Needles in Haystacks More Easily Found Today

The estimable Howard Boatwright (1918-1999), a composer whose works I have been remiss in not seeking out, did the heroic yeoman’s work of editing and fully annotating the 1962 reprint of Ives’s Essays Before a Sonata. Ives’s quotations of other writers are so frequent and so maddeningly inexact that the mind boggles to think how much Emerson, Carlyle, Channing, Ruskin, and so on Boatwright must have read to find as many citations as he did. It is almost tragic to consider how much Google would have sped up the task today. Boatwright did not succeed in finding everything, and some of the quotations he gave up on, today, one can put in Google and go directly to the source. One, on pages 20-21, is:

Draw if thou canst the mystic line
Separating his from thine
Which is human, which divine.

It’s surprising that Boatwright didn’t find this poem at the head of the “Worship” chapter in Emerson’s The Conduct of Life, since he found so many other quotes in that book. Another, on page 27:

Melodious poets shall be hoarse as street ballads when once the penetrating key-note of nature and spirit is sounded, — the earth-beat, sea-beat, heart-beat, which makes the tune to which the sun rolls, and the globule of blood, and the sap of trees.

This is from the essay on Swedenborg in Representative Men, another of the books Boatwright traced so many passages to. Ives misquotes it as “All melodious poets,” which may have thrown him off. With all due respect to his hard work and achievement, Boatwright made the occasional mistake or misassumption, and we could use a revised edition of Ives’s Essays today. (One mistake I caught as a teenager: in the quarter-tone essay, Ives mentions a “chord of nine-five-five” [p. 115], which Boatwright takes to mean a ninth and two fifths, i.e. C-D-A-E, and laments, “There is no indication as to which notes belong on the quarter-tone-sharp keyboard.” But clearly Ives was speaking in quarter-tone distances: C, E-1/4-tone#, G, A-1/4-tone#. I guess I was subconsciously on my way to becoming a microtonalist.)

UPDATE: I should add that there are references in the Essays so obscure that I despair of ever pinning them down. For instance: “Wagner seems to take Hugo’s place in Faguet’s criticism of de Vigny… that in de Vigny the artist was inferior to the poet.” (p. 74) De Vigny was a French playwright of nihilistic tendencies, Faguet a later literary critic, and I have searched every appearance of de Vigny’s name in Faguet’s works on, including the ones in French, which I can read a little bit, but uncovered no such direct comparison to Hugo. A copy of de Vigny’s Cinq-Mars was found in Ives’s library, but of course there was no mention of Faguet in the introduction to Gutenberg’s copy of that, either. Perhaps a committee of multilingual musicologists can someday devote themselves to rooting out every last reference.


  1. Maarten Beirens says

    “Il me semble que tout cela revient à dire que dans Vigny l’artiste est inférieur au poète, le metteur en oeuvre inférieur au créateur d’idées poétiques.”
    Emile Faguet, Dix-neuvième siècle: études littéraires (Etudes littéraires, vol. 4), Société française d’imprimerie et de librairie, Ancienne librairie Lecène, Oudin et cie, 1887, p. 145.

    (Et bien voilà. As soon as I discovered that Faguet had devoted an entire chapter to de Vigny in his history of French Literature in the 19th century, it was child’s play to search that particular haystack. :-) Google books refuses to display entire pages, but you can do a full-text search and have a peek at the fragment of the page where your search terms show up. By the way: Faguet apparently doesn’t mention Wagner – that’s Ives’ interpretation, I assume.)

    Good luck with this particular needle! 😉

    KG replies: Cher Maarten, merci beaucoup! Vous me rendez très heureux. I was hoping someone would come up with it. Gutenberg has the Dix-huitième siècle, but not the Dix-neuvième. So I guess maybe Ives read it in French? Wonderful, maybe I’ll try blogging some of the others.

    Now that I can Google the French, I see that what follows is just what Ives says about Hugo as well. But yes, Wagner was Ives’s own interpolation.