“This Is To Be My Symphony”

Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild at Saint-Jean-Cap- Ferrat, via Dash at the French Sampler

A few weeks back, the lovely Marsha of Splenderosa invited me to take part in a blog party. In other words, a host of bloggers, to be found here, are posting today on this saying,

“To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion, to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not rich; to study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly, to listen to stars and birds, to babes and sages, with open heart, to bear all cheerfully, to all bravely await occasions, hurry never. In a word, to let the spiritual unbidden and unconscious grow up through the common. This is to be my symphony.”

William Henry Channing (1810-1884)

You have to wonder how well that worked for him. If the cellos shushed, the kettle drums kept quiet.

Did he never covet a Louis Vuitton Monogram Vernis bag? Not even the Amarante, in all its aubergine glory? Were he to see the photo above, would he not yearn to visit the Villa Ephrussi? At the very least to hear the tinkling of candelabra crystals, bumped in a passing of the marmalade? Cares he not one whit for Baccarat? Or Christofle?

He’s a better man than I.

Having grown up in comparative luxury, I found that as my family fortunes faded, I was unable to let go of wanting. For years I fought an internal battle, trying not to miss what I could no longer afford. I failed.  But I wanted to be good, despite my failure. I wanted to feel myself a good person. How to proceed, in the face of desire for sparkle and clink?

In the end I realized that it was better to explore the goodness that came naturally, if we can call it such, than to flog myself in hopes of perfection. I focus on good behavior rather than absolute good. On kindness and fairness, rather than purity. Most of all, on treating other people well.

I confess I surrender to my desire for luxury as the faded family fortunes allow.

Some of us do better with small steps. Goals worry me like little pink demons, and although I cannot bring myself to put them aside, often I can’t beat them either. After so many battles, best to learn that we cannot do what we cannot do, and aim for the possible. This may be why, in place of ideals, my culture has a very doable Code of Conduct. Everyone can show up on time.

So. We will bear some things cheerfully, but forgive our own crankiness. We will study hard, except on Fridays. And we will try to be terribly, supremely, inordinately nice to salespeople – when we surrender to the urge for luxury. Any progress is better than stasis.

Forgiveness, of oneself and others, is perhaps the most open path to virtue. Signposts are everywhere you look.

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  • “Any progress is better than stasis.”

    I like this better than Mr. Channing’s quote, and I liked his a great deal.

  • Elegance is much harder to achieve than luxury. I think of elegance as more of a discipline. That being said, a little luxury now and again is just what the Dr ordered. Yesterday that luxury was cooler weather than we have known in months of brain baking temperatures. Sitting outside in total comfort with a book and a glass of wine is the luxury that will get me through my week of progress over stasis.

  • I love Mr. Channing’s quote. Going to print it and carry it with me, to read throughout the day. I have been struggling with these issues a lot, of late.

  • So well said…..xv

  • As I was growing up, my stoic mother hung that very quotation in a frame, at eye level, directly beside the mirror in my bathroom. I know every word by heart, I can still see it in the frame, the “T” of the first word “To” elaborately covered great territory as illuminated letters did. CHILD ABUSE! On cue, I embraced the sentiment wholeheartedly: my id folded neatly underneath Channing’s superego. What a confused and rocky ride it’s been. Like you today, with longer pedigree than portfolio, I find the better part of my wealth comes from Channing’s “letting the spiritual..grow up through the common.”

  • A wonderful quote. As one who did not grow up in luxurious surroundings, I was always told that I could make a better life. To me that meant holding one’s head high, manners,education, classic tastes, and so on.

    In the course of my now long life I have met many people with much money, and having no class or sense of style or demeanor. Of course the quote “money cannot buy happiness” comes to mind as well.

    For me, I love beauty in all things, and love to pay it forward in any way I can!


    Art by Karena

  • Your words ring so true. I’m really going to try to carry all of this with me for a while. Life is just such a gift.

  • So Unitarian. I confess, I left the Unitarian church for the Episcopalians because I could no longer tolerate the enforced theological austerity. As I watch the weekly procession up the aisle and inhale the incense while singing hymns based on 11th-century plainsongs, twitching slightly at references to Canterbury, I confess to feeling a bit guilty. Channing’s words have become deeply ingrained in my consciousness. We used to sing them. They do not really scan well.

    It is possible to be good, and yet long for–and occasionally have–opulence. “Occasionally” is the operative word here. Too much, and one becomes insulated from the real world, heartbreaking and frustrating and difficult and beautiful as it is, and that would be real deprivation, I think.

  • Thank you for visiting my blog.

    So many good thoughts!

    ♥ Franka

  • This was a wonderful post and a great one for me to read today. I can’t believe I’ve been away from your blog so long. I miss the wisdom and winks!

  • I like the first three words – “to live content” – and focus on “kindness and fairness”.

    PS – sometimes I read a little too fast and thought you were worried about little pink lemons.

  • What an interesting, thoughtful post today. I´ll have to read this over again.

  • Ooooh, Lisa, this is truly, truly superb.

    You have an elegant mind and a refined intellect — and much more.

  • Well, I yearn to visit Villa Ephrussi and also desire sparkle and clink. I don’t think you have to forgive yourself for desiring luxury. But go ahead if you want to.

  • Ah, Lisa your post is fabulous…your words are so true…

  • Amen ! (and thank you!).

  • Fewer…better

  • Although the dividing line between worthy and unworthy behavior is fuzzy for most of these pairs, the clear message is to take the higher road in life. I find the phrase “grow up through the common” especially interesting; this works in art as well as in life.

    On the other hand I do find this advice a little on the preachy side, which makes me want to play devil’s advocate, but perhaps another time.
    –Road to Parnassus

  • Worlds of possibility in that quote. My approach to life is best summed up in another I read years ago (I’ve forgotten the author’s name, or I’d credit her): Practice makes progress.

  • I really enjoyed your post today. Your words (and you express yourself so WELL!) really hit a spot with me and I know I shall be coming back to re-read this again and again. Thank you!

  • I agree with Tish you do have a refined intellect, this is beautifully written. I didn’t grow up in luxury, my family are pretty poor but we were always taught to be polite and respectful, to work hard and be nice to people.

  • Elegance is better than luxury? Yes it’s true, but what if the two go together…You need camping to appreciate the Four Seasons in your life, always back to the Yin and Yang (sp?)I guess. That’s what great about having kids, you so treasure every minute spent alone.

  • These are good thoughts. Elegance is so many things — class, savoring the good, the way you perceive the world, etc. Luxury is that plush couch, the designer purse, or high tea after a spa treatment.

  • LOVELY photo!

  • Beautifully done Lisa and Channing’s words really bring us down to earth with a bang and show us that, materialistic trappings mean absolutely nothing and there are beautiful things in this world that are absolutely free.
    I am one of the ‘By Invitation Only’ gang and it’s lovely to be part of it with you. XXXX

  • Perfect words…great post.



  • Very wise.

  • It doesn’t matter if you serve drinks in fancy crystal or plastic tumblers. The most important thing is to have enough to share and friends and family to share with.

  • I admire your honesty!
    I grew up in a large family and thought we had plenty ’till I went to college and saw the “rich kids”… who had unhappy family lives. I still feel privileged to have so many brothers and sisters.

  • It’s all just stuff. Some of it is shiny, some of it is beautiful. However, it’s just stuff. After the great downsizing and taking up residence in a 5th wheel recreational vehicle, we have frequently remarked on how liberating it is (and sometimes frustrating) to not be able to buy more stuff. We have enough, now we do things and do not accumulate things.

  • Dearest Lisa,
    Such wonderful words from the heart and so honest. Thank you for your lovely note that you left for me yesterday and I so look forward to our future posts together with Marsha.
    xxx sending love from down under,
    xx Coty

  • Oh, yes. Yes. To strive to be better about this, if not perfect – that’s now my goal. Off to review the Code of Conduct for that which I can control.

  • What an honest look at this prose! Very authentic and real. Keep striving and do make goals even if you fall short. At least you are further along!
    Wonderful, real and a little funny!
    I so enjoyed your take Channing!

  • Lisa, I appreciate your honesty.

    “I have the simplest of tastes,
    I am always satisfied with the best.”
    – Oscar Wilde

  • I love beautiful things and I do love luxury although now that I am Older, luxury means something different than it once did.

    Barbara Amiel (Mrs Conrad Black) once said in Vogue that “she has a taste for luxury that knows no bounds”. And we all know how that tale ended.

    Can you do more gardening posts? Thank you in advance x

  • What an unusual take on the quotation. I love the notion of “pink demons.”

  • So glad to have found your blog Lisa, Tish had already spoken to me about you but I had never been over.
    I love this piece, your honesty is delightful. I’ll be back for more

  • As I’ve grown older I’ve learned the importance of enjoying “today”. Yesterday is behind me and tomorrow I may not even have. It’s been an enlightening experience and so much more enjoyable. Being content whether I “have” or “have not” is liberating!

    I remember the little chorus we sang in church as a child, “It is more blessed to give than to receive”. So true! Sharing in others lives by bringing joy to them, and not being totally self-consumed, is most fulfilling.

  • I’m with you – you put it so well!!

  • Jan – Thank you. I suppose I’ve learned to appreciate anything that takes effort.

    Suburbohemian – Those luxuries are among the best.

    Kathy – I know. I always like to hear your perspective.

    Vicki – Thank you!

    Flo – I understand now, that for people like you and I, raised in some abundance but encouraged to deny our desires, can be much more difficult than we expect.

    Karena – Beauty and education, to me, are luxury’s best self.

    Mona – Thank you so much. It is. It is a gift.

  • Staircase Witch – Hahahahaha. I love this analysis, and the story. Opulence is the perfect word, it’s the occasional bursts of over the top that are so much fun.

    Franka – My pleasure. So nice to meet you!

    The Cape House – Hello stranger! Glad you’re back.

    Patsy – I am still, a day later, smiling about pink lemons.

    Mette – I think that quotation aligns really well with the way you approach all sorts of style these days.

    Tish – Thank you. xox.

  • Susan – Ha! I am glad to hear you too are seduced by sparkle and clink.

    Catherine – Thank you so much!

    Claudine – You are very, very, welcome.

    Valentine – So often true. If it’s the right few.

    Parnassus – I had exactly that reaction, I think, and hence the somewhat curmudgeonal tone:).

    Lynda – Practice, of all sorts, is the best thing.

  • Jacqueline – Thank you so much. Hope to see you again round these parts.

    That’s Not My Age – It’s such a nice compliment, and I thank you. You are certainly nice to me:).

    Jody – Yin and Yang. I’m learning from you guys.

    Natalie – I am clearly going to have to examine the idea of elegance vs. luxury. Something can be both, or either, I believe.

    Fifi – Thanks to Dash at French Sampler!

    Jacqueline – Nice to meet you:).

  • Cecilia – Right back to you. And a pleasure to meet you.

    James – Spoken from experience. Thank you.

    RoseAG – I agree. The best parties sometimes happen in parking lots, with paper cups.

    Annie – Thank you very much. It is quite clear that money does not buy happiness. Brothers and sisters, however, are the best:).

    Allison – I don’t really like having a lot of stuff at any one time. But I do like to buy things I find beautiful. I confess.

    Coty – Thank you so much, and such a pleasure to meet you.

  • Legallyblondemel – I believe you may recognize the Code of Conduct.

    Yvonne – Thank you very much. I strive to amuse.

    Russian Chic – Ah, Oscar. Would that he were still around. Thank you. I just have to make this all as true as I can.

    FF – Good point. As one ages, luxury changes. And yes, Gardening coming up.

    Terri – I’m contrarian by nature, with things intellectual. That’s why I never join book clubs:). Full of pink demons.

    Sharon – So nice to meet you! Thank you very much.

  • Kate – I love to give big, special presents:). And to take care of people, as service is the best luxury.

    Fuji – That is a perfect article. It is exactly the burst of endorphins that I enjoy.

    Quintessence – :).

  • A truly wonderful interpretation!

    Pleased to met you via Marsha’s blog party!

    Greetings from the Périgord,

  • Ah, luxury is ´very tricky. I was brought up in luxury myself. What I’ve come to understand is an appreciation for the beautiful and sublime is far more important than luxury.

    For me luxury has nothing to do with weath or money but rather a state of mind. There are people living in luxury and they still feel poor in their heads.

    Luxury is feasting on fresh figs from the tree in the garden, long walks in the green countryside, good health and so forth. I was brought up to appreciate Quality over luxury;-)

  • Apologies lisa, I am a bit late to the party! Intermittent wifi is a bit of a problem at the moment! I love your post and your honesty is refreshing, beautifully written.

  • Well said.
    In the end I realized that it was better to explore the goodness that came naturally.
    That truly is the core.
    Thank you.
    Always, Bumby

  • Hello lovely Lisa….I KNEW you would astound all of us with your post, and you did. Simply splendid it is. My goals are so lofty I was once asked, “What if you only did 1/2 of it?” My reply, “And no one would know the difference except me.” I still try to achieve the nearly impossible, sometimes I do it and then I am so very happy because I’ve done it! It’s just so subjective, isn’t it? You need not worry, my friend…you are “icon” status in my book. Thank you so so much for participating, I think we had a fabulous success !!
    (as you know, I’ve been out of internet while cruising the wild Alaskan coast, so I’m tardy to our party). Sending love….