by Bill Nye
Public Domain Books
It may be premature, perhaps, but I desire to suggest to anyone who may be contemplating the erection of a summer residence for me, as a slight testimonial of his high regard for my sterling worth and symmetrical escutcheon–a testimonial more suggestive of earnest admiration and warm personal friendship than of great intrinsic value, etc., etc., etc., that I hope he will not construct it on the modern plan of mental hallucination and morbid delirium tremens peculiar to recent architecture.
Of course, a man ought not to look a gift house in the gable end, but if my friends don’t know me any better than to build me a summer cottage and throw in odd windows that nobody else wanted, and then daub it up with colors they have bought at auction and applied to the house after dark with a shotgun, I think it is time that we had a better understanding.
Such a structure does not come within either of the three classes of renaissance. It is neither Florentine, Roman, or Venetian. Any man can originate such a style if he will only drink the right kind of whiskey long enough and then describe the feelings to an amanuensis.
Imagine the sensation that one of these modern, sawed-off cottages would create a hundred years from now, if it should survive! But that is impossible. The only cheering feature of the whole matter is that these creatures of a disordered imagination must soon pass away, and the bright sunlight of hard horse sense shine in through the shattered dormers and gables and gnawed-off architecture of the average summer resort.
A friend of mine a few days ago showed me his new house with much pride. He asked me what I thought of it. I told him I liked it first-rate. Then I went home and wept all night. It was my first falsehood.
The house, taken as a whole, looked to me like a skating rink that had started out to make money, and then suddenly changed its mind and resolved to become a tannery. Then ten feet higher it lost all self-respect and blossomed into a full-blown drunk and disorderly, surrounded by the smokestack of a foundry and the bright future of thirty days ahead with the chain gang. That’s the way it looked to me.
The roofs were made of little odds and ends of misfit rafters and distorted shingles that somebody had purchased at a sheriff’s sale, and the rooms and stairs were giddy in the extreme.
I went in and rambled around among the cross-eyed staircases and other night-mares till reason tottered on her throne. Then I came out and stood on the architectural wart, called the side porch, to get fresh air. This porch was painted a dull red, and it had wooden rosettes at the corners that looked like a new carbuncle on the nose of a social wreck.
Farther up on the demoralized lumber pile I saw, now and then, places where the workman’s mind had wandered and he had nailed on his clapboards wrong side up, and then painted them with Paris green that he had intended to use on something else.
It was an odd looking structure, indeed. If my friend got all the material for nothing from people who had fragments of paint and lumber left over after they failed, and then if the workmen constructed it of night for mental relaxation and intellectual repose, without charge, of course the scheme was a financial success, but architecturally the house is a gross violation of the statutes in such cases made and provided, and against the peace and dignity of the State.
There is a look of extreme poverty about the structure which a man might struggle for years to acquire and then fail. No one could look upon it without a feeling of heartache for the man who built that house, and probably struggled on year after year, building a little at a time as he could steal the lumber, getting a new workman each year, building a knob here and a protuberance there, putting in a three-cornered window at one point and a yellow tile or a wad of broken glass and other debris at another, patiently filling in around the ranch with any old rubbish that other people had got through with, painting it as he went along, taking what was left in the bottom of the pots after his neighbors had painted their bob-sleds or their tree boxes–little favors thankfully received–and then surmounting the whole pile with a potpourri of roof, and grand farewell incubus of humps and hollows for the rain to wander through and seek out the different cells where the lunatics live who inhabit it.
I did tell my friend one thing that I thought would improve the looks of his house. He asked me eagerly what it could be. I said it would take a man of great courage to do it for him. He said he didn’t care for that. He would do it himself. If it only needed one thing he would never rest till he had it, whatever that might be.
Then I told him that if he had a friend–one he could trust–who would steal in there some night while the family were away, and scratch a match on the leg of his breeches, or on the breeches of any other gentleman who happened to be present, and hold it where it would ignite the alleged house, and then remain near there to see that the fire department did not meddle with it, he would confer a great favor on one who would cheerfully retaliate in kind on call.