A Backward Glance, by Edith Wharton

Chapter 5


At the end of my second winter in New York I was married; and thenceforth my thirst for travel was to be gratified. My husband, whose family came from Virginia, but whose father had married in Boston and settled there, was an intimate friend of my brother’s, and had long been an annual visitor at Pencraig. He was thirteen years older than myself, but the difference in age was lessened by his natural youthfulness, his good humour and gaiety, and the fact that he shared my love of animals and out-door life, and was soon to catch my travel-fever. It was not that, either then or later, I was restless, or eager for change for its own sake. My first care was to create a home of my own; and a few months after our marriage my husband and I moved into a little cottage in the grounds of Pencraig, and rearranged it in accordance with our tastes. I was never very happy at Newport. The climate did not agree with me, and I did not care for watering-place mundanities, and always longed for the real country; but the place and the life suited my husband, and in any case we could not have afforded to buy a property of our own. So we settled down at Pencraig Cottage, and for a few years always lived there from June till February; and I was too busy with my little house and garden ever to find the time long. But every year we went abroad in February for four months of travel; and it was then that I really felt alive. Vernon Lee, John Addington Symonds and “John Inglesant” had added to my library of Italian travel, and “Euphorion” and “The Italian Renaissance” had given me joys I should be ungrateful not to record. Another book, of a totally different kind, figured among my more recent Awakeners; and that was James Fergusson’s “History of Architecture,” at that time one of the most stimulating books that could fall into a young student’s hands. A generation nourished on learned monographs, monumental histories, and works of reference covering every period of art from Babylonian prehistory to the present day, would find it hard to believe how few books of the sort, especially on architecture and sculpture, were available in my youth. Fergusson’s “History of Architecture” was an amazing innovation in its day. It shed on my misty haunting sense of the beauty of old buildings the light of historical and technical precision, and cleared and extended my horizon as Hamilton’s “History of Philosophy,” and my little old handbook of logic, had done in another way.

Hitherto my best beloved companions had been books, and to leave one out of this record seems like omitting the name of a human friend. But to enumerate even a fraction would turn my tale into a library catalogue, for I never stopped reading, and having new adventures in the realms of gold; and meanwhile the fate which had so long denied me any other intellectual companionship suddenly relented, and gave me a friend.

Books are alive enough to an imagination which knows how to animate them; but living companions are more living still, as I was to discover when I passed for the first time from the somewhat cramping companionship of the kindly set I had grown up in, and the cool solitude of my studies, into the warm glow of a cultivated intelligence. The man to whom I owe this was Egerton Winthrop, an old friend of my family’s. He was a direct descendant of Governor Stuyvesant of New York, and of John Winthrop, first Colonial Governor of Massachusetts; but he belonged to the branch of the latter family long established in New York. Having married early, and been soon left a widower, he had lived for many years in Paris; but his children were growing up, the time had come for his sons to enter Harvard, and the year of my marriage he returned to New York, where he had built himself a charming house. Besides being an ardent bibliophile he was a discriminating collector of works of art, especially of the eighteenth century, and his house was the first in New York in which an educated taste had replaced stuffy upholstery and rubbishy “ornaments” with objects of real beauty in a simply designed setting. He delighted to receive his friends, and was one of the most popular hosts in New York. But the more I ponder over our long friendship the more I despair of portraying him; for never, I believe, have an intelligence so distinguished and a character so admirable been combined with interests for the most part so trivial. In spite of his worldly tastes he was subject, with all but his intimates, to fits of shyness which made him appear either stiff or affected; and I always said that when he came to see me nothing was safe in my small drawing-room, for if he found other visitors there he invariably stumbled across a foot-stool, or made straight for any fragile object in his path. Yet this man, so self-conscious and ill at ease with insignificant people, was the most stimulating of talkers in a congenial group. But though he was nervous and preoccupied in the company of the commonplace, and at his best only with people who shared his deeper interests, yet he attached far more importance to his merely mundane relations, and took far more trouble about the finish and perfection of his dinners than about the choice of his guests. The truth is, he was an intensely social being, and to such the New York of the day offered few intellectual resources. As in most provincial societies, the scholars, artists and men of letters shut themselves obstinately away from the people they despised as “fashionable,” and the latter did not know how to make the necessary advances to those who lived outside of their little conventions. It is only in sophisticated societies that the intellectual recognize the uses of the frivolous, and that the frivolous know how to make their houses attractive to their betters.

Though, like Egerton Winthrop, I had always lived among the worldly, I had never been much impressed by them, and he was always pleading with me to fill the part he thought I ought to play in New York, where my husband and I now had the smallest of small houses; but I suspect that he was secretly envious of an indifference to the world of fashion which he was never able to acquire. Though he was nearly twice my age, in this one respect I was his senior, and I think he knew it. But the man who was my friend was so different from the diner-out and ball-giver that I was aware of the latter’s existence only when he took me to task for my disregard of society. When we were alone I saw only the lover of books and pictures, the accomplished linguist and eager reader, whose ever-youthful curiosities first taught my mind to analyse and my eyes to see. It was too late for me to acquire the mental discipline I had missed in the schoolroom, but my new friend directed and systematized my reading, and filled some of the worst gaps in my education. Through him I first came to know the great French novelists and the French historians and literary critics of the day; but his chief gift was to introduce me to the wonder-world of nineteenth century science. He it was who gave me Wallace’s “Darwin and Darwinism,” and “The Origin of Species,” and made known to me Huxley, Herbert Spencer, Romanes, Haeckel, Westermarck, and the various popular exponents of the great evolutionary movement. But it is idle to prolong the list, and hopeless to convey to a younger generation the first overwhelming sense of cosmic vastnesses which such “magic casements” let into our little geocentric universe.

My friendship with Egerton Winthrop was perhaps the happiest I was to know, since it was the least troubled by the perturbations which mar most intimacies. From our first meeting to the last — a period of over thirty years — he was the most perfect of friends. As the years passed, and the difference in our ages made itself felt, the coming of younger friends into my life caused us to be less often together; but, though I knew he suffered from the change, it never lessened his friendly devotion, and to the day of his death we wrote often and fully to each other.

I have dwelt on our long comradeship not only because I want to record my gratitude to so dear a friend, but because, alike in his faults and his qualities, Egerton Winthrop was typical of the American gentleman of his day. The type has vanished with the conditions that produced it; but in my young days New York could show a group of men, such as my old friend Bayard Cutting, Robert Minturn, John Cadwalader, George Rives, Stephen Olin and their like, who, without having Egerton Winthrop’s range of interests, combined a cultivated taste with marked social gifts. Their weakness was that, save in a few cases, they made so little use of their abilities. A few were distinguished lawyers or bankers, with busy professional careers, but too many, like Egerton Winthrop, lived in dilettantish leisure. The best class of New Yorkers had shaken off the strange apathy following on the Civil War, and begun to develop a municipal conscience, and all the men I have mentioned were active in administering the new museums, libraries and charities of New York; but the idea that gentleman could stoop to meddle with politics had hardly begun to make its way, and none of my friends rendered the public services that a more enlightened social system would have exacted of them. In every society there is the room, and the need, for a cultivated leisure class; but from the first the spirit of our institutions has caused us to waste this class instead of using it.

In our little group Egerton Winthrop’s was by far the most sensitive intelligence, and it transformed my life to find my vague enthusiasms canalized, my roving curiosities supplied with the food they needed, and a glow of participation reflected back over all my years of solitary reading. But he helped me also in other ways; for though so easily entangled in worldly trifles, he was full of wisdom in serious matters. Sternly exacting toward himself, he was humorously indulgent toward others. Throughout our friendship I found him, in difficult moments, the surest of counsellors; and even now that I am old, and he has been so many years dead, it still happens to me, when faced by a difficulty, to ask myself: “What would Egerton have done?”


My husband, though a Bostonian by birth, was by blood a Virginian, and while he was greatly attached to his Boston friends, he did not care for the place, and had no desire to live there. Like most Bostonians he had travelled very little; but he soon caught my love of the road, though he too cared for travelling only as an occasional change from our quiet months at home.

After several seasons of happy wandering in Italy we both felt the longing to go farther, and one day I happened to say to our old friend James Van Alen: “I would give everything I own to make a cruise in the Mediterranean!”

I was not prepared for his prompt reply: “You needn’t do that if you’ll let me charter a yacht, and come with me.”

At first we took the suggestion as a joke; but when we found that it was made in earnest it began to fascinate our imagination. However, though we were fund of James Van Alen, and grateful for his invitation, we were not disposed to make so long a voyage as his guests, or that of any other friend. In so momentous an adventure we preferred to have our say about the itinerary, the choice of places to be seen (since, alas, it was necessary to choose), and the general arrangements for the trip. We asked Van Alen to calculate exactly how much a four months’ cruise would cost, learned that to pay half of the expenses would consume our whole income for the year — and promptly decided to do so!

Loud was the outcry in our respective families. My brothers, who were my trustees under my father’s will, asked, not unnaturally, what we proposed to live on for the rest of the year — and there was no answer! But the most indignant protests came from my husband’s family. In Boston married couples, after a brief honeymoon abroad, were expected to divide the rest of their lives between Boston in winter and its suburbs, or the neighbouring sea-shore, in summer; and it was told of an old Mr. Russell that on driving away from the church on his wedding day he remarked to his bride, perhaps rather wistfully: “And now, my dear, there is nothing before us but Mount Auburn” (the family cemetery). For the Bostonians have never been backward in satirizing their own peculiarities.

But, of all mad schemes, our families protested, why a cruise in the Mediterranean? Who had ever before heard of such an idea? Though there were many American yacht owners with swift and beautiful craft, they cruised mainly in home waters, or if they crossed the Atlantic, did so not for sight-seeing but to try their luck in international racing. Such a voyage as we planned was almost unheard of, and in any case only a fad for the wealthy. I was more impressed than my husband by these arguments. I had been taught to treat my brothers, who were so much older than myself, with filial deference, and it seemed a sacrilege to go against their judgment and my mother’s. We could not raise a loan, since my property was in trust, and my husband had only a small allowance from his father. In those days it was thought dishonourable to take financial risks one might be unable to meet; and how were we to live for the rest of the year, since neither of us could have earned a penny? But my husband said: “Do you really want to go?” and when I nodded, he rejoined: “All right. Come along, then.” And we went.

Those four months in the Aegean were the greatest step forward in my making. I shall not enlarge here on the wonders of the cruise, or expatiate on the inexhaustible memories it left with me; but I must add, in justification of our families’ astonishment at our adventure, that we met hardly any pleasure craft (and, except in the big ports, no passenger steamers), and that at Astypalaea, one of the islands we visited, the parish priest, the mayor and all the inhabitants came out on the Venetian ramparts in solemn procession to receive us, explaining that it was a great day for the island, as no steamer had ever before touched there, and many of the islanders had never seen one in the distance!

I must also say a word of our travelling companion, who not only took on himself all the trouble of chartering and provisioning our delightful little yacht, the “Vanadis,” but, although he did not altogether share my archeological ardours, bore with them with unvarying good-nature, allowing me the necessary time, between Girgenti and Sunium, to see all but the most inaccessible Greek temples, and to explore nearly every one of the then little visited Aegean islands.

James Van Alen had travelled all over the Peloponnesus in his youth, and to my imagination he was a living link with the old trackless dangerous Greece of Byron’s day, for he had been invited to join the ill-fated party of Englishmen who were seized by brigands near Athens early in the ‘seventies, and of whom only one (Lord Muncaster) escaped alive. Van Alen had accepted the invitation, but at the last moment an attack of malaria had prevented his going. Those perilous days were over; but at the time of our cruise their memory was still preserved in the current edition of Murray’s Guide, and when one day, being driven by a gale into the gulf of Maina (formerly one of the most dangerous regions in Greece) we consulted that invaluable work to see if the village frowning on the cliff above were worth visiting, we were rewarded by the following information: “The Mainotes are a brave, generous and hospitable race, but much given to acts of treachery, piracy, wreckage, robbery and murder.” The day was hot, the path steep — and we decided to stay on the yacht.

My husband and I were so lost in enjoyment that neither of us gave a thought to the unsolved financial problem awaiting us at the end of the cruise. Only twice in my life have I been able to put all practical cares out of my mind for months, and each time it has been on a voyage in the Aegean. We reached Athens only toward the end of the cruise, and among the letters which awaited us was one telling me that a little dog we had left in America was dead, and another announcing the demise of a cousin of my father’s, an old gentleman I had never seen, and hardly knew by name. This excellent man had lived all his life in one room in the old New York Hotel, and gone without a fire in winter to save money; and this enabled him to divide among his many cousins a fortune enormously increased by his privations — proving (as my sister-in-law remarked) that what we had always regarded as miserliness was only a wise economy! My share was more than enough to pay for our taste of heaven; but my husband complained that in my grief for the dog I forgot to be grateful to my cousin. It was in fact some time before I grasped my good luck, and when my gratitude woke it took, as often happens, the form of doing exactly what my benefactor would most have reproved. He had been a miser, and he nearly turned me into a spendthrift! At any rate he taught me that never again, when I had the chance to do something difficult and wonderful, must I hesitate to trust to my star — the only condition being that the risk should not be run for anything not really worth it.

Acting on this conviction we threw our families into fresh alarms by deciding, a year or two later, to charter a sailing vessel, head for the West Indies, pick up the trades for the Canaries, and thence, by way of the Azores, make for Portugal and Spain. The schooner was chosen, the charter drawn up — and what a glorious adventure it would have been! But, alas, it was not to come off, for there was cholera at the Canaries or the Azores, and we were warned that quarantine difficulties would waylay us everywhere. Our families drew a breath of relief — but we never ceased to regret our lost adventure.

Our Mediterranean cruise took place in 1888; but, owing to my not having kept a diary, I find it impossible to disentangle the chronology of our travels in Italy. We used to go there every spring, and each year we explored some new and relatively unfamiliar region, choosing in preference places which offered examples of seventeenth and eighteenth century architecture. A trifling incident had given this turn to my studies. Not long after our marriage, my husband asked his old friend Julian Story, who had a studio in Paris, to paint my portrait. I was sitting to him one day — restless, and desperately bored, for I saw the picture was going to be a failure — when my eye lit on an arm-chair, the most artlessly simple and graceful arm-chair I had ever seen. I knew a little about French eighteenth century furniture, and saw at once that this chair was different: less skilful in execution, yet freer and more individual in movement. I asked where it came from, and Story answered: “Oh, eighteenth century Venetian. It’s a pity no one knows or cares anything about eighteenth century Italian furniture or architecture. In fact everybody behaves — the historians as well as the art critics — as if Italy had ceased to exist at the end of the Renaissance.”

The words struck my imagination, for though I had read Vernon Lee’s enchanting “Eighteenth Century in Italy,” and soon afterward was to discover Gurlitt’s excellent “Barockstil in Italien,” I knew it was true in the main that, to the traveller of average reading, the eighteenth century seemed at that time to belong as exclusively to France as the Cinque Cento to Italy. The new turn thus given to my curiosity made us devote our subsequent holidays to the study of eighteenth century painting and architecture in Italy. In these pleasant explorations Egerton Winthrop was our constant companion, and among comrades of the road I have known few as responsive to beauty, as patient over disappointments and discomforts. Among many good wanderings I remember especially our drive one spring from Florence to Urbino and the Adriatic, by way of San Marino, San Leo, Loreto, Ancona, Pesaro and Rimini. Nowadays it is a quick motor-jaunt over smooth roads leading to comfortable inns, but forty years ago it was a toilsome expedition, in a heavy carriage drawn by tired horses, a journey full of the enchantments of discovery but also of fatigue and discomfort, since the well-organized travel of coaching days was over, and the inns off the direct railway routes had been almost abandoned.

I was not always patient under such discomfort. Once, in a now defunct hotel at Parma, where the conditions below stairs were so unappetizing that we persuaded the waiter to serve our dinner in Egerton’s bedroom, I may have grumbled a little more than usual, for I remember his saying with gentle irony: “My dear, no doubt your standards of cleanliness are higher than this hotel-keeper’s; but I daresay the Princess of Wales [Queen Alexandra] would not consider your toilet appointments good enough for her; and the angels may think even Her Royal Highness insufficiently clean.” Another day, when my irresistible tendency to improve and organize led me, in some forlorn French hotel, to remark on the slovenly incompetence of the waiter, my old friend observed: “If the poor man were as intelligent as he would have to be to please you, he wouldn’t be a waiter in this inn, but President of the French Republic.”

Sometimes the Paul Bourgets were our companions on these wanderings. Bourget, soon after his marriage (about 1893, I think) had been commissioned by Gordon Bennett to write for the New York “Herald” the series of articles on the United States subsequently collected in the volume called “Outremer.” The preparation for this book sent him and his young wife to America, and a friend in Paris gave them a letter for me. Bourget had been specially instructed to do his “fashionable watering place” article at Newport, and as soon as he and his wife arrived they came to lunch, and that very day our long friendship began, a friendship as close with the brilliant and stimulating husband as with his quiet and exquisite companion. I shall never forget Minnie Bourget as I first saw her, with her little aquiline nose, her grave remote gray eyes and sensitive mouth, in the delicate oval of a small face crowned by heavy braids of brown hair. I used to call her the “Tanagra Madonna,” so curiously did that little head combine the gravity of a medieval Virgin with the miniature elegance of a Greek figurine. Everything about her was shy, elusive and somehow personal to herself. I have never known any one like her, and can hardly imagine any one more unlike myself; yet from our very first meeting a deep-down understanding established itself between us.

When my husband and I first joined the Bourgets for an Italian tour, Bourget had already published his “Sensations d’Italie,” and was still much interested in the art of mediaeval and Renaissance Italy; but perhaps his wife was more sensitive to the minor magic of scenes and places, the little unnoted exquisitenesses that waylaid one at very turn of the paths we followed. Minnie Bourget was a being so rare, so full of delicate and secret vibrations, yet so convinced that she had been put on earth only to be her husband’s attentive shadow, that I never knew by what happy accident I penetrated what might be called her voluntary invisibility, and found myself made free of her real self. But so it was; and from our first acquaintance to the day when her last tragic illness shut her finally into the seclusion she had always sought, I never knocked at that gate in vain. We disagreed on many subjects, and she could never tolerate any discussion of a point which her convictions made sacred; but we agreed so deeply on essentials that the disagreements did not matter. I am not sure what it was that united us — perhaps poetry, perhaps pictures, and old storied scenes, and yet something deeper and more exquisite, of which the visible beauty we loved was merely a fugitive token. But I find no words delicate and imponderable enough to describe the Psyche-like tremor of those folded but never quiet wings of hers; and now that she is dead, and the wings are shut, there is a part of me which is dead also.

One enchanting journey, which I afterward sketched in a book called “Italian Backgrounds,” carried us to the hills of northern Italy. I had always maintained that in the choice of an itinerary one should be guided by the sound of names, and that in doing so I had never been disappointed. Just then I was under the spell of the phrase “the Bergamasque Alps” (perhaps because of a recent encounter with Verlaine), and I persuaded the Bourgets to make an excursion through this mysterious region. It led us, of course, away from the railways, so we hired (for the last time, probably) an old-time travelling carriage, and my husband went ahead as eclaireur on his bicycle, engaging rooms and ordering dinner for the rest of the party. The excursion was full of delight, and it was only after it was over, and I returned to the study of my maps, that I found we had only skirted the magic region of “Masques et Bergamasques,” instead of travelling through it. But its magic had overflowed on us, and though we agreed to make the real trip another year, we never dared, lest it should turn out to be less perfect.

All this was soon to result in the writing of my first novel, “The Valley of Decision,” and a few years later in my “Italian Villas and Their Gardens,” and “Italian Backgrounds.” But before reaching this stage of my literary life I must turn back and take it up at its odd and unexpected beginning.


Thanks to my late cousin’s testamentary discernment my husband and I had been able to buy a home of our own at Newport. It was an ugly wooden house with half an acre of rock and illimitable miles of Atlantic Ocean; for, as its name, “Land’s End,” denoted, it stood on the edge of Rhode Island’s easternmost cliffs, and our windows looked straight across to the west coast of Ireland. I disliked the relaxing and depressing climate, and the vapid watering-place amusements in which the days were wasted; but I loved Land’s End, with its windows framing the endlessly changing moods of the misty Atlantic, and the night-long sound of the surges against the cliffs.

The outside of the house was incurably ugly, but we helped it to a certain dignity by laying out a circular court with high hedges and trellis-work niches (the whole promptly done away with by our successors!); and within doors there were interesting possibilities. My husband and I talked them over with a clever young Boston architect, Ogden Codman, and we asked him to alter and decorate the house — a somewhat new departure, since the architects of that day looked down on house-decoration as a branch of dress-making, and left the field to the upholsterers, who crammed every room with curtains, lambrequins, jardinieres of artificial plants, wobbly velvet-covered tables littered with silver gew-gaws, and festoons of lace on mantelpieces and dressing-tables.

Codman shared my dislike of these sumptuary excesses, and thought as I did that interior decoration should be simple and architectural; and finding that we had the same views we drifted, I hardly know how, toward the notion of putting them into a book.

We went into every detail of our argument: the idea, novel at the time though now self-evident, that the interior of a house is as much a part of its organic structure as the outside, and that its treatment ought, in the same measure, to be based on right proportion, balance of door and window spacing, and simple unconfused lines. We developed this argument logically, and I think forcibly, and then sat down to write the book — only to discover that neither of us knew how to write! This was excusable in an architect, whose business it was to build in bricks, not words, but deeply discouraging to a young woman who had in her desk a large collection of blank verse dramas and manuscript fiction. Happily I had the saving sense to know that I didn’t know — that I literally could not write out in simple and precise English the ideas which seemed so clear in my mind.

The year before my marriage I had made friends with a young man named Walter Berry, the son of an old friend of my family’s (and indeed a distant cousin). We had seen a great deal of each other for a few weeks, and the encounter had given me a fleeting hint of what the communion of kindred intelligences might be. But chance separated us, and we were not to meet again, but for intermittent glimpses, till he happened to come and stay with us at Land’s End the very summer that Codman and I were struggling with our book. Walter Berry was born with an exceptionally sensitive literary instinct, but also with a critical sense so far outweighing his creative gift that he had early renounced the idea of writing. But though he was already a hard-working young lawyer, with a promising future at the bar, the service of letters was still his joy in his moments of leisure. I remember shyly asking him to look at my lumpy pages; and I remember his first shout of laughter (for he never flattered or pretended), and then his saying good-naturedly: “Come, let’s see what can be done,” and settling down beside me to try to model the lump into a book.

In a few weeks the modelling was done, and in those weeks, as I afterward discovered, I had been taught whatever I know about the writing of clear concise English. The book was reread by my friend, and found fit for publication; and we proceeded to seek a publisher.

Neither Codman nor I knew any of these formidable people, but my sister-in-law had her entry at Macmillan’s, and she offered to submit the manuscript to them. It was promptly rejected, with the brief comment that the architect to whom they had shown it (simply to oblige my sister-in-law) had received it with cries of derision. Nobody was likely to buy an amateur work on house-decoration by two totally unknown writers, and they advised her not to continue her friendly efforts. This was a blow. To whom should we turn?

The previous year a small literary adventure of my own had introduced me to “Scribner’s Magazine.” I had suddenly taken to writing poetry again, and one day I decided to send three of my poems to three of the leading magazines of the day: “Scribner’s,” “Harper’s” and the “Century.” I can remember only one of these poems, the longest, called “The Last Giustiniani,” which I chanced to send to “Scribner’s.” I did not know how authors communicated with editors, but I copied out the verses in my fairest hand, and enclosed each in an envelope with my visiting card! A week or two elapsed, and then I received the three answers, telling me that all three poems had been accepted. We had a little house in Madison Avenue that winter (it was our first trial of New York), and as long as I live I shall never forget my sensations when I opened the first of the three letters, and learned that I was to appear in print. I can still see the narrow hall, the letter-box out of which I fished the letters, and the flight of stairs up and down which I ran, senselessly and incessantly, in the attempt to give my excitement some muscular outlet!

The letter accepting “The Last Giustiniani” was written by Edward Burlingame, editor of “Scribner’s Magazine,” who became one of my most helpful guides in the world of letters. He not only accepted my verses, but (oh, rapture!) wanted to know what else I had written; and this encouraged me to go to see him, and laid the foundation of a friendship which lasted till his death. It was naturally to him that I turned after Macmillan’s rejection of “The Decoration of Houses”; but I did so with little hope, since I knew he was not connected with the publishing department of the firm, and in any case there was little chance of the Scribners’ being interested in a book of so technical a character, and one already rejected by the Macmillans. However, I took the manuscript to Mr. Burlingame, he passed it on to the publishing department, where it fell into the hands of another dear friend-to-be, William Brownell — and after some hesitation it was accepted, chiefly, I suspect because Mr. Burlingame and Mr. Brownell liked my poetry.

The Scribners brought out a visual and tentative edition, produced with great typographical care, probably thinking that the book was more likely to succeed as a gift book among my personal friends than as a practical manual. But the first edition was sold out at once; Batsford immediately asked for the book for England; and from that day to this it has gone on from edition to edition, and still, after nearly forty years, brings in an annual tribute to its astonished authors!

Our success was not unmerited. Codman had been at great pains to cite suitable instances in support of his principles, and revolutionary as these were, we found that people of taste were only too eager to follow any guidance that would not only free them from the suffocating upholsterer, but tell them how to replace him. It became the fashion to use our volume as a touchstone of taste, and I was often taxed by my friends with not applying to the arrangement of my own rooms the rigorous rules laid down in “The Decoration of Houses.” The popularity of the work may be judged by the fact that, a good many years later, after I had published “The House of Mirth” and several other novels, an enthusiastic lady one day sailed up to me to say: “I’m so glad to meet you at last, because Ogden Codman is such an old friend of mine that I’ve read everyone of the wonderful novels he and you have written together!”


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