"I am mute. Yet, lady, you have sometimes chid me for my long silence."
"And is it for your much speaking that I chide you now?" said the maiden, with a smile. "You will stand half the day like a statue there; and, when spoken to, answer with a gesture only—so that many have thought you really dumb. Much speaking is certainly not thy fault."
"I understand. The slave speaks as one who felt the indescribable charm of thy presence. It is a presumption worthy of death. Shall I inflict the punishment?"
"Is this amendment of thy fault, good Hakem, or repetition of it?"
"I await your commands. What service can Hakem render?"
But Maria relapsed again into silence. She seemed to hesitate in making the communication she had designed. Meantime, the arrival of her father was announced, and the slave left the apartment.
Never man felt more tender love for his daughter than did the proud, high-minded minister for this his beautiful Maria. His demeanour towards her, from childhood upwards, had been one of unalterable, uninterrupted fondness. He knew no other mood, no other tone, in which he could have addressed her. Did the grave chancellor, then—some one, who in his way, also, is very grave, may ask—did he, by constant fondness, spoil his child? No. It is the fondness which is not constant that spoils. It is the half-love of weak and irritable natures, who are themselves children amongst their children, who can themselves be petulant, selfish, and capricious—it is this that mars a temper. But calm and unalterable love—oh, believe it not that such ever spoilt a child! Maria grew up under the eye of affection, and the ever-open hand of paternal love; and she herself seemed to have learned no other impulses but those of affection and generosity.
Alas for fathers! when the child grows into the budding woman, and by her soft, intelligent companionship fills the house with gladness, and the heart with inappreciable content, then comes the gay, permitted spoiler—comes the lover with his suit—his honourable suit—and robs them of their treasure. The world feels only with the lover—with the youth, and the fair maiden that he wins. For the bereaved parent, not a thought! No one heeds the sigh that breaks from him, as, amidst festivities and mirth, and congratulatory acclamations, he sees his daughter, with all her prized affections, borne off from him, in triumph, for ever.
There was, on this occasion, in the manner of Laski towards his child, an evident sadness. It was not that the political horizon was darkening; he had never permitted that to throw its gloom over his companionship with his daughter. It was because he had grounds to believe that the events which threatened the tranquillity of Poland threatened also the peace of his daughter, whose affections he had divined were no longer exclusively his own.
She, observing his emotion, and attributing it to some untoward event in the political world, could not refrain from expressing the wish that he would quit the harassing affairs of state, and live wholly in his home.
"I would long since have done so," he replied, "if personal happiness had been the sole aim of my existence. But I have a taskwork to accomplish—one, I think, which God, by fitting me thereto, has pointed out as mine. Else it is indeed here, with thee beside me, that I find all that can bear the name of happiness. The rest of life is but sternest duty—strife, hostility, contempt. But away with this gloomy talk—what gossip is there stirring in your idle world, Maria?"
"Pray, is there war forward?"
"I hope not. Why do you ask?"
"A maid of mine, who in the city gathers news as busily as bees, in the open fields, their honey"——
"Your simile, I fear, would scarce hold good as to the honey."
"No, in faith; and there is no honey in the news she brings. She tells me that a camp is forming in the frontiers between Poland and Lithuania, and that Augustus Glinski is sent there to command the troops. Is this true?"
"It is; and she might have added that the duke himself secretly left the city last night, to place himself at their head."
"Is it a dangerous service?"
"The service on which the duke has entered, and into which he misleads his son, is dangerous. You tremble, Maria. It was no maiden, nor the tattle of the town, that brought you this. When did you last see or hear from him—from Augustus Glinski?"
"Believe me," said Maria, while a crimson blush suddenly spread over her countenance, "if I have concealed any thing from you, it was not from craft, nor subtlety, nor fear, but from"——
"From a mere delicacy, a simple bashfulness," said the father, coming to her assistance. "I know it well. Had you a mother living, I would bid you confide these sentiments of your heart to her, and to her only; but, having no other parent, make me your confidant. Trust me, you shall not find a woman's heart more open to your griefs, your fears, your joys, than mine shall be. Make me your sole confidant—you love this young Augustus?"
"When I was at my aunt's we met each other often—but to you, my father, I have ever referred him as our final arbiter. I need not say that the known political rivalry between his father and yourself has made him backward in addressing you."
"All men speak well of Augustus Glinski. I blame you not, my child; I only tremble for you. The duke, his father, is a restless, bold ambitious man, who will lead him—honourable as he is, but too young to judge, or to resist his parent—into treasonable enterprises. Both father and son—if they will play the rebel, and bring down war on Poland—I stand prepared to meet. The sword of justice shall sweep them from the earth. But if thy heart, my child, is doomed to bleed in this encounter, the wound will not be more yours than mine. There shall be no secrets between us. I will protect thee all I can; and if I cannot prevent thy sorrows, I will at least share them."
A low tap was here heard at the door, and a page made his appearance. On seeing the minister, the stripling was about to retire. Maria, however, called him in, and bade him deliver his message. "You come," she said to the youth, who still hesitated to speak—"you come from the younger Glinski: speak openly—what is it he has commissioned you to say?"
"This, my lady," answered the page, "that he has ridden in all haste from the camp—that he must quit the city again before nightfall, and craves an audience if only for one minute."
Maria looked towards her father, and thus referred the answer to him.
Count Laski was silent.
"Will you not," said his daughter, "tell this messenger, whether his master may come here or not?"
"My child, he cannot! he is at this moment under my arrest. Return, sir page," and he motioned him from the room—"but return to the fortress of——; you will find your master there a prisoner, under charge of high treason."
"Oh, spare him! spare him!" cried Maria, as she sank back almost senseless with terror and alarm.
"My child! my child!" exclaimed the minister in heart-breaking anguish, as he bent over his weeping daughter.
After having in some measure soothed the terrors of his daughter, the chancellor called to him his trusty Hakem. He briefly explained to him that the Duke of Lithuania was at that moment in open rebellion against his Majesty, and placed in his hands a warrant for his execution. "The law cannot reach him through its usual servants," he said; "it is a bold enterprise I propose to you—to decapitate a general at the head of his troops."
If this was a measure which hardly another minister than Laski would have contemplated, it was one also which he would have hardly found another than Hakem to undertake and accomplish. The bravery of this man was all but miraculous, and was only rescued from madness by the extreme skill and address by which it was supported. In battle, he rushed on danger as a bold and delighted swimmer plunges in the waves, which to him are as innocuous as the breeze that is freshening them. Yet, when the excitement was passed, he relapsed into a state of apparent apathy. He had been taken captive in one of those engagements, at this time not unfrequent, between the Poles and the Turks, with the latter of whom he had served as a soldier of fortune. To say that he was taken prisoner, is hardly correct; for he was found lying half dead on the field of battle, and was brought home by the Poles, by some caprice of compassion, with their own sick and dying. Neither was it constraint that held him beneath the roof of Laski, or in the nominal condition of a slave, for at all times escape would have been easy to him. It was either attachment to those who lived beneath that roof, or an equal indifference to every thing without or beyond it, that retained him there.
To propose to Hakem some bold and perilous enterprise, was to offer him one of the few pleasures to which he was open. He accepted, therefore, of the strange commission now entrusted to him without hesitation; stipulating, only, that he might take from the stables of the king a horse which was much celebrated for its amazing power and fleetness.
Mounted upon this incomparable steed, he pursued his way to the camp of the Duke of Lithuania. On his journey he had made trial of its speed, and yet had husbanded its strength. Arrived at the plain where the insurgent army was encamped, he there lay in ambush for some time, till he saw where the duke, passing his troops in review, rode somewhat in advance of what in the language of modern warfare we should call his staff. Hakem set spurs to his horse, and rushed upon him with the velocity of lightning, his drawn cimeter flashing in the sun, and his loud cry of defiance calling the duke to his defence. Thus challenged, he put his lance in rest to meet his furious assailant. But the thrust of the lance was avoided, and the next moment the head of the duke was seen to roll upon the field. The Arab wheeled round, and, without quitting his steed, picked up the severed head, placed it on his saddle-bows, and darted off fleeter than the wind. A cry of horror and a shout of pursuit arose from the whole army, who were spectators of this scene. Every horse was in motion. But where the contest is one of speed, of what avail are numbers? In the whole camp there was not a steed which could compete with that on which the solitary fugitive was mounted, and was already seen scouring the plain at a distance. As he fled, a paper was observed to fall from his hands, which the wind bore amongst his innumerable pursuers; it was the judicial warrant that had been thus strangely executed.
Meanwhile, at the palace, the royal mind of Sigismund was not a little disquieted and alarmed by this sudden rebellion of the powerful Duke of Lithuania. That alarm would not have been diminished had he been aware that this open rebellion was to be aided by a secret domestic treason, which, in his own palace, was lying in ambush for his life. The queen, whilst watching her opportunity to perform her part in this criminal enterprise, affected to throw all the blame of this formidable rebellion on the unpopularity of the minister Laski, whose measures, indeed, the duke proclaimed as the main motive of his conduct.
Matters were in this condition when Count Laski, attended by his slave, entered the royal apartment. There were present, beside the queen, several of the nobility—all prepared, by the insinuations and address of the queen, to give but a cold greeting to the minister.
"In good time," said the queen, "Count Laski makes his appearance. We wish to know how you will extricate his Majesty from the peril in which your unpopular counsels have thrust him. With what forces will you meet the Duke of Lithuania? Now, when there is need of the brave chivalry of Poland to defend the king from rebellion, we find the nobility alienated from the crown by your unwise, and arrogant, and plebeian policy. But let us hear what is the excellent advice, what is the good intelligence, that you now bring us?"
"The Duke of Lithuania, madam," said the chancellor, slightly raising his voice, but preserving the same calm dignity as if he had been presiding in a high court of justice—"the Duke of Lithuania is in open, manifest rebellion; and rebellion is, in the laws of all nations, punished by death."
"Punished!" said the queen scoffingly: "are you speaking of some trembling caitiff who holds up his naked hand at your bar of justice? Punished! you must conquer him."
"Your Majesty will be pleased to hear," continued the chancellor with a look full of significance, "that Albert Glinski, Duke of Lithuania, whose treason was open and proclaimed, has been by the royal warrant sentenced"——
Count Laski paused.
"Sentenced!" exclaimed Bona, and repeated her scornful laugh, which this time but ill concealed a certain vague terror that was rising in her mind. "Is our chancellor mad, or does he sport with us? This rebel, whom you talk of sentencing—of condemning, we presume, to the block—stands at the head of a greater army than his Majesty can at this moment assemble."
"And the sentence," pursued the minister, "has been executed!"
As he pronounced these words, the slave Hakem advanced, and drawing aside his robe, which had hitherto concealed it, he held up by the hair the severed head of the Duke of Lithuania.
There ran a thrill of horror through the assembly. But, the next moment, a loud hysterical shriek drew the attention of all parties to the queen: she had fallen insensible at the feet of the king. The council was abruptly dismissed.
Thus far the cause of the chancellor had prospered. Poland had been preserved from the horrors of a civil war. The king's life had also been saved, and a great crime prevented; the career of assassination and of poisoning, into which the queen afterwards entered, was at all events postponed. As a public man, the minister was fully triumphant. But the minister was a father; at this side he was vulnerable; and fortune dealt her blow with cruel and unexpected severity.
We have seen with what stern fidelity to his ministerial duty, and at how great a peril to his daughter's happiness, the chancellor had arrested Augustus Glinski. The rebellion quelled, the author of it punished and decapitated, there seemed no just motive for holding longer in imprisonment a youth who could not be accused of having any guilty participation in the crime of his father. He accordingly proposed his release. But the anger of the king against the late duke, who to his political offence had added that of personal ingratitude, (for it was Sigismund himself who had bestowed on him the powerful duchy of Lithuania,) was still unappeased, and he insisted upon including the son in the guilt and punishment of his parent. The representations of the minister were here unavailing; he would listen to nothing but the dictates of his own vindictive feelings.
Count Laski detailed the manner of his arrest, and explained the singular interest he felt in the pardon and liberation of this youth; adding, that if Angustus Glinski died upon the scaffold, he feared the life of his daughter. But even this was unavailing. The old monarch thought he was displaying a great acuteness when he detected, as he imagined, in this plea of a daughter's happiness, a scheme of selfish aggrandizement. "Ha! ha!" said he, "so the wind sits in that quarter. A good match—duchess of Lithuania! I would rather you asked for the dukedom yourself, and married your daughter to another."
It was in vain that the minister again repeated his simple and true statement; it was in vain that he limited his request to the life of the younger Glinski, consenting to the forfeiture of his title and estates; Sigismund was resolved this time not to be overreached by his subtle minister. The language of entreaty was new to Laski; he had tried it, and had failed. It was new to Laski to endure tamely the misconstruction of his motives, or the least impeachment of his veracity. He had no other resource, no other response, left than the resignation of his ministerial office. But the obstinacy and anger of the king were proof against this also. The danger which threatened his reign had been dispelled. He could afford to be self-willed. He would not be controlled. In short, Count Laski left the royal presence—a discarded minister.
In a monarchy uncontrolled and unaided by representative assemblies, the power which is secured perhaps to one of the weakest of men or women, perhaps to a child, has often struck the observer of human affairs as a strange anomaly. But the insecure and precarious foundation of the power of the great minister in such a monarchy, is scarcely less curious to contemplate. The sagacious counsellor, the long-experienced governor, who has for years wielded the powers of the state, may be reduced to obscurity and impotence by a word—a word of puerile passion, kindled perhaps by a silly intrigue. A great ruler is displaced at the caprice of a dotard. When Count Laski entered the presence of the king, he was in reality the governor of Poland; Europe acknowledged him amongst the controllers and directors of human affairs; his country expected many signal improvements at his hands; the individual happiness of thousands depended upon him; but this power, which had devised great schemes, and which was the rock of support to so many, could itself be shaken and overthrown in a moment, by the splenetic humour of an angry old man.
Who shall describe the grief and despair of Maria when she heard of the cruel resolution which the king had taken, of the dreadful fate which threatened Augustus Glinski? As she sat this time in her Gothic chamber, and in her accustomed chair, what a mortal paleness had settled upon her countenance! Her eye glared out, and was fixed on the vacant wall, as if a spirit had arisen before her, and arrested her regard. There was a spirit there. It was the form of the young Augustus, whom she saw withering and wasting in his dungeon; a dungeon which would deliver him up only to the scaffold. After the events which had occurred all idea of a union with Augustus, presuming that his life should be spared, had been resigned. How could he, on whom the maxims of that age especially imposed the duty of revenging his parent, ally himself to her? How could he choose for his second father the very man who had deprived him of his first and natural parent? If she could but hear that he had broken loose from imprisonment, that he was but safe—this was all that she felt entitled to wish or to pray for. It need hardly be added that it was additional bitterness to reflect, that but for his unhappy attachment to herself, his arrest and captivity would never have taken place.
Again, in the same angle of the apartment, the Arab slave might have been seen standing, silent and motionless as before, regarding with deep interest and commiseration the beautiful daughter of Laski. The secret which she was about, on one occasion, to betray to Hakem, had now betrayed itself to his own observation. She loved—she loved the son of him whom he had assassinated, or executed. There was a profound sadness on the features of the slave.
The silence of the room was suddenly broken by Maria, who, turning to the slave, exclaimed in a tone of anguish—"Hakem, you must save him! you must save him!" This was said in mere desperation, certainly not with any distinct hope that it was in the power of Hakem to obey. When, therefore, she heard his voice reply, in a calm but saddened tone, "I will!" she was almost as much surprised as if she had not addressed herself to him. She rose to be assured that it was he who spoke; to bid him repeat his consolatory promise; to question him on his means of fulfilling it: but Hakem was no longer there; he had suddenly quitted the apartment. It seemed as if some voice in the air had sported with her grief.
But it was no voice that mocked at her grief. Hakem proceeded that very day to the palace, and sought an interview with the queen. The guard or sentinel to whom he addressed himself, laughed at his request. "Give her majesty this paper," said the slave, "and refuse to deliver it at your peril."
The paper was forwarded to the queen—Hakem was immediately ushered into her presence.
"You promise here," she said, pointing to the missive she had received, "to revenge the death of the Duke of Lithuania. I presume some private motive of revenge against the minister and your master, prompts your conduct, and you seek from me in additional recompense for an act which you have already resolved on, but which you think will be grateful to me. Is it not so?
"Your Majesty is penetrating."
"And this recompense, what is it?"
"That which will cost you nothing, though you alone can accomplish it—the release and pardon of Augustus Glinski. Obtain this from the king—which to you will be easy—and with my own hand I will assassinate the assassin (for such you will doubtless deem him) of the Duke of Lithuania."
"I will not ask what are your motives in all this, nor how you have divined my wishes, but revenge the death of the Duke of Lithuania, and far more than the liberation of the young Augustus shall be your reward."
"I ask, and will accept no other. But his rescue must first be obtained."
The queen had no objection to urge against this condition; although she had hitherto, for reasons which may be easily surmised, avoided any appearance of interest in the fate of Augustus. She acquiesced, therefore, in Hakem's demand; surprised indeed that she should have obtained the gratification of her revenge at so slight a cost.
What the influence and the reasonings of the minister could not effect, was very speedily brought about by the blandishments of the queen. Augustus Glinski was pardoned, and restored to a portion of his father's wealth and dignities.
The warrant for the release of the prisoner was conveyed to the hand of Hakem, together with a message that he was now expected to perform his part of the engagement.
Hakem, bearing this warrant, and accompanied by one of the officers of justice, proceeded to the prison of Augustus, and having liberated him, carried him forthwith to the house of the chancellor; the young man, who as yet hardly apprehended that he was master of his own movements, permitting himself without remonstrance to be led by his new conductor.
The chancellor and his daughter sat together in the same apartment to which we have already twice introduced the reader. Had his daughter been happy, what a release for Laski had been his enfranchisement from public office! "Banishment from court!" he exclaimed to one who would have condoled with him—"make way there for a liberated prisoner!" But the grief of his daughter, who strove in vain to check her flowing tears, entirely pre-occupied his mind. These tears he never chid; her sadness he never rebuked; he shared it, and by renewed kindness strove to alleviate it. They sat in silence together, when Hakem, entering, made his obeisance, and presented Augustus to the astonished Maria.
"I have saved him!" was all he said.
The joy of Maria was extreme. It was soon, however, followed by a painful embarrassment. Amongst all parties there was a sad conflict of feeling. Augustus would have given worlds to have thrown himself at the feet of Maria; but if the memory of what had occurred had not been sufficient, there stood her father in person before him—the author of his own father's death.
Hakem broke the silence. "Beautiful being!" he said, kneeling on one knee before Maria, "whom I have in secret worshipped, whom alone to worship I have lingered here in the guise and office of a slave—you bade me save him—and I have! Is there any thing further for thy happiness which the Arab can accomplish?"
"No, Hakem, and I feel already overburdened with gratitude for this service you have rendered me—how rendered I cannot as yet divine. There is no other service now I think that any one can render me." As she spoke, her eye had already turned to the spot where Augustus, hesitating to approach or to retreat, was still standing.
"No other service! But, by the living God, there is!" cried Hakem, starting to his feet. His countenance flushed with sudden excitement; his eye kindled with some generous sentiment. "Hear me, gentle sir," he said, addressing himself to Augustus. "Nature calls for vengeance—is it not so? Christian and Mahometan, we all resemble in this. Blood cries for blood. But the hand that slew your father—it was mine. I am the first and direct object of your resentment. Let now one victim suffice. Is the Arab too ignoble a victim? That Arab is the preserver of your life, at what cost you may one day learn. Let this enhance the value of the sacrifice. Over my blood let peace be made between you." Turning once more, and bowing with deep emotion before Maria, he then, with a movement quick as thought, plunged a poniard in his bosom, and fell to the ground. "Go, tell the queen," he said to the officer of justice, who had stood a mute spectator of this scene—"tell her what you have witnessed; and add, that my promise has been fulfilled. And you, Augustus Glinski—will not this suffice? The assassin of the duke lies here before you. Oh, take her by the hand!" Then, looking his last towards Maria, he murmured—"And I, too—loved!" and closed his eyes in death.
The prayer of Hakem was granted. It was impossible to demand another sacrifice—impossible not to accept this as full atonement to the spirit of revenge. Over the body of Hakem, whom all lamented and admired, peace was made.
The generous object of the slave was fully accomplished. His death procured the long happiness of Maria.
THE LAY OF STARKATHER.
[The following lines are founded on the account given by Saxo-Grammaticus (Lib. VIII.) of the guilt, penitence, and death of Starkather, a fabulous Scandinavian hero, famous throughout the North for his bodily strength and warlike achievements, as well as for his poetical genius, of which traces are still to be found in the metrical traditions and phraseology of his country. According to the old legend, the existence of Starkather was prolonged for three lifetimes, in each of which he was doomed to commit some act of infamy; but this fiction has not here been followed out. Oehlenschlaeger's drama, bearing the name of this hero, has many beauties; but deviates widely from Saxo's story of his death.]
It was an aged man went forth with slow and tottering tread, The frosts of many a Northland Yule lay thick upon his head; A staff was in his outstretched hand, to lead him on his way, And vainly rolled his faded eyes to find the light of day.
Yet in that ancient form was seen the pride of other years, In ruined majesty and night the HERO there appears. The awful brow, the ample breast, a shelter from the foe, And there the massive weight of arm that dealt the deadly blow.
He stopped a passing stranger's steps, and thus his purpose told,— "See here the twin swords by my side, and see this purse of gold; Thy weapon choose to cope with One who should no longer live, And by an easy slaughter earn the guerdon I would give.
"A hundred winters o'er my soul have shed their gathering gloom, And still I seek, but seek in vain, an honourable tomb; With friendly enmity consent to quench this lingering breath, And give, to crown a warrior's life, one boon—a warrior's death.
"Of matchless might and fearless soul, with powers of song sublime, I spread afar my name and fame in every Gothic clime; Those godlike gifts were treasured long from blot and blemish clear, But one dark act of fraudful guilt bedimmed my bright career.
"When Olo sat, the people's choice, in Sealand's kingly seat, And trampled liegemen and the laws beneath his tyrant feet, His nobles placed this glittering hoard within my yielding hand, And bade me rid them of a rule that wide enslaved the land.
"I watched my royal victim well, I tracked his every path, And found him with a faithless guard within the secret bath; Yet rather had I faced an host fast rushing to the fight, Than the eye of that unarmed man, there gleaming bold and bright.
"The fear of my defenceless foe awhile unnerved my arm, But thoughts of glory or of gain dispelled the better charm; The water reddened with his blood, I left the lifeless corse, To meet myself a living death,—a lifetime of remorse.
"In every feud, in every fray, on every field of strife, I since have fondly sought release from such a loathed life; The foremost, who suborned my crime, have perished at my feet, But none had heart or hand to strike the blow I longed to meet.
"Even as I am, I seek the fight, and offer as the prize The untasted bait that bribed my soul, nor thou the boon despise; Else, like some worn-out beast of prey, Starkather soon must lie, Nor gain the bliss that Odin gives to men who nobly die."
"I know thee now," the stranger said, "I hear thy hated name, I take thy gold, I take thy life, a forfeit to my claim; My father fell beneath thy hand, his image haunts me still— But the hour of his revenge is come, and he shall drink his fill."
He seized a sword; its sweeping edge soon laid the Hero low, But not before his sinking arm was felt upon his foe: "Thanks, youthful friend!" the Hero said; "now Odin's hall is won, Its rays already greet my soul, its raptures are begun."
The true position of the creative musical power in the scale of human genius is difficult to determine; and will be differently estimated by different minds. That it is a heavenly gift of a high order, admits of no doubt; that it exercises over men's minds a mighty, and, under due safeguards, a beneficent influence, is equally indisputable; and that its existence implies, and is closely connected with, the possession of other superior faculties, moral and intellectual, must also, we think, be clear upon reflection, though this last proposition is not so likely to be readily conceded. Yet the place which the great COMPOSER is generally allowed to occupy, in relation to the PAINTER or the POET, does not correspond either to the qualities or to the effects displayed in his art. Many would think it a disparagement to connect the names of Milton or Virgil, Raphael or Michael Angelo, with those of the greatest musical masters; and it may seem not easy to say whether this feeling is the result of injustice or accident, on the one hand; or, on the other, is founded on some deep and solid truth in the laws and elements of our nature.
The mighty magic that lies in the highest manifestations of musical composition, must command the wonder and reverence of all who understand, or even observe, its operation. The power of giving birth to innumerable forms of exquisite melody, delighting the ear and stirring every emotion of the soul, agitating us with fear or horror, animating us with ardour and enthusiasm, filling us with joy, melting us with grief, now lulling us to repose amidst the luxurious calm of earthly contentment, now borrowing wings more ethereal than the lark's, and wafting us to the gate of heaven, where its notes seem to blend undistinguishably with the songs of superior beings—this is a faculty that bears no unequivocal mark of a divine descent, and that nothing but prejudice or pride can deem of trivial or inferior rank. But when to this is added a mastery over the mysterious combinations of harmony, a spirit that can make subservient to its one object immense masses of dissimilar and sometimes discordant, sounds; and, like the leader of a battle, can ride on the whirlwind and direct the storm, till it subdue the whole soul, taking captive all our feelings, corporeal and mental, and moulding them to its will—a power of this nature seems to equal in dignity the highest faculties of genius in any of its forms, as it undoubtedly surpasses all the others in the overwhelming and instantaneous efficacy of its agency while thus working its wonders. Tame is the triumph of the artist in the exhibition-room, dim and distant the echo which the poet receives of the public praise, compared with the unequivocal and irrepressible bursts of admiration which entrance the great composer in the crowded theatre, or even with that silent incense which is breathed in the stifled emotions of his audience in some more sacred place. The nearest approach to any such enthusiastic tribute, is that which sometimes awaits the successful tragic poet at the representation of his dramas; but, besides the lion's share of applause which the actor is apt to appropriate, what dramatic writer, in our own experience or history, has been greeted with such homage as that paid to Handel, when the king and people of England stood up in trembling awe to hear his Hallelujah chorus?—that which hailed Mozart from the enraptured theatres of Prague when listening to his greatest operas?—that which fanned into new fire the dying embers of Haydn's spirit, when the Creation was performed at Vienna, to delight his declining days, before an audience of 1500 of the Austrian nobility and gentry?
The ancient poets felt the force of those emotions which musical sound produces, and shadowed out under its name the great principles of human harmony and social order. Societies were founded, cities built, and countries cultivated by Orpheus and Amphion, and men of analogous fame, who wielded at will this mythic power, and made all the susceptibilities of nature "sequacious of the lyre."
In one respect the fame of the composer is less diffusible than that of the poet. He requires various mechanical means and appliances for his full success. His works must be performed in order to be felt. He cannot be read, like the poet, in the closet, or in the cottage, or on the street-stall, where the threadbare student steals from day to day, as he lingers at the spot, new draughts of delicious refreshment. Few can sit down and peruse a musical composition even for its melody; and very few, indeed, can gather from the silent notes the full effect of its splendid combinations. Yet even here the great master has analogous compensations. The idle amateur, the boarding-school girl, the street minstrel, and the barrel-organ, reflect his more palpable beauties; and, subjecting them to the severe test of incessant reiteration, make us wonder that "custom cannot stale" the infinite variety that is shut up even in his simplest creations.
But the creative musician has an immeasurable advantage over both the painter and the poet in the absence of all local limitation to his popularity. Here, indeed, the painter is the least favoured by the nature of his art. The immediate presence of the prophet could only be felt at Mecca; the perfection of painting can only be seen at Rome. The poet has a wider range, and can be prized and appreciated wherever the language is known in which he writes. But the musician is still more highly privileged. He speaks with a tongue intelligible alike to every nation and class; he expresses himself in a universal character, which Bishop Wilkins would have died to possess; he needs no translation; he can suffer nothing by change of place; his works are equally and at once capable of being enjoyed at London and Naples, Paris and Prague, Vienna and St Petersburg. If the enjoyment received from his powers is not every where equally great, it is not from the want of a medium to make them understood, but from a difference in the minds to which they are presented.
The creative art of the musician is not one of mere talent, or of a certain sensual refinement and dexterity. It involves deep systematic study, closely akin to that of the severer sciences. It has a sequence and logic of its own, and excellence in it is unattainable without good sense and strong intellect. It involves great moral and pathetic sensibility, and a ready sympathy with all the joys and sorrows of mankind. And finally, the lightest branch of it is beyond the reach of any but those who are lifted up by strong feelings of reverence and devotion. Handel was a man of sincere piety, who avowed it to be the object of his compositions not merely to please men, but "to make them better."
"The character of Handel," says Mr Hogarth, in his excellent Musical History, "in all its great features, was exalted and amiable. Throughout his life he had a deep sense of religion. He used to express the great delight he felt in setting to music the most sublime passages of Holy Writ; and the habitual study of the Scriptures had constant influence on his sentiments and conduct. For the last two or three years of his life, he regularly attended divine service in his parish church of St George's, Hanover Square, where his looks and gestures indicated the fervour of his devotion. In his life he was pure and blameless."—(Vol. i. 209.)
"Haydn," in like manner, (we quote from the same biographer,) "was a stranger to every evil and malignant passion; and, indeed, was not much under the influence of passion of any sort. But his disposition was cheerful and gentle, and his heart was brimful of kindly affections. He was friendly and benevolent, open and candid in the expression of his sentiments, always ready to acknowledge and aid the claims of talent in his own art, and, in all his actions, distinguished by the most spotless integrity. Such is the account of him given by all those who knew him best; and they add, as the most remarkable feature of his character, that strong and deeply-rooted sense of religion, which is the only solid foundation of moral excellence. Haydn's piety was not a mere feeling, capable, as is often the case with worldly men, of being excited for the moment by circumstances, and dying away when the external influence is removed; it was an active principle, which guided the whole tenor of his life and conduct. His sacred music was exalted by the existence, in his mind, of those devout sentiments which it is the object of sacred music to express. 'When I was engaged in composing The Creation,' he used to say, 'I felt myself so penetrated with religious feeling, that before I sat down to write, I earnestly prayed to God that he would enable me to praise him worthily.'"—(Vol. i. 304.)
Similar feelings of strong piety, as well as of generous benevolence, animated and inspired the great and amiable man whose character is more immediately the subject of this article. It would be difficult, indeed, to think of an oratorio or requiem written by a scoffer or a sceptic.
With such exalted requisites, so intense a power, and so extensive a range of influence, it is strange that the composer should not have taken the rank and relative dignity to which he seems entitled in the province of the arts. But honour and fame are chiefly dispensed by poets and literary men; and it is impossible not to feel that, generally speaking, the musician is treated by men of letters as an alien from their own lineage. Music may be praised in vague and evasive terms; but the individual composer is not deemed deserving of mention. All the great masters of the pencil have been cordially commended in immortal verse; but of the great composers' names scarce a notice is to be found. It is not wonderful that the poet should prize above all others his own form of art. Poetry, as the mouthpiece of practical wisdom, as the clearest interpreter of all instruction, must ever hold an undisputed pre-eminence. Painting, too, as nearest akin to poetry in the objects it presents and the effects it produces, may be allowed at least to contest the palm for the second rank. But that music in the person of her most inspired sons, should have been sternly excluded from a participation in the honours awarded to her sister arts, seems an injustice which can be defended on no pleadable grounds. The explanation of it seems to be, that most of our great poets—and this has certainly been the case in England—have had no love or knowledge, and no true appreciation, of high musical composition. Milton alone seems to have been an exception; and, we cannot doubt, that if he had lived in the same age with Handel, he would have given utterance to his admiration in strains worthy of them both. The rest of our vates sacri, on whom immortality is proverbially said to depend, seem, generally speaking, to have been ignorance itself in this department. Several of them, indeed, have written odes for St Cecilia's day, but this does not prove that they had a taste for more than rhythm. Pope had the tact to call Handel a giant, and speaks cleverly of his "hundred hands" as sure to be fatal to the reign of Dulness.
"Strong in new arms, lo! giant Handel stands, Like bold Briareus, with his hundred hands, To stir, to rouse, to shake the soul he comes, And Jove's own thunders follow Mars's drums. Arrest him, goddess! or you sleep no more."
But no reference is made to the exquisite beauty of his compositions. The loudness is all that seems to be praised, and we suspect, that in private Pope was inclined to laugh with Swift in his disparaging comparison between Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Wordsworth has written on the "Power of Sound;" but the small part of it that touches on the musical art, does not impress us with the idea of his knowing or caring much about it, though in this, as in other things, he has the sense and philosophy to sacrifice a cock to Esculapius, and to bow down to what others worship, even where he does not himself feel the influence of a warm devotion. Collins and Moore, and perhaps a few others whom we have overlooked, ought to be excluded from this condemnation; but they have not been led to speak of individual musicians, or have not had courage to leave the beaten track.
Thus neglected by those who would have been its most faithful depositaries and most effective champions, the fame of the musical composer has been left to the guardianship of the few sound and enlightened judges who thoroughly comprehend him, to the humble but honest admiration of professional performers, to the practice and imitation of effeminate amateurs, to the cant of criticism of the worthies on the free list, and to the instinctive applause of the popular voice. Even with these humbler hands to build up his monument, the great master of music has a perpetual possession within the hearts of men, that the poet and the painter may well envy. Every chord in the human frame that answers to his strains, every tear that rises at the bidding of his cadences, every sob that struggles for an outlet at his touches of despairing tenderness, or at the thunders of his massive harmony, is a tribute to his power and his memory, enough to console his spirit if it can still be conscious of them, or to have rewarded his living labours in their progress by a bright anticipation of their effects. If nobles, and even nations, do not contend for the possession of his works, or offer a ransom for their purchase, such as is daily given for the masterpieces of the painter's power; it is the pride of his genius that his compositions cannot be appropriated or possessed. An oratorio of Handel, or an opera of Mozart, cannot become property like a picture of Raphael or Guido. They belong to mankind at large, open to all, and enjoyable by all who have the faculty to perceive, and delight in, their beauties; and in every theatre and public place, in every church and in every chamber throughout Christendom, a portion of their divine and various influence, suited to the scene and occasion, is always within reach, to make men gentler and better, happier and holier, than they would otherwise be without such manifestations of their Maker's wondrous gifts.
Nowhere can the views we have above suggested be better illustrated, than in the fate and character of the singular man who, if not the first, was yet only second to one other, among those on whom music has shed her fullest inspiration.
It is not our intention to follow minutely the events of Mozart's life. They are generally well known; and to those who wish to have a clear, complete, and judicious view of them, we can safely recommend the book noticed at the outset of this article.
Mozart was born at Salzburg in 1756, and died at Vienna in 1791, in his thirty-sixth year. But into that short space were compressed as many proofs and compositions of genius, as much joy and sorrow, as much triumph and humiliation, as would have crowded a much longer lifetime. His early indications of genius are well known, and were indeed wonderful, even as compared with those of other great composers—for Handel, Haydn, and Beethoven, all gave proofs of their musical powers in boyhood—though none of them as children showed that full maturity of mind which distinguished Mozart, and which only a few of those who witnessed it could fully appreciate. Mozart's organization was obviously of the finest and tenderest texture; but he had also many advantages in his nurture, and, among others, the inestimable blessing of a happy home, where harmony reigned in the hearts, as well as upon the lips and fingers of the inmates. His father was a man of sense and education, as well as of musical talent, and in all respects did his duty to his son throughout life, amidst many difficulties and disappointments, resulting partly from his own dependent situation at Salzburg, and partly from an over-estimate of the worldly prosperity which his son's genius should have commanded. His mother seems also to have been an excellent person; and from the remarkable letters which Mozart wrote from Paris to prepare his father for her death, after the event had happened, she appears to have been the object of the tenderest affection to her family. Mozart uniformly discharged towards his parents all the offices of pious devotion; and he was always affectionately attached to his sister, who was a few years older than himself, and whose early and distinguished skill as a performer must have been useful in assisting her brother's tastes. In 1829 the Novello family saw this lady at Salzburg, a widow and in narrow circumstances.
"We found Madame Sonnenberg, lodged in a small but clean room, bed-ridden and quite blind. Hers is a complete decay of nature; suffering no pain, she lies like one awaiting the stroke of death, and will probably expire in her sleep.... Her voice was scarcely above a whisper, so that I was forced to lean my face close to hers to catch the sound. In the sitting-room still remained the old clavichord, on which the brother and sister had frequently played duets together; and on its desk were some pieces of his composition, which were the last things his sister had played over previous to her illness."
With becoming delicacy, the fruits of an English subscription were presented to her on her name-day, as a remembrance from some friends of her brother.
The bane of Mozart's fortunes was the patronage on which he was dependent. His father had got into the trammels of the Archbishop of Salzburg—a sordid, arrogant, and ignorant man, who saw Mozart's value in the eyes of others, though he could not himself estimate it, and would neither pay him nor part with him. When in his twentieth year, and already a great composer and an efficient performer, Mozart was in the receipt, from this princely prelate, for the liberal use of his musical talents, of a salary equal in amount to about L1, 1s. English, per annum.
"Among a multitude of compositions that he wrote for the archbishop's concerts, in 1775, are five concertos for the violin, which he probably performed himself. His gentle disposition made him easily comply with any proposal to augment pleasure, however out of his usual course. During the following year, 1776, he seems to have made his last great effort to awaken the archbishop to some sense of his desert, and a due generosity of acknowledgment, by producing masses, litanies, serenades, divertimentos for instruments, clavier concertos, &c., too numerous for detail. But in vain; and what aggravated the injury of this monstrous appropriation of labour was, that the father, whose household economy was now somewhat pinched, on applying for permission to remedy these circumstances by a tour, was refused. From that hour Wolfgang threw by his pen in disgust—at least as far as it concerned voluntary labour."
It was now resolved that Mozart should leave Salzburg with his mother, and try his fortune in the world. He was every where admired; but the wonder of his childhood had passed away, and empty praise was all that he could, for the most part, earn. After lingering, in the sickness of hope deferred, at several of the German courts, his destination was at last fixed for Paris. His chance of success as a courtier was probably diminished by the blunt though kindly frankness of his opinions, and by his inability to stoop to unworthy means of rising. He had also many rivals to encounter, particularly those of the more slender school of Italian melody; and few of the public had knowledge or independence enough to forsake the inferior favourites that were in vogue.
In approaching Paris, Mozart became alarmed at the prospect of his being there compelled to resort to the drudgery of tuition for his support. "I am a composer," he said, "and the son of a kapell-meister, and I cannot consent to bury in teaching the talent for composition which God has so richly bestowed upon me." His father, more experienced in the world, and more prudential in his ideas, endeavoured to modify his alarm, and urge him to perseverance in any honourable course of employment. The father's letter at this time to his son, to apprize him of the true position of the family, and preserve him against the dangers in his path, is honourable to both, and worthy of perusal.
"This being in all probability the last letter that you will receive from me at Mannheim, I address it to you alone. How deeply the wider separation which is about to take place between us affects me, you may partly conceive, though not feel it in the same degree with which it oppresses my heart. If you reflect seriously on what I have undergone with you two children in your tender years, you will not accuse me of timidity, but, on the contrary, do me the justice to own that I am, and ever have been, a man with the heart to venture every thing, though indeed I always employed the greatest circumspection and precaution. Against accidents it is impossible to provide, for God only sees into futurity. Up to this time we cannot be said to have been either successful or unsuccessful; but, God be thanked, we have steered between the two. Every thing has been attempted for your success, and through you for our own. We have at least endeavoured to settle you in some appointment on a secure footing; though fate has hitherto decreed that we should fail in our object. This last step of ours, however, makes my spirit sink within me. You may see as clearly as the sun at noonday, that, through it, the future condition of your aged parents, and of your affectionately attached sister, entirely depends upon you. From the time of your birth, and indeed earlier, ever since my marriage, I have found it a hard task to support a wife, and, by degrees, a family of seven children, two relatives by marriage, and the mother, on a certain income of twenty-five florins a month, out of this to pay for maintenance and the expenses of child-bed, deaths, and sicknesses; which expenses, when you reflect upon them, will convince you that I not only never devoted a kreutzer to my own private pleasure, but that I could never, in spite of all my contrivances and care, have managed to live free from debt without the especial favour of God; and yet I never was in debt till now. I devoted all my time to you two, in the hope and indeed reliance upon your care in return; that you would procure for me a peaceful old age, in which I might render account to God for the education of my children, and, without any other concern than the salvation of my soul, quietly await death. But Providence has so ordered, that I must now afresh commence the ungrateful task of lesson-giving, and in a place, too, where this dreary labour is so ill paid, that it will not support one from one end of the year to the other; and yet it is to be thought a matter of rejoicing if, after talking oneself into a consumption, something or other is got by it.
"I am far, my dear Wolfgang, from having the least mistrust in you—on the contrary, on your filial love I place all confidence and every hope. Every thing now depends upon fortunate circumstances, and the exercise of that sound understanding which you certainly possess, if you will listen to it; the former are uncontrollable—but that you will always take counsel of your understanding I hope and pray....
"You are now a young man of twenty-two years of age; here is none of that seriousness of years which may dissuade a youth, let his condition be what it may—an adventurer, a libertine, a deceiver—be he old or young, from courting your acquaintance, and drawing you into his society and his plans. One may fall into this danger unawares, and then not know how to recede. Of the other sex I can hardly speak to you, for there the greatest reserve and prudence are necessary, Nature herself being our enemy; but whoever does not employ all his prudence and reserve in his intercourse, will with difficulty extricate himself from the labyrinth—a misfortune that usually ends in death. How blindly, through inconsiderate jests, flattery, and play, one may fall into errors at which the returning reason is ashamed, you may perhaps have already a little experienced, and it is not my intention to reproach you. I am persuaded that you do not only consider me as your father, but as your truest and most faithful friend, and that you know and see that our happiness or unhappiness—nay, more, my long life or speedy death is, under God, so to speak, in your hands. If I know you aright, I have nothing but pleasure to expect in you, which thought must console me in your absence for the paternal pleasure of seeing, hearing, and embracing you. Lead the life of a good Catholic Christian; love and fear God; pray to him with devotion and sincerity, and let your conduct be such, that should I never see you more, the hour of my death may be free from apprehension. From my heart I bless you."
His reception at Paris was comparatively cold. The Parisians were scarcely done with the "faction fight" in which the rivalry of Gluck and Piccini had involved them; but none of the partisans were inclined to be enthusiastic about the new-comer. His only great admirer, and his best friend, seems to have been his acute and accomplished countryman Grimm, who prophesied that monarchs would dispute for the possession of Mozart. The prediction was fulfilled, but not in sufficient time to benefit the unhappy subject of their competition.
"Baron Grimm and myself often vent our indignation at the state of music here, that is to say, between ourselves; but in public it is always 'bravo! bravissimo!' and clapping till the fingers burn. What most displeases me is, that the French gentlemen have only so far improved their taste as to be able to endure good things; but as for any perception that their music is bad—Heaven help them!—and the singing—oime!"
Again he writes—
"You advise me to visit a great deal, in order to make new acquaintances, or to revive the old ones. That is, however, impossible. The distance is too great, and the ways too miry to go on foot; the muddy state of Paris being indescribable; and to take a coach, one may soon drive away four or five livres, and all in vain, for the people merely pay you compliments, and then it is over. They ask me to come on this or that day—I play, and then they say, 'O c'est un prodige, c'est inconcevable, c'est etonnant;' and then 'a Dieu.'"
"All this, however," Mr Holmes observes, "might have been endured, so far as mere superciliousness and hauteur to the professional musician were involved, if these people had possessed any real feeling or love for music; but it was their total want of all taste, their utter viciousness, that rendered them hateful to Mozart. He was ready to make any sacrifice for his family, but longed to escape from the artificial and heartless Parisians.
"If I were in a place," he writes, "where people had ears to hear, hearts to feel, and some small degree of perception and taste, I should laugh heartily over all these things—but really, as it regards music, I am living among mere brute beasts. How can it be otherwise? It is the same in all their passions, and, indeed, in every transaction of life; no place in the world is like Paris. Do not think that I exaggerate when I speak thus of the state of music here—ask any one except a native Frenchman, and if he be fit to answer the question, he will tell you the same. I must endure out of love to you—but I shall thank God Almighty if I leave this place with my healthful natural taste. It is my constant prayer that I may be enabled to establish myself, that I may do honour to the German nation, and make fame and money, and so be the means of helping you out of your present narrow circumstances, and of our all living together once more, cheerfully and happily."
Take the following vivid sketch of his task in teaching composition to a young lady:—
"Among these pupils one is daughter of the Duc de Guines, with whom I am in high favour, and I give her two hours' instruction in composition daily, for which I am very liberally paid. He plays the flute incomparably, and she magnificently on the harp. She possesses much talent and cleverness, and, in particular, a very remarkable memory, which enables her to play all her pieces, of which there are at least two hundred, without book. She is doubtful whether she has genius for composition—particularly with respect to thoughts or ideas; her father (who, between ourselves, is a little too much in love with her) affirms that she certainly has ideas, and that nothing but modesty and a want of confidence in herself prevent their appearing. We shall now see. If she really have no ideas, and I must say I have as yet seen no indication of them, it will be all in vain, for God knows I can give her none. It is not her father's intention to make any very great composer of her. 'I do not wish her,' he says, 'to write any operas, airs, concertos, or symphonies, but merely grand sonatas for her instrument, as I do for mine.'
"I gave her the fourth lesson to-day, and, as far as the rules of composition go, am tolerably satisfied with her; she put the bass to the first minuet which I placed before her, very correctly. We now commenced writing in three parts. She tried it, and fatigued herself in attempts, but it was impossible to help her; nor can we move on a step further, for it is too early, and in science one must advance by the proper gradations. If she had genius—but alas! there is none—she has no thoughts—nothing comes. I have tried her in every imaginable way; among others it occurred to me to place a very simple minuet before her, to see whether she could make a variation upon it. That was all to no purpose. Now, thought I, she does not know how to begin; so I varied the first bar for her, and told her to continue the variation pursuing that idea; and at length she got through tolerably well. I next requested her to begin something herself—the first part only—a melody; but after a quarter of an hour's cogitation nothing came. I then wrote four bars of a minuet, and said, 'What a stupid fellow I am, I have begun a minuet, and cannot finish the first part of it. Have the goodness to do it for me.' She distrusted her ability, but at last, with much labour, something came to light. I rejoiced that we got something at last. She had now to complete the entire minuet, that is to say, the melody only. On going away, I recommended her to alter my four bars for something of her own; to make another beginning even if she retained the same harmony, and only altered the melody. I shall see to-morrow how she has succeeded."
In the midst of this irksome labour, Mozart's beloved mother expired at Paris in the summer of 1778, after a fortnight's illness. He then wrote to his father that she was "very ill," and to a family friend at Salzburg, desiring him to prepare his father and sister for the truth. The whole correspondence at this time is interesting. The letter to the Abbe Bullinger is in these words:—
"Sympathize with me on this the most wretched and melancholy day of my life. I write at two o'clock in the morning to inform you that my mother—my dearest mother—is no more! God has called her to himself. I saw clearly that nothing could save her, and resigned myself entirely to the will of God; he gave, and he can take away. Picture to yourself the state of alarm, care, and anxiety in which I have been kept for the last fortnight. She died without being conscious of any thing—her life went out like a taper. Three days ago she confessed, received the sacrament and extreme unction; but since that time she has been constantly delirious and rambling, until this afternoon at twenty-one minutes after five, when she was seized with convulsions, and immediately lost all perception and feeling. I pressed her hand and spoke to her; but she neither saw me, heard me, nor seemed in the least sensible; and in this state she lay for five hours, namely, till twenty-one minutes past ten, when she departed, no one being present but myself, M. Haine, a good friend of ours whom my father knows, and the nurse.
"I cannot at present write you the whole particulars of the illness; but my belief is, that she was to die—that it was the will of God. Let me now beg the friendly service of you, to prepare my poor father by gentle degrees for the melancholy tidings. I wrote to him by the same post, but told him no more than that she was very ill; and I now await his answer, by which I shall be guided. May God support and strengthen him! Oh, my friend! through the especial grace of God I have been enabled to endure the whole with fortitude and resignation, and have long since been consoled under this great loss. In her extremity I prayed for two things: a blessed dying hour for my mother, and courage and strength for myself; and the gracious God heard my prayer, and richly bestowed those blessings upon me. Pray, therefore, dear friend, support my father. Say what you can to him, in order that when he knows the worst, he may not feel it too bitterly. I commend my sister also to you from the bottom of my heart. Call on both of them soon, but say no word of the death—only prepare them. You can do and say what you will; but let me be so far at ease as to have no new misfortune to expect. Comfort my dear father and my dear sister, and pray send me a speedy answer."
The letter to his father is curiously circumstantial; but if on such occasion it is allowable to deceive at all, it is allowable to make the deception complete.
"The cause of my having left your letter of the 11th of June so long unanswered is, that I have very unpleasant and melancholy intelligence to communicate. My dear mother is very ill. At the beginning of her illness she was, as usual, bled, and this seemed to relieve and do her good; but in a few days she began to complain of sudden chills and heats, which were accompanied by headach and diarrhoea. We began now to use the remedy that we employ at home—the antispasmodic powder. We wished that we had brought the black, but had it not, and could not get it here, where even its name, pulvis epilepticus, is unknown. But as she got worse continually, spoke with difficulty, and so far lost her hearing, that it was necessary to call out in speaking to her, Baron Grimm sent us his physician. She is still very weak, and is also feverish and delirious. They want to give me hope; but I have not much. I have been long already—for days and nights together—between hope and fear; but I have now entirely resigned myself to the will of God, and I hope that you and my dear sister will do the like. What are the means then to give us calm and peace, in a degree, if not absolutely? I am resigned, let the end be what it may, because I know that God, who, however mysteriously he may proceed to human eyes, ordains every thing for the best, so wills it; and I am not easily persuaded out of the belief, that neither physician nor any other man, neither misfortune nor accident, can either take or give life, but God alone, though these are the means which he mostly employs; but even these not always. We see people constantly sinking and dying around us; but I do not say, on that account, that my mother must and will die, or that we have lost all hope. She may recover, if it be the will of God. I, however, find consolation in these reflections, after praying to God as earnestly as I am able for my dear mother's health and life; they strengthen, encourage, and console me, and you must needs think I require them. Let us now change the subject, and quit these melancholy thoughts. Let us hope, if not much, and put our trust in God, consoling ourselves with the reflection, that every thing is well ordered which the Almighty orders, and that he best knows what is essential to our temporal happiness and our eternal salvation."
The elder Mozart had, in the mean time, without knowing of her illness, begun a letter to his wife, designed to reach her on her name-day; but, before its conclusion, he had received his son's letter, and seen the Abbe, and had thus learned not only her danger but its result.
"M. Bullinger found us, as every one else did, in deep affliction; I handed him your letter without saying a word; he dissembled very well; and having read it, enquired what I thought about it. I said, that I firmly believed my dear wife was no more. He almost feared the same thing, he told me—and then, like a true friend, entered upon consolatory topics, and said to me every thing that I had before said to myself. We finished our conversation, and our friends gradually left us with much concern. M. Bullinger, however, remained behind, and when we were alone, asked me whether I believed that there was any ground for hope after such a description of the illness as had been given. I replied, that I not merely believed her dead by this time—but that she was already so on the very day that the letter was written; that I had resigned myself to the will of God, and must remember that I have two children, who I hoped would love me, as I lived solely and entirely for them; indeed, that I felt so certain, as to have taken some pains to write to, and remind you of the consequences, &c. Upon this he said, 'Yes, she is dead,' and in that instant the scales fell from my eyes; for the suddenness of the accident had prevented my perceiving, what I else should have suspected, as soon as I had read your letter—namely, how probable it was that you had privately communicated the real truth to M. Bullinger. In fact, your letter stupified me—it at first was such a blow as to render me incapable of reflection. I have now no more to say. Do not be anxious on my account, I shall bear my sorrow like a man. Remember what a tenderly loving mother you have had—now you will be able to appreciate all her care—as in your mature years, after my death, you will mine, with a constantly increasing affection. If you love me, as I doubt not but you do, take care of your health—on your life hangs mine, and the future support of your affectionate sister. How incomprehensibly bitter a thing it is, when death rends asunder a happy marriage—can only be known by experience."
In a few days, Mozart wrote to his father again:—
"I hope that you are now prepared to receive with firmness some intelligence of a very melancholy and distressing character; indeed, my last letter, of the 3d, will not have encouraged you to expect any thing very favourable. On the evening of the same day (the 3d,) at twenty-one minutes after ten at night, my mother fell happily asleep in God, and was already experiencing the joys of heaven at the very moment that I wrote to you. All was over—I wrote to you in the night, and I trust that you and my sister will pardon this slight but very necessary artifice;—for when, after all the distress that I had suffered, I turned my thoughts towards you, I could not possibly persuade myself to surprise you all at once with the dreadful and fatal news. Now, however, I hope that you have both prepared yourselves to hear the worst; and after giving way to the reasonable and natural impulses of your grief, to submit yourselves at last to the will of God, and to adore his inscrutable, unfathomable, and all-wise providence.
* * * * *
"I write this in the house of Madame d'Epinay and M. Baron de Grimm, with whom I am now staying, and where I have a pretty little room with a pleasant prospect, and am, as far as circumstances will permit, happy. It would be a great additional comfort were I to hear that my dear father and sister had resigned themselves with fortitude and submission to the will of God; trusting him entirely, in the full conviction that every thing is ordered for our good. Dear father—be comforted! Dearest sister—be comforted!—you know not the kind intentions of your brother towards you; because hitherto they have not been in his power to fulfil.
"I hope that you will both be careful of your health. Remember that you have still a son—a brother—who will exert himself to the utmost for your happiness, well knowing what sacrifices you are both ready to make for him, and that when the time shall come, neither of you will oppose the fulfilment of his honourable wishes. Oh! then we will lead a life as peaceful and happy as is attainable in this world; and at length, in God's time, meet all together again in the enjoyment of that object for which we were created."
We have given these letters at some length, as we think they show the worth, affection, and right feeling of the whole family.
The disconsolate state in which his father was thus left, decided Mozart, however reluctant, to return to the hated service of the Archbishop at Salzburg. The terms on which he was received back were somewhat improved, for his absence had rendered his value more perceptible; and a greater latitude was allowed him in visiting, and composing for other courts. In the winter of 1780-1, he made use of his leave of absence by writing and bringing out at Munich, with triumphant success, the splendid serious opera of Idomeneo, always so great a favourite with himself, and which is still regarded as a masterpiece.
"With this work, the most important in its influence on music, Mozart crowned his twenty-fifth year. The score is still a picture to the musician. It exhibits consummate knowledge of the theatre, displayed in an opera of the first magnitude and complexity; which unites to a great orchestra the effects of a double chorus on the stage and behind the scenes; and introduces marches, processions, and dances, to various accompaniments in the orchestra, behind the scenes, or under the stage. This model opera, in which Mozart rises on the wing from one beauty to another through long acts, was completed, as we have seen, within a few weeks, and ever since has defied the scrutiny of musicians to detect in it the slightest negligence of style."
In March 1781, Mozart followed the Salzburg court to Vienna, where he was subjected to such indignity by his patron, as finally to terminate their connexion. The author of Idomeneo was required to take his meals at the same table with his grace's valets, confectioner, and cooks. This was too much, even for Mozart's good-nature; and, aggravated by the Archbishop's refusal to allow the display of his talents to the public, gave him courage to insist for his dismissal.
"The step, however, of resigning a pension, and of throwing himself entirely upon the public for fame and support, was a more important one than his sanguine imagination and excitement of feeling permitted him at the time to contemplate. How far his being an unappointed composer may have hastened the production of his immortal works, is open to question; but that his life was sacrificed in struggling against the difficulties in which he was thereby involved, is beyond a doubt.
"In the absence of any immediate design of a new dramatic composition, and delighted at the effect which his public performance on the pianoforte had created at Vienna, Mozart forgot all the fears he had expressed previously to his journey to Paris; thought no more that teaching would interfere with the higher vocation of his muse; and was content to become the fashionable performer, teacher, and pianoforte composer of the day. This mode of life for a time had its temptations and its success; and he hoped that he might still better assist his father at Vienna than at Salzburg, as he was at intervals able to remit to him sums of from ten to thirty ducats. But here commenced the precarious existence which the composer was for the future destined to lead. For, not only was the taste of Vienna then, as now, proverbially variable and flippant—not only was concert-giving an uncertain speculation, and teaching an inconstant source of income—but in a man, who, like Mozart, had, from time to time, strong impulses to write for the theatre, it frequently happened that the order and regularity of his engagements were made to yield to the object which engrossed him; and that the profits of his time were sacrificed on the one hand, without any proportionate advantage on the other."
Let it be observed that Mozart's payment for teaching among the Austrian nobility, was, at the rate of five shillings a lesson!
Mozart was distinguished for virtues which belong only to great or good men when labouring in the field of emulation—an absence of all envy and jealousy, of which he was himself too much the object, and a just and generous estimate of excellence in others. As observed by Mr Holmes, good music, not his own, was his best relaxation from his toils; and his predecessors and contemporaries were alike sure of that sincere admiration which sprang from an unselfish love of the art. His regard and respect for Haydn, who was greatly his inferior in genius and power, is a pleasing illustration of what we have said.
"At this time, Joseph Haydn was established as kapell-meister in the service of Prince Nicholas Esterhazy, and enjoyed a very extensive reputation, which, indeed, the native energy of his genius, and the fortunate circumstances of his mature life, enabled him to earn with ease in a variety of compositions. He was frequently at Vienna, in the suite of his prince; and it was natural that Mozart, who had long lived on terms of mutual esteem with Michael Haydn, at Salzburg, should be predisposed to a regard for his brother;—but the simplicity, benevolence, and sincerity of Joseph Haydn's character, when united with the charming qualities of his genius, offered more than the materials for an ordinary friendship. The attachment of these two men remains accordingly one of the most honourable monuments of the virtuous love of art that musical history can produce. Haydn was at this period about fifty years of age. His constant habit of writing five hours a-day, had accumulated in a series of years a large collection of quartets, pianoforte music, church music, and symphonies, most of which were greatly admired for the spirit and elegance of their style, and the clearness and originality of their design. Mozart at once saw and acknowledged the excellence of Haydn; and in his future intercourse with that master, took the part which the difference of their age, if not of their genius, rendered graceful—by deferring to his judgment with all the meekness of a learner. To Haydn he submitted many of his compositions before publication; delighting often to call him his master and model in quartet writing, which he now began to cultivate in earnest; and omitting no circumstance which could gratify the veteran musician in possessing such an admirer. Haydn on his part repaid all this devotion with becoming generosity. However conscious that, in the universality of musical power, his own genius must be placed at a disadvantage in comparison with that of his friend, he harboured no envious or unworthy sentiment; and death alone interrupted the kind relation in which each stood to the other.
"At the musical parties which Mozart gave from time to time, when he had new compositions to try, and leisure to indulge his disposition for sociality, Haydn was a frequent guest, and no one more profoundly enjoyed the extraordinary beauty and perfection of Mozart's pianoforte playing. Years after, when those fingers, and the soul which animated them, were sought for in vain, a few touching words from Haydn spoke more feelingly to the imagination, in the description of that beauty, than the most laboured and minute criticism could have done. 'Mozart's playing,' said he, 'I can never forget.'"
Haydn's high estimate of his friend's superiority to himself, was always expressed with equal generosity. In a company of critics, who discovered that there were faults in Mozart's operas, Haydn, when appealed to, replied—"All I know is, that Mozart is the greatest composer now existing." When applied to in 1787, to write a comic opera, Haydn thought a new subject, or libretto, would be necessary, and adds—
"Even then it would be a bold attempt, as scarcely any one can stand by the side of the great Mozart. For were it possible that I could impress every friend of music, particularly among the great, with that deep musical intelligence of the inimitable works of Mozart—that emotion of the soul with which they affect me, and in which I both comprehend and feel them, the nations would contend together for the possession of such a gem. Prague ought to retain him, and reward him well too; else the history of great genius is melancholy, and offers posterity but slight encouragement to exertion, which is the reason, alas! that many hopeful and aspiring spirits are repressed. I feel indignant that this unique Mozart is not yet engaged at some royal or imperial court. Forgive me if I stray from the subject—but I love the man too much."
Again, when engaged, along with Mozart, for Salomon's concerts in England—a plan which, so far as Mozart was concerned, was unhappily not carried out—Haydn's only stipulation was, that his compositions should precede those of his friend; and avowed, with unparalleled frankness, his feeling that he would otherwise have less chance of being heard with success.
The celebrity of Mozart, and the applause which attended some of his new compositions, procured him the notice, and ultimately the patronage, of the Emperor Joseph—though somewhat unsteadily conferred, and divided with unworthy Italian rivals. The change, however, was tardy, and, when it came, did not much improve his external circumstances. The appointments he held made but a miserable sinecure, with a still more miserable salary; but the deficiency was supplied by soft words and familiar looks, which, with Mozart's kindly disposition, served to attach him to his imperial master, better than would have been done by a larger allowance ungraciously given.
In the mean time, relying upon his position as a composer, and hoping for the best, Mozart had formed the connexion, as to which Mr Hogarth justly says, "that his fixing his affections on the admirable woman whom he married, was the wisest act, as it was the happiest event, of his life. Constance Weber was his guide—his monitress—his guardian angel. She regulated his domestic establishment—managed his affairs—was the cheerful companion of his happier hours—and his never-failing consolation in sickness and despondency. He passionately loved her, and evinced his feelings by the most tender and delicate attentions."
It is remarkable that Mozart's attachment had at first been directed to his wife's elder sister, and seemed to be returned on her part. But after his absence in Paris, he was coldly received when they again met, and, fortunately for himself, he transferred his affections to Constance, who became his wife.
Rich as this union was in affection, and in all the happiness that affection can bestow, it was soon checkered by distress and difficulty. The health of the wife became precarious; and Mozart's ignorance of the world, as well as his generous and joyous disposition, joined to the precarious and varying amount of his earnings, and the disappointment in his prospects of imperial favour, involved him in debt, which, by overtaxing his mind and body, led to the errors and excesses, such as they were, of his latter life, and ultimately undermined his constitution, and brought him to an untimely tomb.
The "res angusta domi" stimulated the composer's pen, and the rapidity of his productions at this time is marvellous. The taste of Vienna, however, was capricious; and cabals among singers and critics succeeded in deadening the effect of his Figaro, when first brought out, and in thoroughly disgusting Mozart with the Viennese opera. How different the reception which it met from the true hearts and well-attuned ears of the Bohemian audiences! It was in February 1787, after parting with the Storaces, on their leaving for England, with a hope that the mighty master would soon be allured to follow them, that his Bohemian visit was paid.
"In the very same week that he parted from his English friends, Mozart himself set out upon a journey to Prague, whither he had been very cordially invited by a distinguished nobleman and connoisseur, Count John Joseph Thun, who maintained in his service an excellent private band. This was the first professional expedition of any consequence in which he had engaged since his settlement in Vienna; it was prosecuted under the most favourable auspices, and with glowing anticipations of that pleasure for which he so ardently longed, but so imperfectly realized at home—the entire sympathy of the public. Nor was he disappointed. On the same evening that he alighted at the castle of his noble entertainer, his opera of 'Figaro' was given at the theatre, and Mozart found himself for the first time in the midst of that Bohemian audience of whose enthusiasm and taste he had heard so much. The news of his presence in the theatre quickly ran through the parterre, and the overture was no sooner ended than the whole audience rose and gave him a general acclamation of welcome, amidst deafening salvos of applause.
"The success of 'Le Nozze di Figaro,' so unsatisfactory at Vienna, was unexampled at Prague, where it amounted to absolute intoxication and frenzy. Having run through the whole previous winter without interruption, and rescued the treasury of the theatre from ruinous embarrassments, the opera was arranged in every possible form; for the pianoforte, for wind-instruments (garden music,) as violin quintets for the chamber, and German dances; in short, the melodies of 'Figaro' re-echoed in every street and every garden; nay, even the blind harper himself, at the door of the beer-house, was obliged to strike up Non piu andrai if he wished to gain an audience, or earn a kreutzer. Such was the effect of the popular parts of the opera on the public at large; its more refined beauties exercised an equal influence on musicians. The director of the orchestra, Strobach, under whose superintendence 'Figaro' was executed at Prague, often declared the excitement and emotion of the band in accompanying this work to have been such, that there was not a man among them, himself included, who, when the performance was finished, would not have cheerfully recommenced and played the whole through again.
"Finding himself, at length, in a region of sympathy so genial and delightful, a new era in the existence of the composer seemed to open, and he abandoned himself without reserve to its pleasures. In retracing a life so ill rewarded by contemporaries, and so checkered by calamity, it is pleasant to dally awhile in the primrose path, and enjoy the opening prospects of good fortune.
"In a few days he was called upon to give a grand concert at the opera-house. This was in reality his first public appearance, and many circumstances conspire to render it memorable; but chiefly that every piece throughout the performance was of his own composition. The concert ended by an improvisation on the pianoforte. Having preluded and played a fantasia, which lasted a good half-hour, Mozart rose; but the stormy and outrageous applause of his Bohemian audience was not to be appeased, and he again sat down. His second fantasia, which was of an entirely different character, met with the same success; the applause was without end, and long after he had retired to the withdrawing-room, he heard the people in the theatre thundering for his re-appearance. Inwardly delighted, he presented himself for the third time. Just as he was about to begin, when every noise was hushed, and the stillness of death reigned throughout the theatre, a voice in the pit cried 'from Figaro.' He took the hint, and ended this triumphant display of skill by extemporising a dozen of the most interesting and scientific variations upon the air Non piu andrai. It is needless to mention the uproar that followed. The concert was altogether found so delightful, that a second, upon the same plan, soon followed. A sonnet was written in his honour, and his performances brought him one thousand florins. Wherever he appeared in public, it was to meet testimonies of esteem and affection. His emotion at the reception of 'Figaro' in Prague was so great, that he could not help saying to the manager, Bondini, 'As the Bohemians understand me so well, I must write an opera on purpose for them.' Bondini took him at his word, and entered with him, on the spot, into a contract to furnish his theatre with an opera for the ensuing winter. Thus was laid the foundation of 'Il Don Giovanni.'"
The greatest of Mozart's operas was composed at Prague, on a second visit thither in 1787, when he lived with a musical friend in the suburbs of the city. "Here, on an elevated site which commanded a view of the antique magnificence of Prague, its faded castles, ruined cloisters, and other majestic remains of feudal times, under the mild rays of an autumnal sun, and in the open air, Don Giovanni was written." It was immediately brought out at Prague with the success it deserves, and was afterwards performed at Vienna, but was badly got up, and but indifferently received. "Don Giovanni," said its author, "was rather written for Prague than Vienna, but chiefly for myself and my friends." It is a disgraceful fact, that it was eclipsed in popularity among the Viennese by the "Tarrare" of Salieri, of which no one now knows any thing.