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Five Minute Talks With Girls, By Helena M. Maguire


“Our lives are not laid out in vast, vague prairies, but in definite, domestic door-yards, within which we are to exercise and develop our facilities.”

Many of us never go outside our own “door-yards,” but to those who do there clings always the odor of that which has grown therein, and they are individualized for us either by the fragrance of a bloom-filled life or by the tang which tells of a domestic barrenness. Thus there is a peculiar charm for girl-students in those musicians whose early lives were permeated with a sister’s love and influence.

Samuel Johnson, writing to a young friend, said: “I, who never had a sister, look with a kind of innocent envy on those who may be said to have been born to friends.” Those musicians who were “born to friends” were, indeed, fortunate. They worked and produced under an influence at once healthy and beautiful, and their genius has escaped the taint of solitude and been saved from one-sidedness through having felt the touch of sympathy and the aid of recognition without having to await the formal avowal of a slow and skeptic world.

Mozart’s sister “Nannerl,” Mendelssohn’s sister Fanny, Chopin’s sister Emilie, Clara Wieck’s sister Marie, Adeline Patti’s sister Carlotta, these are a few of that great “sisterhood” who, while they never attained to the first rank of genius, and are remembered only as they “went in twain” with their greater kin, were nevertheless girls of great musical ability and deeply cultured, having studied far more strenuously than many girls now study who expect nothing less than immortal fame as their reward.

While the influence which these girls exerted upon music was indirect, it was, notwithstanding, of sterling quality, and music is none the less under a debt of gratitude to them because they wrought upon a musician rather than upon a staff-ruled page, and gave their sweetness and wisdom to a maker of music instead of attempting to weld it into shape themselves.

Mozart’s and Mendelssohn’s lives, while not without the vicissitudes we all must know, are particularly happy lives to read. Chopin lost his sister Emilie in the first flush of her young womanhood, and the contrast between their boyhood and girlhood together, when they wrote plays in collaboration and acted them for the amusement of their father’s pupils, organized with gay pomposity a pigmy literary club, of which Frederic was president and Emilie secretary, and edited a journal in which Frederic dubbed himself “M. Pichou,” and wrote droll critiques on his own appearances as a pianist,—all this happy boy-life contrasted with Chopin “grown-up,” Chopin the lonely, invalid dreamer, the Alfred de Musset of music, is as the contrast between a story of Louisa Alcott’s and one by George Sand,—the one bright, healthy, and normal, the other false to nature, unhealthy, abnormal,—and makes one feel that, if Emilie Chopin had lived, some, at least, of the happy conditions with which her brother’s life began would have been spared to him, and his music have come down to us free from the taint of morbidness.

To have a sister during early youth is good; the merry study together, the earnest work in collaboration, the constant “give and take,” leave an impress on the character which never quite fades. But to have a sister as one grows toward maturity is better still. Youth is to youth the heroic age; given youth and genius together, the result is apt to be a mixture of marvels and absurdities, pride that is out of all proportion to present achievement, and the first awkward attempts of genius to use its wings, which never fail to make the world laugh. The world is always more ready to laugh at promise than to believe in it, and oh, how that laughter hurts!

As a person of many vanities, the genius may be a great joke to his sister, but, while not blind to his nonsense, she is, at the same time, very clear-sighted as to its worth; as a being full of the vitality of immortal genius, destined to live forever in music, she sees him through all the conditions yet to be outgrown, and although she may know that, whatever victories he may win and bear aloft in triumph, there are things just as precious which will be lost or left to trail in the dust, still she holds him to what she thinks him capable of becoming, gives her strength to prop his weakness, and believes in him, even when he loses faith in himself. This is when it is good for genius to have a sister, and when it is good for music, if he be able to say, as Mahomet said of Cadijah: “She believed in me when others despised me.”

It has been said, and truly, I think, that no gift passes between human creatures so divine as the gift of recognition, and while it is true that “those in whom there is most to recognize have most need of recognition,” so also it is true that there is not one of us who has not need of it, and who has not the duty growing out of this fact, of giving due recognition to the worth that is in others. Whether we ever go outside our own door-yards or not, it is good for ourselves and good for music, which we have undertaken to serve, to consider this need for recognition in everyone, and, rather than work for selfish aims and ideals, to reach out to the lives that are struggling upward beside us, to give, even as a “sister of music,” and to remember that we do not always lose an advantage when we dispense with it for the good of others.


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