The Pleasures of Life
By Sir John Lubbock

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    “Music is a moral law. It gives a soul to the universe, wings to the
    mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, gaiety and life
    to everything. It is the essence of order, and leads to all that is
    good, just, and beautiful, of which it is the invisible, but
    nevertheless dazzling, passionate, and eternal form."–PLATO.

Music is in one sense far more ancient than man, and the voice was from the very commencement of human existence a source of melody: but so far as musical instruments are concerned, it is probable that percussion came first, then wind instruments, and lastly, those with strings: first the Drum, then the Flute, and thirdly, the Lyre. The early history of Music is, however, unfortunately wrapped in much obscurity. The use of letters long preceded the invention of notes, and tradition in such a matter can tell us but little.

The contest between Marsyas and Apollo is supposed by some to typify the struggle between the Flute and the Lyre; Marsyas representing the archaic Flute, Apollo the champion of the Lyre. The latter of course was victorious: it sets the voice free, and the sound

  “Of music that is born of human breath
  Comes straighter to the soul than any strain
  The hand alone can make.” [1]

Various myths have grown up to explain the origin of Music. One Greek tradition was to the effect Grasshoppers were human beings themselves in a world before the Muses; that when the Muses came, being ravished with delight, they sang and sang and forgot to eat, until “they died of hunger for the love of song. And they carry to heaven the report of those who honor them on earth.” [2]

The old writers and commentators tell us that Pythagoras, “as he was one day meditating on the want of some rule to guide the ear, analogous to what had been used to help the other senses, chanced to pass by a blacksmith’s shop, and observing that the hammers, which were four in number, sounded very harmoniously, he had them weighed, and found them to be in the proportion of six, eight, nine, and twelve. Upon this he suspended four strings of equal length and thickness, etc., fastened weights in the above-mentioned proportions to each of them respectively, and found that they gave the same sounds that the hammers had done; viz. the fourth, fifth, and octave to the gravest tone.” [3] However this may be, it would appear that the lyre had at first four strings only: Terpander is said to have given it three more, and an eighth was subsequently added.

We have unfortunately no specimens of Greek or Roman, or even of Early Christian music. The Chinese indicated the notes by words or their initials. The lowest was termed “Koung,” or the Emperor, as being the Foundation on which all were supported; the second was Tschang, the Prime Minister; the third, the Subject; the fourth, Public Business; the fifth, the Mirror of Heaven. [4] The Greeks also had a name for each note. The so-called Gregorian notes were not invented until six hundred years after Gregory’s death. The Monastery of St. Gall possesses a copy of Gregory’s Antiphonary, made about the year 780 by a chorister who was sent from Rome to Charlemagne to reform the Northern music, and in this the notes are indicated by “pneumss,” from which our notes were gradually developed, and first arranged along one line, to which others were gradually added. But I must not enlarge on this interesting subject.

In the matter of music Englishmen have certainly deserved well of the world. Even as long ago as 1185 Giraldus Cambrensis, Bishop of St. David’s, says, “The Britons do not sing their tunes in unison like the inhabitants of other countries, but in different parts. So that when a company of singers meet to sing, as is usual in this country, as many different parts are heard as there are singers.” [5]

The most ancient known piece of music for several voices is an English four men’s song, “Summer is a coming in,” which is considered to be at least as early as 1240, and is now in the British Museum.

The Venetian Ambassador in the time of Henry VIII. said of our English Church music: “The mass was sung by His Majesty’s choristers, whose voices are more heavenly than human; they did not chant like men, but like angels.”

Speaking of Purcell’s anthem, “Be merciful to me, O God,” Burney says it is “throughout admirable. Indeed, to my conception there is no better music existing of the kind than the opening of this anthem, in which the verse ’I will praise God’ and the last movement in C natural are, in melody, harmony, and modulation, truly divine music.”

Dr. Burney says that Purcell was “as much the pride of an Englishman in music as Shakespeare in productions of the stage, Milton in epic poetry, Locke in metaphysics, or Sir Isaac Newton in philosophy and mathematics;" and yet Purcell’s music is unfortunately but little known to us now, as Macfarren says, “to our great loss.”

The authors of some of the loveliest music, and even in some cases that of comparatively recent times, are unknown to us. This is the case for instance with the exquisite song “Drink to me only with thine eyes,” the words of which were taken by Jonson from Philostratus, and which has been considered as the most beautiful of all “people’s songs.”

The music of “God save the Queen” has been adopted in more than half a dozen other countries, and yet the authorship is a matter of doubt, being attributed by some to Dr. John Bull, by others to Carey. It was apparently first sung in a tavern in Cornhill.

Both the music and words of “O Death, rock me to sleep” are said to be by Anne Boleyn: “Stay, Corydon” and “Sweet Honey-sucking Bees” by Wildye, “the first of madrigal writers.” “Rule Britannia” was composed by Arne, and originally formed part of his Masque of Alfred, first performed in 1740 at Cliefden, near Maidenhead. To Arne we are also indebted for the music of “Where the Bee sucks there lurk I.” “The Vicar of Bray” is set to a tune originally known as “A Country Garden.” “Come unto these yellow sands” we owe to Purcell; “Sigh no more, Ladies” to Stevens; “Home, Sweet Home” to Bishop.

There is a curious melancholy in national music which is generally in the minor key; indeed this holds good with the music of savage races generally. They appear, moreover, to have no love Songs.

Herodotus tells us that during the whole time he was in Egypt he only heard one song, and that was a sad one. My own experience there was the same. Some tendency to melancholy seems indeed inherent in music, and Jessica is not alone in the feeling

  “I am never merry when I hear sweet music.”

The epitaphs on Musicians have been in some cases very well expressed. Such, for instance, is the following:

  “Philips, whose touch harmonious could remove
  The pangs of guilty power and hapless love,
  Rest here, distressed by poverty no more;
  Here find that calm thou gav’st so oft before;
  Sleep, undisturbed, within this peaceful shrine,
  Till angels wake thee with a note like thine!”

Still more so that on Purcell, whose premature death was so irreparable a loss to English music–

    “Here lies Henry Purcell, who left this life, and is gone to that
    blessed place, where only his harmony can be exceeded.”

The histories of Music contain many curious anecdotes as to the circumstances under which different works have been composed.

Rossini tells us that he wrote the overture to the “Gazza Ladra” on the very day of the first performance, in the upper loft of the La Scala, where he had been confined by the manager under the guard of four scene-shifters, who threw the text out of the window to copyists bit by bit as it was composed. Tartini is said to have composed “Il trillo del Diavolo,” considered to be his best work, in a dream. Rossini, speaking of the chorus in G minor in his “Dal tuo stellato soglio,” tells us: “While I was writing the chorus in G minor I suddenly dipped my pen into a medicine bottle instead of the ink. I made a blot, and when I dried this with the sand it took the form of a natural, which instantly gave me the idea of the effect the change from G minor to G major would make, and to this blot is all the effect, if any, due.” But these of course are exceptional cases.

There are other forms of Music, which though not strictly entitled to the name, are yet capable of giving intense pleasure. To the sportsman what Music can excel that of the hounds themselves. The cawing of rooks has been often quoted as a sound which has no actual beauty of its own, and yet which is delightful from its associations.

There is, however, a true Music of Nature,–the song of birds, the whisper of leaves, the ripple of waters upon a sandy shore, the wail of wind or sea.

There was also an ancient impression that the Heavenly bodies give out music as well as light: the Music of the Spheres is proverbial.

  “There’s not the smallest orb which thou beholdest
  But in his motion like an angel sings,
  Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubims;
  Such harmony is in immortal souls
  But while this muddy vesture of decay
  Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it.” [6]

Music indeed often seems as if it scarcely belonged to this material universe, but was

                      “A tone
  Of some world far from ours,
  Where music, and moonlight, and feeling are one.” [7]

There is Music in speech as well as in song. Not merely in the voice of those we love, and the charm of association, but in actual melody; as Milton says,

  “The Angel ended, and in Adam’s ear
  So charming left his voice, that he awhile
  Thought him still speaking, still stood fixed to hear.”

It is remarkable that more pains are not taken with the voice in conversation as well as in singing, for

  “What plea so tainted and corrupt
  But, being seasoned with a gracious voice,
  Obscures the show of evil.”

It may be true as a general rule that

  “The man that hath no Music in himself
  Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds
  Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils;” [8]

but there are some notable exceptions. Dr. Johnson had no love of music. On one occasion, hearing that a certain piece of music was very difficult, he expressed his regret that it was not impossible.

Poets, as might have been expected, have sung most sweetly in praise of song. They have, moreover, done so from the most opposite points of view.

Milton invokes it as a luxury–

    “And ever against eating cares
  Lap me in soft Lydian airs;
  Married to immortal verse
  Such as the meeting soul may pierce,
  In notes with many a winding bout
  Of linked sweetness long drawn out;
  With wanton heed, and giddy cunning,
  The melting voice through mazes running;
  Untwisting all the chains that tie
  The hidden soul of harmony.”

Sometimes as a temptation; so Spenser says of Phaedria,

  “And she, more sweet than any bird on bough
    Would oftentimes amongst them bear a part,
  And strive to passe (as she could well enough)
    Their native musicke by her skilful art.”

Or as an element of pure happiness–

  “There is in Souls a sympathy with sounds;
  And as the mind is pitched, the ear is pleased
  With melting airs or martial, brisk or grave;
  Some chord in unison with what we hear
  Is touched within us, and the heart replies.
  How soft the music of those village bells,
  Falling at intervals upon the ear
  In cadence sweet, now dying all away,
  Now pealing loud again and louder still
  Clear and sonorous, as the gale comes on.” [9]

As touching the human heart–

  “The soul of music slumbers in the shell,
  Till waked and kindled by the master’s spell,
  And feeling hearts–touch them but lightly–pour
  A thousand melodies unheard before.” [10]

As an education–

  “I have sent books and music there, and all
  Those instruments with which high spirits call
  The future from its cradle, and the past
  Out of its grave, and make the present last
  In thoughts and joys which sleep, but cannot die,
  Folded within their own eternity.” [11]

As an aid to religion–

  “As from the power of sacred lays
    The spheres began to move,
  And sung the great Creator’s praise
    To all the blessed above,
  So when the last and dreadful hour
  This crumbling pageant shall devour,
  The trumpet shall be heard on high.
  The dead shall live, the living die,
  And music shall untune the sky.” [12]

Or again–

  “Hark how it falls! and now It steals along,
    Like distant bells upon the lake at eve.
  When all is still; and now it grows more strong
    As when the choral train their dirges weave
  Mellow and many voiced; where every close
    O’er the old minster roof, in echoing waves reflows.
  Oh! I am rapt aloft. My spirit soars
    Beyond the skies, and leaves the stars behind;
  Lo! angels lead me to the happy shores,
    And floating paeans fill the buoyant wind.
  Farewell! base earth, farewell! my soul is freed.”

The power of Music to sway the feelings of Man has never been more cleverly portrayed than by Dryden in “The Feast of Alexander,” though the circumstances of the case precluded any reference to the influence of Music in its noblest aspects.

Poets have always attributed to Music–and who would wish to deny it?–a power even over the inanimate forces of Nature. Shakespeare accounts for shooting stars by the attraction of Music:

  “The rude sea grew civil at her song,
  And certain stars shot madly from their spheres
  To hear the Sea-maid’s music.”

Prose writers have also been inspired by Music to their highest eloquence. “Music,” says Plato, “is a moral law. It gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, gaiety and life to everything. It is the essence of order, and leads to all that is good, just, and beautiful, of which it is the invisible, but nevertheless dazzling, passionate, and eternal form.” “Music,” said Luther, “is a fair and glorious gift from God. I would not for the world renounce my humble share in music.” “Music,” said Halevy, “is an art that God has given us, in which the voices of all nations may unite their prayers in one harmonious rhythm.” Or Carlyle, “Music is a kind of inarticulate, unfathomable speech, which leads us to the edge of the infinite, and lets us for moments gaze into it.”

Let me also quote Helmholtz, one of the profoundest exponents of modern science. “Just as in the rolling ocean, this movement, rhythmically repeated, and yet ever-varying, rivets our attention and hurries us along. But whereas in the sea blind physical forces alone are at work, and hence the final impression on the spectator’s mind is nothing but solitude–in a musical work of art the movement follows the outflow of the artist’s own emotions. Now gently gliding, now gracefully leaping, now violently stirred, penetrated, or laboriously contending with the natural expression of passion, the stream of sound, in primitive vivacity, bears over into the hearer’s soul unimagined moods which the artist has overheard from his own, and finally raises him up to that repose of everlasting beauty of which God has allowed but few of his elect favorites to be the heralds.”

“There are but seven notes in the scale; make them fourteen,” says Newman, “yet what a slender outfit for so vast an enterprise! What science brings so much out of so little? Out of what poor elements does some great master in it create his new world! Shall we say that all this exuberant inventiveness is a mere ingenuity or trick of art, like some game of fashion of the day, without reality, without meaning?... Is it possible that that inexhaustible evolution and disposition of notes, so rich yet so simple, so intricate yet so regulated, so various yet so majestic, should be a mere sound, which is gone and perishes? Can it be that those mysterious stirrings of the heart, and keen emotions, and strange yearnings after we know not what, and awful impressions from we know not whence, should be wrought in us by what is unsubstantial, and comes and goes, and begins and ends in itself? it is not so; it cannot be. No; they have escaped from some higher sphere; they are the outpourings of eternal harmony in the medium of created sound; they are echoes from our Home; they are the voices of Angels, or the Magnificat of Saints, or the living laws of Divine Governance, or the Divine Attributes; something are they besides themselves, which we cannot compass, which we cannot utter, though mortal man, and he perhaps not otherwise distinguished above his fellows, has the gift of eliciting them.”

Poetry and Music unite in song. From the earliest ages song has been the sweet companion of labor. The rude chant of the boatman floats upon the water, the shepherd sings upon the hill, the milkmaid in the dairy, the ploughman at the plough. Every trade, every occupation, every act and scene of life, has long had its own especial music. The bride went to her marriage, the laborer to his work, the old man to his last long rest, each with appropriate and immemorial music.

Music has been truly described as the mother of sympathy, the handmaid of Religion, and will never exercise its full effect, as the Emperor Charles VI. said to Farinelli, unless it aims not merely to charm the ear, but to touch the heart.

There are many who consider that our life at present is peculiarly prosaic and mercenary. I greatly doubt whether that be the case, but if so our need for Music is all the more imperative.

Much as Music has already done for man, we may hope even more from it in the future.

It is, moreover, a joy for all. To appreciate Science or Art requires some training, and no doubt the cultivated ear will more and more appreciate the beauties of Music; but though there are exceptional individuals, and even races, almost devoid of any love of Music, still they are happily but rare.

Good Music, moreover, does not necessarily involve any considerable outlay; it is even now no mere luxury of the rich, and we may hope that as time goes on, it will become more and more the comfort and solace of the poor.

[1] Morris.

[2] Plato.

[3] Crowest.

[4] Rowbotham, History of Music.

[5] Wakefield.

[6] Shakespeare.

[7] Swinburne.

[8] Shakespeare.

[9] Cowper.

[10] Rogers.

[11] Shelley.

[12] Dryden.



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