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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809–1894)


From “The Poet at the Breakfast-Table”

THE OLD Master was talking about a concert he had been to hear.

—I don’t like your chopped music anyway. That woman—she had more sense in her little finger than forty medical societies—Florence Nightingale—says that the music you pour out is good for sick folks, and the music you pound out isn’t. Not that exactly, but something like it. I have been to hear some music-pounding. It was a young woman, with as many white muslin flounces round her as the planet Saturn has rings, that did it. She gave the music-stool a twirl or two and fluffed down on to it like a whirl of soap-suds in a hand-basin. Then she pushed up her cuffs as if she was going to fight for the champion’s belt. Then she worked her wrists and her hands, to limber ’em, I suppose, and spread out her fingers till they looked as though they would pretty much cover the keyboard, from the growling end to the little squeaky one. Then those two hands of hers made a jump at the keys as if they were a couple of tigers coming down on a flock of black-and-white sheep, and the piano gave a great howl as if its tail had been trod on. Dead stop—so still you could hear your hair growing. Then another jump, and another howl, as if the piano had two tails and you had trod on both of ’em at once, and then a grand clatter and scramble and string of jumps, up and down, back and forward, one hand over the other, like a stampede of rats and mice more than like anything I call music. I like to hear a woman sing, and I like to hear a fiddle sing, but these noises they hammer out of their wood-and-ivory anvils—don’t talk to me; I know the difference between a bullfrog and a woodthrush.