Jesse the Bethlehemite was one day astonished, and perhaps alarmed, to receive a somewhat peremptory command from the king—“Send me David, thy son, who is with the sheep.” What could the king know of his son? What did he want with him? If Jesse knew—and if any one knew, he was the most likely to know it—the true purport of the anointing which that son had received, his first thought must have been, that the fact had come to the knowledge of Saul, and that this summons to his presence boded no good to David. However, as they say in the East, to hear was to obey. It behooved that the young man should not appear before the king empty-handed; and his father therefore provided a suitable present in testimony of homage and respect. It consisted of a live kid, a quantity of bread, and a skin of wine. This was carried by an ass; and it is a pleasant picture to conceive the future king of Israel stepping lightly along behind the animal, with his shepherd’s staff and scrip, and entertained as he went by the gambols of the kid. His light harp was no doubt slung to his back; and it is likely that he now and then rested under a tree, and solaced his soul with its music. His fearless temper would not allow him to look forward to the result of his journey with misgivings; or, if a doubt crossed his mind, he found sufficient rest in his confidence in God.
There was nothing really alarming when the facts became known.
When the king had leisure to reflect, the denunciation of Samuel sank deep into his soul. The more he thought of it, the more terrible that doom appeared. What, in comparison, mattered it to him, that he was still to reign, if the higher hope of leaving a race of kings to Israel was to be taken from him—from him who had sons well worthy to be kings? The Hebrew mind so linked itself to the future by the contemplation of posterity, that it is scarcely possible to us, with our looser attachment to the time beyond ourselves, to apprehend, in all its intensity, the deep distress of mind with which any Hebrew, and much more a king, regarded the prospect that there would be
“No son of his succeeding.”
Besides, there was ground for personal anxiety, even for himself. From lapse of time it might be inferred, that his doom was not, as regarded himself, to be immediately executed. But who knew what might come to pass when the threatened rival should appear? Was he in his lifetime to yield up his kingly power to that rival; or was his sun to go down suddenly in blood to make room for him?
The mind of this prince, not in his best fortunes strong, gradually gave way beneath the terror of these thoughts—the certainty of his doom, and the uncertain shapes in which it appeared. He sunk into a deep melancholy, which being regarded as a Divine judgment, it is said that “an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him.” “What more may be meant by this than that God, for Saul’s hardened impenitence, withdrew his restraining and guiding grace, I cannot say,” observes Dr. Delaney; Note: “An Historical Account of the Life and Reign of David, King of Israel.” Lond. 1745. “this only I am sure of, that no man living needs a heavier chastisement from Almighty God, than the letting his own passions loose upon him. The consequence to the mind would, I apprehend, in that case, be much the same as it would be to the body, if the restraining pressure of the air were removed, and all the muscles, vessels, and humors left to the full freedom of their own powers and tendencies.”
After many other remedies had no doubt been tried, it was suggested that something might yet be hoped from music, the power of which over the diseases of the mind was well understood in times of old. The king caught eagerly at this idea, and directed that the services of some accomplished minstrel should be secured. It would seem, that although music was much cultivated, the profession of the musician did not exist; for if it did, some one of professional fame would no doubt have been named. This was not done; but some one present remembered that he had not long since seen “a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite,” whom he then mentioned by that designation, not only as one “skilful in playing,” but also as a youth of great abilities and acknowledged valor; nor was his handsome person forgotten, nor the still more important fact, that “the Lord was with him,”—a phrase denoting a religious man, whom the Lord seemed to have favorably distinguished in his providence and grace.
This was the cause which led Saul to summon David to his presence. The distance was not great, about ten miles; and the youth reached Gibeah the same day that he left his home. He delayed not to present himself before the King, who little thought, as he looked upon the comely youth who stood before him, that he beheld in him the unknown rival who haunted his repose, and the destined heir of his scepter. It was, as we have stated, the faculty of David to win, with unconscious ease, the hearts of all who were brought within the sphere of his influence. Even the austere and troubled Saul was no exception. “He loved him greatly,” and speedily sent back to Jesse the message—“Let David, I pray thee, stand before me, for he hath found favor in my sight.” So David remained at court; and when one of Saul’s fits came upon him, he took his harp and played before him, and gradually the king’s spirit yielded to the sweet sounds which the master hand drew from the wires, and “he was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him.”
This remarkable instance of the power of music over the mind, especially in soothing its perturbations and allaying its disorders, is in conformity with the experience of physicians, and with various intimations which may be found in ancient authors. More or less so are those other scriptural instances, which evince the power of music over the moods of even the sanest minds, as in the case of Elisha, who called for the aid of a minstrel to bring his mind into the frame best suited to receive the impulses of the prophetic spirit. One would almost think, that there was some power in ancient music, which has since been lost, or that there existed, amid the simple manners of ancient times, a susceptibility to the influence of sweet and solemn sounds, which has been lost in the multitudinous business and varied pursuits of modern existence. But in truth, the wonderful effects so often described, resulted from the concurrence of masterly skill in the minstrel, with a peculiar sensibility to the influence of sweet sounds in the patient. And that, where this concurrence is found, it will still produce the same effect as of old, one or two “modern instances” may be cited to show.
In the Mémoires of the French Royal Academy of Sciences, for 1707, are recorded many accounts of diseases, which having obstinately resisted the remedies prescribed by the most able of the faculty, at length yielded to the powerful impression of harmony. One of these is the case of a person who was seized with fever, which soon threw him into a very violent delirium, almost without any interval, accompanied by bitter cries, by tears, by terrors, and by an almost constant wakefulness. On the third day, a hint that fell from himself suggested the idea of trying the effect of music. Gradually, as the strain proceeded, his troubled visage relaxed into a most serene expression, his restless eyes became tranquil, his convulsions ceased, and the fever absolutely left him. It is true, that when the music was discontinued his symptoms returned; but, by frequent repetitions of the experiment, during which the delirium always ceased, the power of the disease was broken, and the habits of a sound mind reestablished. Six days sufficed to accomplish the cure.
It is stated by Thaunus, that after the massacre of St. Bartholomew, the sleep of Charles the Ninth was wont to be disturbed by nightly horrors, and he could only be composed to rest by a symphony of singing boys.
At the first grand performance in commemoration of Handel at Westminster Abbey, Mr. Burton, a noted chorus singer, was immediately, upon the commencement of the overture of Esther, so violently agitated, that after lying in a fainting fit for some time, he expired. At intervals he was able to speak; and but a few minutes before he drew his last breath, he declared, that it was the wonderful effect of the music which had operated so powerfully upon him. Dr. Halifax, then bishop of Gloucester, was so greatly affected during one of the performances of the Messiah, at this commemoration, that he greatly wished to quit the place, fearing that he should be entirely overcome.
More remarkable, as well as more truly parallel, is the case of Philip the Fifth of Spain and the musician Farinelli, in the last century. The king was seized with a total dejection of spirits, which made him refuse to be shaved, and incapable of appearing in council or of attending to any affairs. The queen, after all other methods had been essayed, thought of trying what might be effected by the influence of music, to which the king was known to be highly susceptible. We have no doubt that the experiment was suggested to her by this case of Saul and David. The celebrated musician Farinelli was invited to Spain; and on his arrival, it was contrived that there should be a concert in a room adjoining the king’s apartment, in which the artist should perform one of his most captivating songs. The king appeared surprised at first, then greatly moved; and, at the end of the second air, he summoned the musician to his apartment, and, loading him with compliments and caresses, asked him how he could reward such talents, assuring him that he could refuse him nothing. Farinelli, previously tutored, answered, that be desired nothing but that his majesty would permit his attendants to shave and dress him, and that he would endeavor to make his appearance in the council as usual. The king yielded, and from this time his disease gave way, and the musician had all the honor of the cure. By singing to his majesty every evening, his favor increased to such a degree, that he came to be regarded as first minister, in which capacity he conducted himself with such propriety and discretion, that the proud Spanish nobles about the court, instead of envying his prosperity, honored him with their esteem and confidence. This favor he did not forfeit under Philip’s successor (Ferdinand VI), who made him a knight of Calatrava, and employed him in political affairs.