Essays Before a Sonata
by Charles Ives
Previous Part     1  2  3     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

We dare not attempt to follow the philosophic raptures of Bronson Alcott—unless you will assume that his apotheosis will show how "practical" his vision in this world would be in the next. And so we won't try to reconcile the music sketch of the Alcotts with much besides the memory of that home under the elms—the Scotch songs and the family hymns that were sung at the end of each day—though there may be an attempt to catch something of that common sentiment (which we have tried to suggest above)-a strength of hope that never gives way to despair—a conviction in the power of the common soul which, when all is said and done, may be as typical as any theme of Concord and its transcendentalists.


Thoreau was a great musician, not because he played the flute but because he did not have to go to Boston to hear "the Symphony." The rhythm of his prose, were there nothing else, would determine his value as a composer. He was divinely conscious of the enthusiasm of Nature, the emotion of her rhythms and the harmony of her solitude. In this consciousness he sang of the submission to Nature, the religion of contemplation, and the freedom of simplicity—a philosophy distinguishing between the complexity of Nature which teaches freedom, and the complexity of materialism which teaches slavery. In music, in poetry, in all art, the truth as one sees it must be given in terms which bear some proportion to the inspiration. In their greatest moments the inspiration of both Beethoven and Thoreau express profound truths and deep sentiment, but the intimate passion of it, the storm and stress of it, affected Beethoven in such a way that he could not but be ever showing it and Thoreau that he could not easily expose it. They were equally imbued with it, but with different results. A difference in temperament had something to do with this, together with a difference in the quality of expression between the two arts. "Who that has heard a strain of music feared lest he would speak extravagantly forever," says Thoreau. Perhaps music is the art of speaking extravagantly. Herbert Spencer says that some men, as for instance Mozart, are so peculiarly sensitive to emotion ... that music is to them but a continuation not only of the expression but of the actual emotion, though the theory of some more modern thinkers in the philosophy of art doesn't always bear this out. However, there is no doubt that in its nature music is predominantly subjective and tends to subjective expression, and poetry more objective tending to objective expression. Hence the poet when his muse calls for a deeper feeling must invert this order, and he may be reluctant to do so as these depths often call for an intimate expression which the physical looks of the words may repel. They tend to reveal the nakedness of his soul rather than its warmth. It is not a matter of the relative value of the aspiration, or a difference between subconsciousness and consciousness but a difference in the arts themselves; for example, a composer may not shrink from having the public hear his "love letter in tones," while a poet may feel sensitive about having everyone read his "letter in words." When the object of the love is mankind the sensitiveness is changed only in degree.

But the message of Thoreau, though his fervency may be inconstant and his human appeal not always direct, is, both in thought and spirit, as universal as that of any man who ever wrote or sang—as universal as it is nontemporaneous—as universal as it is free from the measure of history, as "solitude is free from the measure of the miles of space that intervene between man and his fellows." In spite of the fact that Henry James (who knows almost everything) says that "Thoreau is more than provincial—that he is parochial," let us repeat that Henry Thoreau, in respect to thought, sentiment, imagination, and soul, in respect to every element except that of place of physical being—a thing that means so much to some—is as universal as any personality in literature. That he said upon being shown a specimen grass from Iceland that the same species could be found in Concord is evidence of his universality, not of his parochialism. He was so universal that he did not need to travel around the world to PROVE it. "I have more of God, they more of the road." "It is not worth while to go around the world to count the cats in Zanzibar." With Marcus Aurelius, if he had seen the present he had seen all, from eternity and all time forever.

Thoreau's susceptibility to natural sounds was probably greater than that of many practical musicians. True, this appeal is mainly through the sensational element which Herbert Spencer thinks the predominant beauty of music. Thoreau seems able to weave from this source some perfect transcendental symphonies. Strains from the Orient get the best of some of the modern French music but not of Thoreau. He seems more interested in than influenced by Oriental philosophy. He admires its ways of resignation and self-contemplation but he doesn't contemplate himself in the same way. He often quotes from the Eastern scriptures passages which were they his own he would probably omit, i.e., the Vedas say "all intelligences awake with the morning." This seems unworthy of "accompanying the undulations of celestial music" found on this same page, in which an "ode to morning" is sung—"the awakening to newly acquired forces and aspirations from within to a higher life than we fell asleep from ... for all memorable events transpire in the morning time and in the morning atmosphere." Thus it is not the whole tone scale of the Orient but the scale of a Walden morning—"music in single strains," as Emerson says, which inspired many of the polyphonies and harmonies that come to us through his poetry. Who can be forever melancholy "with Aeolian music like this"?

This is but one of many ways in which Thoreau looked to Nature for his greatest inspirations. In her he found an analogy to the Fundamental of Transcendentalism. The "innate goodness" of Nature is or can be a moral influence; Mother Nature, if man will but let her, will keep him straight—straight spiritually and so morally and even mentally. If he will take her as a companion, and teacher, and not as a duty or a creed, she will give him greater thrills and teach him greater truths than man can give or teach—she will reveal mysteries that mankind has long concealed. It was the soul of Nature not natural history that Thoreau was after. A naturalist's mind is one predominantly scientific, more interested in the relation of a flower to other flowers than its relation to any philosophy or anyone's philosophy. A transcendent love of Nature and writing "Rhus glabra" after sumac doesn't necessarily make a naturalist. It would seem that although thorough in observation (not very thorough according to Mr. Burroughs) and with a keen perception of the specific, a naturalist—inherently—was exactly what Thoreau was not. He seems rather to let Nature put him under her microscope than to hold her under his. He was too fond of Nature to practice vivisection upon her. He would have found that painful, "for was he not a part with her?" But he had this trait of a naturalist, which is usually foreign to poets, even great ones; he observed acutely even things that did not particularly interest him—a useful natural gift rather than a virtue.

The study of Nature may tend to make one dogmatic, but the love of Nature surely does not. Thoreau no more than Emerson could be said to have compounded doctrines. His thinking was too broad for that. If Thoreau's was a religion of Nature, as some say,—and by that they mean that through Nature's influence man is brought to a deeper contemplation, to a more spiritual self-scrutiny, and thus closer to God,—it had apparently no definite doctrines. Some of his theories regarding natural and social phenomena and his experiments in the art of living are certainly not doctrinal in form, and if they are in substance it didn't disturb Thoreau and it needn't us... "In proportion as he simplifies his life the laws of the universe will appear less complex and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air your work need not be lost; that is where they should be, now put the foundations under them." ... "Then we will love with the license of a higher order of beings." Is that a doctrine? Perhaps. At any rate, between the lines of some such passage as this lie some of the fountain heads that water the spiritual fields of his philosophy and the seeds from which they are sown (if indeed his whole philosophy is but one spiritual garden). His experiments, social and economic, are a part of its cultivation and for the harvest—and its transmutation, he trusts to moments of inspiration—"only what is thought, said, and done at a certain rare coincidence is good."

Thoreau's experiment at Walden was, broadly speaking, one of these moments. It stands out in the casual and popular opinion as a kind of adventure—harmless and amusing to some, significant and important to others; but its significance lies in the fact that in trying to practice an ideal he prepared his mind so that it could better bring others "into the Walden-state-of-mind." He did not ask for a literal approval, or in fact for any approval. "I would not stand between any man and his genius." He would have no one adopt his manner of life, unless in doing so he adopts his own—besides, by that time "I may have found a better one." But if he preached hard he practiced harder what he preached—harder than most men. Throughout Walden a text that he is always pounding out is "Time." Time for inside work out-of-doors; preferably out-of-doors, "though you perhaps may have some pleasant, thrilling, glorious hours, even in a poor house." Wherever the place—time there must be. Time to show the unnecessariness of necessities which clog up time. Time to contemplate the value of man to the universe, of the universe to man, man's excuse for being. Time FROM the demands of social conventions. Time FROM too much labor for some, which means too much to eat, too much to wear, too much material, too much materialism for others. Time FROM the "hurry and waste of life." Time FROM the "St. Vitus Dance." BUT, on the other side of the ledger, time FOR learning that "there is no safety in stupidity alone." Time FOR introspection. Time FOR reality. Time FOR expansion. Time FOR practicing the art, of living the art of living. Thoreau has been criticized for practicing his policy of expansion by living in a vacuum—but he peopled that vacuum with a race of beings and established a social order there, surpassing any of the precepts in social or political history. "...for he put some things behind and passed an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws were around and within him, the old laws were expanded and interpreted in a more liberal sense and he lived with the license of a higher order"—a community in which "God was the only President" and "Thoreau not Webster was His Orator." It is hard to believe that Thoreau really refused to believe that there was any other life but his own, though he probably did think that there was not any other life besides his own for him. Living for society may not always be best accomplished by living WITH society. "Is there any virtue in a man's skin that you must touch it?" and the "rubbing of elbows may not bring men's minds closer together"; or if he were talking through a "worst seller" (magazine) that "had to put it over" he might say, "forty thousand souls at a ball game does not, necessarily, make baseball the highest expression of spiritual emotion." Thoreau, however, is no cynic, either in character or thought, though in a side glance at himself, he may have held out to be one; a "cynic in independence," possibly because of his rule laid down that "self-culture admits of no compromise."

It is conceivable that though some of his philosophy and a good deal of his personality, in some of its manifestations, have outward colors that do not seem to harmonize, the true and intimate relations they bear each other are not affected. This peculiarity, frequently seen in his attitude towards social-economic problems, is perhaps more emphasized in some of his personal outbursts. "I love my friends very much, but I find that it is of no use to go to see them. I hate them commonly when I am near." It is easier to see what he means than it is to forgive him for saying it. The cause of this apparent lack of harmony between philosophy and personality, as far as they can be separated, may have been due to his refusal "to keep the very delicate balance" which Mr. Van Doren in his "Critical Study of Thoreau" says "it is necessary for a great and good man to keep between his public and private lives, between his own personality and the whole outside universe of personalities." Somehow one feels that if he had kept this balance he would have lost "hitting power." Again, it seems that something of the above depends upon the degree of greatness or goodness. A very great and especially a very good man has no separate private and public life. His own personality though not identical with outside personalities is so clear or can be so clear to them that it appears identical, and as the world progresses towards its inevitable perfection this appearance becomes more and more a reality. For the same reason that all great men now agree, in principle but not in detail, in so far as words are able to communicate agreement, on the great fundamental truths. Someone says: "Be specific—what great fundamentals?" Freedom over slavery; the natural over the artificial; beauty over ugliness; the spiritual over the material; the goodness of man; the Godness of man; have been greater if he hadn't written plays. Some say that a true composer will never write an opera because a truly brave man will not take a drink to keep up his courage; which is not the same thing as saying that Shakespeare is not the greatest figure in all literature; in fact, it is an attempt to say that many novels, most operas, all Shakespeares, and all brave men and women (rum or no rum) are among the noblest blessings with which God has endowed mankind—because, not being perfect, they are perfect examples pointing to that perfection which nothing yet has attained.

Thoreau's mysticism at times throws him into elusive moods—but an elusiveness held by a thread to something concrete and specific, for he had too much integrity of mind for any other kind. In these moments it is easier to follow his thought than to follow him. Indeed, if he were always easy to follow, after one had caught up with him, one might find that it was not Thoreau.

It is, however, with no mystic rod that he strikes at institutional life. Here again he felt the influence of the great transcendental doctrine of "innate goodness" in human nature—a reflection of the like in nature; a philosophic part which, by the way, was a more direct inheritance in Thoreau than in his brother transcendentalists. For besides what he received from a native Unitarianism a good part must have descended to him through his Huguenot blood from the "eighteenth-century French philosophy." We trace a reason here for his lack of interest in "the church." For if revealed religion is the path between God and man's spiritual part—a kind of formal causeway—Thoreau's highly developed spiritual life felt, apparently unconsciously, less need of it than most men. But he might have been more charitable towards those who do need it (and most of us do) if he had been more conscious of his freedom. Those who look today for the cause of a seeming deterioration in the influence of the church may find it in a wider development of this feeling of Thoreau's; that the need is less because there is more of the spirit of Christianity in the world today. Another cause for his attitude towards the church as an institution is one always too common among "the narrow minds" to have influenced Thoreau. He could have been more generous. He took the arc for the circle, the exception for the rule, the solitary bad example for the many good ones. His persistent emphasis on the value of "example" may excuse this lower viewpoint. "The silent influence of the example of one sincere life ... has benefited society more than all the projects devised for its salvation." He has little patience for the unpracticing preacher. "In some countries a hunting parson is no uncommon sight. Such a one might make a good shepherd dog but is far from being a good shepherd." It would have been interesting to have seen him handle the speculating parson, who takes a good salary—more per annum than all the disciples had to sustain their bodies during their whole lives—from a metropolitan religious corporation for "speculating" on Sunday about the beauty of poverty, who preaches: "Take no thought (for your life) what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink nor yet what ye shall put on ... lay not up for yourself treasure upon earth ... take up thy cross and follow me"; who on Monday becomes a "speculating" disciple of another god, and by questionable investments, successful enough to get into the "press," seeks to lay up a treasure of a million dollars for his old age, as if a million dollars could keep such a man out of the poor-house. Thoreau might observe that this one good example of Christian degeneracy undoes all the acts of regeneracy of a thousand humble five-hundred-dollar country parsons; that it out-influences the "unconscious influence" of a dozen Dr. Bushnells if there be that many; that the repentance of this man who did not "fall from grace" because he never fell into it—that this unnecessary repentance might save this man's own soul but not necessarily the souls of the million head-line readers; that repentance would put this preacher right with the powers that be in this world—and the next. Thoreau might pass a remark upon this man's intimacy with God "as if he had a monopoly of the subject"—an intimacy that perhaps kept him from asking God exactly what his Son meant by the "camel," the "needle"—to say nothing of the "rich man." Thoreau might have wondered how this man NAILED DOWN the last plank in HIS bridge to salvation, by rising to sublime heights of patriotism, in HIS war against materialism; but would even Thoreau be so unfeeling as to suggest to this exhorter that HIS salvation might be clinched "if he would sacrifice his income" (not himself) and come—in to a real Salvation Army, or that the final triumph, the supreme happiness in casting aside this mere $10,000 or $20,000 every year must be denied him—for was he not captain of the ship—must he not stick to his passengers (in the first cabin—the very first cabin)—not that the ship was sinking but that he was ... we will go no further. Even Thoreau would not demand sacrifice for sacrifice sake—no, not even from Nature.

Property from the standpoint of its influence in checking natural self-expansion and from the standpoint of personal and inherent right is another institution that comes in for straight and cross-arm jabs, now to the stomach, now to the head, but seldom sparring for breath. For does he not say that "wherever a man goes, men will pursue him with their dirty institutions"? The influence of property, as he saw it, on morality or immorality and how through this it mayor should influence "government" is seen by the following: "I am convinced that if all men were to live as simply as I did, then thieving and robbery would be unknown. These take place only in communities where some have got more than is sufficient while others have not enough—

Nec bella fuerunt, Faginus astabat dum Scyphus ante dapes—

You who govern public affairs, what need have you to employ punishments? Have virtue and the people will be virtuous." If Thoreau had made the first sentence read: "If all men were like me and were to live as simply," etc., everyone would agree with him. We may wonder here how he would account for some of the degenerate types we are told about in some of our backwoods and mountain regions. Possibly by assuming that they are an instance of perversion of the species. That the little civilizing their forbears experienced rendered these people more susceptible to the physical than to the spiritual influence of nature; in other words; if they had been purer naturists, as the Aztecs for example, they would have been purer men. Instead of turning to any theory of ours or of Thoreau for the true explanation of this condition—which is a kind of pseudo-naturalism—for its true diagnosis and permanent cure, are we not far more certain to find it in the radiant look of humility, love, and hope in the strong faces of those inspired souls who are devoting their lives with no little sacrifice to these outcasts of civilization and nature. In truth, may not mankind find the solution of its eternal problem—find it after and beyond the last, most perfect system of wealth distribution which science can ever devise—after and beyond the last sublime echo of the greatest socialistic symphonies—after and beyond every transcendent thought and expression in the simple example of these Christ-inspired souls—be they Pagan, Gentile, Jew, or angel.

However, underlying the practical or impractical suggestions implied in the quotation above, which is from the last paragraph of Thoreau's Village, is the same transcendental theme of "innate goodness." For this reason there must be no limitation except that which will free mankind from limitation, and from a perversion of this "innate" possession: And "property" may be one of the causes of this perversion—property in the two relations cited above. It is conceivable that Thoreau, to the consternation of the richest members of the Bolsheviki and Bourgeois, would propose a policy of liberation, a policy of a limited personal property right, on the ground that congestion of personal property tends to limit the progress of the soul (as well as the progress of the stomach)—letting the economic noise thereupon take care of itself—for dissonances are becoming beautiful—and do not the same waters that roar in a storm take care of the eventual calm? That this limit of property be determined not by the VOICE of the majority but by the BRAIN of the majority under a government limited to no national boundaries. "The government of the world I live in is not framed in after-dinner conversation"—around a table in a capital city, for there is no capital—a government of principles not parties; of a few fundamental truths and not of many political expediencies. A government conducted by virtuous leaders, for it will be led by all, for all are virtuous, as then their "innate virtue" will no more be perverted by unnatural institutions. This will not be a millennium but a practical and possible application of uncommon common sense. For is it not sense, common or otherwise, for Nature to want to hand back the earth to those to whom it belongs—that is, to those who have to live on it? Is it not sense, that the average brains like the average stomachs will act rightly if they have an equal amount of the right kind of food to act upon and universal education is on the way with the right kind of food? Is it not sense then that all grown men and women (for all are necessary to work out the divine "law of averages") shall have a direct not an indirect say about the things that go on in this world?

Some of these attitudes, ungenerous or radical, generous or conservative (as you will), towards institutions dear to many, have no doubt given impressions unfavorable to Thoreau's thought and personality. One hears him called, by some who ought to know what they say and some who ought not, a crabbed, cold-hearted, sour-faced Yankee—a kind of a visionary sore-head—a cross-grained, egotistic recluse,—even non-hearted. But it is easier to make a statement than prove a reputation. Thoreau may be some of these things to those who make no distinction between these qualities and the manner which often comes as a kind of by-product of an intense devotion of a principle or ideal. He was rude and unfriendly at times but shyness probably had something to do with that. In spite of a certain self-possession he was diffident in most company, but, though he may have been subject to those spells when words do not rise and the mind seems wrapped in a kind of dull cloth which everyone dumbly stares at, instead of looking through—he would easily get off a rejoinder upon occasion. When a party of visitors came to Walden and some one asked Thoreau if he found it lonely there, he replied: "Only by your help." A remark characteristic, true, rude, if not witty. The writer remembers hearing a schoolteacher in English literature dismiss Thoreau (and a half hour lesson, in which time all of Walden,—its surface—was sailed over) by saying that this author (he called everyone "author" from Solomon down to Dr. Parkhurst) "was a kind of a crank who styled himself a hermit-naturalist and who idled about the woods because he didn't want to work." Some such stuff is a common conception, though not as common as it used to be. If this teacher had had more brains, it would have been a lie. The word idled is the hopeless part of this criticism, or rather of this uncritical remark. To ask this kind of a man, who plays all the "choice gems from celebrated composers" literally, always literally, and always with the loud pedal, who plays all hymns, wrong notes, right notes, games, people, and jokes literally, and with the loud pedal, who will die literally and with the loud pedal—to ask this man to smile even faintly at Thoreau's humor is like casting a pearl before a coal baron. Emerson implies that there is one thing a genius must have to be a genius and that is "mother wit." ... "Doctor Johnson, Milton, Chaucer, and Burns had it. Aunt Mary Moody Emerson has it and can write scrap letters. Who has it need never write anything but scraps. Henry Thoreau has it." His humor though a part of this wit is not always as spontaneous, for it is sometimes pun shape (so is Charles Lamb's)—but it is nevertheless a kind that can serenely transport us and which we can enjoy without disturbing our neighbors. If there are those who think him cold-hearted and with but little human sympathy, let them read his letters to Emerson's little daughter, or hear Dr. Emerson tell about the Thoreau home life and the stories of his boyhood—the ministrations to a runaway slave; or let them ask old Sam Staples, the Concord sheriff about him. That he "was fond of a few intimate friends, but cared not one fig for people in the mass," is a statement made in a school history and which is superficially true. He cared too much for the masses—too much to let his personality be "massed"; too much to be unable to realize the futility of wearing his heart on his sleeve but not of wearing his path to the shore of "Walden" for future masses to walk over and perchance find the way to themselves. Some near-satirists are fond of telling us that Thoreau came so close to Nature that she killed him before he had discovered her whole secret. They remind us that he died with consumption but forget that he lived with consumption. And without using much charity, this can be made to excuse many of his irascible and uncongenial moods. You to whom that gaunt face seems forbidding—look into the eyes! If he seems "dry and priggish" to you, Mr. Stevenson, "with little of that large unconscious geniality of the world's heroes," follow him some spring morning to Baker Farm, as he "rambles through pine groves ... like temples, or like fleets at sea, full-rigged, with wavy boughs and rippling with light so soft and green and shady that the Druids would have forsaken their oaks to worship in them." Follow him to "the cedar wood beyond Flint's Pond, where the trees covered with hoary blue berries, spiring higher and higher, are fit to stand before Valhalla." Follow him, but not too closely, for you may see little, if you do—"as he walks in so pure and bright a light gilding its withered grass and leaves so softly and serenely bright that he thinks he has never bathed in such a golden flood." Follow him as "he saunters towards the holy land till one day the sun shall shine more brightly than ever it has done, perchance shine into your minds and hearts and light up your whole lives with a great awakening, light as warm and serene and golden as on a bankside in autumn." Follow him through the golden flood to the shore of that "holy land," where he lies dying as men say—dying as bravely as he lived. You may be near when his stern old aunt in the duty of her Puritan conscience asks him: "Have you made your peace with God"? and you may see his kindly smile as he replies, "I did not know that we had ever quarreled." Moments like these reflect more nobility and equanimity perhaps than geniality—qualities, however, more serviceable to world's heroes.

The personal trait that one who has affection for Thoreau may find worst is a combative streak, in which he too often takes refuge. "An obstinate elusiveness," almost a "contrary cussedness," as if he would say, which he didn't: "If a truth about something is not as I think it ought to be, I'll make it what I think, and it WILL be the truth—but if you agree with me, then I begin to think it may not be the truth." The causes of these unpleasant colors (rather than characteristics) are too easily attributed to a lack of human sympathy or to the assumption that they are at least symbols of that lack instead of to a supersensitiveness, magnified at times by ill health and at times by a subconsciousness of the futility of actually living out his ideals in this life. It has been said that his brave hopes were unrealized anywhere in his career—but it is certain that they started to be realized on or about May 6, 1862, and we doubt if 1920 will end their fulfillment or his career. But there were many in Concord who knew that within their village there was a tree of wondrous growth, the shadow of which—alas, too frequently—was the only part they were allowed to touch. Emerson was one of these. He was not only deeply conscious of Thoreau's rare gifts but in the Woodland Notes pays a tribute to a side of his friend that many others missed. Emerson knew that Thoreau's sensibilities too often veiled his nobilities, that a self-cultivated stoicism ever fortified with sarcasm, none the less securely because it seemed voluntary, covered a warmth of feeling. "His great heart, him a hermit made." A breadth of heart not easily measured, found only in the highest type of sentimentalists, the type which does not perpetually discriminate in favor of mankind. Emerson has much of this sentiment and touches it when he sings of Nature as "the incarnation of a thought," when he generously visualizes Thoreau, "standing at the Walden shore invoking the vision of a thought as it drifts heavenward into an incarnation of Nature." There is a Godlike patience in Nature,-in her mists, her trees, her mountains—as if she had a more abiding faith and a clearer vision than man of the resurrection and immortality! There comes to memory an old yellow-papered composition of school-boy days whose peroration closed with "Poor Thoreau; he communed with nature for forty odd years, and then died." "The forty odd years,"—we'll still grant that part, but he is over a hundred now, and maybe, Mr. Lowell, he is more lovable, kindlier, and more radiant with human sympathy today, than, perchance, you were fifty years ago. It may be that he is a far stronger, a far greater, an incalculably greater force in the moral and spiritual fibre of his fellow-countrymen throughout the world today than you dreamed of fifty years ago. You, James Russell Lowells! You, Robert Louis Stevensons! You, Mark Van Dorens! with your literary perception, your power of illumination, your brilliancy of expression, yea, and with your love of sincerity, you know your Thoreau, but not my Thoreau—that reassuring and true friend, who stood by me one "low" day, when the sun had gone down, long, long before sunset. You may know something of the affection that heart yearned for but knew it a duty not to grasp; you may know something of the great human passions which stirred that soul—too deep for animate expression—you may know all of this, all there is to know about Thoreau, but you know him not, unless you love him!

And if there shall be a program for our music let it follow his thought on an autumn day of Indian summer at Walden—a shadow of a thought at first, colored by the mist and haze over the pond:

Low anchored cloud, Fountain head and Source of rivers... Dew cloth, dream drapery— Drifting meadow of the air....

but this is momentary; the beauty of the day moves him to a certain restlessness—to aspirations more specific—an eagerness for outward action, but through it all he is conscious that it is not in keeping with the mood for this "Day." As the mists rise, there comes a clearer thought more traditional than the first, a meditation more calm. As he stands on the side of the pleasant hill of pines and hickories in front of his cabin, he is still disturbed by a restlessness and goes down the white-pebbled and sandy eastern shore, but it seems not to lead him where the thought suggests—he climbs the path along the "bolder northern" and "western shore, with deep bays indented," and now along the railroad track, "where the Aeolian harp plays." But his eagerness throws him into the lithe, springy stride of the specie hunter—the naturalist—he is still aware of a restlessness; with these faster steps his rhythm is of shorter span—it is still not the tempo of Nature, it does not bear the mood that the genius of the day calls for, it is too specific, its nature is too external, the introspection too buoyant, and he knows now that he must let Nature flow through him and slowly; he releases his more personal desires to her broader rhythm, conscious that this blends more and more with the harmony of her solitude; it tells him that his search for freedom on that day, at least, lies in his submission to her, for Nature is as relentless as she is benignant.

He remains in this mood and while outwardly still, he seems to move with the slow, almost monotonous swaying beat of this autumnal day. He is more contented with a "homely burden" and is more assured of "the broad margin to his life; he sits in his sunny doorway ... rapt in revery ... amidst goldenrod, sandcherry, and sumac ... in undisturbed solitude." At times the more definite personal strivings for the ideal freedom, the former more active speculations come over him, as if he would trace a certain intensity even in his submission. "He grew in those seasons like corn in the night and they were better than any works of the hands. They were not time subtracted from his life but so much over and above the usual allowance." "He realized what the Orientals meant by contemplation and forsaking of works." "The day advanced as if to light some work of his—it was morning and lo! now it is evening and nothing memorable is accomplished..." "The evening train has gone by," and "all the restless world with it. The fishes in the pond no longer feel its rumbling and he is more alone than ever..." His meditations are interrupted only by the faint sound of the Concord bell—'tis prayer-meeting night in the village—"a melody as it were, imported into the wilderness..." "At a distance over the woods the sound acquires a certain vibratory hum as if the pine needles in the horizon were the strings of a harp which it swept... A vibration of the universal lyre... Just as the intervening atmosphere makes a distant ridge of earth interesting to the eyes by the azure tint it imparts." ... Part of the echo may be "the voice of the wood; the same trivial words and notes sung by the wood nymph." It is darker, the poet's flute is heard out over the pond and Walden hears the swan song of that "Day" and faintly echoes... Is it a transcendental tune of Concord? 'Tis an evening when the "whole body is one sense," ... and before ending his day he looks out over the clear, crystalline water of the pond and catches a glimpse of the shadow—thought he saw in the morning's mist and haze—he knows that by his final submission, he possesses the "Freedom of the Night." He goes up the "pleasant hillside of pines, hickories," and moonlight to his cabin, "with a strange liberty in Nature, a part of herself."



The futility of attempting to trace the source or primal impulse of an art-inspiration may be admitted without granting that human qualities or attributes which go with personality cannot be suggested, and that artistic intuitions which parallel them cannot be reflected in music. Actually accomplishing the latter is a problem, more or less arbitrary to an open mind, more or less impossible to a prejudiced mind.

That which the composer intends to represent as "high vitality" sounds like something quite different to different listeners. That which I like to think suggests Thoreau's submission to nature may, to another, seem something like Hawthorne's "conception of the relentlessness of an evil conscience"—and to the rest of our friends, but a series of unpleasant sounds. How far can the composer be held accountable? Beyond a certain point the responsibility is more or less undeterminable. The outside characteristics—that is, the points furthest away from the mergings—are obvious to mostly anyone. A child knows a "strain of joy," from one of sorrow. Those a little older know the dignified from the frivolous—the Spring Song from the season in which the "melancholy days have come" (though is there not a glorious hope in autumn!). But where is the definite expression of late-spring against early-summer, of happiness against optimism? A painter paints a sunset—can he paint the setting sun?

In some century to come, when the school children will whistle popular tunes in quarter-tones—when the diatonic scale will be as obsolete as the pentatonic is now—perhaps then these borderland experiences may be both easily expressed and readily recognized. But maybe music was not intended to satisfy the curious definiteness of man. Maybe it is better to hope that music may always be a transcendental language in the most extravagant sense. Possibly the power of literally distinguishing these "shades of abstraction"—these attributes paralleled by "artistic intuitions" (call them what you will)-is ever to be denied man for the same reason that the beginning and end of a circle are to be denied.


There may be an analogy—and on first sight it seems that there must be—between both the state and power of artistic perceptions and the law of perpetual change, that ever-flowing stream partly biological, partly cosmic, ever going on in ourselves, in nature, in all life. This may account for the difficulty of identifying desired qualities with the perceptions of them in expression. Many things are constantly coming into being, while others are constantly going out—one part of the same thing is coming in while another part is going out of existence. Perhaps this is why the above conformity in art (a conformity which we seem naturally to look for) appears at times so unrealizable, if not impossible. It will be assumed, to make this theory clearer, that the "flow" or "change" does not go on in the art-product itself. As a matter of fact it probably does, to a certain extent—a picture, or a song, may gain or lose in value beyond what the painter or composer knew, by the progress and higher development in all art. Keats may be only partially true when he says that "A work of beauty is a joy forever"—a thing that is beautiful to ME, is a joy to ME, as long as it remains beautiful to ME—and if it remains so as long as I live, it is so forever, that is, forever to ME. If he had put it this way, he would have been tiresome, inartistic, but perhaps truer. So we will assume here that this change only goes on in man and nature; and that this eternal process in mankind is paralleled in some way during each temporary, personal life.

A young man, two generations ago, found an identity with his ideals, in Rossini; when an older man in Wagner. A young man, one generation ago, found his in Wagner, but when older in Cesar Franck or Brahms. Some may say that this change may not be general, universal, or natural, and that it may be due to a certain kind of education, or to a certain inherited or contracted prejudice. We cannot deny or affirm this, absolutely, nor will we try to even qualitatively—except to say that it will be generally admitted that Rossini, today, does not appeal to this generation, as he did to that of our fathers. As far as prejudice or undue influence is concerned, and as an illustration in point, the following may be cited to show that training may have but little effect in this connection, at least not as much as usually supposed—for we believe this experience to be, to a certain extent, normal, or at least, not uncommon. A man remembers, when he was a boy of about fifteen years, hearing his music-teacher (and father) who had just returned from a performance of Siegfried say with a look of anxious surprise that "somehow or other he felt ashamed of enjoying the music as he did," for beneath it all he was conscious of an undercurrent of "make-believe"—the bravery was make-believe, the love was make-believe, the passion, the virtue, all make-believe, as was the dragon—P. T. Barnum would have been brave enough to have gone out and captured a live one! But, that same boy at twenty-five was listening to Wagner with enthusiasm, his reality was real enough to inspire a devotion. The "Preis-Lied," for instance, stirred him deeply. But when he became middle-aged—and long before the Hohenzollern hog-marched into Belgium—this music had become cloying, the melodies threadbare—a sense of something commonplace—yes—of make-believe came. These feelings were fought against for association's sake, and because of gratitude for bygone pleasures—but the former beauty and nobility were not there, and in their place stood irritating intervals of descending fourths and fifths. Those once transcendent progressions, luxuriant suggestions of Debussy chords of the 9th, 11th, etc., were becoming slimy. An unearned exultation—a sentimentality deadening something within hides around in the music. Wagner seems less and less to measure up to the substance and reality of Cesar Franck, Brahms, d'Indy, or even Elgar (with all his tiresomeness), the wholesomeness, manliness, humility, and deep spiritual, possibly religious feeling of these men seem missing and not made up for by his (Wagner's) manner and eloquence, even if greater than theirs (which is very doubtful).

From the above we would try to prove that as this stream of change flows towards the eventual ocean of mankind's perfection, the art-works in which we identify our higher ideals come by this process to be identified with the lower ideals of those who embark after us when the stream has grown in depth. If we stop with the above experience, our theory of the effect of man's changing nature, as thus explaining artistic progress, is perhaps sustained. Thus would we show that the perpetual flow of the life stream is affected by and affects each individual riverbed of the universal watersheds. Thus would we prove that the Wagner period was normal, because we intuitively recognized whatever identity we were looking for at a certain period in our life, and the fact that it was so made the Franck period possible and then normal at a later period in our life. Thus would we assume that this is as it should be, and that it is not Wagner's content or substance or his lack of virtue, that something in us has made us flow past him and not he past us. But something blocks our theory! Something makes our hypotheses seem purely speculative if not useless. It is men like Bach and Beethoven.

Is it not a matter nowadays of common impression or general opinion (for the law of averages plays strongly in any theory relating to human attributes) that the world's attitude towards the substance and quality and spirit of these two men, or other men of like character, if there be such, has not been affected by the flowing stream that has changed us? But if by the measure of this public opinion, as well as it can be measured, Bach and Beethoven are being flowed past—not as fast perhaps as Wagner is, but if they are being passed at all from this deeper viewpoint, then this "change" theory holds.

Here we shall have to assume, for we haven't proved it, that artistic intuitions can sense in music a weakening of moral strength and vitality, and that it is sensed in relation to Wagner and not sensed in relation to Bach and Beethoven. If, in this common opinion, there is a particle of change toward the latter's art, our theory stands—mind you, this admits a change in the manner, form, external expression, etc., but not in substance. If there is no change here towards the substance of these two men, our theory not only falls but its failure superimposes or allows us to presume a fundamental duality in music, and in all art for that matter.

Does the progress of intrinsic beauty or truth (we assume there is such a thing) have its exposures as well as its discoveries? Does the non-acceptance of the foregoing theory mean that Wagner's substance and reality are lower and his manner higher; that his beauty was not intrinsic; that he was more interested in the repose of pride than in the truth of humility? It appears that he chose the representative instead of the spirit itself,—that he chose consciously or unconsciously, it matters not,—the lower set of values in this dualism. These are severe accusations to bring—especially when a man is a little down as Wagner is today. But these convictions were present some time before he was banished from the Metropolitan. Wagner seems to take Hugo's place in Faguet's criticism of de Vigny that, "The staging to him (Hugo) was the important thing—not the conception—that in de Vigny, the artist was inferior to the poet"; finally that Hugo and so Wagner have a certain pauvrete de fond. Thus would we ungenerously make Wagner prove our sum! But it is a sum that won't prove! The theory at its best does little more than suggest something, which if it is true at all, is a platitude, viz.: that progressive growth in all life makes it more and more possible for men to separate, in an art-work, moral weakness from artistic strength.


Human attributes are definite enough when it comes to their description, but the expression of them, or the paralleling of them in an art-process, has to be, as said above, more or less arbitrary, but we believe that their expression can be less vague if the basic distinction of this art-dualism is kept in mind. It is morally certain that the higher part is founded, as Sturt suggests, on something that has to do with those kinds of unselfish human interests which we call knowledge and morality—knowledge, not in the sense of erudition, but as a kind of creation or creative truth. This allows us to assume that the higher and more important value of this dualism is composed of what may be called reality, quality, spirit, or substance against the lower value of form, quantity, or manner. Of these terms "substance" seems to us the most appropriate, cogent, and comprehensive for the higher and "manner" for the under-value. Substance in a human-art-quality suggests the body of a conviction which has its birth in the spiritual consciousness, whose youth is nourished in the moral consciousness, and whose maturity as a result of all this growth is then represented in a mental image. This is appreciated by the intuition, and somehow translated into expression by "manner"—a process always less important than it seems, or as suggested by the foregoing (in fact we apologize for this attempted definition). So it seems that "substance" is too indefinite to analyze, in more specific terms. It is practically indescribable. Intuitions (artistic or not?) will sense it—process, unknown. Perhaps it is an unexplained consciousness of being nearer God, or being nearer the devil—of approaching truth or approaching unreality—a silent something felt in the truth-of-nature in Turner against the truth-of-art in Botticelli, or in the fine thinking of Ruskin against the fine soundings of Kipling, or in the wide expanse of Titian against the narrow-expanse of Carpaccio, or in some such distinction that Pope sees between what he calls Homer's "invention" and Virgil's "judgment"—apparently an inspired imagination against an artistic care, a sense of the difference, perhaps, between Dr. Bushnell's Knowing God and knowing about God. A more vivid explanation or illustration may be found in the difference between Emerson and Poe. The former seems to be almost wholly "substance" and the latter "manner." The measure in artistic satisfaction of Poe's manner is equal to the measure of spiritual satisfaction in Emerson's "substance." The total value of each man is high, but Emerson's is higher than Poe's because "substance" is higher than "manner"—because "substance" leans towards optimism, and "manner" pessimism. We do not know that all this is so, but we feel, or rather know by intuition that it is so, in the same way we know intuitively that right is higher than wrong, though we can't always tell why a thing is right or wrong, or what is always the difference or the margin between right and wrong.

Beauty, in its common conception, has nothing to do with it (substance), unless it be granted that its outward aspect, or the expression between sensuous beauty and spiritual beauty can be always and distinctly known, which it cannot, as the art of music is still in its infancy. On reading this over, it seems only decent that some kind of an apology be made for the beginning of the preceding sentence. It cannot justly be said that anything that has to do with art has nothing to do with beauty in any degree,—that is, whether beauty is there or not, it has something to do with it. A casual idea of it, a kind of a first necessary-physical impression, was what we had in mind. Probably nobody knows what actual beauty is—except those serious writers of humorous essays in art magazines, who accurately, but kindly, with club in hand, demonstrate for all time and men that beauty is a quadratic monomial; that it is absolute; that it is relative; that it is not relative, that it is not... The word "beauty" is as easy to use as the word "degenerate." Both come in handy when one does or does not agree with you. For our part, something that Roussel-Despierres says comes nearer to what we like to think beauty is ... "an infinite source of good ... the love of the beautiful ... a constant anxiety for moral beauty." Even here we go around in a circle—a thing apparently inevitable, if one tries to reduce art to philosophy. But personally, we prefer to go around in a circle than around in a parallelepipedon, for it seems cleaner and perhaps freer from mathematics—or for the same reason we prefer Whittier to Baudelaire—a poet to a genius, or a healthy to a rotten apple—probably not so much because it is more nutritious, but because we like its taste better; we like the beautiful and don't like the ugly; therefore, what we like is beautiful, and what we don't like is ugly—and hence we are glad the beautiful is not ugly, for if it were we would like something we don't like. So having unsettled what beauty is, let us go on.

At any rate, we are going to be arbitrary enough to claim, with no definite qualification, that substance can be expressed in music, and that it is the only valuable thing in it, and moreover that in two separate pieces of music in which the notes are almost identical, one can be of "substance" with little "manner," and the other can be of "manner" with little "substance." Substance has something to do with character. Manner has nothing to do with it. The "substance" of a tune comes from somewhere near the soul, and the "manner" comes from—God knows where.


The lack of interest to preserve, or ability to perceive the fundamental divisions of this duality accounts to a large extent, we believe, for some or many various phenomena (pleasant or unpleasant according to the personal attitude) of modern art, and all art. It is evidenced in many ways—the sculptors' over-insistence on the "mold," the outer rather than the inner subject or content of his statue—over-enthusiasm for local color—over-interest in the multiplicity of techniques, in the idiomatic, in the effect as shown, by the appreciation of an audience rather than in the effect on the ideals of the inner conscience of the artist or the composer. This lack of perceiving is too often shown by an over-interest in the material value of the effect. The pose of self-absorption, which some men, in the advertising business (and incidentally in the recital and composing business) put into their photographs or the portraits of themselves, while all dolled up in their purple-dressing-gowns, in their twofold wealth of golden hair, in their cissy-like postures over the piano keys—this pose of "manner" sometimes sounds out so loud that the more their music is played, the less it is heard. For does not Emerson tell them this when he says "What you are talks so loud, that I cannot hear what you say"? The unescapable impression that one sometimes gets by a glance at these public-inflicted trade-marks, and without having heard or seen any of their music, is that the one great underlying desire of these appearing-artists, is to impress, perhaps startle and shock their audiences and at any cost. This may have some such effect upon some of the lady-part (male or female) of their listeners but possibly the members of the men-part, who as boys liked hockey better than birthday-parties, may feel like shocking a few of these picture-sitters with something stronger than their own forzandos.

The insistence upon manner in its relation to local color is wider than a self-strain for effect. If local color is a natural part, that is, a part of substance, the art-effort cannot help but show its color—and it will be a true color, no matter how colored; if it is a part, even a natural part of "manner," either the color part is bound eventually to drive out the local part or the local drive out all color. Here a process of cancellation or destruction is going on—a kind of "compromise" which destroys by deadlock; a compromise purchasing a selfish pleasure—a decadence in which art becomes first dull, then dark, then dead, though throughout this process it is outwardly very much alive,—especially after it is dead. The same tendency may even be noticed if there is over-insistence upon the national in art. Substance tends to create affection; manner prejudice. The latter tends to efface the distinction between the love of both a country's virtue and vices, and the love of only the virtue. A true love of country is likely to be so big that it will embrace the virtue one sees in other countries and, in the same breath, so to speak. A composer born in America, but who has not been interested in the "cause of the Freedmen," may be so interested in "negro melodies," that he writes a symphony over them. He is conscious (perhaps only subconscious) that he wishes it to be "American music." He tries to forget that the paternal negro came from Africa. Is his music American or African? That is the great question which keeps him awake! But the sadness of it is, that if he had been born in Africa, his music might have been just as American, for there is good authority that an African soul under an X-ray looks identically like an American soul. There is a futility in selecting a certain type to represent a "whole," unless the interest in the spirit of the type coincides with that of the whole. In other words, if this composer isn't as deeply interested in the "cause" as Wendell Phillips was, when he fought his way through that anti-abolitionist crowd at Faneuil Hall, his music is liable to be less American than he wishes. If a middle-aged man, upon picking up the Scottish Chiefs, finds that his boyhood enthusiasm for the prowess and noble deeds and character of Sir Wm. Wallace and of Bruce is still present, let him put, or try to put that glory into an overture, let him fill it chuck-full of Scotch tunes, if he will. But after all is said and sung he will find that his music is American to the core (assuming that he is an American and wishes his music to be). It will be as national in character as the heart of that Grand Army Grandfather, who read those Cragmore Tales of a summer evening, when that boy had brought the cows home without witching. Perhaps the memories of the old soldier, to which this man still holds tenderly, may be turned into a "strain" or a "sonata," and though the music does not contain, or even suggest any of the old war-songs, it will be as sincerely American as the subject, provided his (the composer's) interest, spirit, and character sympathize with, or intuitively coincide with that of the subject.

Again, if a man finds that the cadences of an Apache war-dance come nearest to his soul, provided he has taken pains to know enough other cadences—for eclecticism is part of his duty—sorting potatoes means a better crop next year—let him assimilate whatever he finds highest of the Indian ideal, so that he can use it with the cadences, fervently, transcendentally, inevitably, furiously, in his symphonies, in his operas, in his whistlings on the way to work, so that he can paint his house with them—make them a part of his prayer-book—this is all possible and necessary, if he is confident that they have a part in his spiritual consciousness. With this assurance his music will have everything it should of sincerity, nobility, strength, and beauty, no matter how it sounds; and if, with this, he is true to none but the highest of American ideals (that is, the ideals only that coincide with his spiritual consciousness) his music will be true to itself and incidentally American, and it will be so even after it is proved that all our Indians came from Asia.

The man "born down to Babbitt's Corners," may find a deep appeal in the simple but acute "Gospel Hymns of the New England camp meetin'," of a generation or so ago. He finds in them—some of them—a vigor, a depth of feeling, a natural-soil rhythm, a sincerity, emphatic but inartistic, which, in spite of a vociferous sentimentality, carries him nearer the "Christ of the people" than does the Te Deum of the greatest cathedral. These tunes have, for him, a truer ring than many of those groove-made, even-measured, monotonous, non-rhythmed, indoor-smelling, priest-taught, academic, English or neo-English hymns (and anthems)—well-written, well-harmonized things, well-voice-led, well-counterpointed, well-corrected, and well O.K.'d, by well corrected Mus. Bac. R.F.O.G.'s-personified sounds, correct and inevitable to sight and hearing—in a word, those proper forms of stained-glass beauty, which our over-drilled mechanisms-boy-choirs are limited to. But, if the Yankee can reflect the fervency with which "his gospels" were sung—the fervency of "Aunt Sarah," who scrubbed her life away, for her brother's ten orphans, the fervency with which this woman, after a fourteen-hour work day on the farm, would hitch up and drive five miles, through the mud and rain to "prayer meetin'"—her one articulate outlet for the fullness of her unselfish soul—if he can reflect the fervency of such a spirit, he may find there a local color that will do all the world good. If his music can but catch that "spirit" by being a part with itself, it will come somewhere near his ideal—and it will be American, too, perhaps nearer so than that of the devotee of Indian or negro melody. In other words, if local color, national color, any color, is a true pigment of the universal color, it is a divine quality, it is a part of substance in art—not of manner. The preceding illustrations are but attempts to show that whatever excellence an artist sees in life, a community, in a people, or in any valuable object or experience, if sincerely and intuitively reflected in his work, and so he himself, is, in a way, a reflected part of that excellence. Whether he be accepted or rejected, whether his music is always played, or never played—all this has nothing to do with it—it is true or false by his own measure. If we may be permitted to leave out two words, and add a few more, a sentence of Hegel appears to sum up this idea, "The universal need for expression in art lies in man's rational impulse to exalt the inner ... world (i.e., the highest ideals he sees in the inner life of others) together with what he finds in his own life—into a spiritual consciousness for himself." The artist does feel or does not feel that a sympathy has been approved by an artistic intuition and so reflected in his work. Whether he feels this sympathy is true or not in the final analysis, is a thing probably that no one but he (the artist) knows but the truer he feels it, the more substance it has, or as Sturt puts it, "his work is art, so long as he feels in doing it as true artists feel, and so long as his object is akin to the objects that true artists admire."

Dr. Griggs in an Essay on Debussy, [John C. Griggs, "Debussy" Yale Review, 1914] asks if this composer's content is worthy the manner. Perhaps so, perhaps not—Debussy himself, doubtless, could not give a positive answer. He would better know how true his feeling and sympathy was, and anyone else's personal opinion can be of but little help here.

We might offer the suggestion that Debussy's content would have been worthier his manner, if he had hoed corn or sold newspapers for a living, for in this way he might have gained a deeper vitality and truer theme to sing at night and of a Sunday. Or we might say that what substance there is, is "too coherent"—it is too clearly expressed in the first thirty seconds. There you have the "whole fragment," a translucent syllogism, but then the reality, the spirit, the substance stops and the "form," the "perfume," the "manner," shimmer right along, as the soapsuds glisten after one has finished washing. Or we might say that his substance would have been worthier, if his adoration or contemplation of Nature, which is often a part of it, and which rises to great heights, as is felt for example, in La Mer, had been more the quality of Thoreau's. Debussy's attitude toward Nature seems to have a kind of sensual sensuousness underlying it, while Thoreau's is a kind of spiritual sensuousness. It is rare to find a farmer or peasant whose enthusiasm for the beauty in Nature finds outward expression to compare with that of the city-man who comes out for a Sunday in the country, but Thoreau is that rare country-man and Debussy the city-man with his weekend flights into country-aesthetics. We would be inclined to say that Thoreau leaned towards substance and Debussy towards manner.


There comes from Concord, an offer to every mind—the choice between repose and truth, and God makes the offer. "Take which you please ... between these, as a pendulum, man oscillates. He in whom the love of repose predominates will accept the first creed, the first philosophy, the first political party he meets," most likely his father's. He gets rest, commodity, and reputation. Here is another aspect of art-duality, but it is more drastic than ours, as it would eliminate one part or the other. A man may aim as high as Beethoven or as high as Richard Strauss. In the former case the shot may go far below the mark; in truth, it has not been reached since that "thunder storm of 1828" and there is little chance that it will be reached by anyone living today, but that matters not, the shot will never rebound and destroy the marksman. But, in the latter case, the shot may often hit the mark, but as often rebound and harden, if not destroy, the shooter's heart—even his soul. What matters it, men say, he will then find rest, commodity, and reputation—what matters it—if he find there but few perfect truths—what matters (men say)—he will find there perfect media, those perfect instruments of getting in the way of perfect truths.

This choice tells why Beethoven is always modern and Strauss always mediaeval—try as he may to cover it up in new bottles. He has chosen to capitalize a "talent"—he has chosen the complexity of media, the shining hardness of externals, repose, against the inner, invisible activity of truth. He has chosen the first creed, the easy creed, the philosophy of his fathers, among whom he found a half-idiot-genius (Nietzsche). His choice naturally leads him to glorify and to magnify all kind of dull things—stretched-out geigermusik—which in turn naturally leads him to "windmills" and "human heads on silver platters." Magnifying the dull into the colossal, produces a kind of "comfort"—the comfort of a woman who takes more pleasure in the fit of fashionable clothes than in a healthy body—the kind of comfort that has brought so many "adventures of baby-carriages at county fairs"—"the sensation of Teddy bears, smoking their first cigarette"—on the program of symphony orchestras of one hundred performers,—the lure of the media—the means—not the end—but the finish,—thus the failure to perceive that thoughts and memories of childhood are too tender, and some of them too sacred to be worn lightly on the sleeve. Life is too short for these one hundred men, to say nothing of the composer and the "dress-circle," to spend an afternoon in this way. They are but like the rest of us, and have only the expectancy of the mortality-table to survive—perhaps only this "piece." We cannot but feel that a too great desire for "repose" accounts for such phenomena. A MS. score is brought to a concertmaster—he may be a violinist—he is kindly disposed, he looks it over, and casually fastens on a passage "that's bad for the fiddles, it doesn't hang just right, write it like this, they will play it better." But that one phrase is the germ of the whole thing. "Never mind, it will fit the hand better this way—it will sound better." My God! what has sound got to do with music! The waiter brings the only fresh egg he has, but the man at breakfast sends it back because it doesn't fit his eggcup. Why can't music go out in the same way it comes in to a man, without having to crawl over a fence of sounds, thoraxes, catguts, wire, wood, and brass? Consecutive-fifths are as harmless as blue laws compared with the relentless tyranny of the "media." The instrument!—there is the perennial difficulty—there is music's limitations. Why must the scarecrow of the keyboard—the tyrant in terms of the mechanism (be it Caruso or a Jew's-harp) stare into every measure? Is it the composer's fault that man has only ten fingers? Why can't a musical thought be presented as it is born—perchance "a bastard of the slums," or a "daughter of a bishop"—and if it happens to go better later on a bass-drum (than upon a harp) get a good bass-drummer. [Footnote: The first movement (Emerson) of the music, which is the cause of all these words, was first thought of (we believe) in terms of a large orchestra, the second (Hawthorne) in terms of a piano or a dozen pianos, the third (Alcotts)—of an organ (or piano with voice or violin), and the last (Thoreau), in terms of strings, colored possibly with a flute or horn.] That music must be heard, is not essential—what it sounds like may not be what it is. Perhaps the day is coming when music—believers will learn "that silence is a solvent ... that gives us leave to be universal" rather than personal.

Some fiddler was once honest or brave enough, or perhaps ignorant enough, to say that Beethoven didn't know how to write for the violin,—that, maybe, is one of the many reasons Beethoven is not a Vieuxtemps. Another man says Beethoven's piano sonatas are not pianistic—with a little effort, perhaps, Beethoven could have become a Thalberg. His symphonies are perfect-truths and perfect for the orchestra of 1820—but Mahler could have made them—possibly did make them—we will say, "more perfect," as far as their media clothes are concerned, and Beethoven is today big enough to rather like it. He is probably in the same amiable state of mind that the Jesuit priest said, "God was in," when He looked down on the camp ground and saw the priest sleeping with a Congregational Chaplain. Or in the same state of mind you'll be in when you look down and see the sexton keeping your tombstone up to date. The truth of Joachim offsets the repose of Paganini and Kubelik. The repose and reputation of a successful pianist—(whatever that means) who plays Chopin so cleverly that he covers up a sensuality, and in such a way that the purest-minded see nothing but sensuous beauty in it, which, by the way, doesn't disturb him as much as the size of his income-tax—the repose and fame of this man is offset by the truth and obscurity of the village organist who plays Lowell Mason and Bach with such affection that he would give his life rather than lose them. The truth and courage of this organist, who risks his job, to fight the prejudice of the congregation, offset the repose and large salary of a more celebrated choirmaster, who holds his job by lowering his ideals, who is willing to let the organ smirk under an insipid, easy-sounding barcarolle for the offertory, who is willing to please the sentimental ears of the music committee (and its wives)—who is more willing to observe these forms of politeness than to stand up for a stronger and deeper music of simple devotion, and for a service of a spiritual unity, the kind of thing that Mr. Bossitt, who owns the biggest country place, the biggest bank, and the biggest "House of God" in town (for is it not the divine handiwork of his own-pocketbook)—the kind of music that this man, his wife, and his party (of property right in pews) can't stand because it isn't "pretty."

The doctrine of this "choice" may be extended to the distinction between literal-enthusiasm and natural-enthusiasm (right or wrong notes, good or bad tones against good or bad interpretation, good or bad sentiment) or between observation and introspection, or to the distinction between remembering and dreaming. Strauss remembers, Beethoven dreams. We see this distinction also in Goethe's confusion of the moral with the intellectual. There is no such confusion in Beethoven—to him they are one. It is told, and the story is so well known that we hesitate to repeat it here, that both these men were standing in the street one day when the Emperor drove by—Goethe, like the rest of the crowd, bowed and uncovered—but Beethoven stood bolt upright, and refused even to salute, saying: "Let him bow to us, for ours is a nobler empire." Goethe's mind knew this was true, but his moral courage was not instinctive.

This remembering faculty of "repose," throws the mind in unguarded moments quite naturally towards "manner" and thus to the many things the media can do. It brings on an itching to over-use them—to be original (if anyone will tell what that is) with nothing but numbers to be original with. We are told that a conductor (of the orchestra) has written a symphony requiring an orchestra of one hundred and fifty men. If his work perhaps had one hundred and fifty valuable ideas, the one hundred and fifty men might be justifiable—but as it probably contains not more than a dozen, the composer may be unconsciously ashamed of them, and glad to cover them up under a hundred and fifty men. A man may become famous because he is able to eat nineteen dinners a day, but posterity will decorate his stomach, not his brain.

Manner breeds a cussed-cleverness—only to be clever—a satellite of super-industrialism, and perhaps to be witty in the bargain, not the wit in mother-wit, but a kind of indoor, artificial, mental arrangement of things quickly put together and which have been learned and studied—it is of the material and stays there, while humor is of the emotional and of the approaching spiritual. Even Dukas, and perhaps other Gauls, in their critical heart of hearts, may admit that "wit" in music, is as impossible as "wit" at a funeral. The wit is evidence of its lack. Mark Twain could be humorous at the death of his dearest friend, but in such a way as to put a blessing into the heart of the bereaved. Humor in music has the same possibilities. But its quantity has a serious effect on its quality, "inverse ratio" is a good formula to adopt here. Comedy has its part, but wit never. Strauss is at his best in these lower rooms, but his comedy reminds us more of the physical fun of Lever rather than "comedy in the Meredithian sense" as Mason suggests. Meredith is a little too deep or too subtle for Strauss—unless it be granted that cynicism is more a part of comedy than a part of refined-insult. Let us also remember that Mr. Disston, not Mr. Strauss, put the funny notes in the bassoon. A symphony written only to amuse and entertain is likely to amuse only the writer—and him not long after the check is cashed.

"Genius is always ascetic and piety and love," thus Emerson reinforces "God's offer of this choice" by a transcendental definition. The moment a famous violinist refused "to appear" until he had received his check,—at that moment, precisely (assuming for argument's sake, that this was the first time that materialism had the ascendancy in this man's soul) at that moment he became but a man of "talent"—incidentally, a small man and a small violinist, regardless of how perfectly he played, regardless to what heights of emotion he stirred his audience, regardless of the sublimity of his artistic and financial success.

d'Annunzio, it is told, becoming somewhat discouraged at the result of some of his Fiume adventures said: "We are the only Idealists left." This remark may have been made in a moment of careless impulse, but if it is taken at its face value, the moment it was made that moment his idealism started downhill. A grasp at monopoly indicates that a sudden shift has taken place from the heights where genius may be found, to the lower plains of talent. The mind of a true idealist is great enough to know that a monopoly of idealism or of wheat is a thing nature does not support.

A newspaper music column prints an incident (so how can we assume that it is not true?) of an American violinist who called on Max Reger, to tell him how much he (the American) appreciated his music. Reger gives him a hopeless look and cries: "What! a musician and not speak German!" At that moment, by the clock, regardless of how great a genius he may have been before that sentence was uttered—at that moment he became but a man of "talent." "For the man of talent affects to call his transgressions of the laws of sense trivial and to count them nothing considered with his devotion to his art." His art never taught him prejudice or to wear only one eye. "His art is less for every deduction from his holiness and less for every defect of common sense." And this common sense has a great deal to do with this distinguishing difference of Emerson's between genius and talent, repose and truth, and between all evidences of substance and manner in art. Manner breeds partialists. "Is America a musical nation?"—if the man who is ever asking this question would sit down and think something over he might find less interest in asking it—he might possibly remember that all nations are more musical than any nation, especially the nation that pays the most—and pays the most eagerly, for anything, after it has been professionally-rubber stamped. Music may be yet unborn. Perhaps no music has ever been written or heard. Perhaps the birth of art will take place at the moment, in which the last man, who is willing to make a living out of art is gone and gone forever. In the history of this youthful world the best product that human-beings can boast of is probably, Beethoven—but, maybe, even his art is as nothing in comparison with the future product of some coal-miner's soul in the forty-first century. And the same man who is ever asking about the most musical nation, is ever discovering the most musical man of the most musical nation. When particularly hysterical he shouts, "I have found him! Smith Grabholz—the one great American poet,—at last, here is the Moses the country has been waiting for"—(of course we all know that the country has not been waiting for anybody—and we have many Moses always with us). But the discoverer keeps right on shouting "Here is the one true American poetry, I pronounce it the work of a genius. I predict for him the most brilliant career—for his is an art that...—for his is a soul that ... for his is a..." and Grabholz is ruined;—but ruined, not alone, by this perennial discoverer of pearls in any oyster-shell that treats him the best, but ruined by his own (Grabholz's) talent,—for genius will never let itself be discovered by "a man." Then the world may ask "Can the one true national "this" or "that" be killed by its own discoverer?" "No," the country replies, "but each discovery is proof of another impossibility." It is a sad fact that the one true man and the one true art will never behave as they should except in the mind of the partialist whom God has forgotten. But this matters little to him (the man)—his business is good—for it is easy to sell the future in terms of the past—and there are always some who will buy anything. The individual usually "gains" if he is willing to but lean on "manner." The evidence of this is quite widespread, for if the discoverer happens to be in any other line of business his sudden discoveries would be just as important—to him. In fact, the theory of substance and manner in art and its related dualisms, "repose and truth, genius and talent," &c., may find illustration in many, perhaps most, of the human activities. And when examined it (the illustration) is quite likely to show how "manner" is always discovering partisans. For example, enthusiastic discoveries of the "paragon" are common in politics—an art to some. These revelations, in this profession are made easy by the pre-election discovering-leaders of the people. And the genius who is discovered, forthwith starts his speeches of "talent"—though they are hardly that—they are hardly more than a string of subplatitudes, square-looking, well-rigged things that almost everybody has seen, known, and heard since Rome or man fell. Nevertheless these signs of perfect manner, these series of noble sentiments that the "noble" never get off, are forcibly, clearly, and persuasively handed out—eloquently, even beautifully expressed, and with such personal charm, magnetism, and strength, that their profound messages speed right through the minds and hearts, without as much as spattering the walls, and land right square in the middle of the listener's vanity. For all this is a part of manner and its quality is of splendor—for manner is at times a good bluff but substance a poor one and knows it. The discovered one's usual and first great outburst is probably the greatest truth that he ever utters. Fearlessly standing, he looks straight into the eyes of the populace and with a strong ringing voice (for strong voices and strong statesmanship are inseparable) and with words far more eloquent than the following, he sings "This honor is greater than I deserve but duty calls me—(what, not stated)... If elected, I shall be your servant" ... (for, it is told, that he believes in modesty,—that he has even boasted that he is the most modest man in the country)... Thus he has the right to shout, "First, last and forever I am for the people. I am against all bosses. I have no sympathy for politicians. I am for strict economy, liberal improvements and justice! I am also for the—ten commandments" (his intuitive political sagacity keeps him from mentioning any particular one).—But a sublime height is always reached in his perorations. Here we learn that he believes in honesty—(repeat "honesty");—we are even allowed to infer that he is one of the very few who know that there is such a thing; and we also learn that since he was a little boy (barefoot) his motto has been "Do Right,"—he swerves not from the right!—he believes in nothing but the right; (to him—everything is right!—if it gets him elected); but cheers invariably stop this great final truth (in brackets) from rising to animate expression. Now all of these translucent axioms are true (are not axioms always true?),—as far as manner is concerned. In other words, the manner functions perfectly. But where is the divine substance? This is not there—why should it be—if it were he might not be there. "Substance" is not featured in this discovery. For the truth of substance is sometimes silence, sometimes ellipses,—and the latter if supplied might turn some of the declarations above into perfect truths,—for instance "first and last and forever I am for the people ('s votes). I'm against all bosses (against me). I have no sympathy for (rival) politicians," etc., etc. But these tedious attempts at comedy should stop,—they're too serious,—besides the illustration may be a little hard on a few, the minority (the non-people) though not on the many, the majority (the people)! But even an assumed parody may help to show what a power manner is for reaction unless it is counterbalanced and then saturated by the other part of the duality. Thus it appears that all there is to this great discovery is that one good politician has discovered another good politician. For manner has brought forth its usual talent;—for manner cannot discover the genius who has discarded platitudes—the genius who has devised a new and surpassing order for mankind, simple and intricate enough, abstract and definite enough, locally impractical and universally practical enough, to wipe out the need for further discoveries of "talent" and incidentally the discoverer's own fortune and political "manner." Furthermore, he (this genius) never will be discovered until the majority-spirit, the common-heart, the human-oversoul, the source of all great values, converts all talent into genius, all manner into substance—until the direct expression of the mind and soul of the majority, the divine right of all consciousness, social, moral, and spiritual, discloses the one true art and thus finally discovers the one true leader—even itself:—then no leaders, no politicians, no manner, will hold sway—and no more speeches will be heard.

The intensity today, with which techniques and media are organized and used, tends to throw the mind away from a "common sense" and towards "manner" and thus to resultant weak and mental states—for example, the Byronic fallacy—that one who is full of turbid feeling about himself is qualified to be some sort of an artist. In this relation "manner" also leads some to think that emotional sympathy for self is as true a part of art as sympathy for others; and a prejudice in favor of the good and bad of one personality against the virtue of many personalities. It may be that when a poet or a whistler becomes conscious that he is in the easy path of any particular idiom,—that he is helplessly prejudiced in favor of any particular means of expression,—that his manner can be catalogued as modern or classic,—that he favors a contrapuntal groove, a sound-coloring one, a sensuous one, a successful one, or a melodious one (whatever that means),—that his interests lie in the French school or the German school, or the school of Saturn,—that he is involved in this particular "that" or that particular "this," or in any particular brand of emotional complexes,—in a word, when he becomes conscious that his style is "his personal own,"—that it has monopolized a geographical part of the world's sensibilities, then it may be that the value of his substance is not growing,—that it even may have started on its way backwards,—it may be that he is trading an inspiration for a bad habit and finally that he is reaching fame, permanence, or some other under-value, and that he is getting farther and farther from a perfect truth. But, on the contrary side of the picture, it is not unreasonable to imagine that if he (this poet, composer, and laborer) is open to all the overvalues within his reach,—if he stands unprotected from all the showers of the absolute which may beat upon him,—if he is willing to use or learn to use, or at least if he is not afraid of trying to use, whatever he can, of any and all lessons of the infinite that humanity has received and thrown to man,—that nature has exposed and sacrificed, that life and death have translated—if he accepts all and sympathizes with all, is influenced by all, whether consciously or sub-consciously, drastically or humbly, audibly or inaudibly, whether it be all the virtue of Satan or the only evil of Heaven—and all, even, at one time, even in one chord,—then it may be that the value of his substance, and its value to himself, to his art, to all art, even to the Common Soul is growing and approaching nearer and nearer to perfect truths—whatever they are and wherever they may be.

Again, a certain kind of manner-over-influence may be caused by a group-disease germ. The over-influence by, the over-admiration of, and the over-association with a particular artistic personality or a particular type or group of personalities tends to produce equally favorable and unfavorable symptoms, but the unfavorable ones seem to be more contagious. Perhaps the impulse remark of some famous man (whose name we forget) that he "loved music but hated musicians," might be followed (with some good results) at least part of the time. To see the sun rise, a man has but to get up early, and he can always have Bach in his pocket. We hear that Mr. Smith or Mr. Morgan, etc., et al. design to establish a "course at Rome," to raise the standard of American music, (or the standard of American composers—which is it?) but possibly the more our composer accepts from his patrons "et al." the less he will accept from himself. It may be possible that a day in a "Kansas wheat field" will do more for him than three years in Rome. It may be, that many men—perhaps some of genius—(if you won't admit that all are geniuses) have been started on the downward path of subsidy by trying to write a thousand dollar prize poem or a ten thousand dollar prize opera. How many masterpieces have been prevented from blossoming in this way? A cocktail will make a man eat more, but will not give him a healthy, normal appetite (if he had not that already). If a bishop should offer a "prize living" to the curate who will love God the hardest for fifteen days, whoever gets the prize would love God the least. Such stimulants, it strikes us, tend to industrialize art, rather than develop a spiritual sturdiness—a sturdiness which Mr. Sedgwick says [footnote: H. D. Sedgwick. The New American Type. Riverside Press.] "shows itself in a close union between spiritual life and the ordinary business of life," against spiritual feebleness which "shows itself in the separation of the two." If one's spiritual sturdiness is congenital and somewhat perfect he is not only conscious that this separation has no part in his own soul, but he does not feel its existence in others. He does not believe there is such a thing. But perfection in this respect is rare. And for the most of us, we believe, this sturdiness would be encouraged by anything that will keep or help us keep a normal balance between the spiritual life and the ordinary life. If for every thousand dollar prize a potato field be substituted, so that these candidates of "Clio" can dig a little in real life, perhaps dig up a natural inspiration, arts—air might be a little clearer—a little freer from certain traditional delusions, for instance, that free thought and free love always go to the same cafe—that atmosphere and diligence are synonymous. To quote Thoreau incorrectly: "When half-Gods talk, the Gods walk!" Everyone should have the opportunity of not being over-influenced.

Again, this over-influence by and over-insistence upon "manner" may finally lead some to believe "that manner for manner's sake is a basis of music." Someone is quoted as saying that "ragtime is the true American music." Anyone will admit that it is one of the many true, natural, and, nowadays, conventional means of expression. It is an idiom, perhaps a "set or series of colloquialisms," similar to those that have added through centuries and through natural means, some beauty to all languages. Every language is but the evolution of slang, and possibly the broad "A" in Harvard may have come down from the "butcher of Southwark." To examine ragtime rhythms and the syncopations of Schumann or of Brahms seems to the writer to show how much alike they are not. Ragtime, as we hear it, is, of course, more (but not much more) than a natural dogma of shifted accents, or a mixture of shifted and minus accents. It is something like wearing a derby hat on the back of the head, a shuffling lilt of a happy soul just let out of a Baptist Church in old Alabama. Ragtime has its possibilities. But it does not "represent the American nation" any more than some fine old senators represent it. Perhaps we know it now as an ore before it has been refined into a product. It may be one of nature's ways of giving art raw material. Time will throw its vices away and weld its virtues into the fabric of our music. It has its uses as the cruet on the boarding-house table has, but to make a meal of tomato ketchup and horse-radish, to plant a whole farm with sunflowers, even to put a sunflower into every bouquet, would be calling nature something worse than a politician. Mr. Daniel Gregory Mason, whose wholesome influence, by the way, is doing as much perhaps for music in America as American music is, amusingly says: "If indeed the land of Lincoln and Emerson has degenerated until nothing remains of it but a 'jerk and rattle,' then we, at least, are free to repudiate this false patriotism of 'my Country right or wrong,' to insist that better than bad music is no music, and to let our beloved art subside finally under the clangor of the subway gongs and automobile horns, dead, but not dishonored." And so may we ask: Is it better to sing inadequately of the "leaf on Walden floating," and die "dead but not dishonored," or to sing adequately of the "cherry on the cocktail," and live forever?

Previous Part     1  2  3     Next Part
Home - Random Browse