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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Religious Music
By Horace Bushnell (1802–1876)
 
From ‘Work and Play’

AS we are wont to argue the invisible things of God, even his eternal power and Godhead, from the things that are seen, finding them all images of thought and vehicles of intelligence, so we have an argument for God more impressive, in one view, because the matter of it is so deep and mysterious, from the fact that a grand, harmonic, soul-interpreting law of music pervades all the objects of the material creation, and that things without life, all metals and woods and valleys and mountains and waters, are tempered with distinctions of sound, and toned to be a language to the feeling of the heart. It is as if God had made the world about us to be a grand organ of music, so that our feelings might have play in it, as our understanding has in the light of the sun and the outward colors and forms of things. What is called the musical scale, or octave, is fixed in the original appointments of sound just as absolutely and definitely as the colors of the rainbow or prism in the optical properties and laws of light. And the visible objects of the world are not more certainly shaped and colored to us under the exact laws of light and the prism, than they are tempered and toned, as objects audible, to give distinctions of sound by their vibrations in the terms of the musical octave. It is not simply that we hear the sea roar and the floods clap their hands in anthems of joy; it is not that we hear the low winds sigh, or the storms howl dolefully, or the ripples break peacefully on the shore, or the waters dripping sadly from the rock, or the thunders crashing in horrible majesty through the pavements of heaven; not only do all the natural sounds we hear come to us in tones of music as interpreters of feeling, but there is hid in the secret temper and substance of all matter a silent music, that only waits to sound and become a voice of utterance to the otherwise unutterable feeling of our heart—a voice, if we will have it, of love and worship to the God of all.  1
  First, there is a musical scale in the laws of the air itself, exactly answering to the musical sense or law of the soul. Next, there is in all substances a temperament of quality related to both; so that whatever kind of feeling there may be in a soul—war and defiance, festivity and joy, sad remembrance, remorse, pity, penitence, self-denial, love, adoration—may find some fit medium of sound in which to express itself. And, what is not less remarkable, connected with all these forms of substances there are mathematical laws of length and breadth, or definite proportions of each, and reflective angles, that are every way as exact as those which regulate the colors of the prism, the images of the mirror, or the telescopic light of astronomic worlds—mathematics for the heart as truly as for the head.  2
  It cannot be said that music is a human creation, and as far as the substances of the world are concerned, a mere accident. As well can it be said that man creates the colors of the prism, and that they are not in the properties of the light, because he shapes the prism by his own mechanical art. Or if still we doubt; if it seems incredible that the soul of music is in the heart of all created being; then the laws of harmony themselves shall answer, one string vibrating to another, when it is not struck itself, and uttering its voice of concord simply because the concord is in it and it feels the pulses on the air to which it cannot be silent. Nay, the solid mountains and their giant masses of rock shall answer; catching, as they will, the bray of horns or the stunning blast of cannon, rolling it across from one top to another in reverberating pulses, till it falls into bars of musical rhythm and chimes and cadences of silver melody. I have heard some fine music, as men are wont to speak—the play of orchestras, the anthems of choirs, the voices of song that moved admiring nations. But in the lofty passes of the Alps I heard a music overhead from God’s cloudy orchestra, the giant peaks of rock and ice, curtained in by the driving mist and only dimly visible athwart the sky through its folds, such as mocks all sounds our lower worlds of art can ever hope to raise. I stood (excuse the simplicity) calling to them, in the loudest shouts I could raise, even till my power was spent, and listening in compulsory trance to their reply. I heard them roll it up through their cloudy worlds of snow, sifting out the harsh qualities that were tearing in it as demon screams of sin, holding on upon it as if it were a hymn they were fining to the ear of the great Creator, and sending it round and round in long reduplications of sweetness, minute after minute; till finally receding and rising, it trembled, as it were, among the quick gratulations of angels, and fell into the silence of the pure empyrean. I had never any conception before of what is meant by quality in sound. There was more power upon the soul in one of those simple notes than I ever expect to feel from anything called music below, or ever can feel till I hear them again in the choirs of the angelic world. I had never such a sense of purity, or of what a simple sound may tell of purity by its own pure quality; and I could not but say, O my God, teach me this! Be this in me forever! And I can truly affirm that the experience of that hour has consciously made me better able to think of God ever since—better able to worship. All other sounds are gone; the sounds of yesterday, heard in the silence of enchanted multitudes, are gone; but that is with me still, and I hope will never cease to ring in my spirit till I go down to the slumber of silence itself.  3
 
 
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