With Variations

— Some twenty-five years ago there was a style of musical composition much in vogue known as “ variations.” It appeared in dozen-paged sheets entitled Home, Sweet Home — with Variations ; Coming through the Rye — with Variations ; Let Me Kiss Him for his Mother (also “ with Variations ”); and scores of others, all “ with Variations.” The distinctive plan of these compositions — and whatever their individual characteristic, they were, as a whole, without variation — consisted, first, in a brace or two of banging prelude, closely followed by a simple little air that somebody else had written. This definitely announced the theme to be “ variated,” which was next heard behind a thin screen of artfully arranged arpeggios. Then it donned a deep disguise in the bass, to become barely recognizable in the treble with trills, ditto in bass, in the treble with runs, ditto in bass, and finally lost itself in a company of crashing chords so overpowering that one could not be certain whether the original air had been Coming through the Rye or Let Me Kiss Him for his Mother.

A similar sort of treatment has now invaded the art of letters ; that is to say, it has affected the entire twenty-six, as well as the select seven to be found upon the piano keyboard. It does n’t nowadays satisfy a writer to say merely, “ One summer morning, fine and early, I was walking through the woods.” He immediately goes on (taking the word “ early ” as his keynote), “ The sun had not been long above the horizon, and the air was yet fragrant with last night’s dew.” Then, with “ fine ” and “ summer ” as texts, he tells us, “ Everywhere were the green and luxuriant footprints of light-stepping Summer.” Starting next from (1) “I,” (2) “walking,” and (3) “ woods,” he informs us, “ As my feet pressed the soft moss, faint forest odors filled the air, the crackle of a dry stick was heard, and a startled gray squirrel scampered up the giant oak on my left.” Da capo, “ On such a glorious morning I was glad simply to be alive, as were we all, — young-risen sun, trees, flowers, moss, and little gray squirrel.”

After so diluting and further diluting an idea, it is hard to tell just what degree of strength it may originally have possessed.

The strength of the writer, it is, however, more easy to determine.