Robert Green Ingersoll
LOTOS CLUB DINNER IN HONOR OF ANTON SEIDL. New York, February 2, 1895. MR. PRESIDENT, MR. ANTON SEIDL, AND GENTLEMEN: I was enjoying myself with music and song; why I should be troubled, why I should be called upon to trouble you, is a question I can hardly answer. Still, as the president has remarked, the American people like to hear speeches. Why, I don't know. It has always been a matter of amazement that anybody wanted to hear me. Talking is so universal; with few exceptions -- the deaf and dumb -- everybody seems to be in the business. Why they should be so anxious to hear a rival I never could understand. But, gentlemen, we are all pupils of nature; we are taught by the countless things that touch us on every side; by field and flower and star and cloud and river and sea, where the waves break into whitecaps, and by the prairie, and by the mountain that lifts its granite forehead to the sun; all things in nature touch us, educate us, sharpen us, cause the heart to bud, to burst, it may be, into blossom; to produce fruit. In common with the rest of the world I have been educated a little that way; by the things I have seen and by the things I have heard and by the people I have met. But there are a few things that stand out in my recollection as having touched me more deeply than others, a few men to whom I feel indebted for the little I know, and for the little I happen to be. Those men, those things, are forever present in my mind. But I want to tell you to-night that the first man that let up the curtain in my mind, that ever opened a blind, that ever allowed a little sunshine to straggle in, was Robert Burns. I went to get my shoes mended, and I had to go with them. And I had to wait till they were done. I was like the fellow standing by the stream naked washing his shirt. A lady and gentleman were riding by in a carriage, and upon seeing him the man indignantly shouted, "Why don't you put on another shirt when you are washing one? " The fellow said, "I suppose you think I've got a hundred shirts!" When I went into the shop of the old Scotch shoemaker he was reading a book, and when he took my shoes in hand I took his book, which was "Robert Burns." In a few days I had a copy; and, indeed, gentlemen, from that time if "Burns" had been destroyed I could have restored more than half of it. It was in my mind day and night. Burns you know is a little valley, not very wide, but full of sunshine; a little stream runs down making music over the rocks, and children play upon the banks; narrow roads overrun with vines, covered with blossoms, happy children, the hum of bees, and little birds pour out their hearts and enrich the air. That is Burns. Then, you must know that I was raised respectably. Certain books were not thought to be good for the young person; only such books as would start you in the narrow road for the New Jerusalem. But one night I stopped at a little hotel in Illinois, many years ago, when we were not quite civilized, when the footsteps of the red man were still in the prairies. While I was waiting for supper an old man was reading from a book, and among others who were listening was myself. I was filled with wonder. I had never heard anything like it. I was ashamed to ask him what he was reading; I supposed that an intelligent boy ought to know. So I waited, and when the little bell rang for supper I hang back and they went out. I picked up the book; it was Sam Johnson's edition of Shakespeare. The next day I bought a copy for four dollars. My God! more than the Bank of Wisdom Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201 12 LOTOS CLUB DINNER IN HONOR OF ANTON SEIDL. national debt. You talk about the present straits of the Treasury I For days, for nights, for months, for years, I read those books, two volumes, and I commenced with the introduction. I haven't read that introduction for nearly fifty years, certainly forty-five, but I remember it still. Other writers are like a garden diligently planted and watered, but Shakespeare a forest where the oaks and elms toss their branches to the storm, where the pine towers, where the vine bursts into blossom at its foot. That book opened to me a new world, another nature. While Burns was the valley, here was a range of mountains with thousands of such valleys; while Burns was as sweet a star as ever rose into the horizon, here was a heaven filled with constellations. That book has been a source of perpetual joy to me from that day to this; and whenever I read Shakespeare -- if it ever happens that I fail to find some new beauty, some new presentation of some wonderful truth, or another word that bursts into blossom, I shall make up my mind that my mental faculties are failing, that it is not the fault of the book. Those, then, are two things that helped to educate me a little. Afterward I saw a few paintings by Rembrandt, and all at once I was overwhelmed with the genius of the man that could convey so much thought in form and color. Then I saw a few landscapes by Corot, and I began to think I knew something about art. During all my life, of course, like other people, I had heard what they call music, and I had my favorite pieces, most of those favorite pieces being favorites on account of association; and nine-tenths of the music that is beautiful to the world is beautiful because of the association, not because the music is good, but because of association. We cannot write a very poetic thing about a pump or about water works; they are not old enough. We can write a poetic thing about a well and a sweep and an old moss-covered bucket, and you can write a poem about a spring, because a spring seems a gift of nature, something that cost no trouble and no work, something that will sing of nature under the quiet stars of June. So, it is poetic on account of association. The stage coach is more poetic than the car, but the time will come when cars will be poetic, because human feelings, love's remembrances, will twine around them, and consequently they will become beautiful. There are two pieces of music, "The Last Rose of Summer," and "Home Sweet Home," with the music a little weak in the back; but association makes them both beautiful. So, in the "Marseillaise" is the French Revolution, that whirlwind and flame of war, of heroism the highest possible, of generosity, of self-denial, of cruelty, of all of which the human heart and brain are capable; so that music now sounds as though its notes were made of stars, and it is beautiful mostly by association. Now, I always felt that there must be some greater music somewhere, somehow. You know this little music that comes back with recurring emphasis every two inches or every three-and-a-half inches; I thought there ought to be music somewhere with a great sweep from horizon to horizon, and that could fill the great dome of sound with winged notes like the eagle; if there was not such music, somebody, sometime, would make it, and I was waiting for it. One day I heard it, and I said, "What music is that?" "Who wrote that?" I felt it everywhere. I was cold. I was almost hysterical. It answered to my brain, to my heart; not only to association, but Bank of Wisdom Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201 13 LOTOS CLUB DINNER IN HONOR OF ANTON SEIDL. to all there was of hope and aspiration, all my future; and they said this is the music of Wagner. I never knew one note from another -- of course I would know it from a promissory note -- and was utterly and absolutely ignorant of music until I heard Wagner interpreted by the greatest leader, in my judgment, in the world -- Anton Seidl. He not only understands Wagner in the brain, but he feels him in the heart, and there is in his blood the same kind of wild and splendid independence that was in the brain of Wagner. I want to say to-night, because there are so many heresies, Mr. President, creeping into this world, I want to say and say it with all my might, that Robert Burns was not Scotch. He was far wider than Scotland; he had in him the universal tide, and wherever it touches the shore of a human being it finds access. Not Scotch, gentlemen, but a man, a man! I can swear to it, or rather affirm, that shakespeare was not English, but another man, kindred of all, of all races and peoples, and who understood the universal brain and heart of the human race, and who had imagination enough to put himself in the place of all. And so I want to say to-night, because I want to be consistent, Richard Wagner was not a German, and his music is not German; and why? Germany would not have it. Germany denied that it was music. The great German critics said it was nothing in the world but noise. The best interpreter of Wagner in the world is not German, and no man has to be German to understand Richard Wagner. In the heart of nearly every man is an AEolian harp, and when the breath of true genius touches that harp, every man that has one, or that knows what music is or has the depth and height of feeling necessary to appreciate it, appreciates Richard Wagner. To understand that music, to hear it as interpreted by this great leader, is an education. It develops the brain; it gives to the imagination wings; the little earth grows larger; the people grow important; and not only that, it civilizes the heart; and the man who understands that music can love better and with greater intensity than he ever did before. The man who understands and appreciates that music, becomes in the highest sense spiritual -- and I don't mean by spiritual, worshiping some phantom, or dwelling upon what is going to happen to some of us -- I mean spiritual in the highest sense; when a perfume arises from the heart in gratitude, and when you feel that you know what there is of beauty, of sublimity, of heroism and honor and love in the human heart. This is what I mean by being spiritual. I don't mean denying yourself here and living on a crust with the expectation of eternal joy -- that is not what I mean. By spiritual I mean a man that has an ideal, a great ideal, and who is splendid enough to live to that ideal; that is what I mean by spiritual. And the man who has heard the music of Wagner, that music of love and death, the greatest music, in my judgment, that ever issued from the human brain, the man who has heard that and understands it has been civilized, Another man to whom I feel under obligation whose name I do not know -- I know Burns, Shakespeare, Rembrandt and Wagner, but there are some other fellows whose names I do not know -- is he who chiseled the Venus de Milo. This man helped to civilize the world; and there is nothing under the sun so pathetic as the perfect. Whoever creates the perfect has thought and labored and suffered; and no perfect thing has ever been done except through suffering Bank of Wisdom Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201 14 LOTOS CLUB DINNER IN HONOR OF ANTON SEIDL. and except through the highest and holiest thought, and among this class of men is Wagner. Let me tell you something more. You know I am a great believer. There is no man in the world who believes more in human nature than I do. No man believes more in the nobility and splendor of humanity than I do; no man feels more grateful than I to the self-denying, heroic, splendid souls who have made this world fit for ladies and gentlemen to live in. But I believe that the human mind has reached its top in three departments. I don't believe the human race -- no matter if it lives millions of years more upon this wheeling world -- I don't believe the human race will ever produce in the world anything greater, sublimer, than the marbles of the Greeks. I do not believe it. I believe they reach absolutely the perfection of form and the expression of force and passion in stone. The Greeks made marble as sensitive as flesh and as passionate as blood. I don't believe that any human being of any coming race -- no matter how many suns may rise and set, or how many religions may rise and fall, or how many languages be born and decay -- I don't believe any human being will ever excel the dramas of Shakespeare. Neither do I believe that the time will ever come when any man with such instruments of music as we now have, and having nothing but the common air that we now breathe, will ever produce greater pictures in sound, greater music, than Wagner. Never! Never! And I don't believe he will ever have a better interpreter than Anton Seidl. Seidl is a poet in sound, a sculptor in sound. He is what you might call an orchestral orator, and as such he expresses the deepest feelings, the highest aspirations and the intensest and truest love of which the brain and heart of man are capable. Now, I am glad, I am delighted, that the people here in this city and in various other cities of our great country are becoming civilized enough to appreciate these harmonies; I am glad they are civilized at last enough to know that the home of music is tone, not tune; that the home of music is in harmonies where you braid them like rainbows; I am glad they are great enough and civilized enough to appreciate the music of Wagner, the greatest music in this world. Wagner sustains the same relation to other composers that Shakespeare does to other dramatists, and any other dramatist compared with Shakespeare is like one tree compared with an immeasurable forest, or rather like one leaf compared with a forest; and all the other composers of the world are embraced in the music of Wagner. Nobody has written anything more tender than he, nobody anything sublimer than he. Whether it is the song of the deep, or the warble of the mated bird, nobody has excelled Wagner; he has expressed all that the human heart is capable of appreciating. And now, gentlemen, having troubled you long enough, and saying long live Anton Seidl, I bid you good-night. END
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