Beacon Lights of History, Volume XIV
Part 1 out of 6
BEACON LIGHTS OF HISTORY, VOLUME XIV
THE NEW ERA
A Supplementary Volume, by Recent Writers,
as Set Forth in the Preface and Table of Contents.
BY JOHN LORD, LL.D.,
AUTHOR OF "THE OLD ROMAN WORLD," "MODERN EUROPE,"
In preparing the new edition of Dr. Lord's great work, it has been
thought desirable to do what the venerable author's death in 1894 did
not permit him to accomplish, and add a volume summarizing certain broad
aspects of achievement in the last fifty years. It were manifestly
impossible to cover in any single volume--except in the dry, cyclopaedic
style of chronicling multitudinous facts, so different from the vivid,
personal method of Dr. Lord--all the growths of the wonderful period
just closed. The only practicable way has been to follow our author's
principle of portraying _selected historic forces_,--to take, as
representative or typical of the various departments, certain great
characters whose services have signalized them as "Beacon Lights" along
the path of progress, and to secure adequate portrayal of these by men
known to be competent for interesting exposition of the several themes.
Thus the volume opens with a paper on "Richard Wagner: Modern Music," by
Henry T. Finck, the musical critic of the _New York Evening Post_, and
author of various works on music, travel, etc.; and then follow in order
these: "John Ruskin: Modern Art," by G. Mercer Adam, author of "A Precis
of English History," recently editor of the _Self-Culture Magazine_ and
of the Werner Supplements to the Encyclopaedia Britannica; "Herbert
Spencer: The Evolutionary Philosophy," and "Charles Darwin: His Place in
Modern Science," both by Mayo W. Hazeltine, literary editor of the _New
York Sun_, whose book reviews over the signature "M.W.H." have for years
made the _Sun's_ book-page notable; "John Ericsson: Navies of War and
Commerce," by Prof. W.F. Durand, of the School of Marine Engineering and
the Mechanic Arts in Cornell University; "Li Hung Chang: The Far East,"
by Dr. William A. P. Martin, the distinguished missionary, diplomat, and
author, recently president of the Imperial University, Peking, China;
"David Livingstone: African Exploration," by Cyrus C. Adams,
geographical and historical expert, and a member of the editorial staff
of the _New York Sun_; "Sir Austen H. Layard: Modern Archaeology," by
Rev. William Hayes Ward, D.D., editor of _The Independent_, New York,
himself eminent in Oriental exploration and decipherment; "Michael
Faraday: Electricity and Magnetism," by Prof. Edwin J. Houston of
Philadelphia, an accepted authority in electrical engineering; and,
"Rudolf Virchow: Modern Medicine and Surgery," by Dr. Frank P. Foster,
physician, author, and editor of the _New York Medical Journal_.
The selection of themes must be arbitrary, amid the numberless lines of
development during the "New Era" of the Nineteenth Century, in which
every mental, moral, and physical science and art has grown and
diversified and fructified with a rapidity seen in no other five
centuries. It is hoped, however, that the choice will be justified by
the interest of the separate papers, and that their result will be such
a view of the main features as to leave a distinct impression of the
general life and advancement, especially of the last half of
It is proper to say that the preparation and issuance of Dr. Lord's
"Beacon Lights of History" were under the editorial care of Mr. John E.
Howard of Messrs. Fords, Howard, and Hulbert, the original publishers of
the work, while the proof-sheets also received the critical attention of
Mr. Abram W. Stevens, one of the accomplished readers of the University
Press in Cambridge, Mass. Mr. Howard has also supervised the new
edition, including this final volume, which issues from the same choice
NEW YORK, September, 1902.
BY HENRY T. FINCK.
Youth-time; early ambitions as a composer.
Weber, his fascinator and first inspirer.
"Der Freischuetz" and "Euryanthe" prototypes of his operas.
Their supernatural, mythical, and romantic elements.
What he owed to his predecessors acknowledged in his essay on "The Music
of the Future" (1860).
Marriage and early vicissitudes.
"Rienzi," "The Novice of Palermo," and "The Flying Dutchman".
Writes stories and essays for musical publications.
After many disappointments wins success at Dresden.
"Tannhaeuser" and "Lohengrin".
Compromises himself in Revolution of 1849 and has to seek safety in
Here he conceives and partly writes the "Nibelung Tetralogy".
Discouragements at London and at Paris.
"Siegfried" and "Tristan and Isolde".
Finds a patron in Ludwig II. of Bavaria.
Nibelung Festival at Bayreuth.
"Parsifal" appears; death of Wagner at Vienna (1882).
Beethoven, Schubert, and Chopin.
Other eminent composers and pianists.
Liszt as a contributor to current of modern music.
Berlioz, Saint-Saens, Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, Strauss, and Weber.
"The Music of the Future" the music of the present.
BY G. MERCER ADAM.
Passionate and luminous exponent of Nature's beauties.
His high if somewhat quixotic ideal of life.
Stimulating writings in ethics, education, and political economy.
Frederic Harrison on Ruskin's stirring thoughts and melodious speech.
Birth and youth-time; Collingwood's "Life" and his own "Praeterita".
Defence of Turner and what it grew into.
Architectural writings, lectures, and early publications.
Interest in Pre-Raphaelitism and its disciples.
Growing fame; with admiring friends and correspondents.
On the public platform; personal appearance of the man.
Economic and socialistic vagaries.
F. Harrison on "Ruskin as Prophet" and teacher.
Inspiring lay sermons and minor writings.
Reformer and would-be regenerator of modern society.
Attitude towards industrial problems of his time.
Founds the communal "Guild of St. George".
Philanthropies, and lecturings in "Working Men's College".
Death and epoch-making influence, in modern art.
THE EVOLUTIONARY PHILOSOPHY.
BY MAYO W. HAZELTINE.
Constructs a philosophical system in harmony with the theory of
Birth, parentage, and early career.
Scheme of his system of Synthetic Philosophy.
His "Facts and Comments;" views on party government, patriotism, and
His religious attitude that of an agnostic.
The doctrine of the Unknowable and the knowable.
"First Principles;" progress of evolution in life, mind, society, and
The relations of matter, motion, and force.
"Principles of Biology;" the data of; the development hypothesis.
The evolutionary hypothesis _versus_ the special creation hypothesis;
Causes and interpretation of the evolution phenomena.
Development as displayed in the structures and functions of individual
"Principles of Psychology;" the evolution of mind and analysis of mental
"Principles of Sociology;" the adaptation of human nature to the social
Evolution of governments, political and ecclesiastical; industrial
Qualifications; Nature's plan an advance, and again a retrogression.
Social evolution; equilibriums between constitution and conditions.
Assisted by others in the collection, but not the systemization, of his
"Principles of Ethics;" natural basis for; secularization of morals.
General inductions; his "Social Statics".
Relations of Mr. Spencer and Mr. Darwin to the thought of the Nineteenth
HIS PLACE IN MODERN SCIENCE.
BY MAYO W. HAZELTINE.
The Darwinian hypothesis a rational and widely accepted explanation of
the genesis of organic life on the earth.
Darwin; birth, parentage, and education.
Naturalist on the voyage of the "Beagle".
His work on "Coral Reefs" and the "Geology of South America".
Observations and experiments on the transmutation of species.
Contemporaneous work on the same lines by Alfred R. Wallace.
"The Origin of Species" (1859).
His "Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication" (1868).
"The Descent of Man" (1871).
On the "Expression of Emotion in Man and Animals" (1872).
"Fertilization of Orchids" (1862), "The Effects of Cross and
Self-Fertilization" (1876), and "The Formation of Vegetable Mould
through the Action of Worms" (1881).
Ill-health, death, and burial.
Personality, tastes, and mental characteristics.
His beliefs and agnostic attitude toward religion.
His prime postulate, that species have been modified during a long
course of descent.
Antagonistic views on the immutability of species.
His theory of natural selection: that all animal and plant life has a
common progenitor, difference in their forms arising primarily from
Enunciates in the "Descent of Man" the great principle of Evolution, and
the common kinship of man and the lower animals.
Biological evidence to sustain this view.
Man's moral qualities, and the social instinct of animals.
Religious beliefs not innate, nor instinctive.
Bearing of this on belief in the immortality of the soul.
As a scientist Darwin concerned only with truth; general acceptance of
his theory of the origin of species.
NAVIES OF WAR AND COMMERCE.
BY PROF. W. F. DUKAND.
Ericsson's life-work little foreseen in his youth and early
His impress on the engineering practice of his time.
Dependence, in our modern civilization, on the utilization of the great
natural forces and energies of the world.
Life-periods in Sweden, England, and the United States.
Birth, parentage, and early engineering career.
An officer in the Swedish army, and topographical surveyor for his
Astonishing insight into mechanical and scientific questions.
His work, 1827 to 1839, when he came to the United States.
"A spendthrift in invention;" versatility and daring.
The screw-propeller _vs_. the paddle-wheel for marine propulsion.
Designs and constructs the steam-frigate "Princeton" and the hot-air
The Civil War and his services in the art of naval construction.
His new model of a floating battery and warship, "The Monitor".
The battle between it and the "Merrimac" a turning-point in naval aspect
of the war.
"The Destroyer," built in connection with Mr. Delamater.
Improves the character and reduces friction in the use of heavy
Work on the improvement of steam-engines for warships.
Death, and international honors paid at his funeral.
His work in improving the motive-power of ships.
Special contributions to the art of naval war.
Ships of low freeboard equipped with revolving turrets.
Influence of his work lives in the modern battleship.
Other features of work which he did for his age.
Personality and professional traits.
Essentially a designer rather than a constructing engineer.
LI HUNG CHANG.
THE FAR EAST.
BY W.A.P. MARTIN, D.D., LL.D.
Introductory; Earl Li's foreign fame; his rising star.
Intercourse with China by land.
The Great Wall; China first known to the western world through its
conquest by the Mongols.
The houses of Han, Tang, and Sang.
The diplomat Su Wu on an embassy to Turkey.
Intercourse by sea.
Expulsion of the Mongols; the magnetic needle.
Art of printing; birth of alchemy.
Manchu conquest; Macao and Canton opened to foreign trade.
The Opium War.
Li Hung Chang appears on the scene.
His contests for academical honors and preferment.
The Taiping rebellion.
Li a soldier; General Ward and "Chinese Gordon".
The Arrow War; the treaties.
Lord Elgin's mistake leads to renewal of the war.
Fall of the Peiho forts and flight of the Court.
The war with France.
Mr. Seward and Anson Burlingame.
War ended through the agency of Sir Robert Hart.
War with Japan.
Perry at Tokio (Yeddo); overturn of the Shogans.
Formosa ceded to Japan.
China follows Japan and throws off trammels of antiquated usage.
War with the world.
The Boxer rising; menace to the Peking legations.
Prince Ching and Viceroy Li arrange terms of peace.
Li's death; patriot, and patron of educational reform.
BY CYRUS C. ADAMS.
Difficulties of exploration in the "Dark Continent"
Livingstone's belief that "there was good in Africa," and that it was
His early journeyings kindled the great African movement.
Youthful career and studies, marriage, etc.
Contact with the natives; wins his way by kindness.
Sublime faith in the future of Africa.
Progress in the heart of the continent since his day.
Interest of his second and third journeyings (1853-56).
Visits to Britain, reception, and personal characteristics.
Later discoveries and journeyings (1858-1864, 1866-1873).
Death at Chitambo (Ilala) Lake Bangweolo, May 1, 1873.
General accuracy of his geographical records; his work, as a whole,
stands the test of time.
Downfall of the African slave-trade, the "open sore of the world".
Remarkable achievements of later explorers and surveyors.
The work of Burton, Junker, Speke, and Stanley.
Father Schynse's chart.
Surveys of Commander Whitehouse.
Missionary maps of the Congo Free State and basin.
Other areas besides tropical Africa made known and opened up.
Pygmy tribes and cannibalism in the Congo basin.
Human sacrifices now prohibited and punishable with death.
Railway and steamboat development, and partition of the continent.
South Africa: the gold and diamond mines and natural resources.
Future philanthropic work.
SIR AUSTEN HENRY LAYARD.
BY WILLIAM HAYES WARD, D.D., LL/D.
Overthrow of Nineveh and destruction of the Assyrian Empire.
Kingdoms and empires extant and buried before the era of Hebrew and
Bonaparte in Egypt, and the impulse he gave to French archaeology.
Champollion and his deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphic inscriptions.
Paul Emile Botta and his discoveries in Assyria.
His excavations of King Sargon's palace at Khorsabad.
Layard begins his excavations and discoveries at Nineveh.
Sir Stratford Canning's (Viscount Stratford de Redcliffe) gift to the
British Museum of the marbles of Halicarnassus.
Layard's published researches, "Nineveh and its Remains," and "Babylon
His work, "The Monuments of Nineveh" (1849-53).
Obelisk and monoliths of Shalmaneser II., King of Assyria, discovered by
Layard at Nimroud.
George Smith and his discovery of the Babylonian account of the Deluge.
Light thrown by these discoveries on the Pharaoh of the Bible, and on
Melchizedek, who reigned in Abraham's day.
Other archaeologists of note, Glaser, De Morgan, De Sarzec, and Botta.
Relics of Buddha, and the Hittite inscriptions.
The Moabite Stone, and work of the English Palestine Exploration Fund at
Dr. Schliemann's labors among the ruins of Troy.
Researches and discoveries at Crete.
The mounds, pyramids, and temples of the American aborigines.
The cliff-dwellers and the Mayas, Incas, and Toltecs.
The Calendar Stone and statue of the gods of war and death found in
What treasure yet remains to be recovered of a past civilization.
ELECTRICITY AND MAGNETISM.
BY EDWIN J. HOUSTON, PH.D.
"The Prince of Experimental Philosophers".
Unprecocious as a child; environment of his early years.
His early study of Mrs. Marcet's "Conversations on Chemistry," and the
articles on electricity in the "Encyclopaedia Britannica".
Appointed laboratory assistant at the London Royal Institution.
Inspiration received from his teacher, Sir Humphry Davy.
Investigations in chemistry, electricity, and magnetism.
His discovery (1831) of the means for developing electricity direct from
Substitutes magnets for active circuits.
Simplicity of the apparatus used in his successful experiments.
Some of the results obtained by him in his experimental researches.
What is to-day owing to him for his discovery and investigation of all
forms of magneto-electric induction.
His discovery of the relations between light and magnetism.
Action of glass and other solid substances on a beam of polarized light.
His paper on "Magnetization of Light and the Illumination of the Lines
of Magnetic Force".
His contribution (1845) on the "Magnetic Condition of All Matter".
Investigation of the phenomena which he calls "the Magne-crystallic
Extent of his work in the electro-chemical field.
His invention of the first dynamo.
His alternating-current transformer.
Induction coils and their use in producing the Roentgen rays.
Edison's invention of the fluoroscope.
Faraday's gift to commercial science of the electric motor.
His dynamo-electric machine.
Modern electric transmissions of power.
Tesla's multiphase alternating-current motor.
Faraday's electric generator and motor.
The telephone, aid given by Faraday's discoveries in the invention and
use of the transmitter.
Modern power-generating and transmission plants a magnificent
testimonial to the genius of Faraday.
Death and honors.
MEDICINE AND SURGERY.
BY FRANK P. FOSTER, M.D.
Jenner demonstrates efficacy of vaccination against small-pox.
Debt to the physicists, chemists, and botanists of the new era.
Appendicitis (peritonitis), its present frequency.
Experimental methods of study in physiology.
Hahnemann, founder of homoeopathy, and physical diagnosis of the sick.
The clinical thermometer and other instruments of precision.
Animal parasites the direct cause of many diseases.
Bacteria and the germ theory of disease.
Pasteur, viruses, and aseptic surgery.
Consumption and its germ; the corpuscles and their resistance to
Antitoxines as a cure in diphtheria.
Their use in surgery; asepticism and Lord Lister.
Listerism and midwifery.
American aid in the treatment of fractures.
Use of artificial serum in disease treatment.
Koch's tuberculin and its use in consumption.
Chemistry as a handmaid of medicine.
Brown-Sequard and "internal secretions".
Febrile ailment and cold-water applications.
Surgical anaesthetics; Long, Morton, and Simpson.
Ovariotomy operations by McDowell and Bell.
Virchow and the literature of medicine, anatomy, and physiology; his
death; his "Archiv," "Cellular-Pathology," etc.
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
Dr. Jenner Vaccinates a Child
_After the painting by George Gaston Melingue_
_After the painting by Franz von Lenbach_
_After a photograph from life_
_After a photograph from life_
Charles Robert Darwin
_After the painting by G. F. Watts, R.A._
_From a contemporaneous engraving_
Li Hung Chang
_After a photograph from life_
_After a photograph from life_
Sir Austen Henry Layard
_After the painting by H. W. Phillips_
_After a photograph from life_
_After a photograph from life_
BEACON LIGHTS OF HISTORY.
RICHARD WAGNER: MODERN MUSIC.
BY HENRY T. FINCK.
If the Dresden schoolboys who attended the _Kreuzschule_ in the years
1823-1827 could have been told that one of them was destined to be the
greatest opera composer of all times, and to influence the musicians of
all countries throughout the second half of the nineteenth century, they
would, no doubt, have been very much surprised. Nor is it likely that
they could have guessed which of them was the chosen one. For Richard
Wagner--or Richard Geyer, as he was then called, after his
stepfather--was by no means a youthful prodigy, like Mozart or Liszt. It
is related that Beethoven shed tears of displeasure over his first music
lessons; nevertheless, it was obvious from the beginning that he had a
special gift for music. Richard Wagner, on the other hand, apparently
had none. When he was eight years old his stepfather, shortly before his
death, heard him play on the piano two pieces from one of Weber's
operas, which made him wonder if Richard might "perhaps" have talent for
music. His piano teacher did not believe even in that "perhaps," but
told him bluntly he would "never amount to anything" as a musician.
For poetry, however, young Richard had a decided inclination in his
school years; and this was significant, inasmuch as it afterwards became
his cardinal maxim that in an opera "the play's the thing," and the
music merely a means of intensifying the emotional expression. Before
his time the music, or rather the singing of florid tunes, had been "the
thing," and the libretto merely a peg to hang these tunes on. In this
respect, therefore, the child was father to the man. At the age of
eleven he received a prize for the best poem on the death of a
schoolmate. At thirteen he translated the first twelve books of Homer's
Odyssey. He studied English for the sole purpose of being able to read
Shakspeare. Then he projected a stupendous tragedy, in the course of
which he killed off forty-two persons, many of whom had to be brought
back as ghosts to enable him to finish the play.
This extravagance also characterized his first efforts as a composer,
when he at last turned to music, at the age of sixteen. One of his first
tasks, when he had barely mastered the rudiments of composition, was to
write an overture which he intended to be more complicated than
Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Heinrich Dorn, who recognized his talent
amid all the bombast, conducted this piece at a concert. At the
rehearsal the musicians were convulsed with laughter, and at the
performance the audience was at first surprised and then disgusted at
the persistence of the drum-player, who made himself heard loudly every
fourth bar. Finally there was a general outburst of hilarity which
taught the young man a needed lesson.
Undoubtedly the germs of his musical genius had been in Wagner's brain
in his childhood,--for genius is not a thing that can be acquired. They
had simply lain dormant, and it required a special influence to develop
them. This influence was supplied by Weber and his operas. In 1815, two
years after Wagner's birth, the King of Saxony founded a German opera in
Dresden, where theretofore Italian opera had ruled alone. Weber was
chosen as conductor, and thus it happened that Wagner's earliest and
deepest impressions came from the composer of the "Freischuetz." In his
autobiographic sketch Wagner writes: "Nothing gave me so much pleasure
as the 'Freischuetz.' I often saw Weber pass by our house when he came
from rehearsals. I always looked upon him with a holy awe." It was lucky
for young Richard that his stepfather, Geyer, besides being a
portrait-painter, an actor, and a playwright, was also one of Weber's
tenors at the opera. This enabled the boy, in spite of the family's
poverty, to hear many of the performances. In fact, Wagner, like Weber,
owes a considerable part of his success as a writer for the stage to the
fact that he belonged to a theatrical family, and thus gradually learned
"how the wheels go round." Such practical experience is worth more than
years of academic study.
While Wagner cordially acknowledged the fascination which Weber's music
exerted on him in his boyhood, he was hardly fair to Weber in his later
writings. In these he tries to prove that his own music-dramas are an
outgrowth of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. When Beethoven wrote that work,
Wagner argues, he had come to the conclusion that purely instrumental
music had reached a point beyond which it could not go alone, wherefore
he called in the aid of poetry (sung by soloists and chorus), and thus
intimated that the art-work of the future was the musical drama,--a
combination of poetry and music.
This is a purely fantastic notion on Wagner's part. There is no evidence
that Beethoven had any such purpose; he merely called in the aid of the
human voice to secure variety of sound and expression. Poetry and music
had been combined centuries before Beethoven in the opera and in
No, the roots of Wagner's music-dramas are not to be found in Beethoven,
but in Weber. His "Freischuetz" and "Euryanthe" are the prototypes of
Wagner's operas. The "Freischuetz" is the first masterwork, as Wagner's
operas are the last, up to date, of the romantic school; and it embodies
admirably two of the principal characteristics of that school: one, a
delight in the demoniac, the supernatural--what the Germans call
_gruseln_; the other, the use of certain instruments, alone or in
combination, for the sake of securing peculiar emotional effects. In
both these respects Wagner followed in Weber's footsteps. With the
exception of "Rienzi" and "Die Meistersinger," all of his operas, from
the "Flying Dutchman" to "Parsifal," embody supernatural, mythical,
romantic elements; and in the use of novel tone colors for special
emotional effects he opened a new wonder-world of sound, to which Weber,
however, had given him the key.
"Lohengrin," the last one of what are usually called Wagner's "operas,"
as distinguished from his "music-dramas" (comprising the last seven of
his works), betrays very strongly the influence of Weber's other
masterwork, "Euryanthe." This opera, indeed, may also be called the
direct precursor of Wagner's music-dramas. It contains eight "leading
motives," which recur thirty times in course of the opera; and the
dramatic recitatives are sometimes quite in the "Wagnerian" manner. But
the most remarkable thing is that Weber uses language which practically
sums up Wagner's idea of the music-drama. "'Euryanthe,'" he says, "is a
purely dramatic work, which depends for its success solely on the
co-operation of the united sister-arts, and is certain to lose its
effect if deprived of their assistance."
When Wagner wrote his essay on "The Music of the Future" for the
Parisians (1860) he remembered his obligations to the Dresden idol of
his boyhood by calling attention to "the still very noticeable
connection" of his early work, "Tannhaeuser," with "the operas of my
predecessors, among whom I name especially Weber," He might have
mentioned others,--Gluck, for instance, who curbed the vanity of the
singers, and taught them that they were not "the whole show;" Marschner,
whose grewsome "Hans Heiling" Wagner had in mind when he wrote his
"Flying Dutchman;" Auber, whose "Masaniello," with its dumb heroine,
taught Wagner the importance and expressiveness of pantomimic music, of
which there are such eloquent examples in all his operas. During his
three and a half years' sojourn in Paris, just at the opening of his
career as an opera composer (1839-1842), he learned many things
regarding operatic scenery, machinery, processions, and details, which
he subsequently turned to good account. Even Meyerbeer, the ruler of the
musical world in Paris at that time, was not without influence on him,
though he had cause to disapprove of him because of his submission to
the demands of the fashionable taste of the day, which contrasted so
strongly with Wagner's own courageous defiance of everything
inconsistent with his ideals of art. The result to-day--Meyerbeer's fall
and Wagner's triumph--shows that courage, like honesty, is, in the long
run, the best policy, and, like virtue, its own reward.
It is important to bear in mind all these lessons that Wagner learned
from his predecessors, as it helps to explain the enormous influence he
exerted on his contemporaries. Wonderful as was the power and
originality of his genius, even he could not have achieved such results
had he not had truth on his side,--truth, as hinted at, in moments of
inspiration, by many of his predecessors.
Wagner was most shamefully misrepresented by his enemies during his
lifetime. A thousand times they wrote unblushingly that he despised and
abused the great masters, whereas in truth no one ever spoke of them
more enthusiastically than he, or was more eager to learn of them,
though, to be sure, he was honest and courageous enough also to call
attention to their shortcomings. In all his autobiographic writings
there is not a more luminous passage than the following, in which he
relates his experiences as conductor at the Riga Opera in 1838, when he
was at work on "Rienzi":--
"The peculiar gnawing melancholy which habitually overpowered me when I
conducted one of our ordinary operas was interrupted by an
inexpressible, enthusiastic delight, when, here and there, during the
performance of nobler works, I became conscious of the incomparable
effects that can be produced by musico-dramatic combinations on the
stage,--effects of a depth, sincerity, and direct realistic vivacity,
such as no other art can produce. I felt quite elated and ennobled
during the time that I was rehearsing Mehul's enchanting 'Joseph' with
my little opera company." "Such impressions," he continues, "like
flashes of lightning" revealed to him "unsuspected possibilities." It
was by utilizing these "possibilities" and hints, and at the same time
avoiding the errors and blemishes of his predecessors, that his
superlative genius was enabled to create such unapproachable masterworks
as "Siegfried" and "Tristan and Isolde."
The way up to those peaks was, however, slow and toilsome. For years he
groped in darkness, and light came but gradually. It has already been
intimated that his genius was slow in developing. A brief review of his
romantic career will bring out this and other interesting points.
At the time when Richard Wagner was born (May 22, 1813), Leipzig was in
such a state of commotion on account of the war to liberate Germany from
the Napoleonic yoke that the child's baptism was deferred several
months. To his schooldays reference has been made already, and we may
therefore pass on to the time when he tried to make his living as an
operatic conductor. Although he was then only twenty-one years old, he
showed remarkable aptitude for this kind of work from the beginning, and
it was through no fault of his that misfortune overtook every opera
company with which he had anything to do. The bankruptcy, in 1836, of
the manager of the Magdeburg Opera, affected him most disastrously, for
it came at the moment when he had arranged for the first performance of
an opera he had written, entitled, "Das Liebesverbot," or "The Novice of
Palermo," and which therefore was given only once. Many years later an
attempt was made to revive this juvenile work at Munich, but the project
was abandoned because, as the famous Wagnerian tenor, Heinrich Vogl,
informed the writer of this article, "Its arias and other numbers were
such ludicrous and undisguised imitations of Donizetti and other popular
composers of that time that we all burst out laughing, and kept up the
merriment throughout the rehearsal." This is of interest because it
shows that Wagner, like that other great reformer, Gluck, began his
career by writing fashionable operas in the Italian style. A still
earlier opera of his, "The Fairies,"--the first one he completed,--was
not produced till 1888, fifty-five years after it had been written, and
five years after Wagner's death. This has been performed a number of
times in Munich, but it is so weak and uninteresting in itself that it
required a splendid stage setting, and the "historic" curiosity of
Wagner's admirers to make it palatable. It is significant that already
in these early works, Wagner wrote his own librettos,--a policy which he
pursued to the end.
Koenigsberg was the next city where the opera company with which he was
connected, failed. This was the more embarrassing to him, as he had in
the meantime been so unwise as to marry a pretty actress, Minna Planer,
who was destined, for a quarter of a century, to faithfully share his
experiences,--chiefly disappointments. The pittance he got as conductor
of these small German opera companies did not pay his expenses, all the
less as he was fond of luxurious living, and, like most artists, the
world over, foolishly squandered his money when he happened to have any.
At Riga, where Wagner next attempted to establish himself, the opera
company again got into trouble, and his financial straits became such
that, relying on his future ability to meet his obligations, he resolved
to leave that part of the world altogether and seek his fortune in
Paris. He knew that the Prussian Meyerbeer had won fame and fortune
there,--why should not he have the same good luck? He had unbounded
confidence in his own ability, and what increased his hopes of a
Parisian success, was that he had already completed two acts of a grand
historic opera, "Rienzi," based on Bulwer's novel, and written in the
sensational and spectacular style of Meyerbeer. He supposed that all he
had to do was to go to Paris, finish this opera, get it accepted through
the influence of his countryman and colleague, Meyerbeer, and--wake up
some morning famous and wealthy. He was not the first man who built
castles in Spain.
To-day a trip from Riga to Paris is a very simple affair. You get into a
train, and in about twenty-four hours are at your goal. In 1839 there
were no such conveniences. Wagner had to go to the Prussian seaport of
Pillau, and there board a sailing vessel which took him to London in
three weeks and a half. His journey, however, was a much more romantic
affair than a railway trip would have been. In the first place, it was a
real flight--from his creditors whom he had to evade. Next he had to
dodge the Russian sentries, whose boxes were placed on the boundary line
only a thousand yards apart. A friend discovered a way of accomplishing
this feat, and Wagner presently found himself on the ship, with his
wife and his enormous Newfoundland dog. In his trunk he had what he
hoped would help him to begin a brilliant career in Paris: one opera
completed,--"The Novice of Palermo;" two acts of another,--"Rienzi;" and
in his head he had the plot and some of the musical themes for a
third,--"The Flying Dutchman."
The sea voyage came just in time to give him local color for this weird
nautical opera. Three times the vessel was tossed by violent storms, and
once the captain was obliged to seek safety in a Norwegian harbor. The
sailors told Wagner their version of the "Flying Dutchman" legend, and
altogether these adventures were the very thing he wanted at the time,
and aided him in making his opera realistic, both in its text and its
music, which imitates the howling of the storm winds and "smells of the
So for once our young musician had a streak of luck. But it did not last
long. He found Paris a very large city, and with very little use for
him. He made the most diverse efforts to support himself, nearly always
without success. Once it seemed as if his hopes were to be fulfilled.
The Theatre de la Renaissance accepted his "Novice of Palermo;" but at
the last moment there was the usual bankruptcy of the management,--the
fourth that affected him! Then he wrote a Parisian Vaudeville, but it
had to be given up because the actors declared it could not be executed.
The Grand Opera, on which he had fixed his eye, was absolutely out of
the question. He was brought to such straits that he offered to sing in
the chorus of a small Boulevard theatre, but was rejected. His wife
pawned her jewels; on several occasions it is said that she even went
into the street to beg a few pennies for their supper. It was doubtless
during these years of starvation that Wagner acquired those gastric
troubles which in later years often prevented him from working more than
an hour or two a day.
A few German friends occasionally gave a little pecuniary aid, but the
only regular source of income was musical hackwork for the publisher
Schlesinger, who gladly availed himself of Wagner's skill in having him
make vocal scores of operas, or arrange popular melodies for the piano
and other instruments. Wagner also wrote stories and essays for musical
periodicals, for which he received fair remuneration; but his attempt to
compose romances and become a parlor favorite failed. Nobody wanted his
songs, and he finally offered them to the editor of a periodical in
Germany for two dollars and a half to four dollars apiece. This may seem
ludicrously pathetic; but then had not poor Schubert, a little more than
a decade before this, sold much better songs for twenty cents each!
Meyerbeer no doubt aided Wagner, but considering his very great
influence in Paris, he achieved surprisingly little for him. The score
of "Rienzi" had been completed in 1840, and in the spring of the next
year, Wagner went to Meudon, near Paris, and there composed the music of
"The Flying Dutchman," in seven weeks, but neither of these operas
seemed to have the least chance to appear on the boards of the Grand
Opera. The best their author could do was to sell the libretto of "The
Flying Dutchman" for one hundred dollars, reserving the right to set it
to music himself.
The outcome of all these disappointments was that he finally lost hope
so far as Paris was concerned, and sent his "Rienzi" to Dresden and his
"Flying Dutchman" to Berlin. The "Novice of Palermo" he had given up
entirely after the bankruptcy of the Renaissance Theatre, because, as he
wrote, "I felt that I could no longer respect myself as its composer."
Meyerbeer had, at his request, kindly sent a note to the intendant of
the Dresden Opera, in which he said, among other things, that he had
found the selections from "Rienzi," which Wagner had played for him,
"highly imaginative and of great dramatic effect." Tichatschek, the
famous Dresden tenor, examined the score, and liked the title role; the
chorus director, Fischer, also pleaded for the acceptance of the opera;
and so at last Wagner got word in Paris that it would be produced in
Dresden. As Berlin, too, retained the manuscript of his other opera,
there was reason enough for him to end his Parisian sojourn and return
to his native country. He went overland this time, and, to cite his own
words, "For the first time I saw the Rhine; with tears in my eyes I, the
poor artist, swore eternal allegiance to my German fatherland."
It was fortunate in every way that he went to Dresden. His opera
required many alterations and improvements, which he alone could make.
He was permitted to superintend the rehearsals, which was, of course, a
great advantage to the opera. The singers grew more and more
enthusiastic over the music, and when the first public performance was
given, on October 20, 1842, the audience also was delighted and remained
to the very end, although the performance lasted six hours. The composer
immediately applied the pruning-knife and reduced the duration to four
hours and a half (from 6 to 10.30,--opera hours were early in those
days); but the tenor, Tichatschek, declared with tears in his eyes, "I
shall not permit any cuts in my part! It is too heavenly."
Those were proud and happy days for Wagner. "I, who had hitherto been
lonely, deserted, homeless," he wrote, "suddenly found myself loved,
admired, by many even regarded with wonderment." "Rienzi" was repeated a
number of times to overcrowded houses, though the prices had been put
up. It was regarded as "a fabulous success," and the management was
eager to follow it up with another. So the score of "The Flying
Dutchman" was demanded of Berlin (where they seemed in no hurry to use
it), and at once put into rehearsal. It was produced in Dresden on
January 2, 1843, only about ten weeks after "Rienzi,"--an almost
unprecedented event in the life of an opera composer. Wagner conducted
the second opera himself (also "Rienzi," after the first few
performances), and gave so much satisfaction that he was shortly
afterwards appointed to the position of royal conductor (which he held
about six years).
So far, all seemed well. But disappointments soon began to overshadow
his seeming good luck. The first production of the "Flying Dutchman" can
hardly be called a success. Wagner himself characterized the performance
as being, in its main features, "a complete failure," and the stage
setting "incredibly awkward and wooden" (very different from what it is
in Dresden to-day). Mme. Schroeder-Devrient was an admirable "Senta,"
and received enthusiastic applause; but the opera itself puzzled the
audience rather than pleased it.
The music-lovers of Dresden had expected another opera _a la_ Meyerbeer,
like "Rienzi," with its arias and duos, its din and its dances, its
pomps and processions, its scenic and musical splendors. Instead of
that, they heard a work utterly unlike any opera ever before written; an
opera without arias, duets, and dances, without any of the glitter that
had theretofore entertained the public; an opera that simply related a
legend in one breath, as it were,--like a dramatic ballad; an opera that
indulged in weird chromatic scales, and harsh but expressive harmonies,
with an unprecedented license. Here was the real Wagner, but even in
this early and comparatively crude and simple phase, Wagner was too
novel and revolutionary to be appreciated by his contemporaries; hence
it is not to be wondered at that the "Flying Dutchman," after four
performances in Dresden, and a few in Cassel and Berlin, disappeared
from the stage for ten years.
Although Wagner was now royal conductor, he did not succeed in securing
a revival of this opera at Dresden. His next work, "Tannhaeuser," was
nevertheless promptly accepted. The score was completed on April 13,
1845, and six, months later (October 19), the first performance was
given. Wagner had thrown himself with all his soul into the composition
of this score. To a friend in Berlin he wrote: "This opera must be good,
or else I never shall be able to do anything worth while." The public at
first seemed to agree with him. Seven performances were given before the
end of the season, and it was resumed the following year; yet Wagner
came to the conclusion that he had written the opera "for a few intimate
friends, but not for the public," to cite his own words. What the public
had expected and desired was shown by its enthusiastic reception of
"Rienzi," and its colder treatment of the "Dutchman." But "Tannhaeuser"
was like the second opera; in fact, even "more so." Wagner had outlived
the time when he was willing to make concessions to current taste and
fashion; thenceforth he went his own way, eager, indeed, for approval,
but stubbornly refusing to win it by sacrificing his high art ideals.
Here was true heroism, genuine manliness! Had he been willing to write
more operas like "Rienzi," he might have revelled in wealth (he loved
wealth!) and basked in the sunshine of popularity, like Meyerbeer. But
not one inch of concession did he make for the sake of the much-coveted
riches and popular favor.
Yet was not his next work, "Lohengrin," of a popular character? Popular
to-day, yes; but in the days of his Dresden conductorship he could not
even get it accepted for performance at his own opera-house! It was
completed in August, 1847 (the last act having been written first and
the second last), but although he remained in Dresden two years longer,
all his efforts to get it staged failed, for various reasons. And when,
at last, Liszt gave it for the first time, on August 28, 1850, at
Weimar, whence it gradually made its way to other opera-houses, its
reception everywhere showed that it was very far from being considered a
"popular" work. The critics, especially, vied with one another in
abusing this same "Lohengrin," which at present is sung more frequently
than any other opera; and they continued to abuse it until about twenty
years ago. "An abyss of ennui," "void of all melody," "an insult to the
very essence of music," "a caricature of music," "algebraic harmonies,"
"no tangible ideas," "not a dozen bars of melody," "an opera without
music," "an incoherent mass of rubbish,"--are a few of the "critical"
opinions passed on this opera, which is now regarded in all countries as
a very wonderland of beautiful melodies and expressive harmonies.
The non-acceptance in Dresden of this glorious opera, concerning which
Wagner wrote, "It is the best thing I have done so far," was only one of
many trials and disappointments which daily harassed him. He was over
head and ears in debt, because, in his confidence in the immediate
success of his operas, he had had them printed at once, at his own
expense. The opera-houses were very slow in accepting them, and this
left him in a sad predicament. There were, moreover, enemies
everywhere,--ignorant, old-fashioned professionals, who objected to his
way of interpreting the masters (though it was afterwards admitted that
he was epoch-making as an interpreter of their deepest thoughts). All
this galled him; and, furthermore, no attention whatever was paid to his
pet plans for reforming the Dresden Opera, and theatrical matters
In the state of mind brought about by this condition of affairs, it
needed but a firebrand to start an explosion. This firebrand was
supplied by the revolutionary uprising of 1849. Now, although Wagner had
never really cared much for politics (to his friend Fischer he once
wrote: "I do not consider true art possible until politics cease to
exist"), he was foolish enough to believe that a general overturning of
affairs would benefit art-matters, too, and facilitate his operatic
reforms; so he became, as he himself admits, "a revolutionist in behalf
of the theatre." He actively assisted the insurgents, and the
consequence was that, when the rebellion failed, he had to leave Dresden
and seek safety in flight.
Three of the leaders of the insurrection--Roeckel, Bakunin, and Heubner;
personal friends of Wagner--were captured and imprisoned; he himself was
so lucky as to escape to Weimar, where Franz Liszt took care of him. It
so happened that Liszt, who had given up his career as concert pianist
(though all the world was clamoring to hear him), and was conducting the
Weimar Opera, had been preparing a performance of "Tannhaeuser," to which
Wagner would, under normal conditions, have been invited as a matter of
course. He was now there, but as a political fugitive, wherefore it was
not deemed advisable to have him attend the public performance; but he
did secretly witness a rehearsal, and was delighted to find that Liszt's
genius had enabled him to penetrate into the innermost recesses of this
music. It was impossible, however, for him to stay any longer. The
Dresden police had issued a warrant for the arrest of "the royal
Kapellmeister Richard Wagner," who was to be "placed on trial for active
participation in the riots which have taken place here." No time was,
therefore, to be lost. Late in the evening of May 18, Liszt's noble
patroness, the Princess Wittgenstein, received this note from him: "Can
you give the bearer sixty thalers? Wagner is obliged to fly, and I
cannot help him at this moment."
Early the next morning Wagner, provided with a false pass, left Weimar
and headed for Switzerland, which was to be his home for the greater
part of the following twelve years of his exile from Germany. Had he
been caught, like his friends, and, like them, imprisoned during these
years, it is not likely that the world would now possess those seven
monuments of his ripest genius, "Rheingold," "Die Walkuere," "Siegfried,"
"Goetterdaemmerung," "Tristan and Isolde," "Die Meistersinger," and
"Parsifal." Even as it was, the world has undoubtedly lost an immortal
opera or two through his unfortunate participation in the rebellion. For
during the first four years of his exile, he did not compose any music.
He reasoned that he had written four good operas and nobody seemed to
want them; why, therefore, should he compose any more?
At the same time, he realized that there were natural reasons why his
operas were not understood. They were written in such a novel style,
both vocal and instrumental, that the singers, players, and conductors
found it difficult to perform them correctly, the consequence being that
they did not specially impress the audiences, which, moreover, were
bewildered by finding themselves listening to works so radically
different from what they had been accustomed to in the opera-houses. In
the hope of remedying this state of affairs Wagner devoted several years
to writing essays, in which he explained his aims and ideals for the
benefit both of performers and listeners. Little attention was, however,
paid to these essays, and although they are valuable aesthetic
treatises, most lovers of Wagner would gladly give them for the operas
he might have written in the same time,--operas uniting the
characteristics of "Lohengrin" and "The Valkyrie."
Wagner's letters to Liszt and other friends show that he suffered
tortures, and was often brought to the verge of suicide by the thought
that, as a political refugee, he was unable to go to Germany to
superintend the production of his works. His one consolation was that,
as he put it, through the friendship of Liszt his art had found a home
at Weimar at the moment when he himself became homeless. Weimar became,
as it were, a sort of preliminary Bayreuth, to which pilgrimages were
made to hear Wagner's operas. Liszt not only produced the "Flying
Dutchman," "Tannhaeuser," and "Lohengrin," but wrote eloquent essays on
them, and in every possible way advanced the good cause. It has been
justly said that by his efforts he accelerated the vogue of Wagner's
operas fully ten years. He also helped him pecuniarily, and induced
others to do the same. Never in the world's history has one artist done
so much for another as Liszt did for Wagner during all the years of his
exile in Switzerland.
Few persons would consider residence in Switzerland (the usual home in
those days of political refugees) a special hardship; nor would Wagner
have considered it in that light except for the solicitude he felt for
the children of his brain. Otherwise he greatly enjoyed life in that
glorious country, and the Alpine ozone nourished and stimulated his
brain. Moreover, from the creative point of view, it was an actual
advantage for him to be away from the opera-houses of the great
capitals. In Switzerland, except for a short time when he was connected
with the Zurich opera, he heard no operatic music except such as his own
brain created. Undoubtedly this helps to account for the astounding
originality of the music-dramas he wrote in Switzerland.
These music-dramas go as far beyond "Lohengrin" in certain directions as
"Lohengrin" goes beyond the operas of Wagner's predecessors. It was a
reckless thing to do, to make another such giant stride before the world
had caught up with his first, and he had to suffer the consequences;
but genius disregards prudence, and looks to the future alone. What he
was now writing was what his enemies tauntingly called "the music of the
future," because, as they said, nobody liked it at present; but what he
himself called the "art work of the future," in which all the fine arts
are inseparably united.
The biggest of his works, the "Nibelung Tetralogy," was conceived and
for the most part written in Switzerland. Before leaving Dresden he had
already written the poem of an opera which he called "Siegfried's
Death." Returning to this in his exile he came to the conclusion,
gradually, that the legend on which it is based, and which he had
sketched out in prose at the beginning, contained the material for two,
three, nay, four operas. Accordingly, he wrote the poems of these:
first, "Goetterdaemmerung," then "Siegfried," "Die Walkuere," and
"Rheingold." The music to these four dramas was, however, composed in
the reverse order, in which they were to be performed.
Wagner indulged in no illusions regarding these music-dramas. He knew
that they were beyond the capacity of even the best royal opera-houses
of that time, and that they could be performed only under exceptional
conditions, such as he finally succeeded, after herculean efforts and
many disappointments, in securing at Bayreuth in 1876. It is of great
interest to note that the germs of a sort of "Bayreuth festival plan"
can be found in his letters as early as 1850,--the year when "Lohengrin"
had its first hearing. Thus a full quarter of a century elapsed between
the conception of this festival plan and its execution. But Wagner had
the patience of Job, as well as his capacity for suffering.
Amid privations of all sorts, he wrote the sublime music of these
dramas, beginning with "Rheingold," on Nov. 1, 1853,--the first time he
had put new operatic melodies on paper since the completion of
"Lohengrin," in August, 1847. In his head, to be sure, he had been
carrying much of the Nibelung music for some time, for he habitually
created his leading melodies at the same time as the verse; and the four
Nibelung poems were in print in 1853. On May 28, 1854, the score of
"Rheingold" was completed, and four weeks later he began the sketches of
"The Valkyrie," the completed score of which was in his desk by the end
of March, 1856.
In the meantime his poverty had compelled him, much against his wishes,
to accept an offer from the London Philharmonic Society to conduct their
concerts for a season (March to June, 1855). He had reason to bitterly
regret this action. With the limited number of rehearsals at his command
it was impossible for him to make the orchestra follow his intentions
and reveal his greatness as a conductor. He was not allowed to make the
programmes, and the directors, ignorant of the fact that they had
engaged the greatest musical genius of the century, gave no Wagner
concert, and put only a few short selections from his early operas on
the programs. Thus his hopes of creating a desire for the hearing of his
complete operas, which had been one of his motives in going to London,
were frustrated. He was, moreover, constantly abused for doing things
differently from Mendelssohn, and the leading critics referred to his
best music as "senseless discord," "inflated display of extravagance and
noise," and so on. Almost the only pleasant episode was the sympathy and
interest of Queen Victoria, who had a long talk with him, and informed
him that his music had enraptured her.
For all this trouble and loss of time (he found himself unable in London
to do any satisfactory work on the uncompleted "Valkyrie" score), he
received the munificent sum of $1,000,--considerably less than many
Wagner singers to-day get for one evening's work. Shortly before leaving
London he wrote to a friend that he would bring home about 200
francs,--$40! For this he had wasted four months of precious time and
endured endless "contrarieties and vulgar animosities," to use his
Equally unsuccessful were his efforts, a few years later, to better
himself financially by a series of concerts in Paris (1860). They
resulted in a large deficit. Nor was he benefited by the performances of
his "Tannhaeuser," which were given at the grand opera in March, 1861, by
order of Napoleon, at the request of the influential Princess
Metternich. He had refused to interpolate a vulgar ballet in the second
act for the benefit of the members of the aristocratic Jockey Club, who
dined late and insisted on having a ballet on entering the opera-house.
They took their revenge by creating such a disturbance every evening
that after the third performance Wagner refused to allow any further
repetitions, although the house on the third night had been completely
sold out. He was to receive $50 for each performance. The result was
$150, or less than 50 cents a day, for a year's hard work and no end of
worry in connection with the rehearsals.
How many men are there in the annals of art who would have refused,
after all these disappointments and bitter lessons, to make _some_
concessions? Wagner was writing a gigantic work, the Nibelung Tetralogy,
which, he was convinced, would never yield a penny's profit during his
lifetime. Sometimes despair seized him. In one of his letters he
exclaims: "Why should I, poor devil, burden and torture myself with such
terrible tasks, if the present generation refuses to let me have even a
workshop?" Yet the only deviation he made from his plan was that when
he had reached the second act of the third of the Nibelung dramas, the
poetic "Siegfried," in June, 1857, he made up his mind to abandon the
Tetralogy for the time being, and compose an opera which might be
performed separately and once more bring him into contact with
This opera was "Tristan and Isolde;" but instead of being a concession,
it turned out to be the most difficult and Wagnerian of all his
works,--an opera with much emotion but little action, no processions or
choruses such as "Lohengrin" still had, and, of course, no arias or
tunes whatever. "Tristan and Isolde" was completed in 1859, and Wagner
would have much preferred to have its performance in Paris commanded by
Napoleon in place of "Tannhaeuser." What the Jockey Club would have done
in that case is inconceivable, for, compared with "Tristan,"
"Tannhaeuser" is almost Meyerbeerian, if not Donizettian. No singers,
moreover, could have been found in Paris able to interpret this work,
with its new vocal style,--"speech-song," as the Germans call it. Even
Germany could do nothing, at first, with this opera. In Vienna, after
fifty-four rehearsals, it was abandoned, in 1863, as "impossible," and
that city did not produce it till after Wagner's death. Instead of
bringing him into immediate contact with the stage, it was not heard
_anywhere_ till seven years after its completion.
There was one more card for him to play. All his operas, so far, had
been tragedies. What if he were to write a comic opera? Would not that
be likely to get him access to the stage again, and help him
financially? He had the plan for a comic opera; indeed, he had sketched
it as early as 1845, at the same time as the plot of "Lohengrin."
Sixteen years it lay dormant in his brain. At last he wrote out the poem
in Paris, immediately after the "Tannhaeuser" disaster there. Perhaps it
would be more accurate to call "Die Meistersinger" a humorous opera; for
while the story of the mediaeval knight who wins the goldsmith's
daughter has comic features, its chief characteristic is humor, with
that undercurrent of seriousness that belongs to all masterpieces of
humor. To a certain extent, it is a musical and poetic autobiography,
the victorious young Knight Walter, who sings as he pleases, without
regard to pedantic rules, representing Wagner himself and the "music of
the future," while the vain and malicious Beckmesser stands for the
critics, and Hans Sachs for enlightened public opinion.
It was during the time that he wrote the gloriously melodious and
spontaneous music to this poem that the most important event of his life
happened. Work on the score was repeatedly interrupted by the necessity
of making some money. Most of his concerts in German cities, undertaken
for this purpose, did not yield him any profits. In Russia, however, he
was very successful, and as he had the promise of a repetition of his
success, he rented a fine villa at Penzing, near Vienna, and proceeded
to enjoy life for a change. Who can blame him for this? As he said to a
friend not long after this, "I am differently organized from others,
have sensitive nerves, must have beauty, splendor, and light. Is it
really such an outrageous thing if I lay claim to the little bit of
luxury which I like,--I, who am preparing enjoyment for the world and
Unfortunately the second Russian project failed, through no fault of his
own, and as he had borrowed money at usurious rates on his expected
profits, he found himself compelled to fly once more from his creditors.
After spending a short time in Switzerland, he went to Stuttgart, where
he persuaded his friend Weissheimer to go with him into the Suabian
Alps, where he intended to hide for half a year, until he could finish
his "Meistersinger," and with the score raise money for his creditors.
The wagon had already been ordered for the next morning, May 3, 1864,
and Wagner was packing his trunk, when a card was brought up to him with
the inscription: "von Pfistenmeister, Secretaire aulique de S.M. le roi
de Baviere," and the message that the Baron came by order of the King of
Bavaria, and was very anxious to see him.
King Ludwig II. of Bavaria had declared, while he was still crown
prince, that as soon as he became king he would show the world how
highly he held the genius of Wagner in honor. He kept his word. One of
his first acts was to despatch Baron von Pfistenmeister to search for
Wagner, and not to return without him. He was to tell him that the king
was his most ardent admirer; that he wanted him to come at once to
Munich, to live there in comfort, at the king's expense, to complete his
Nibelung operas, and produce them forthwith. Was it a wonder that when
the Baron had left, Wagner, who was thus suddenly raised from the depth
of despair (he had even meditated suicide) to the height of happiness,
fell on Weissheimer's neck, and wept for joy.
Surely the brain of a Dumas could not have conceived a more romantic
event than this sudden transformation of one who was a fugitive from
debtor's prison into the favorite of a young and enthusiastic king. At
last Wagner had an opportunity to bring forward his music-dramas.
"Tristan and Isolde" was sung at the Munich Opera on June 10, 1865, with
an excellent cast, and Hans von Buelow as conductor. "Die Meistersinger"
followed on June 21,1868. Both these works were received with enthusiasm
by the ever-growing band of Wagner-lovers. His plan of building a
special theatre in Munich for the performance of his Nibelung operas
could not be carried out, however, even with the king's aid; for his
great influence with the king (he was rumored to be even his political
and religious adviser, though this was not true), aroused so much
hostile feeling that Wagner finally decided to have his Nibelung
festival at the old secluded town of Bayreuth.
At the suggestion of the eminent pianist, Carl Taussig, Wagner societies
were formed in the cities of Europe and America to raise funds for this
festival and give Wagner a chance to establish a tradition by showing
the world how his operas should be performed. With the aid of these and
liberal contributions by his ever-devoted king, Wagner was able, after
many trials, tribulations, and postponements, to bring out, at last, his
great Tetralogy, on August 13, 14,16, and 17, of the year 1876. It was
beyond comparison the most interesting and important event in the whole
history of music. Wagner had personally visited the opera-houses
throughout the land and selected the best singers. The audience included
the Emperors of Germany and Brazil, King Ludwig, the Grand Dukes of
Weimar and Baden, eminent composers like Liszt, Grieg, Saint-Saens, and
many other notable persons. The impression made by the great work was
the deeper because of the unusual circumstances: the theatre specially
constructed after Wagner's novel plan; the amphitheatric seats; the
concealed orchestra; the stereoscopic clearness and nearness of the
stage scenes, etc.
The necessity of charging very high rates ($225 for the four dramas)
naturally prevented the audiences from being large, and the result was
that Wagner had a deficit of $37,000 on his hands as the reward for his
genius and years of business worries. When, however, his last work, the
sublime, semi-religious "Parsifal," was produced in 1882, there was a
balance in his favor. He was then in his sixty-ninth year, and the
exertion of producing this final masterpiece was too great for him. To
recuperate, he went to Venice, where he died on Feb. 13, 1882. King
Ludwig sent a special train to convey his body to Bayreuth, where it was
buried in the garden behind his villa Wahnfried.
Since Wagner's death the Bayreuth festivals have been kept up with
ever-increasing success, under the guidance of his widow Cosima, the
daughter of Liszt (whom he married in 1870, four years after the death
of his first wife), and their son, Siegfried, who has in recent years
also won some success as an opera composer. The performances at Bayreuth
are no longer what they were during Wagner's lifetime,--models for all
the world; but they are still of unique interest. In truth, headquarters
like Bayreuth are no longer needed, for all the German cities now vie
with one another in their efforts to interpret the Wagner operas
according to the composer's intentions; and his influence on other
musicians, which began with the performance of "Lohengrin" under Liszt,
in 1850, is to-day greater than ever,--more powerful, perhaps, than that
ever exerted by any other master.
But while an eminent German critic wrote not long ago that "the
music-drama of Wagner constitutes modern opera," it would be a huge
mistake to make Wagnerism synonymous with modern music in general. Apart
from the opera, there are several other very powerful currents, and
while most of them can be traced to the first half of the nineteenth
century, they are none the less modern. Their principal sources are
Beethoven, Schubert, and Chopin, to whom we must add, in the second half
of the century, Liszt.
The symphonies of Haydn and Mozart are like toy-houses compared with the
massive architecture of Beethoven's. He not only elaborated the forms,
but varied the rhythms, broadened the melody, and deepened the
expression of orchestral music. In his works, too, are to be found the
germs of romanticism, which others, notably Mendelssohn and Schumann,
developed so fascinatingly in their best works. Most of Mendelssohn's
compositions have had their day; but Schumann is still a force in modern
music and will long remain so.
Brahms, the musical Browning, is, musically speaking, a son of Schumann
and a grandson of Beethoven. While even Brahms did not escape the
influence of Wagner, nor that of the romanticists Schubert and Chopin,
still, in his essence, he represents reaction against modern romanticism
and an atavistic return to the spirit of Beethoven. He has been, for
decades, the idol of Wagner's enemies; yet, in truth, there was no
occasion for opposing these two men, since they worked in entirely
different fields. Brahms wrote no operas, while Wagner wrote little but
operas. The real antagonist of Brahms is Liszt, who also worked only for
the concert hall and who represents poetic or pictorial music (programme
music), while Brahms stands for absolute music, or music _per se_,
without any poetic affiliations.
While Schubert in his youth also came under the influence of his great
contemporary, Beethoven, he soon emancipated himself completely from
him, even in the symphony, in which, as Schumann pointed out, he opened
up "an entirely new world" of melody, color, and emotion. His
orchestration is more varied, euphonious, and enchanting than
Beethoven's, and in this direction he did for the symphony what Weber
did for the opera. By using the brass instruments pianissimo, for color
instead of for loudness, he opened a path in which later masters,
including Wagner, eagerly followed him. Schubert was also the first
composer who revealed the exquisite beauty and the great emotional power
of the freest modulation from key to key. His poetic impromptus for
piano became the model for Mendelssohn's "Songs without Words," and the
multitudinous forms of modern short pieces, while his melodious, dainty,
graceful valses were the forerunners of the exquisite dance-music which
subsequently made Vienna famous, and which reached its climax in Johann
Strauss the younger, universally known as "the waltz king."
In all these respects, Schubert was epoch-making; and if the beautiful
details he suggested to his successors up to the present day could be
taken out of their works there would be some surprising blanks.
Especially also is this true in the realm of lyric song, for, as
everybody knows, he practically created the art song as we know and love
it. The greatest of his immediate successors, Schumann and Franz,
cheerfully admitted that they could never have written such songs as
they gave the world but for Schubert, and the same confession might be
made by the latest of the great songwriters, Grieg, Richard Strauss, and
our American MacDowell. Schubert's best songs have never been equalled.
They belong in the realm of modern music quite as much as Wagner's
music-dramas and Liszt's symphonic poems.
Chopin is another composer who, although he died in 1849 (Schubert died
in 1828), is as modern as the masters just named. He was as boldly
original as Schubert, and as great a magician in the art of arousing
deep emotion by means of novel, unexpected modulations. As an originator
of new harmonic progressions he has had only three equals,--Bach,
Schubert, and Wagner. Harmonies as ultra-modern as those of Wagner's
"Parsifal" may be found in some of the mazurkas of Chopin. He was, as
Rubinstein called him, "the soul of the pianoforte." No one before or
after him knew how to make that instrument speak so eloquently. By
ingeniously scattering the notes of a chord over the keyboard while
holding down the pedal, he practically gave the player three or four
hands, and greatly enlarged the harmonic and coloristic possibilities of
the pianoforte. Liszt, Rubinstein, Paderewski, and others have gone
farther still in the same direction, but he showed the way, and most of
his pieces are as delightful and as modern now as they were on the day
when they were written. He wrote a few sonatas, but the majority of his
works are short pieces such as are characteristic of the modern
Before Chopin modernized pianoforte music the world's greatest composers
had been Italians, Germans, and Frenchmen. Chopin's father was a
Frenchman, but his mother was a native of Poland, and he was born in
that country. While his music has the French qualities of elegance and
clearness (which every one admires in the works of Gounod, Bizet,
Massenet, and other Parisian masters), in its essence it is Polish--a
fact of special significance, for from this time on other nations than
the three mentioned--especially the Slavic and Scandinavian--begin to
play a prominent role in music. In this brief sketch only the greatest
names can be considered,--such names as Rubinstein, Tschaikowsky,
Rubinstein was not only one of the greatest pianists, but one of the
most spontaneous and fertile melodists of all times. His frequently
careless workmanship and his foolish, savage hostility to the dominant
Wagner movement prevented him from enjoying the fruits of his rare
genius. He felt that, had it not been for the all-absorbing Wagner, he
himself might have been as popular as Mendelssohn. Although a Russian,
there is little local color in his music, for the enchanting exotic
melodic intervals in his "Persian" songs are Oriental in general, rather
than Russian in particular. Similar exotic intervals may be found in the
"Aida" of Verdi, a pure Italian. Rubinstein, like Mendelssohn and
Meyerbeer, was a Hebrew. His day will yet come, for his Dramatic and
Ocean symphonies are among the grandest orchestral works in existence.
His countryman, Tschaikowsky, also was neglected during his lifetime;
but since his death he has become, especially in London, almost as
popular as Wagner; and deservedly so, for he was a genius of the
highest type, less in his songs and pianoforte works than in his
symphonies and symphonic poems, which include some of the most inspired
pages in modern music. In some of his compositions there is a barbaric
splendor which proclaims the Russian and delights those who like exotic
novelty in music. Like all the Russians, Tschaikowsky was strongly
influenced by Liszt; indeed, it may be said that in Russia Liszt was
more potent in shaping the course of modern music than even Wagner.
Another Slavic composer, the Bohemian Dvorak, is of special interest to
Americans not only because he is one of the greatest of modern
orchestral writers (a colorist of rare charm), but because he presided
for several years over Mrs. Thurber's National Conservatory of Music in
New York, and there wrote that truly melodious and deeply emotional
work, "From the New World," which has become almost as popular as
Tschaikowsky's "Pathetique." His Bohemian rhythms have a unique charm.
Among the Scandinavian composers the greatest, by far, is Grieg, one of
the most original melodists and harmonists of all times. His songs, in
particular, are destined to immortality; they are among the very best
written since Schubert. Of his pianoforte and chamber music, too, it can
be said that everything is new, free from commonplace, and ultra-modern.
He has written mostly short pieces, and for that reason has had to wait
(like Chopin in his day) a long time for full recognition of his genius,
the critics not having yet got over the foolish habit of measuring
art-works with a yardstick. Like Chopin, moreover, Grieg has had the
ill-fortune of having his most original and individual traits accredited
to his nation and described as "national peculiarities." His music does
contain such peculiarities; but it is necessary to distinguish between
what is Norwegian and what is Griegian. Grieg's little pieces and songs
are big with genius.
The Hungarian Liszt is another immortal master who, beside the fruits of
his individual genius, contributed to the current of modern music some
of those exotic national traits which distinguish it from that of
earlier epochs when it was almost exclusively Italian, French, and
German. His fifteen Hungarian rhapsodies constitute, however, only a
small part of the invaluable legacy he has left the world. He was the
most many-sided of all musicians,--the greatest of all pianists, and one
of the best composers of oratorios, songs, orchestral, and pianoforte
works,--everything, in short, except operas and chamber music. He was
also the greatest of teachers and (with the exception of Wagner) the
greatest of conductors; as such, he carried out both his own and
Wagner's new and revolutionary principles of interpretation, which have
gradually made the orchestral conductor a personage of even greater
importance, in concert hall and opera-house, than the prima donna,
travelling, like her, from city to city, to delight lovers of music.
One might have expected that the prince of pianists, being at the same
time a composer, would do for the pianoforte what Bach had done for
choral and organ music, Beethoven for the symphony, Schubert for the art
song, and Wagner for the opera. But he could not, for Chopin had
anticipated him. In only one direction was it possible to go beyond
Chopin,--in that of making the piano capable of reproducing orchestral
effects. This, Liszt achieved in his own works and his transcriptions.
But, after all, the grandest pianoforte, while delightful as such, is
but a poor substitute for an orchestra. Hence it was natural that Liszt
should give up the pianoforte as his specialty and devote himself
particularly to the orchestra.
In this domain he was destined to achieve reforms similar to those of
Wagner in the opera. The "classical" symphony, like the old-fashioned
opera, consists of detached numbers, or movements, that have no organic
connection with one another. For the detached numbers of the opera
Wagner substituted his "continuous melody;" and he provided an organic
connection of all the parts by means of the "leading motives" or
characteristic melodies and chords which recur whenever the situation
calls for them. In the same spirit Liszt transformed the symphony into
the symphonic poem, which is continuous and has a leading motive uniting
all its parts.
There is another aspect to the symphonic poem, in which Liszt deviated
from Wagner. In Wagner's operas there is plenty of descriptive or
pictorial music, but no program music, properly speaking; for even in
such things as the Ride of the Valkyries, or the Magic Fire Scene, the
music does not depend on a programme, but is explained by the scenery.
In programme music, on the other hand, the scene or the poetic idea is
simply explained in the programme, or else merely hinted at in the title
of the piece. Crude attempts in this direction were made centuries ago,
but programme music as an important branch of music is a modern
phenomenon. Beethoven encouraged it by his "Pastoral Symphony," and the
French Berlioz did some very remarkable things in this line in his
dramatic symphonies; but it remained for Liszt to hit the nail on the
head in his symphonic poems. The French Saint-Saens followed him, rather
than his countryman Berlioz; so did Tschaikowsky, Dvorak, and most
modern composers, up to Richard Strauss, whose symphonic poems are the
most widely discussed, praised, and abused compositions of our time.
To the great names contained in the preceding paragraphs another must
be added,--that of an Italian. By an odd coincidence, Verdi was born in
the same year as Wagner, 1813. But what is far more remarkable is that
at the close of their careers, so different otherwise, these two great
composers met again--in their music, Verdi as a Wagnerian convert. Up to
his fifty-eighth year Verdi had written two dozen operas, all made up of
strings of arias in the old-fashioned way,--superb arias, many of them,
especially in "Il Trovatore" and "Aida," but still arias. Then he rested
from his labors sixteen years; and when he appeared on the stage again,
with his "Otello" and "Falstaff," he had adopted Wagner's maxims that
arias are out of place in a music-drama; that "the play's the thing,"
and that the music should follow the text word for word.
Surely, this was the most remarkable of Wagner's triumphs and conquests.
He who had been denounced for decades as being unable to write properly
for the voice was actually taken up as a model by the greatest composer
of Italy, the land of song. Moreover, all the young composers of Italy
have turned their backs on the traditions of Italian opera. The chief
ambition of Mascagni, Leoncavallo, Puccini, and all the others has been
to be called "the Italian Wagner;" and their operas are much more like
Wagner's than like Rossini's and Donizetti's, being free from arias and
the vocal embroideries that formerly were the essence of Italian opera.
The same is true of the operas written in recent decades in France,
Germany, and other countries. Massenet, Saint-Saens, Humperdinck,
Goldmark, Richard Strauss, Paderewski, and all the others have followed
in Wagner's footsteps.
Such, briefly told, is the story of Richard Wagner and Modern Music. The
"music of the future" has become the music of the present. What the
future will bring no one can tell. Croakers say, as they have always
said, that the race of giants has died out. But who knew, fifty years
ago, that Wagner and Liszt, or even their predecessors, Chopin and
Schumann, and the song specialist, Robert Franz, were giants? We know it
now, and future generations will know whether we have giants among us.
Things of beauty that will be a joy forever have been created by men of
genius now living in Europe; such men as the Norwegian Grieg, the
Bohemian Dvorak, the French Saint-Saens and Massenet, the Hungarian
Goldmark, the German Humperdinck and Richard Strauss, the Polish
Paderewski. England has more good composers and listeners than it ever
had before; and the same is true of America. We have no school of opera
yet, but the best operettas of Victor Herbert and De Koven deserve
mention by the side of those of the French. Offenbach, Lecocq, and
Audran, the Viennese Strauss, Suppe, and Milloecker, the English
Sullivan. The orchestral compositions of our John K. Paine are
masterworks, and the songs and pianoforte pieces of MacDowell are equal
to anything produced in Europe since Chopin and Franz. We have several
other men of great promise, and altogether the outlook for America, as
well as for Europe, is bright.
The books, pamphlets, and newspaper articles on Wagner would fill a
library. He has been more written about than any writers except
Shakspere, Goethe, and Dante. He was also fond of writing about himself.
His autobiography (extending only to 1865) has not yet been given to the
public; but there are many autobiographic pages in the ten volumes of
his literary works, which have been Englished by Ellis. Of great value
are Wagner's letters to Liszt and to other friends. These were utilized
for the first time in "Wagner and His Works," the most elaborate
biography in the English language, by the author of the foregoing
article. Shorter American and English books on Wagner have been written
by Kobbe, Krehbiel, Henderson, Hueffer, Newman, &c. Of French writers
Lavignac, Jullien, Mendes, Servieres, Schure, may be mentioned. Of great
value are Kufferath's monographs on the Wagner operas and Liszt's
analyses. In Germany the standard work of reference is the third edition
of Glasenopp, in six volumes, four of which are now (1902) in print.
Other German writers are Porges, Wolzogen, Pohl, Nohl, Tappert,
Chamberlain, &c. The best histories of Modern Music in general are
Langhaus's larger work and Riemann's "Geschichte der Musik seit
Beethoven." The best general work for reference is "Great Composers and
Their Works," edited by Professor Paine of Harvard. References to about
10,000 articles on Wagner may be found in Oesterlein's "Katalog Einer
Richard Wagner Bibliothek," 3 vols.
BY G. MERCER ADAM.
What John Ruskin has done in a prosaic, commercial, and Philistine age,
in teaching the world to love and study the Beautiful, in opening to it
the hidden mysteries and delights of art, and in inciting the passion
for taking pleasure in and even possessing embodiments of it, that age
owes to the great prose-poet and enthusiastic author of "Modern
Painters." Neither before nor since his day has literature known such a
passionate and luminous exponent of Nature's beauties, such an
inculcator in men's minds of the art of observing her ways and methods,
or one who has given the world such deep insight into what constitutes
the true and the beautiful in art. For these things, and for opening new
worlds of instruction and delight to his age in the realm of art,
heightened by the charm of his marvellous prose, we can readily pardon
Ruskin for his weaknesses and perverseness,--for his dogmatisms, his
fervors, and ecstasies, his exaggerations of praise and blame, and even
for the missionary propagation of his often unsound economic gospel,
valuable though it may be in illustrating and enforcing morality in its
aesthetic aspect. Despite his enemies, and all that the critics have
said contradicting his theories, Ruskin was a surprise and a revelation
to his time. In not a little of all that he said and did, it is true, we
cannot concur; nor can we fail to see the errors he fell into through
his want of reserve and his headlong haste to say and do the things he
said and did; nevertheless, he was a great and inspiring teacher in
things that appeal to our sense of the beautiful, and earnest in his
zeal to raise men's intellectual and moral standard of life. Like most
enthusiasts and geniuses, he had, now and then, his hours of reaction,
waywardness, and gloom; but there was much that was noble and ennobling
in the man, as well as rich and fructifying in his thought. Even in his
social and moral exhortations, tinctured as they are with medievalism,
and however much we may here again disagree with him, he had much that
was uplifting and inspiring to say to his time,--a time that had great
need of his apostolic counsellings and his fervent inculcations of
morality, industry, religion, and humanity.
Throughout Mr. Ruskin's works--and they are amazingly manifold--a strong
and intense purpose runs, given to the highest and noblest ends; and
though their author at times wearies his reader by his diffuseness and
his digressions, and to some is almost fanatical in his reverence for
art, he is ever imaginative and eloquent, and has created for us a new,
instructive, and uniquely fresh and thoughtful body of art-literature.
The truth of infinite value he teaches is "realism,"--the doctrine that
all truth and beauty are to be attained by a reverent and faithful study
of nature, and not, as a reviewer expresses it, "by substituting vague
forms, bred by imagination on the mists of feeling, in place of
definite, substantial reality. The thorough acceptance of this doctrine
would remould our life; and he who teaches its application, even to any
single department of human activity, and with such power as Mr.
Ruskin's, is a prophet for his generation." In all his various labors
and aims, Mr. Ruskin set before himself a high, if somewhat quixotic,
ideal of life, and with great earnestness did much, not only for the
elevation of his fellow-men, but for the development of sound artistic
taste and the enriching and spiritualizing of life by seeking to
surround it at all times with the true and the beautiful, and with the
old-time virtues of purity, manliness, and courage.
Among the "Beacon Lights" of the age there can be no question that
Ruskin is worthy of an exalted place, since few men of our modern time,
rich as it is in eminent thinkers and writers, has done more than he to
illumine the many subjects with which he has so fascinatingly
dealt,--and that not only in art and its cult of the Beautiful, but in
ethics, education, and political economy. The energies, activities, and
impulses he constantly put forth, as well as the high principles that
ever guided him in his earnest endeavor to improve the intellectual and
moral condition of his kind, mark his era as a great artistic epoch in
the onward and upward progress of the race. By stimulus, suggestion, and
inspiration he has powerfully influenced his time, though manifestly not
a little of the seed he abundantly and hopefully scattered has fallen
upon barren ground. Nevertheless, where the seed has fallen and
germinated, the yield has been large: "his spirit has passed far wider
than he ever knew or conceived; and his words, flung to the winds, have
borne fruit a hundredfold in lands that he never thought of or designed
to reach." With what pride and gratitude should not the age regard him
and his memory,--one who has quickened the sensibilities of men in
looking upon nature; opened our dull eyes to its manifold beauties; made
plain to the average intelligence what Art is and stands for; implanted
in our souls worship of the beautiful; shown working-men how to use their
tools in the highest interests of their craft, and taught maidens what
and how to read as well as how and in what spirit to sew and cook. The
world too often acknowledges its true teachers and prophets only when it
begins to build them some belated tomb. "This, at any rate," gratefully
exclaims Frederic Harrison, "we will not suffer to be done to
[Footnote 1: Written by Mr. F.H. on Professor Ruskin's eightieth
birthday (February 8, 1899).]
"We may all of us recall to-day with love and gratitude the enormous
mass of stirring thoughts and melodious speech about a thousand things,
divine and human, beautiful and good, which for a whole half-century the
author of 'Modern Painters' has given to the world. They cover every
phase of nature, every type of art, of history, society, economics,
religion; the past and the future; all rules of human duty, whether
personal or social, domestic or national.... He spake to us of trees,
from the cedar of Lebanon unto the hyssop on the wall; he spake also of
beasts, and of fowl, and of creeping things, and of fishes. He has put
new beauty for us into the sky and the clouds and the rainbow, into the
seas at rest or in storm, into the mountains and into the lakes, into
the flowers and the grass, into crystals and gems, into the mightiest
ruins of past ages, and into the humblest rose upon a cottage wall. He
has done for the Alps and the cathedrals of Italy and France, for Venice
and Florence, what Byron did for Greece. We look upon them all now with
new and more searching eyes. Whole schools of art, entire ages of old
workmanship, the very soul of the Middle Age, have been revealed with a
new inspiration and transfigured in a more mysterious light. Poetry,
Greek sculpture, mediaeval worship, commercial morality, the training of
the young, the nobility of industry, the purity of the home,--a thousand
things that make up the joy and soundness of human life have been
irradiated by the flashing searchlight of one ardent soul: irradiated,
let us say, as this dazzling ray shot round the horizon, glancing from
heaven to earth, and touching the gloom with fire. We need not, even
to-day, be tempted from truth, or pretend that the light is permanent or
complete. It has long ceased to flash round the welkin, and its very
scintillations have disturbed our true vision. But we remember still its
dazzling power and its revelation of things that our eyes had not seen.
"What we especially love to dwell on to-day is this: that in all this
unrivalled volume of printed thoughts, in this encyclopaedic range of
topic by this most voluminous and most versatile of modern writers [may
we not say of all English writers?] there is not one line that is base,
or coarse, or frivolous; not a sentence that was framed in envy, malice,
wantonness, or cruelty; not one piece that was written to win money, or
popularity, or promotion; not a line composed for any selfish end or in
any trivial mood. Think what we may of this enormous library of print,
we know that every word of it was put forth of set purpose without any
hidden aim, utterly without fear, and wholly without guile; to make the
world a little better, to guide, inspire, and teach men, come what
might, scoff as they would, turn from him as they chose, though they
left him alone, a broken old man crying in the wilderness, with none to
hear or to care. They might think it all utterly vain; we may think much
of it was in vain: but it was always the very heart's blood of a rare
genius and a noble soul."
Before entering, somewhat in detail, into Ruskin's vast and varied
labors, let us briefly outline the scope and character of the work which
gave the art critic and prophet of his time his chief fame. The
personal incidents in his life need not detain us at the outset, as they
are not specially eventful, and may be more fully gathered from the
excellent "Life" of Ruskin, by his friend and some-time secretary, W.G.
Collingwood, or from the delightfully interesting reminiscences by the
master himself in his autobiographic "Praeterita," published near the
close of his long, arduous, and fruitful career. John Ruskin was born in
London on the 8th of February, 1819. He was of Scotch ancestry, his
father being a prosperous wine merchant in London, who acquired
considerable wealth in trade, which the son in time inherited, and nobly
used in his many private benevolences and philanthropic enterprises. The
comfortable circumstances in which he was born, coupled with his
father's own love of pictures and books, were helpful in giving
encouragement and direction to the young student's studies and tastes.
His mother, a deeply religious woman, was, moreover, influential in
implanting the serious element in Ruskin's character and life, and in
familiarizing him with the Bible, whose noble English, in King James'
version, manifestly entered early into the youth's ardent, prophetic
soul, and, as a writer, had much to do in forming his magnificent prose
style. Ruskin was in early years--indeed, far on in his manhood--in
delicate health, and consequently he was educated privately till he
passed to Christ Church College, Oxford, where, at the age of twenty, he
won the Newdigate prize for verse, and graduated in 1842. His taste for
art was manifested at an early age, and after passing from the
university he studied painting under J.D. Harding and Copley Fielding;
but his masters, as he tells us in "Praeterita," were Rubens and
At the outset of his career Ruskin, as is well known, was led to take up
a defence of J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851) and the contemporary school of
English landscape-painting against the foreign trammels, which had
fastened themselves upon modern art, and especially to prove the
superiority of modern landscape-painters over the old masters. This
revolutionary opinion, though at first it was hotly contested,
established the new critic's position as a writer on art, and the
defence, or exposition rather, grew into the famous work called "Modern
Painters" (5 vols., 1843-60). This elaborate work deals with general
aesthetic principles, and, notwithstanding its occasional extravagances,
alike of praise and censure, its charm is irresistible, presenting us
with its brilliant and original author's ideas of beauty, to which he
freshly and powerfully awakened the world, while enshrining throughout
the work the most enchanting word-poems on mountain, leaf, cloud, and
sea, which, it is not too much to say, will live forever in English
literature. In the second volume Mr. Ruskin takes up the Italian
painters, and discusses at length the merits of their respective
schools; in the others, as well as in the work as a whole, we have a
body of principles which should govern high art-work, as well as new
ideas as to what should constitute the equipment of the painter, and
that not only as regards the technique of his art, but in the effect to
be produced on the onlooker in viewing the skilled work of one who,
above all accomplishments, should be lovingly and intimately in contact
From the study of painting Mr. Ruskin passed for a time to that of
architecture. In this department we have from his pen "The Seven Lamps
of Architecture" (1849) and "The Stones of Venice" (1851-53). In these
two complementary works their author sets forth as in an impressive
sermon the new and admonitory lesson that architecture is the exponent
of the national characteristics of a people,--the higher and nobler sort
exemplifying the religious life and moral virtue in a nation, the
debased variety, on the other hand, expressing the ignoble qualities of
national vice and shame. The text of "The Stones" is Venice, and the
design of the volumes, in the author's words, is to show that the Gothic
architecture of Venice "had arisen out of, and indicated, a state of
pure domestic faith and national virtue;" while its renaissance
architecture "had arisen out of and indicated a state of concealed
national infidelity and domestic corruption." The earlier work, "The
Seven Lamps,"--the Lamp of Sacrifice, of Truth, Power, Beauty, Life,
Memory, Obedience,--looks upon architecture "as the revealing medium or
lamp through which flame a people's passions,--the embodiment of their
polity, life, history, and religious faith in temple and palace, mart
and home." Akin to these two eloquent works, in which their author
thoughtfully sets forth the civic virtues and moral tone, as well as the
debased characteristics, by which architecture is produced at certain
eras in a people's life, is the earlier volume on "The Poetry of
Architecture" (1837), which discusses the relation between architecture
and its setting of landscape or other environment, illustrated by
examples drawn from regions he had visited,--the English Lakeland,
France, Switzerland, Spain, and northern Italy.
After these works followed lectures on drawing, perspective, decoration,
and manufacture, with later theories (crotchets, some have impiously
called them) on political economy, Pre-Raphaelitism, _et cetera_, with a
flood of opinions on social, ethical, and art subjects, enriched by rare
intellectual gifts and much religious fervor. Ruskin's whole writings
form a body of literature unique of its kind, pervaded with great charm
of literary style, and inspired by a high moral purpose. Ruskin's
excursions into non-aesthetic fields, and the strange jumble of
Christian communism to which, late in life, he gave vehement expression,
it must be honestly admitted, have detracted much from his early fame.
In everything he wrote the Ruskinian spirit comes strongly out, colored
with an amiable egotism and enforced by great assurance of conviction.
The moral purpose he had in view, and the charm and elevated tone of his
writings, lead us to forget the wholly ideal state of society he sought
to introduce, while we are won to the man by the passion of his noble
Like Carlyle and Emerson, Ruskin was by his parents intended for the
ministry; but for the ministry he had himself no inclination. The
broadening out early of his mind and the freeing of his thought on
doctrinal subjects, which took him far from the narrow evangelicalism of
his youth, made the ministry of the church repugnant to him, though he
was always a deeply religious man and a force ever making for
righteousness. At the same time, he numbered many divines among his most
cherished friends, and he frequently, and with admitted edification, was
to be found in chapel and church. Meanwhile he continued busily to
educate himself for whatever profession he might choose or drift into,
supplemented by such fitful periods of schooling as his delicate health
permitted, as well as by many jaunts with his parents to the English
lakes and other parts of the kingdom, and by frequent tours on the
Continent, especially in Italy and Switzerland. Before he arrived at his
teens, young Ruskin had composed much, both in prose and verse, and he
early manifested an aptitude for drawing, as well as a decided taste for
art, which, it is said, was in some measure incited by the gift, from a
partner of his father, of a copy of the poet Rogers' "Italy," with
engravings by Turner. Nor, early in manhood, did he escape a youth's
fond dream of love, for as a worshipper of beauty, and an enthusiast of
the "Wizard of the North," we find him drawn tenderly to a daughter of
Lockhart, editor of the "Quarterly Review," a grandchild of his famous
countryman, Sir Walter Scott. The affair, however, though encouraged by
his parents, who longed to see their son settled in life, came to
nought, chiefly owing to the young lover's weak physical frame and
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