Stephen Collins Foster Biography - online book

A Biography Of America's Folk-Song Composer By Harold Vincent Milligan

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TRAGEDY
99
against which, as no one better than the writer knows, he wrestled with earnestness indescribable, resorting to all remedial expedients, which professional skill or his own experience could suggest, but never entirely delivering himself from its damning control.
In protesting against the story by Birdseye, which laid special stress on this point, Morrison Foster wrote to an editor:
I can see no possible good to be attained by publishing it. If my brother had been distinguished as an orator, an actor, appear­ing before the public in person, references to the only failing he ever had might perhaps be relevant, but the public knew not him but only of him, his poetry and music being the only visible sign that such a being really existed at all; reference to certain peculiarities is not only out of place, but is a cruel tearing open of old wounds, which the grave should close forever.
But this "peculiarity" made good "copy"; and the story has been told so often that to many minds the name of Stephen Foster, like that of Edgar Allan Poe, is a synonym of drunkenness. The world has always de­manded dramatic contrasts in its stories. It more than half expects its geniuses to live in garrets and hovels, or if need be, in a Bowery saloon. To the common mind a genius is a strange being, half god and half devil, who in a moment of frenzy dashes off a bit of immortality, and who atones for the possession of superior gifts by exhibiting more than compensatory defects. Particularly, the musi­cal genius, by reason of the abstract, almost occult, manner of his expression, is a special victim of this popular appetite for drama. Mozart and Schubert in their poverty, Beethoven in his deafness, the blind Han­del and the drunken Stephen Foster will always have their place in the world's story-book. In the case of Foster it is unfortunate that the emphasis must be placed so often on this unhappy trait, which his family would so gladly have forgiven and forgotten; but so long as human nature loves garish colors in its picture-book, it is not likely to be otherwise. "Drunken" he may have been in these last sad days; "dissolute" he never was. The least sympathetic of his memorialists give him credit for







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