In his 1912 essay “The Wildness of Domesticity” G.K. Chesterton lauds the humble home as “the only place of liberty.” “It is the only spot on the earth where a man can alter arrangements, suddenly make an experiment or indulge in a whim,” he writes.
For its part, the wider world suffers neither experiment nor whim gladly. Indeed, everywhere else a man ventures “he must accept the strict rules of the shop, inn, club, or museum that he happens to enter.” In his own home, on the other hand, he “can eat his meals on the floor … if he likes.”
Chesterton admits to being quite a fan of eating on the floor, a caprice which gives him “a curious, childish, poetic, picnic feeling.” Doing so in an A.B.C. teashop, he remarks, would cause “considerable trouble.”
But eating on the floor is not the only pleasure afforded by simple domesticity. Chesterton writes that for the impoverished innumerable are the pleasures of home. The man who refuses to stay home cannot caper about in”dressing-gown and slipper.” And though he claims to live an exciting, “irregular life,” he spends “every night staggering from bar to bar or from music-hall to music-hall.” Such habits, Chesterton continues, bespeak rather of “a highly regular life, under the dull, often oppressive, laws of such places,” because the domestically disinclined man cannot sing in the music halls and “sometimes … is not allowed even to sit down in the bars.” Hotels are places where he is “forced to dress” and theaters sites where he is “forbidden to smoke.” When dining out he feel obliged “to drink some of the wines on the wine list” no matter how reluctant he might be to tipple.
The man free enough to own a house and garden, no matter how modest, can drink what he wishes. Surrounded by comfort only domesticity affords, he “can try to make hollyhock tea or convolvulus wine,” and he can drink both, dressed in nothing but his dressing gown and slippers, sitting on the floor in complete, blissful abandon.
Should you also confess to having a homebody’s humor, this recipe for ham sandwiches tartare from the 1915 cookbook One Hundred Picnic Suggestions will make the perfect complement to a kitchen-floor caprice. Serve them with homemade hollyhock tea — or convolvulus wine if you’re feeling particularly adventurous.
Ham Sandwiches Tartare
Add to 1/2 cup of mayonnaise or boiled dressing 1 tbsp. of tarragon vinegar, teasp. mustard and 1 tbsp. each of minced parsley, capers, gherkins, olives, and chives or onion, and 2 tbsps. of chopped fresh tomato, squeezed dry. Add finely minced ham and spread on buttered bread. Cover with nasturtium blossoms or watercress, cover with the bread, and wrap in waxed paper.