Cardinal Newman as a Musician

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Excerpt It is a remark of St. Philip Neri's latest biographer that, "Our Saint was profoundly convinced that there is in music and in song a mysterious and a mighty power to stir the heart with high and noble emotion, and an especial fitness to raise it above sense to the love of heavenly things." In like manner the Saint's illustrious son, Cardinal Newman, has spoken of "the emotion which some gentle, peaceful strain excites in us," and "how soul and body are rapt and carried away captive by the concord of musical sounds where the ear is open to their power;" how, too, "music is the expression of ideas greater and more profound than any in the visible world, ideas which centre, indeed, in Him whom Catholicism manifests, who is the seat of all beauty, order, and perfection whatever." Music, then, to him was no "mere ingenuity or trick of art like some game or fashion of the day without meaning." For him man "sweeps the strings and they thrill with an ecstatic meaning." "Is it possible," he asks, "that that inexhaustible evolution and disposition of notes, so rich yet so simple, so intricate yet so regulated, so various yet so majestic, should be a mere sound which is gone and perishes? Can it be that those mysterious stirrings of heart, and keen emotions, and strange yearnings after we know not what, and awful impressions from we know not whence, should be wrought in us by what is unsubstantial, and comes and goes, and begins and ends in itself. It is not so; it cannot be. No; they have escaped from some higher sphere; they are the outpourings of eternal harmony in the medium of created sound; they are echoes from our home; they are the voice of angels, or the Magnificat of saints, or the living laws of Divine governance, or the Divine attributes, something are they beside themselves, which we cannot compass, which we cannot utter." And with him, as with St. Philip, may we not say that music held "a foremost place in his thoughts and plans"? True, out of its place, he will but allow that "playing musical instruments is an elegant pastime, and a resource to the idle." Music and "stuffing birds" were no conceivable substitutes for education properly so called, any more than a "Tamworth Reading-Room" system could be the panacea for every ill; but so long as an art in any given case did not tend to displace the more serious business of life; should it become for such an one an "aid to reflection," or, per contra, profitably distract him; in brief, if it anywise helped a soul on to her journey's end, then welcome the "good and perfect gift." Thus, of a pupil's violin playing, September, 1865: "There are more important things, and I had some fear that he might be neglecting his proper studies. Now since he has not been, his music is all gain.... To my mind music is an important part of education, where boys have a turn for it. It is a great resource when they are thrown on the world, it is a social amusement perfectly innocent, and, what is so great a point, employs their thoughts. Drawing does not do this. It is often a great point for a boy to escape from himself, and music enables him. He cannot be playing difficult passages on the violin, and thinking of anything else." Perhaps he was speaking from experience, for he told us in September, 1875: "I began the violin when I was ten years old," and his two brothers used to accompany him in trios, Frank playing "the bass." On going to Oxford he kept up his music. Thus in February, 1820: "Our music club at St. John's has been offered, and has accepted, the music-room, for our weekly private concerts;" and later: "I went to the R's to play the difficult first violin to Haydn, Mozart, &c.;" and in June, 1820: "I was asked by a man yesterday to go to his rooms for a little music at seven o'clock. I went. An old Don—a very good-natured man but too fond of music—played bass, and through his enthusiasm I was kept playing quartets on a heavy tenor from seven to twelve. Oh, my poor eyes and head and back." When the news arrived of his success at Oriel he was practising music. "The Provost's butler—to whom it fell by usage to take the news to the fortunate candidate—made his way to Mr. Newman's lodgings in Broad Street, and found him playing the violin. This in itself disconcerted the messenger, who did not associate such an accomplishment with a candidateship for the Oriel Common-Room, but his perplexity was increased when on his delivering what may be considered to have been his usual form of speech on such occasions, that 'he had, he feared, disagreeable news to announce, viz., that Mr. Newman was elected Fellow of Oriel, and that his immediate presence was required there,' the person addressed merely answered, 'Very well,' and went on fiddling. This led the man to ask whether, perhaps, he had not gone to the wrong person, to which Mr. Newman replied that it was all right. But, as may be imagined, no sooner had the man left than he flung down his instrument and dashed downstairs." And again, "With a half-malicious intent of frightening them (his electors at Oriel), it was told them that Mr. Newman had for years belonged to a club of instrumental music, and had himself taken part in its public performances, a diversion, innocent in itself, but scarcely in keeping, or in sympathy with an intellectual Common-Room, or promising a satisfactory career to a nascent Fellow of Oriel." So thought the quidnuncs; nevertheless, Mr. Newman "went on fiddling." His pupil, F. Rogers (the late Lord Blachford), joined him herein, and writes, January, 1834: "Your sermons ......
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