An excerpt from the beginning of the first chapter: It was probably never so universally admitted as in the present day that the foundation of all true knowledge is, and must be, the study and acquaintance with the great classics which have been handed down to us by our ancestors. Only thus can such assured progress be made, when we so profit by the teachings of others as to gather new strength for the advancement of knowledge. The study of the works of the old masters has also this negative advantage - it convinces empty pretenders of their emptiness, and turns their attention to the calm enjoyment for themselves and the spreading a knowledge amongst other of the grand models we have inherited from bygone times. Real geniuses, such as Plato, Raphael, and Shakespeare, appear but seldom; but they have influenced many generations, and their power has been felt through the ages. Therefore is it a most sorry conceit for any man, through confidence in himself, to neglect the study of the great spirits of former days, and thus to say in effect that he is able to produce what they produced. Amongst the younger race of educated men it is a point of honour to study the classics; and an aspiring painter would no more dare to deride the study of Raphael, Michael Angelo, Van Eyck, and Durer, than would a young poet give to the world a new Iliad, or King Lear, without first studying the undying works of Homer and Shakespeare. Thus it is that in poetry, in painting, and in architecture, we see a freshness and vigour pleasant to behold, though frequently enough a want of power prevents the mightiest efforts of the will from achieving full success.
It is only in matters musical that pride, haughtily disdaining the Past, is the order of the day, although all the great masters who formed that Past set us a far better example. Handel, Hasse, and Graun ardently sought the opportunity of studying music in Italy. They did not do what most of our modern professors do, and by prodigious labour master a few show pieces under the miserable delusion that good taste is to be found, as a rule, in the concert room; but while they composed grand works and offered them to the world for approval, they themselves were diligent students of all the good music within their reach, and lost no opportunity of knowing what others had composed before them. Even John Sebastian Bach, who was hindered from going abroad for that purpose, was a most devout student of the works of others - the immortal Venetian, Caldara, attracting his particular attention. And Mozart, although his genius was of such a character as to make him well-nigh independent of extraneous aid, still regarded the celebrated works of the old masters, particularly those of Handel and J. S. Bach, with feelings akin to reverence; and we owe it chiefly to his edition of the " Messiah " that Handel's name has lived through an age of musical shallowness. But now all this has changed. There is almost a universal confidence in our own strength, an unlimited number of original manufactures, and for the most part a sneering disregard for so-called antiquated music. Masters like Antonio Lotti and Alessandro Scarlatti, at whose shrine Handel and Hasse were devout worshippers, are to- day to most people unknown, even by name; and even the incomparable Handel himself is not, if we except a few places, regarded with the reverence due to his inexhaustible genius, which was in many ways unique. And this ignorance of the musical past, and still worse indifference, are not confined alone to what we call Church and Oratorio music; for in operatic matters general knowledge does not go far behind to-day. Handel's operas are no longer heard; and to speak well of those of Caldara and Lotti is to ensure certain laughter....show more