The Friendship of Art

by Bliss Carman


To "Moonshine"

 

    THERE is a delightful Oriental superstition, my dear “Moonshine,” which declares that on the last day every artist will be called upon to endow each of his creations with a soul. I should be the last one to feel perfect confidence in denying the possibility of such a fancy, or in affirming that only living beings can have real personality. I prefer to believe with the Greeks that every stream and tree has its own indwelling divinity, a spiritual as well as a material identity, bestowed upon it by the Creator to be the informing principle of its growth and beauty. Why, then, may we not think that the creative work of men’s hands is imbued with a similar essence, — that every abode, like every shrine, is pervaded by its distinct and individual tutelary presence? [Page v]

    At the very writing of your name in the inditing of this dedication, you seem something more than a mere house of wood in the green forest. I seem to myself to be addressing a beloved friend, sure of sympathetic hearing and an appreciative understanding of my fanciful enthusiasm such as are not always accorded us by our fellow mortals. How shall I account for this magical delusion?

    What loving heart first dreamed you, — what mastery made the dream come true? No mere fortuitous industry, I am sure, could have created your sightly structure of wood and nails, mortar and bricks and coloured stain. For beauty is never an accident, nor charm and loveliness the results of reckless chance. Every sill and rafter, every board and beam in your roof and walls, had brave life through long years of sun and rain, of winds and frost upon the mountainside, before it was chosen by destiny for a place in your builded beauty. And now, as you stand in your serene silence, I doubt not, all [Page vi] the strength of mounting sap and maturing sun that went into the growth of your fibre and grain persists and prevails to lend you fragrance and endurance still.

    But whence came to you the supreme gift of personality? What benign power wrought you into such friendliness of shape and hue? What inspiration devised you restful tints and generous mould? By what conjury arose your serviceable spaciousness with its dignified repose; and how came you to be blessed with that rare additional quality which few habitations can boast, a quality akin to human temperament, an atmosphere and distinction all your own? Surely at the prompting of happy and unselfish impulses you must have been designed, a place of rest for the friend, and inspiration even for the stranger! And when at last your latch-string was hung out, and the fire of hospitality lighted upon your ample hearth, what alluring spirit of welcome radiated from your open door, impalpably as the moonshine for which you were named. [Page vii]

    In summer you are never closed, but the sweet air of the hills blows balmily through your quiet seclusion all day long, whispering its enchantments of peace; while at dusk, from your deep verandas, dreamful watchers behold the great frail rose-gold moon appear at the end of the Kaaterskill clove and pour its calm splendour along the purple mountains.

    In the long months of snow, when your windows are secured against the tempest, and your dwellers have migrated to their winter’s work, what reveries must be yours! You must see again in remembrance the faces that have thronged about your board and fire. In your rooftree must lurk reverberations of laughter, reëchoes of song, and the lovely strains of imperishable music. The pine of your floor must be tempered and mellowed by the rhythm of many feet that have trodden it in masque and merrymaking, in festivity, and in the daily course of kindly life. Shall you not for ever recall one memorable twilight, [Page viii] when an enraptured player at the piano, rendering and improvising as only a great artist can, filled you with golden harmonies, as if your solemn mountain walls and streams had at last found interpretation and voice, while his hearers sat enthralled under the wizardries of sound? Shall you not always remember the suppers at the green table, when night is near its meridian, when the company lingered over their glasses, with toasts and tales and mirth and toasts again and more unextinguishable mirth, until at last lanterns were lit, and in twos and threes the merrymakers took their way through the silent forest to their lighted cabins among the hemlock shadows? Can you forget a famous cakewalk, when seventy couples assembled, marshalled by the very Muse of Comedy herself, garbed like a happy Hottentot, conducting, with unsurpassed spirit and gaiety through the ceremonious Rite of the Cake, a tatterdemalion gang of gaudy disguised revellers, hilariously competing for the coveted prize; [Page ix] and the judges, — a row of gray-haired dignitaries sitting aloft in Rembrandt relief behind gallery rail and candlelight, while the motley swirl danced to a finish before them!

    In contrast to this scene, you surely remember certain afternoon gatherings of a sober sort, when luminous discussions were held of art or philosophy or other high theme, and were gaily prolonged over tea and cigarettes. You must ever fondly treasure the memory of many mornings filled with the sound of immortal poetry, — the frailties of Fra Lippo Lippi, the stirring Song of the Banjo, the lofty Masque of Taliesen, the terrible Ballad of Reading Gaol, or the moving tragedy of Sohrab and Rustum, read as poetry is rarely heard nowadays. As a crowning joy of recollection, do you not often live over that evening when poetry was illustrated with tableaux vivants, — incomparable pictures of Keat’s Meg Merrilies, fantastically tall and wise as she leaned upon her stick; of Browning’s Contemporary, keen of nose yet kind [Page x] of eye, in peaked hat and wide ruff, with dog at heels; and of Malyn of the Mountains, a radiant young reality more lovely than the poet’s fancy!

    In these solitary winter watches, too, I dare say you recherish your various comforts and treasures, and recall the friend associated with each of them, though some of your intimates have journeyed to the other side of the world, and some have gone beyond. There stands the chair of the Princely Friend, who chose it because it invited him to throw his leg over the arm as he smoked; this one is the gift of the most democratic of aristocrats, the Gentlest of Radicals. In what cushioned seat by the fire a dear Grandmother used to doze and dream, or, with unquenchable spirit in her sparkling eye, tell endless stories to the insatiable children in her lap. Here is the chamber reserved for a certain vagabond; that is the corner dedicated to another. On this convenient balcony overhanging the ravine the magician of all your luxuries, alert [Page xi] for fresh adventure, expects one day to alight from his private air-ship. From yon cosy nook behind the door, the Judge ever cheerily invites his friends to “live long and prosper.” While from the playroom overhead a baby voice is heard passing sentence on an offending tin soldier: “You stole three pigs and a hundred cannons, and you’ll have to stay in prison all your life!” So your guest-rooms and galleries ever throng with happy presences, once made welcome, never to be dispossessed.

    O unforgettable “Moonshine,” this book is like yourself, made of different elements, divers thoughts and moods and fancies. Many of its essays were written within your shade, and but for the leisure and inspiration you afforded could never have been written at all. I beg you, therefore, not for any merit of its own, to give it room upon the shelves in your poets’ corner, that when other guests shall come, other hands open your door, other voices be heard exclaiming over the wonder [Page xii] of your prospect, it may bear slight but unequivocal witness of one wayfarer’s gratitude for all the solace and refreshment you have been so lavish to bestow.                                                                                   B.C. [Page xiii]