The 25th of May, as the Whit Sunday term (old style), is a great day in Scotland, being that on which, for the most part, people change their residences. For some unexplained reason the Scotch 'remove' oftener than their southern neighbours. They very generally lease their houses by the year, and are thus at every twelve-month's end able to shift their place of abode. Whether the restless disposition has arisen from the short leases, or the short leases have been a result of the restless disposition, is immaterial. That the restlessness is a fact, is what we have mainly to deal with.
It happens accordingly, that at every Candlemas a Scotch family gets an opportunity of considering whether it will, in the language of the country, sit or flit. The landlord or his agent calls to learn the decision on this point; and if 'flit ' is the resolution, he takes measures by advertising to obtain a new tenant. The two or three days following upon the Purification, therefore, become distinguished by a feathering of the streets with boards projected from the windows, intimating 'A House to Let.' Then comes on a most lively excitement for individuals proposing to remove; you see them going about for weeks, inspecting the numerous houses offered to them. Considerations of position, accommodation, and rent, afford scope for endless speculation. The gentleman deliberates about the rent—whether it will suit his means. The lady has her own anxious thoughts about new furniture that may be required, and how far old carpets can be made to suit the new premises. Both have their reflections as to what the Thomsons and the Jacksons will say on hearing that they are going into a house so much handsomer, more ambitiously situated, and dearer than their last. At length the pleasing dream is over—they have taken the house, and the only thing that remains to be done is to 'flit.'
Intensely longed for, the 25th of May comes at last. The departing tenant knows he must vacate his house before twelve o'clock; consequently, he has to arrange for a quick transportation of his household goods that forenoon. What he is to the new tenant, the tenant of the house he is going to occupy is to him. He dreads—hates—to be pushed; but on the other hand he must push, lest his penates be left shelterless on the street. There is accordingly all that morning a packing up, a sending off, a pushing in—upholstery meeting upholstery in deadly contention; streets encumbered with card-tables and arm-chairs in the most awkward irrelation to their proper circumstances; articles even more sacredly domestic exposed to every idle passerby—a straw-and-ropiness everywhere. In the humbler class of streets, the show of poor old furniture is piteous to look upon, more especially if (as sometimes happens) Jove has chosen to make it a dropping morning. Each leaves his house dishevelled and dirty-marks of torn down brackets and departed pictures on the walls, floors loaded with unaccountable rubbish—all the beauties and attractions that were so witching at Candlemas now strangely obscured. But there is no time for cleaning, and in each must plunge, with all his goods and all his family, settle as they may.
There is only a rude bivouac for the first twenty-four hours, with meals more con-fused and savage than the roughest picnic. And yet, such is the charm of novelty, that a 'flitting' is seldom spoken of as a time or occasion of serious discomfort. Nor are the drawbacks of the new dwelling much insisted on, however obvious. On the contrary, the tendency is to apologize for every less agreeable feature-to view hopefully the effect of a little cleaning here, a coat of size there; to trust that something will make that thorough draft in the lobby tolerable, and compensate for the absence of a sink in the back-kitchen. Jack does not think much of the lowness of the ceiling of the bedroom assigned to him, and Charlotte Louisa has the best hopes of the suitableness of the drawing-room (when the back-bedroom is added to it) for a dancing-party.
A few months generally serve to dispel much of this illusion, and show all the disadvantages of the new mansion in a sufficiently strong light. So when Candlemas next comes round, our tenant has probably become dissatisfied, and anxious for another change. If considerations of prudence stand in the way, the family must be content to stay where they are for another year or two. If able to encounter another change, they will undertake it, only perhaps to find new, though different discomforts, and long for other changes.
– "May 25th
", The Book of Days
, Robert Chambers, 1869