excerpt from 'Diary of William Plumer Jacobs' pp. 93-4 (575 words)

excerpt from 'Diary of William Plumer Jacobs' pp. 93-4 (575 words)

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Diary of William Plumer Jacobs

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After some deliberation I resolved to see what has been called a living miracle, the greatest wonder of the world. This miracle is a little blind, grinning negro of eleven or twelve years of age, an idiot in reality and appearance and yet who has the most remarkable power over the piano. Tom, for that is his name, heard his young mistress playing on that instrument and having crept into the house through a window, startled the whole house by discoursing sweet music. Tom is a perfect idiot but his faculties of music and imitation have been wonderfully cultivated. It would be wonderful for a blind man to play as well as he does but for a blind idiotic negro to do so well is marvellous indeed. Music is his existence. He is happy only in music. He lives and breathes music. Even while speaking his fingers are running over imaginary keys and he plays over his sentences. He puts his whole soul into the piano and thunders out his musical sentences with eagerness and expression. He played such pieces as the Carnival of Venice, Norma, the Anvil Chorus and other simpler pieces such as the Georgia Breakdown. A very remarkable feature in his ability to use the piano was also shown us. He turned his back to the piano and played Yankee Doodle. He then sat down and played "The girl I left Behind Me," with one hand, some other piece with the other hand and sang Dixie all at the same time. Then, leaving the piano his exhibitor would touch various keys but Tom would instantly tell which were white and which black. Tom also favoured us with several speeches and songs to display his power of imitation. But the grandest piece of the evening was the last, a piece of Tom's own arrangement, entitled the Battle of Manassas. It thrilled me through and through. I listened with intense interest to the Southerners with fife and drum playing "The girl I left behind me" far off in the distance gradually growing louder as it approached;- the march of the grand Union Army from Washington, playing Dixie, the preparation for battle. Suddenly a cannon's roar startled us. Cannon after cannon rose high above the southern band playing the Marsellaise hymn and intermingled with Dixie. Cannon after cannon mingled with with peal after peal of musketry; the sharp crack of rifles. Suddenly above the roar of artillery rose the shrill whistle of the steam car, imitating the puffing and blowing of the engine, bringing in Kirby Smith's division. Then rout and confusion seized the northern hordes. Horse trampled on man and man on fellowmen. The scene was thrilling and the heart could not but swell with emotion. Tom made the instrument speak. Could I help being delighted and entertained? And yet at time the saddening thought of the poor fellow's idiocy would cross my mind. Perhaps not many days hence, his eyes may be opened and his mind unbarred and he may tune his harp around the everlasting throne of God. If envy could find a place in heaven, we might then, envy poor Tom his lot. Music is his God or rather his God is music. Then will he know and reverence the God of music. Tom is to me, indeed a puzzle. The phrenologists say that their art fails them in explaining Tom for they cannot find in him any music bumps.

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excerpt from 'Diary of William Plumer Jacobs' pp. 93-4 (575 words)


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