In the internal decoration, if not in the external architecture, of their residences, the English are supreme. The Italians have but little sentiment beyond marbles and colors. In France meliora probant, deteriora sequuntur [approve the better, follow the worse]—the people are too much a race of gadabouts to study and maintain those household proprieties, of which indeed they have a delicate appreciation, or at least the elements of a proper sense. The Chinese, and most of the Eastern races, have a warm but inappropriate fancy. The Scotch are poor decorists. The Dutch have merely a vague idea that a curtain is not a cabbage. In Spain they are all curtains—a nation of hangmen. The Russians do not furnish. The Hottentots and Kickapoos are very well in their way—the Yankees alone are preposterous.
How this happens it is not difficult to see. We have no aristocracy of blood, and having therefore as a natural and indeed as an inevitable thing, fashioned for ourselves an aristocracy of dollars, the display of wealth has here to take the place and perform the office of the heraldic display in monarchical countries. In America, dollars being the supreme insignia of aristocracy, their display may be said, in general terms, to be the sole means of aristocratic distinction; and the populace, looking up for models, are insensibly led to confound the two entirely separate ideas of magnificence and beauty. In short, the cost of an article of furniture has, at length, come to be, with us, nearly the sole test of its merit in a decorative point of view. And this test, once established, has led the way to many analogous errors, readily traceable to the one primitive folly.
There could be scarcely anything more directly offensive to the eye of an artist than the interior of what is termed, in the United States, a well-furnished apartment. Its most usual defect is a preposterous want of keeping, observable sometimes in the character of the several pieces of furniture, but generally in their colors or modes of adaptation to use. Very often the eye is offended by their inartistic arrangement. Straight lines are too prevalent, too uninterruptedly continued, or clumsily interrupted at right angles. If curved lines occur, they are repeated into unpleasant uniformity. Undue precision spoils the appearance of many a room.