From Joe Queenan’s essay, “Why Not the Worst?” in the New York Times Book Review, May 6, 2007:
Most of us are familiar with people who make a fetish out of quality: They read only good books, they see only good movies, they listen only to good music, they discuss politics only with good people, and they’re not shy about letting you know it. They think this makes them smarter and better than everybody else, but it doesn’t. It makes them mean and overly judgmental and miserly, as if taking 15 minutes to flip through “The Da Vinci Code” is a crime so monstrous, an offense in such flagrant violation of the sacred laws of intellectual time-management, that they will be cast out into the darkness by the Keepers of the Cultural Flame. In these people’s view, any time spent reading a bad book can never be recovered. They also act as if the rest of humanity is watching their time sheets.
And the antidote to that? Here’s a story that the 19th century British music critic Henry Chorley told, in his book Thirty Years’ Musical Recollections. He’s writing about Donizetti’s The Daughter of the Regiment, a work that, as he says, has gained universal acceptance [and] has established itself as among the brightest and the last of comic Italian operas. There is a careless gaiety amounting to merriment — there is a frankness, always military, never vulgar — in this music.
One might fancy it to have been thrown off during some sunny period of high spirits, when the well-spring of melody was in a sparkling humour. It is slight, it is familiar, it is catching — it is everything that pedants find easy to condemn.
I happened once in London to hear it laid hold of by a party of such connoisseurs, including more than one composer, who would have found it hard to write eight bars having the faintest echo of hilarity in them. Some were decrying it, too, for the poor reason of anticipating the presumed censure of the one Genius of the company. This was Mendelssohn. He let them rail their fill for a while, saying nothing. Then he began to move restlessly on his chair. “Well, I don’t know,” said he, at last; “I am afraid I like it. I think it very pretty — it is so merry.” Then, bursting into one of those fits of hearty gaiety which lit up his beautiful countenance in a manner never to be forgotten, “Do you know,” said he, “I should like to have written it myself.”
The dismay and wonderment of the classicists, who had made sure of his support, were truly droll.