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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.

On one single subject he relinquished his premeditated silence,
his cherished neutrality. In the cause of art he broke through
his reserve, he never abdicated upon this topic the explicit
enunciation of his opinions. He applied himself with great
perseverance to extend the limits of his influence upon this
subject. It was a tacit confession that he considered himself
legitimately possessed of the authority of a great artist. In
questions which he dignified by his competence, he never left any
doubt with regard to the nature of his opinions. During several
years his appeals were full of impassioned ardor, but later, the
triumph of his opinions having diminished the interest of his
role, he sought no further occasion to place himself as leader,
as the bearer of any banner. In the only occurrence in which he
took part in the conflict of parties, he gave proof of opinions,
absolute, tenacious, and inflexible, as those which rarely come
to the light usually are.

Shortly after his arrival in Paris, in 1832, a new school was
formed both in literature and music, and youthful talent
appeared, which shook off with eclat the yoke of ancient
formulas. The scarcely lulled political effervescence of the
first years of the revolution of July, passed into questions upon
art and letters, which attracted the attention and interest of
all minds. ROMANTICISM was the order of the day; they fought with
obstinacy for and against it. What truce could there be between
those who would not admit the possibility of writing in any other
than the already established manner, and those who thought that
the artist should be allowed to choose such forms as he deemed
best suited for the expression of his ideas; that the rule of
form should be found in the agreement of the chosen form with the
sentiments to be expressed, every different shade of feeling
requiring of course a different mode of expression? The former
believed in the existence of a permanent form, whose perfection
represented absolute Beauty. But in admitting that the great
masters had attained the highest limits in art, had reached
supreme perfection, they left to the artists who succeeded them
no other glory than the hope of approaching these models, more or
less closely, by imitation, thus frustrating all hope of ever
equalling them, because the perfecting of any process can never
rival the merit of its invention. The latter denied that the
immaterial Beautiful could have a fixed and absolute form. The
different forms which had appeared in the history of art, seemed
to them like tents spread in the interminable route of the ideal;
mere momentary halting places which genius attains from epoch to
epoch, and beyond which the inheritors of the past should strive
to advance. The former wished to restrict the creations of times
and natures the most dissimilar, within the limits of the same
symmetrical frame; the latter claimed for all writers the liberty
of creating their own mode, accepting no other rules than those
which result from the direct relation of sentiment and form,
exacting only that the form should be adequate to the expression
of the sentiment. However admirable the existing models might be,
they did not appear to them to have exhausted all the range of
sentiments upon which art might seize, or all the forms which it
might advantageously use. Not contented with the mere excellence
of form, they sought it so far only as its perfection is
indispensable for the complete revelation of the idea, for they
were not ignorant that the sentiment is maimed if the form remain
imperfect, any imperfection in it, like an opaque veil,
intercepting the raying of the pure idea. Thus they elevated what
had otherwise been the mere work of the trade, into the sphere of
poetic inspiration. They enjoined upon genius and patience the
task of inventing a form which would satisfy the exactions of the
inspiration. They reproached their adversaries with attempting to
reduce inspiration to the bed of Procrustes, because they refused
to admit that there are sentiments which cannot be expressed in
forms which have been determined upon beforehand, and of thus
robbing art, in advance even of their creation, of all works
which might attempt the introduction of newly awakened ideas,
newly clad in new forms; forms and ideas both naturally arising
from the naturally progressive development of the human spirit,
the improvement of the instruments, and the consequent increase
of the material resources of art.

Those who saw the flames of Genius devour the old worm-eaten
crumbling skeletons, attached themselves to the musical school of
which the most gifted, the most brilliant, the most daring
representative, was Berlioz. Chopin joined this school. He
persisted most strenuously in freeing himself from the servile
formulas of conventional style, while he earnestly repudiated the
charlatanism which sought to replace the old abuses only by the
introduction of new ones.

During the years which this campaign of Romanticism lasted, in
which some of the trial blows were master-strokes, Chopin
remained invariable in his predilections, as well as in his
repulsions. He did not admit the least compromise with those who,
in his opinion, did not sufficiently represent progress, and who,
in their refusal to relinquish the desire of displaying art for
the profit of the trade, in their pursuit of transitory effects,
of success won only from the astonishment of the audience, gave
no proof of sincere devotion to progress. He broke the ties which
he had contracted with respect when he felt restricted by them,
or bound too closely to the shore by cordage which he knew to be
decayed. He obstinately refused, on the other hand, to form ties
with the young artists whose success, which he deemed
exaggerated, elevated a certain kind of merit too highly. He
never gave the least praise to any thing which he did not believe
to be a real conquest for art, or which did not evince a serious
conception of the task of an artist. He did not wish to be lauded
by any party, to be aided by the manoeuvres of any faction, or by
the concessions made by any schools in the persons of their
chiefs. In the midst of jealousies, encroachments, forfeitures,
and invasions of the different branches of art, negotiations,
treaties, and contracts have been introduced, like the means and
appliances of diplomacy, with all the artifices inseparable from
such a course. In refusing the support of any accessory aid for
his productions, he proved that he confidently believed that
their own beauty would ensure their appreciation, and that he did
not struggle to facilitate their immediate reception.

He supported our struggles, at that time so full of uncertainty,
when we met more sages shaking their heads, than glorious
adversaries, with his calm and unalterable conviction. He aided
us with opinions so fixed that neither weariness nor artifice
could shake them, with a rare immutability of will, and that
efficacious assistance which the creation of meritorious works
always brings to a struggling cause, when it can claim them as
its own. He mingled so many charms, so much moderation, so much
knowledge with his daring innovations, that the prompt admiration
he inspired fully justified the confidence he placed in his own
genius. The solid studies which he had made, the reflective
habits of his youth, the worship for classic models in which he
had been educated, preserved him from losing his strength in
blind gropings, in doubtful triumphs, as has happened to more
than one partisan of the new ideas. His studious patience in the
elaboration of his works sheltered him from the critics, who
envenomed the dissensions by seizing upon those easy and
insignificant victories due to omissions, and the negligence of
inadvertence. Early trained to the exactions and restrictions of
rules, having produced compositions filled with beauty when
subjected to all their fetters, he never shook them off without
an appropriate cause and after due reflection. In virtue of his
principles he always progressed, but without being led into
exaggeration or lured by compromise; he willingly relinquished
theoretic formulas to pursue their results. Less occupied with
the disputes of the schools and their terms, than in producing
himself the best argument, a finished work, he was fortunate
enough to avoid personal enmities and vexatious accommodations.

Chopin had that reverential worship for art which characterized
the first masters of the middle ages, but in expression and
bearing he was more simple, modern, and less ecstatic. As for
them, so art was for him, a high and holy vocation. Like them he
was proud of his election for it, and honored it with devout
piety. This feeling was revealed at the hour of his death through
an occurrence, the significance of which is more fully explained
by a knowledge of the manners prevalent in Poland. By a custom
which still exists, although it is now falling into disuse, the
Poles often chose the garments in which they wished to be buried,
and which were frequently prepared a long time in advance.
[Footnote: General K----, the author of Julie and Adolphe, a
romance imitated from the New Heloise which was much in vogue at
the time of its publication, and who was still living in Volhynia
at the date of our visit to Poland, though more than eighty years
of age, in conformity with the custom spoken of above, had caused
his coffin to be made, and for more than thirty years it had
always stood at the door of his chamber.] Their dearest wishes
were thus expressed for the last time, their inmost feelings were
thus at the hour of death betrayed. Monastic robes were
frequently chosen by worldly men, the costumes of official
charges were selected or refused as the remembrances connected
with them were glorious or painful. Chopin, who, although among
the first of contemporary artists, had given the fewest concerts,
wished, notwithstanding, to be borne to the grave in the clothes
which he had worn on such occasions. A natural and profound
feeling springing from the inexhaustible sources of art, without
doubt dictated this dying request, when having scrupulously
fulfilled the last duties of a Christian, he left all of earth
which he could not bear with him to the skies. He had linked his
love for art and his faith in it with immortality long before the
approach of death, and as he robed himself for his long sleep in
the grave, he gave, as was customary with him, by a mute symbol,
the last touching proof of the conviction he had preserved intact
during the whole course of his life. Faithful to himself, he died
adoring art in its mystic greatness, its highest revelations.

In retiring from the turmoil of society, Chopin concentrated his
cares and affections upon the circle of his own family and his
early acquaintances. Without any interruption he preserved close
relations with them; never ceasing to keep them up with the
greatest care. His sister Louise was especially dear to him, a
resemblance in the character of their minds, the bent of their
feelings, bound them closely to each other. Louise frequently
came from Warsaw to Paris to see him. She spent the last three
months of his life with the brother she loved, watching over him
with undying affection. Chopin kept up a regular correspondence
with the members of his own family, but only with them. It was
one of his peculiarities to write letters to no others; it might
almost have been thought that he had made a vow to write to no
strangers. It was curious enough to see him resort to all kinds
of expedients to escape the necessity of tracing the most
insignificant note. Many times he has traversed Paris from one
end to the other, to decline an invitation to dinner, or to give
some trivial information, rather than write a few lines which
would have spared him all this trouble and loss of time. His
handwriting was quite unknown to the greatest number of his
friends. It is said he sometimes departed from this custom in
favor of his beautiful countrywomen, some of whom possess several
of his notes written in Polish. This infraction of what seemed to
be a law with him, may be attributed to the pleasure he took in
the use of this language. He always used it with the people of
his own country, and loved to translate its most expressive
phrases. He was a good French scholar, as the Sclaves generally
are. In consequence of his French origin, the language had been
taught him with peculiar care. But he did not like it, he did not
think it sufficiently sonorous, and he deemed its genius cold.
This opinion is very prevalent among the Poles, who, although
speaking it with great facility, often better than their native
tongue, and frequently using it in their intercourse with each
other, yet complain to those who do not speak Polish of the
impossibility of rendering the thousand ethereal and shifting
modes of thought in any other idiom. In their opinion it is
sometimes dignity, sometimes grace, sometimes passion, which is
wanting in the French language. If they are asked the meaning of
a word or a phrase which they may have cited in Polish, the reply
invariably is: "Oh, that cannot be translated!" Then follow
explanations, serving as comments to the exclamation, of all the
subtleties, all the shades of meaning, all the delicacies
contained in THE NOT TO BE TRANSLATED words. We have cited some
examples which, joined to others, induce us to believe that this
language has the advantage of making images of abstract nouns,
and that in the course of its development, through the poetic
genius of the nation, it has been enabled to establish striking
and just relations between ideas by etymologies, derivations, and
synonymes. Colored reflections of light and shade are thus thrown
upon all expressions, so that they necessarily call into
vibration through the mind the correspondent tone of a third,
which modulates the thought into a major or minor mode. The
richness of the language always permits the choice of the mode,
but this very richness may become a difficulty. It is not
impossible that the general use of foreign tongues in Poland may
be attributed to indolence of mind or want of application; may be
traced to a desire to escape the necessary labor of acquiring
that mastery of diction indispensable in a language so full of
sudden depths, of laconic energy, that it is very difficult, if
not quite impossible, to support in it the commonplace. The vague
agreements of badly defined ideas cannot be compressed in the
nervous strength of its grammatical forms; the thought, if it be
really low, cannot be elevated from its debasement or poverty; if
it really soar above the commonplace, it requires a rare
precision of terms not to appear uncouth or fantastic. In
consequence of this, in proportion to the works published, the
Polish literature should be able to show a greater number of
chefs-d'oeuvre than can be done in any other language. He who
ventures to use this tongue, must feel himself already master.

[Footnote: It cannot be reproached with a want of harmony or
musical charm. The harshness of a language does not always and
absolutely depend upon the number of consonants, but rather upon
the manner of their association. We might even assert, that in
consequence of the absence of well-determined and strongly marked
sounds, some languages have a dull and cold coloring. It is the
frequent repetition of certain consonants which gives shadow,
rhythm, and vigor to a tongue; the vowels imparting only a kind
of light clear hue, which requires to be brought out by deeper
shades. It is the sharp, uncouth, or unharmonious clashing of
heterogeneous consonants which strikes the ear painfully. It is
true the Sclavic languages make use of many consonants, but their
connection is generally sonorous, sometimes pleasant to the ear,
and scarcely ever entirely discordant, even when the combinations
are more striking than agreeable. The quality of the sounds is
rich, full, and varied. They are not straitened and contracted as
if produced in a narrow medium, but extending through a
considerable register, range through a variety of intonations.
The letter L, almost impossible for those to pronounce, who have
not acquired the pronunciation in their infancy, has nothing
harsh in its sound. The ear receives from it an impression
similar to that which is made upon the fingers by the touch of a
thick woolen velvet, rough, but at the same time, yielding. The
union of jarring consonants being rare, and the assonances easily
multiplied, the same comparison might be employed to the ensemble
of the effect produced by these idioms upon foreigners. Many
words occur in Polish which imitate the sound of the thing
designated by them. The frequent repetition of CH, (h aspirated,)
of SZ, (CH in French,) of RZ, of CZ, so frightful to a profane
eye, have however nothing barbaric in their sounds, being
pronounced nearly like GEAI, and TCHE, and greatly facilitate
imitations of the sense by the sound. The word DZWIEK, (read
DZWIINQUE,) meaning sound, offers a characteristic example of
this; it would be difficult to find a word which would reproduce
more accurately the sensation which a diapason makes upon the
ear. Among the consonants accumulated in groups, producing very
different sounds, sometimes metallic, sometimes buzzing, hissing
or rumbling, many diphthongs and vowels are mingled, which
sometimes become slightly nasal, the A and E being sounded as ON
and IN, (in French,) when they are accompanied by a cedilla. In
juxtaposition with the E, (TSE,) which is pronounced with great
softness, sometimes C, (TSIE,) the accented S is almost warbled.
The Z has three sounds: the Z, (JAIS,) the Z, (ZED,) and the Z,
(ZIED). The Y forms a vowel of a muffled tone, which, as the L,
cannot be represented by any equivalent sound in French, and
which like it gives a variety of ineffable shades to the
language. These fine and light elements enable the Polish women
to assume a lingering and singing accent, which they usually
transport into other tongues. When the subjects are serious or
melancholy, after such recitatives or improvised lamentations,
they have a sort of lisping infantile manner of speaking, which
they vary by light silvery laughs, little interjectional cries,
short musical pauses upon the higher notes, from which they
descend by one knows not what chromatic scale of demi and quarter
tones to rest upon some low note; and again pursue the varied,
brusque and original modulations which astonish the ear not
accustomed to such lovely warblings, to which they sometimes give
that air of caressing irony, of cunning mockery, peculiar to the
song of some birds. They love to ZINZILYLER, and charming
changes, piquant intervals, unexpected cadences naturally find
place in this fondling prattle, making the language far more
sweet and caressing when spoken by the women, than it is in the
mouths of the men. The men indeed pride themselves upon speaking
it with elegance, impressing upon it a masculine sonorousness,
which is peculiarly adapted to the energetic movements of manly
eloquence, formerly so much cultivated in Poland. Poetry commands
such a diversity of prosodies, of rhymes, of rhythms, such an
abundance of assonances from these rich and varied materials,
that it is almost possible to follow MUSICALLY the feelings and
scenes which it depicts, not only in mere expressions in which
the sound repeats the sense, but also in long declamations. The
analogy between the Polish and Russian, has been compared to that
which obtains between the Latin and Italian. The Russian language
is indeed more mellifluous, more lingering, more caressing,
fuller of sighs than the Polish. Its cadencing is peculiarly
fitted for song. The finer poems, such as those of Zukowski and
Pouchkin, seem to contain a melody already designated in the
metre of the verses; for example, it would appear quite possible
to detach an ARIOSO or a sweet CANTIABLE from some of the stanzas
of LE CHALE NOIR, or the TALISMAN. The ancient Sclavonic, which
is the language of the Eastern Church, possesses great majesty.
More guttural than the idioms which have arisen from it, it is
severe and monotonous yet of great dignity, like the Byzantine
paintings preserved in the worship to which it is consecrated. It
has throughout the characteristics of a sacred language which has
only been used for the expression of one feeling and has never
been modulated or fashioned by profane wants.]

Chopin mingled a charming grace with all the intercourse which he
held with his relatives. Not satisfied with limiting his whole
correspondence to them alone, he profited by his stay in Paris to
procure for them the thousand agreeable surprises given by the
novelties, the bagatelles, the little gifts which charm through
their beauty, or attract as being the first seen of their kind.
He sought for all that he had reason to believe would please his
friends in Warsaw, adding constant presents to his many letters.
It was his wish that his gifts should be preserved, that through
the memories linked with them he might be often remembered by
those to whom they were sent. He attached the greatest
importance, on his side, to all the evidences of their affection
for him. To receive news or some mark of their remembrance, was
always a festival for him. He never shared this pleasure with any
one, but it was plainly visible in his conduct. He took the
greatest care of every thing that came from his distant friends,
the least of their gifts was precious to him, he never allowed
others to make use of them, indeed he was visibly uneasy if they
touched them.

Material elegance was as natural to him as mental; this was
evinced in the objects with which he surrounded himself, as well
as in the aristocratic grace of his manners. He was passionately
fond of flowers. Without aiming at the brilliant luxury with
which, at that epoch, some of the celebrities in Paris decorated
their apartments, he knew how to keep upon this point, as well as
in his style of dress, the instinctive line of perfect propriety.

Not wishing the course of his life, his thoughts, his time, to be
associated or shackled in any way by the pursuits of others, he
preferred the society of ladies, as less apt to force him into
subsequent relations. He willingly spent whole evenings in
playing blind man's buff with the young people, telling them
little stories to make them break into the silvery laughs of
youth, sweeter than the song of the nightingale. He was fond of a
life in the country, or the life of the chateau. He was ingenious
in varying its amusements, in multiplying its enjoyments. He also
loved to compose there. Many of his best works written in such
moments, perhaps embalm and hallow the memories of his happiest
days.
Published:
Jan 6, 2016
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