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Christopher Columbus Gibson, one of the leading violinists of America, is an honored resident of the town of Henniker, N.H., where he was born August 24, 1824, a son of John and Susannah (Hale) Gibson. The emigrant ancestor of the Gibson family was John Gibson, who was born in England in 1601, and was made a freeman in Cambridge, Mass., in 1634.
The line was then continued through the following-named progenitors: John, born in 1631; Deacon Timothy Gibson, born in 1668, who lived with Abraham Holman in Stow, Mass., and at the age of twenty-one received from him a deed of land; Captain Timothy Gibson, born in Stow, Mass., in 1702, who married in 1725 Persis Rice, and settled in Henniker in 1772; and Captain Joseph Gibson, the Professor’s grandfather, born June 8, 1750, who died May 26, 1801, from injuries received by his horse stumbling and throwing him upon the pommel. For more than a quarter of a century he was one of the most prominent and influential men of this place, serving as Selectman in 1787, 1790, 1791, 1796, 1797, and 1799. On May 28, 1772, he married Olive Randall.
John Gibson, Professor Gibson’s father, was born in Henniker, October 22, 1782, and died June 5, 1836, while in manhood’s prime. He was married March 3, 1808, to Susannah Hale, who survived him, passing to the life beyond April 8, 1855.
Christopher C. Gibson exhibited his phenomenal musical talent at a very early age, at every opportunity seizing his father’s violin for practice. This instrument Mr. John Gibson played, as thousands of others do, for his own amusement, having never received especial instruction. One of his daughters, Elvira Gibson, was a gifted musician and poetess. She was eleven years older than her brother, the subject of this sketch; and she assisted him in his musical efforts, so that at the age of five he began to pick out melodies on the violin, and could soon read music quite rapidly, making wonderful advancement considering his limited opportunities. At the age of ten Ostinelli, an Italian performer of great merit; and he was afterward a pupil of Metz, a German violinist of Lowell, Mass. When he was but twelve years old his father died, and the support of the family fell largely upon him. His sister was an invalid for years, requiring much of his care. He also had charge of a young girl named Mary J. Brown, whom he subsequently married. He spent every moment he could spare from his daily labors in the study of his chosen art; and, that he might not annoy his sick sister, he took his beloved instrument to the barn, where night after night he practised many an hour that should have been given to sleep, tired nature’s sweet restorer.
He was in his fourteenth year when Ole Bull, the world-renowned artist, visited this country for the first time. Young Gibson was determined to hear him; and his desire was strongly approved and seconded by his sister, who had awakened to a realizing sense of the lad’s genius. Collecting all of his cash, and taking what his sister had, he set forth one bright June morning on foot for Boston, nearly one hundred miles away. He had just purchased a pair of new shoes, which were hard and stiff, and pinched his every toe, causing him great pain; but despite his misery he continued his walk, reaching the desired Mecca the third day. In the evening he listened to the wonderful music, so weird and strange, but so smooth and beautiful that he scarce knew if he were on earth. The following night he was again an entranced listener, being borne to the seventh heaven of delight. Probably few persons on this terrestrial planet ever came nearer to realizing the sweets of Paradise than did this raw country boy that memorable evening. The two succeeding evenings he was again in the audience, and then heard two other celebrated violinists, Vieuxtemps and Artot. The great resources of the wonderful instrument were opened to him, revealing powers of which he had never dreamed. Bright and early the next morning he started on his homeward way; and, though his feet were causing him excruciating pain at every step, he walked on flowers, and his soul was expanded and filled with those celestial harmonies.
From that time on the young musician devoted himself more assiduously to his violin, and was himself surprised at the advancement he made toward its mastery. He labored hard, availed himself of every opportunity to hear the most distinguished artists, and after years of severe labor realized that he had himself become a finished artist. His first public appearance was made in the winter of 1853, in Tremont Temple, Boston, when his wonderful composition (which he learned from the feathered songsters in the pine woods near his home, catching their exact tones on his violin), entitled the “Bird Fantasia,” created much enthusiasm. In 1860 Professor Gibson gave concerts in Albany, Troy, and other cities of New York, and also visited Washington, Richmond, and Charleston, being everywhere warmly received. He has since been largely occupied in concert work and teaching. He is well entitled the Ole Bull of America, and easily stands at the head of his profession in this country. He was at one time invited by Ole Bull to accompany him to his home in Norway, but his sister’s long illness prevented him from going. At the World’s Peace Jubilee held in Boston in 1872, he was the first violinist from New Hampshire, and the only American first violinist retained through the entire session. He became intimately acquainted with Ole Bull during one of his later visits to this country, forming a friendship for the great master that was broken only by the Boston, where they were together one day, Mr. Bull gave him his photograph, and a day or two later sailed from New York for his Norwegian home. Within a month after that the news was flashed across the ocean that the soul of this grand genius had gone to the realms where celestial music is chanted by the heavenly hosts.
It is not in the concert room or in the orchestra that the sweetest music from Professor Gibson’s violin is heard, but in his own modest home in Henniker, where, with a few appreciative friends as listeners, he draws forth the most charming music. His violin is a rare instrument, one hundred and twenty-six years old, of a rich, powerful tone. The Professor is modest as to his own attainments, is simple of manner, and has a kind and generous heart; and he is much loved by his pupils. His violin has been a source of infinite pleasure to him and his friends, comforting him in his sorrows and cheering him across the rough places of life’s pathway.
From the many deserved compliments paid to his extraordinary talent we quote the following from the New York Musical Times of January 10, 1860, written by its Washington correspondent concerning a concert given by C. C. Gibson in Willard’s Hall: “Mr. Gibson is a great performer. For purity of tone, expression, and ease, and the skill with which he executes difficult passages, he cannot be excelled. Senators Sumner, Hale, Crittenden, Seward, and others, including many prominent men and foreign ministers, were in the audience; and every appearance of Mr. Gibson was met with hearty applause, and each number was repeatedly encored.” The Boston Saturday Evening Gasette of February 6, 1858, says of a concert at Tremont Temple: “C. C. Gibson performed his ‘Bird Waltz Fantasia’ in a most masterly and scientific manner. The bird imitations were perfect. It requires genius and perseverance to reach such perfection on this king of instruments. He evidently took the audience by surprise, and was rapturously encored.” The Boston Traveller of January 2, 1858, says: “Mr. Gibson is truly a wonderful performer. Tones more pure and beautiful we never heard, and we have heard all the great players of the day. His wizard-like performance seemed to cast a spell of enchantment over the audience, which burst into rapturous applause at the conclusion of each piece.” The musical critic of the Washington Constitution speaks of him thus: “Professor C. C. Gibson is not only a scientific performer, but the genius of his nature is such that when he alights upon a theme to which his delicate sensibilities respond he seems to evince an inspiration of soul capable of expression only.”
Some years ago Professor Gibson suffered a severe attack of spinal meningitis, which confined him to his room, and much of his time to his bed, for two years. Since that time his work has been largely confined to private instruction, his pupils including some of the brightest violinists of the country.