HotFreeBooks.com
Life of Chopin
by Franz Liszt
Previous Part     1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

But caution and attention become at last wearisome to natures naturally expansive and candid, and a tiresome frivolity, surprising enough before the secret of its reckless indifference has been divined, mingles with the most spiritual refinement, the most poetic sentiments, the most real causes for intense suffering, as if to mock and jeer at all reality. It is difficult to analyze or appreciate justly this frivolity, as it is sometimes real, sometimes only assumed. It makes use of confusing replies and strange resources to conceal the truth. It is sometimes justly, sometimes wrongfully regarded as a kind of veil of motley, whose fantastic tissue needs only to be slightly torn to reveal more than one hidden or sleeping quality under the variegated folds of gossamer. It often follows from such causes, that eloquence becomes only a sort of grave badinage, sparkling with spangles like the play of fireworks, though the heart of the discourse may contain nothing earnest; while the lightest raillery, thrown out apparently at random, may perhaps be most sadly serious. Bitter and intense thought follows closely upon the steps of the most tempestuous gayety; nothing indeed remains absolutely superficial, though nothing is presented without an artificial polish. In the discussions constantly occurring in this country, where conversation is an art cultivated to the highest degree, and occupying much time, there are always those present, who, whether the topic discussed be grave or gay, can pass in a moment from smiles to tears, from joy to sorrow, leaving the keenest observer in doubt which is most real, so difficult is it to discern the fictitious from the true.

In such varying modes of thought, where ideas shift like quick sands upon the shores of the sea, they are rarely to be found again at the exact point where they were left. This fact is in itself sufficient to give interest to interviews otherwise insignificant. We have been taught this in Paris by some natives of Poland, who astonished the Parisians by their skill in "fencing in paradox;" an art in which every Pole is more or less skillful, as he has felt more or less interest or amusement in its cultivation. But the inimitable skill with which they are constantly able to alternate the garb of truth or fiction (like touchstones, more certain when least suspected, the one always concealed under the garb of the other), the force which expends an immense amount of intellect upon the most trivial occasions, as Gil Bias made use of as much intelligence to find the means of subsistence for a single day, as was required by the Spanish king to govern the whole of his domain; make at last an impression as painful upon us as the games in which the jugglers of India exhibit such wonderful skill, where sharp and deadly arms fly glittering through the air, which the least error, the least want of perfect mastery, would make the bright, swift messengers of certain death! Such skill is full of concealed anxiety, terror, and anguish! From the complication of circumstances, danger may lurk in the slightest inadvertence, in the least imprudence, in possible accidents, while powerful assistance may suddenly spring from some obscure and forgotten individual. A dramatic interest may instantaneously arise from interviews apparently the most trivial, giving an unforeseen phase to every relation. A misty uncertainty hovers round every meeting, through whose clouds it is difficult to seize the contours, to fix the lines, to ascertain the present and future influence, thus rendering intercourse vague and unintelligible, filling it with an indefinable and hidden terror, yet, at the same time, with an insinuating flattery. The strong currents of genuine sympathy are always struggling to escape from the weight of this external repression. The differing impulses of vanity, love, and patriotism, in their threefold motives of action, are forever hurtling against each other in all hearts, leading to inextricable confusion of thought and feeling.

What mingling emotions are concentrated in the accidental meetings of the Mazourka! It can surround, with its own enchantment, the lightest emotion of the heart, while, through its magic, the most reserved, transitory, and trivial rencounter appeals to the imagination. Could it be otherwise in the presence of the women who give to this dance that inimitable grace and suavity, for which, in less happy countries, they struggle in vain? In very truth are not the Sclavic women utterly incomparable? There are to be found among them those whose qualities and virtues are so incontestable, so absolute, that they are acknowledged by all ages, and by all countries. Such apparitions are always and everywhere rare. The women of Poland are generally distinguished by an originality full of fire. Parisians in their grace and culture, Eastern dancing girls in their languid fire, they have perhaps preserved among them, handed down from mother to daughter, the secret of the burning love potions possessed in the seraglios. Their charms possess the strange spell of Asiatic languor. With the flames of spiritual and intellectual Houris in their lustrous eyes, we find the luxurious indolence of the Sultana. Their manners caress without emboldening; the grace of their languid movements is intoxicating; they allure by a flexibility of form, which knows no restraint, save that of perfect modesty, and which etiquette has never succeeded in robbing of its willowy grace. They win upon us by those intonations of voice which touch the heart, and fill the eye with tender tears; by those sudden and graceful impulses which recall the spontaneity and beautiful timidity of the gazelle. Intelligent, cultivated, comprehending every thing with rapidity, skillful in the use of all they have acquired; they are nevertheless as superstitious and fastidious as the lovely yet ignorant creatures adored by the Arabian prophet. Generous, devout, loving danger and loving love, from which they demand much, and to which they grant little; beyond every thing they prize renown and glory. All heroism is dear to them. Perhaps there is no one among them who would think it possible to pay too dearly for a brilliant action; and yet, let us say it with reverence, many of them devote to obscurity their most holy sacrifices, their most sublime virtues. But however exemplary these quiet virtues of the home life may be, neither the miseries of private life, nor the secret sorrows which must prey upon souls too ardent not to be frequently wounded, can diminish the wonderful vivacity of their emotions, which they know how to communicate with the infallible rapidity and certainty of an electric spark. Discreet by nature and position, they manage the great weapon of dissimulation with incredible dexterity, skillfully reading the souls of others with out revealing the secrets of their own. With that strange pride which disdains to exhibit characteristic or individual qualities, it is frequently the most noble virtues which are thus concealed. The internal contempt they feel for those who cannot divine them, gives them that superiority which enables them to reign so absolutely over those whom they have enthralled, flattered, subjugated, charmed; until the moment arrives when—loving with the whole force of their ardent souls, they are willing to brave and share the most bitter suffering, prison, exile, even death itself, with the object of their love! Ever faithful, ever consoling, ever tender, ever unchangeable in the intensity of their generous devotion! Irresistible beings, who in fascinating and charming, yet demand an earnest and devout esteem! In that precious incense of praise burned by M. de Balzac, "in honor of that daughter of a foreign soil," he has thus sketched the Polish woman in hues composed entirely of antitheses: "Angel through love, demon through fantasy; child through faith, sage through experience; man through the brain, woman through the heart; giant through hope, mother through sorrow; and poet through dreams." [Footnote: Dedication of "Modeste Mignon".]

The homage inspired by the Polish women is always fervent. They all possess the poetic conception of an ideal, which gleams through their intercourse like an image constantly passing before a mirror, the comprehension and seizure of which they impose as a task. Despising the insipid and common pleasure of merely being able to please, they demand that the being whom they love shall be capable of exacting their esteem. This romantic temperament sometimes retains them long in hesitation between the world and the cloister. Indeed, there are few among them who at some moment of their lives have not seriously and bitterly thought of taking refuge within the walls of a convent.

Where such women reign as sovereigns, what feverish words, what hopes, what despair, what entrancing fascinations must occur in the mazes of the Mazourka; the Mazourka, whose every cadence vibrates in the ear of the Polish lady as the echo of a vanished passion, or the whisper of a tender declaration. Which among them has ever danced through a Mazourka, whose cheeks burned not more from the excitement of emotion than from mere physical fatigue? What unexpected and endearing ties have been formed in the long tete-a-tete, in the very midst of crowds, with the sounds of music, which generally recalled the name of some hero or some proud historical remembrance attached to the words, floating around, while thus the associations of love and heroism became forever attached to the words and melodies! What ardent vows have been exchanged; what wild and despairing farewells been breathed! How many brief attachments have been linked and as suddenly unlinked, between those who had never met before, who were never, never to meet again—and yet, to whom forgetfulness had become forever impossible! What hopeless love may have been revealed during the moments so rare upon this earth; when beauty is more highly esteemed than riches, a noble bearing of more consequence than rank! What dark destinies forever severed by the tyranny of rank and wealth may have been, in these fleeting moments of meeting, again united, happy in the glitter of passing triumph, reveling in concealed and unsuspected joy! What interviews, commenced in indifference, prolonged in jest, interrupted with emotion, renewed with the secret consciousness of mutual understanding, (in all that concerns subtle intuition Slavic finesse and delicacy especially excel,) have terminated in the deepest attachments! What holy confidences have been exchanged in the spirit of that generous frankness which circulates from unknown to unknown, when the noble are delivered from the tyranny of forced conventionalisms! What words deceitfully bland, what vows, what desires, what vague hopes have been negligently thrown on the winds;—thrown as the handkerchief of the fair dancer in the Mazourka... and which the maladroit knows not how to pick up!...

We have before asserted that we must have known personally the women of Poland, for the full and intuitive comprehension of the feelings with which the Mazourkas of Chopin, as well as many more of his compositions, are impregnated. A subtle love vapor floats like an ambient fluid around them; we may trace step by step in his Preludes, Nocturnes Impromptus and Mazourkas, all the phases of which passion is capable The sportive hues of coquetry the insensible and gradual yielding of inclination, the capricious festoons of fantasy; the sadness of sickly joys born dying, flowers of mourning like the black roses, the very perfume of whose gloomy leaves is depressing, and whose petals are so frail that the faintest sigh is sufficient to detach them from the fragile stem; sudden flames without thought, like the false shining of that decayed and dead wood which only glitters in obscurity and crumbles at the touch; pleasures without past and without future, snatched from accidental meetings; illusions, inexplicable excitements tempting to adventure, like the sharp taste of half ripened fruit which stimulates and pleases even while it sets the teeth on edge; emotions without memory and without hope; shadowy feelings whose chromatic tints are interminable;—are all found in these works, endowed by genius with the innate nobility, the beauty, the distinction, the surpassing elegance of those by whom they are experienced.

In the compositions just mentioned, as well as in most of his Ballads, Waltzes and Etudes, the rendering of some of the poetical subjects to which we have just alluded, may be found embalmed. These fugitive poems are so idealized, rendered so fragile and attenuated, that they scarcely seem to belong to human nature, but rather to a fairy world, unveiling the indiscreet confidences of Peris, of Titanias, of Ariels, of Queen Mabs, of the Genii of the air, of water, and of fire,—like ourselves, subject to bitter disappointments, to invincible disgusts.

Some of these compositions are as gay and fantastic as the wiles of an enamored, yet mischievous sylph; some are soft, playing in undulating light, like the hues of a salamander; some, full of the most profound discouragement, as if the sighs of souls in pain, who could find none to offer up the charitable prayers necessary for their deliverance, breathed through their notes. Sometimes a despair so inconsolable is stamped upon them, that we feel ourselves present at some Byronic tragedy, oppressed by the anguish of a Jacopo Foscari, unable to survive the agony of exile. In some we hear the shuddering spasms of suppressed sobs. Some of them, in which the black keys are exclusively taken, are acute and subtle, and remind us of the character of his own gaiety, lover of atticism as he was, subject only to the higher emotions, recoiling from all vulgar mirth, from coarse laughter, and from low enjoyments, as we do from those animals more abject than venomous, whose very sight causes the most nauseating repulsion in tender and sensitive natures.

An exceeding variety of subjects and impressions occur in the great number of his Mazourkas. Sometimes we catch the manly sounds of the rattling of spurs, but it is generally the almost imperceptible rustling of crape and gauze under the light breath of the dancers, or the clinking of chains of gold and diamonds, that maybe distinguished. Some of them seem to depict the defiant pleasure of the ball given on the eve of battle, tortured however by anxiety for, through the rhythm of the dance, we hear the sighs and despairing farewells of hearts forced to suppress their tears. Others reveal to us the discomfort and secret ennui of those guests at a fete, who find it in vain to expect that the gay sounds will muffle the sharp cries of anguished spirits. We sometimes catch the gasping breath of terror and stifled fears; sometimes divine the dim presentiments of a love destined to perpetual struggle and doomed to survive all hope, which, though devoured by jealousy and conscious that it can never be the victor, still disdains to curse, and takes refuge in a soul-subduing pity. In others we feel as if borne into the heart of a whirlwind, a strange madness; in the midst of the mystic confusion, an abrupt melody passes and repasses, panting and palpitating, like the throbbing of a heart faint with longing, gasping in despair, breaking in anguish, dying of hopeless, yet indignant love. In some we hear the distant flourish of trumpets, like fading memories of glories past, in some of them, the rhythm is as floating, as undetermined, as shadowy, as the feeling with which two young lovers gaze upon the first star of evening, as yet alone in the dim skies.

Upon one afternoon, when there were but three persons present, and Chopin had been playing for a long time, one of the most distinguished women in Paris remarked, that she felt always more and more filled with solemn meditation, such as might be awakened in presence of the grave-stones strewing those grounds in Turkey, whose shady recesses and bright beds of flowers promise only a gay garden to the startled traveller. She asked him what was the cause of the involuntary, yet sad veneration which subdued her heart while listening to these pieces, apparently presenting only sweet and graceful subjects:—and by what name he called the strange emotion inclosed in his compositions, like ashes of the unknown dead in superbly sculptured urns of the purest alabaster... Conquered by the appealing tears which moistened the beautiful eyes, with a candor rare indeed in this artist, so susceptible upon all that related to the secrets of the sacred relics buried in the gorgeous shrines of his music, he replied: "that her heart had not deceived her in the gloom which she felt stealing upon her, for whatever might have been his transitory pleasures, he had never been free from a feeling which might almost be said to form the soil of his heart, and for which he could find no appropriate expression except in his own language, no other possessing a term equivalent to the Polish word: ZAL!" As if his ear thirsted for the sound of this word, which expresses the whole range of emotions produced by an intense regret, through all the shades of feeling, from hatred to repentance, he repeated it again and again.

ZAL! Strange substantive, embracing a strange diversity, a strange philosophy! Susceptible of different regimens, it includes all the tenderness, all the humility of a regret borne with resignation and without a murmur, while bowing before the fiat of necessity, the inscrutable decrees of Providence: but, changing its character, and assuming the regimen indirect as soon as it is addressed to man, it signifies excitement, agitation, rancor, revolt full of reproach, premeditated vengeance, menace never ceasing to threaten if retaliation should ever become possible, feeding itself meanwhile with a bitter, if sterile hatred.

ZAL! In very truth, it colors the whole of Chopin's compositions: sometimes wrought through their elaborate tissue, like threads of dim silver; sometimes coloring them with more passionate hues. It may be found in his sweetest reveries; even in those which that Shakespearian genius, Berlioz, comprehending all extremes, has so well characterized as "divine coquetries"—coquetries only understood in semi-oriental countries; coquetries in which men are cradled by their mothers, with which they are tormented by their sisters, and enchanted by those they love; and which cause the coquetries of other women to appear insipid or coarse in their eyes; inducing them to exclaim, with an appearance of boasting, yet in which they are entirely justified by the truth: NIEMA IAK POLKI! "Nothing equals the Polish women!" [Footnote: The custom formerly in use of drinking, in her own shoe, the health of the woman they loved, is one of the most original traditions of the enthusiastic gallantry if the Poles.] Through the secrets of these "divine coquetries" those adorable beings are formed, who are alone capable of fulfilling the impassioned ideals of poets who, like M. de Chateaubriand, in the feverish sleeplessness of their adolescence, create for themselves visions "of an Eve, innocent, yet fallen; ignorant of all, yet knowing all; mistress, yet virgin." [Footnote: Memoires d'Outre Tombe. 1st vol. Incantation.] The only being which was ever found to resemble this dream, was a Polish girl of seventeen—"a mixture of the Odalisque and Valkyria... realization of the ancient sylph—new Flora—freed from the chain of the seasons" [Footnote: Idem. 3d vol. Atala.]—and whom M. de Chateaubriand feared to meet again. "Divine coquetries" at once generous and avaricious; impressing the floating, wavy, rocking, undecided motion of a boat without rigging or oars upon the charmed and intoxicated heart!

Through his peculiar style of performance, Chopin imparted this constant rocking with the most fascinating effect; thus making the melody undulate to and fro, like a skiff driven on over the bosom of tossing waves. This manner of execution, which set a seal so peculiar upon his own style of playing, was at first indicated by the term 'tempo rubato', affixed to his writings: a Tempo agitated, broken, interrupted, a movement flexible, yet at the same time abrupt and languishing, and vacillating as the flame under the fluctuating breath by which it is agitated. In his later productions we no longer find this mark. He was convinced that if the performer understood them, he would divine this rule of irregularity. All his compositions should be played with this accentuated and measured swaying and balancing. It is difficult for those who have not frequently heard him play to catch this secret of their proper execution. He seemed desirous of imparting this style to his numerous pupils, particularly those of his own country. His countrymen, or rather his countrywomen, seized it with the facility with which they understand every thing relating to poetry or feeling; an innate, intuitive comprehension of his meaning aided them in following all the fluctuations of his depths of aerial and spiritual blue.



CHAPTER IV.

Chopin's Mode of Playing—Concerts—The Elite—Fading Bouquets and Immortal Crowns—Hospitality—Heine—Meyerbeer—Adolphe Nourrit—Eugene Delacroix—Niemcevicz—Mickiewicz—George Sand.



AFTER having described the compositions palpitating with emotion in which genius struggles with grief, (grief, that terrible reality which Art must strive to reconcile with Heaven), confronting it sometimes as conqueror, sometimes as conquered; compositions in which all the memories of his youth, the affections of his heart, the mysteries of his desires, the secrets of his untold passions, are collected like tears in a lachrymatory; compositions in which, passing the limits of human sensations—too dull for his eager fancy, too obtuse for his keen perceptions—he makes incursions into the realms of Dryads, Oreads, and Oceanides;—we would naturally be expected to speak of his talent for execution. But this task we cannot assume. We cannot command the melancholy courage to exhume emotions linked with our fondest memories, our dearest personal recollections; we cannot force ourselves to make the mournful effort to color the gloomy shrouds, veiling the skill we once loved, with the brilliant hues they would exact at our hands. We feel our loss too bitterly to attempt such an analysis. And what result would it be possible to attain with all our efforts! We could not hope to convey to those who have never heard him, any just conception of that fascination so ineffably poetic, that charm subtle and penetrating as the delicate perfume of the vervain or the Ethiopian calla, which, shrinking and exclusive, refuses to diffuse its exquisite aroma in the noisome breath of crowds, whose heavy air can only retain the stronger odor of the tuberose, the incense of burning resin.

By the purity of its handling, by its relation with LA FEE AUX MIETTES and LES LUTINS D'ARGAIL, by its rencounters with the SERAPHINS and DIANES, who murmur in his ear their most confidential complaints, their most secret dreams, the style and the manner of conception of Chopin remind us of Nodier. He knew that he did not act upon the masses, that he could not warm the multitude, which is like a sea of lead, and as heavy to set in motion, and which, though its waves may be melted and rendered malleable by heat, requires the powerful arm of an athletic Cyclops to manipulate, fuse, and pour into moulds, where the dull metal, glowing and seething under the electric fire, becomes thought and feeling under the new form into which it has been forced. He knew he was only perfectly appreciated in those meetings, unfortunately too few, in which ALL his hearers were prepared to follow him into those spheres which the ancients imagined to be entered only through a gate of ivory, to be surrounded by pilasters of diamond, and surmounted by a dome arched with fawn-colored crystal, upon which played the various dyes of the prism; spheres, like the Mexican opal, whose kaleidoscopical foci are dimmed by olive-colored mists veiling and unveiling the inner glories; spheres, in which all is magical and supernatural, reminding us of the marvellous worlds of realized dreams. In such spheres Chopin delighted. He once remarked to a friend, an artist who has since been frequently heard: "I am not suited for concert giving; the public intimidate me; their looks, only stimulated by curiosity, paralyze me; their strange faces oppress me; their breath stifles me: but you—you are destined for it, for when you do not gain your public, you have the force to assault, to overwhelm, to control, to compel them."

Conscious of how much was necessary for the comprehension of his peculiar talent, he played but rarely in public. With the exception of some concerts given at his debut in 1831, in Vienna and Munich, he gave no more, except in Paris, being indeed not able to travel on account of his health, which was so precarious, that during entire months, he would appear to be in an almost dying state. During the only excursion which he made with a hope that the mildness of a Southern climate would be more conducive to his health, his condition was frequently so alarming, that more than once the hotel keepers demanded payment for the bed and mattress he occupied, in order to have them burned, deeming him already arrived at that stage of consumption in which it becomes so highly contagious We believe, however, if we may be permitted to say it, that his concerts were less fatiguing to his physical constitution, than to his artistic susceptibility. We think that his voluntary abnegation of popular applause veiled an internal wound. He was perfectly aware of his own superiority; perhaps it did not receive sufficient reverberation and echo from without to give him the tranquil assurance that he was perfectly appreciated. No doubt, in the absence of popular acclamation, he asked himself how far a chosen audience, through the enthusiasm of its applause, was able to replace the great public which he relinquished. Few understood him:—did those few indeed understand him aright? A gnawing feeling of discontent, of which he himself scarcely comprehended the cause, secretly undermined him. We have seen him almost shocked by eulogy. The praise to which he was justly entitled not reaching him EN MASSE, he looked upon isolated commendation as almost wounding. That he felt himself not only slightly, but badly applauded, was sufficiently evident by the polished phrases with which, like troublesome dust, he shook such praises off, making it quite evident that he preferred to be left undisturbed in the enjoyment of his solitary feelings to injudicious commendation.

Too fine a connoisseur in raillery, too ingenious satirist ever to expose himself to sarcasm, he never assumed the role of a "genius misunderstood." With a good grace and under an apparent satisfaction, he concealed so entirely the wound given to his just pride, that its very existence was scarcely suspected. But not without reason, might the gradually increasing rarity [Footnote: Sometimes he passed years without giving a single concert. We believe the one given by him in Pleyel's room, in 1844, was after an interval of nearly ten years] of his concerts be attributed rather to the wish he felt to avoid occasions which did not bring him the tribute he merited, than to physical debility. Indeed, he put his strength to rude proofs in the many lessons which he always gave, and the many hours he spent at his own Piano.

It is to be regretted that the indubitable advantage for the artist resulting from the cultivation of only a select audience, should be so sensibly diminished by the rare and cold expression of its sympathies. The GLACE which covers the grace of the ELITE, as it does the fruit of their desserts; the imperturbable calm of their most earnest enthusiasm, could not be satisfactory to Chopin. The poet, torn from his solitary inspiration, can only find it again in the interest, more than attentive, vivid and animated of his audience. He can never hope to regain it in the cold looks of an Areopagus assembled to judge him. He must FEEL that he moves, that he agitates those who hear him, that his emotions find in them the responsive sympathies of the same intuitions, that he draws them on with him in his flight towards the infinite: as when the leader of a winged train gives the signal of departure, he is immediately followed by the whole flock in search of milder shores.

But had it been otherwise—had Chopin everywhere received the exalted homage and admiration he so well deserved; had he been heard, as so many others, by all nations and in all climates; had ho obtained those brilliant ovations which make a Capitol every where, where the people salute merit or honor genius had he been known and recognized by thousands in place of the hundreds who acknowledged him—we would not pause in this part of his career to enumerate such triumphs.

What are the dying bouquets of an hour to those whose brows claim the laurel of immortality? Ephemeral sympathies, transitory praises, are not to be mentioned in the presence of the august Dead, crowned with higher glories. The joys, the consolations, the soothing emotions which the creations of true art awaken in the weary, suffering, thirsty, or persevering and believing hearts to whom they are dedicated, are destined to be borne into far countries and distant years, by the sacred works of Chopin. Thus an unbroken bond will be established between elevated natures, enabling them to understand and appreciate each other, in whatever part of the earth or period of time they may live. Such natures are generally badly divined by their contemporaries when they have been silent, often misunderstood when they have spoken the most eloquently!

"There are different crowns," says Goethe, "there are some which may be readily gathered during a walk." Such crowns charm for the moment through their balmy freshness, but who would think of comparing them with those so laboriously gained by Chopin by constant and exemplary effort, by an earnest love of art, and by his own mournful experience of the emotions which he has so truthfully depicted?

As he sought not with a mean avidity those crowns so easily won, of which more than one among ourselves has the modesty to be proud; as he was a pure, generous, good and compassionate man, filled with a single sentiment, and that one of the most noble of feelings, the love of country; as he moved among us like a spirit consecrated by all that Poland possesses of poetry; let us approach his sacred grave with due reverence! Let us adorn it with no artificial wreaths! Let us cast upon it no trivial crowns! Let us nobly elevate our thoughts before this consecrated shroud! Let us learn from him to repulse all but the highest ambition, let us try to concentrate our labor upon efforts which will leave more lasting effects than the vain leading of the fashions of the passing hour. Let us renounce the corrupt spirit of the times in which we live, with all that is not worthy of art, all that will not endure, all that does not contain in itself some spark of that eternal and immaterial beauty, which it is the task of art to reveal and unveil as the condition of its own glory! Let us remember the ancient prayer of the Dorians whose simple formula is so full of pious poetry, asking only of their gods: "To give them the Good, in return for the Beautiful!" In place of laboring so constantly to attract auditors, and striving to please them at whatever sacrifice, let us rather aim, like Chopin, to leave a celestial and immortal echo of what we have felt, loved, and suffered! Let us learn, from his revered memory, to demand from ourselves works which will entitle us to some true rank in the sacred city of art! Let us not exact from the present with out regard to the future, those light and vain wreath which are scarcely woven before they are faded and forgotten!...

In place of such crowns, the most glorious palms which it is possible for an artist to receive during his lifetime, have been placed in the hands of Chopin by ILLUSTRIOUS EQUALS. An enthusiastic admiration was given him by a public still more limited than the musical aristocracy which frequented his concerts. This public was formed of the most distinguished names of men, who bowed before him as the kings of different empires bend before a monarch whom they have assembled to honor. Such men rendered to him, individually, due homage. How could it have been otherwise in France, where the hospitality, so truly national, discerns with such perfect taste the rank and claims of the guests?

The most eminent minds in Paris frequently met in Chopin's saloon. Not in reunions of fantastic periodicity, such as the dull imaginations of ceremonious and tiresome circles have arranged, and which they have never succeeded in realizing in accordance with their wishes, for enjoyment, ease, enthusiasm, animation, never come at an hour fixed upon before hand. They can be commanded less by artists than by other men, for they are all more or less struck by some sacred malady whose paralyzing torpor they must shake off, whose benumbing pain they must forget, to be joyous and amused by those pyrotechnic fires which startle the bewildered guests, who see from time to time a Roman candle, a rose-colored Bengal light, a cascade whose waters are of fire, or a terrible, yet quite innocent dragon! Gayety and the strength necessary to be joyous, are, unfortunately things only accidentally to be encountered among poets and artists! It is true some of the more privileged among them have the happy gift of surmounting internal pain, so as to bear their burden always lightly, able to laugh with their companions over the toils of the way, or at least always able to preserve a gentle and calm serenity which, like a mute pledge of hope and consolation, animates, elevates, and encourages their associates, imparting to them, while they remain under the influence of this placid atmosphere, a freedom of spirit which appears so much the more vivid, the more strongly it contrasts with their habitual ennui, their abstraction, their natural gloom, their usual indifference.

Chopin did not belong to either of the above mentioned classes; he possessed the innate grace of a Polish welcome, by which the host is not only bound to fulfill the common laws and duties of hospitality, but is obliged to relinquish all thought of himself, to devote all his powers to promote the enjoyment of his guests. It was a pleasant thing to visit him; his visitors were always charmed; he knew how to put them at once at ease, making them masters of every thing, and placing every thing at their disposal. In doing the honors of his own cabin, even the simple laborer of Sclavic race never departs from this munificence; more joyously eager in his welcome than the Arab in his tent, he compensates for the splendor which may be wanting in his reception by an adage which he never fails to repeat, and which is also repealed by the grand seignior after the most luxurious repasts served under gilded canopies: CZYM BOHAT, TYM RAD—which is thus paraphrased for foreigners: "Deign graciously to pardon all that is unworthy of you, it is all my humble riches which I place at your feet." This formula [Footnote: All the Polish formulas of courtesy retain the strong impress of the hyperbolical expressions of the Eastern languages. The titles of "very powerful and very enlightened seigniors" are still obligatory. The Poles, in conversation, constantly name each other Benefactor (DOBRODZIJ). The common salutation between men, and of men to women, is PADAM DO NOG: "I fall at your feet." The greeting of the people possesses a character of ancient solemnity and simplicity: SLAWA BOHU: "Glory to God."] is still pronounced with a national grace and dignity by all masters of families who preserve the picturesque customs which distinguished the ancient manners of Poland.

Having thus described something of the habits of hospitality common in his country, the ease which presided over our reunions with Chopin will be readily understood. The flow of thought, the entire freedom from restraint, were of a character so pure that no insipidity or bitterness ever ensued, no ill humor was ever provoked. Though he avoided society, yet when his saloon was invaded, the kindness of his attention was delightful; without appearing to occupy himself with any one, he succeeded in finding for all that which was most agreeable; neglecting none, he extended to all the most graceful courtesy.

It was not without a struggle, without a repugnance slightly misanthropic, that Chopin could be induced to open his doors and piano, even to those whose friendship, as respectful as faithful, gave them a claim to urge such a request with eagerness. Without doubt more than one of us can still remember our first improvised evening with him, in spite of his refusal, when he lived at Chaussee d'Antin.

His apartment, invaded by surprise, was only lighted by some wax candles, grouped round one of Pleyel's pianos, which he particularly liked for their slightly veiled, yet silvery sonorousness, and easy touch, permitting him to elicit tones which one might think proceeded from one of those harmonicas of which romantic Germany has preserved the monopoly, and which were so ingeniously constructed by its ancient masters, by the union of crystal and water.

As the corners of the room were left in obscurity, all idea of limit was lost, so that there seemed no boundary save the darkness of space. Some tall piece of furniture, with its white cover, would reveal itself in the dim light; an indistinct form, raising itself like a spectre to listen to the sounds which had evoked it. The light, concentrated round the piano and falling on the floor, glided on like a spreading wave until it mingled with the broken flashes from the fire, from which orange colored plumes rose and fell, like fitful gnomes, attracted there by mystic incantations in their own tongue. A single portrait, that of a pianist, an admiring and sympathetic friend, seemed invited to be the constant auditor of the ebb and flow of tones, which sighed, moaned, murmured, broke and died upon the instrument near which it always hung. By a strange accident, the polished surface of the mirror only reflected so as to double it for our eyes, the beautiful oval with silky curls which so many pencils have copied, and which the engraver has just reproduced for all who are charmed by works of such peculiar eloquence.

Several men, of brilliant renown, were grouped in the luminous zone immediately around the piano: Heine, the saddest of humorists, listened with the interest of a fellow countryman to the narrations made him by Chopin of the mysterious country which haunted his ethereal fancy also, and of which he too had explored the beautiful shores. At a glance, a word, a tone, Chopin and Heine understood each other; the musician replied to the questions murmured in his ear by the poet, giving in tones the most surprising revelations from those unknown regions, about that "laughing nymph" [Footnote: Heine. SALOON-CHOPIN.] of whom he demanded news: "If she still continued to drape her silvery veil around the flowing locks of her green hair, with a coquetry so enticing?" Familiar with the tittle-tattle and love tales of those distant lands he asked: "If the old marine god, with the long white beard, still pursued this mischievous naiad with his ridiculous love?" Fully informed, too, about all the exquisite fairy scenes to be seen DOWN THERE—DOWN THERE, he asked "if the roses always glowed there with a flame so triumphant? if the trees at moonlight sang always so harmoniously?" When Chopin had answered, and they had for a long time conversed together about that aerial clime, they would remain in gloomy silence, seized with that mal du pays from which Heine suffered when he compared himself to that Dutch captain of the phantom ship, with his crew eternally driven about upon the chill waves, and "sighing in vain for the spices, the tulips, the hyacinths, the pipes of sea-foam, the porcelain cups of Holland... 'Amsterdam! Amsterdam! when shall we again see Amsterdam!' they cry from on board, while the tempest howls in the cordage, beating them forever about in their watery hell." Heine adds: "I fully understand the passion with which the unfortunate captain once exclaimed: 'Oh if I should EVER again see Amsterdam! I would rather be chained forever at the corner of one of its streets, than be forced to leave it again!' Poor Van der Decken!"

Heine well knew what poor Van der Decken had suffered in his terrible and eternal course upon the ocean, which had fastened its fangs in the wood of his incorruptible vessel, and by an invisible anchor, whose chain he could not break because it could never be found, held it firmly linked upon the waves of its restless bosom. He could describe to us when he chose, the hope, the despair, the torture of the miserable beings peopling this unfortunate ship, for he had mounted its accursed timbers, led on and guided by the hand of some enamored Undine, who, when the guest of her forest of coral and palace of pearl rose more morose, more satirical, more bitter than usual, offered for the amusement of his ill humor between the repasts, some spectacle worthy of a lover who could create more wonders in his dreams than her whole kingdom contained.

Heine had traveled round the poles of the earth in this imperishable vessel; he had seen the brilliant visitor of the long nights, the aurora borealis, mirror herself in the immense stalactites of eternal ice, rejoicing in the play of colors alternating with each other in the varying folds of her glowing scarf. He had visited the tropics, where the zodiacal triangle, with its celestial light, replaces, during the short nights, the burning rays of an oppressive sun. He had crossed the latitudes where life becomes pain, and advanced into those in which it is a living death, making himself familiar, on the long way, with the heavenly miracles in the wild path of sailors who make for no port! Seated on a poop without a helm, his eye had ranged from the two Bears majestically overhanging the North, to the brilliant Southern Cross, through the blank Antarctic deserts extending through the empty space of the heavens overhead, as well as over the dreary waves below, where the despairing eye finds nothing to contemplate in the sombre depths of a sky without a star, vainly arching over a shoreless and bottomless sea! He had long followed the glittering yet fleeting traces left by the meteors through the blue depths of space; he had tracked the mystic and incalculable orbits of the comets as they flash through their wandering paths, solitary and incomprehensible, everywhere dreaded for their ominous splendor, yet inoffensive and harmless. He had gazed upon the shining of that distant star, Aldebaran, which, like the glitter and sullen glow in the eye of a vengeful enemy, glares fiercely upon our globe, without daring to approach it. He had watched the radiant planets shedding upon the restless eye which seeks them a consoling and friendly light, like the weird cabala of an enigmatic yet hopeful promise.

Heine had seen all these things, under the varying appearances which they assume in different latitudes; he had seen much more also with which he would entertain us under strange similitudes. He had assisted at the furious cavalcade of "Herodiade;" he had also an entrance at the court of the king of "Aulnes" in the gardens of the "Hesperides"; and indeed into all those places inaccessible to mortals who have not had a fairy as godmother, who would take upon herself the task of counterbalancing all the evil experienced in life, by showering upon the adopted the whole store of fairy treasures.

Upon that evening which we are now describing, Meyerbeer was seated next to Heine;—Meyerbeer, for whom the whole catalogue of admiring interjections has long since been exhausted! Creator of Cyclopean harmonics as he was, he passed the time in delight when following the detailed arabesques, which, woven in transparent gauze, wound in filmy veils around the delicate conceptions of Chopin.

Adolphe Nourrit, a noble artist, at once ascetic and passionate, was also there. He was a sincere, almost a devout Catholic, dreaming of the future with the fervor of the Middle Ages, who, during the latter part of his life, refused the assistance of his talent to any scene of merely superficial sentiment. He served Art with a high and enthusiastic respect; he considered it, in all its divers manifestations, only a holy tabernacle, "the Beauty of which formed the splendor of the True." Already undermined by a melancholy passion for the Beautiful, his brow seemed to be turning into stone under the dominion of this haunting feeling: a feeling always explained by the outbreak of despair, too late for remedy from man—man, alas! so eager to explore the secrets of the heart—so dull to divine them!

Hiller, whose talent was allied to Chopin's, and who was one of his most intimate friends, was there also. In advance of the great compositions which he afterwards published, of which the first was his remarkable Oratorio, "The Destruction of Jerusalem," he wrote some pieces for the Piano. Among these, those known under the title of Etudes, (vigorous sketches of the most finished design), recall those studies of foliage, in which the landscape painter gives us an entire little poem of light and shade, with only one tree, one branch, a single "motif," happily and boldly handled.

In the presence of the spectres which filled the air, and whose rustling might almost be heard, Eugene Delacroix remained absorbed and silent. Was he considering what pallet, what brushes, what canvas he must use, to introduce them into visible life through his art? Did he task himself to discover canvas woven by Arachne, brushes made from the long eyelashes of the fairies, and a pallet covered with the vaporous tints of the rainbow, in order to make such a sketch possible? Did he then smile at these fancies, yet gladly yield to the impressions from which they sprung, because great talent is always attracted by that power in direct contrast to its own?

The aged Niemcevicz, who appeared to be the nearest to the grave among us, listened to the "Historic Songs" which Chopin translated into dramatic execution for this survivor of times long past. Under the fingers of the Polish artist, again were heard, side by side with the descriptions, so popular, of the Polish bard, the shock of arms, the songs of conquerors, the hymns of triumph, the complaints of illustrious prisoners, and the wail over dead heroes. They memorized together the long course of national glory, of victory, of kings, of queens, of warriors; and so much life had these phantoms, that the old man, deeming the present an illusion, believed the olden times fully resuscitated.

Dark and silent, apart from all others, fell the motionless profile of Mickiewicz: the Dante of the North, he seemed always to find "the salt of the stranger bitter, and his steps hard to mount."

Buried in a fauteuil, with her arms resting upon a table, sat Madame Sand, curiously attentive, gracefully subdued. Endowed with that rare faculty only given to a few elect, of recognizing the Beautiful under whatever form of nature or of art it may assume, she listened with the whole force of her ardent genius. The faculty of instantaneously recognizing Beauty may perhaps be the "second sight," of which all nations have acknowledged the existence in highly gifted women. It is a kind of magical gaze which causes the bark, the mask, the gross envelope of form, to fall off; so that the invisible essence, the soul which is incarnated within, may be clearly contemplated; so that the ideal which the poet or artist may have vivified under the torrent of notes, the passionate veil of coloring, the cold chiseling of marble, or the mysterious rhythms of strophes, may be fully discerned. This faculty is much rarer than is generally supposed. It is usually felt but vaguely, yet—in its highest manifestations, it reveals itself as a "divining oracle," knowing the Past and prophesying the Future. It is a power which exempts the blessed organization which it illumes, from the bearing of the heavy burden of technicalities, with which the merely scientific drag on toward that mystic region of inner life, which the gifted attain with a single bound. It is a faculty which springs less from an acquaintance with the sciences, than from a familiarity with nature.

The fascination and value of a country life consist in the long tete-a-tete with nature. The words of revelation hidden under the infinite harmonies of form, of sounds, of lights and shadows, of tones and warblings, of terror and delight, may best be caught in these long solitary interviews. Such infinite variety may appear crushing or distracting on a first view, but if faced with a courage that no mystery can appal, if sounded with a resolution that no length of time can abate, may give the clue to analogies, conformities, relations between our senses and our sentiments, and aid us in tracing the hidden links which bind apparent dissimilarities, identical oppositions and equivalent antitheses, and teach us the secrets of the chasms separating with narrow but impassable space, that which is destined to approach forever, yet never mingle; to resemble ever, yet never blend. To have awakened early, as did Madame Sand, to the dim whispering with which nature initiates her chosen to her mystic rites, is a necessary appanage of the poet. To have learned from her to penetrate the dreams of man when he, in his turn, creates, and uses in his works the tones, the warblings, the terrors, the delights, requires a still more subtle power; a power which Madame Sand possesses by a double right, by the intuitions of her heart, and the vigor of her genius. After having named Madame Sand, whose energetic personality and electric genius inspired the frail and delicate organization of Chopin with an intensity of admiration which consumed him, as a wine too spirituous shatters the fragile vase; we cannot now call up other names from the dim limbus of the past, in which so many indistinct images, such doubtful sympathies, such indefinite projects and uncertain beliefs, are forever surging and hurtling. Perhaps there is no one among us, who, in looking through the long vista, would not meet the ghost of some feeling whose shadowy form he would find impossible to pass! Among the varied interests, the burning desires, the restless tendencies surging through the epoch in which so many high hearts and brilliant intellects were fortuitously thrown together, how few of them, alas! possessed sufficient vitality to enable them to resist the numberless causes of death, surrounding every idea, every feeling, as well as every individual life, from the cradle to the grave! Even during the moments of the troubled existence of the emotions now past, how many of them escaped that saddest of all human judgments: "Happy, oh, happy were it dead! Far happier had it never been born!" Among the varied feelings with which so many noble hearts throbbed high, were there indeed many which never incurred this fearful malediction? Like the suicide lover in Mickiewicz's poem, who returns to life in the land of the Dead only to renew the dreadful suffering of his earth life, perhaps among all the emotions then so vividly felt there is not a single one which, could it again live, would reappear without the disfigurements, the brandings, the bruises, the mutilations, which were inflicted on its early beauty, which so deeply sullied its primal innocence! And if we should persist in recalling these melancholy ghosts of dead thoughts and buried feelings from the heavy folds of the shroud, would they not actually appal us, because so few of them possessed sufficient purity and celestial radiance to redeem them from the shame of being utterly disowned, entirely repudiated, by those whose bliss or torment they formed during the passionate hours of their absolute rule? In very pity ask us not to call from the Dead, ghosts whose resurrection would be so painful! Who could bear the sepulchral ghastly array? Who would willingly call them from their sheeted sleep? If our ideas, thoughts, and feelings were indeed to be suddenly aroused from the unquiet grave in which they lie buried, and an account demanded from them of the good and evil which they have severally produced in the hearts in which they found so generous an asylum, and which they have confused, overwhelmed, illumined, devastated, ruined, broken, as chance or destiny willed,—who could hope to endure the replies that would be made to questions so searching?

If among the group of which we have spoken, every member of which has won the attention of many human souls, and must, in consequence, bear in his conscience the sharp sting of multiplied responsibilities, there should be found ONE who has not suffered aught, that was pure in the natural attraction which bound them together in this chain of glittering links, to fall into dull forgetfulness; one who allowed no breath of the fermentation lingering even around the most delicate perfumes, to embitter his memories; one who has transfigured and left to the immortality of art, only the unblemished inheritance of all that was noblest in their enthusiasm, all that was purest and most lasting of their joys; let us bow before him as before one of the Elect! Let us regard him as one of those whom the belief of the people marks as "Good Genii!" The attribution of superior power to beings believed to be beneficent to man, has received a sublime conformation from a great Italian poet, who defines genius as a "stronger impress of Divinity!" Let us bow before all who are marked with this mystic seal; but let us venerate with the deepest, truest tenderness those who have only used their wondrous supremacy to give life and expression to the highest and most exquisite feelings! and among the pure and beneficent genii of earth must indubitably be ranked the artist Chopin!



CHAPTER V.

The Lives of Artists—Pure Fame of Chopin—Reserve—Classic and Romantic Art-Language of the Sclaves—Chopin's Love of Home Memories.



A natural curiosity is generally felt to know something of the lives of men who have consecrated their genius to embellish noble feelings through works of art, through which they shine like brilliant meteors in the eyes of the surprised and delighted crowd. The admiration and sympathy awakened by the compositions of such men, attach immediately to their own names, which are at once elevated as symbols of nobility and greatness, because the world is loath to believe that those who can express high sentiments with force, can themselves feel ignobly. The objects of this benevolent prejudice, this favorable presumption, are expected to justify such suppositions by the high course of life which they are required to lead. When it is seen that the poet feels with such exquisite delicacy all that which it is so sweet to inspire; that he divines with such rapid intuition all that pride, timidity, or weariness struggles to hide; that he can paint love as youth dreams it, but as riper years despair to realize it; when such sublime situations seem to be ruled by his genius, which raises itself so calmly above the calamities of human destiny, always finding the leading threads by which the most complicated knots in the tangled skein of life may be proudly and victoriously unloosed; when the secret modulations of the most exquisite tenderness, the most heroic courage, the most sublime simplicity, are known to be subject to his command,—it is most natural that the inquiry should be made if this wondrous divination springs from a sincere faith in the reality of the noble feelings portrayed, or whether its source is to be found in an acute perception of the intellect, an abstract comprehension of the logical reason.

The question in what the life led by men so enamored of beauty differs from that of the common multitude, is then earnestly asked. This high poetic disdain,—how did it comport itself when struggling with material interests? These ineffable emotions of ethereal love,—how were they guarded from the bitterness of petty cares, from that rapidly growing and corroding mould which usually stifles or poisons them? How many of such feelings were preserved from that subtle evaporation which robs them of their perfume, that gradually increasing inconstancy which lulls us until we forget to call the dying emotions to account? Those who felt such holy indignation,—were they indeed always just? Those who exalted integrity,—were they always equitable? Those who sung of honor,—did they never stoop? Those who so admired fortitude,—have they never compromised with their own weakness?

A deep interest is also felt in ascertaining how those to whom the task of sustaining our faith in the nobler sentiments through art has been intrusted, have conducted themselves in external affairs, where pecuniary gain is only to be acquired at the expense of delicacy, loyalty, or honor. Many assert that the nobler feelings exist only in the works of art. When some unfortunate occurrence seems to give a deplorable foundation to the words of such mockers, with what avidity they name the most exquisite conceptions of the poet, "vain phantoms!" How they plume themselves upon their own wisdom in having advocated the politic doctrine of an astute, yet honeyed hypocrisy; how they delight to speak of the perpetual contradiction between words and deeds!... With what cruel joy they detail such occurrences, and cite such examples in the presence of those unsteady restless souls, who are incited by their youthful aspirations and by the depression and utter loss of happy confidence which such a conviction would entail upon them, to struggle against a distrust so blighting! When such wavering spirits are engaged in the bitter combat with the harsh alternatives of life, or tempted at every turn by its insinuating seductions, what a profound discouragement seizes upon them when they are induced to believe that the hearts devoted to the most sublime thoughts, the most deeply initiated in the most delicate susceptibilities, the most charmed by the beauty of innocence, have denied, by their acts, the sincerity of their worship for the noble themes which they have sung as poets! With what agonizing doubts are they not filled by such flagrant contradictions! How much is their anguish increased by the jeering mockery of those who repeat: "Poetry is only that which might have been"—and who delight in blaspheming it by their guilty negations! Whatever may be the human short-comings of the gifted, believe the truths they sing! Poetry is more than the gigantic shadow of our own imagination, immeasurably increased, and projected upon the flying plane of the Impossible. POETRY and REALITY are not two incompatible elements, destined to move on together without commingling. Goethe himself confesses this. In speaking of a contemporary writer he says: "that having lived to create poems, he had also made his life a Poem." (Er lebte dichtend, und dichtete lebend.) Goethe was himself too true a poet not to know that Poetry only is, because its eternal Reality throbs in the noble impulses of the human heart.

We have once before remarked that "genius imposes its own obligations." [Footnote: Upon Paganini, after his death.] If the examples of cold austerity and of rigid disinterestedness are sufficient to awaken the admiration of calm and reflective natures, whence shall more passionate and mobile organizations, to whom the dullness of mediocrity is insipid, who naturally seek honor or pleasure, and who are willing to purchase the object of their desires at any price—form their models? Such temperaments easily free themselves from the authority of their seniors. They do not admit their competency to decide. They accuse them of wishing to use the world only for the profit of their own dead passions, of striving to turn all to their own advantage, of pronouncing upon the effects of causes which they do not understand, of desiring to promulgate laws in spheres to which nature has denied them entrance. They will not receive answers from their lips, but turn to others to resolve their doubts; they question those who have drunk deeply from the boiling springs of grief, bursting from the riven clefts in the steep cliffs upon the top of which alone the soul seeks rest and light. They pass in silence by the still cold gravity of those who practice the good, without enthusiasm for the beautiful. What leisure has ardent youth to interpret their gravity, to resolve their chill problems? The throbbings of its impetuous heart are too rapid to allow it to investigate the hidden sufferings, the mystic combats, the solitary struggles, which may be detected even in the calm eye of the man who practices only the good. Souls in continual agitation seldom interpret aright the calm simplicity of the just, or the heroic smiles of the stoic. For them enthusiasm and emotion are necessities. A bold image persuades them, a metaphor leads them, tears convince them, they prefer the conclusions of impulse, of intuition, to the fatigue of logical argument. Thus they turn with an eager curiosity to the poets and artists who have moved them by their images, allured them by their metaphors, excited them by their enthusiasm. They demand from them the explanation, the purpose of this enthusiasm, the secret of this beauty!

When distracted by heart-rending events, when tortured by intense suffering, when feeling and enthusiasm seem to be but a heavy and cumbersome load which may upset the life-boat if not thrown overboard into the abyss of forgetfulness; who, when menaced with utter shipwreck after a long struggle with peril, has not evoked the glorious shades of those who have conquered, whose thoughts glow with noble ardor, to inquire from them how far their aspirations were sincere, how long they preserved their vitality and truth? Who has not exerted an ingenious discernment to ascertain how much of the generous feeling depicted was only for mental amusement, a mere speculation; how much had really become incorporated with the habitual acts of life? Detraction is never idle in such cases; it seizes eagerly upon the foibles, the neglect, the faults of those who have been degraded by any weakness: alas, it omits nothing! It chases its prey, it accumulates facts only to distort them, it arrogates to itself the right of despising the inspiration to which it will grant no authority or aim but to furnish amusement, denying it any claim to guide our actions, our resolutions, our refusal, our consent! Detraction knows well how to winnow history! Casting aside all the good grain, it carefully gathers all the tares, to scatter the black seed over the brilliant pages in which the purest desires of the heart, the noblest dreams of the imagination are found; and with the irony of assumed victory, demands what the grain is worth which only germinates dearth and famine? Of what value the vain words, which only nourish sterile feelings? Of what use are excursions into realms in which no real fruit can ever be gathered? of what possible importance are emotions and enthusiasm, which always end in calculations of interest, covering only with brilliant veil the covert struggles of egotism and venal self-interest?

With how much arrogant derision men given to such detraction, contrast the noble thoughts of the poet, with his unworthy acts! The high compositions of the artist, with his guilty frivolity! What a haughty superiority they assume over the laborious merit of the men of guileless honesty, whom they look upon as crustacea, sheltered from temptation by the immobility of weak organizations, as well as over the pride of those, who, believing themselves superior to such temptations, do not, they assert, succeed even as well as themselves in repudiating the pursuit of material well being, the gratification of vanity, or the pleasure of immediate enjoyment! What an easy triumph they win over the hesitation, the doubt, the repugnance of those who would fain cling to a belief in the possibility of the union of vivid feelings, passionate impressions, intellectual gifts, imaginative temperaments, with high integrity, pure lives, and courses of conduct in perfect harmony with poetic ideals!

It is therefore impossible not to feel the deepest sadness when we meet with any fact which shows us the poet disobedient to the inspiration of the Muses, those guardian angels of the man of genius, who would willingly teach him to make of his own life the most beautiful of poems. What disastrous doubts in the minds of others, what profound discouragements, what melancholy apostasies are induced by the faltering steps of the man of genius! And yet it would be profanity to confound his errors in the same anathema, hurled against the base vices of meanness, the shameless effrontery of low crime! It would be sacrilege! If the acts of the poet have sometimes denied the spirit of his song, have not his songs still more powerfully denied his acts? May not the limited influence of his private actions have been far more than counterbalanced by the germs of creative virtues, scattered profusely through his eloquent writings? Evil is contagious, but good is truly fruitful! The poet, even while forcing his inner convictions to give way to his personal interest, still acknowledges and ennobles the sentiments which condemn himself; such sentiments attain a far wider influence through his works than can be exerted by his individual acts. Are not the number of spirits which have been calmed, consoled, edified, through these works, far greater than the number of those who have been injured by the errors of his private life? Art is far more powerful than the artist. His creations have a life independent of his vacillating will; for they are revelations of the "immutable beauty!" More durable than himself, they pass on from generation to generation; let us hope that they may, through the blessings of their widely spread influence, contain a virtual power of redemption for the frequent errors of their gifted authors. If it be indeed true that many of those who have immortalized their sensibility and their aspirations, by robing them in the garb of surpassing eloquence, have, nevertheless, stifled these high aspirations, abused these quick sensibilities,—how many have they not confirmed, strengthened and encouraged to pursue a noble course, through the works created by their genius! A generous indulgence towards them would be but justice! It is hard to be forced to claim simple justice for them; unpleasant to be constrained to defend those whom we wish to be admired, to excuse those whom we wish to see venerated!

With what exultant feelings of just pride may the friend and artist remember a career in which there are no jarring dissonances; no contradictions, for which he is forced to claim indulgence; no errors, whose source must be found in palliation of their existence; no extreme, to be accounted for as the consequence of "excess of cause." How sweet it is to be able to name one who has fully proved that it is not only apathetic beings whom no fascination can attract, no illusion betray, who are able to limit themselves within the strict routine of honored and honorable laws, who may justly claim that elevation of soul, which no reverse subdues, and which is never found in contradiction with its better self! Doubly dear and doubly honored must the memory of Chopin, in this respect, ever remain! Dear to the friends and artists who have known him in his lifetime, dear to the unknown friends who shall learn to love him through his poetic song, as well as to the artists who, in succeeding him, shall find their glory in being worthy of him!

The character of Chopin, in none of its numerous folds, concealed a single movement, a single impulse, which was not dictated by the nicest sense of honor, the most delicate appreciation of affection. Yet no nature was ever more formed to justify eccentricity, whims, and abrupt caprices. His imagination was ardent, his feelings almost violent, his physical organization weak, irritable and sickly. Who can measure the amount of suffering arising from such contrasts? It must have been bitter, but he never allowed it to be seen! He kept the secret of his torments, he veiled them from all eyes under the impenetrable serenity of a haughty resignation.

The delicacy of his heart and constitution imposed upon him the woman's torture, that of enduring agonies never to be confessed, thus giving to his fate some of the darker hues of feminine destiny. Excluded, by the infirm state of his health, from the exciting arena of ordinary activity, without any taste for the useless buzzing, in which a few bees, joined with many wasps, expend their superfluous strength, he built apart from all noisy and frequented routes a secluded cell for himself. Neither adventures, embarrassments, nor episodes, mark his life, which he succeeded in simplifying, although surrounded by circumstances which rendered such a result difficult of attainment. His own feelings, his own impressions, were his events; more important in his eyes than the chances and changes of external life. He constantly gave lessons with regularity and assiduity; domestic and daily tasks, they were given conscientiously and satisfactorily. As the devout in prayer, so he poured out his soul in his compositions, expressing in them those passions of the heart, those unexpressed sorrows, to which the pious give vent in their communion with their Maker. What they never say except upon their knees, he said in his palpitating compositions; uttering in the language of the tones those mysteries of passion and of grief which man has been permitted to understand without words, because there are no words adequate for their expression.

The care taken by Chopin to avoid the zig-zags of life, to eliminate from it all that was useless, to prevent its crumbling into masses without form, has deprived his own course of incident. The vague lines and indications surrounding his figure like misty clouds, disappear under the touch which would strive to follow or trace their outlines. He takes part in no actions, no drama, no entanglements, no denouements. He exercised a decisive influence upon no human being. His will never encroached upon the desires of another, he never constrained any other spirit, or crashed it under the domination of his own, He never tyrannized over another heart, he never placed a conquering hand upon the destiny of another being. He sought nothing; he would have scorned to have made any demands. Like Tasso, he might say:

Brama assai, poco spera, e nulla chiede. In compensation, he escaped from all ties; from the affections which might have influenced him, or led him into more tumultuous spheres. Ready to yield all, he never gave himself. Perhaps he knew what exclusive devotion, what love without limit he was worthy of inspiring, of understanding, of sharing! Like other ardent and ambitions natures, he may have thought if love and friendship are not all—they are nothing! Perhaps it would have been more painful for him to have accepted a part, any thing less than all, than to have relinquished all, and thus to have remained at least faithful to his impossible Ideal! If these things have been so or not, none ever knew, for he rarely spoke of love or friendship. He was not exacting, like those whose high claims and just demands exceed all that we possess to offer them. The most intimate of his acquaintances never penetrated to that secluded fortress in which the soul, absent from his common life, dwelt; a fortress which he so well succeeded in concealing, that its very existence was scarcely suspected.

In his relations and intercourse with others, he always seemed occupied in what interested them; he was cautions not to lead them from the circle of their own personality, lest they should intrude into his. If he gave up but little of his time to others, at least of that which he did relinquish, he reserved none for himself. No one ever asked him to give an account of his dreams, his wishes, or his hopes. No one seemed to wish to know what he sighed for, what he might have conquered, if his white and tapering fingers could have linked the brazen chords of life to the golden ones of his enchanted lyre! No one had leisure to think of this in his presence. His conversation was rarely upon subjects of any deep interest. He glided lightly over all, and as he gave but little of his time, it was easily filled with the details of the day. He was careful never to allow himself to wander into digressions of which he himself might become the subject. His individuality rarely excited the investigations of curiosity, or awakened vivid scrutiny. He pleased too much to excite much reflection. The ensemble of his person was harmonious, and called for no especial commentary. His blue eye was more spiritual than dreamy, his bland smile never writhed into bitterness. The transparent delicacy of his complexion pleased the eye, his fair hair was soft and silky, his nose slightly aquiline, his bearing so distinguished, and his manners stamped with so much high breeding, that involuntarily he was always treated EN PRINCE. His gestures were many and graceful; the tone of his voice was veiled, often stifled; his stature was low, and his limbs slight. He constantly reminded us of a convolvulus balancing its heaven-colored cup upon an incredibly slight stem, the tissue of which is so like vapor that the slightest contact wounds and tears the misty corolla.

His manners in society possessed that serenity of mood which distinguishes those whom no ennui annoys, because they expect no interest. He was generally gay, his caustic spirit caught the ridiculous rapidly and far below the surface at which it usually strikes the eye. He displayed a rich vein of drollery in pantomime. He often amused himself by reproducing the musical formulas and peculiar tricks of certain virtuosi, in the most burlesque and comic improvisations, in imitating their gestures, their movements, in counterfeiting their faces with a talent which instantaneously depicted their whole personality. His own features would then become scarcely recognizable, he could force the strangest metamorphoses upon them, but while mimicking the ugly and grotesque, he never lost his own native grace. Grimace was never carried far enough to disfigure him; his gayety was so much the more piquant because he always restrained it within the limits of perfect good taste, holding at a suspicious distance all that could wound the most fastidious delicacy. He never made use of an inelegant word, even in the moments of the most entire familiarity; an improper merriment, a coarse jest would have been shocking to him.

Through a strict exclusion of all subjects relating to himself from conversation, through a constant reserve with regard to his own feelings, he always succeeded in leaving a happy impression behind him. People in general like those who charm them without causing them to fear that they will be called upon to render aught in return for the amusement given, or that the pleasurable excitement of gayety will be followed by the sadness of melancholy confidences the sight of mournful faces, or the inevitable reactions which occur in susceptible natures of which we may say: Ubi mel, ibi fel. People generally like to keep such "susceptible natures" at a distance; they dislike to be brought into contact with their melancholy moods, though they do not refuse a kind of respect to the mournful feelings caused by their subtle reactions; indeed such changes possess for them the attraction of the unknown and they are as ready to take delight in the description of such changing caprices, as they are to avoid their reality. The presence of Chopin was always feted. He interested himself so vividly in all that was not himself, that his own personality remained intact, unapproached and unapproachable, under the polished and glassy surface upon which it was impossible to gain footing.

On some occasions, although very rarely, we have seen him deeply agitated. We have seen him grow so pale and wan, that his appearance was actually corpse-like. But even in moments of the most intense emotion, he remained concentrated within himself. A single instant for self-recovery always enabled him to veil the secret of his first impression. However full of spontaneity his bearing afterwards might seem to be, it was instantaneously the effect of reflection, of a will which governed the strange conflict of emotional and moral energy with conscious physical debility; a conflict whose strange contrasts were forever warring vividly within. The dominion exercised over the natural violence of his character reminds us of the melancholy force of those beings who seek their strength in isolation and entire self-control, conscious of the uselessness of their vivid indignation and vexation, and too jealous of the mysteries of their passions to betray them gratuitously.

He could pardon in the most noble manner. No rancor remained in his heart toward those who had wounded him, though such wounds penetrated deeply in his soul, and fermented there in vague pain and internal suffering, so that long after the exciting cause had been effaced from his memory, he still experienced the secret torture. By dint of constant effort, in spite of his acute and tormenting sensibilities, he subjected his feelings to the rule rather of what ought to be, than of what is; thus he was grateful for services proceeding rather from good intentions than from a knowledge of what would have been agreeable to him; from friendship which wounded him, because not aware of his acute but concealed susceptibility. Nevertheless the wounds caused by such awkward miscomprehension are, of all others, the most difficult for nervous temperaments to bear. Condemned to repress their vexation, such natures are excited by degrees to a state of constantly gnawing irritability, which they can never attribute to the true cause. It would be a gross mistake to imagine that this irritation existed without provocation. But as a dereliction from what appeared to him to be the most honorable course of conduct was a temptation which he was never called upon to resist, because in all probability it never presented itself to him; so he never, in the presence of the more vigorous and therefore more brusque and positive individualities than his own, unveiled the shudder, if repulsion be too strong a term, caused by their contact or association.

The reserve which marked his intercourse with others, extended to all subjects to which the fanaticism of opinion can attach. His own sentiments could only be estimated by that which he did not do in the narrow limits of his activity. His patriotism was revealed in the course taken by his genius, in the choice of his friends, in the preferences given to his pupils, and in the frequent and great services which he rendered to his compatriots; but we cannot remember that he took any pleasure in the expression of this feeling. If he sometimes entered upon the topic of politics, so vividly attacked, so warmly defended, so frequently discussed in Prance, it was rather to point out what he deemed dangerous or erroneous in the opinions advanced by others than to win attention for his own. In constant connection with some of the most brilliant politicians of the day, he knew how to limit the relations between them to a personal attachment entirely independent of political interests.

Democracy presented to his view an agglomeration of elements too heterogeneous, too restless, wielding too much savage power, to win his sympathies. The entrance of social and political questions into the arena of popular discussion was compared, more than twenty years ago, to a new and bold incursion of barbarians. Chopin was peculiarly and painfully struck by the terror which this comparison awakened. He despaired of obtaining the safety of Rome from these modern Attilas, he feared the destruction of art, its monuments, its refinements, its civilization; in a word, he dreaded the loss of the elegant, cultivated if somewhat indolent ease described by Horace. Would the graceful elegancies of life, the high culture of the arts, indeed be safe in the rude and devastating hands of the new barbarians? He followed at a distance the progress of events, and an acuteness of perception, which he would scarcely have been supposed to possess, often enabled him to predict occurrences which were not anticipated even by the best informed. But though such observations escaped him, he never developed them. His concise remarks attracted no attention until time proved their truth. His good sense, full of acuteness, had early persuaded him of the perfect vacuity of the greater part of political orations, of theological discussions, of philosophic digressions. He began early to practice the favorite maxim of a man of great distinction, whom we have often heard repeat a remark dictated by the misanthropic wisdom of age, which was then startling to our inexperienced impetuosity, but which has since frequently struck us by its melancholy truth: "You will be persuaded one day as I am," (said the Marquis de Noailles to the young people whom he honored with his attention, and who were becoming heated in some naive discussions of differing opinions,) "that it is scarcely possible to talk about any thing to any body." (Qu'il n'y a guere moyen de causer de quoi que ce soit, avec qui que ce soit.)

Sincerely religious, and attached to Catholicity, Chopin never touched upon this subject, but held his faith without attracting attention to it. One might have been acquainted with him for a long time, without knowing exactly what his religious opinion were. Perhaps to console his inactive hand an reconcile it with his lute, he persuaded himself to think: Il mondo va da se. We have frequently watched him during the progress of long, animated, and stormy discussions, in which he would take no part. In the excitement of the debate he was forgotten by the speakers, but we have often neglected to follow the chain of their reasoning, to fix our attention upon the features of Chopin, which were almost imperceptibly contracted when subjects touching upon the most important conditions of our existence were discussed with such eagerness and ardor, that it might have been thought our fates were to be instantly decided by the result of the debate. At such times, he appeared to us like a passenger on board of a vessel, driven and tossed by tempests upon the stormful waves, thinking of his distant country, watching the horizon, the stars, the manoeuvres of the sailors, counting their fatal mistakes, without possessing in himself sufficient force to seize a rope, or the energy requisite to haul in a fluttering sail.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse