The Contributors' Club

I WELL remember the interest excited by Washington Allston’s return to this country, where he gave an impulse to the taste for high art, if he did not create it. He came to our house one evening, returning my father’s call promptly; the indescribable charm of his presence won all our hearts at once; and though he did not come till after nine, and stayed till after twelve, we were not weary. He did not introduce the subject of art, but was ready to talk of it frankly and delightfully, describing pictures by the old masters and statues with such enthusiasm that he stood up to show us the attitude of the Apollo Belvedere, not then familiar to us as now. In spite of his blue coat with bright buttons, his pale buff waistcoat and white cravat, I wondered if the famous statue could be more graceful.

He used to call between nine and ten, and sit smoking cigars and sipping wine and water—he never took anything stronger — till twelve or one o'clock, talking quietly and charmingly on every subject that came up. At times he undertook to give us some of Coleridge’s views, being a profound admirer of that mystic. I cannot say that he made proselytes of his matter-of-fact hearers, and whether he saw his own way through the fog seemed doubtful ; but he certainly believed that he caught glimpses of a wonderful light.

At another time he thrilled us with ghost-stories, telling them as no one could, unless half crediting them. One night he was just at the appalling crisis of his tale, when the little French clock on the mantelpiece struck twelve, and a sudden blast of wind drove the blinds together with a crash that startled us all absurdly. He could not help laughing the next moment, for he had jumped as briskly as any of us.

Nothing struck me more in his talk than his use of epithets, so felicitous that the poetry in his nature often flashed out in them. Then he had a fund of anecdotes about foreign characters, the royal family of England, Beau Brummel, and artists, many of which were well known in their day, told at dinnerparties and in the newspapers, and now forgotten. But we never heard one word from him that betrayed jealousy, or any evil feeling. He loved not gossip. He loved all that was good, pure, and beautiful, for such was his own nature. If he ever talked of his own paintings, it was because the subject was introduced by others ; and it was charming to see with what freedom from egotism and vanity he would speak, honestly lamenting his incapacity to transfer his ideals to the canvas. Alas that modesty robbed us of what would have been his noblest work !

He once asked us if we would come to take a private look at a picture he had just finished, the Jeremiah ; and we went next day. His studio was then, I think, in the loft of an unused stable in Mason Street. I was much awed. The artist’s paraphernalia, busts, draperies, easels, took me into a new world. The light came solemnly in from a high window ; the painter stood silently beside us, and there was the majestic prophet looking into an unseen world, and the youthful scribe sat reverently waiting, while we were as mute as he, too much moved for words. The painting stood just where it had received the artist’s wondrous touches ; the lights of course were exactly right for it, and we could not have seen it under more favorable circumstances. Mr. Allston spoke even more gently than usual, as if himself impressed by the sublime creation of his own hands and soul.

It was soon afterwards exhibited publicly, and we went with the crowd, hearing all sorts of comments, many just and appreciative, some absurd. I heard one lady criticising the size of the prophet’s great toe, which she said was enormous. Mr. Allston came to see us, a few evenings afterwards, and spoke pleasantly of his critics. He said one man remarked that as Jeremiah was a Jew he should have had black eyes. “ Now,” said Mr. Allston, “ I have several portraits of Polish Jews taken from life, and they have blue eyes ; and as I wished to give the countenance an expression of prophetic inspiration, if I had bestowed black eyes upon him, he would have looked like a maniac.”

Against the wall stood a large canvas, its back to us; we had no glimpse at the other side. The Feast of Belshazzar, then unfinished, still unfinished, hangs now at the Art Museum, tantalizing the lovers of Allston as they gaze at the stately figure of the queen. He once told us that he had effaced thirty figures that day, and he seemed a little depressed.

Just after the Giaour came out, I asked Mr. Allston what was his favorite passage in the new poem. It was the time when we young people were Byron-mad; when young men wore turned-down collars, and hated the world, and young women were impatient because it was so long before Byron’s last could reach Boston. Mr. Allston took the cigar from his lips, paused a moment, and looking down began to repeat, —

“ He who hath bent him o’er the dead.”

He went through the passage in a low voice, hardly above a whisper, but distinct and full of feeling, and there still lingers in these old deaf ears the melancholy cadence, —

“ ’T is Greece, but living Greece no more.”

Some years ago, I was much moved by suddenly encountering an unframed portrait of Mr. Allston by Chester Harding, for sale. It was certainly an excellent likeness, one of Harding’s best, painted out of love for the man. I went back to Providence, spoke of it to a few gentlemen, and in two days it was ordered for the Providence Atheuæum, where it now hangs.

One night, after I had had a gay week, I went to bed very early. Soon after ten o’clock, my mother came with a lamp, and said, “ Mr. Allston is downstairs.” I was awake in a moment, and in the parlor as speedily as possible. Mr. Allston suspected I had come from the land of dreams, probably ; for he spoke of the fatigue of party-going, and said he could sit up till morning with a friend or two, and be thoroughly refreshed by late sleeping next day, but crowded parties exhausted him. I suppose his nervous organization was delicately susceptible to the influence of so many human presences, to say nothing of noise and glare.

He gave us then an amusing account of his delight in balls in his college days. It was the custom then for students to board in private families, frequently with the professors ; and his home was with Dr. Waterhouse, in the venerable mansion still occupied by the good man’s granddaughters, and carefully preserved. Mr. Allston declared that he was an arrant fop in those days, and always in the extreme of fashion. He came home very late from a ball, arrayed, if I remember rightly, in a sky-blue silk coat, and white satin waistcoat, with an abundance of shirt-ruffling. He lifted the knocker gently, supposing that a servant was sitting up for him. The door was opened for him, and there stood Dr. Waterhouse himself, who silently raised and lowered his candle till he had deliberately surveyed the young man from head to foot; then he moved aside, and Mr. Allston, too much confounded to speak, hurried up the stairs, feeling himself, as he said, “ a consummate puppy.” At the foot of that staircase still hangs a portrait of Madam Waterhouse, painted by Allston in those early days. And until within a year a room at the head of those stairs was always papered with blue, because Mr. Allston preferred that color.

One night, it might be in the year 1826 (but I do not remember dates well), there was a ball at Commodore Hull’s in the navy yard at Charlestown. Every one said it would be more interesting than ordinary balls; and Mr. Allston, with his artist eye, grtatly admired the beautiful women of that family; so he went to it. As we stood looking at the gay figures after supper, he lamented the apparent indolence of the young men, who went lounging through the cotillon, scarcely lifting their feet from the floor. Presently he said, “ I was passionately fond of dancing when I was young, and this music is so inspiring I must dance once more. Will you dance with me ? ” Then he added, “ Will it not be better to wait till the crowd is diminished a little ? ” The carriages were rolling away rapidly, the room was thinning, when we stood up for the last dance. I was rather daunted by my partner’s profound bow, but astounded when he began to “ take his steps.” Such “ pigeon-wings,” as I suppose they were, such bounding, and with all the elastic agility such perfect grace ! All absorbed in the delight of his unforgotten exercise, and exhilarated by the music of the fine band, he was utterly unconscious that people were stepping back from the hall to look at him.

The currents of our lives carried us in different directions, and I never saw him after his second marriage, but his portrait still hangs in my heart, with few others so distinct. His eyes, I think, must have been hazel, they were capable of such varied expression ; his hair was wavy, his features and complexion were delicate, his very hands graceful in every movement. I heard him say many things which indicated a humble and devout nature ; a certain exquisiteness of refinement gave token of a pure heart; and I cannot wonder that those who knew him best almost forgot the noble artist in the lovable man.

— Two caviling objections may be raised against Dr. Johnson’s famous definition of a lexicographer as a “ harmless drudge,” on the ground that unless he is very careful the maker of dictionaries is not harmless, and that, all things considered, his work is not, at any rate, the dreariest form of drudgery. The modern lexicographer, if he works in the scientific spirit, — and only in that can he hope to be harmless, — has the delight of studying the altered meanings of words and of tracing them back to their earliest roots ; and this, though it implies incessant labor, is labor of an agreeable sort. No, it is the maker of indexes that is the harmless drudge, by whose side the lexicographer is a creative genius. The importance of an index we know, like that of time, only from its loss. In the enormous abundance of modern literature, when so much of the best writing on disputed subjects—that is to say, the ideas which have not yet become commonplaces— is buried in different reviews and magazines, we lose time in hunting blindly through heavy volumes to find what has been said by men of competent authority ; the volumes of essays are so numerous that it is hard to know even their titles, and any one who helps us deserves our warmest gratitude.

Such a person has just finished some important indexes : one, namely, of the first thirty volumes of the Nation, and one of vols. xxxix. to xlvi. of this magazine, with supplementary references to the index of the first thirtyeight volumes, that was published, as our readers well know, in 1877. Naturally, no two persons would adopt precisely the same method of forming an index : one would put everything about this country in U under United States ; this indexer has set everything of the sort under America, U. S., with the particular titles following. However, the memory is not burdened by learning this fact. There are no cross-references, as from Civil Service Reform, or such general titles. Æschylus appears as Aiskulos; philosophy, philology, etc., are all spelt with an initial f Still, when one has made note of these things, all that remains to do is to look up whatever one is hunting for, and there it is. The arrangement is very compact, so that we find the number of pages devoted to a subject, whether an article is poetry or fiction, and whether it has been reprinted in book-form. Different type tells at a glance whether the article is by a given man or about him. Certainly, until some machine is devised by which a volume that we want springs from the shelf and takes its place by our side, open at the desired page, we can hardly ask more than this.

The same indefatigable compiler has in press a general index to the International Review, vols. i—ix., and is preparing indexes for Lippincott’s Magazine and Scribner’s Monthly. More than this, he has in manuscript, and only awaits enough subscribers, at three dollars each, to publish, an index to articles on history, biography, travel, philosophy, literature, and politics, in English, German, and French, that are to be found in bound volumes, as those of SainteBeuve, Scherer, Lowell, Freeman, Macaulay, etc., and in such collections as the Oxford and Cambridge Essays, Social Science Reports, etc. The utility of this index to every one who reads anything besides the newspapers is obvious. To be able to trace any subject through its treatment by various hands will be an excellent thing, and the facility in doing this cannot fail to make students carry their researches in any subject that interests them further than they would otherwise do. The name of the man who is doing this good work shall be often blessed ; meanwhile, it is hidden under the pseudonym of Q. P. Index, of Bangor, Maine.

— A New York artist of repute has come to Boston for judgment. Nor is he the first that has appealed to us. Mr. Shirlaw, though justly admired, has not taken the city by storm. I am not sure that it can be taken by storm ; in fact, I am inclined to think that it is inexpugnable. Could but the demi-gods of old, the Titanic Buonarotti, Raphael the divine, or Titian the golden (may their manes pardon the levity !) make their débuts at Doll’s, how interesting would the side-shows be! Can any one imagine five thousand Bostonians in a single day making a solemn (and rather distant) pilgrimage to a sculptor’s studio, and hailing with patriotic pride his last chef d’œuvre, as the Romans did a few years since ? Though we did go stark, staring mad on a memorable occasion less than twelve months ago, from an æsthetic point of view we are generally cool. Has Mr. Shirlaw raised the temperature of our blood ?

I was curious as to the reception of his pictures by the collectors, or, as the French call them, the amateurs. That the artists would like them on technical grounds was a foregone conclusion. By good luck I happened on one amateur or two in flagrante delictu, that is, scrutinizing the paintings with the purchaser’s eye. I probed their feelings. The result tallied with the anticipation. They admired the technique, and— They admired it, but “ somehow were not interested.” The whole truth lies in this homely criticism. It can be clothed in more pompous language. We can say, for instance, that Mr. Shirlaw lacks “ intellectuality ; ” that he is occupied with “ externalities ; ” that he does not “ see beneath the epidermis or that he does not fathom the “ true inwardness ” of things : it is all one and the same. He has the enthusiasm of technique. Artists, therefore, who reluctantly pardon the unskillful hand, admire him. In this respect he is vastly superior to his fellow-townsmen at the Museum of Fine Arts. He does not flaunt his brush in one’s face. He scorns the garish, lookat-me tones; the chalky lights and opaque shadows ; the facile, airless relief obtained by contrast of black dress and fawn-colored background.

With one or two exceptions, — notably Sheep Shearing, — his execution is subdued, patient, elaborate. His color is harmonious and mellow, — at times Rubenesque. He freely employs the glaze, a potent, though an obsolescent medium. And why is it obsolescent ?

Because we strive to run a race with Nature, to cope with her in range of light and shade, to catch the public eye, and to make our works so loud that those who run may read. Mr. Shirlaw is more modest, and is quite right too in following his instincts, at all hazards. Though he does not give us that out-ofdoor feeling which only fresh paint can give (in fact, his out-of-door pictures have not the out-of-door tones), he does give us life. His little maidens smile, his boys are nervously boyish, his fiddlers fiddle, and verily his geese fly. As to his drawing, it is commensurate with his subjects, though it scarcely rises to the height demanded by cartoon work, as his designs for a frieze make evident. It is a current but baneful notion that any painter of note can decorate. Monumental art calls for style, grandeur, elegance, sympathy for architectural forms, a modicum (at least) of architectural knowledge, and an intense feeling for linear composition. Mere picturesqueness does not suffice.

It would have been a pleasure to discuss the merits of individual pictures, were not such a discussion foreign to my purpose, which was simply to show why Mr. Shirlaw has not engrafted himself upon the Bostonians. Educationally he has been of service to us, and merits our thanks. I have judged him by a high standard, but better a high standard than the no-standard-at-all of the daily press. Boston has crowned more than one artist whose hand has not been peer to his feeling ; but she has never canonized any one whose imagination has been inferior to his technique. Therein she is right. She may yet save us from the soulless works that by courtesy alone can be styled works of art.

— Foreign actors of high reputation have often come to this country ; we have seen on our own stage Rachel, Ristori, Salvini, Fechter, Seebach, — to name but a few of many ; but no one of these has excited half so much discussion as Mademoiselle Sara Bernhardt, whose somewhat obtrusive personality has been made familiar to all newspaper readers. In London she was accepted as a direct revelation of genius ; in America the attitude of press and public has been more discriminating ; a candid attempt was made to separate the woman from the actress, and to estimate her art apart from herself. She was found lacking in elevation, force, and truth in heroic and poetic characters. She delivers verse with a marvelously musical ease and grace, but she has no soul for poetry. Ideal characters, or characters in any way lifted above ordinary every-day existence, are beyond her reach. As Adrienne, her conception of the character was feeble and inadequate. As Phèdre, it was feeble and inaccurate. Adrienne Lecouvreur was something more than a whining schoolgirl languishing for a lover. Her Phèdre is cold and declamatory. Phèdre is indeed a difficult character to grasp, but when its inner meaning is once seized all is easy, and the part glitters with magnificent possibilities. Mademoiselle Sara Bernhardt never gets down into the character, and so all her effort — clever though it often is in detail—is but fighting the air. Her fatal defect is her inability to see character and to seize on it. It is obviously impossible for her to understand the nature of Adrienne or of Phèdre. Even in modern plays of every-day life, the finer distinctions of character altogether elude her. Gilberte in Frou Frou and Marguerite in the Dame aux Camélias have emotions that she can feel and make us feel, but she never suggests the more subtle differences which divide them each from the other and from any other heroine of the so-called “ emotional ” drama. It was not in her power to fill Frou Frou with the charm of a winsome personality, as Miss Agnes Ethel did, but surely she could have set before us more plainly the essential frivolity and

frailty of the character, and show us that in spite of this frivolity and frailty Frou Frou had a refined and delicate nature. Her Frou Frou laughs and weeps in just the same way her Dame aux Camélias laughs and weeps; and, in spite of the accidental resemblance of situation, no two characters are more unlike than Gilberte and Marguerite. When Mademoiselle Bernhardt fully succeeds it is because she has hold of a character she can assimilate to herself, placed in a situation she herself can feel. And here her surpassing cleverness and quickness stand her in good stead ; with unerring eye she picks out what she can do best, and she spends her strength on that alone. In fact, not having elevation enough for Adrienne, or being lightsome enough for Frou Frou, she skillfully takes both parts to pieces, and from the fragments makes a new part suited to her stature. As Gilberte and as Marguerite Mademoiselle Bernhardt gave us her measure ; but in neither did she give a new and true view of character. What she did do was to give us with remarkable force certain moments of emotion. Not to see character clearly is, after all, a negative failing, whereas the presentation of passion is above all things positive and easily “ understanded by the people.” Whatever cleverness,—the word recurs again and again in writing of Mademoiselle Bernhardt, and it is the one word to use, — whatever extreme cleverness, training, tact, grace, a beautiful delivery, a voice of great range and flexibility, and a talent for the picturesque can do is within her reach. And these are precious qualifications for histrionic achievement, but they are not the only qualifications, nor the highest. Cleverness, however abundant it may be, is not to be weighed in the balance’against the one touch of nature. It must not be inferred that Mademoiselle Bernhardt is always artificial; nothing would be farther from the truth; but the general impression of her work is one of clever artifice. Miss Clara Morris, for instance, shocks our taste and sets our teeth on edge for three acts, and then in the fourth plays on our heart-strings at will, moving us to tears in spite of all irritation against her lack of art. Mademoiselle Bernhardt does not irritate and rarely moves. All her work is smooth, polished, finished to perfection, easy to admire, and impossible to be enthusiastic over. In watching her work one sometimes has a feeling of wonder as to whether she is “ a born actress,” as the phrase goes; whether she acts because she cannot help acting, or whether the stage is not merely the form of expression which her restlessness first happened to take. To say all this is to say that she belongs in the useful class of artists who are brilliant and entertaining, to be seen with pleasure, and even to be studied with care. It is to say also and emphatically that she does not belong with the little group of great actresses, and is not to be ranked with Ristori, and Cushman, and Rachel. Indeed, after having seen Mademoiselle Bernhardt in all her parts, and recalling what Mr. Lewes has recorded of Rachel and of her supreme greatness, one begins to understand what Mr. Matthew Arnold meant when he said that Rachel began where Mademoiselle Bernhardt left off.

— Women’s clubs seem to be indigenous to American soil. But our club claims for itself at least novelty in its design, and a conscientious and enthusiastic carrying out of the original plan.

This club is not a sewing society; it is not a temperance union; its object is not to send missionaries to the heathen. It is neither benevolent, charitable, nor ecclesiastic in its motives, unless we accept the broadest sense of those terms. It is a club consisting of twenty women, who meet every alternate Wednesday, from twelve until four o’clock, to discuss and enjoy music and literature. Now this may sound very common-

place, considering the untold number of musical and literary clubs in existence, but we have yet to learn of any society whose plans and methods are exactly like ours. There is very little “ red tape ” in its organization. Its rules and regulations are so few' as to be scarcely worth mentioning. We have no “ constitution,” no “ by-laws,” no president or treasurer, no fines or fees.

Two ladies were chosen as leaders or managers of the club, and one lady acts as secretary, to notify the members of any changes that may occur in the time or place of meeting, etc., etc. These ladies arrange, four weeks in advance, two programmes, so that we have a month in which to prepare our work, This consists of the careful study of two characters at each meeting: one a composer, and the other a person distinguished in literature, art, or history. So far, we have almost exclusively confined our study to musical composers, and authors who have been contemporaneous with them. You will see by reading the accompanying list of subjects, that we have diverged from this plan only two or three times, as when we studied Beethoven and Shakespeare, because the former was such a devout admirer of the latter, and because they are the two greatest masters in their separate arts. Sometimes the composers and authors have been warm personal friends, as in the cases of Mendelssohn and Goethe, Chopin and George Sand ; or as in Marie Antoinette’s case, she being the music pupil of “ old Master Glück.”

Perhaps our methods will be better understood by following us, in imagination, through our pleasant winter’s work. Up to the present time we have studied the following subjects : —

(1.) Mendelssohn-Bartholdy and Goethe. (2.) Glück and Marie Antoinette. (3.) Von Weber and Jean Paul Richter. (4.) Händel and Dr. Samuel Johnson. (5.) Bach (J. Sebastian) and Martin Luther. (6.) Chopin and Madame George Sand. (7.) Schubert and Heine. (8.) Beethoven and Shakespeare. (9.) Rossini and Lamartine. (10.) Mozart and Schiller.

Let us select at random one of the programmes as an illustration of one afternoon’s work : —

Subjects, Schubert and Heine.

Orchestral trio, arranged for four hands (Opus 99).

Song, “Hark, hark! the lark at heaven’s gate sings.”

Essay on Schubert.

Song, The Question, from Schubert’s Beautiful Milleress.

Story of Schubert’s visit to Beethoven.

Reading of Schumann’s thoughts on Schubert’s music.

Story of Vogel’s interpretation of Schubert’s songs.

Reading of Heine’s thoughts on music.

Story of Heine’s epitaph: “Rich in what he gave, richer in what he promised.”

Schubert’s Serenade.

Reading of Goethe’s Erl King.

Song, The Erl King. Schubert’s arrangement.

Two movements from one of the sonatas (Opus 63).

Andante and Rondu. (Schubert.)

Minuet. (Schubert.)

Description of Heine’s appearance.

Essay on Heine.

Impromptu (Opus 90). (Schubert.)

Reading of selections from Heine’s Scintillations.

Reading of Heine’s Night Song.

Heine’s ideas upon religion.

Song, The Wanderer. (Schubert.)

Reading of a poem addressed to Heine’s mother.

Impromptu .No 2. (Schubert.)

Reading of Heine’s opinion of Goethe.

Reading of selections from Heine’s writings.

Two songs from Schubert’s Beautiful Milleress.

Whither ? The Song to the Brook.

Reading of two of Heine’s poems.

Andante from the Symphony in C.

Song, Impatience, from Schubert’s Beautiful Milleress.

It will be seen by this programme that the music is pleasantly interspersed between the two essays and the various readings. Photographs and busts of the characters under consideration, and any pictures, stories, or anecdotes illustrating their lives, their times, and homes, come in under the general head of “ chinking.”

A simple lunch, restricted as to the number of its viands, is served after the first part of the programme, and so inspired with the enthusiasm of the work do we all become that our table-talk rarely descends to any lower level than that occupied by sonatas, fugues, gavottes, operas, and poetry !

— “ There goes Parn ell, the Irish agitator! ” observed a gentleman on the seat before me, in a railroad car. “Parn ell, is it ? ” replied his companion. “ That is Mr. Parnell,” whispered the lady behind me to her daughter. “Mr. Parnell. Ah ! ” Now here were four persons, educated people evidently, who in the course of two minutes mispronounced a plain English name. It is always annoying to hear the accent misplaced on a name, whether local or personal. We Americans seem to have taken a fancy for throwing the accent in family names on the last syllable, if possible, in defiance of all sound rules of good sense or good taste. These two qualities, by the bye, are very closely allied. You can never have good taste without good sense as the foundation. False taste is inevitably absurd. Now this common mispronunciation of names ending in ell has neither good sense nor good taste in its favor. It is opposed to the spirit of our mother tongue. Last year I had a nephew in love with a charming girl, Miss Brownell; of course she was Lily Brownell to her lover. For three months I heard Tom mispronounce her name, or that of her family, a dozen times a day. A few months later, as ill luck would have it, his sister was courted by Harry Bedell, pronounced Bed ell of course. Now Brownell and Bedell are good English names, and should have a good English pronunciation. Bedell is no doubt the same as Beadle. Many English names ending in ell were originally connected with the common nouns well or wall. The governor of the State of New York to-day is Governor Corn ell. The university in Western New York is Cornell University. We have known a Judge Hubbell. Lidded and Waddell are instances of the same fancy. Litter’s Magazine travels over half the country. But the propensity to throw the accent on the last syllable is not confined to names ending in ell. Barnard is frequently pronounced Barnard, Tricketts becomes Tricketts, General Steuben is General Steuben, in spite of his German

birth. That distinguished gentleman, the present secretary of state, is spoken of, in rustic parlance, as Mr. E-várts. Not long since we were shown a collection of the famous caricatures of Hogárth! A year or two since we were introduced — with a flourish—“to an Assemblyman from a Western State,” the Honorable Mr. Hub -bárd!

O shade of old Mother Hubbard !