Not Good Enough


The young man was one of the most handsome in Boston, seemingly a classical Greek statue that had come to life and put on modern clothes.

He was also spoiled, and all efforts to make him work had failed. An attempt to turn him into a journalist had sent him to India, from which he returned more handsome and more unemployed than ever.

His aunt, poet Julia Ward Howe, famous for writing The Battle Hymn of the Republic, thought that music might be a good career for the young man. After all, he had a pleasant baritone voice and enjoyed singing the occasional Schubert song with friends. She approached the English conductor George Henschel and asked him to audition her nephew. She and one of the young man’s uncles accompanied him to the test.

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For once, the young man was enthusiastic. Henschel gave him a thorough audition.

“I had to break to him my conviction that it would be of no use,” Henschel remembered. “He could not sing, nor, in my opinion, be made to sing in perfect tune, and must give up all dreams of ever becoming a singer or making a living by music.”

The young man was devastated. At the age of twenty-seven he felt that music had been his last hope. His eyes brimmed with tears, apparently seeing nothing but a bleak future.

Trying to come up with something positive, the uncle suggested, “Why don’t you write down that little story you told me some time ago of that strange experience you had in India?”

The audition had taken place in January 1882. By Christmas, a novel set in India was sweeping through the United States and Great Britain. It was Mister Isaacs, the first of many best-sellers by Francis Marion Crawford. Years later, the prosperous author encountered Henschel in Sorento and reminded him with gratitude of the miserable audition in Boston that had laid the foundation for an outstanding literary career.