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From Dickens:

Dear reader! It rests with you and me, whether, in our two fields of action, similar things shall be or not. Let them be! We shall sit with lighter bosoms on the hearth, to see the ashes of our fires turn gray and cold.

But hearths seem not to have places for sitting on them, except maybe the narrow shelfs fit for cats and suchlike creatures. I would understand 'sit by the hearth' or 'sit close to the hearth', but why on?

I found some instances of the same use of the on preposition at Google Books, like this one:

I took a couple of snap shots of Judy, who had moved to sit on the hearth to get closer to the warm fire.

and

She set down the bellows and stood, saying, “Please, sit on the hearth and dry yourself. And can I get you anything? Hot tea . . . or wine?” Finn sat down on the wide stone hearth, and held his hands up to the flames. “No, thank you,” he replied, ...

Could one sit on any hearth or only on a hearth that has a special area extending into the room?

I just can't help recalling James Winterbottom, Esq. when I read "please, sit on the hearth". (0:

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3  
hearth: "the floor of a fireplace in a house and the area around it". -- It looks like hearth includes the area around it. I'm not sure though; I don't have one. :-) –  Damkerng T. Aug 1 at 18:00
4  
It is not uncommon for the fireplace to be on a raised platform making tending the fire easier. An added benefit is that this provides a bench to sit on and warm your back. –  Phil Aug 1 at 18:06

3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

In a Google image search for "hearth" you will see that many fireplaces have a raised "bench" of brick or stone about 1ft off the ground, which is perfect for sitting "on."

As a child this was a common setting for taking our family holiday photos. In Dickens' time I imagine it was the warmest, brightest place in the house for the family to gather, tell/listen to stories, and simply watch the fire. His quote refers to this situation.

As modern homes have made fireplaces more an aesthetic addition than a necessary one, the hearth has probably shrunken a bit to be less for sitting on, and more for staring at. The "hearth" can refer generally to areas around a fireplace. The "mantle" is a more specific term for the "narrow shelf for cats" above the fireplace.

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Oh, mantel! Thanks! –  CopperKettle Aug 2 at 1:26

Ditto @mc01. I'd add that a hearth is typically made of brick or stone, while a floor is normally wood or tile. So if the fireplace has a section of this brick or stone extending several feet out from the chimney et al -- which it often does -- this whole brick section is normally called the "hearth", and someone could well sit on it.

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enter image description here

One can sit on the right hand side of the hearth. The raised hearth makes it easier to see inside the stove when you reload it.

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