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Charles Ives
A Life With Music
By Jan Swafford

Chapter One: At Home

The music of Charles Ives, which on first acquaintance generally strikes listeners as willfully eccentric, grew from "a long foreground"--as Emerson said of Walt Whitman's equally eccentric Leaves of Grass. Ives well understood how insistently the past remained present in his work. In a 1940 letter he wrote of himself that his art came not only from folk music he was brought up with but to a very great extent from the life "around & in him" . . . a kind of "inheritance" from his forbears & father--a natural interest in wanting to make his own paths around the hills & mountains--a trait all native if not all national. By "native" he meant Connecticut Yankee. That inheritance traces back three centuries, to the time of his town's founding and his first American ancestors.

The history of Danbury's founding is like the stories a family tells about itself, or the stories told in Charles Ives's music: a quilt of fact and fancy and forgetting. The facts are patchy. Seventeenth-century chroniclers took little note when a few Norwalk families thrashed into the wilderness and raised a small muddy settlement. The story goes that in 1684 John Hoyt set out on foot from Norwalk, looking for farmland in the endless forest. Having found a promising stretch with a good stream to the north, an area the Indians called Pahquioque or Paquiack (meaning "open land"), Hoyt headed back to Norwalk and then returned leading several families, The town would commemorate them as the Original Eight. They included names of families still leading Danbury 200 years later: Hoyt, Taylor, Barnum, Benedict, Beebe, Bushnell. Legend adds the price of purchase from the Potatuck Indians as thirty pounds in cash, twelve axes, twelve knives, four kettles, ten overcoats, one piece of cloth, and small goods.

The settlers laid out Towne Street, the future Main, along the Indian trail that had brought them there. They erected their spare houses along it and planted crops, and the land proved fertile. Other families arrived, some bearing names also destined for local renown: Starr, Wildman, and Wood. In 1687 the twenty families in the settlement petitioned the General Court for a charter under the name Swampfield, which described much of the land. Governor Robert Treat granted the charter but decreed the more propitious name of Danbury, after a town in his native Essex.

As New Englanders did in those days, the people of Danbury worked together raising houses, pulling stumps, planting and harvesting. Most were Congregationalist, also like most New Englanders; the entire community cooperated to erect the first meetinghouse in 1695. In the next century a dispute erupted around First Congregational Church and Reverend Ebenezer White, father of Joseph Moss White, who would be father-in-law of Danbury's first Ives. Another Yankee determined to find his own way up the mountain, Reverend White denounced church control of government and the doctrines of original sin and infant damnation. The imbroglio around his dismissal in 1764 divided the citizenry and led to the formation of White's New Danbury Church. Some disaffected Congregationalists joined the Episcopal church, founded in 1762. This spiritual controversy and its outcome boded a town relatively diverse in religious makeup and, in the end, relatively tolerant as web.

By that time Danbury was prospering modestly and exporting a variety of foodstuffs, had become a trading and milling center for surrounding communities, and so had accumulated roads--all features useful in a war. In December 1774, when Danbury had some 2,500 souls, a town meeting voted to support the Continental Congress and revolution. Before two years were out Danbury had units in the field and was storing up food and turning out shoes and wagons for the rebel army. This naturally attracted the attentions of the British. Redcoats and Tories marched into Danbury on April 26, 1777, and torched military provisions and over forty buildings. Fat from burning pork ran ankle-jeep in the street. Marching out next day, the troops ran afoul of rebel general David Wooster, who attacked near Ridgefield and made good progress before he was wounded and carried back to Danbury to die. Forces under Benedict Arnold harried the British back to their ships.

Danbury's monument to General Wooster would be erected in 1854, near his grave in the new Wooster Cemetery. The procession to dedicate the monument began at the Wooster House Hotel, in Wooster Square. (The town has a short list of heroes, but has done we'll by them.) The camp of General Israel Putnam, whose troops spent the winter after the raid in nearby Redding, would also remain a local landmark. Among its commemorations would be Charles Ives's Putnam's Camp.

After the war, town and state settled back to their perennial concerns of getting and having. Already the character of the region was definable, and that character would abide. Two centuries after the Revolution, Brewster Ives dubbed his late Uncle Charlie "a real old-fashioned Connecticut Yankee." He added that Charles Ives had "a sense of humor and eccentric ways" and was a "talented businessman." The traits typified the breed. Historian W. Storrs Lee writes that from the state's early Puritans "descended the generations of shrewd bargainers, conscientious pietists, and resourceful craftsmen; the outspoken individualists and inquisitive inventors, the enterprising traders, the stable scholars, the intellectuals, and the droll humorists. And through them all was a strain of respect for expediency . . . , that the attainment of a glorious end could justify the employment of an opportune means." In his music Charles Ives would employ the means at hand, in memory, toward the attainment of a glorious end.

The Puritans pursued wealth as a sign of industry and divine favor; at the same time, they disdained money as a temptation. A later symptom of this paradox was the New England philanthropical tradition--finding satisfaction in giving away the tainted products of worldly ambition. Eventually sects proliferated while sectarianism declined; Yankees became relatively unconcerned about which roof and rubric you worshipped under, as long as you remained Christian in good standing. Connecticut nonetheless retained a streak of Puritan religiosity unto mysticism, and it was this affinity that responded to revivalists and to the pantheistical raptures of Emerson and the Transcendentalists. In the end, the mercantile impulses usually overrode the spiritual. In From Puritan to Yankee, Richard L. Bushman summarizes, "The Yankee's religious character, like his attitudes toward authority and wealth, is best described as a polarity." The word most often used to describe Charles Ives, the old-fashioned Connecticut Yankee, is paradoxical. A parochial streak is regularly noted in Yankee stock too. Writes historian Van Wyck Brooks, "The Connecticut mind . . . was keen, strong and witty, but usually narrow, educated rather than cultivated. It abounded in prejudices that were often small. . . . It was a village mind, in short, that had never breathed a larger atmosphere."

In the story of Charles Ives one happens on these traits time and again. In crucial respects, however, Ives escaped his native mold: in being an artist of immense ambition, a businessman driven by values spiritual and grandly humanistic, with his mind on his village but nonetheless breathing a larger atmosphere. Creative artists were something that, for the most part, old-fashioned Connecticut Yankees notably were not. Practical musicians they were; the state had a robust performing tradition going back to the hymn-singing schools of the 1720s and continuing in the next century with its embrace of the brass-band movement. In the first half of the nineteenth century Hartford's Elam Ives, a distant relative of the Danbury branch, compiled hymn books for use in singing schools and collaborated with Charles Ives's favorite hymn composer, Lowell Mason. Hymns were the most characteristic expression of Yankee musicality; Charles Ives would bring that tradition to its apotheosis in his Fourth Symphony. The rare composers of concert music, however, had to justify their profession to dubious countrymen. Connecticut organist and composer Dudley Buck, with whom Ives studied, got his training in Europe; afterward Buck quit his first job in Hartford and headed for more congenial New York City. Connecticut men of letters were less likely to write imaginative fiction than to be teachers, such as Yale's Timothy Dwight, or nuts-and-bolts scholars like Noah Webster, the dictionary man. The splendid painter John Trumbull was an exception among dozens of workaday crafters of likenesses.

Which is to say, old-fashioned Connecticut Yankees were on the whole a pragmatic and uncreative breed, their imagination tending to the sort useful for commerce and scholarship. Born both a Yankee and an artist, Charles Ives was predestined to a divided nature.

For some time after the Revolution the population of Danbury grew at a relaxed pace--3,180 in 1800, 3,873 in 1820, 5,964 in 1850. At midcentury it seemed appropriate to organize a Cemetery Association. The boom in population started in the 1860s, commencing a prosperous era that peaked in the 1880s.

What brought this golden age was a new business that added a major industry to the town's farming base, and in the process gave Danbury its character, its particular slant on the Yankee pattern. There exists, naturally, a pleasant fable concerning the inception of the town's principal trade. Sometime around 1780 townsman Zadoc Benedict was discommoded by a hole in his shoe and plugged it with a wad of fur he happened to have in his pocket; later he discovered that friction and sweat had kneaded the fur into a sort of felt. After a few experiments demonstrative of Yankee ingenuity, Zadoc was shaping felt into hat forms over his bedpost. Soon he opened a shop on Main Street, turning wool and rabbit fur into hats at the rate of three a day. Twenty years later Danbury was making 20,000 hats annually, more than anyplace else in the United States; by 1887 five million hats a year emerged from some thirty factories in the city. Anyone who appeared in Danbury without a hat on was asking for trouble. Besides, this was the great age of hats in America; by the time of the Civil War, few men, women, or children would leave the house without one. The town's motto: Danbury crowns them all. One never saw Charles Ives outdoors without "that crazy hat," as Brewster Ives and others described it--the hat or its battered descendants, which he wore in a 1913 Battery Park photo and in the photos of 1950.

It was around the hatting industry that the fortunes of Danbury and the Iveses intersected, when Charles Ives's great-grandfather Isaac came to Danbury following his 1785 graduation from Yale. Isaac was descended from Captain William Ives, first of the clan in America, who in 1637 sailed from England to Boston on his ship Truelove and became one of the first planters in the New Haven colony. William Ives's sons established a family seat in the region of Wallingford, Connecticut, where Isaac was born in 1764.

In Danbury Isaac Ives married Jerusha Benedict, daughter of first hatter Zadoc and descendant of Samuel Benedict of the Original Eight. Isaac's early business ventures in town faltered, however, and jerusha died. He married again in 1796, this time to Sarah Amelia White, daughter of fellow Yale man Joseph Moss White and Rachel Booth and granddaughter of Reverend Ebenezer White the dissenter. The Whites were among the main developers of the hatting industry; in the early nineteenth century they owned the largest shop in the country. Isaac Ives would involve himself in business with various Whites for the rest of his career. With both marriages he wove himself into the center of town life and commenced the family interminglings that would produce generations of Iveses with given names a muddle of Whites, Mosses, Merritts, Amelias, Sarahs, and Josephs. In 1795-96 Isaac represented Danbury in the state legislature -- the last Ives to hold political office for more than a century. His descendants would be civic-minded, but tending to sit on boards and commissions rather than stand for election.

In 1802 Isaac Ives established the first wholesale hat warehouse in New York City, which became a conduit for Danbury factories. His son George White Ives was born in New York in 1798 but grew up largely in Danbury living with his maternal grandfather Joseph Moss White. George White Ives attended school in a house on Danbury's Main Street built just after the Revolution.

Isaac's New York warehouse burned in 1828. The next year he retired to Danbury and bought his son's onetime schoolhouse, which he enlarged enough to contain three generations of the family and their servants and guests. Settling into a role as town elder and Congregational deacon, Isaac intended the house to become the family seat forever. The Ives House would be that for four generations, then become a white elephant literally carted all over town. Next to the plain but handsome old house, with rooms that smelled of beeswax and fruit and of lilies in summer, stood a giant pear tree that had survived the town's burning by the British and was regarded nearly as a member of the family. In his retirement Isaac busied himself with civic endeavors and with planting his property--roses and lily of the valley and star-of-Bethlehem in the yard, to the north a vegetable garden in the plot where the new First Congregational Church would later rise. He dammed a brook to pipe water to the house and installed the first indoor bathroom in the county. People carne from miles around to admire it.

Isaac Ives set patterns for his descendants in more than business and civic matters. In his features he was a model for his bloodline: high oval face, long straight nose, Ups thin and straight. He was also the first of several generations of Ives men to get his start out of town and then be drawn back by the magnetic attraction of Danbury. He died in 1845, after his son, George White Ives, had taken his place among town leaders.

That son, Charles Ives's grandfather, got started working for his father in New York. George White Ives returned to Danbury around 1830 to live with retired Isaac in what the town now called the Ives House, and before long the old Ives House: on Main Street, half a block from the town's principal intersection at Main and Liberty, in the middle of a growing business strip that would render the house an anachronism, a relic of quieter times. In 1831 George White married schoolteacher Sarah Hotchkiss Wilcox, an energetic and idealistic woman who would survive her husband by nearly forty years.

Four years after his marriage, in 1835, George White Ives and a group of associates (including two Hoyts, a Tweedy, a Benedict, and a Wildman) secured a charter for a railroad; it became the Housatonic line to Bridgeport; George White served as secretary of the line. Later he helped create and run the Danbury and Norwalk, completed in 1852. The D&N, connecting to New York, might stand as the turning point in the fortunes of Danbury. It brought in coal to run factories and sent hats in a steady stream south to New York and the rest of the country. The number of hatting workers in town tripled in the decade after 1850. Placing the railroad station north of the town center created a boom around Wooster Square, where Iveses and Hoyts and Tweedys owned property. In turn, all this progress demanded new industries; George White helped create and manage the Danbury Gas Light Company in the later 1850s.

His obituary describes George White Ives as "foremost m every public improvement designed to benefit and adorn our village." His wife Sarah matched him. Both campaigned for the abolition of slavery. Charles Ives would endlessly retell the family story of his grandmother leading a group of women to rescue a fugitive slave caught in New Fairfield; his piano piece The Anti-abolitionist Riots" echoes that era. Sarah was a stalwart among the women who started the Danbury orphanage, and helped found Hampton Institute, a "colored school" in Virginia. She had a passion for Emerson. The sons and grandsons of Sarah Hotchkiss Wilcox Ives would inherit her ardor for Transcendental ideas and her social conscience. Charles Ives would also inherit her large, baggy eyes.

In the 1850s, near the end of his life, George White Ives became director of the Cemetery Association and laid out the eighty-three-acre Wooster Cemetery.(34) There he prepared his resting place among the other Iveses, leaving room for future tenants. He had his White ancestors exhumed and moved to the cemetery's heights to lie alongside his family and the Merritts, all of them situated to keep an eye on their town.

Of all George White Ives's contributions to the life of Danbury, the most renowned was his bank. Years later, the town history by James Montgomery Bailey, "The Danbury News Man," began the story of the bank with an evocation of the time before the Civil War: "Nearly a half century ago, when Danbury had no electric fights, no pavements, no street railway, but was a pretty town with grand old trees and beautiful gardens, one of her venerated citizens, Horace Bull, suggested to George W. Ives that a savings bank would be a blessing to many of the town people." And so in 1849 George White established the Danbury Savings Bank in his house, a wooden chest in the dining room serving as safe. Sometimes townsfolk made deposits by handing money to George White in the street, trusting him to take care of the particulars. In 1852 he moved the bank to a tiny Greek Revival budding built at the south corner of his yard. There it stayed until 1866, after his death, when a new brick Savings Bank with elegant arches was erected next to the old homestead.

George White Ives's endeavors tended not only to his own benefit; they rose from the growth of the town and in turn accelerated progress of all kinds. In those days, progress seemed an unalloyed good, and many of the new ideas spread benefits among the citizenry. When George White Ives and his fellow entrepreneurs greased the wheels, the hatting business changed and that changed Danbury from a village to a booming town on the way to a city. Banks helped nudge the economy from barter to cash, and financed railroads and factories. Business growth attracted workers for those factories, many from among the waves of immigrants pouring into the United States-Irish from the late 1840s, and after the Civil War Italians, Germans, Swedes, Polish Jews, and smatterings of other groups. St. Peter's Catholic Church, focal point of many immigrants, became active in the community, sponsoring among other things a Library Association and a band (which Charles Ives's father would lead). Despite resistance from manufacturers, hatting unions grew from the time of the United True and Assistant Society, formed in 1800. In 1885 a closed-shop agreement between unions and manufacturers demonstrated the power workers had attained. In that decade the population exploded from 11,466 to 19,473.

By the time Charles Ives was born, Danbury had become a mix of ethnic groups working side by side in the hatting factories. The old Yankees--still generally running things--and the polyglot immigrants celebrated holidays together in the streets and sat together on summer evenings listening to their friends and families play in bands. This relatively pluralistic, thriving, and tranquil Danbury was shaped to a large degree by Charles Ives's grandfather and a few of his family and associates. The day George White Ives died in December 1862, all Danbury closed in mourning. His memorial in Wooster Cemetery reads, This monument is created to George White Ives by his friends as a testimonial of his services in laying out and beautifying this cemetery, and in remembrance of his public and private worth. His newspaper obituary concluded:

His purse was ever open to assist the needy, and no one was ever sent away from his door empty-handed. Unostentatious in his manners and social intercourse, . . . he regarded every man his equal. . . . An unflinching hater of wrong and oppression of every kind, he was always found in defence of the weak and oppressed. A firm friend, a kind neighbor, an honest man has passed away.

In George White Ives and his wife Sarah, more than anyone else in the clan, we find united the motifs that were to separate out in various strands and mixtures in the next generations of his family: ambition tempered by kindness and generosity, innate leadership mixed with an authentic democratic spirit, visionary imagination fixed on the long term, an embrace Of progressive ideas practical and philosophical. In many ways George White's sons and his grandson Charles Ives would be more interesting men. Ail the same, in many ways they were chips, and George White ives the block.

George White and Sarah Hotchkiss Wilcox Ives had five children, two girls and three boys. One of the girls, Sarene Elizabeth, died in childhood. The other, Sarah Amelia Ives, would find a late but fortunate match with lawyerLyman Brewster and make him a family member in aD but name. The commanding and feared Sarah Amelia would be called Amelia, or Millie. She would long survive her husband and do her best to run the family in detail. The first two of George White's sons were born close together-Joseph Moss Ives in 1832, Isaac Wilcox Ives in 1835. Third son George Edward Ives, father of Charles, came along in 1845.

Joseph Moss became the stolid merchant of the brothers even though he never liked business and aspired to philosophy. Though George White Ives had not attended college, he packed son Joe off to Yale, alma mater of old Isaac and various Whites. It turned out badly. In his sophomore year Joe and some friends attempted to silence the hated morning chapel bell by filing it with plaster, and got caught. He was not expelled, but his father was so enraged that he decreed Joe would not return to Yale but go to Boston, to work in a branch of the family hat business. For several years there Joe did his job, grudgingly, but gave his main energy to the ideas and people turning Boston and Concord into an intellectual center of historic import. He made the acquaintance of Ralph Waldo Emerson and James Russell Lowell; in the 1850s, after his return to Danbury, he brought them to town for lectures at the Congregational church. According to family legend, both men stayed at the house, where Joe was living. He and his mother, Sarah, would fill Charles Ives's childhood with talk of Emerson and the Transcendentalists, The boy grew up on those soaring, cloudy ideas.

Swallowing his distaste for business, Joe opened a store in Danbury that grew into a Main Street mainstay. By 1879 the J. M. Ives Company Inc. had stockholders and twenty-five workers. Joe's first wife, Amelia White Merritt, died in 1862, two years after giving birth to their son Howard Merritt Ives (known to family youngsters as Cousin Howdie). After his brother-in-law Jacob Merritt died, Joe courted the widow and married her in 1875. They would have no children. The siblings were unprolific for the time--Joe had only one child, brother Ike one, George two; Amelia and Lyman Brewster had none.

Like the rest of his family, Joe Ives involved himself in civic matters; among other things he helped start and manage the famous Danbury Fair. Joe was noted as much as anything for his personality. His 1908 Danbury News obituary implies with gleeful irony that he could be a pain in the neck: "There was a rare quality of gentleman in spite of a certain brusqueness and violence of language in which he often indulged rather to amuse than to shock his listeners. He . . . frequently used an easy banter and chaff to conceal the depth and sincerity of his feeling. His favorite device was to oppose every proposition started by others, and so develop life and earnestness in the conversation." This could have been part of his nephew Charlie's obituary.

By no means was Joe the choice eccentric among the children of George White Ives, That honor goes to Isaac, Charles Ives's Uncle Ike, who barnstormed through life with the kind of manic energy we will find reappearing in his nephew. George White sent this son not to Yale but to New York, where from age seventeen to twenty-one Ike worked in a Wall Street office. Apparently fired by the ambition of making Millions and having a whale of a time, he returned to Danbury to start, in 1856, a lumber business at Ives and White Streets that would be a fixture for the next twenty-five years. Lumber, building, hatting, and real estate would be the foundation of Ike's fortune, or rather his several fortunes, but these were hardly the sum of his interests. His 1910 News obituary recalled,

[His] business activities had been more numerous and more diversified than those of any other who had lived in Danbury in the last half century. . . . The name of "Ike" Ives was almost a household word in Danbury and many of the neighboring towns. . . . In those days it was "Ike" Ives who was interested in the biggest real estate deal, who drove the turnout that attracted the most attention at the Danbury Fair, who promoted the newest industry, had the biggest advertisement in the newspapers, or was the brains and energy of the latest scheme to revolutionize something or somebody.

Ike ran his lumber company and speculated in land and building and railroads and hatting. An 1870 newspaper ad of his shouts in crescendos: "LARGEST STOCK! GREATEST VARIETY!! LOWEST PRICES!! SHINGLES! SHINGLES!! SHINGLES!!!" For a time he and his two brothers ran coordinated operations in town that would provide you a house from the ground up: Ike might sell you the land, or at least the lumber and shingles; brother George (during the early 1870s) would add the builders' supplies and water pump; and brother Joe would fill tip the place with stoves, plumbing, furniture, carpets, and sleighbells. By 1870 the family operation was flourishing and Joe and Ike were among the biggest taxpayers in Danbury.

Perhaps two stories concerning Ike Ives tell us most succinctly about the man, and why he was held in the collective mind of Danbury with such high regard, mixed with an undercurrent of something less well-disposed. The first story results from Ike's fascination with George Francis "Express" Train, prophet of rapid transportation, partner in clipper ships and the Union Pacific, self-proclaimed Great American Crank, and model for Jules Verne's Phineas T. Fogg. (In the 1870s he circled the world in record time.) George Francis Train was something like Ike Ives on a grander scale. Ike brought Train to Danbury for some appearances, drumming for them with his usual extravagance. However, for one of the programs the lecturer failed to show up. The town would never forget what Ike puffed that day: he disguised himself as the lecturer and gave the promised wild-eyed oration to a full house, declaiming that he/train considered Danbury "a dead place, eaten up by fogyism," and that he was coming here to live, to shake the place out of its lethargy. At the end of the show Ike revealed his identity to the crowd, to general astonishment.

The second story concerns an enterprise that Ike ran for some years. In the early 1870s he became president of the Moses Dame Company, manufacturer of a patent medicine cared "Wine of the Woods." In 1873 he gave a perhaps self-parodying address at the Danbury Fair entitled "Wine of the Woods, and Its Effect on the Agricultural Interests of the World." The label proclaimed his concoction a guaranteed cure for constipation, indigestion, liver and blood complaints, and an impressive further list of ailments and epizootics. Literally and figuratively, Charles Ives's Uncle Ike was a snake-oil salesman. Biographers have naturally concentrated on the influence of Charles Ives's bandmaster father, the youngest of the brothers. George Ives would grow up with music and endow his son with great natural gifts, practical training, a sense of the meaning of music in the community, and revolutionary perceptions of musical materials, But the story of Charles Ives's ancestors reveals something of equal importance in his life: a family and community and cultural tradition that powerfully shaped him. He grew up a favored child in a town at the zenith of its prosperity and optimism. The Iveses were big fish in a small pond, but to a large extent it was their pond. In Danbury they knew who they were and what they amounted to; by birthright they were in the thick of things. From that heritage came Charles Ives's mostly unspoken but immense confidence in himself, his powers, and his identity that marked him through life. He called it the "inheritance" from his forbears "father" that created an "interest in wanting to make his own paths around the hills & mountains." Aaron Copland, knowing that the fife Ives led would have destroyed an artist less endowed, called it "the courage of a hon."

Beyond George Ives's musical side, scholars have stressed George's break with his business-oriented family and community, painting him as an eccentric, the black sheep of the family. From that angle he and Charlie appear as a world to themselves in a town that neither understood nor appreciated them. That seems overstated. George Ives would be one of the best-known and best-liked citizens of Danbury. With whatever incomprehension the town viewed his profession, they stiff recognized a leader and an inspired comet,player when they saw one. The social position of the Iveses was ambiguous, but not just because of George. The town watched the Iveses incessantly and read about one or another of them in every issue of the paper. They watched with admiration and sometimes amusement, and sometimes with darker suspicions. We find these suspicions cropping up between the lines, recalled in old puzzled memories. In January 1874 a note in the Danbury paper recounted an overheard conversation:

"Where did you buy your lumber?" "From that crazy fellow at White Street bridge." The reply to this query would hardly seem to mean Mr. Isaac W. Ives, yet it did.

Seventy years later, when a young man was preparing to marry an Ives girl, an old lady from among the town bluebloods (a higher aristocracy than the Iveses, perhaps of the DAR sort) called the suitor into her parlor and, as he recalled in the 1970s, "tried desperately to convince me that there was insanity in the Ives family and that I should not marry that girl." He married her anyway, but did not forget the experience.

It is unlikely that the meddling society lady was thinking only of George Ives or of his son, the composer of peculiar music. She was thinking of all the Iveses, what the town had probably been whispering about them through the years, an undercurrent to the admiration and amusement. Charles Ives's wife would say, with characteristic charity, "All the Iveses are a little odd, but in a nice way." The whole clan seemed touched somehow, at least after George White's generation. They were too enthusiastic, too eruptive. There was some wildness in their blood that expressed itself differently in each of those brilliant and idiosyncratic individuals, from the Transcendental business-hating businessman Joe to Ike's epic booms and busts to George's musical obsessions. The women of the family were legendarily strong-minded as well. And of course there would be Charles Ives, who would exalt his family's imagination and idiosyncrasies to a plane of visionary genius and then inflame them further, to the point of burnout and collapse.

© 1996 Jan Swafford

Norton

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