In these days of prolific composition and ponderous volumes, it is much to find one who has something to say, and who says it concisely and without digression. Mr. Tunison's study of the Sapphic stanza is so unpretentious and unassuming that one habituated to current weight and quantity, as evincing the quality and importance of the subject treated, will hardly recognize the thought and learning which are contained in these less than fifty pages, unless he takes the volume seriously in hand for a few hours and follows the trend of its purpose.
It is not a little curious that one of the most gifted of women, perhaps the most gifted in poetic genius, the world has known, comes to us from the early dawn of human civilization. But although those days when "burning Sappho loved and sang" are so remote, and though so little of her songs survive, she is still more than a name; her spirit yet exercises an influence in the intellectual world, and has a significance that will abide with all literature. She was a contemporary of the prophet Jeremiah, of Nebuchadnezzar and of Solon of Athens, Mr. Tunison reminds the reader. Her generation came after the first outburst of Greek thought. The Homeric poems had already been written, and hers was the task to impart vitality and soul to the ballad which was to perpetuate the fires of literature to the present day. Her lyrics were among the first, it is cited, that could be spoken or declaimed without musical accompaniment. Music and dancing were a necessary part of poetry in those early days, 3,000 years or more ago. Mr. Tunison's endeavor is an interpretation of these relations, a task which he remarks in preface, is becoming less difficult in view of the accumulating material, the outcome of wide investigation of folk and music lore. From these results a restoration of the primitive Greek music is more than probable.
What that primitive music was in the time of Homer or Sappho does not often occur to one; but that it was little more than a monotonous chant, or the intoning of a few vowels, is quite certain. Like the birds we hear in the fields, the early Greeks rang their changes on a few notes, prescribed by the most arbitrary rules, and there were few catbirds or other mocking birds to vary these melodies, or to bring out new combinations. Sappho was one of these latter. To a modern ear the music of that period would seem as heavy and monotonous as an Indian chant, or that of a side show in a Cairo street, and these, in fact, as well as the church chants of to-day, are the survivals in the evolution of music and religious customs. "The reminiscence of a whole civilization," Mr. Tunison remarks, ''is packed in a Sapphic stanza, if it could only be properly interpreted." He presents his own conclusions, not in an argumentative or dogmatic fashion, but as a series of suggestions that arise from his own study, to be accepted or not by those who follow. He also indicates his agreement and his differences with Mr. H. E. Krehbiel, the music critic, who is an authority on these topics. If there is anything to be desired in this "study," it is, perhaps, that it might have been less brief and technical. In a topic containing so much that is of popular interest, the writer is surely justified in presenting a more full, rounded and luminous essay that would appeal to all readers, a task which Mr. Tunison's scholarship and lucidity of statement, as displayed in his "study" shows him to be amply capable of performing.
-"School: Devoted to the Public Schools and Educational Interests," Volume 7 show more