AUGUST 29, 1947
HYDE PARK, Thursday—A long while ago, I glanced very hurriedly through a book which had an intriguing title, "From the Top of the Stairs," by Gretchen Finletter, daughter of Walter Damrosch. But only this summer have I had time really to read it. I realize that it may be of interest to only a limited number of people, and yet there are people all over this country who owe a debt of gratitude to Walter Damrosch for the music which he has given us. This book gives you a glimpse of his family life from the point of view of one of his children.
To be sure, the life described is largely the life of the children in a very restricted group in New York, but parents and children were all of them personalities and they did not stay within one pattern. Since, in my youth, I belonged to somewhat the same pattern, I chuckled over the dancing classes, the crush on William Faversham, and the story of the day when Paderewski came to lunch and Madame Paderewski made him eat poached eggs instead of all the delicacies provided for him.
This reminded me of many a time in my own experience when great preparations were made for particular people who would have none of them! I could almost match it with one occasion in the White House when, after we had made considerable preparation for a guest of honor, he explained that as an artist he could not possibly eat anything before his concert—that food would have to be prepared on his return and not before he played. It was not only food but also people, in that case, who had to be changed around, but the artist was quite oblivious.
* * *
There are some observations in Mrs. Finletter's book which I think all those who deal with artists should take to heart. In talking of wives of great artists, she remarks: "An artist married to the woman who built up his ego and produced the sympathetic circle of admirers and patrons undoubtedly made life pleasanter for her husband. But there was the opposite picture of the artist's wife who made enemies, and had taken to drink, and her husband was the bigger musician. He was big because somehow the daemon had entered his being and ruled him, beside which his wife, his children, the right atmosphere, the beautiful background, were as nothing. He served something else which was much stronger, which demanded creation from him. The rest could help or hinder—a little."
It is light reading, but if you have not read "From the Top of the Stairs," it will give you a nice perspective of some people you would enjoy knowing.