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HREE things make the island of Mount Desert unique-its beauty, its altruism, and its variety.
"This is the most beautiful place in the world," a well-known artist assured me last summer. "I've been all round, -Italy, Greece, Syria,-but I 've never found anything to equal it."
This beauty impresses the stranger from afar. As he coasts eastward along the Maine shore, thirteen mountains that seem to rise directly out of the sea compose themselves into three main masses, standing out in noble relief in the clear atmosphere. The morning I first saw them the westernmost mass was heavy, black, and solemn. The others, divided by those delightful little twins, the Bubbles, were more friendly, with fleecy clouds stooping over them and letting through a few splashes of sunlight here and there to gild their peaks and sides.
By the opposite approach, through Frenchman's Bay, the effect, though wholly different, is no less striking; for Mount Desert is the one spot in the whole sweep of the Atlantic coast from Labrador to Mexico where the mountains go down to the sea. Coming from this side on a
day of sunshine when the atmosphere is softened by a little haze, one sails into view of a fairy-land bubbling up from the water in a heap of misty, delicate, softly rounded domes. Presently appear smooth, bright lawns sloping back from the red crags of the shore-line to tree-embowered villas. And from the heights peep out the towers and gables of Bar Harbor's foliageveiled cottages, many of which are so in love with the trees that one often has a better view of them from the water than ashore.
By some happy chance one of my first experiences after landing was of a concert by the Kneisel Quartet in one of the most charming spots ever dedicated in any land to the spirit of beauty, and certainly the fittest conceivable setting for chamber-music. Here, in the Building of Arts, the American has made the Greek temple his own and set it in natural, wild scenery as fair as that of an Ægean isle. In fact, this building, seen from the summit of Newport Mountain, is strongly reminiscent of the temple of Theseus as it shows from the Acropolis, only that, with its lovely background, the modern temple stands out more strikingly than the ancient one,
Copyright, 1911, by THE CENTURY CO. All rights reserved.
seen against the ugliness of modern
The Building of Arts stood open, so that we might look out upon sward and wood and the changing lights and shadows on the mountains while hearing an ideal organization interpret Beethoven under ideal conditions. The audience seemed as far removed in spirit from the light mood of the usual watering-place as was the building itself. The musicians responded at once to that almost telepathic sympathy of their hearers which is so essential a factor of a successful performance anywhere. And when one of the cottagers came forward, playing with them his own splendidly conceived quintet, players and audience seemed one in their enthusiasm.
After the concert, while tea was being served on the lawn, it was a memorable thing to watch from the slopes of the grassy amphitheater about the building the groups of charming costumes and the faces flushed with music and the spirit of the moment, outlined against the tender, creamy tones of that home of loveliness, framed in its turn by the strength of the hills.
It seemed too good to be true that such a thing should come to pass in an American summer resort. The experience was a strange introduction indeed to a spot which I had vaguely expected to find a center of fashion and summer gaiety, and little more. But it was soon evident that this concert was nothing sporadic, that it actually stood for a love of beauty almost Greek in its sincerity, and one in harmony with the constant tradition of the place. For Mount Desert, the summer resort, was discovered about the middle of the last century by that famous group of American artists headed by Church and Cole, who thus proved themselves pioneers in more than landscape-painting. So the public first came to learn the spell of this Northern landscape through the eyes of artists before they sought the Maine coast to enjoy it with their own eyes.
Many another watering-place has been discovered by the appreciative, only to be completely spoiled by the sudden inrush of popularity and wealth. boarding-house period, through the time Through the of enormous wooden hotels, and into the present day, when, in Bar Harbor, at least, the transient guest has given way to
the home-making cottager, the beautyloving spirit of its painter-pioneers has never ceased to dominate the island.
in Bar Harbor, and a series of chamberAs the desire for artistic expression grew musical taste, the question arose: If Gerconcerts in private cottages developed hybrid thing as music-drama, why should many might have its Bayreuth for such a for the simpler, purer art of chambernot America find at least as fit a setting music? Half a dozen years ago this idea was taken up by five enthusiastic and devoted summer residents, and grew in scope until out of it there came not a building for music only, but the Building of Arts. For, besides concerts, dramatic performjoining open amphitheater, modeled on old ances are given both there and in the adGreek lines. building glows with a pageant of flowers And every summer the which, according to competent critics, is of unique wealth and rarity.
This horticultural exhibition is the di-
the gardens of Mount Desert is that their
tect, "For Heaven's sake, leave it alone!"
become a sort of watchword, and has
place in Bar Harbor if it were of the artificial, ostentatious kind often seen in the grounds of the wealthy. But here it is sometimes a little gem of landscapearchitecture at once formal and natural, breaking perhaps into wildness and running down to the rugged shore, or set for a surprise beside a sweep of rocky meadow, or held in the heart of a tangled thicket, like a polished nut inside its bur. While the purpose of this formalism is evidently to intensify by contrast the wild naturalness of the place, it has also resulted in lending the formal gardens here an unusual vividness and charm.
Certain vignettes persist in the memory, such as a Japanese bronze dragon, seen from above, writhing amid floral color harmonies that modulate subtly toward a pergola smothered in scarlet woodbine. Another is of a brook dammed into a charming wood-girdled pond into which runs a smaller stream, musically inclined, overarched by high-stepping miniature bridges, guarded by tiny fences of tied bamboo, and with the stone shrines and the gnarled dwarf trees of Japan standing here and there. Up by a straw-thatched pagoda that is artistically held together with ropes, a brazen Buddha presides on a ledge of rocks, and a single fern issues from a cranny beneath, in the accepted Japanese manner. Between the treetrunks one spies over the streamlet a jut of red crag, a sheet of blue-gray ocean, and a distant peak that one feels must be Fuji Yama.
The existence of the largest and most formal of Bar Harbor's gardens might be unsuspected from the steps of its villa. You adventure through a narrow, winding way in a wild copse, and glimpse first a spread of velvety turf; then suddenly, beyond a round plot of snapdragon and a sun-dial, you discover a small marble fountain surrounded by phlox and heliotrope, while the whole is backed by a semicircular bed of white snapdragon and a big, crescent loggia covered with vines.
But this is merely looking across the transept of this chapel of flowers. You move up the nave and turn for the full effect. Over the high side walls, studded with dwarf evergreens, the tree-columns of the inclosing wood look down on a dense fringe of high-growing flowers, colored as richly and delicately as aisle-win
dows of old stained glass. The central space is dedicated to a few formal trees and shrine-like vases of bloom, and beyond them two marble lions preside over the approach to the lofty choir, a stately loggia no more envined than to allow from below a glorious view of Newport Mountain.
There is space merely for these few memories of the island's gardens. It is good to know that the passion for flowers has observed no class distinctions, and that many of the fishermen's houses may now be seen blossoming like the hovels of a French village.
The beauty of the outlook from those fortunate verandas that look seaward from high places is unique. From the northwestern part of Bar Harbor, where the houses are as exquisitely conformed to the configuration of their steep grounds as Rhenish castles, one may look out over a slope of great, rough evergreens to the harbor filled with vivacious pleasurecraft, Bar Island and the Little Porcupine coming dreamily out of the haze, and, beyond, the mainland faintly penciled.
Or passing down the Ocean Drive, which can be compared only to that enchanted way winding above the Mediterranean from Amalfi to Sorrento, one discovers from the height of Seal Harbor as charming a group of pleasure-boats and a more interesting panorama of islands than are to be seen from Bar Harbor, with only the distant coast-line lacking to make this the crowning view of all.
There is not space enough to touch on the charm of Northeast Harbor and Southwest Harbor nestling by the mouth of Somes Sound, our only authentic Norwegian fjord. An eloquent tradition declares that the stranger, no matter where he first may land on Mount Desert, forever after prefers that particular spot, and returns to it every season and hotly champions its claims against all rivals. Woe betide the rash writer who should presume to decide which of the harbors is the most beautiful. As for me, I had as lief decide between Chartres Cathedral, the Winged Victory, Leonardo's Last Supper, and the Seventh Symphony.
Not alone beauty and a spirit of beauty, but a unique spirit of altruism as well has helped to unify the people of Mount Desert, much as the recession of the waters once unified a group of storm-swept moun