In 1887 I visited Boston for the first time professionally. I had begun my Wagnerian lecture 밤전 recitals in New York a year or two before, and they had spread like wildfire in all directions. The enthusiasm for Wagner, which had been kindled into a bright flame by my father’s founding of German opera at the Metropolitan Opera House, had produced a wide-spread desire for better acquaintance with Wagner’s music and his theories regarding the music-drama.
I received an invitation from a group of Boston women, including Mrs. John L. Gardner, Mrs. O. B. Frothingham, Mrs. George Tyson, and Mrs. Henry Whitman, to give my lecture recitals on the “Nibelungen Trilogy.”
Boston at that time occupied a unique position as the only city in America which possessed a permanent orchestra, maintained by Major Henry Lee Higginson, for the cultivation of symphonic music. A small group of highly educated and socially prominent Bostonians, belonging to the oldest New England families, made this orchestra almost the focus of their social life. The weekly concerts were the great events, the programmes eagerly discussed, and its conductor, Wilhelm Gericke, was alternately cursed or blessed according to their attitude toward some novelty which he had just produced.
Among this group I was made heartily welcome. The atmosphere was intensely local, if not provincial, and as against the searching, feverish life of a great metropolis like New York, with its many conflicting interests and racial currents, the tranquillity and purely American quality of Boston life, as it presented itself to me, was a complete contrast. I am speaking of Boston of thirty-five years ago and of conditions that have to a certain extent disappeared, for to-day even the young descendants of the New Englanders of that era seem to find their pleasures in different and more restless fashion.
In the group of which I have spoken, Mrs. Gardner was among the most original and fascinating. She was certainly the leaven in the Boston lump and sometimes shocked the more staid element by her innovations and interest in more modern currents in art and literature than had hitherto rippled its calm Emersonian surface. Boston was at that time perhaps the best example of that typically American musical culture of which I have spoken elsewhere, which instead of growing upward from the masses was carefully introduced and nurtured by an aristocratic and cultivated community through symphony concerts and lectures on music. Its original impulse sprang perhaps more from the head than the heart, but it would not be fair therefore to say that New Englanders approached music only from the intellectual standpoint. I have seen very emotional outbursts among Boston audiences, both at my Wagner recitals and years after when I returned with the Damrosch Opera Company to give the Wagner music-dramas. While it is possible that they felt heartily ashamed of these enthusiasms afterward, and exclaimed, “Is this Boston?” the fact remains that even a Bostonian is human, like other Americans, and needs only to be encouraged to prove that he too has a heart which can beat warmly and respond to the emotions kindled by art.
Their capacity for friendship in the finest sense of the word is wonderful, and I achieved many of my dearest friends at that time. We have all grown much older since then, with the exception of Mrs. Gardner, on whom the years leave no imprint and whose enthusiasms for life and art flame just as brightly to-day as then.
I was certainly very young in those days, and remember, after one of my lectures, which had gone off with great enthusiasm, walking along Boylston Street toward my hotel, thinking in my young conceit that I was evidently a good deal of a personage, when I saw that the street was filled with crowds of people and the police were making a passage with difficulty so as to allow an open carriage, drawn by two horses, to pass through. In it sat a rather stout, smooth-shaven gentleman with a very shiny high silk hat, and the people were cheering him like mad. “Who is this?” I asked a bystander. He gave me a contemptuous look and stopped cheering just long enough to say: “Don’t you know John L. Sullivan when you see him?” I accepted the rebuke meekly and entered my hotel a much more modest man than I had left it a few hours before. John L. Sullivan, “Boston’s greatest citizen,” had just come home from a fight in London, but I do not know to this day whether he had won or lost.