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Cherubino, A Psychological Art Fancy
by [?]

It is a strange and beautiful fact that whatsoever is touched by genius, no matter how humble in itself, becomes precious and immortal. This wrinkled old woman is merely one of thousands like herself, who have sat and will sit by the great porcelain stove of the Dutch backshop, their knitting or their bible on their knees. There is nothing to make her recollected; yet we know her after two centuries, even as if we had seen her alive, because, with a few blurred lines and shadows hastily scratched on his etching plate, it pleased the whim of Master Rembrandt to pourtray her. And this little commonplace Frankfurt shopkeeper’s maiden, in her stiff little cap and starched frill, who should remember her? Yet she is familiar to us all, because she struck the boyish fancy of Goethe. For even as the fact of its once having sparkled on the waistcoat of Mozart makes us treasure up a tarnished brass button; and as the notion of their having been planted by the hand of Michael Angelo made us mourn the cutting down of a clump of sear and rusty old cypresses, so also the fact of having been noticed, noted down by genius, with brush, or pen, or chisel, makes into relics men and things which would else have been forgotten; because the stroke of that pen, or brush, or chisel removes them from the perishable world of reality to the deathless world of fancy. Nay, even the beautiful things, the perfect, physically or morally, of the world, those which called forth admiration and love as long as they existed: Antinous and Monna Lisa, Beatrice and Laura, would now be but a handful of nameless dust, were it not for the artists and poets who have made them live again and for ever: the deeds and sufferings of the Siegfrieds and Cids, of the Desdemonas and Francescas, would have died away had they not been filched out of the world of reality into the world of fiction. And even as the perishable, the humble, the insignificant reality becomes enduring and valuable by the touch of genius; so also in the very world of fiction itself the intellectual creations of one man may be raised to infinitely higher regions by the hand of another, may be transported into the kingdom of another and nobler art, and there be seen more universally and surrounded by a newly acquired radiance. In this manner the tale of Romeo and Juliet, graciously and tenderly narrated by the old Italian story-teller, was transfigured by Shakespeare and enshrined in all the splendours of Elizabethan poetry; the figure of Psyche, delicately graceful in the little romance of Apuleius, reappeared, enlarged and glorified by the hand of Raphael, on the walls of the Farnesina; and thus also our Cherubino, the fanciful and brilliant creature of Beaumarchais, is known to most of us far less in his original shape than in the vague form woven out of subtle melodies to which Mozart has given the page’s name. Mozart has, as it were, taken away Cherubino from Beaumarchais; he has, for the world at large, substituted for the page of the comedy the page of the opera. Beaumarchais could give us clear-spoken words, dialogue and action, a visible and tangible creature; and Mozart could give only a certain arrangement of notes, a certain amount of rhythm and harmony, a vague, speechless, shapeless thing; yet much more than the written words do those notes represent to our fancy the strange and fascinating little figure, the wayward, the amorous, the prankish, the incarnation of childishness, of gallantry, of grace, of fun, and of mischief, the archetype of pages–the page Cherubino. What could music do for Cherubino? of what means could it dispose to reproduce this type, this figure? and how did, how should music have disposed of those means? About this fantastic and brilliant little jackanapes of a page centres a curious question of artistic anomaly, of artistic power, and of artistic duty.