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Nebraska State Journal


October 7, 1894
page 13

UTTERLY IRRELEVANT.

William McKinley is a type of man that used to be plentiful in America about a century ago, but that has sadly diminished. He is a big man with a powerful physique, a powerful face and a powerful voice. He could wear a colonial costume and not look out of place in it. He has a repose of carriage and a clear, untroubled face seldom found among the restless, nervous politicians of the Nineteenth century. By the very face of him Mr. McKinley is not a pessimist; men who stand six feet in their stockings seldom are. He is a man who believes in something; there is not a shadow of cynicism on his face. The secret of his power is his belief. He believes in his party and its principles with the entire and complete conviction that Thomas Jefferson had. Belief is always the mainspring of action. A cynic could never have framed the McKinley bill, a socialist or a visionary could never have written it. Leaving its usefulness out of the question, it is in itself a gigantic piece of work, an Titanic conception. Only a man with a big body and a clear head could ever have conceived it.

          

At last Miss Russell's London notices have reached the anxious American public. They are favorable, kindly, appreciative, but not enthusiastic. Miss Russell has pleased the English public, but she has not captivated it. The English people have had too many beautiful women on their stage and in their history to go wild about one lovely blonde who was born in Illinois. There is always a certain childishness in either nations or individuals losing their heads over a beautiful woman. It is a natural thing among Americans, who are still a very young people, or among the French, who are always boys, but the English are mature, and would look absurd prostrating themselves before 250 pounds of loveliness from Illinois. Lillian is so very young—in art, at least—and from such a young country. Her beauty isn't so dazzling in a land where the standards were set by Annie Boleyn and Mary of Scotland . Her little voice, that is all accidentals, would be quite lost in the gray aisles and naves of Westminster. The judgment of London is ripened by centuries of the best art. The English people want something more than amusement; they never did care much for fun and don't know it when they see it. There is something in the muscular anatomy of the Englishman's face that makes it difficult and painful for him to laugh. Miss Russell is too new to set London town on fire, there the very cobblestones are older than her country's oldest grave. It is proper that the city in which the Globe theatre once stood should be critical in stage matters. However, the English people are kindly; they will forgive Miss Russell—and forget her.

          

Mr. Downing and the fair Eugenie have propelled their portly persons across the Lansing stage again, and left with us sad and very heavy memories. It seems cruel to laugh at their conscientious but very unimpressive portrayal. The simple and vulgar fact is that both Mr. Downing and his wife are impeded by their "too solid flesh." It is a well known fact, authorized in medicine, that a certain degree of obesity begets a torpor of the mind. From Ben Johnson down the work of very fleshy people has been heavy, labored and inartistic. The growth of the body seems to drain from the mind. The spirit is impeded in its flight by an unwieldy body. Beside the spiritual degeneration, Mr. Downing suffers actual physical inconvenience from his surplus flesh. When he is moved he pants, and when he is furious he gasps as though he were in an apoplectic fit. As to Miss Blair, three hundred pounds should never be clad in a Grecian robe. When Miss Blair bounds into her lover's arms the draperies about her hips move unpleasantly. When Miss Blair falls prostrate at Faustina's feet the scenery trembles sympathetically and threatens to fall prostrate also. When Miss Blair raises her arms to heaven the flesh upon them trembles as though it were going to spill. All this is not a legitimate objection, of course, but it is none the less true and laughable.

          

There is one good thing which the early frosts have done, one boon which they have conferred upon suffering humanity, they have rid us of the baseball youth. A youth who affects baseball acts very much like a youth who affects jolly little actresses. He pastes in his scrap book all the notes on his heroes that he has clipped from sporting papers; he hangs their pictures in his room and sometimes wears them in his watch case. He spends his mornings in the back yard pitching a ball and his afternoons at the ball park. His conversation is limited to technical sporting terms and he talks after the manner of his barber. His universe is bounded by the park fence, and to him pursuing the golden and elusive dreams of youth consists in chasing balls that go over the backstop.

          

The early chill of the atmosphere has also temporarily relieved us of the assertive presence of the athletic girl. The athletic girl is a standing apology of nature. When a girl can't dance well, sing well, play well, paint well, when she is a dull conversationalist and is not fond of literature, she takes to athletics. She can't be either charming or remarkable in the natural way, so she will be unique in an unnatural way. She takes great credit to herself because she can lift a heavy weight and throw a hammer and run a mile or pitch a ball. Now, if other young ladies had energy and vanity enough to perspire over weights and pulleys they might achieve as much renown as the athletic girl. But to normal women athletics are rather distasteful. All women like tennis and boating for the pleasure there is in them, but the mere cultivation of muscle doesn't appeal to most women. Female athletics are an excuse for women who cannot excel in womanly things. One thing is sure, a woman to whom nature has given a beautiful arm never has a burning desire to disfigure it by ridges of veiny muscle, a pretty hand seldom yearns to climb a rope and a pretty face doesn't need a baseball mask.

          

During the last few years a most commendable change has taken place in the church choirs of Lincoln. The Episcopal and Congregational churches at least, perhaps others, dignify and sanctify their services with music. But there are still too many churches who profane the sanctuary with music that would not be endured from a musee band. It is probably a terrible thing to say, but it is a fact that the much venerated "Gospel Hymns" have driven more people of good taste from the churches than Robert Ingersoll and all his school. It is strange that in this age, in which music has developed so rapidly, in which so many of the seers and prophets have been musicians and in which the Lord has so revealed himself to man through music, the churches should cling to the old whining psalm of the Puritans. If we believe that the Lord takes any interest in human affairs at all we cannot suppose the music of Mozart and Handel and Bach and Beethoven accidental. The Lord has made his own musicians and his own music, but the churches give him "Let Us Scatter Seeds of Kindness" and "Pull For the Shore, Sailor." He must be a very loving and patient God indeed to endure such music.

          

It is peculiar, this idea people have of everything colorless and spiritless being sacred. It is strange how we object to giving beautiful things to God. He must be very fond of beauty himself, he never made an unlovely thing any more than He ever made a "moral" thing. In nature God does not teach morals. He never limits or interferes with beauty. His laws are the laws of beauty, and all the natural forces work together to produce it. The nightingale's song is not moral; it is perfectly pagan in its unrestrained passion. The Maditerranean at noonday is not moral, the forests of the Ganges have no sermons in them. God's nature is just a great artistic creation, and the zones and climes are only moods of a Divine Artist. In the northern zone He was stern and relentless; He heaped the cloistered icebergs and piled the black rocks in great promontories above the night-bound sea. In the temperate zones He was dilettante; He made green meadows and sloping vineyards and sunlit hills. But the tropics were made in exalted, exuberant passion, passion that overflowed and wasted itself, made in all the divine madness of art. Forests, where the tiger crouches in the bush, deserts that the sun laps like fire, seas that heave like some purple-clad breast, chains of coral islands, palm-tufted, that glow with umber and gold. God was not moralizing when he made the tropics. The world was made by an Artist, by the divinity and godhead of art, an Artist of such insatiate love of beauty that He takes all forces, all space, all time to fill them with his universes of beauty; an Artists whose dreams are so intense and real that they, too, love and suffer and have dreams of their own. Yet when we come to worship this Painter, this Poet, this Musician, this gigantic Artist of all art that is, this God whose spirit moved upon chaos leaving beauty incarnate in its shadow, we bring the worst of all the world's art and lay it at His feet. Of all the innumerable human absurdities that have been committed in religion's name this is the most absurd. In the general crash and destruction of things, when the Potter tries his vessels by fire and every man and every artist is judged not according to his piety or according to his morality, but according to his works, when the Master Workman selects from this world the things that are worthy to endure in the next, it is not likely that He will take Baxter's "Saint's Rest" or the "Gospel Hymns," or bound volumes of the sermons of great divines—for in the next world we won't need any sermons. Please God, we will be wise enough then to be taught by beauty alone. He will probably take simply the great classics and the things which should be classics, and the paintings that will make even heaven fairer, and the great tone melodies that must make even His angels glad, and the many lives that in themselves are art, and the rest will perish in the void "as chaff which the wind driveth away, or stubble which the fire consumeth."

          

Mrs. Burton Harrison still drifts helplessly along with her bachelor maid and her biblomaniac parent and her eccentric friend and her deliberate lover and his female relatives. It is a pity that the Century doesn't send a compositor or two up to Washington square to help Mrs. Harrison out. One always feels so solicitous about her characters, they are such shadowy, helpless creatures; the women are all afflicted with vague yearnings and the men with atrophy of the brain. It is not pleasant to think that a magazine which is supposed to represent the best element of American culture is influenced by an author's social position, but every New Yorker knows that Constance Cary Harrison is patronized by the Century simply because she is one of the 400. It publishes her cunning little stories for just the same reason that the London News published that particularly pitiful poem written by the Princess May .

          

Harper's has done a great thing this last year. By publishing one great work because it was great, without regard to consequences, it has formally announced that it intends to represent the best and broadest thought of the times. It is going to publish work because it is good, not because it is harmless. It is not a kindergarten journal, nor a publication devoted to the moral advancement of the young; it is a magazine that handles good literature, and if good literature means bad morals—well, that is the old question of horticulture which began in Eden apropos of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It hasn't been decided yet.

          

When Count Bozenta was in New York a few weeks ago he told a little story about his wife that is worth remembering. Madame Modjeska was not always rich, and when she bought her famous California ranch years ago it was because it was cheap, not because it was luxurious. When she first used to go there to spend her summers help was very dear and she could not always afford it. The greater part of the time she did her work herself, washing and all, and even laundered the estimable count's shirts. She used to spread a big oilcloth down in the parlor and bring in her tubs and have the count play to her while she washed. Anyone who heard her say, "Take thy lute, good wench," when she was working among her women in "Henry VIII" at the Lansing two years ago, can imagine her washing to Beethoven and Chopin . One would rather see her washing like that than see her again as Catherine . So many women can be queens on the stage, but there are so few who can be queens off of it, so few who can rise above the menial part of labor. But that is so like Modjeska; it is her nature to dignify and purify. Her husband says that she washed well, too, only pausing at the softer passages of the music. Some women go through life like that, laboring like peasants and still queenly, with calloused hands and artists' souls.

          

The theatrical outlook for the coming week is an unusually merry one. Two of the most successful comedies on the road will appear at the Lansing. This column is not an advertising department, nor is it given to lavish praise, indeed it rather prefers to object than to approve, but it gladly admits that "Gloriana" and "Charley's Aunt" are well worth seeing, and that the people who don't see them will miss something. Comedies are seldom funny, but "Gloriana" certainly is, and "Charley's Aunt" has that reputation.

          

If there exists a manager whose leading man is not an unrecognized fils naturel of the Duke of Bonnyclaber, whose leading lady has not just been secretly married to the Russian ambassador, whose soubrette has not been four times divorced, one would like to meet that manager; he would be a comfortable person to talk to.

          

"Yes," said Manager Charles H. Yale as he settled the pigeon-egg diamond on his shirt front and stroked his massive cheek with his hand, "the art in specialty work is to be quick; we play to get there, every performance is a race against time. Where do most of my people come from? O, from St. Louis, of course. All specialty people come from St. Louis, or Paris—or the other place. Yes, the company is a big one to manage, but I don't find much trouble. The first few months are always a little raw. Getting so many people together always brings on a sentimental fever and the whole company gets down with it. There are a few marriages, more divorces, and then they all pair off and settle down peaceably: That's why I like to keep the same company; the romance soon wears off and everything goes on peaceably. New people are bound to make new complications. When once the contagion breaks out they all have it. I have seen old stagers who had worn off any pretense of romance years ago, under the influence of half a dozen violent cases in the company, suddenly break out into a second mutual flame and go over the same ground they covered five years before. My last new man caused four divorces in the company and for weeks half the women in the company didn't speak to each other. He's the one who plays the donkey. He has broken the hearts of some of the greatest tragediennes in the country, and the last time he played at Windsor castle by special request of the Prince of Wales —" There the interview ended.

          

How long will the ingratitude of humanity vaunt itself? It is rumored that a certain chubby little gentleman feels much insulted by being mentioned with the Prince of Fuerstenberg . We don't want to hurt anyone's feelings and we would gladly apologize to the little man if it didn't seem to us that the apology is due to the prince.



Notes

Go back William McKinley: William McKinley (1843-1901) was to be the twenty-fifth president of the United States. He was born in Ohio, and enlisted as a private in the Ohio volunteer infantry in 1861, serving in the struggles around Winchester, Virginia, Cather's home region. McKinley rose to brevet rank of major, serving on the staff of future president Rutherford B. Hayes. After the Civil War, he became a lawyer in Canton, Ohio, where he married Ida Saxton in 1871. A Republican, he was elected to the House of Representatives in 1876, introducing the McKinley tariff bill in 1890. Defeated for the Congress that year, he was elected governor of Ohio in 1891, and nominated for the presidency in 1896. During his first term, the Spanish-American War of 1898 gave the US territories overseas for the first time. McKinley was re-elected in 1900 with Theodore Roosevelt as his vice-president. On September 6, 1901, while at a reception in Buffalo, NY, McKinley was shot by Leon Czolgsz, an anarchist, and died a week later.

In Cather's story, "Two Friends" (1932), the friendship between the conservative Republican Trueman and the Democrat Dillon is broken up when Dillon supports William Jennings Bryan against McKinley for the presidency in 1896.

Go back Thomas Jefferson: Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), third president of the United States, was born in Virginia. He studied law and was elected to the colonial Virginia House of Burgesses in 1774. As a delegate to the Continental Congress, he was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. He served in the new Virginia House of Delegates and as governor of Virginia, where he worked out many of the ideas that were to become principles of the future United States government. Jefferson served as minister to France from 1785-89, then as the first secretary of state, under George Washington; he served as vice-president under John Adams, then was elected to the first of two terms as president in 1801. He made the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and commissioned the Lewis and Clark Expedition to explore the new territory. In later years Jefferson worked to found the University of Virginia, one of the three accomplishments that he asked to be commemorated on his tombstone. He died on July 4, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the independence of the United States.

Go back McKinley bill: In 1890, future president William McKinley (1843-1901), then chairman of the Ways and Means committee in the House of Representatives, introduced a tariff bill which became known by his name. Among other provisions, it placed high tariffs on many goods in order to protect American manufacturers, and reciprocity provisions that established markets in Europe for American commodities. The high tariffs aroused resentment in Europe and opposition at home, leading to McKinley's defeat in the elections that November.

Go back Lillian Russell: Lillian Russell, born Helen Louise Leonard (1861-1922) in Clinton, IA, was educated in Chicago, and then in New York, where her mother took her to study in hopes of an opera career. Her first appearance on the New York stage was in the chorus of a production of Pinafore in 1879; Tony Pastor, owner of one of the best variety theaters in New York, gave her the new name, Lillian Russell, and billed her as "The English Ballad Singer." Her blonde beauty, lovely singing voice, and fashionable figure quickly made her a star, one of the highest paid in America. She starred at the Casino Theatre from 1888 to 1891, when she headed her own company at the Garden Theatre. In 1899 she joined the Weber and Fields company, staying with them until 1904. Her voice had suffered over the years, so she toured in comedy from 1906-1908.

Russell was famous for the number of her husbands and for her long liason with "Diamond Jim" Brady. Her first husband was the Pinafore company's orchestra leader, Harry Graham. Her second husband, composer Edward Solomon, was arrested for bigamy in 1886, after two years of marriage. She married her third husband, John Chatterton, known as Giovanni Perugini, in 1894; they were divorced in 1898. Russell retired from the stage after marrying her fourth husband, Alexander Moore, owner of the Pittsburgh Leader. She wrote columns and articles on love and beauty for women, and advocated woman suffrage.

Lillian Russell epitomized the stage beauty of the 1890s. A movie was made of her life in 1940, starring Alice Faye, with Henry Fonda as her fourth husband. Her character also appears in various other movies about the theatrical life of the time.

Image available at New York Public Library Digital Gallery.

Lillian Russell

Go back Anne Boleyn: Anne Boleyn (c.1501-1536) was the second wife of Henry VIII and the mother of Queen Elizabeth I. She was not a conventional beauty of the time, being dark rather than fair, but she was intelligent, well-educated, and vivacious. She became a lady-in-waiting to Henry's queen, Catherine of Aragon, in 1522. Henry wanted a male heir, and determined on a divorce; by 1525 he had fallen in love with Anne Boleyn. They were finally married in 1532, when Henry declared he, not the Pope who had refused him the divorce, was the head of the church in England. Anne gave birth to her daughter in 1533. By 1535 Henry had a new mistress, Jane Seymour; he accused Anne of adultery and treason. She was beheaded in 1536.

Go back Mary of Scotland: Mary Stuart (1542-1587) became queen of Scotland when her father, James V, died six days after she was born. Her French mother had her brought up at the court of Henri II and Catherine de Médici, whose eldest son, Francis, she married in April 1558. When Elizabeth Tudor became queen of England in November 1558, Henri claimed the throne on Mary's behalf—she was the great-niece of Henry VIII and was next in the succession, though Elizabeth refused to admit that claim. Henri died in 1559 and Mary became briefly queen consort of France before her husband died in 1560. Mary returned to Scotland in 1561, the French-bred Roman Catholic queen of a fractious Presbyterian country. She married her cousin Henry Stuart, earl of Darnley in 1565. The following year Darnley had her secretary, Rizzo, murdered in her presence. She was accused of having an affair with James, earl of Bothwell, and plotting the death of Darnley in 1567. After that Bothwell abducted her and forced her into marriage, but the Scots rose up and imprisoned them both, deposing Mary in favor of her one-year-old son, James. Mary fled to England, where Elizabeth kept her a prisoner for the next eighteen years. Discovery of a Roman Catholic plot in 1586 to put Mary on the English throne convinced Elizabeth that Mary would always be a danger. Mary was tried by an English court and condemned to execution, a fate she met with great dignity.

Go back Westminster: Westminster Abbey (established as the Collegiate Church of St. Peter by Elizabeth I), where British monarchs are crowned and where many are buried, was begun in 1045 by Edward the Confessor, close to the palace of Westminster. It was rebuilt in the Gothic style by Henry III; the two western towers were added in the early eighteenth century. Burial in the Abbey is one of the last honors given to people of notable achievement: the Poets Corner, clustered around the tomb of Geoffrey Chaucer, is especially famous.

Go back Globe theatre: Late in 1598, Shakespeare's theater company, the Lord Chamberlain's men, having lost the ground lease at their old theater, dismantled the building and rebuilt it on a new site across the Thames in Southwark, calling it the Globe Theatre. It was probably a rounded amphitheatre with a projecting stage, covered galleries, and an open air center, the pit. The original building burned in 1613, but was rebuilt and used until all the theaters were closed in 1642. It was torn down in 1644 and built over; the site was lost. The foundations were discovered in 1989, and a modern version of an Elizabethan theater was built, opening in 1997.

Go back Robert Downing: Robert Downing (1857-1944) appeared in minor roles Mary Anderson's company in New York by 1880; by 1882 he was playing leading roles with her, such as Claude in Lady of Lyons. When Anderson left for London, Downing played with Joseph Jefferson's company between 1883 and 1888. Odell first notes his appearance in New York as Spartacus in The Gladiator in 1886 (Annals of the New York Stage, XIII: 230), and return engagements thereafter, saying that Downing was "trying to be a Forrest" (XIII: 459). He was best known for his physique as displayed in the lead role of such plays as The Gladiator. Downing's basic repertoire in the early 1890s consisted of The Gladiator, Virginius, Ingomar, Damon and Pythias, Julius Caesar, and Richard the Lion-Hearted.

Image available at the New York Public Library Digital Gallery.

Go back Miss Eugenia Blair: Eugenie Blair (c. 1868-1922) was born in South Carolina, but made her professional debut in Chicago. She toured with the D.P. Powers and James O'Neill companies, and then played supporting roles in Frederick B. Warde's company in the mid-1880s, winning modest praise in the New York Times reviews. By 1888 she was playing in Robert Downing's company; they were married by 1891, and divorced by 1910. She continued active in the theater, performing character roles on Broadway as she aged. She died after suffering a heart attack backstage during a performance of Eugene O'Neill's Anna Christie (1921), for which she created the role of Marthy. Blair's daughter was actress Eleanor Montell.

Image at: Google Books.

Go back Lansing Theatre: The Lansing Theater, on the southwest corner of 13th and P Streets, was built in 1891, displacing the Funke Opera House as the largest and finest theater in Lincoln. The owners were J.F. Lansing (b. 1842), a Lincoln real estate man, and his brother-in-law Henry Oliver (b. 1857); Edward A. Church was the manager. According to the program of the opening week (November 23-28, 1891) the auditorium consisted of the orchestra and parquet seating on the main level, with dress circle at the rear and sides; three tiers of five boxes each and six loges were at the sides. Above were the balcony and the gallery. With standing room, about 2500 people could be present.

The building also housed offices, including that of Cather's friend and fellow reviewer, Dr. Julius H. Tyndale. It was renamed the Oliver Theater in 1898.

The Oliver Theater, Lincoln, Nebraska. The theater was originally named The Lansing Theater.

Go back too solid flesh: In Act I, scene 2 of Shakespeare's Hamlet, Hamlet, having been reproached for excessive grieving for his dead father by his uncle and mother, is left alone. The first of his famous soliloquies begins: O, that this too too solid flesh would meltThaw and resolve itself into a dew!Or that the Everlasting had not fix'dHis canon 'gainst self-slaughter! O God! God!How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable,Seem to me all the uses of this world!

Go back Ben Jonson: English playwright and poet Ben Jonson (c. 1572-1639) was a contemporary and rival of Shakespeare's. The stepson of a bricklayer, by 1597 he was an actor and a writer of plays for the Lord Admiral's Men, known for his tragedies, which haven't survived. He is best known for his comedies Volpone (1605), The Alchemist (1610), and St. Bartholomew's Fair (1614); he also wrote many masques for the court of James I, and worked with Inigo Jones on their production. Jonson modeled his plays on classical authors, portraying types and humours rather than original characters, and was more directly influential on succeeding generations of playwrights than Shakespeare, until the nineteenth century. He was also more honored in his lifetime, being given a royal pension, made an honorary citizen of Edinburgh, and given an honorary MA from Oxford University; he was honored in death by being buried in Westminster Abbey. The famous inscription on the slab over his tomb says "O Rare Ben Jonson."

A portrait of Jonson, circa 1617, by Abraham Darby, shows a thick-set, but not apparently fat, man with a short beard.

Go back Faustina: The Empress Faustina in Soumet's The Gladiator had killed the Gladiator's wife in order to use his new-born daughter in a sorcerous rite to ensure the life of her own infant son. Later, in the action of the play, Faustina is in love with Flavian, and so plots to kill Neodamia by the hand of the Gladiator.

Empress Faustina the Younger (d. 175) was the daughter of the emperor Antonius Pius and his wife Faustina the Elder (d. 141). She was married to the emperor Marcus Aurelius; she bore thirteen children, most of whom died young. She was reputed to have had many affairs, and the bad character of her surviving son, the future emperor Commodus, was attributed to her affair with a gladiator.

Go back First Congregational church: The First Congregational church was the first of any denomination to organize in the village of Lancaster, in 1866; the village was renamed Lincoln the following year. In 1869 a building was erected at 13th and L Streets. A daughter congregation, Plymouth Congregational Church, was organized in 1887; the two merged as First-Plymouth Congregational Church in 1923, and built a new church at 20th and D streets in 1930-31. First Congregational Church First Congregational Chruch

Go back Gospel Hymns: Gospel Hymns and Sacred Songs was a series of six volumes published between 1875 and 1891; these were songs collected and used, as well as written by Ira D. Sankey, the singer, composer, and partner with David Moody in his evangelical meetings. Sankey called his autobiography My Life and the Story of the Gospel Hymns (1907).

Go back Robert Ingersoll: Robert G. Ingersoll (1833-1899) was sometimes known as "the great agnostic." He was born in western New York, the son of a Congregational minister; he was admitted to the bar in Illinois, where he quickly became well-known as a lawyer and orator. He served as the colonel of a regiment of volunteer cavalry in the Civil War, until taken prisoner by the Confederates. His criticism of religion was based on rationalism; his speeches and writings on religion were controversial, but his eloquence was acknowledged even by his opponents, and he was in great demand as a speaker on patriotic and political subjects as well, receiving, in the 1880s and 1890s, as much as $3,500 for a single lecture.

"Most Americans are familiar with his speech nominating Mr. Blaine for the Presidency, in which he invested that brilliant statesman with the title 'Plumed Knight,' a sobriquet that remained with him to the end of his career. His great speech at the 'Grant Banquet,' his thrilling epic 'A Vision of War,' or 'The Past Rises Before me Like a Dream,' delivered at a soldiers' reunion in Indianapolis; his wonderful 'Decoration Day Oration,' in New York, his tribute to his brother Ebon, his matchless memorial to his friend and associate, Roscoe Conkling, and the laureate crown he laid on the tomb of his friend and leader, the martyred Lincoln, together with many other eulogies of the noble dead that sprang from his generous and passionately patriotic heart, are to-day the treasured possessions of his countrymen. His lips dropped polished pearls that will adorn and enrich the language of his day and of all time" (I. Newton Baker, Robert G. Ingersoll—An Intimate View, ch. 4).

1877 Bob Ingersoll The only known photograph of Ingersoll addressing an audience

Go back whining psalm of the Puritans: The Puritans of Massachusetts commissioned a new translation of the psalms which was printed in 1640, only twenty years after they arrived in North America. Known as the Bay Psalm Book, the original title was The Whole Booke of Psalmes Faithfully Translated into English Meter. Whereunto is prefixed a discourse declaring not only the lawfulness, but also the necessity of the heavenly Ordinance of singing Scripture Psalmes in the Churches of God. The ninth edition, in 1698, contained tunes from earlier Psalters, particularly the Geneva Psalter of 1542.

The musical emphasis was on simplicity, with one note per syllable, so that the singer could concentrate on the meaning of the words; many Calvinist churches did not use accompanying instruments. One tune which has survived in use is the "Old 100th," now usually sung with the words, "Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow."

Go back Puritans: The Puritans were English reformers who were given the name because they sought to purify the Anglican church from the Catholic practices that had remained in it. They emphasized knowledge of the scriptures and self-examination.

Go back Mozart: Composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) was born in Salzburg in what is now Austria. His talent, both as a performer and composer, evidenced itself very early, and he toured Europe as a child prodigy, impressing the most noted composers of his time. He wrote masterpieces in all the genres of the eighteenth century, from light dances and divertimenti to operas and masses, as well as symphonies, string quartets and quintets, and concerti for various instruments; he developed and popularized the piano concerto. Although Mozart's music was popular during his life (and ever since), he was frequently in financial difficulties; when he died suddenly at the age of 35, he was buried in an unmarked grave.

Go back Handel: Composer George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) was born in Saxony, and showed his musical talents at an early age. His first two operas (of more than fifty written in his life) were produced in 1705, when he was twenty; when opera was banned locally, he turned to composing sacred music and oratorios. In 1710 he became Kapellmeister to Elector George of Hanover, soon to be King of England; Handel settled in England in 1712 and became a British subject in 1726, and was associated with the Royal Academy of Music, the Royal Opera House, and the royal court, for which his Water Music and Fireworks Music were composed. When he died he was given a state funeral and was buried in Westminster Abbey. Handel's operas lost favor in the nineteenth century, but his sacred oratorios, the most famous of which is the Messiah (1742), were often performed by both amateur and professional choruses.

Go back Bach: German composer Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) was born into a musical family, and learned to play the violin and organ, becoming noted first as an organist at the court of the Duke of Saxe-Weimar. In 1717 he went to the court of Prince Leopold of Cöthen, where the Brandenburg Concertos were composed. In 1722 he became director of music at Leipzig, where he remained the rest of his life. He was a prolific composer, considered the greatest in the Baroque style. After falling out of public favor to some extent in the later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Bach was rediscovered in the later nineteenth century. Bach fathered twenty children by his two wives, many of whom also became musicians and composers.

Go back Beethoven: Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) was born in Bonn to a family of musicians. His musical talents manifested themselves at an early age, and he became assistant court organist in 1782. His first known composition was published in 1783. He studied briefly with Mozart in 1787, and with Haydn in 1792 in Vienna. He became recognized as Mozart's successor both as a virtuoso performer on the piano and as a composer. By 1800 it was clear that he was going deaf, and he focused his energies on composing; many of his best and most popular pieces were composed in this so-called second or middle period. His genius was acknowledged all over Europe.

Go back Let Us Scatter Seeds of Kindness: This popular hymn, based on Rom. 12:10, was written by Mary Louise Riley Smith of New York (b. 1843), with music by Samuel J. Vail (1818-1883). It begins: Let us gather up the sunbeamsLying all along our path;Let us keep the wheat and rosesCasting out the thorns and chaff.Then scatter seeds of kindnessFor our reaping by and by.

Go back forests of the Ganges: The mangrove forests in the delta of the river Ganges, near the Bay of Bengal, are named the Sunderbans, or the Beautiful forests; it is a habitat of the Bengal tiger.

Go back Ganges: The Ganges is a sacred river of northern India; over 1550 miles long, it empties into the Bay of Bengal. It is personified and worshipped as a goddess (the holy Ganga) in Hinduism, and its waters are believed to lead to salvation and the forgiveness of sins.

Go back tries his vessels by fire: Although the image of a potter firing his wares in a kiln, where some may reveal hidden flaws and break, is not found as such in the Bible, Cather may be drawing on 1 Corinthians 3: 13, where Paul writes: "Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is."

Go back Richard Baxter: The Anglican/Puritan minister Richard Baxter (1615-1691) was ordained in the Church of England in 1638; he became known for his preaching and his pastoral care, as well as his religious writings. He supported the Puritans in the English Civil War, but was a peacemaker who helped to bring about the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. Nevertheless, he was persecuted and even imprisoned for his efforts to promote toleration of some dissent within the Anglican church; the Toleration Act of 1689, under the Protestants William III and Mary II, allowed dissenters to have their own forms and places of worship.

Baxter's most enduring work is his Saints' Everlasting Rest (1650).

Go back Baxter's Saints' Rest: The full title of Richard Baxter's most famous work in The Saints' Everlasting Rest: or, a Treatise of the blessed state of the saints in their enjoyment of God in glory. Where is shewed its excellency and certainty; the misery of those that lose it; and how to live in the continual delightfull foretastes of it, by the help of meditation (1650). The book remained popular in Britain and the U.S. through most of the nineteenth century. The American Tract Society published an edition in 1830; even homes with few books would have the Saints' Rest, after the Bible, a hymn book, and Pilgrim's Progress.

Go back Gospel Hymns: Gospel Hymns and Sacred Songs was a series of six volumes published between 1875 and 1891; these were songs collected and used, as well as written by Ira D. Sankey, the singer, composer, and partner with David Moody in his evangelical meetings. Sankey called his autobiography My Life and the Story of the Gospel Hymns (1907).

Go back as chaff which the wind driveth away, or stubble which the fire consumeth: Cather may be conflating two passages in the Bible. Job 21:18 reads: "They are as stubble before the wind, or as chaff that the storm carrieth away," and the first part of Isaiah 5:24 reads: "Therefore as the fire devoureth the stubble and the flame consumeth the chaff."

Go back Mrs. Burton Harrison: American writer Constance Cary (Mrs. Burton) Harrison (1843-1920) was born in Virginia of distinguished families: Lord Fairfax of Virginia was one of her ancestors and her father was a great nephew of Thomas Jefferson. She married lawyer Burton Harrison (a relative of both presidents Harrison) in 1867. One of her first successful stories was Golden Rod, an Idyll of Mount Desert (1879), set in Bar Harbor, Maine, where the Harrisons had a summer place. Mrs. Harrison wrote mostly stories of New York society life and stories of the old South. She also wrote a few plays; one of them, The Unwelcome Mrs. Hatch (1901) was made into a silent film (1914) starring Henrietta Crossman.

Mrs. Harrison's story Crow's Nest (c. 1892) may have inspired the title of Cather's short story, "The Count of Crow's Nest" (1896).

Go back bachelor maid . . . relatives: Mrs. Burton Harrison's novel, A Bachelor Maid (1894) was serialized first in the Century magazine that year. Marion Irving, daughter of Judge Irving, breaks with young lawyer Alec Gordon in order to devote herself to women's rights with her friend and former teacher, Sara Mills Stauffer.

Go back The Century: The Century magazine was one of the leading American magazines of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It began as Scribner's Monthly in 1870, but management disputes led to the withdrawal of Charles Scribner, of the publishing firm of Charles Scribner's Sons; the magazine was renamed The Century in 1880, and Richard Watson Gilder, who had been associate editor of Scribner's, became the chief editor. The magazine prided itself on its illustrations and on publishing American fiction and historical articles.

Several of Cather's stories were published by Century, most notably the serialized version of A Lost Lady (1923).

Go back Washington Square: The area which is now Washington Square, at the end of Fifth Avenue in the Greenwich Village area of New York City, was a cemetery between 1797 and 1823, when it was designated as a public park; the fountain was built in 1853. The park was redesigned in 1871, and the area surrounding it became a fashionable residential neighborhood. A statue of Italian liberator Guiseppe Garibaldi was built in 1888, and a memorial arch, designed by Stanford White in honor of the centennial of George Washington's inauguration as president, was built of wood and plaster in 1889 and rebuilt in marble in 1892.

By the early twentieth century the fine old houses were being broken up into apartments; Cather and her friend Edith Lewis shared an apartment on Washington Square after Cather moved to New York in 1906. The Square is featured in Cather's 1920 story, "Coming, Aphrodite!"

Go back the 400: The Four Hundred was the name for the elite of New York society in the late nineteenth century, supposedly after the number of people worthy to fit in Mrs. William B. Astor's ballroom. The term is said to have been coined by New York social arbiter Ward McAllister (1827-1895).

Go back London News: Probably the Illustrated London News, founded in 1842 by Herbert Ingram (1811-1860) as the first weekly paper to feature pictures of news and society events; the illustrations were wood engravings until the introduction of the half-tone process made photographic images fast and inexpensive. George Cruikshank and H. K. Browne were two of the many artists who worked on illustrations; prose contributors included Robert Louis Stephenson, J. M. Barrie, Conan Doyle, and Rudyard Kipling.

Another possibility is the Daily News of London, a newspaper begun in 1834 by Charles Dickens. It became a leading exponent of Liberal principles, with contributors such as Harriet Martineau, George Bernard Shaw, and H. G. Wells. The paper was bought by George Cadbury in 1901, then merged with the Daily Chronicle in 1930 as the News Chronicle, which was absorbed by the Daily Mail in 1960.

Go back Princess May (Victoria Mary) of Teck: The Princess May (Victoria Mary) of Teck (1867-1953) was the daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Teck; her mother was a grandchild of George III, and Queen Victoria was one of her godmothers. She was engaged to marry the Duke of Clarence, Queen Victoria's eldest grandson, when he died in early 1892. The queen arranged Princess May's marriage to the Duke of Clarence's brother, the Duke of York (the future George V) in July 1893. They became a devoted couple, rescuing the royal family from the scandals of the past. Princess May became Queen Mary in 1910; she was the mother of the future Edward VIII (1894-1972) and George VI (1895-1952), and grandmother of Elizabeth II (1926-).

Go back Harper's: Harper's New Monthly Magazine first appeared in 1850, making it the second oldest magazine still published in the U.S. At first it reprinted material from Great Britain, but it soon began publishing the works of American writers as well, devoting itself to literature, culture, the arts, and politics. It has had many distinguished contributors. The name was changed to Harper's Monthly Magazine in 1913, then to Harper's Magazine in 1976. Charles Dudley Warner (1829-1900) was the editor in the 1890s.

Go back one great work: Cather is probably referring to George Du Maurier's novel, Trilby, serialized in Harper's New Monthly Magazine from January to August 1894. The story was controversial because of the "immoral" nature of the lives of the artists and artists' models which it depicted. Cather had praised the novel in her 16 September 1894 column.

Go back tree of the knowledge of good and evil: In chapters two and three of Genesis, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was set in the middle of the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat of it, the one restriction imposed on them by God. The serpent tempted Eve (and then Adam) to eat of the forbidden fruit, thereby bringing sin and death into the world.

Go back Count Bozenta: Karol (Charles) Bozenta Chlapowski (d. 1914) married actress Helena Modjeska in 1868. He was apparently of aristocratic origin, but the title of Count was bestowed on him in America. A Polish nationalist, he spent a year in prison for his political beliefs; trouble with the authorities may have been part of the reason for their emigration to the U.S. in 1876. Bozenta became Modjeska's personal manager, traveling with her throughout her career.

Go back Modjeska: Helena Modjeska (1840 or 1844—sources differ) was born in Cracow, Poland, and went on stage in 1861; the name by which she is best known is a simplified version of her Polish stage name. She was acclaimed as the greatest Polish actress, but emigrated to a ranch in Orange County, California, in 1876 with her husband, Karol Chlapowski, a minor Polish nobleman; the titles of Count and Countess appear to have been bestowed on them later. Modjeska learned English quickly enough to make her American stage debut in 1877 and soon became one of the best known and most respected actresses in the country, known for her historical and Shakespearean roles as well as the modern emotional dramas. She retired in 1907 and died in 1909.

Modjeska appears in Cather's My Mortal Enemy (1926).

Image available at the New York Public Library Digital Gallery and the University of Washington Libraries Digital Collections.

Helena Modjeska as Ophelia Helena Modjeska

Go back her famous California ranch: In 1887, Modjeska and her husband bought land in Orange County, California, adjacent to a ranch in which he had a half-interest. They purchased the remaining ranch and additional land in 1888; other purchases eventually brought the size of the estate to over thirteen hundred acres. Architect Stanford White was commissioned to remodel and expand the existing cottage on the land in 1888: they called their estate "Arden" after the forest in Shakespeare's As You Like It. It was sold in 1906.

Go back take thy lute, good wench: In Act III, scene 1, Queen Katharine and her ladies are working (sewing), and Katharine says, Take thy lute, wench: my soul grows sad with troubles;Sing, and disperse 'em, if thou canst: leave working.

Go back Henry VIII: THIS NOTE IS REPEATING REF.#928 AND WE ARE NOT USING IT.One of Shakespeare's last plays, The Life of Henry the Eighth (c. 1612) concerns plots and counterplots at the court of Henry VIII and the marriage and divorce of Henry and Katharine of Aragon, his eventual marriage to Anne Boleyn, and the birth of the future Queen Elizabeth. Cardinal Wolsey, Henry's Chancellor, who is plotting to become pope, is the villain of the piece; both Katharine and Anne are sympathetically portrayed.

Go back Lansing Theatre: The Lansing Theater, on the southwest corner of 13th and P Streets, was built in 1891, displacing the Funke Opera House as the largest and finest theater in Lincoln. The owners were J.F. Lansing (b. 1842), a Lincoln real estate man, and his brother-in-law Henry Oliver (b. 1857); Edward A. Church was the manager. According to the program of the opening week (November 23-28, 1891) the auditorium consisted of the orchestra and parquet seating on the main level, with dress circle at the rear and sides; three tiers of five boxes each and six loges were at the sides. Above were the balcony and the gallery. With standing room, about 2500 people could be present.

The building also housed offices, including that of Cather's friend and fellow reviewer, Dr. Julius H. Tyndale. It was renamed the Oliver Theater in 1898.

The Oliver Theater, Lincoln, Nebraska. The theater was originally named The Lansing Theater.

Go back two years ago: Modjeska toured American 1892-94.

Go back Chopin: Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849), born in Poland, was a child prodigy on the piano and as a composer. After his musical education in Poland, he went to Paris in 1831, where he established himself as a pianist playing his own compositions, and then as a teacher, performing in public less and less. His affair with George Sand (which she depicted in the autobiographical Lucrezia Floriani) began in 1838, but his health—he was diagnosed with consumption—began to deteriorate. However, many of his greatest works were composed in summers at her home in Nohant over most of the next nine years.

Go back Catherine: Cather refers to Modjeska's playing of Katherine (or Catherine) of Aragon in Shakespeare's Henry VIII

Go back "Gloriana": Gloriana; a light comedy in three acts premiered in London in 1891, adapted by James Mortimer from a French original. The New York opening was February 15, 1892, and starred Henrietta Crossman. In the play, the hero changes place with his valet, Spinks, to enter the service of a dashing widow, Gloriana Lovering whom he admires, and to avoid an engagement to the daughter of a vulgar tanner, who turns out to be Gloriana's landlord. Her Cockney maid, Kitty, had once been deserted by Spinks, and Gloriana herself is engaged to a Russian count.

The New York Times reviewer said "the salacious French original is clearly seen through the flimsy work of the adaptor. The dialog is not tedious, but it is not witty" (February 16, 1892).

Cather wrote two reviews of this play: 10 January 1894 and 9 October 1894

Go back Charley's Aunt: This farce by Brandon Thomas (d. 1914) opened in London in 1892, and in New York October 2, 1893. Two Oxford undergraduates in love need a chaperone for an intimate lunch with their sweethearts. When Charley's aunt from Brazil is delayed, they press a fellow undergraduate into the role, complicated when the real aunt arrives unexpectedly.

The play has been a favorite, especially for amateur and small professional productions ever since it was written. It was made into a silent film in 1925 starring Syd Chaplin; an early talkie in 1930, starring Charles Ruggles; another film in 1941 starring Jack Benny and Kay Francis; a musical, "Where's Charley" starring Ray Bolger, and a Playhouse 90 television production.

Go back unrecognized fils naturel: A natural (out of wedlock) son who has not been acknowledged by his father.

Go back Duke of Bonnyclaber: An imaginary title: bonnyclabber is an Irish name for a drink made of beer and buttermilk; in the northeastern U.S. it was thick sour milk flavored with cream and sweeteners such as sugar, honey, or molasses. Ben Jonson in The New Inn (Act I, scene 3) referred to the drink as "bonny-clapper." James Joyce used the word in chapter 14 of Ulysses: "No dollop this, but thick rich bonnyclaber."

Go back Manager Charles H. Yale: Charles H. Yale was the creator of the The Devil's Auction, a spectacular play consisting of specialty acts and transformation scenes. In the 1890s he toured with another spectacular production, W. J. Gilmore's Temptations.

Go back the other place: An euphemism for Hell.

Go back Windsor Castle: Windsor Castle is a residence of the royal family of Great Britain. The first castle was built on the site by William the Conqueror in the late 11th century. It has been rebuilt in stone and enlarged and enriched over the centuries: it is said to be the largest occupied castle in the world. Queen Victoria spent much of her time there; she opened the State Apartments to viewing by the public in 1845.

Go back Prince of Wales: Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (1841-1910), was the eldest son of Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert. As a young prince of Wales, he was the first member of the British royal family to visit the U.S., where he was very popular. He was married to Princess Alexandra of Denmark in 1863; they had six children. Kept by his mother from any part of government, he developed a reputation as a playboy. Lillie Langtry was one of his mistresses. He became King Edward VII upon his mother's death in 1901.

Go back chubby little gentleman: A topical allusion to someone in Lincoln.

Go back Prince of Füerstenberg: The Fürstenbergs were an ancient German family, important in German history as soldiers, statesmen, and churchmen: the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica quotes a saying, "The emperor fights no great battle but a Fürstenberg falls." There were two main branches: that of Fürstenberg-Donauschingen, which was represented in 1894 by Prince Karl Egon III (d. 1896), who would be succeeded by his cousin, Prince Maximilian Egon (b. 1863). The other line, that of Fürstenberg-Knigshof of Bohemia, was represented by Prince Emil Egon (b. 1876).


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