“Priority of birth, a long memory and experience of the place . . . is the base of culture and religion. It is the point where body and soul become one.” —Carl Schmitt, 1936
As we saw in our previous post, “Carl Schmitt: peasant,” the two facets of Schmitt’s vocation as artist and father were intimately joined in the life he lived in Silvermine. His was a “high fatherhood”: his role, with his wife Gertrude, to foster a family culture. Carl Schmitt called it “morale.”
Just as a man lives by his morals and a society holds common mores, each family is joined together with a distinct and irreplaceable morale. The complement of personal morals, societal mores, and familial morale is yet another in a string of little “trinities” that, for Carl Schmitt, reflect the fullness of reality in the three planes of man’s life.
Deeper than moral righteousness, cheerful family togetherness or the mutual enjoyment of aesthetic or healthy pursuits, morale was rooted in Schmitt’s convictions as an artist and the struggles he embraced in holding fast to those convictions. The morale of Carl Schmitt’s family was as distinct as his fingerprint, but formed by all the members together.
Some of the elements of this “morale” have already been mentioned: what Schmitt calls “priority of birth” and “a long memory and experience of the place.” The first did not refer to the nobility of family ancestry, but to the unity engendered by a common origin. As he wrote in 1932, “All attempts at community life outside the family idea must ultimately fail because the idea or unity of birth is lacking.”
This basic unity was underscored by a “place” for the family, one that Schmitt envisioned well before his marriage to Gertrude Lord in 1918. While still an art student in New York, he was introduced to the bucolic hamlet of Silvermine, about an hour by train from Manhattan in rural Connecticut. He was so taken by the beauty place that within a few years he had purchased a small plot of land overlooking the Silvermine River, not far from the home of the noted sculptor Solon Borglum. It featured a ruin from pre-Revolutionary times, surrounded by the stone walls, rolling fields, trees and giant boulders.
His future wife also had roots there. The Lord family summered just down the road in an old farmhouse they christened “Lordale.” It was to Silvermine that Schmitt returned with his bride Gertrude in 1919, and it was there that they would raise their family, moving only once to a home built for them by their sons on a plot of land originally part of Lordale.
Schmitt’s decision to settle and raise his family in Silvermine was not a matter of sentiment or necessity, but was rooted in a deep awareness of the effect that permanence, memory, and place would have on his life and that of his family. When his children grew up and formed families of their own, many of the nine Schmitt brothers built homes for one another on adjoining lots in Silvermine given to them by their mother from her inheritance of Lordale.