George du Maurier, Trilby. A Novel, New York: Harper & Brothers, 1894, pp. 248-251.


Excerpt from Trilby, 1894, by George du Maurier


George du Maurier

            It was on one of the most brilliant of these Saturday nights that Taffy and the Laird, chaperoned by Little Billee, made their début at Mechelen Lodge, and were received at the door of the immense music-room by a tall, powerful man with splendid eyes and a gray beard, and a small velvet cap on his head — and by a Greek matron so beautiful and stately and magnificently attired that they felt inclined to sink them on their bended knees as in the presence of some overwhelming Eastern royalty — and were only prevented from doing so, perhaps, by the simple, sweet, and cordial graciousness of her welcome.

            And whom should they be shaking hands with next but Antony, Lorrimer, and the Greek — with each a beard and mustache of nearly five years’ growth!

            But they had not time for much exuberant greeting, for there was a sudden piano crash — and then an immediate silence, as though for pins to drop — and Signor Giuglini and the wondrous maiden Adelina Patti sang the Miserere out of Signor Verdi’s most famous opera — to the delight of all but a few very superior ones who had just read Mendelssohn’s letters (or misread them) and despised Italian music; and thought cheaply of “mere virtuosity,” either vocal or instrumental.

            When this was over, Little Billee pointed out all the lions to his friends — from the Prime Minister down to the present scribe — who was right glad to meet them again and talk of auld lang syne, and present them to the daughters of the house and other charming ladies.

            Then Roucouly, the great French barytone, sang Durien’s favorite song,

“Plaisir d’amour ne dure qu’un moment;
Chagrin d’amour dure toute la vie. …”

 with quite a little drawing-room voice — but quite as divinely as he had sung “Noël, noël,” at the Madeleine in full blast one certain Christmas eve our three friends remembered well.

            Then there was a violin solo by young Joachim, then as now the greatest violinist of his time; and a solo on the piano-forte by Madame Schumann, his only peeress! and these came as a wholesome check to the levity of those for whom all music is but an agreeable pastime, a mere emotional delight, in which the intellect has no part; and also as a well-deserved humiliation to all virtuosi who play so charmingly that they make their listeners forget the master who invented the music in the lesser master who interprets it!

            For these two — man and woman — the highest of their kind, never let you forget it was Sebastian Bach they were playing — playing in absolute perfection in absolute forgetfulness of themselves — so that if you weren’t up to Bach, you didn’t have a very good time!

            But if you were (or wished it to be understood or thought you were), you seized your opportunity and you scored; and by the earnestness of your rapt and tranced immobility, and the stony, gorgon-like intensity of your gaze, you rebuked the frivolous — as you had rebuked them before by the listlessness and carelessness of your bored resignation to the Signorina Patti’s trills and fioritures, or M. Roucouly’s pretty little French mannerisms.

            And what added so much to the charm of this delightful concert was that the guests were not packed together sardinewise, as they are at most concerts; they were comparatively few and well chosen, and could get up and walk about and talk to their friends between the pieces, and wander off into other rooms and look at endless beautiful things, and stroll in the lovely grounds, by moon or star or Chinese-lantern light.

            And there the frivolous could sit and chat and laugh and flirt when Bach was being played inside; and the earnest wander up and down together in soul-communication, through darkened walks and groves and alleys where the sound of French or Italian warblings could not reach them, and talk in earnest tones of the great Zola, or Guy de Maupassant and Pierre Loti, and exult in beautiful English over the inferiority of English literature, English art, English music, English everything else.

            For these high-minded ones who can only bear the sight of classical pictures and the sound of classical music do not necessarily read classical books in any language — no Shakespeares or Dantes or Molières or Goethes for them.

George du Maurier’s Trilby, was one of the most popular novels of its time. It was published serially in Harper’s Monthly in 1894, and appeared in book form in 1895. Set in Paris in the 1850s, its most celebrated character is the Jewish musician and hypnotist Svengali, who exercises his powers over a young woman named Trilby O’Ferrall.