Billeder på siden

sake! tell us all about it, for I own I don't see the thing quite clearly yet.'

And so the whole story had to be gone over, or rather dragged into light by questions; for now, such deep, overpowering shame beset Lucy-such a keen perception of the fact that John Eversleigh must of necessity and for evermore hold her in abhorrence-that she was well-nigh speechless,

And Jack, being really a chivalrous and generous-hearted fellow, seeing all the pain and shame in the poor little face, and desirous of sparing it to the uttermost, suppressed whatever feeling he might have had in the matter, after that one involuntary burst, and listened, with good-natured amusement, to the relation of his own exploit.

'I wish you could enlighten me as to what I did with the money, for, on my word, I have never set waking eyes on it. At least, I remember now thinking that it would be a good joke to improvise a burglary, just for Aunt Dora's amusement (you suggested the idea yourself, ma'am, please to recollect);

but what on earth became of the money? Did I go straight back into my room, I wonder?'

'No; down stairs, I think,' said Lucy, faintly.

'The open window in the vestibule, Jack; how is that to be accounted for? Ah! I have it. Do you remember the little summerhouse on the other side of the shrubbery? There's a sliding panel that conceals a recess in it, and many a time you have hidden my keys and work-bag there, when you were a boy. Jack, I will wager half the money that you put it there!'

Which, on examination, turned out to be the case. There lay the little ivory-clasped box, containing the roll of bank-notes, never touched since Mrs. Selwyn's hand had placed them in it; and so the mystery of the Burglary at Faustel Eversleigh' was a mystery no longer; though in years to come it became a story that Aunt Dora was never tired of telling to the little bright-eyed listeners round her chair, who called the hero and heroine papa' and


[ocr errors]




HE Royal Italian Opera season in London has just come to a close, in the two great houses. I leave it to the professed musical critics to give a summary of the operatic season. They will comment on some eccentricities of management and some failures of promises. Of course there will be some flaws of detail to be pointed out, and the critics will have their private preferences. But I trust they will all do justice to the immense talent and zeal shown both by Mr. Gye and Mr. Mapleson. They deserve the utmost credit, and I trust and believe that they have both obtained substantial success. It is hardly possible to conceive anything more splendid and inspiriting than an evening in the height of the season at one of the London houses devoted

to Italian opera. It is a subject which may well open up a vein of reflection for the moralist. De Quincey, in his familiar talk, used to say that he looked upon Italian opera as the highest outcome of our civilization. It is, indeed, the very flower and crown of our modern life of intellectual luxury and refinement. It may be doubted whether the spectacle or the spectators go furthest to make up the imposing effect of the whole. The finest conceptions of great masters are interpreted by the highest vocalization which the world can furnish, with the best scenery and decorations which the highest artistic skill can elaborate; and the mighty audience represents an amount of wealth, eminence, culture, and intelligence, such as nowhere in the land is gathered

together in such a mass. Setting aside, for the moment, considerations both of criticism and fashion, it can hardly be doubted that we have in the Italian opera a most important instrument of education and development. It is not alone that the dramatic instinct is gratifiedthat instinct so deeply engrafted in human nature, that it can no more be entirely eliminated than any other department of our moral being. That highest sense is touched where sense and spirit chiefly commingle; sympathy and imagination are in the highest degree evoked; another and bright intellectual world is thrown open.

Our supposed moralist will be greatly struck, nevertheless, with a kind of immorality in the Italian opera. The stage at the present day, both dramatic and operatic, is free, it is true, from the reproaches which might justly be applied to it with every degree of invective a generation ago. There is no more harm in the opera than‍ in any large fashionable gathering in Mayfair or Tyburnia. Still there exists in many circles a violent dislike to the opera on the score of its supposed evil tendencies. Now it is worth while to examine the weight and extent of this objection, fully allowing the importance of it. It is very desirable that the minds of many worthy people should be settled upon the subject-worthy people who, to our mind, might very well have boxes and stalls of their own. There is, unhappily, a good deal of confusion of thought which leads to much practical insincerity. Many persons will speak slightingly and condemningly of an opera, yet, living in the country, they make a point of going to the Opera when in town, or, living intown, they frequent the Opera when they are on the Continent. Churchmen, Presbyterians, Dissenters, they all do it; and we have even met with the enormity of an influential parson denouncing the Opera in his public teaching, and countenancing it in his private practice. The notion of supposed immorality is to a great extent illusory. The Opera is altogether an unreal world, an ideality which, coolly

examined, is simple absurdity. No man in the high concerns of life ever speaks in recitative any more than he adjusts his ordinary conversation so that he should always speak in blank verse. In the same way the plot of the operatic story is equally unreal; no one dwells upon that; the dramatic situation is altogether unreal and only of value as it affords a vehicle for the musical rendering.

Still the ordinary construction of an opera, in an ethical point of view, is entirely faulty, in perhaps a majority of instances. When the morality of Mrs. Norton's novel, 'Lost and Saved,' was sharply criticised, that lady wrote a letter to the 'Times,' pointing out that the plot of nearly all the operas was at least as faulty as her own story. Supposing she proved her case, we do not know what her case may be supposed to prove. It would not invalidate the criticism; it would only show that the criticism might be indefinitely extended in another direction. There are some operas so utterly bad that we would not for a moment seek to defend them. Such a one was 'La Traviata,' which the Queen would never hear, and which now her subjects have learned to ignore. There is a school also of captious criticism, the effect of which is decidedly unwholesome and ignoble. This is the school of the very nice people who have very nasty ideas. They drag out the latent indelicacy, which, but for their suggestion, would escape the notice of the innocent-minded. We pity the moral perversity of the man who could carp at 'La Sonnambula,' or 'L'Africaine,' or 'Mirella.' We know instances in which the 'Huguenots' have produced an effect which was, in point of fact, a religious effect. The wonderful genius of Meyerbeer often seizes the very essence of a historical period and gives a large amount of positive instruction. As it was said of some charming woman, that to know her was in itself a liberal education, so also it is a liberal education thoroughly to comprehend an opera of Meyerbeer's. How exactly, in the 'Huguenots,' does he make us understand the period of the war of

the League, doing impartial justice to the merits and defects both of Romanist and Huguenot; and until we have seen the Prophète' we hardly comprehend the difficult and curious subject of the Anabaptists. The high educational effect of such operas as these is undoubted. We have often felt in the case of a young man-one who is idling in barracks, or lounging away his time in clubs, or absorbed in dogs, horses, or gambling-that we should be conferring on him a great boon, that we should be going a long way towards making a Cymon fit for an Iphigenia, if we could give such a one a thorough taste for the refined pleasure of the opera. At a heavy dinner, chiefly noticeable for tasteless expense, or witnessing the British institution of tea and scandal, or observing the vapid condition of a circle where colourless conversation or silly novel reading are the only intellectual resource, we often think how well these might be exchanged for the intellectual excitement of an opera, of which the full appreciation would be a distinct intellectual achievement. What we need is some wise discrimination in the matter. There is an unfairness on the part of an important section of the public, in wholly rejecting an amusement because some specimens of that amusement may not be innocuous. We might as well decline society on account of its scandal; we might refuse all invitations because feasting implies an opening for excess; we might go out of the world on account of the acknowledged evil that is in the world. A man does right in declining to assist at an opera when he thinks there is something distinctly wrong. But we think he is mistaken if he debars himself from one of the highest forms of intellectual culture in cases where there is no ethical objection. We go further. It is still a sad fact, that the highest efforts of musical genius are in music allied to some of the lowest weaknesses of humanity. But even allowing this, it is still an open question whether, on account of this base element, we should abdicate a portion of that intellectual culture which is one of the highest duties

of rational beings. We do not discard Shakespeare on account of his grossness, nor Dante on account of his superstition. More, perhaps, is to be said on behalf even of the opera whose libretto we dislike, than might be supposed. Take up, for instance, the plays of Beaumarchais, whose favourite character of Figaro has occasioned two most exquisite operas, 'Il Barbiere di Seviglia' and 'Le Nozze di Figaro.' Any one who compares even the libretto of the opera of Le Nozze di Figaro' with the writings of Beaumarchais, will perceive the immense advance of the opera upon the drama. There is still an objection to the construction of the plot, but in the opera the story is refined and even to some extent dignified. Mozart has some of his most beautiful compositions in this opera; the language of passion was never translated into music more eloquently and nobly. Again, take the 'Don Giovanni,' against which the ethical objection is still more strong. Mozart used to say that he composed that opera, not for the public, but for his friends. There was not the least thought of pandering to an evil nature in that great maestro. Indeed, what we know of his life seems utterly to forbid any such supposition. A young man passionately attached to his wife, devotedly fond of his little ones, tremblingly alive to each fine influence of nature and of art, Mozart lived a life of abstraction, in a region of ideas which left him a mere child in the things of this life. The dramatic situations were mere key notes; he looked upon them as the mere mechanism of his divine art; he gave them an interpretation so utterly removed from any baseness of their own, that it is not a mere translation, but an entire transference into another and higher region. Mozart's genius was, in fact, Shakespearian, but its general bias and tendency, almost from the very first till the Requiem,' were towards sacred music. In his highest operas there are bars of music that would suit his mass music; and yet on the first showing as great an ethical objection might lie against his 'Don Giovanni' and 'Nozze di Figaro'

as against any opera that might be named; an objection of which the composer was probably utterly unconscious. It is impossible to place the opera on the same footing as a corresponding literary work; to condemn the Don Giovanni' of Mozart, as we condemn the 'Don Juan' of Byron.

I am tolerably familiar with nearly every part of the Opera Houses. I have lounged in my stall, and chatted in my box; I have crushed in at the pit entrance, and I have adventurously scaled the heights of the amphitheatre. To the best of my belief, the most genuine lovers of operatic music are to be found in the pit and the amphitheatre. These places afford a real test whereby to gauge musical ardour. A man waits in the colonnade long before the hour of opening, and then stays his patient half-hour in the pit before the overture strikes up. Men and women climb up to the heated ceiling, where they see and hear only indifferently well, in their desire for a keen intellectual pleasure -highly-educated men, quiet, ladylike women in hundreds, with a deep love of the highest music, and insufficient means to be able to enjoy it in its perfection. The notion of such persons being influenced in their attendance by prurient curiosity is simply puerile, and only indicative of a very literal, commonplace, unrefined mind. One can hardly conceive better evidence than that thus furnished to us of the innocuousness and elevating influence of the opera.

Anything of which the intention is obviously evil ought to be discouraged. Some time back, visiting the Haymarket Theatre, we were much pained by the gratuitous introduction of coarse language and swearing not in the text of the play that was being 'acted. We do not wonder at the decline of the British drama, when its interests are prejudiced in this shameful manner, and the classes, on whose support it ought to rest, are thus alienated. We believe it would be well if persons should refuse their support to such theatres, and reserve it for those who are

content with the legitimate amusements of the drama. Mr. Fechter, for instance, never thinks it necessary to incorporate evil words, through mere love and affinity to evil. From such a reproach as this we believe that the opera is completely free. Many persons scarcely admit ethical considerations in the question of their amusements, and these will, of course, attend all operas indiscriminately. We trust they will derive all the good, and as little of the evil as possible, from such mixed performances. We are sure that there is a large class to whom it is altogether pure, on whom the evil does not even glance, and who find in it a source of high intellectual happiness. Our point is this, that those who do not attend the opera at all should give it a discriminating support. When managers understand that public taste is thus leavened for the better, and that the public demand that the sense of the good and fair should not be disturbed, they will wish to progress in usefulness and goodness of purpose. Much may be done for the improvement of the opera, as Wagner has shown; and in connection with this, we regret that the production of Tannhauser' has been so long deferred. It will be a good, both for the mental elevation of the middle classes and the moral elevation of the opera, when the sound, religious mass of people, to a greater extent than at present, will attend the lyric or dramatic entertainment which they can approve, and only stand aloof from those which they cannot. On the more general objections which are sometimes made, on the score of time and the score of expense, we have not entered, as they are only accidental to the argument. A man who cannot afford the time, has no right to attend meetings at Exeter Hall; and a man who cannot afford the money, has no right to give a guinea to a charitable institution. We object to the objections against the opera, so far as they are merely traditional-the echoes of a conventional, stereotyped morality, than which nothing can be more fatal to the cause of good manners, and the freedom and integrity of moral life.

[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][graphic][ocr errors][subsumed][merged small]
« ForrigeFortsæt »