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  • Writer's pictureLinda Odhner, with photos by Liz Kufs

Excerpted Inspirations #96


 [Neale Crittenden’s discussion of his principle of “business as service” with an interested visitor to his Vermont lumber mill shows a curious parallel with houseguest lady-of-leisure Eugenia’s observations about lace later in the story.]  	“Why, of course I don’t rank lumbering and wood-working with medicine.  Wood isn’t as vital to human life as quinine, or knowledge of what to do in typhoid fever.  But after all, wood is something that people have to have, isn’t it?  Somebody has to get it out and work it up into usable shape.  If he can do this, get it out of the woods without spoiling the future of the forests, drying up the rivers and all that, and have it transformed into some finished product that people need in their lives, it’s a sort of plain, everyday service, isn’t it?  And to do this work as economically as it can be managed, taking as low a price as you can get along with instead of screwing as high a price as possible out of the people who have to have it, what’s the matter with that, as an interesting problem in ingenuity?  I tell you, Mr. Welles, you ought to talk to my wife about this.  It’s as much her idea as mine.  We worked it out together, little by little….” 	[…] 	“It’s absurd to think that business men […] can only find their opportunity for service to their fellow-men by such haphazard contracts with public service as helping raise money for a library or heading a movement for better housing for the poor, when they don’t know anything about housing for the poor, nor what it ought to be.  Their opportunity for public service is right in their own legitimate businesses, and don’t you forget it.  Everybody’s business is his best way to public service, and doing it that way, you’d put out of operation the professional uplifters who uplift as a business, and can’t help being priggish and self-conscious about it. [...]”  	 	She decided, as harmonizing best with the temperament of the net dress, on Malines, a strip of this perfect, first-Napoleon Malines.  What an aristocratic lace it was, with its cobwebby fond-de-neige background and its four-petalled flowers in the scrolls.  Americans were barbarians indeed that Malines was so little known; in fact hardly recognized at all.  Most Americans would probably take this priceless creation in her hand for something bought at a ten-cent store, because of its simplicity and classic reticence of design.  They always wanted, as they would say themselves, something more to show for their money.  Their only idea of ‘real lace’ as they vulgarly called it (as if anything could be lace that wasn’t real), was that showy, awful Brussels, manufactured for exportation, which was sold in those terrible tourists’ shops in Belgium, with the sprawling patterns made out of coarse braid and appliquéd on, not an organic part of the life of the design.    Dorothy Canfield, The Brimming Cup (1919), pp. 137, 140, 205-206)

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