Click a red squre to see a textual note. Click a green square to see the Latin text.
MATTHEW GWINNE OF THE COLLEGE OF ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST, PUBLIC READER IN MUSIC, DELIVERED THIS ORATION IN PRAISE OF MUSIC ON THE 22nd OF OCTOBER, A. D. 1582
CERTAIN Nicolettus, most honorable listeners, in Italian by birth, an academician by situation, a philosopher by profession (by dint not only of his beard and gown, but “inwardly and within his skin”), no unlearned interpreter of nature and no inept teacher of virtue, both by his merits and to his advantage gained for himself no small esteem among his countrymen, and a distinguished reputation abroad. And (I know not whether by his own volition or moved by the recommendation of others) the Rector or President of the University of Padua appointed him to a post profitable for its usefulness, distinguished for its esteem, and public because of its implications for the common weal, namely to the Professorship of both Civil and Canon Law. But that good man (I do not wish you to imagine I am poking fun at the gentleman, and so I repeat that he was good), could no more advantageously untangle the knots, solve the problems, clarify the intricacies, and interpret the sense of the laws than he could issue commands to rocks, climb up to heaven, or drink hot ashes. What then? Did he “measure himself by his own foot?” Did he think it over, “and ponder long what his shoulders would refuse to bear, what they would support?” Did he prefer to rise up with the camel when a sufficient load was put upon him, rather than join with the donkey in being oppressed by an overload? Or to keep silent with Roscius in the presence of Cato, rather than being hissed off the stage with Statilius when Roscius was in the the audience? Or to be adjudged somewhat obscure for concealing himself, rather than be thought very inept by revealing himself? Thus reason exhorted, thus his reputation urged, thus his friends advised: not some friends but every one, not hesitantly but ceaselessly, not thanks to some trifling impression but by prudent counsel. What about him? He had no bad opinion of others, but too high a one of himself. He approved of quite a few, but yielded to none. He wished it will go well for them, but better for himself. He preferred to seek after new positions rather than resign the badges of office already conferred on himself. If he undertook a responsibility, he would bear it. if not with his praise, as was fitting, at least to his profit. Were he to decline, he would diminish the high opinion conferred by the position, he would put a stop to the reputation he had gained: the latter option would be the choice of an imprudent man, the former of a dissolute one. And although he knew how to fly as well as how to lecture, he nevertheless imagined it was not as disgraceful to be ignorant as it would be unseemly to confess it. He did not, like Socrates, know this one thing, that he knew nothing. Rather, he was ignorant of this one thing, that he knew next to naught. Therefore, “against the will of Minerva,” this donkey donned the lion’s castoffs and tried to pass himself off as a lion. He was recognized by his roaring and hissed out of the Schools.
2. But why this lengthy story? What does it mean? What does it import? Well, the cases, persons, reasons, and places are so alike that they cannot be so unclear that they are incomprehensible to you, nor so “not having to do with Dionysus” that they cannot be applied to me. For just as Nicolletus occupied the first rank in Philosophy, so, if men have expectations regarding a certain subject, I am a nobody; if they have no expectations, I am a somebody; but whichever they do, I am not much. And as he was a stranger to the Law, so I have never so much as spoken my greetings to music. As his magistrate assigned that one to him, so the Proctor has given this academic subject to me for the embellishment (I do not say how amicably he did so, but I know well enough how undeservedly), nor is music more alien to me than jurisprudence was to Nicolettus, nay, why not much more so? What then? Was he ill-advised in accepting it? Am I rash in undertaking this? The Proctor indeed preferred anybody to me, yet he preferred me to nobody at all, and I do not approach this cheerfully, since I come to it rather fearfully. Yet I do not resist, since I do not approach it against my will. There is this single difference between myself and Nicolletus, that he fancied himself to have ripened to the point he could teach, whereas I strike myself as not yet having arrived at a modicum of learning. He claimed to know everything, I frankly confess I know nothing. He ardently yearned to lecture, I am fearful to give lectures before I learn, to act before I understand, which is to run without legs and fly without feathers. But I do not want to inquire too closely into my areas of incompetence, which might strike a wise man as worthy of being concealed, as being small, or might strike a good man as worthy of being corrected, as as being none at all. For I do not like that knight (as he dislikes holding his tongue) who, when he recalls the wars, tells of being put to rout; when he speaks of jousts, remembers being unhorsed; when he recounts his nocturnal forays, describes being beaten with sticks, and describes only this. I should not reopen my wounds so they may bring you disgust and me pain, and thus set forth my faults that they create dislike for you in their hearing, and trouble for me in their defense. For, as Cato is said to have responded to Albinus, who was excusing his style, “Truly, Albinus, you are a great booby, who have preferred to deprecate your fault in writing, rather than to be blameless in maintaining your silence. For who compelled you to do this, so that you must ask for forgiveness before you do it?” You may no less deservedly make this reply to me, if with my words I should seek to extenuate, or with my prayers to defend, my poverty in speaking, my sloth in teaching, my lack of expertise in discussion, even if the situation is not the same for Albinus and myself, or for yourselves and Cato, because the one was a celebrated writer and the other a severe Censor, whereas I am a public Reader and you are my distinguished audience. So I shall say more about my subject, and (with your good leave) this one true thing about myself, that I come here unprepared, since (if I may summarize the rest) I have scarcely had the time, since it has only been four or five days since this duty of lecturing was conferred on me. And I am all the more unprepared because, although I have (as they say) had a sip of the rudiments of the other arts, I have never greeted Music, not even from the threshold, either because (oh my incompetent self!) the others have pleased me more, or because the science of music is foreign to others (oh those imprudent others!), and its practice obsolete. For it is not only out of fashion, it is prostrate. It is not only withered, but wholly defunct in our times, that which in the heroic age both deserved and possessed the laurel in peace, the palm in war, love in idleness, honor in business, value in the city, reward in the countryside, among men of all ages, be they of high, middling or low degree, of all ages, I mean the skill and pursuit of music. You ask the reason? By many (oh the sorrow! oh the shame!) it is mocked as being vain. By certain men it is rebuked as being vicious. By many more it is scorned as being abject. By everybody it is neglected as being unprofitable.
3. This, therefore is as it was, when once upon a time Pherecrates brought both Justice and Music on the stage, comically but with commodity, fictionally but not falsely, Music with torn garments, a filthy face, and a body pierced with wounds, ruined by starvation, and afflicted with diseases, but Justice with a royal aspect, imperial dress, splendid gait, with fasces carried before her, holding a scales in her left hand so as to judge with equity, and a sword in her right so she might punish with severity, wearing a crown on her head so she might govern with power. Here Justice, seeing Music’s unhandsome condition and grieving for her infirmity, inquired like a prudent and pious physician what ailment affected her body, what sickness her mind, what was the cause and the case that she was suffering so badly, or rather so miserably. Then with her feeble voice and tearful complaint, her breath weakened and all but failing, Music responded that Melampis, Timotheus, Phrynis, and others of that stripe, charlatans more than musical fellows, and all but strangers to the Muses, had not only robbed her of her due praise, but had inflicted these scourgings on her, had afflicted her with these wounds. They had given here as many fine blows as ancient lyres had strings, and had burned as many scars into her as men had assigned her notes, so that what Ovid had sung about a tricked-out harlot, harried Music could say about herself, “The least part of her is the girl herself.” Since music suffers not very differently in these times, not in her finger but in her head, not only mutilated but quite mute, since she is hated by most men and studied by few, since for a number of years she has suffered whatever haughtiness has been able to achieve in its insults, malevolence in its injuries, cruelty in its punishments, she has borne this all, however much it is (and it is the greatest) with more bravery than success, she has wished me, not chosen before all other men for being able to speak with the greatest genius, but left remaining after all the others for being able to speak with the least risk; she has wished me, I say, to be the defender of her calamities, the avenger of her injuries, the guardian of her rights, the pleader of her entire case. But if no blame for sloth, none for arrogance, none for cruelty could be incurred, I would gladly break off this attempt, I should freely abandon the defense of music. Yet if flight convicts me of idleness, repudiation of this suppliant convicts me of arrogance, and neglect of my friends convicts me of impropriety, then the case is of this kind, which no energetic, merciful, dutiful man can desert. Wherefore, as I adopt the mask of music (albeit suffering music), I undertake her defense. Thus you should play the part of Justice, but of a healing Justice, you should perform her office. For it is not a question of somebody creating a disease by adding something excessive, but rather many create music’s death by taking away what is properly hers. Hence, as the poet sang, “The thing itself refuses to be embellished, it is content to be taught,” and she does not need to be praised so much as defended. In which, even if the truth has force and weight in all its parts, so that it can fight on its own behalf honorably against all men’s envy, safely against their injuries, modestly against their raillery, carefully against their cleverness, nevertheless since certain men, or rather ranters, who are of that opinion, or rather error, with the result that, either by their ignorance they are quite incapable of admiring music’s singular and all but divine excellence, or by their rascality they refuse to acknowledge it, but rather by their impudence they dare hold it in contempt, and by their impiety are willing to curse it. So if they have elected to be so prolix in harming music, so sharp-tongued in manufacturing lies against her, so disdainful in scorning her, then let it be allowed me, I pray, and let it be allowed me with your leave, to be vehement in responding, sharp in reprehending, earnest in refuting, energetic in removing accusations, somewhat angry in avenging music’s injuries, and excited in vindicating her dignity.
4. What then? Can anybody believe this monstrosity? What? Is there any man who has lived with such boorish habits, who has put all humanity behind him, so that he should dare with a single word, a single voice, to overturn so quickly all disciplines, to deny first principles, destroy means, disrupt ends, cast off his nature, assume bestiality, confound the differentiations of things, overthrow all things topsy- turvy, lacking intelligence, lacking counsel, lacking mind, lacking wit, lacking sense? Assuredly, if after Mankind’s creation there has been any such man, he was Agrippa, a man passing wise in his own opinion, in mine hardly a fool, and in all men’s very malicious, in a book widely enough distributed that all men can read it, and all too many men believe it, takes up the Censor’s rod, sits like an honorable judge, and jeers not only at music but at all the sciences as being vain, repudiates them as being false, refutes them as being weak, diminishes them as being ridiculous, derides them as being silly, and condemns them as being useless. But, if you please, by what argument? Indeed by a manifold one. But of what kind? Assuredly a very strong one. In whose opinion? Why not in his own? Oh excellent Censor! Oh undoubted prince of Doctors! Oh stupid Pythagoras, Plato, Socrates! Oh senseless Aristotle, foolish Xenophon, witless Cicero, Seneca, Plutarch! You have proven, illustrated, taught the sciences; he has demolished, trampled upon, abolished them. But since at this time a cure for the wound he has inflicted is needed more than complaining is required, allow me (if you have the leisure and the will), just as Hercules once fetched Cerberus to this world from the Styx, raging and striving in vain to offer struggles, so to address Agrippa in death freely, as if he were alive, since, just as if he were unburied, we have his Furies still hostile to us in their work, still hateful to us in their mind. Well then, you blot on your times, you source of our unhappiness, you fanatic man (why should I not say you frantic man?), you magic man (why should I not add you diabolical man?), Agrippa, have you thus dared to attack the arts and artists with that madness (I shall not say that genius), that malice (I shall not say that art), that enthusiasm, not for demonstration, but for demolition? But, if it please the gods, supported by what defense? The truth. But so many, so wise, so learned, so industrious, so famous men, who have lived for so many centuries past, have not perceived this truth. But you, such is your acumen, are the only man who unearthed this? Really? I should scarcely have imagined it? But this is indeed wisdom — no, it is dreaming. But perhaps you did this trusting in your wit. I praise this. No doubt will you cleverly draw open-minded men, cannily draw gullible men, learnedly draw unlettered men to your view, willy-nilly. Let it be so. But nobody with a mind shall have believed you. But you did this as a literary exercise. Fine. But see here. It is an evil and almost impious habit, and certainly an iniquitous one, to dispute against the sciences, whether this is done sincerely or as a pretense. As an intelligent man, you should join Erasmus in praising folly with your encomiums, Synesius in praising baldness, Dio in praising hair, Favorinus in praising the quartan fever, Isocrates in praising Busiris, in order to be deemed prudent, rather than teaching imitate Cicero in teaching eloquence by precepts, Euclid in teaching geometry, Proclus in teaching astronomy, Sulpicius in teaching grammar, Quintilian in teaching rhetoric, Aristotle in teaching dialectic, Plato in teaching philosophy, Boetius in teaching music. You should prefer to join Carneades in delivering your peroration Against Justice, rather than join him in speaking On Behalf of Justice. Really? So much perversity? So much audacity? You could praise a donkey, you philophizing donkey, but you could not praise the sciences, you scientific artist? Where’s the honesty? Where’s the simplicity? But come now, lift up your eyebrow, stick up your nose, furrow your forehead, and tell me that the sciences have no fruitfulness, no dignity. But even if “you burst in telling lies,” you never will taint them with a suspicion of genuine guilt, or a blot of false infamy. “False accusation goes no further than the hearing.” They will thrive when Agrippa is dead. They will live when nobody remembers you. But bravo! Just as the unaccustomed brightness of a light alien to him dazzled Cerberus’ eyes, so that he rages and flees the light, let this man retreat, ah, let him retreat, I pray, where, shaking his three heads with a great sound he may guard Dis. I dismiss, if you please, this darling of demons, this object of hate for gods and men, this plague upon the sciences, this — what shall I call him, a man? He does not deserve this. This beast? But that’s gentle. This monster? That’s too little. This Satan. That’s not enough. What, then? Some conglomeration of all these things, yet worse than them all, for I cannot find a name for him.
If you have the time, if you have the leisure, in this cause I shall summon forth out of the darkness into the light and dust a certain other man, a fellow-soldier of Agrippa with his artificially curled locks. This man, unlike his ill-starred master, does not fight against the entire circle of the sciences, but just against poetry and music, like a somewhat more modest puppy, and yet a rude one, albeit in that argument he attacks the very encyclopedia of learning, as Plato calls it, disgracefully if he does so rashly, impiously if with deliberation. If you ask who he is, he is a man not in the least evil, but often mistaken; often mordant, always slanderous; an alumnus of this University, but a detractor of this University, who has written, as he insultingly entitles it, The School of Abuse. For such he calls it, as our kind are wont to speak of Schools of Astronomy, Music, and the other arts, because in this one astronomy is explained, in that one music, and so forth. What could be said more inappropriately, what could be imagined more ill-advisedly, what more criminal thing could exist than to construct a School which teaches abuse? But if he calls it this (as does nobody else) because he would set forth the abuses and point out the ulcers of the poets, musicians and actors hitherto lurking in the Greek’s “school” of leisure, but spreading wide abroad, what could be more fitly invented, or neatly expressed, since one man has crammed a greater number of abuses into one little book than all orders of men have committed, imagined, or even dreamed of in all this life? But, just as good men think nothing but good of all people, so bad men are wont to have nothing but bad opinions about every person. Nor could this gentleman, living as he did, speak otherwise. But let us return to music. Just as Agrippa called dancing loose wantonness, a friend of sin, an incitement to lust, an enemy of shame, a pastime unworthy of all upright men, so did he, at once a son of Agrippa and of the soil, accuse music as an agent of pandering — music, which Agamemnon attached to Clytaemnestra as a guardian of her chastity, so she would spurn the bribery of suitors; which was embraced by Apollo, Mercury and Minerva among the gods, by the Muses, Linus and Orpheus among the demigods, by Hercules, Achilles and Alexander among the heroes, by Epaminondas, Augustus and Nero among the emperors, and by Socrates, Solon and Menedemus among the philosophers, as an ornament of their dignity, nobility, or gravity. He detested it as a corrupter of morals, which Aristotle and Plato taught is to be cultivated by young men as a teacher of virtue, which Timotheus taught to Alexander as a spur to bravery. He abhors it as a root of infamy, which Tyrtaeus commended to the Spartans, Telesilla to the Argives, Alcaeus to the Lesbians as a seed-bed of praise. He detests it as a plague of republics, which Homer applied to the Greeks, Terpander to the Spartans, Ismenias to the old men, as a medicine applied to a plague. He sought to abolish it as being despised by princes, which Caesar loved in Hermogenes, Nero in Terpinus, Antony in Anaxenor, Demetrius in Lamia, as being the favorites of princes. Lastly, he slandered it as worthy of being banished by the laws, which Lycurgus decreed should be retained for Sparta if it were present, or revived if absent, as did Minos for Crete and Pan for Arcadia. So what does he argue? What does he accuse? Does he condemn the art? But he cannot, for (not to mention the gods) music was invented by Pythagoras, instituted by Aristoxenus, illuminated by Euclid, handled by Boetius, and praised by nearly all the philosophers. Or does he reprehend the art’s use? But this does not please. For whatever thing’s legitimate theory is wholesome, that thing’s practice is not pernicious and condemned by law. Or is he accusing the artists? Why not? Nut to transfer a man’s guilt to a thing is, if not absurd, at least unjust. And what artists would he hale into court? The ancients? But, just as those men were an ornament to their own contemporaries, so they cannot be a source of harm for us. Or the ones of later ages? But these, so long as they are pleasing to their princes, have no concern for these men’s trifles. So what Fury, what Ate of the Underworld, has fetched this toad from his little holes to croak against music, this hound from his cave to bark against musicians, this goose from the Capitoline to hiss, without merit but with malevolence, against both? If my conjecture is right, there are two reasons for this accusation, first, ignorance of music, and second, envy of musicians. Concerning the former, there is an old saw, “science has no enemy except ignorance.” He does not understand music, therefore he condemns it. Concerning the latter, it is well known that “with a dog’s tooth envious men bite their betters in fortune, virtue, or understanding.” He envies musicians, therefore he rails against them. Thus a certain man (and not a man possessed of a great name, nor well known on that score) has recently expressed his contempt for the use of many languages, since he was ignorant of them. He criticized them because he grieved over another man’s good. Likewise just the other day this same fellow impugned iambic verse and slandered the poet, out of envy.
6. But I give these calumniators to be gnawed by envy, to be impeded by ignorance, to be ridiculed by you, and to be tortured by themselves. Again and again, I commend music to your trust, I commit it to your care. Such is its great power that it both can and does entice where it wants, inspire how it wants, sway when it wants, peasants in their fields, townsmen in their cities, and princes in their courts, and everywhere it holds them in its grip. So great is its virtue that it could summon Alexander to arms and recall him from the field; that with its Phrygian mode it could excite a young man of Tauromina to burn down a courtesan’s house, and with its spondees it could prevent him from doing the deed. So great is its utility that it could restrain the ferocity of Achilles, the ardor of Alexander, the lust in Clytamnestra. Such is it necessity that without it Themistocles would be considered unlearned. Such is its sweetness that it moved a fish, bestial by nature, dull of sensation and all but deaf, to bear a man riding on its back over the bounding main; that it could move rocks and trees when Orpheus sang, rivers and beasts when did Amphion. Such is its dignity that is held to be part of a king’s education. For it is a cure for dislikes: administer it. It is a calmative for an overexcited mind: receive it. It is a food for the intellect: consume it. It is a palliative for pains: seize on it. It is a port in storms, land your ship here. It is an end for toils: run hither. Oh flourishing University if it undertakes music; wise if it gives it a hearing, strong if it obeys it; wretched if it is ignorant of it, ungrateful if it expels it, dead if it loses it! But I do not wish to say more, both because I am incompetent to enter into details, and because more in praise of music must of necessity be said in my explication of the first chapter. Meanwhile, my hearers, so you may show yourselves men of good will, expel music’s enemies, hold them in contempt; cherish its patrons; embrace its Reader. I have spoken.