“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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