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XLIX. the missing musical woman.

There is just now a revival of the anxious inquiry after an eminent composer of music among women. Mr. Upton, in a book upon the subject, and Mr. Upton's numerous critics, are all discussing the matter with eager interest, and give a great many ingenious reasons for what is, to careful students of the intellectual history of woman, a very simple affair. Such students are usually brought to the conviction that the difference between the sexes in point of intellect is not a question of comparative quantity or quality, but simply of time. It is a matter of acceleration and retardation. In all arts, for certain reasons not hard to discover, the eminence of women is a later historical development than that of men. It is one of those “precious things discovered late,” --of which Tennyson writes; and this tardiness would certainly be provoking had it not come to pass, under the doctrine of evolution, that the latest things are apt to be recognized as the most precious throughout all nature. Up to the time of George Sand or George Eliot it had not seemed possible that a woman [250] could be a great novelist, or up to the time of Elizabeth Barrett Browning that she could be a great poet, or up to the time of Rosa Bonheur a great painter, or up to the days of Mrs. Siddons and Rachel a great actor, or until Mrs. Somerville's day a great scientific writer. Even to the present time, for some reason, the corresponding figure among musical composers has not appeared, and any speculations on this point may have a certain value. Of course some particular sphere must come last in women's successive advances, and it is interesting to inquire why that sphere should be music. But the inquiry should always proceed in connection with such facts as those already stated-facts indicating that it is not at all a case of proved incapacity, but only of admitted delay.

The general cause of the delay, in all these cases, is essentially the same: it lies partly in specific disadvantages and partly in general repression. Women have never yet been trained on any large scale, as men are trained, in the science of music. They have been and still are trained as amateurs only; and I can distinctly remember when the study of harmony or counterpoint was considered as clearly unwomanly as that of Greek. Where, in spite of this, a woman came of a musical stock, and showed positive marks of genius, she was still held to a subordinate and almost suppressed position — as in the [251] striking case of Fanny Mendelssohn, who was only encouraged by her family to compose so long as her beautiful compositions passed under her brother's name and helped to swell his fame. When she proposed to publish for herself, she was regarded by her family as unsexing herself. Is that the way genius is developed among men? Genius in men is watched for, helped, trained, supported, furnished with prizes and incentives. The fact that we give it all these aids is proof that genius needs them; withdraw the aids, and it suffers, or if it excels it will be still at a great disadvantage, and fall short of its full success. High English scientific authority has said that we never shall know how much science lost by the almost total early neglect of the rare powers of Mary Somerville. We know as little what the musical world lost by the domestic repression of Fanny Mendelssohn. We do not even know, as the latest biographer of the family admits, which of her brother's published “Songs without words” she composed. It may have been the very finest, and her genius may have been intrinsically greater than his.

Mr. Upton gives us a list of four women composers in the seventeenth century, twenty-seven in the eighteenth, and seventeen in the nineteenth. It is an obvious and significant fact that most of these are German; and here we have a further suggestion as to the backwardness of women in music. The [252] great musical nation of the world is also the civilized nation where the relative intellectual position of woman is lowest, and where she shares least in the current educational advantages of all kinds. Among the eminent women above enumerated as pioneers in other intellectual spheres not one was German; we do not know that George Sand, or George Eliot, or Mrs. Browning, or Rosa Bonheur, or Rachel, or Mrs. Somerville, would ever have raised her head above the surrounding obstacles had she had the ill-luck to be born near the Rhine. Even in France there is no Salique Law in intellect; compare, for instance, the five ample volumes of Histoire Litteraire des Femnmes Francaises, published by a Societe de Gens de Lettres as early as 1769, with any similar work in German. Had England or France been a great musical nation, the opportunities of women in this respect would have been far greater than they are to-day.

It is a comfort to know that, even in Germany, if women have not composed great music in their own names, they have at least, so to speak, composed the composers-through their influence on them-and thus fulfilled what Cotton Mather thought the high function of the president of a university-to train those who were to train others--non lapides dolare, sed architectos. Thus Beethoven, who never married, but was twice rejected, dedicated thirtynine [253] compositions to thirty-six different women, and Schumann almost as many; while most of the great composers were also ardent lovers, and sometimes only too versatile in their love affairs. It is interesting to learn also from Mr. Upton that while women have been inferior to men as instrumental performers, they have quite surpassed them as singers — the list of women renowned as vocalists being both longer and weightier than that of men.

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