Earlier this year I read Thomas De Quincey’s essay Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, where he describes the pleasure and pain of being an addict. In his youth TDQ idolised William Wordsworth, running away from school with a copy of Lyrical Ballads in his pocket and twice travelling to Dove Cottage, Wordsworth’s home, to meet him but turning back when he lost confidence!
Before he describes the pains of addiction he gives us his analysis of perfect happiness, wrapped in a picture of a winters evening with an eternal tea pot, that I think must be set at Dove Cottage.
“Let there be a cottage, standing in a valley . . . Let the mountains be real mountains, between 3 and 4000 feet high; and the cottage, a real cottage;. . .let it be, in fact (for I must abide by the actual scene), a white cottage, embowered with flowering shrubs, so chosen as to unfold a succession of flowers upon the walls, and clustering round the windows through all the months of spring, summer, and autumn – beginning in fact, with May roses, and ending with jasmine.
“Let it, however, not be spring, nor summer, nor autumn – but winter, in his sternest shape. This is a most important point in the science of happiness. I put up a petition annually for as much snow, hail, frost, or storm, of one kind or other, as the skies can possibly afford us. Surely everybody is aware of the divine pleasures which attend a winter fire-side: candles at four o’clock, warm hearth-rugs, tea, a fair tea-maker, shutters closed, curtains flowing in ample draperies on the floor, whilst the wind and rain are raging audibly without.
“Paint me, then, a room . . . Make it populous with books: and, furthermore, paint me a good fire; and furniture, plain and modest, befitting the unpretending cottage of a scholar. And, near the fire, paint me a tea-table; and (as it is clear that no creature can come to see one on such a stormy night,) place only two cups and saucers on the tea-tray: and, if you know how to paint such a thing symbolically, or otherwise, paint me an eternal tea-pot.”
I love this celebration of winter and quietness, just two cups one for him and the other for his “fair tea-maker“, his wife Margaret. These photographs are from the Dove Cottage website and the middle one is of the house ‘servants’ making their way into work one winter!