Literary Museum and House Quotes – A Random Collection

Dell Upton

Americans are obsessed with houses—their own and everyone else’s.
(Architecture in the United States, 1998)

Henry David Thoreau

“I hate museums, there is nothing so weighs upon the spirits. They are catacombs of nature. They are preserved death.”[1]

Nathaniel Hawthorne

“The house, in my view, is expressive of that odious and abominable Past, with all its bad influences, against which I have just been declaiming. I dwell in it for a while, that I may know the better how to hate it.”[4]


Charlotte Perkins Gilman

See it in furnishing: A stone or block of wood to sit on, a hide to lie on, a shelf to put food on. See that block of wood change under your eyes and crawl up history on its forthcoming legs—a stool, a chair, a sofa, a settee, and now the endless ranks of sittable furniture wherewith we fill the home to keep ourselves from the floor withal. And these be-stuffed, be-springed, and upholstered till it would seem as if all humanity were newly whipped.[2]

Mark Twain

On American Houses

There is a trick about an American house that is like the deep-lying untranslatable idioms of a foreign language—a trick uncatchable by the stranger, a trick incommunicable and indescribable; and that elusive trick, that intangible something, whatever it is, is the something that gives the home look and the home feeling to an American house and makes it the most satisfying refuge yet invented by men—and women, mainly by women.
(Mark Twain’s Autobiography, Volume I, 1892)

On Museums

If there is anything in Washington, worth a visit, it is the Museum of the Patent Office. It is free to visitors at all times of the day, and is by far the largest collection of curiosities in the United [States. The ]first story of this magnificent [building ]is occupied by the models of patents. The second story is occupied by the museum. I spent a very pleasant four hours in this part of the building, looking at the thousands upon thousands of wonders it contains. In one department were several Peruvian mummies of great antiquity. The [hair was ]perfect, and remained plaited just as it was perhaps centuries ago; but the bodies were black, dry, and crisp, and what the appearance of the faces were during life, it was [impossible ]to determine, for nothing remained but a shapeless mass of skin and flesh. The printing press used by Franklin, in London, nearly one hundred and twenty years [ago], was an object worthy of [notice. The ]bed is of wood and is not unlike a very shallow box. The platen is only half the size of the bed, thus requiring two pulls of the lever to each full-size sheet. What vast progress has been made in the art of printing! This press is capable of printing about 125 sheets per hour; and after seeing it, I have watched Hoe’s great machine throwing off its 20,000 sheets in the same space of time, with an interest I never before felt. In other cases are to be seen the suits of clothes worn by Washington when he resigned his commission as Commander-in-Chief of the American forces; the coat worn by Jackson at the battle of New Orleans; Washington’s sword, war-tent, cooking utensils, knives and forks, &c., and camp equippage generally; the treaty of the United States with Turkey (a horrible specimen of Oriental chirography; the original Declaration of Independence; autographs of Bonaparte and several kings of Europe; pagan idols; part of the costumes of Atahualpa and Cortes, and thousands of other things of equal interest.[3]

Gaston Bachelard

The house that we were born in is an inhabited house . . . over and beyond our memories, the house we were born in is physically inscribed in us. It is a group of organic habits.
(The Poetics of Space, 1958)


[1] Henry David Thoreau, Journal. Vol. I: 1837-1844, ed. John C. Broderick, et al. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981), 465-466.

[2][2] Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The Home, Its Work and Influence (New York: McClure, Phillips, 1903), 27.

[3] SLC to the Muscatine Journal, 17 and 18 Feb 1854

[4] Nathaniel Hawthorne, The House of the Seven Gables (New York: Macmillan Company, 1911), 156.  Originally published in 1851.