IN 1856, one year before the appearance of the first number of the Atlantic Monthly, Emerson published that penetrating analysis of national character, English Traits, and made it clear that Americans had begun to take account of the Old World from their own point of view; and it must be conceded that their judgment was both shrewd and ripe. It was singularly well-balanced, taking their isolation into the reckoning, and it went home to the bottom facts with uncompromising but not unsympathetic directness. Four years later, in the Conduct of Life, he discussed such matters of the higher civilization as Culture, Manners, Behavior, Beauty, with a historical sense of their values as sensitive as his insight into their essential, as contrasted with their conventional, meaning was fresh and authoritative. If there was a certain feeling of detachment in the attitude of the essayist, there was also an easy familiarity with his themes, which hinted at a long intimacy with them.
Charles Dudley Warner speaks somewhere of the peculiar charm of highly bred Englishmen as a great simplicity of nature against an opulent background; the note of old New England was personal idealism in surroundings meagre to the verge of poverty in the elements of that organized beauty we call art. In his biography of Hawthorne Mr. James brought into painful distinctness the hard surface, the absence of shading, the rigidity of line and bareness of structure, which the youth who was to write The Marble Faun saw about him on all sides during the years of his brooding apprenticeship; and yet there was something in the soil, the air, the spiritual inheritance, which touched the imagination not only to the most subtle vision, but with a shadowy splendor beyond the reach of his contemporaries over sea. It was true, as Americans have said so often that they have come to believe it, that this was a new country, and therefore full of rawness and crudeness; but they have forgotten that they were an old people, and that it is ripeness of knowledge of life, and not of landscape, that counts in reckoning with spiritual forces and products.
The colonists North and South did not come empty-handed to a new country; they brought with them the accumulated wealth of instinct, training, knowledge, and manners of the most highly developed countries of the Old World. There were excellent scholars in New England from the start; there were agreeable men and women in the middle colonies, who knew the finer habits of life; and there were charming manners and no little stateliness of habit in the South. The colonists were isolated, however, from a background which would have kept them in touch with the language of art in all its various dialects, and as time went on detachment bred a certain indifference. There were so many new and difficult things to be done, and done at once, that art had to wait for a more convenient season. The necessities of the new venture were so pressing that adaptation became the highest form of originality.
For many decades the men and women who inherited the riper conditions of living set the pace and kept the lead. The boisterous democracy which poured into Washington with President Jackson, and stood on the sofas of the White House in muddy boots, had not yet taken building and sculpture into its own hands. There were churches which charmed the eye and conveyed a sense of their uses to the mind in Portsmouth, Newport, New York, Wilmington, Charleston; and there were houses which happily harmonized material and form, and were suggestive of social background and vistas of an older social order, in Salem, Boston, Providence, Bristol, Newport, New York, Philadelphia, Germantown, Annapolis, Richmond, Charleston, and smaller towns. Colonial architecture at its best suggested a good tradition and expressed an honest fact; it expressed history and a sound relation to the soil. It had that ultimate elegance, entire simplicity, which was characteristic of the best colonial life, and that dignity which was the stateliness of the Old modified by the conditions of the New World. The churches built under the inspiration of Sir Christopher Wren, and the fine old homes of which the Sherborne house in Portsmouth, the Jumel mansion in New York, and Mount Vernon may serve as examples, bore the impress of a certain distinction of taste and form which were the heritage of the few, but of inestimable importance to the many, as examples of true American architecture. They were as vitally related to their surroundings as are the gray old great houses of England and the square-towered country churches to the low skies and deep foliage of the ripe and mellow landscape. They constituted, with the Capitol at Washington and a little group of public buildings like Independence Hall in Philadelphia, a native order of building, adapted, it is true, but not imitative. They stood for Provincial America, with its face turned eastward, and still bound to Europe by kinship if not by identity of standards and interests.
Architectural chaos came much later, but the empire of the commonplace had been established in all parts of the country for several decades before the Atlantic began to stir the waters of national consciousness. American writers had been telling the truth for many years before later American builders began to do anything more radical than mumble a few commonplaces; when they started out to speak for themselves they made sad work of it. To begin with, they did not speak the truth; they were ungrammatical; worst of all, they were vulgar. During the period which followed the Civil War, and has been aptly called the reign of terror in American architecture, crimes against stone, wood, iron, and form of every kind were perpetrated, which still cry aloud for vengeance. It was in this period that post-offices and other federal buildings were sown broadcast over a helpless land, and ugliness in almost unbroken monotony was set up as the symbol of public life. There were a few redeeming exceptions, but for the most part the state buildings of this period were monstrous offenses against public morals and public taste. This was the period, too, of the so-called reconstruction policy, which was such a shocking parody of the sublime tragedy of the Civil War; and it is significant that shining deeds of valor, and heroes whom youth and death had touched with a double beauty, were commemorated at this time with monuments and statues, of many of which it is merciful to write that they were executed not in malice, but in ignorance. Never before, perhaps, has a great sacrifice found such meaningless expression in monumental form; and it will be the pious task of a later generation to raze many of these monuments to the ground, and worthily commemorate a sublime chapter of national history.
During this lawless period all sorts of hybrids were brought to birth, and many still remain to remind us of our mortality: houses so entirely made with hands that no suggestion of mind flows from them; Italian villas (pronounced with a long I); stone castles with colonial additions; Elizabethan mansions with late Victorian piazzas and verandas; structures of no order but with vast cupolas; and, worst of all, riotous variations of that shamefully abused Queen Anne house, which, in its proper form and place, has a real relation to domestic life and to beauty of adaptation.
This outbreak of anarchy in building this fierce passion for extreme individualism in construction, need not discourage the American who has seen the imperial palace at Strasburg, the atrocities of the art nouveau in the streets of Berlin, the bizarre villas which rival the zebra in the sunny fields of contemporary France, and the new government building on Whitehall in London. What we did in our ignorance Europe is now doing in the presence of the noblest examples of the art of building. We, meantime, have repented our sins and, sitting in sackcloth and ashes, are beginning to understand that architecture is not a highly decorated front wall, attached to a structure to which it bears no more relation than the mask of a Greek actor bore to the man, but the art of building honestly, intelligently, with a sense of mass, proportion, surface, and shadow. It is true we are building the Tower of Babel again in many places, and a confusion of tongues has fallen upon us, so that the owner does not understand the architect, and the architect does not understand the opportunity, and the crowd of passers-by spend their energies in trying to count the stories and keep their hats on their heads while they are doing it. The task is a gigantic one, imposed by the enormous value of land in great centres, and by the pressure of population; but it is novel only in the new conditions it presents, not in unprecedented problems of altitude. One need only recall the wynds of Edinburgh and the beautifully decorated front of the old house of the Butchers’ Guild in the square of Hildesheim to be made aware that the skyscraper is no modern nightmare of frenzied commercialism. Here and there one sees solutions of these problems, which are not mere masses of masonry for the housing of business, but highly organized structures, with new suggestions of the majesty of an art whose great function is to assert the sovereignty of the builder over every form and mass of materials. In all the larger cities there are private houses of a beauty and fitness which make one aware that wealth of the newest kind has learned where to go for direction; and the sense of public outrage created by the attempt to reproduce a log house in stone in New York, and to raise it to a height of seven or eight stories, bears eloquent testimony to the education of taste, which has led us out of the reign of terror into a kind of anticipatory reign of righteousness.
There was admirable building in the colonial and sub-revolutionary period; then came the age of the commonplace and the monotonously undistinguished; to be followed, after a great national crisis, by an outbreak of self-assertion, which was anarchistic in its wild and truculent disregard of authority, principle, and law; a flamboyant declaration of the right of the free American citizen to make his country as ugly as he chose; a riot of ignorance, bad taste, extravagance, and crude independence.
Meanwhile the Atlantic was printing prose and verse of an order which showed that in literature Americans not only had something to say, but knew how to say it. Lowell was an invaluable asset in the general exploitation of bad grammar and slang in popular architecture; and a large group of writers of fiction, North and South, were dealing with the realities of life with the sympathetic insight and sense of form which showed again how near to art are the common things of experience when they are sincere, unaffected, and unconscious.
Nor must it be forgotten that in the darkest days of marble palaces with painted iron columns, and of bastard Queen Anne cottages rising sanguinary and ostentatious above diminutive lawns, builders who were also architects, or architects who were also builders, as in the “elder days of art,” were patiently trying to persuade their clients that building was an ancient art and not a local job; and that an increasing number of those who were teachable in those matters made life more tolerable in prosperous communities. The remnant of the elect increased not only in knowledge, but in influence, and the statement by a wellknown architect that American architecture is the art of covering one thing with another thing to imitate a third thing, which, if genuine, would not be desirable, began to lose point. Upjohn, Renwick, Hunt, Richardson, Root, and White suggest a movement in education, and a genuine achievement in an art which more than any other ought to have in this country a hand as free as its opportunity is great. If vagaries are still seen in stone, wood, and iron, and if the ready adapter and servile imitator are still in the land, there are increasing evidences of the presence of the artist and of the patron who is wise enough to give him his chance.
American painting has passed through gray and uneventful years, but it has never known a reign of terror. The patron rarely orders a picture in advance; he buys the finished product, or he leaves it in the studio as he chooses. The painter is not indifferent to the taste, or lack of taste, of his possible purchaser; but he is not compelled to stand, brush in hand, and put. another man’s ideas on canvas. This is precisely what the architect had to do in the rowdy and swagger period of building in this country; he was not without responsibility, but he was the victim of a general condition. The painter might be and often was feeble, but he was not compelled to violate the canons of his art to make the most sensational use of the money at his command. Like the architect, he began to practice his craft for a group of people who gave the community its standards of taste, and who had a very respectable standard to give their less cultivated neighbors. He did not develop a new and admirable manner, as did his fellow craftsman in wood and stone; but he gained such use of his materials that he established himself on a fraternal basis with the painters in London and Paris. It is true, the earlier painters were English rather than American, and it is also true that they did not rank with the best; but the best, it ought to be remembered, were Reynolds and Gainsborough. Copley and Stuart made places for themselves in the history not only of American, but of English art; though their rank in the colonies was much higher than in the mother country. To them and to their pupils we owe not only a tradition of sound workmanship, but a large group of portraits which are of immense social and historical interest. They were the most graphic and vital historians of the older American society. It was inevitable that they should be English in taste and manner, since they were dealing almost entirely with English faces at a time when Americans were still Englishmen in new surroundings; the best service they could render to their contemporaries was to make them familiar with good work. Less fortunate artists who began by painting signs ended in several cases by painting good portraits and miniatures. John Wesley Jarvis, who was born in England and named after his famous uncle, was taken to Philadelphia at an early age, and got his education in the irregular manner of a country in which the value of art schools was a matter of remote future discussion. “ In my school days,” he writes, “the painters of Philadelphia were Clark, a miniature painter, and Galagher, a painter of portraits and signs; he was a German who, with his hat over one eye, was more au fait at walking Chestnut Street than at either face or sign-painting. Then there was Jeremiah Paul, who painted better and would hop farther than any of them; another who painted red lions and black bears, as well as beaux and belles, was old Mr. Pratt, and the last that I remember of that day was Rutter, an honest sign-painter, who never pretended or aspired to paint the human face divine, except to hang on the outside of a house; these worthies, when work was plenty, flags and fire-buckets in demand, used to work in partnership, and I, between school hours, worked for them all, delighted to have the command of a brush and a paint-pot. Such was my introduction to the fine arts and their professors.” Copley, West, Stuart, Peale, Trumbull, and Allston were court painters in ease of condition compared with some of their obscure fellow craftsmen in the country; and, taking into account their limitations of temperament, they were not unequal to their opportunities.
There were commonplace painters between the later pupils of West and the generation of Kensett, Whittredge, and Gifford; but neither during that period nor later was there a reign of terror in American painting; there was, on the contrary, a more or less steady gain in craftsmanship and originality. Whatever may have been the limitations of the group of gifted men who are popularly regarded as belonging to the Hudson River School, they were trained in good traditions, and they interpreted the landscape of the country for the first time with deep feeling and sympathetic knowledge. They were men of generous and enthusiastic nature, and the breadth and wildness of American scenery moved them to large artistic endeavors. Their work was done out of doors, in a spirit of resolute fidelity to what they saw, and with simplicity of method. In the work of Air. Worthington Whittredge, who has survived all his earliest contemporaries, to be in a sense the custodian of their traditions, and to be held in great honor by his successors, the feeling for depths of shadow in the hidden places of the forest, with just light, enough sifting through the foliage to make the scene visible, is expressed with the utmost sincerity.
If the vastness of scale of American scenery appealed to Church and Bierstadt, its poetry was felt by Inness, Martin, and Wyant, whose development was contemporaneous with the early decades of the life of the Atlantic, and in whose work there was an individuality of insight and of expression which showed that the apprentice period in American painting was at an end, and the day of distinctive achievement at hand. Mr. Vedder reached his majority in 1857, and with him enters the element of mystery, the suggestion of fate, into American painting. There was nothing esoteric in his interpretations of figures and faces; no pretense on the part of the artist to the possession of a secret cipher, an occult knowledge, which his art implied but did not betray; on the contrary, its most potent suggestiveness is the feeling it conveys that the artist saw and painted something as essentially unknowable to him as to his most intelligent student. When the illustrations to the Rubáiyát appeared in 1887 Mr. Vedder’s work was well known by a few lovers of art, but that vague and cold collective person, “the general public,” successor of the “gentle reader,” had no acquaintance with it. The suggestiveness and power of the pictorial interpretation of Omar Khayyam deeply impressed the imagination of the country, not only because the manner was novel and the matter in striking contrast to the prevailing mood, but because the form was at once simple and fundamentally unified, and obviously and broadly beautified. The work was almost classical in its definiteness, but the richness of its texture, the solidity of its presentation, the liberal use of emblems and symbols, gave it a quality remote from familiar things, and kept the painter well in front of the philosopher. In the work of Mr. Vedder, as in that of Inness and Martin, the imagination began to move along original lines and to disclose a fresh and powerful impulse.
Five years after the birth of the Atlantic William Morris Hunt settled in Boston, and began a career which was too short to fulfill the hopes it awakened. If there was something lacking in mastery of technique, there was, in The Bathers, in the Boy and the Butterfly, in the decorations which gave distinction to the Albany Capitol and were sacrificed,— as art always is when it is innocently involved in a political job, — and in many of the portraits, a rich language of temperament, a luminousness, a command of tones full of ardor and passion, which revealed the presence of a genius trained in the Old but reveling in the freedom and audacity of the New World.
Whistler and Mr. La Farge came of age close upon the appearance of the Atlantic, and, in very diverse ways, exhibited that happy coming together of genius and culture which precedes fertility of high-class work in all the arts, ami which, in the case of these two painters, gave American painting secure place in the critical opinion of the world. The work of both craftsmen was saturated with feeling, with personality of rare quality, and irradiated again and again by the magic of inspiration. Happily one still writes of Mr. La Farge in the present tense, but the completeness of the disclosure of his gifts in the comparatively small mass of his work makes it proper to speak of it as a complete achievement. It may be said of him with safety, as of Whistler, that he has never sacrificed art to any kind of expediency, nor shaped his work to any passing interests; but, with the unswerving fidelity of a man of deep artistic instincts, has served his country by regarding not what it craved, but what alone could finally satisfy it. The note of distinction in his work, as in that of Whistler and of a considerable group of younger painters, has been an immense consolation to those who have feared that the price for the obvious material comforts of democracy might be a loss of fineness of feeling, of a certain elevation, dignity, and superiority of ideal and manner never lacking in the greater achievements of art.
Whistler published the Normandy etchings the year after the Atlantic was born; four or five years later his portraits of his mother and of Carlyle appeared; to be followed in the next decade by the incomparable etchings of Venice, of the Thames, of glimpses of the sea, of those odds and ends of buildings whose decay the twilight or the distance touched with a charm incommunicable by a hand less sensitive, subtle, and sure. Against an English background the audacity and brilliancy of Whistler’s mind and temperament, his amazing skill in the dialects of verbal warfare, the flash and sting of his repartee, were immensely heightened, and prove him the alien he always claimed to be. His skill in expression was little short of magical; and if, in the dispassionate judgment of his work by future generations, it shall seem to lack fundamental power, there can be no skepticism touching its beauty, subtlety, delicacy, — the specific qualities which many critics have agreed must perish under the blight of democracy.
American painting had ceased to be isolated and provincial long before the United States had been forced out of a seclusion from the affairs of the world, which it cherished as a historic policy after the conditions of modern civilization had entirely changed and the endeavor to separate privilege from responsibility had become as futile as it was selfish. Men whose work bore the marks of locality as distinctly as that of Eastman Johnson and of Winslow Homer; of personal idealism ascending at times to the height of vision, as that of Fuller among the older and Thayer among the younger men; of brilliant and audacious character reading and brush work, as that of Sargent; of forceful or charming individuality of observation of nature and of the human face, as that of Tryon, Brown, Foster, Brush, Walker, Beckwith, Alexander, Cecilia Beaux, — to select a few out of many representative names, —by a common sincerity of feeling, by great diversity of gifts, and by high seriousness of spirit, emancipated American painting from provincial tastes, local standards, and national complacency.
When the Atlantic was born American sculpture was a matter of a few names, a few pieces of well-cut marble, and a considerable mass of pretty and meaningless reminiscences of Italian ateliers. Ignorance of the art was widespread, and where ignorance ended prejudice began. There was a chilling suspicion of the decency of sculpture, and the unhappy artist who hinted at the existence of the human form under clothes was regarded as a dealer in immorality. In Philadelphia, twelve years before the appearance of the Atlantic, a few casts from the antique created something very like a public scandal; and when, at an earlier period, Greenough’s Chanting Cherubs, the first group by an American sculptor, was exhibited, a storm of condemnation enveloped the undraped figures; nude babies were familiar in American homes, but their appearance in public shocked the moral sense of the whole community. This was in New York where, still earlier, gentlemen who lived by piracy had been influential members of society. The symbolism of Powers’s Greek Slave, and the passionate sympathy with the Greek struggle for freedom, diverted attention from the nudity of the figure to the pathos it expressed; but it was thought necessary, in the interests of public morals, that the fair captive should be examined by a committee of experts. Accordingly a group of clergymen in Cincinnati sat as a jury and, after a critical examination of the figure, issued a kind of license for purposes of public exhibition. The humor of submitting the statue to the inspection of a committee of clergymen does not seem to have occurred to any save a few Americans who had been corrupted by familiarity with foreign galleries; nor does any one appear to have realized that the real immorality was not in the timid slave but in the public opinion which hailed her effigy as the greatest work of art in the history of the world!
These significant facts explain the eager haste with which Greenough, Powers, and Crawford fled to Italy and remained in that more genial clime. The sin of self-consciousness which made Americans blush when the human form was mentioned in polite conversation, the lack of public interest, the dense ignorance of public taste, and the absence of examples of the art and of fine marble, drove the little group of sculptors into life-long exile. Houdon, the Frenchman, and Cerrachi, the Italian, had done some interesting work in this country; Bush and Augur had been timidly prophetic in wood and stone; there were Italian carvings in some of the old colonial homes; but it was still very early dawn in American sculpture when Greenough, Powers, and Crawford became professional sculptors. Greenough and Crawford, despite the unevenness of their work and their partial success in large undertakings, made contributions of lasting artistic and historical value to the art that they practiced with passionate fidelity. Powers lacked temperament, vigor, the creative imagination; li==he never escaped the trammels of the Italian tradition, and set his hand boldly and strongly to original work; but he carved some admirable portrait busts, full of character, firm in manner, and faithful in likeness.
How far the country had yet to go in understanding and appreciation of sculpture is brought out by the fact that five years after the appearance of the Atlantic the National Congress commissioned a girl of fifteen, after an education in her art which lasted a twelvemonth, to execute a statue of Lincoln, which now stands in the rotunda of the Capitol at Washington, among other effigies of departed statesmen whose enforced absence alone secures the safety of the collection. In that melancholy hour the country was standing, however, on the threshold of that day of free and varied creativeness which has given contemporary American sculpture a place of the first importance in the interest of the artistic world. In no art was there for the first seventy years of the national life so little promise; in none has there been so great an achievement.
In the Atlantic year, 1857, Mr. Ward first modeled his Indian Hunter, which now stands, alert, alive, convincing, set low as if gliding through the shadows in the foliage of New York’s beautiful park. Eleven years later Saint Gaudens, whose death falls like a shadow over the awakening love of beauty in America, received the commission for the statue of Farragut, which put him at the forefront of American sculptors, and made an immediate impression on monumental art in the country. No figure set up in any public place in America has spoken with such simplicity and humanness of speech to the mighty tides that stream past it on the most crowded of American thoroughfares, nor has any more distinctly given a fresh and invigorating impulse to an art but lately emancipated from foreign influence and timidly venturing to give its soul play. The Lincoln in the Chicago park which bears its name has been accepted as the greatest portrait statue in the New World; the beautiful and baffling figure in the Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, clothed with majesty of the mystery of death; the Shaw Memorial in Boston, with its moving column of negro soldiers fast upon the leader who rides, young and immortal, into the ranks of the dead; and, finally, the superb Sherman Memorial at one of the entrances to Central Park, New York, held securely on its pedestal, but moving, invincible, and alive, like its great fellow in Venice: these are achievements to be reckoned with, not only as forming an inspiring chapter in the development of American sculpture, but as a lasting contribution to the art of the world. What a distance these works register from tentative work of the earlier sculptors; from Palmer’s charming ideal heads, and those graceful figures which did so much to awaken popular interest in sculpture; from Ball’s impressive monumental work; from the varied and cultivated creations of Story, that fascinating and many-sided American, whose life was so full of interest and occupation, and who was fluent in so many languages of art that nothing he accomplished quite expressed his vitality or fulfilled his promise!
The fine poise and noble serenity of Mr. French’s work, in which the skill of the craftsman and the power of revealing beauty and strength to men untrained in art, are happily united; the virile audacity and boldness of Mr. Macmonnies; the striking and forceful originality of Mr. Barnard; Mr. Bartlett’s Lafayette, with its indefinable air of distinction, and his Genius of Man at the PanAmerican Exposition; Mr. Boyle’s Stone Age, in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia; Mr. Adams’s gracious and unfailingly fascinating portrait busts; Mr. Elwell’s figures of Ceres and Kronos at the Buffalo Exposition; Mr. Ruckstuhl’s strongly conceived Spirit of the Confederacy; Mr. Partridge’s meditative study of Tennyson; Mr. MacNeil’s Sun Vow; Mr. Lopez’s Sprinter; Mr. Pratt’s Andersonville Prisoner Boy; Mr. Dallin’s Signal of Peace; Mr. Bringhurst’s Kiss of Eternity; Mr. Taft’s Solitude of the Soul — to select a few representative works out of a great multitude — show how far the art of sculpture has gone in mastery of tools, courage of individual taste, variety and freshness of manner and subject, since the days when Greenough, Powers, Crawford, and Story found in Italy a refuge from the ignorance and indifference of their fellow countrymen.
The record of the progress of music has not been unlike that of sculpture. If it could be recalled in baldest outline, touching only its points of new departure, it would show the same general features. It was, for obvious reasons, more widely appreciated in the earlier times than sculpture, but its intelligent students were few, in spite of the fact that the old-fashioned schools for young women placed the study of music side by side with needlework, “elegant deportment and polite conversation.” There was a great deal of that kind of music which Dumas called “the most expensive form of noise.” A musical people could not and would not have accepted the Star-Spangled Banner, with its terrible interrogatory “Oh, say,” as a national anthem. There were homes, and even communities, in which singing and instrumental music were matters of taste and skill as well as of heart; but the country at large was a barren wilderness so far as the “concourse of sweet sounds” was concerned. To-day, in many large cities, it is impossible to make use of musical opportunities, so many and so interesting are they. In no art has there been so rapid and so wide a growth of intelligent interest during the last fifty years. In nearly all the large cities orchestras of thorough training are to be heard, and permanent organizations of highly educated musicians are fast becoming a feature of life in the large centres. New York supports two houses devoted to grand opera, and musical programmes of every sort and kind are rendered to crowded audiences. It is true, all the other cities in the country arc agreed that this musical interest is a fad, but it is equally true that it is so persistent and discriminating that it deceives the elect leaders of the Old World who conduct the New York orchestras from time to time, and are deluded into the belief that the metropolis is a musical city. Boston listens without impeachment of her intelligence to her admirable orchestras, and educates an almost innumerable host of students in music. Philadelphia, Pittsburg, Chicago, Cincinnati, have the most substantial claims to consideration as centres of interest in musical matters; while the growing enthusiasm for musical festivals in such towns as Worcester, Montclair, and many other communities may be safely taken as indicative of a steadily widening area of knowledge and appreciation. Music is taught in some of the older colleges by teachers who are also composers, while in the young and vigorous institutions of the Central West the love of the art is a popular movement.
Side by side with an immense amount of vulgarity in sound, of hideous ‘ragtime ” profanity, there, is a growing critical sense in music. Stephen Foster’s touch on the springs of emotion in “The Old Kentucky Home,” “Old Folks at Home,” “Nellie was a Lady,” and other melodies which the whole continent sang or hummed sixty years ago, was a prelude to a very considerable productionof popular music, lacking in classical quality, but with a certain naïve originality and significance in our musical development, as Dvorak was quick to see when he composed the New World Symphony. Such teachers as Professors Paine and Parker, who have been creators in the field in which they have long been conspicuous leaders in thoroughness of education; such composers as McDowell, Chadwick, Hadley, Foote, Kelley, and Converse, and such conductors as Thomas, the elder Damrosch, Seidl, and Gericke have brought Americans out of the desert of the mediocre and cheap in an art which has, perhaps more than any other, given freest and deepest expression to the modern temper and attitude, into a land of abundant and increasing fertility and refreshment.
In every art save that of writing there has been a notable advance in the last half-century, and in the matter of writing we must not be blinded by the light of the few names which sum up the substance of our early literary achievement. If there has appeared no peer of Hawthorne, Poe, or Emerson, there has appeared a large group of writers who have reported American local conditions, and rendered American character, with an insight and delicacy of feeling, and an art at once so sincere and so beautiful, that in their field they are likely to be placed by later judgment quite on a level with their predecessors. Nor must it be forgotten that American literature, which, half a century ago, was the possession of the Atlantic seaboard and chiefly of a single section, is now the possession of the whole country, and draws its material from every locality and its subjects from every class. It has made immense gains in range of sympathy, breadth of feeling, and that quick interest in men as men, without regard to the accidents of condition, which is the very spirit of democracy. It has lost nothing in refinement of feeling or purity of taste; and it is dealing more boldly and fundamentally with the facts of life. The vitality and grip of actualities of such work as that of Frank Norris were not directed and sustained by adequate art, but they point the way to future achievement.
The majority of the men and women who gave American life its form and direction were not the children of an artistic race, though they were the heirs of a great literature. They descended from a people who have never pursued art as an end, and whose first instinctive expression in meeting great experiences has never been artistic; but who have never divorced action from vision, nor failed, in the long run, to match power in action with some kind of beauty in speech. From its English ancestry the country has inherited an ingrained and ineffaceable idealism of nature, which enormous tasks and hitherto incredible prosperity have at times smothered and blighted, but never destroyed. From other races have come richer temperament, quicker sensibilities, craving for joy, and love of beauty for its own sake, which have already immensely enriched American art and are sub-soiling American life.
There was a certain thinness about the earlier literature, as there was a certain lack of blood in the American physique; there was a preponderance of nervous energy and activity; a self-consciousness not without noble moral antecedents, but destructive of the spontaneity of feeling, joy of spirit, and capacity for detachment which prepare the way for a rich growth of art. The American physique has lost its angularity; the American conscience no longer torments itself by the endeavor to close the books of immortal account every night and strike a balance between good and evil; the American mind is fast discovering that life is measured not by quantity, but by quality, and that energy without adequate ideas is a mere turning of wheels in the air. The idealism which took one form in early New England and another in the Old South has taken still another in the Central West; but everywhere it persists. It has been so far chiefly a matter of life; but it will inevitably become a matter of art. It has often taken forms so uncouth or so humorous that those who look only at the surface and never see the flower until it is in full bloom have entirely failed to recognize it; and have fallen into the error of calling a very impressionable and essentially idealistic people, swayed by sentiment in the most important matters, and instantly responsive to every appeal to their generosity, “materialistic money-makers.”
Taking into account the pressure of unescapable tasks, the temptations of unprecedented opportunities, the heroic toil of ordering a new world, the history of art in this country during the half-century since the birth of the Atlantic justifies the prediction made long ago by Colonel Higginson: “ Between Shakespeare in his cradle and Shakespeare in Hamlet there was needed but an interval of time; and the same sublime condition is all that lies between the America of toil and the America of art.”