THE DUSTY BOOKSHELF (TWO BY BENCHLEY)

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“I have tried to know absolutely nothing about a great many things, and I have succeeded fairly well.”

Back to Mozart

Some time ago, in this space, I attempted to cheer up others, who felt Life closing in on them with nothing accomplished, by writing that Napoleon never saw a steamboat until he was fifty-eight and that Mozart never wrote a bar of music until he was ninety.

A very pleasant lady correspondent has written in to ask me if there has not been some mistake. She has always understood, she says, that Mozart died at the age of thirty-five and that he began to compose at the age of four.

I don't believe that we can be thinking of the same Mozart. The Mozart that I meant was Arthur Mozart, who lived at 138th street until he died, in 1926, at the age of ninety-three.

This Mozart that I referred to was a journeyman whistler, who went about from place to place, giving bird calls and just plain whistles. He was a short, dark man, with a mustache in which everyone claimed he carried a bird. After his death this was proven to be a canard. (This is not a pun on the French word for "duck." He didn't carry a duck there, either.)

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Up until the age of ninety, however, Arthur had never composed anything for himself to whistle, always relying on the well-known bird calls and popular airs of the day. That is, they were popular until Arthur gave them a workout.

But just before his ninetieth birthday, the Mozarts got together and decided that "Grampa Arthur," as they called him, ought to unbelt with a little something for posterity. So they gave him a pitch-pipe, and stood around waiting for him to swallow it.

But, instead of swallowing it, Mozart went into the next room and worked up a fairly hot number for woodwinds and brasses, called "Opus No. 1," because it was such hard work. It was a steal from Debusset, but the cadenzas were Mozart's. He also went into the coda right after the first six bars.

This Arthur Mozart is the one I had reference to in my article. The Mozart that my correspondent refers to was evidently a prodigy of some sort, if he composed at the age of four. He also must have worked on one of the night-club pianos like Harry Richman's. Maybe it was Harry Richman!

All this shows what comes of not giving initials when you mention a name in print. But how was I to know that there were two Mozarts who were composers?

 

Nature's Noises

Throughout the ages there have been natural phenomena which have been attributed by the common people (and a few college graduates) to murmurings of the Great Spirit or noisy protests from Valhalla. These have later turned out to be nothing but the cold water faucet dripping into the kitchen sink, or the 11:45 from Portland rumbling over a ledge of rock five miles away.

Some of these queer sounds from lakes and moors have, however, had a deeper significance. They have come from actual convulsions of Nature, and an actual convulsion of Nature is no fun. I know, because I had a relative once who was one.

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Take, for instance, the famous "Mumbling Mountain" of Pico, Alaska. Every month or so (excepting February, which has twenty-eight) the inhabitants of Pico heard a loud mumbling like a man talking in his sleep. All of this rapscallion business seemed to come from a nearby mountain, known as Nearby Mountain.

This was naturally attributed to the customary mutterings of the Mountain God, angry because he found himself covered with wet misty clouds. You can hardly blame him. However, thanks to a Dr. Reney, of the Alaska Electric Light and Power Co., it has been discovered that the sounds really came from a new glacier, which was (and still is, unless it has changed its mind) getting ready to start out on a tour of North America. This will make the map of North America look pretty silly, so you'd better not laugh. You wait and see!

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Scientists have, for years, shaken their heads until they ached, over the sound which has come from the skies at Twombley, England. Some of the scientists have said: "Pay no attention to it! You're drunk!" Others have given it as their opinion that it was tops in ominousness. Still others have gone out and got drunk themselves when they heard it. It has turned out to be simply an echo from the surrounding hills. It is the echo of an old man's voice, screaming. This doesn't help the inhabitants of Twombley much, as you may well imagine, for it has been going on, sporadically, for one hundred and thirty years. The old man shouldn't be screaming that loudly at this late date. A lot of people are still hoping for another explanation.

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Everyone knows about the "Singing Clam Flats of Garkley," in the outskirts of Gersta, North Wales. On moonlight nights, these clam flats have definitely been heard to hum. Naturally, it was laid to the clams, as Welch miners are great singers, too. In fact, quite a number of Welch clams were taken on a concert tour with a Welchmen's chorus, but they didn't come through as clearly as was expected.

Now, science tells us that these singing clam flats are really not due to clams at all, but the gradual shifting of Wales into Ireland. There has got to be a great deal of bickering before that happens, I'll tell you!

So the next time you hear a mountain giggling or a lake bottom turning over on its side, don't just say: "It's the gods who are restless!" You get your things packed up and ask for your hotel bill. Those sounds mean something.