Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

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High Windows
A few years ago I wondered in this journal why the ceilings of the Müller orphanages were so high. The consensus seemed to be that it was to aid ventilation.

As a postscript to that entry, I should add that I was talking the other day to a man who teaches in one of the orphanage buildings (now a Further Education college), and he told me that the windows were built deliberately high to prevent the orphans from looking idly out at the view. Not only that, but they angled the sills downward so that any athletic orphans (perhaps in training for chimney work) who managed to clamber that far would be unable to sit there, wasting time that would be much better spent hemming dresses or praying for an attitude of proper humility.

Whether he has warrant for this belief I don't know. I'd thought of George Müller as one of the good guys - but of course he may have believed he was doing the children a favour. "Life is hard," says the German proverb, "but it is good practice." And emptiness is its own contemplation, says Mr L:

Rather than words comes the thought of high windows:
The sun-comprehending glass,
And beyond it, the deep blue air, that shows
Nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless.


2013-12-05 10:55 pm (UTC) (Link)

Sad thought. I don't think the ceilings need be so amazingly high to make the windows viewless and the sill-heights daunting? But then, I haven't stood inside. Or seen the architect's drawings, with a neatly pencilled orphan-figure and its calculated standing high jump.

...wasting time that would be much better spent hemming dresses or praying for an attitude of proper humility.

This reminds of Sylvia Townsend Warner's The True Heart.

I hadn't known the Larkin poem, which is beautiful. I think of him as sardonic, and was startled.



2013-12-06 08:05 am (UTC) (Link)

Larkin can be lyrical. I love "The Trees", too:

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too.
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

The only Sylvia Townsend Warner I've read is Kingdoms of Elfin, which I like a lot. Lolly Willowes has been on my list for a long time, though. What would you recommend as a next step?


2013-12-06 05:19 pm (UTC) (Link)

Lolly Willowes. Land.



2013-12-07 08:58 pm (UTC) (Link)

Have you read her biography of T.H. White? It was one of my touchstones in high school.


2013-12-07 11:17 pm (UTC) (Link)

No, I didn't know of it. Thank you!


2013-12-08 08:40 am (UTC) (Link)

It is amazing. There was so much she couldn't say in 1968 (even then); but it's all there in the drawing.



2013-12-06 12:18 am (UTC) (Link)

Our old, crappy school buildings had high windows for the same purpose. So we stared out at the sky to daydream.


2013-12-06 08:06 am (UTC) (Link)

You daydreamed to some purpose, so perhaps they had a point!


2013-12-06 01:30 am (UTC) (Link)

Yes. us too. They opened with a long pole that the teacher used.


2013-12-06 08:09 am (UTC) (Link)

We had window hooks too, because for some reason the windows, though not high, only opened from the top.


2013-12-06 01:12 pm (UTC) (Link)

'One cannot but be impressed, in visiting the orphan houses ... They are very spacious, with about seventeen hundred large windows, and accommodations for over two thousand inmates. They are also very substantial, being built of stone and made to last. They are scrupulously plain; utility rather than beauty seems conspicuously stamped upon them, within and without. Economy has been manifestly a ruling law in their construction; the furniture is equally unpretentious and unostentatious; and, as to garniture, there is absolutely none. To some few, they are almost too destitute of embellishment, and Mr. Müller has been blamed for not introducing some aesthetic features which might relieve this bald utilitarianism and serve to educate the taste of these orphans.

To all such criticisms, there are two or three adequate answers.

First, Mr. Müller subordinated everything to his one great purpose, the demonstration of the fact that the Living God is the Hearer of prayer.

Second, he felt himself to be the steward of God's property, and he hesitated to spend one penny on what was not necessary to the frugal carrying on of the work of God. He felt that all that could be spared without injury to health, a proper mental training, and a thorough scriptural and spiritual education, should be reserved for the relief of the necessities of the poor and destitute elsewhere.

And again, he felt that, as these orphans were likely to be put at service in plain homes, and compelled to live frugally, any surroundings which would accustom them to indulge refined tastes, might by contrast make them discontented with their future lot. And so he studied to promote simply their health and comfort, and to school them to contentment when the necessities of life were supplied.

But, more than this, a moment's serious thought will show that, had he surrounded them with those elegancies which elaborate architecture and the other fine arts furnish, he might have been even more severely criticised. He would have been spending the gifts of the poor who often sorely denied themselves for the sake of these orphans, to purchase embellishments or secure decorations which, if they had adorned the humble homes of thousands of donors, would have made their gifts impossible. ...


The most thorough and careful examination of the whole methods of the institution will only satisfy the visitor that it will not be the fault of those who superintend this work, if the orphans are not well fitted, body and soul, for the work of life, and are not prepared for a blessed immortality.'

- Arthur T. Pierson, George Müller of Bristol and his Witness to a Prayer-Hearing God (1899)

Müller was a Plymouth Brother (Open Brethren). They do not think like us (I should know; my parents belonged to that sect). Müller's overriding aim was to demonstrate that God answers prayer (by providing the money to build these orphanages). His second concern was to keep the souls of the orphans from hell by giving them 'a thorough scriptural and spiritual education' and preparing them for 'a blessed immortality' (this means indoctrinating them in a narrow Christian fundamentalism). His third concern was to turn them into hard-working members of the proletariat.


2013-12-06 03:27 pm (UTC) (Link)

As ever, Gillian, I'm in your debt.

I think in fact that Pierson rather undersells the beauty of these buildings: the largest, Müller house, is decidedly handsome in my opinion - though certainly austere by the standards of the Victorian Gothic.

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