The American: His Ideas of Beauty

H.L. Mencken

The Smart Set/September, 1913

 

Of all the beaux arts, whether graphic, symbolic or tonal, the American has his doubts and suspicions, holding them to be enervating and effeminate, and their practitioners no better than they should be.

For example, the notion that a grown man, sound in wind and with hair on his chest, should make a living playing the piano is to him a horror and an abomination. Such tricks are for milksops and scoundrels. Even that fellow who dallies with the keys for the mere fun of it, and without open claim to applause and reward, is one who pursues perilously a corrupting vice. Not, of course, that this amateur is without his saving justifications, his occasional uses. There are moments, God wot, when even the malest male is moved to sing, when “Old Uncle Ned” springs irresistibly from the sternest larynx, when music is not only lawful but almost laudable, and at such moments it is convenient to have an accompanist at hand, a performer tried and true, one familiar with the traditional airs and not apt to pass the hat. But the American, let it be remembered, ventures into brothels only on rare and careless nights, and so his need for such an accompanist is but slight, and his attendant toleration but transient. Taking one day with another, he clings faithfully to his theory that piano playing is a saccharine and unmanly pastime, fit only for women and machines, and to be abandoned even by a woman, if she would be thought wholly decent, after her first child.

For fiddlers, strangely enough, he has rather more respect, but only in proportion as they are genuine fiddlers and not violinists. That is to say, he esteems the fellow who can perform bouncingly a jig or reel, but views biliously the fellow who runs to sonatas and concertos. This bile is in part made up of a dislike of sonatas and concertos as such, on the ground that they are cacophonous and incomprehensible, and in part of a deep-seated distrust of all professional artists. The American, in brief, agrees thoroughly with George Bernard Shaw in the doctrine that artists and vagabonds are of the self-same stock. The essential thing about both, as he sees them, is that they are unwilling to earn a living in a respectable and useful way. The hobo on the blind baggage is simply a farmhand who is too lazy to go on milking cows, or a city apprentice who has succumbed to dime novels and cigarettes; and the professional musician, by the same token, is simply a loafer who has grafted upon his reluctant father during an over-prolonged youth, and now maintains himself in idleness by inflaming the concupiscence of women who ought to be better occupied at home, darning socks and beating their children.

It is always easy to convince the American that any given artist is a debauchee and a rogue. He believes faithfully, for example, that all painters live in adultery with their models, that the great majority of poets are drunkards, that all dramatists of any pretensions are pornographers, that opera singers, male and female, are almost unanimously immoral, that all actors are polygamists, and that practically every actress, high or low, has her price. In many parts of the United States, indeed, the word “actress” is a common synonym for “prostitute,” as the phrase “chorus girl” is in all parts. And when, a few years ago, one of the leading woman’s magazines made the discovery that certain fair members of the Metropolitan Opera Company were honest wives and mothers, the mere statement of the fact, repeated in various accents of astonishment, was sufficient material for half a dozen articles.

No artist, purely as such, has ever evoked any manifestation of general respect in the United States. True enough, there have been temporary rages for such persons as Paderewski, Sarah Bernhardt and Jenny Lind, but in every such case it has been skillful press agenting, appealing frankly to a childish weakness for the marvelous, that has primarily inflamed the vulgar. Paderewski won by his hair, his high pay and his general aspect of romance, and not at all by his indubitable skill at a difficult craft. Sarah Bernhardt conquered by elevating the art of acting to the level of bear-baiting, not only by her fantastic methods of advertising, but more especially by her choice of sensational plays. And as for Jenny Lind, she was exploited by P. T. Barnum in exactly the same deliberate, unconscionable way that he exploited Jumbo and Tom Thumb, and her own share in her success lay as much in her ostentatious alms-giving and her lack of artistic conscience as in her genuine magic of voice. Better artists, in all that separates the artist from the mere artisan, have come to the United States and failed, at least in the popular sense. I need only refer, among piano players, to Von Bulow, Rosenthal and Busoni; and, among actresses, to Duse and Agnes Sorma; and among singers, to Sembrich. Every one of these, of course, aroused a certain enthusiasm among the discriminating few, and now and then a faint echo of it got into the newspapers, but they never attained to the public celebrity of Paderewski, Bernhardt and Lind, nor to anything remotely approaching it. The one apparent exception to the rule is Enrico Caruso, but even in his case it is his ability to bellow a staggering high C that makes him famous, and not his more worthy (and far more difficult) feats of bel canto. In brief, he is venerated as a freak before he is appreciated as an artist, and no doubt a good part of his renown is due to his exploits and misadventures outside the opera house.

On turning from purely interpretive art to creative art, one finds a still lower development of intelligent appreciation. The United States, despite a poll parrot opinion to the contrary, has produced more than one great artist and many lesser ones of respectable capacity, and some of the latter have been intensely national in feeling, but there is no record of any spontaneous recognition of such a lord of dreams. That electric mixture of pride, patriotism and intelligent admiration which brought Norway to the feet of Ibsen and Bjornson, and turned the fiftieth birthday of Joseph Victor von Scheffel into a German national holiday, and made all Poland mourn the too-early death of Stanislaw Wyspianski, and forced a glorious forgiveness from the Swedes for August Strindberg, and gave Tennyson an English barony, and raised Frederic Mistral in Southern France to the place that Pushkin had in Russia and Burns in Scotland—such a universal acclaim of an imaginative artist is unheard of in this republic, and well-nigh unimaginable. While Poe lived, not one American in fifty was aware of his existence, and since his death it is chiefly in foreign lands that his fame has grown. The Americans of today buy his books from the book agents and even read them and enjoy them, but there is certainly not apparent any pressing sense of his greatness, any widespread pride in his daring and his achievement. In the city of Baltimore, where he won his first recognition, did his best work, came to his melodramatic death and now lies buried, it has been found impossible, after forty years of effort, to raise the ten thousand dollars needed to give him a decent monument. Baltimore, during that time, has opened thirty new parks and two hundred new streets, but not one of them bears the poet’s name. During the same time the city has spent more than three hundred thousand dollars upon monuments and memorials to fourth-rate soldiers and petty politicians, but until recently the very grave of Poe was hidden behind the dirty wall of a frowzy churchyard, and a private enthusiast had to furnish the few dollars necessary to cut a gate in that wall.

So with all the rest of our great makers and dreamers. If, now and then, one of them has attained to something approaching popular celebrity, it has always been in some capacity sharply differentiated from the purely artistic. Emerson, I dare say, was the most famous of the New England brahmans— he came closest, that is, to a truly national renown—but Emerson, it must be plain, was always far more the soothsayer than the artist, and it was precisely his banal soothsaying, and not his mild art, that made him a hero. In brief, he was the father of the New Thought of today, that typically American balderdash. Mrs. Stowe, in the same way, was a rabble-rouser and not an artist: there is little more esthetic merit in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” than in the average college yell. The prima donna preachers, lyceum stars and other such rhetoricians of the ante-bellum period go the same route: if there was any artistic merit in their whoopings, it was no more than the smoke accompanying the more important discharge of shells, and their glory did not grow out of it. When we come to a genuine artist, Walt Whitman, to wit, we come to a man who made no more impression upon his countrymen, taken in the mass, than a third-rate pugilist. If they thought of him at all, during his seventy-three years of life among them, it was chiefly, if not wholly, as a wholesaler of the obscene. He never appealed to them as a great poet, as an eloquent and impassioned prophet of their democracy, but merely as a man who took long chances with the postal laws. When, in reward for “Leaves of Grass,” he was deprived of his modest place in the Interior Department and denounced donkeyishly by some forgotten Tartuffe, public sentiment approved both the dismissal and the denunciation. Even today, by one of fate’s little ironies, all appreciation of Whitman is confined to a narrow circle of admirers, most of whom are professed immoralists. That average American in whom he believed so resolutely, and whose thirsts and struggles he celebrated so feelingly, is no more moved by him than by Johann Sebastian Bach.

Comes now an exception—Mark Twain. But is he really an exception? I doubt it. It is a fact, I grant you freely, that he tasted the sweets of popular adulation in his later years, that he died a famous and honored man, that his celebrity was not only intense in degree but also widespread in extent— but was it, at bottom, the celebrity of a literary artist? Was it comparable, in other words, to the celebrity of Ibsen, or to that of Swinburne, or yet to that of Tolstoy? I am convinced that it was not. Mark Twain’s countrymen, even today, have no true comprehension of his rank and dignity as an artist. They think of him, when they think of him at all, as a sort of super-clever clown, as the blood brother of Artemas Ward, Bill Nye and Chauncey M. Depew. They connect him, not with such magnificent pieces of imaginative work as “A Connecticut Yankee” and “Joan of Arc,” nor even with the penetrating, highly sophisticated humor of “Captain Stormfield” and “Huckleberry Finn,” but with the artificial hoaxes and buffooneries of his days and nights of idleness. It is the after-dinner jester, the extravagant lecturer, the wearer of white clothes that lingers in their memory, and not the incomparable literary artist. Of all the things he wrote, the one that made the greatest initial success and is oftenest referred to by his countrymen today is “The Jumping Frog,” a mere anecdote, borrowed in its substance arid but little dignified in the telling. Whatever appreciation of Mark the artist is now visible in the United States is an appreciation confined to a remarkably small number of persons. In Europe, and especially in England and Germany, he was earlier recognized and better understood: in his own country even professional critics got no genuine sense of his towering stature, of his kinship with Cervantes, Swift and Moliere, until he was safely in his grave. The obituaries were the first accounts of him that did the half of justice to him, and here, no doubt, it was American sentimentality, a great deal more than intelligent understanding, that set the tune.

So the list might be prolonged, but we must pass on from artists to art itself. On the way, it is sufficient to call attention to the long neglect of American singers, to the enforced exile of American painters, and to the public indifference to such national bards as Key and Randall. America has been producing first-rate operatic singers, particularly sopranos and basses, for a generation, and since the early nineties they have swarmed in the opera houses of Europe, but it is still well-nigh impossible for one of them to succeed at home without first gaining approval abroad. A few striking exceptions merely prove the rule. No spontaneous appreciation of merit exists among us; the thing the American understands and applauds is not really singing at all, but notoriety. When it comes to painting not even notoriety attracts him. The two most famous English-speaking painters of our time have been Whistler and Sargent, both of them Americans, and yet there is not the slightest sign of national pride in their achievements, and to the majority of Americans their very names are unknown. So are the names of Childe Hassam, John W. Alexander, Winslow Homer and Gutzon Borglum.

In the case of the patriotic poets, the authors of our national anthems, there has been rather more appreciation, but little more reward. Every schoolboy knows that Key wrote “The Star Spangled Banner,” but it was not until nearly a century after its composition that anyone thought to raise a monument to him, and even then the business had to be proposed and carried through by his descendants: our cities are full of memorials to undistinguished soldiers and forgotten politicians, but the one man who imbedded the high resolves and great daring of the War of 1812 in sonorous and electric stanzas has been neglected alike by government and by people. As for Randall, I remember well the pathos of his last days. The South, while still bawling his clarion call to arms, had forgotten its author, and so he came to Maryland in search of stronger memories. He was an old man and poor, and he frankly desired a pat on the back, a round of applause. But Maryland, My Maryland was too busy to heed him. A few woman’s clubs offered him tea, as they might have offered it to a passing French lecturer or matinee idol; a survivor or two of the old regime invited him to dinner; the newspapers mentioned him a bit tolerantly, apologizing for the fervor of his youth. He died, in the end, almost unnoticed. Maryland was engrossed by peanut politics; the South was trying to forget the War.

But all of this, of course, may be dismissed as no proof of the American’s in difference to artistic expression; he may disdain the artist, and yet hold the art itself in high respect. Aesop’s fables delighted the Greeks, but Aesop himself, if we hear aright, remained a slave to the end of his days. “Hamlet” has been a first favorite among English tragedies since the afternoon of its first performance, but it took the English people so long to pay honors to the author that they found him, when the time came at last, already half a myth. I doubt, however, that any such common weakness of humanity may be pleaded in confession and avoidance of the American’s apathy to artists. The truth is that his apathy to art is no less intense and unshakable. It is apparently impossible for him to think of beauty as a thing in itself. Even when he appears to be moved by a purely esthetic impulse, it is nearly always easy to show some other and less civilized impulse lurking in the background.

For example, his interest in the marvelously varied and beautiful scenery of his country is almost entirely a childish delight in mere bigness and singularity. He is impressed by Niagara chiefly because no other country in Christendom has so large a waterfall. He glories in Yellowstone Park because it is a sort of natural circus, an incredible geological debauch. He goes to the Grand Canyon of the Colorado and to Pike’s Peak and to the redwood groves of California because these things are unparalleled and astounding, and not at all because they are beautiful. The one river that appeals to his imagination is the Mississippi, which is as deficient in attractive scenery as the average sewage disposal plant, but enchants his imagination by its mere hugeness. For Nature in her gentler, more normal, less prodigal moods he seems to have no feeling whatever. He is no wanderer in the woods, as the German is; he prefers a city park, with its paved ways and hideous flower beds, to the open country, and the in tolerable garishness of a so-called summer park to either. The wide spaces of his Western prairies have never awakened the poetry in him, as the steppe has awakened the poetry of the Russian, and the pussta that of the Bohemian. Among all the lowly songs that make up his folk music, there is no single song of spring, nor one that celebrates the singing of birds, nor one that hymns the mountains, nor one that brings back to him the balsam and silence of the woods. His sentimentality often takes melodious form: he has many songs of home, of mother, of young love. But he has no “Goldene Abend Sonne” and no “Im Wald und auf der Heide” and no “Winter, Adieu!”

And if he is thus almost anesthetic to the beauties of nature, he is even less responsive to those beauties which spring from the hand of man. So long as art stands bravely on its own legs, disdaining the support of mere lavishness and bombast on the one hand and of morality and sentimentality on the other hand, he will have none of it. Thus he shows little interest in music until it becomes noisy and spectacular. The Germans, the Welsh and the Bohemians brought choral singing with them when they immigrated, and wherever they have settled they have founded large and excellent male and mixed choruses and give frequent concerts on a large scale, but the native American has remained entirely uninfluenced by this example. It is seldom, indeed, that his ear is acute enough for him to sing in tune, and almost unheard of for him to read music. Like the savage, however, he has a sharp sense of rhythm —so sharp, indeed, that he gets delight out of rhythmic eccentricities which affect the more cultivated hearer disagreeably. Hence his liking for the elaborate measures of ragtime and his equal liking for the thunderous step of band music. There is scarcely a county town in the United States that lacks its “silver cornet band,” and not a large city that does not offer a ceaseless bray of brass in summer; but in the entire country there is not a single first-rate orchestra supported wholly by the public. Good orchestras exist, true enough —perhaps a dozen of them in all, or one to each 7,500,000 of population —but they are maintained by a very small class of rich amateurs, and their members are practically all foreigners. To so-called “light” music—i.e., to jingles combined with dancing and clowning—the American is very hospitable, but that is chiefly for the sake of the auxiliary attractions. It was a dance that made him rave over “The Merry Widow” and a dance that charmed him in “Florodora.” But for serious opera he has only scorn, and his view of so elemental a music drama as “Lohengrin” remains that of the Weimar audience which yawned over it in 1850.

Here in music, of course, it must be noted and allowed in fairness that public taste, whatever its present crudity, is still measurably less crude than it used to be. The influence of the big orchestras and opera companies, true enough, is not felt directly by the common people. Such organizations are maintained by a very small number of rich men, and the persons who patronize them belong chiefly to that pushing, half-educated class which supports drama leagues, goes into raptures over each new fashionable philosopher and is hotly eager for every other such means to intellectual distinction. Add the social climbers pure and simple, hospitable to caterwauling because it is heard in dress clothes, and the small class of professional musicians and intelligent amateurs, and you have the typical American opera audience. The common people are not in it: its gallery, in so far as it has one, is made up almost entirely of foreigners. But if there is thus no direct inoculation of the American democrat and freeman with the hideous cocci of counterpoint and recitative, he is at least hospitable to an occasional small dose at second hand. That is to say, his appetite for marvels is aroused by newspaper tales of opera house prodigies, deficits and amorous intrigues, and so he is led to make a compromise with his prejudices. He still holds to his doctrine that grand opera is all bosh, and he is still reluctant to sit through it, even when the price is reduced; but he is curious to hear Caruso earn a thousand dollars at one miraculous laryngeal blast, and so his phonograph records begin to be sprinkled with high C’s and he scrapes a far-away, unintelligent acquaintance with “Celeste Aida,” the “Pagliacci” prologue and the quartette in “Rigoletto.”

The Italian bands have helped in this modest progress, perhaps even more than the phonograph. When they first appeared in the summer parks, at the dawn of the new century, the union men of the native bands were immersed in the Rosey and Sousa marches, and it was only on national holidays that they ever tackled things so “hard” as the Pilgrims’ Chorus from “Tannhauser” and the “Light Cavalry” overture. The Italians, more brave and fluent, introduced the “II Trovatore” tower duet for cornet and trombone, and the “Rigoletto” quartette for four loud trumpets, and the “Lucia” sextette for the whole brass choir, and so the American began to acquire a tolerance for such mildly “classical” stuff, and even to demand it. But he has not gone into it very deeply. A band with sound wind could play his whole repertoire in an hour, and he would probably be begging for “My Old Kentucky Home” at the three-quarters.

Meanwhile, an indubitably American school of music has sprung up, as distinctive in its markings as the Spanish school or the Magyar or the Irish. There are pundits who deny this with great fuming and sophistry, just as there are pundits who deny that the jubilee songs were genuinely niggerish, but the fact remains that specimens of this American music are instantly recognized abroad, and that no other country produces it in any quantity. Its dominant characteristic I have already mentioned: it exalts mere rhythm to an importance elsewhere unattained in civilized music. No melodic invention is necessary to write this primitive stuff. So small are its demands in that direction, indeed, that its most eminent professors borrow shamelessly, from Methodist hymns and comic opera tunes on the one hand and from such things as Mendelssohn’s “Spring Song” and the “Pagliacci” prologue on the other. Nor does it admit any emotional content: it cannot be made to express love or courage or hope or even simple reverie. Its one function is to set the knees and ankles to jerking. It is music bound by the closest of ties to the tom-tom rataplan of the savage. It belongs in the sub-cellar of the tonal art, along with the endless chants of the Bedouins, the inept and ludicrous dance music of the Chinese and the monotonic tunes made by children with their rattles. Compare it to the average Hungarian czardas or German volkslied or Polish mazurka, or even to the average Scotch pipe air or darkey “spiritual,” and you will at once perceive its hollowness and nakedness.

In all the other arts that he presumes to dally with the American shows a like preference for elementals. His first demand of all of them is that they shall make no demands themselves, that they shall not burden him with any sense of their significance and value. And his second and last demand, whenever he goes beyond the first, is that they shall subordinate themselves, even in their lightest moods, to utility. The fruit of this attitude is visible in the household utensils and ornaments of the typical American home. They are not only unspeakably hideous, but also meaningless. You will not find in them any of that subtle symbolism which gives dignity to the peasant art of most other countries, and to the still lowlier art of savages. A Navajo blanket means something: it not only keeps out the cold, but also stands for a tradition of the past and an interpretation of the present. And so with the wood carvings of the Swiss mountaineers, the jewelry of the Tyrol lauern, the gaudy ikons of the Russian muzhiks, the peasant laces of Ireland, the pottery of a hundred races and tribes. These things not only meet the daily needs of the folk who make and use them, but they also, in a very real sense, voice the aspiration of those folk. A vision is in them. It may be a very humble one, but still it is a vision. In the stage properties of the American’s life drama, however, there is no such esoteric element. He is surrounded by things made in factories, sordidly, without inspiration and at wholesale. In the design of his furniture the main object of the craftsman is to get as many chair legs as possible out of a hundred feet of wood. His carpets and wallpapers are deliriums of ugliness, with no meaning or intent save that of over whelming the dazzled eye. His common ornaments are mere brummagem, dishonest imitations of antagonistic and puerile models—”bronzes” made of plaster, ormolus stamped by steam, “cut” glass full of mold marks. His beautiful native woods, by the time they reach his home, have been ridiculously disguised as mahogany or Flemish oak. The pictures on his walls, when they are not grisly caricatures of his dead relatives, are sentimental abominations of the “Playing Grandpa” school or shoddy reproductions of idiotic water colors.

No, I am not forgetting the arts and crafts movement, nor the appearance of Rookwood pottery, nor the invention of so-called mission furniture, that one purely American contribution to domestic art. But it must be obvious that these outreachings toward a greater decency in environment have usually ended in extravagance and absurdity, and that when they have escaped that peril they have made but little impression upon the American people. Not one American in a thousand has ever heard of Rookwood pottery, and not one in five thousand is taken with chills in the presence of a Brussels carpet. And not one in ten thousand, I dare say, could be made to see any offense against the eye and the midriff in putting Mission furniture into a ten by twelve room. The home of the average American, as homes go in this inhospitable world, is richly furnished. That is to say, its contents represent a considerable expenditure—perhaps the equivalent, taking one with another, of a full year’s income. But the effect of all this somewhat lavish outlay is never one of unity, of fitness, of character. That simple dignity which you will find in a German peasant house, and in an English cottage, and even in a remote Swiss chalet is wholly missing. Wall swears at floor, floor swears at furniture, and all three swear at the house itself. There is no feeling for beauty of arrangement, no effort at self-expression, no striving to make decoration a factor in the art of life. We have, in brief, no peasant art, no people’s art, spontaneous, native and racy of the soil, as every other race in Christendom has, and nine-tenths of those in the heathendoms without.

But it is in architecture, perhaps, more than in any lesser art, that this national lack makes itself most manifest. Twice we have made wholesale architectural thefts from other people —and quickly reduced the loot to hideousness. The first time was during the early years of the young republic —the so-called “Colonial period”—when we borrowed various beautiful Georgian details from the English and essayed to combine them with details borrowed from the Greeks upon our soapbox houses. The second time was just after the Civil War, when we got the mansard roof from France, added towers and jigsaw scroll work, and achieved the most appalling architectural monstrosities in history. Each time the piracy failed to leave any impress of permanent value—and the same failure has pursued the more ambitious and delirious piracies of later years. There is scarcely an American city of one hundred thousand inhabitants that cannot show examples of every architectural style known to the handbooks, and yet no distinctively American style has arisen, and the average American home—the true test of national architecture —remains as ugly and as undistinguished as a Zulu kraal. In its essence, it is simply a square box. And from that archetype it proceeds upward, not through degrees of beauty, but through degrees of hideousness. The more it is plastered with ornament, the more vulgar and forbidding it becomes. The more it is adorned with color, the more that color becomes a madness, a debauch, a public indecency. Take a train ride through any American state and you will be sickened by the chaotic ugliness of the flitting villages—houses sprawling and shapeless, green shutters upon lemon yellow churches, a huge advertising sign upon every flat wall, an intolerable effect of carelessness, ignorance, squalor, bad taste and downright viciousness. But make the same sort of journey through France or Germany — say from Bremen to Munich or from Paris to Lyons —or through Austria or Italy or Switzerland, and you will be charmed by the beautiful harmony visible on all sides, the subordination of details to general effects, the instinctive feeling for color, the sound grouping, the constant presence of a tradition and a style. The design of the peasant houses changes twenty times between the Westphalian plain and the foothills of the Alps, but in every change there is a subtle reflection of the physical environment, and an unmistakable expression of human aspiration, worldly estate and character. I don’t know any ugly village between Bremen and Munich, nor even a village without its distinction, its special beauty, its individual charm. But I don’t know of a village between Washington and Chicago that is not frankly appalling.

So goes space, and the profound business of accounting for all this remains untackled and undone. I have argued with great fuming and fury that the American is a foe to the beautiful, but I have not proceeded to the wherefore and the why. Well, let the grim labors and laparotomies of the inquiry go over to some other day. All I desire to do here is to throw out a suggestion, to wit, that the blame rests upon that lingering Puritanism of which I discoursed in July—a Puritanism which still poisons and characterizes the American, for all his latter-day dallying with the fleshpots. How strongly this Puritan tide yet runs in his veins you will begin to understand when you have read Mr. Maurice Low’s “The American People,” a painstaking and searching book, too little studied in this fair land. The one thing to recall now is the undying opposition between the Puritan view of life and what may be called, in deference to current critical slang, the pagan view of life. The moving impulse of the Puritan is always moral: he cannot imagine anything that is neither right nor wrong. And naturally enough, his repertoire of things that are wrong tends to maintain a marked fatness, and to suck into it most things that are fleshly. And so regarding the world, suspiciously, sourly, biliously, he has no liking for life’s eases and usufructs. The thing that is not indubitably moral must be necessarily immoral. There is no halfway house. There can be no honorable compromise between ethics and esthetics. The true and the beautiful are unthinkable save as symptoms and complications of the good.

Such is the Puritan. Such, I believe, is the American. He steers clear of beauty because he is afraid of beauty, because it is the author of all his own flings and backslidings. Music is the devil’s whisper. The Medicean Venus has bare legs, and is hence no company for a family man. The books that so-called critics recommend are apt to deal with adultery. Paris, the home of art, is also the home of unspeakable levities. Pantheons go with hetaira: cathedrals of Cologne with Rhine wine; colosseums with carnality. Poets drink; painters forget No. 7; composers swap wives; actors are polygamists. The American sniffs and pricks up his ears. Art is long—and licentious.

(Source: Hathitrust.org, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=njp.32101076380417;view=1up;seq=109)