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John Lord
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 311 pages of information about Beacon Lights of History, Volume 14.

LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

Volume XIV.

Dr. Jenner Vaccinates a Child
  After the painting by George Gaston Melingue

Richard Wagner
  After the painting by Franz von Lenbach

John Ruskin
  After a photograph from life

Herbert Spencer
  After a photograph from life

Charles Robert Darwin
  After the painting by G. F. Watts, R.A.

John Ericsson
  From a contemporaneous engraving

Li Hung Chang
  After a photograph from life

David Livingstone
  After a photograph from life

Sir Austen Henry Layard
  After the painting by H. W. Phillips

Michael Faraday
  After a photograph from life

Rudolf Virchow
  After a photograph from life

BEACON LIGHTS OF HISTORY.

RICHARD WAGNER:  MODERN MUSIC.

BY HENRY T. FINCK.

If the Dresden schoolboys who attended the Kreuzschule in the years 1823-1827 could have been told that one of them was destined to be the greatest opera composer of all times, and to influence the musicians of all countries throughout the second half of the nineteenth century, they would, no doubt, have been very much surprised.  Nor is it likely that they could have guessed which of them was the chosen one.  For Richard Wagner—­or Richard Geyer, as he was then called, after his stepfather—­was by no means a youthful prodigy, like Mozart or Liszt.  It is related that Beethoven shed tears of displeasure over his first music lessons; nevertheless, it was obvious from the beginning that he had a special gift for music.  Richard Wagner, on the other hand, apparently had none.  When he was eight years old his stepfather, shortly before his death, heard him play on the piano two pieces from one of Weber’s operas, which made him wonder if Richard might “perhaps” have talent for music.  His piano teacher did not believe even in that “perhaps,” but told him bluntly he would “never amount to anything” as a musician.

For poetry, however, young Richard had a decided inclination in his school years; and this was significant, inasmuch as it afterwards became his cardinal maxim that in an opera “the play’s the thing,” and the music merely a means of intensifying the emotional expression.  Before his time the music, or rather the singing of florid tunes, had been “the thing,” and the libretto merely a peg to hang these tunes on.  In this respect, therefore, the child was father to the man.  At the age of eleven he received a prize for the best poem on the death of a schoolmate.  At thirteen he translated the first twelve books of Homer’s Odyssey.  He studied English for the sole purpose of being able to read Shakspeare.  Then he projected a stupendous tragedy, in the course of which he killed off forty-two persons, many of whom had to be brought back as ghosts to enable him to finish the play.

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