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