lost forever. Would to God there were twenty million such families in these United States! In this simple story, we think, is to be found the ideal of a happy home. The place itself becomes hallowed by love and self-denial and the chequered experiences of daily life. It does not seem as. though the children of such a home could ever go forth to the evil and wickedness of the world. We do not believe that the street and all the allurements of iniquity have power to tempt the mass of boys and girls from such a home. The ties that bind them to their home are too strong to be broken. The evil associations of life can find little to work upon when the home is filled with such happiness.
We do not think it necessary for a family to live in a mean house and with poor surroundings to develop an ideal home. Such relations as we have described above might exist in the palace of a millionaire. The daily experiences of life are much the same to the rich as to the poor. And the associations that make the walls of the cottage sacred might gild those of the the palace with golden splendors. Indeed, we think that the home is the place for the natural expression of taste. We think that as much money as can well be spared from the treasury of the family, should be expended upon the home. We would make it beautiful upon the outside as well as the inside. We would deck it with colors ; we would surround it with grassy lawn ; we would adorn it with vines, and gay flowers, and beautiful shrubbery ; we would put comfort and luxury, if possible, into the inside of that home. We would have music there, and books and pictures, and rational amusements of any kind, and all those things which could give keen enjoyment, pleasant employment and happy intercourse to the members of the family. But above all we would have the true associations of father, mother and children, wholly devoted to each others interests and happiness. We would have the manners of gentleness, the silver speech of life-long affection.