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Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 1, No. 5, March, 1858
Author: Various
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Another concert demands our attention, in which portions of a work by an American composer were submitted to the test of public judgment. This we must consider the most important musical event of the season; for great singers, though surely not common among our English race, have not been unknown; the ability to interpret God gives freely,—the power to create, rarely. In any generation, probably not ten men arise who write new melodies; of these, only a small proportion have either the intellectual power or the aesthetic feeling to combine the subtile elements of music into forms of lasting beauty. Most of them are influenced by prevailing mannerisms, and their music is therefore ephemeral, like the taste to which it ministers. Of all the composers that have lived, probably not more than six or eight have attained to an absolutely classic rank. These few are not in relations with any temporary taste; their music might have been written to-day or a century ago, and it will be as fresh a century hence. No one of the arts has had fewer great masters. A new composer, therefore, has a right to claim our attention. If, perchance, we discover that he has the gift of genius, and is not merely a clever imitator, we cannot rejoice too much.

The work to which we allude is the opera "Omano,"—the libretto in Italian by Signor Manetta, the music by Mr. L. H. Southard. We shall not stop now to consider the question, whether American Art is to be benefited by the production of operas in the Italian tongue; it is enough to say, that, until we have native singers capable of rendering a great dramatic work, singers who can give us in English the effects which Grisi, Badiali, Mario, and Alboni produce in their own language, we must be content with the existing state of things, and allow our composers to write for those artists who can do justice to their conceptions. We hope to live to hear operas in English; but meanwhile we must have music, and, at present, the Italian stage is the only common ground.

Mr. Southard's opera is founded upon Beckford's Oriental tale, "Vathek," with such alterations as are necessary to adapt it for representation. We are told that the plot is full of dramatic situations, full of human interest, and that its scenes appeal to all the faculties, ranging through comedy, ballet, and melodrama, and leading to the awful Hall of Eblis at last. The principal characters are the Caliph Omano, baritone; Carathis, his mother, mezzo soprano; Hinda, a slave in his harem, soprano; Rustam, her lover, tenor; and Albatros, basso, a Mephistophelean spirit who tempts the Caliph on to his destruction. Selections were made from this opera, and were performed by resident artists, without the aid of stage effects or orchestral accompaniments. Only the music was given, with as much of the harmony as could be played on the grand piano by one pair of hands. There could be no severer test than this. The music is generally Italian in form, especially in the flowing grace of the cantabile passages, and in the working up of the climaxes. But we did not hear one of the stereotyped Italian cadenzas, nor did we fall into old ruts in following the harmonic progressions. The orchestral figures—the framework on which the melodies are supported—are new, ingenious, and beautiful. The duets, quartette, and quintette show great command of resources and the utmost skill in construction; we can hardly remember any concerted pieces in the modern opera where the "working up" is more satisfactory, or the effect more brilliant. How far the music exhibits an absolutely original vein of melody, it is perhaps premature to say. No composer has ever been free at first from the influence of the masters whom he most admired. To mention no later instances, it is well known that Beethoven's early works are all colored by his recollections of Mozart, and that his own peculiar qualities were not clearly brought out until he had reached the maturity of his powers. This seems to be the law in all the arts; imitation first, self-development and originality afterwards. Happy are those who do not stop in the first stage! It is certain that Mr. Southard's music pleased, and that some of the most critical of the audience were roused to a real enthusiasm. And it is to be borne in mind that the music is cast in a grand mould; it has no prettiness; it is either great in itself, or wears the semblance of greatness. On the whole, we are inclined to think that the "Diarist" in Dwight's "Journal of Music" was not extravagant in saying that no first work since the time of Beethoven has had so much of promise as the opera "Omano." We shall look with great interest for its production upon the stage with the proper accompaniments and scenic effects. It is due to the composer that this should be done. If the music we heard had been performed by a company of great artists in the Boston Theatre or in the Academy of Music, it would have been received with tumultuous applause. The singers on this occasion gained to themselves great credit by their conscientious endeavors. They generously offered their services, and sang with a heartiness that showed a warm interest in the work. One of them, at least, Mrs. J. H. Long, would have established her reputation as an accomplished artist, even if she had never appeared in public before.

We suppose our readers will agree with us in looking with eager delight to the promise of a national school of music. Every nation must create its own song. The passionate music of Italy electrifies our cooler blood, but it does not adequately express all our feelings nor in any way represent our character. We also find many of the compositions of Germany so purely intellectual that they do not touch us until we have learned to like them. If we ever have a school of music, it will be in harmony with our rapidly developing characteristics. But it must grow up on our own soil; exotics never flourish long under strange skies. We think that many things point to this country as the place where music will achieve new triumphs. We are not bound by old traditions, we have few prejudices to unlearn, and we are able to see merit in more than one school. The same audience that becomes almost intoxicated with the excitement of the Italian opera will listen with the fullest, serenest pleasure to the majestic symphonies of Beethoven or to the sublime choruses of Handel. The devotees of the various European schools have none of this catholicity. A very accomplished Italian musician used frankly to say, that a symphony always put him to sleep; and as for the songs of Franz and other recent German composers, he would rather hear the filing of saws with an accompaniment of wet fingers on a window-pane. The Germans, on the other hand, have an equal contempt for Italian music. For them, Donizetti is melodramatic, Bellini puerile and silly, and even Rossini (who has written as many melodies as any composer, save Mozart) is only fit to compose for hand-organs. The American musical public can and do render to both schools the justice they deny each other,—and this because we appreciate the aim and direction of both. The tendency of modern German music is more and more in what we might call a mathematical direction; the Teutonic listener examines the structure of a movement as he would a geometrical proposition; he notices the connection and dependence of the several parts, and at the end, if he like it, he thinks Q.E.D.; his pleasure is quiet, but sincere. The Italian, on the other hand, makes everything subordinate to feeling; for him the music must sparkle with pleasure, burn with passion, or lighten with rage; borne upon the tide of emotion, the under-current of harmony is a matter of little moment; there may be symmetry of structure, and learning in the treatment of themes; if so, well; if not, their absence is not noticed as an essential defect.

For lyrical purposes the Italian style will always take the precedence, because music must primarily be addressed to the feelings. But it may happen, if ever we have great composers here in America, that to the instinctive grace and beauty of this Southern school the magnificent orchestral effects of the North may be added, and thereby a grander and more perfect whole be produced. At least, we can continue to be eclectic, and in due time we may develope music which, like Corinthian brass, shall contain the valuable qualities of all the elements we appropriate.

* * * * *

LITERARY NOTICES.

Biography of Elisha Kent Kane. By WILLIAM ELDER. Philadelphia: Childs & Peterson.

If Dr. Kane's character had not been free from any taint of imposture and vainglory, and if his reputation had not been of that kind which can be submitted to the austerest tests without being materially lessened, he would have suffered much in having so frank and truthful a biographer as Dr. Elder. Nobody could have been selected for the task who would have worse performed the business of puffing, or the work of recognizing and celebrating lofty traits of character and vigorous mental endowments better. He is a friendly biographer,—and well he may be; for he declares that his researches into Dr. Kane's private correspondence and papers revealed not a line which, if published, would injure his fame. It is, of course, impossible for so genuine a man as Dr. Elder to refrain from hearty eulogium where not to praise is the sign of a cynical rather than a critical spirit; but his panegyric has the raciness and sincerity which proceed from the generous recognition of merit, and never indicates that ominous falseness of feeling which the simplest reader instinctively detects in the formal constructer of complimentary sentences. Throughout the book, the biographer writes in the spirit of that sound maxim which declares it to be as base to refuse praise where it is due, as to give praise where it is not due; and we think that few readers will be inclined to quarrel with him for the quickness and depth of his sympathies with his hero, except that small class of "knowing" minds who, mistaking disbelief in human probity for acuteness of intellect, find a mischievous satisfaction in depressing heroes into coxcombs, and resolving noble actions into ignoble motives.

We have been especially interested in the account given of Dr. Kane's boyhood and early life. As a boy, he had too much force, originality, and decided bias of nature to be what is called a "good boy,"—one of those unfortunate children whose weakness of individuality passes for moral excellence, and who give their guardians so little trouble in the early development and so much trouble in the maturity of their mediocrity. He would not learn what he did not like, and what he felt would be of no use to him. He kept his memory free from all intellectual information which could not be transmuted into intellectual ability. The same daring, confidence, enterprise, and passion for action, which in after life made him an explorer, were first expressed in that love of mischief which vexes the hearts of parents and calls into exercise the pedagogue's ferule. All arbitrary authority found him a resolute little rebel. Dr. Elder furnishes some amusing instances of his audacity and determination. Though smaller than other boys of his age, he possessed "the clear advantage of that energy of nerve and that sort of twill in the muscular texture which give tight little fellows more size than they measure and more weight than they weigh." At school he had under his charge a brother, two years younger than himself, who was once called up by the master to be whipped. This disturbed Elisha's notions of justice and his conceptions of the duties of a guardian, and, springing from his seat, he exclaimed, "Don't whip him, he's such a little fellow!—whip me!" The master, interpreting this to be mutiny, which really was intended for fair compromise, answered, "I'll whip you, too, Sir!" Strung for endurance, the sense of injustice changed his mood to defiance, and such fight as he was able to make quickly converted the discipline into a fracas, and Elisha left the school with marks which required explanation.

In his eighteenth year he was prostrated by a disease which developed into inflammation of the lining membrane of the heart, from which he never recovered. The verdict of the physician was ever in his mind: "You may fall at any time as suddenly as from [by] a musket-shot." His life was afterwards, indeed, like the life of a soldier constantly under fire. Instead of making him a valetudinary, this continual liability to death aided to make him a hero. He acted in the spirit of his father's advice,—"If you must die, die in harness." Dr. Elder proves that his existence was prolonged by the hardihood which made him careless of death. "The current of his life shows convincingly that incessant toil and exposure was [were] a sound hygienic policy in his case. Naturally his physical constitution was a case of coil springs, compacted till they quivered with their own mobility; nervous disease had added its irritability, and mental energy electrified them. It was doing or dying, with him. And it was not a tyrant selfishness, a wild ambition, that ruled his life, but a rare concurrence of mental aptitude, moral impulse, and bodily necessity, that kept him incessant in adventure." Nothing could damp this ardor. He contracted the peculiar disease of every country and climate he visited, and was frequently on what seemed his death-bed; but no experience of physical misery had any influence in blunting his intellectual curiosity or impairing the energies of his will. One of those elastic natures "who ever with a frolic welcome take the thunder or the sunshine," his whole existence was wedded to action, and he was always ready to suffer everything, if he could thereby do anything.

We have no space to follow Dr. Elder in his minute and interesting account of a life so short, yet so crowded with events, as that in which the character of Dr. Kane was formed, manifested, and matured. The character itself—so gentle and so persistent, so full at once of self-reliance and reliance on Providence, so tender in affection and so indomitable in fortitude—is now one of the moral possessions of the country, worth more to it than any new invention which increases its industrial productiveness or any new province which adds to its territorial dominion. That must be a low view of utility which excludes such a character from its list of useful things; for the great interest of every nation is, to cherish and value whatever tends to prevent its forces of intelligence and conscience from being weakened by idleness or withheld by timidity and self-distrust; and certainly the example of Dr. Kane will exert this wholesome influence, by the unmistakable directness with which it gives the lie to that lazy or cowardly skepticism of the powers of the will, which furnishes the excuse for thousands to slink away from duty on the plea of inability to perform it. To the young men of the country we especially commend this biography, in the full belief that it will stimulate and stir to effort many a sensitive youth who feels within himself the capacity to emulate the spirit which prompted Dr. Kane's actions, if he cannot hope to rival their splendor and importance.

Beatrice Cenci: A Historical Novel of the Sixteenth Century, by F.D. GUERRAZZI. Translated from the Italian by Luigi Monti, A.M., Instructor of Italian at Harvard University, Cambridge. New York: Rudd & Carleton, 310 Broadway. 1858. Two vols. in one. pp. 270 and 202.

Three contemporary Italians, Mariotti, (Gallenga,) Mazzini, and Ruffini, have afforded extraordinary examples of entire mastery over the English language in original composition, and Mr. Monti has attained an almost equal success in the translation before us. We have remarked, in reading it, a few solecisms and one or two trifling mistranslations,—but none of them such as either to affect the essential integrity of the version or to render it difficult for the least intelligent reader to make out clearly the sense of the original. We should not have alluded to them at all, had we not thought that they redounded rather to the credit of the translator; for they seem to prove that the work is entirely his own, and has not been subjected to that supervision which any one of Mr. Monti's numerous friends would have been glad to offer.

Guerrazzi, the author of the book, played a conspicuous part during the Italian Revolution of 1848-9. An advocate, we believe, by profession, he was one of the chiefs of the moderate liberal party in Tuscany, who, after the breaking out of the Revolution, wished to avoid any sudden overturn by carrying out such reforms as public sentiment demanded by means of the existing powers and forms of government. As head of the ministry called to inaugurate and administer the new Constitution granted and sworn to by the Grand Duke, he became involuntarily the Regent and in fact the Dictator of Tuscany, after the Grand Duke's treacherous flight to Santo Stefano. There is no evidence that he abused his power, or that he assumed any responsibilities not forced upon him by the necessities of his position. Indeed, the best proof that he did not is, that, after the Grand Duke had been forced again on his unwilling subjects by the bayonets of his Austrian cousins, it was found impossible to obtain Guerrazzi's conviction on a charge of high treason, and that in a city garrisoned by Austrian soldiers and still under martial law. He was, however, incarcerated for several years before being brought to trial, and finally sentenced to fifteen years' imprisonment. But even this was such an outrage on public opinion that it was commuted to banishment. He is now living in exile near Genoa, and enjoying those blessings of constitutional government which he had desired to confer on his own country, and which we fervently hope may survive the misguided assaults of a fanatic liberalism, and continue to make Sardinia the centre of Italian hope, as it is the van of Italian progress.

His "Beatrice Cenci" was written during his imprisonment; and there is something fitting in the circumstance, that the work of an exile should be translated by a countryman also driven from his native land in consequence of his devotion to the idea of liberal and constitutional government, and, like the author, sustaining himself unrepiningly by a dignified and useful industry. It was also peculiarly fitting that the translation should have appeared just at the moment when the genius of Miss Hosmer had renewed the interest of her countrymen in the story of Beatrice, and deepened their compassion for her undeserved misfortunes by a statue so full of pathos and power.

Guerrazzi belongs to the extreme left of the school of historical novelists. He is almost always at high pressure, and, in spite of a certain force of thought and expression, is tinged decidedly and sometimes unpleasantly with sentimentalism. He is so little of an artist, that the story-teller is subordinated in him to the propagandist, and his work is not so near his heart as the desire to make a strong argument against the temporal power of the Papacy. He interrupts his narrative too often with reflection and disquisition, shows too much that fondness for the striking which is fatal to the classic in expression, and rushes out of his way at a highly-colored simile as certainly as a bull at scarlet. His characters talk much, and yet develope themselves rather circumstantially than psychologically.

Yet, in spite of these defects, Guerrazzi has succeeded in so intensifying the high lights and deep shadows of passion, pathos, and horror in the story, as to make a very effective picture, of the Caravaggio school. There is a curious parallel between the chapter where Count Cenci is imprisoned in the cavern, and those scenes in Webster's "Duchess of Malfy" where the Duchess is tortured by her brothers. The resemblance is interesting on many accounts, and serves to confirm us in a belief we have long entertained that Webster's peculiar power has been overrated, and that the tendency to heap one nightmare horror on another is something characteristic rather of the childhood than the maturity of genius. There is no modern story which renews for us the woes of the house of Tantalus so awfully as this of the Cenci, and it cannot fail to be of absorbing interest, especially to those unfamiliar with its ghastly details. Whether the theory which Guerrazzi assumes in order to render probable the innocence of the Cenci be tenable or not we shall not stop to discuss; it is enough that it serves to heighten the romance and complicate the plot in a very effective manner.

We cannot leave the book without saying how much we were charmed with the little episode of the old curate and his maid, and his ass Marco. It seems to us that Guerrazzi in this chapter has come nearer to the simplicity of nature than in any other part of the book, and we augur favorably from it for his future escape from the perils of a too ambitious style to the serenity of truer artistic development.

Of Mr. Monti's translation we can speak in high terms of commendation. Success in writing a foreign language is a rare thing, and he has shown a remarkable command of idiomatic expression. His familiarity with the habits and proverbial phrases of his native country gives him, we think, an advantage over any English translator, which more than counterbalances the trifling inaccuracies of phraseology that here and there betray the foreigner, and amount to nothing more than an accent, which is not without its merit of piquancy. In one respect we think he has acted with great discretion, namely, in now and then curtailing the reflections which Guerrazzi has interpolated upon the story to the manifest detriment of its interest and consecutiveness. If Signor Guerrazzi should profit by these silent criticisms, it would be to his advantage as an author.

The Elements of Drawing; in three Letters to Beginners. By JOHN RUSKIN. With Illustrations drawn by the Author. 12mo. London. 1857.

The art of drawing may be called the art of learning to see,—and into this art there is no guide to be compared with Mr. Ruskin. His own admirable powers of sight and of expression have been cultivated by long, patient, and laborious study.

He has learned not only how to see, but what to see, and how best to represent what he sees. A teacher of the most advanced students of Art and Nature, he offers himself now as a teacher of beginners; and this little book of his contains a course of instruction admirably adapted not only to teach drawing, but also to teach the object and end for which it is worth while to learn to draw. "I would rather teach drawing," says Mr. Ruskin, in his Preface, "that my pupils may learn to love Nature, than teach the looking at Nature that they may learn to draw." And no one can study Mr. Ruskin's book without gaining a profounder sense of the infinite beauty and variety of Nature, and of the unfathomable stores of her freely lavished riches,—or without acquiring clearer perceptions of this beauty, and of its relations to the Divine government and order of the world.

Mr. Ruskin's book is essentially a practical one. His long experience as teacher of drawing in the Working-Men's College has given him knowledge of and sympathy with the perplexities and difficulties of beginners. It is a book for children of twelve or fourteen years old; and it is especially fitted for circulation in district and school libraries. All teachers of schools, in which drawing forms a part of the course, will find invaluable hints and directions in it. In every case, the English edition—which is easily obtainable, and at a very moderate price—should be procured, not merely for the sake of the original illustrations, but also as a mark of respect and gratitude to the author.

In an Appendix containing many wise and genial directions with regard to "Things to be studied" is a passage concerning Books, which we quote for its coincidence of opinion with our own views expressed in the January Number, and for the sake of enforcing its recommendations.

"I cannot, of course, suggest the choice of your library to you; every several mind needs different books; but there are some books which we all need; and assuredly, if you read Homer,[A] Plato, Aeschylus, Herodotus Dante,[B] Shakspeare, and Spenser, as much as you ought, you will not require wide enlargement of shelves to right and left of them for purposes of perpetual study. Among modern books, avoid generally magazine and review literature,[C] Sometimes it may contain a useful abridgment or a wholesome piece of criticism; but the chances are ten to one it will either waste your time or mislead you.... Avoid especially that class of literature which has a knowing tone; it is the most poisonous of all. Every good book, or piece of book, is full of admiration and awe; it may contain firm assertion or stern satire, but it never sneers coldly nor asserts haughtily, and it always leads you to reverence or love something with your whole heart.... A common book will often give you much amusement, but it is only a noble book which will give you dear friends. Remember, also, that it is of less importance to you, in your earlier years, that the books you read should be clever, than that they should be right; I do not mean oppressively or repulsively instructive, but that the thoughts they express should be just, and the feelings they excite generous. It is not necessary for you to read the wittiest or the most suggestive books; it is better, in general, to hear what is already known and may be simply said.... Certainly at present, and perhaps through all your life, your teachers are wisest when they make you content in quiet virtue, and that literature and art are best for you which point out, in common life and familiar things, the objects for hopeful Labor and for humble love." pp. 847-350.

[Footnote A: Chapman's, if not the original.]

[Footnote B: Cary's or Cayley's, if not the original. I do not know which are the best translations of Plato. Herodotus and Aeschylus can only be read in the original. It may seem strange that I name books like these for "beginners"; but all the greatest books contain food for all ages; and an intelligent and rightly bred youth or girl ought to enjoy much, even in Plato, by the time they are fifteen or sixteen.]

[Footnote C: The Atlantic Monthly was not in existence when Mr. Ruskin wrote this condemnation of magazines. The saving word for it is "generally."—EDITOR.]

THE END

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