A Fire in the Hearth
January 17, 2018

“If we suppose the great Creator to condescend to survey his works in detail, what object can be so pleasing to him as that of the laborer, after his return from the toils of a cold winter day, sitting with his wife and children round a cheerful fire, while the wind whistles in the chimney and the rain pelts the roof?”
William Cobbett, The Cottage Economy

It is that time of year again. The particular warmth and joys of the Christmas season are past. The days are shorter and cold—in most areas.

Yes, snow and ice have a special beauty, and they make winter sports possible for some. But all in all this time of year is physically and psychologically more difficult for most of us.

And so there is fire. A brief consideration of this most wondrous of elements elicits the thought: is this not the remedy specifically fitted for the season? Here we have a unique and powerful experience of four of the five senses. Consider the pleasingness of each: the feel of warmth, the fragrance of wood smoke, the palette of colors, and the soothing crackle.

This of course makes for a beautiful experience for a solitary person. But it especially seems to call us together in some primordial and mysterious way. “Come join me in front of the fire.” Just because.

There are easier substitutes: an electric or gas fire, and even audio or video recordings—the latter, of course, of a real wood fire. I offer no disdain for these. It is noteworthy that something deep within us still yearns for the fire experience. And for some a wood fire in the hearth is not possible, or in any case not feasible.

But Cobbett’s sketch brings a wonderful image to mind. It speaks of warmth, presence, and contentment. It speaks of truly human life, and of grace-filled gratitude. This is something, I think, for which all of us can be grateful; and which all can reasonably seek, at least in some fashion.

~ ~ ~

William Cobbett
(1763-1835) was an English author, farmer, and social activist. His works include Rural Rides, a kind of Bellocian diary of his travels around England, and the classic Cottage Economy, in which he gives a practical examination of the arts of the household.

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  1. Wonderful description – I can place myself right there in front of my favorite fireplace and in that state of mind through my imagination in this moment.
    It is the grace-filled gratitude you mention and the ” after his return from the toils of a cold winter day, sitting with his wife and children round a cheerful fire” that lends the celebratory aspect to it I think. Leads me to revisit Josef Pieper on Leisure.

    1. Great point! There are deep roots that connect good work and true leisure. And Cobbett’s image makes you feel it, doesn’t it?
      Enjoy the imagination, even if not the full reality!

  2. I love our home. It’s a beautiful 100 year old craftsman overlooking the Puget Sound. But the one thing it lacks is a fireplace! I dream of finding just the right spot for one some day. Until then, maybe I will frame a copy of this sketch to hang in the front room.

    1. Hah! Well I certainly hope that you can find a good spot for a fireplace one day too. We have a beautiful hearth in our living room, but at times I’ve been tempted to try to put in another in the family room/kitchen area. But besides the expense, I realize that there is something nice about having just the one spot, and not the issue of competing fires…
      The Puget Sound: I’ve only heard of it. I’ll have to look up some photos. I bet it’s spectacular. We all have so much for which to be grateful! Do enjoy it.

  3. A touching post. I currently live on the west coast of the nation, in a place where today, the temperature is around 70 degrees and the sky is pure blue. I am confused whether to long for the experience described above, or to celebrate, that I am granted its absence?

    1. I can surely understand! Perhaps your having both sentiments are fitting, and compatible. There is nothing wrong with 70 degree weather; right about now it sounds awfully good to me. Though I must admit, I’m very happy we have occasion here for fires, and you can see how that would be a beautiful thing. I say: by all means, you should enjoy what you have! Surely there are some things that could play a similar role in your life that fires can play in ours…no? Best wishes.

      1. You make a good point. Just as the fire represents the warmth of God’s love, inviting each of the partakers into communion with the Holy Spirit, so too, the Pacific Ocean points to the infinity of God’s being and the utter sublimity of His peace. Thank you for your edifying reminder.

  4. “It is noteworthy that something deep within us still yearns for the fire experience.”

    Noteworthy indeed! Incredible, mysterious, and deeply beautiful that something so simple as a fire can be so perfectly satisfying. Even more so in the context of a culture that is always seeking satisfaction in increasingly decadent foods and entertainment.

    Contrast the experience of a fire with what is now the epitome of “the good life:” the Super Bowl party. Limitless pleasures of taste, smell, drink, commercials, and sport, which in the process of stimulating our senses we beat them senseless. We are even explicitly discouraged from any conversation with our other party-goers. “SHHHH!! THE COMMERCIALS ARE ON!”

    And then the fire. Either alone in hermetic reflection or in the most natural environment for unforced conversation with other persons amidst the slow unfolding magic of the once mighty tree fragmented and transfigured from rock to ash.

    My family is blessed to have purchased a home in Front Royal with the fire place in the living room, unlike our old house where it was tucked away in the basement.

    Thanks be to God for simple pleasures that turn our hearts upward to Him rather than inward on a futile search for satiation in mere things.

    1. Thank you for this. And do enjoy that living room fireplace…