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Beacon Lights of History, Volume 14 The New Era; A Supplementary Volume, by Recent Writers, as Set Forth in the Preface and Table of Contents online

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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-Saëns followed him, rather
than his countryman Berlioz; so did Tschaikowsky, Dvorák, 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 "Aïda," 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-Saëns, 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 Dvorák, the French Saint-Saëns 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, Suppé, 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 Kobbé, Krehbiel, Henderson, Hueffer, Newman, &c. Of French writers
Lavignac, Jullien, Mendès, Servières, Schuré, 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.





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,[1] "we will not suffer to be done to
John Ruskin."

[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
with nature.

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

Online LibraryJohn LordBeacon Lights of History, Volume 14 The New Era; A Supplementary Volume, by Recent Writers, as Set Forth in the Preface and Table of Contents → online text (page 4 of 26)