I have an almost feminine partiality for old china. When I go to see any great house, I inquire for the china-closet, and next for the picture gallery. I cannot defend the order of preference, but by saying, that we have all some taste or other, of too ancient a date to admit of our remembering distinctly that it was an acquired one. I can call to mind the first play, and the first exhibition, that I was taken to; but I am not conscious of a time when china jars and saucers were introduced into my imagination.
I had no repugnance then–why should I now have?–to those little, lawless, azure-tinctured grotesques, that under the notion of men and women, float about, uncircumscribed by any element, in that world before perspective–a china tea-cup.
I like to see my old friends–whom distance cannot diminish–figuring up in the air (so they appear to our optics), yet on terra firma still–for so we must in courtesy interpret that speck of deeper blue, which the decorous artist, to prevent absurdity, has made to spring up beneath their sandals.
I love the men with women’s faces, and the women, if possible, with still more womanish expressions.
Here is a young and courtly Mandarin, handing tea to a lady from a salver–two miles off. See how distance seems to set off respect! And here the same lady, or another–for likeness is identity on tea-cups–is stepping into a little fairy boat, moored on the hither side of this calm garden river, with a dainty mincing foot, which in a right angle of incidence (as angles go in our world) must infallibly land her in the midst of a flowery mead–a furlong off on the other side of the same strange stream!
Farther on–if far or near can be predicated of their world–see horses, trees, pagodas, dancing the hays.
Here–a cow and rabbit couchant, and co-extensive–so objects show, seen through the lucid atmosphere of fine Cathay.
I was pointing out to my cousin last evening, over our Hyson (which we are old fashioned enough to drink unmixed still of an afternoon) some of these speciosa miracula upon a set of extraordinary old blue china (a recent purchase) which we were now for the first time using; and could not help remarking, how favourable circumstances had been to us of late years, that we could afford to please the eye sometimes with trifles of this sort–when a passing sentiment seemed to over-shade the brows of my companion. I am quick at detecting these summer clouds in Bridget.
“I wish the good old times would come again,” she said, “when we were not quite so rich. I do not mean, that I want to be poor; but there was a middle state;”–so she was pleased to ramble on,–“in which I am sure we were a great deal happier. A purchase is but a purchase, now that you have money enough and to spare. Formerly it used to be a triumph. When we coveted a cheap luxury (and, O! how much ado I had to get you to consent in those times!) we were used to have a debate two or three days before, and to weigh the for and against, and think what we might spare it out of, and what saving we could hit upon, that should be an equivalent. A thing was worth buying then, when we felt the money that we paid for it.
“Do you remember the brown suit, which you made to hang upon you, till all your friends cried shame upon you, it grew so thread-bare–and all because of that folio Beaumont and Fletcher, which you dragged home late at night from Barker’s in Covent-garden? Do you remember how we eyed it for weeks before we could make up our minds to the purchase, and had not come to a determination till it was near ten o’clock of the Saturday night, when you set off from Islington, fearing you should be too late–and when the old bookseller with some grumbling opened his shop, and by the twinkling taper (for he was setting bedwards) lighted out the relic from his dusty treasures–and when you lugged it home, wishing it were twice as cumbersome–and when you presented it to me–and when we were exploring the perfectness of it (collating you called it)–and while I was repairing some of the loose leaves with paste, which your impatience would not suffer to be left till day-break–was there no pleasure in being a poor man? or can those neat black clothes which you wear now, and are so careful to keep brushed, since we have become rich and finical, give you half the honest vanity, with which you flaunted it about in that over-worn suit–your old corbeau–for four or five weeks longer than you should have done, to pacify your conscience for the mighty sum of fifteen–or sixteen shillings was it?–a great affair we thought it then–which you had lavished on the old folio. Now you can afford to buy any book that pleases you, but I do not see that you ever bring me home any nice old purchases now.