INTEREST IN THE ARTS
From: How to Live on 24 Hours a Day
Many people pursue a regular and uninterrupted course of idleness in
the evenings because they think that there is no alternative to
idleness but the study of literature; and they do not happen to have
a taste for literature. This is a great mistake.
Of course it is impossible, or at any rate very difficult, properly
to study anything whatever without the aid of printed books. But if
you desire to understand the deeper depths of bridge or of boat-
sailing you would not be deterred by your lack of interest in
literature from reading the best books on bridge or boat-sailing.
We must, therefore, distinguish between literature, and books
treating of subjects not literary. I shall come to literature in
Let me now remark to those who have never read Meredith, and who are
capable of being unmoved by a discussion as to whether Mr. Stephen
Phillips is or is not a true poet, that they are perfectly within
their rights. It is not a crime not to love literature. It is not a
sign of imbecility. The mandarins of literature will order out to
instant execution the unfortunate individual who does not
comprehend, say, the influence of Wordsworth on Tennyson. But that
is only their impudence. Where would they be, I wonder, if
requested to explain the influences that went to make Tschaikowsky's
There are enormous fields of knowledge quite outside literature
which will yield magnificent results to cultivators. For example
(since I have just mentioned the most popular piece of high-class
music in England to-day), I am reminded that the Promenade Concerts
begin in August. You go to them. You smoke your cigar or cigarette
(and I regret to say that you strike your matches during the soft
bars of the "Lohengrin" overture), and you enjoy the music. But you
say you cannot play the piano or the fiddle, or even the banjo; that
you know nothing of music.
What does that matter? That you have a genuine taste for music is
proved by the fact that, in order to fill his hall with you and your
peers, the conductor is obliged to provide programmes from which bad
music is almost entirely excluded (a change from the old Covent
Now surely your inability to perform "The Maiden's Prayer" on a
piano need not prevent you from making yourself familiar with the
construction of the orchestra to which you listen a couple of nights
a week during a couple of months! As things are, you probably think
of the orchestra as a heterogeneous mass of instruments producing a
confused agreeable mass of sound. You do not listen for details
because you have never trained your ears to listen to details.
If you were asked to name the instruments which play the great theme
at the beginning of the C minor symphony you could not name them for
your life's sake. Yet you admire the C minor symphony. It has
thrilled you. It will thrill you again. You have even talked about
it, in an expansive mood, to that lady--you know whom I mean. And
all you can positively state about the C minor symphony is that
Beethoven composed it and that it is a "jolly fine thing."
Now, if you have read, say, Mr. Krehbiel's "How to Listen to Music"
(which can be got at any bookseller's for less than the price of a
stall at the Alhambra, and which contains photographs of all the
orchestral instruments and plans of the arrangement of orchestras)
you would next go to a promenade concert with an astonishing
intensification of interest in it. Instead of a confused mass, the
orchestra would appear to you as what it is--a marvellously balanced
organism whose various groups of members each have a different and
an indispensable function. You would spy out the instruments, and
listen for their respective sounds. You would know the gulf that
separates a French horn from an English horn, and you would perceive
why a player of the hautboy gets higher wages than a fiddler, though
the fiddle is the more difficult instrument. You would *live* at a
promenade concert, whereas previously you had merely existed there
in a state of beatific coma, like a baby gazing at a bright object.
The foundations of a genuine, systematic knowledge of music might be
laid. You might specialise your inquiries either on a particular
form of music (such as the symphony), or on the works of a
particular composer. At the end of a year of forty-eight weeks of
three brief evenings each, combined with a study of programmes and
attendances at concerts chosen out of your increasing knowledge, you
would really know something about music, even though you were as far
off as ever from jangling "The Maiden's Prayer" on the piano.
"But I hate music!" you say. My dear sir, I respect you.
What applies to music applies to the other arts. I might mention
Mr. Clermont Witt's "How to Look at Pictures," or Mr. Russell
Sturgis's "How to Judge Architecture," as beginnings (merely
beginnings) of systematic vitalising knowledge in other arts, the
materials for whose study abound in London.
"I hate all the arts!" you say. My dear sir, I respect you more and
I will deal with your case next, before coming to literature.
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