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The question of the curfew whistle is again being agitated, and people are seriously discussing whether municipal law should have anything to say about what time boys should quit the streets at night. There is no doubt at all that there is an hour at which all boys should quit the streets, nor is there any doubt that a city should have a certain amount of control over its citizens and prospective citizens. But to say actually at what hours any one dare not be seen abroad savors entirely too much of the original curfew, the Doomsday Book and all the rest of it. There are obvious advantages in a paternal government, but ours is not one. In Russia a man's whole life is regulated by the government in order that he may be prevented from misdemeanor, but here civil authority cannot handle wrong conduct until it reaches the criminal point. Preventive measures mark the methods of paternal governments.
Any periodical that should omit some comment upon Li Hung-Chang, the great Asiatic statesman, whose presence in this country has given a new lease of life to the comic newspapers, and who has been such a fertile source of inspiration to jaded cartoonists, would incur the charge of uniqueness. Much has been written and said of the great Chinaman's reputation as a warrior, a statesman and a diplomat, but little comment has been made upon his literary and scholastic reputation which, in his own country at least, is the source of all his power and achievement.
The government of China is practically a literary aristocracy. The person of the Emperor is sacred, and in his case the "majesty which doth hedge about a king" consists of impenetrable walls of stone. He is more of a tradition than a personal face, and very few of the throned powers of Europe even know his name. Even his own subjects know nothing of his personal opinions on any subject. He is quite as dead as his Heaven-born ancestors who have been sleeping in their lacquered tombs for forty centuries. With a monarch whose power is so sacred that he seldom uses it, with no hereditary nobility, the power of state falls into the hands of the literary class. The whole standard of merit is scholarship, and scholarship of the Chinese order which means exclusively a knowledge of the Chinese sages. Any man who is brilliant enough may rise to the highest offices of state. Politics, commerce, civil government and military tactics are controlled entirely by the cannons of literature. The ministers of state and the generals of the armies are selected solely with reference to their literary ability. When one realizes the full force of this condition, one wonders that Chinese civilization is as good as it is, and marvels at the fact that the great Empire has held together since further back than the memory of Europe can reach.
If Western civilization ever affects the existing conditions in China to any appreciable extent, it will only be by weakening the power of the scholars of the Empire. The littérateurs appreciate to some extent their advantages and naturally oppose the intrusion of Occidental ideas which would very soon hale them from their high estate as leaders of armies and ministers of the Empire, and place them in the class with all troubadours and troupers and—montebanks, only, perhaps, it would call them by a kinder name.
After many conflicting rumors Madame Nordica is with us again, although not under Mr. Grau's management. It is evident enough that with the other enormous salaries he is forced to pay Grau cannot afford to pay Nordica the $1,000 a night which she demands. But it is also evident that as long as Mr. Grau pays foreign sopranos $1,500 a night Mme. Nordica would be doing herself an injustice to cut her price. Undoubtedly she was one of the most useful members of the metropolitan company last year, her repertoire including both German and Italian opera, being able to sing at a moment's notice almost any role, from Elsa to Aida. And yet Mr. Grau could not re-engage her and pay her her price because the American people simply will not pay to hear an artist of their own country who commands for us the respect of other nations and helps to take away from us the reproach of barrenness in art, as they will to hear one who speaks a foreign tongue. It is not the prophet alone who is without honor in his own land.
Americans are noted for their prodigality in all matters of expenditure. They pay recklessly for everything, and for their amusements in proportion. The failure of the great impressarios Abbey and Grau this spring reminded us how impossible it is to sustain grand opera in this country while we pay the singers five and six times the salaries they receive in Europe. We pay most unprecedented prices for all theatrical performances, but those we pay for the opera are simply fabulous. The actual situation is just this: America has become the gold field for foreign artists. They demand from us five and six times the salary they do from any other nation on earth and they do not do as good work. Here are the figures: In Paris Melba sings for $200 a night, in America she demands $1,600, just eight times as much. Jean de Reszke gets $1,200 a night here; in London he is glad to get $500 and seldom receives more than $200. We pay Calvé, Plançon, Maurel, Nordica and Eames five times the salary they command in Europe. Now why? The whole attitude of flippant contempt which foreign artists have toward us may be explained by this. It is a grovelling acknowledgment of our conscious inferiority and lack of taste. It is simply the ruination of our operatic managers.
Not that the singers themselves are much to blame for despising America and demanding more money here than elsewhere. How could they help despising a country where the amount of their salary is a better advertisement than the perfection of their art? Actually, it is a fact that half of us go to hear Melba much more because she receives $1,600 a night than because the greatest voice in all the world lies in that white throat of hers. This method of literally burying these people in gold is not for their good any more than for ours. It is a servile homage which belittles him who gives and him who takes. In Europe these prima donnas are singers, living that they may achieve; in America they are adventuresses seeking their fortunes. Our own lust of gold seems to fasten itself upon even the most serene of those great spirits. Rubinstein completely broke his health by racing all over the vast continent of North America and gathering in gold. The rigorous toil of young Josef Hoffman's American tour almost killed the boy. Paderewski, greedy as the rest, tried to fill so many engagements that at the end of last season he returned to Europe a nervous invalid, and it is not assured that he will ever regain his old vigor of execution. Our brutal, barbarous adoration has broken more than one of those frail musical glasses and crushed the finer essence from more than one great soul.
And yet, after all our blundering homage, these fair divas only flout us for our pains, and tell us to our face that they only endure us for our money. We are very like a certain dotard monarch who was enamoured of a fair captive whom no gifts could melt or satisfy. And when he even gave her his crown from his brow she only laughed at his bald head.
The death of Prince Alexis Lobanoff of Russia promises to be of more than usual importance in its political effects. The Prince has for some fifty years of active public service stood valiantly for the peace of Europe. Ile has conducted the most important negotiations between Russia and France, and has constantly avoided hostilities in regard to the Eastern question, trying to keep the Russian influence constant over the Asiatic nations without openly trespassing on either English or French possessions. The death of the Prince occurred in the Czar's private railway train near Keif on the return journey from the visit of the Czar and Czarina to the Emperor and Empress at Vienna.