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Title: Wagner as I Knew Him
Author: Praeger, Ferdinand Christian Wilhelm, 1815-1891
Language: English
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Transcriber’s note: The etext attempts to replicate the printed book as
closely as possible. Obvious errors in spelling and punctuation have
been corrected. Only a few of the spellings of names, places and German
or French words used by the author have been corrected by the etext
transcriber. A list follows the etext. Footnotes have been moved to the
end of the text body.



WAGNER AS I KNEW HIM



WAGNER
AS I KNEW HIM

BY
FERDINAND PRAEGER

NEW YORK
LONGMANS, GREEN, AND CO.
15 EAST SIXTEENTH STREET
1892

COPYRIGHT, 1892,
BY CHARLES J. MILLS.


TO

THE RIGHT HONOURABLE

THE EARL OF DYSART,

PRESIDENT OF THE LONDON BRANCH OF THE UNITED RICHARD WAGNER SOCIETY.

[Sidenote: _THE EARL OF DYSART._]


MY LORD:--

If an intimacy, an uninterrupted friendship, of close upon half a
century during which early associations, ambitions, failures, successes,
and their results were frankly discussed, entitles one to speak with
authority on Richard Wagner, the man, the artist, his mental workings,
and the doctrine he strove to preach, then am I fully entitled so to
speak of my late friend.

To vindicate Wagner in all things is not my intention. He was but
mortal, and no ordinary mortal, and had his failings, which will be
fearlessly dealt with. My sole purpose is to set Richard Wagner before
the world as I knew him; to help to an honest understanding of the man
and his motives as he so often laid them bare to me; and I
unhesitatingly affirm that, when seen in his true character, many a
hostile, plausible, and unsparing criticism, begotten of inadequate
knowledge or malice, will shrivel and crumble away when exposed to the
sunlight of truth.

The daring originality of Wagner’s work could not help provoking violent
opposition. Revolution in art as in aught else has ever been wedded to
storm and tumult.

Of all things, Wagner was a thinker. The plot, construction, and logical
development of his dramas, the employment of those wondrous
character-descriptive tone-themes, their marvellous combination, his ten
volumes of serious matter, especially “The Work and Mission of my Life,”
emphatically testify to his deliberate studied thinking, and friend and
foe alike readily acknowledge the _originality_ of his thought.

Here then entered the art world, in the person of Richard Wagner, a
quite natural subject for discussion. Here was a thinker, an original
thinker, and Carlyle says that “the great event, parent of all others,
in every epoch of the world, is the arrival of a thinker, an _original_
thinker.” No matter for marvel, then, that the air thickened with
criticism as soon as the Thinker proclaimed himself.

The persistency and vigour with which Wagner pursued the end,--an end to
which, primarily, he was unconsciously impelled by instinctive
genius,--the emphatic enforcement of the Gospel it was the sole purpose
of his thinking manhood to inculcate, led him to reject worldly
advancement, to endure painful privation, to utter fierce denunciation
against pseudo-prophets, and to be the victim of malignant insult and
scornful vituperation. And why? Because his mission was to preach
_Truth_.

Wagner was “terribly in earnest.” His earnestness forces itself home to
us through all his works; and in his strenuous striving to accomplish
his task, he involuntarily said and did things seemingly opposed to the
very principles he had so dogmatically enunciated. But on investigating
the why of such apparent contradictions, it will be found that they are
but paradoxical after all, and that never has Wagner swerved from the
direct pursuit of his ideal. Thus he says, “I had a dislike, nay, a
positive contempt, for the stage, its rouge and tawdry tinsel,” and yet
within its precincts he was spell-bound. He was chained to it by
indissoluble links. It was the pulpit from which he was to expound his
gospel. Again, he accepted from friends the most reckless sacrifices
without the simplest acknowledgment or gratitude, yet it was not
ingratitude as is commonly understood; he accepted the service not as
done to himself, but for the glorification of true art, and in that
consummation he felt they were richly recompensed. He, when he felt it
his duty to speak plainly, spared the feelings of none by an incisive
criticism which cut to the core, and yet an over-sensitiveness made him
writhe under the slightest censure.

Towards Jews and Judaism he had a most pronounced antipathy, and yet
this did not prevent him from numbering many Hebrews among his most
devoted friends. Pursued with the wildest ambition, he steadfastly
refused all proffered titles and decorations. He formulated most
positive rules for the music-drama, and then referring to “Tristan and
Isolde,” states: “There I entirely forgot all theory, and became
conscious how far I had gone beyond my own system.”[1] With Meyerbeer in
view, he emphatically insisted that after sixty no composer should
write, as being incapacitated by age and consequent failure of brain
power, and then when long past this period he not only writes one of his
greatest works, but when seventy and within the shadow of death, was
engaged upon another of engrossing interest, viz. on the Hindoo
religion. Lastly, whilst vehemently protesting the inseparability of his
music from its related stage representation and scenic accessories,
compelled by fate, he traversed Europe from London to St. Petersburg to
produce in the concert room orchestral excerpts from the very works upon
whose inviolability he had in such unequivocal terms insisted,--selections
too, though arranged by himself, which give but the most incomplete
conception of the dramas themselves.

This seeming jarring between theory and practice in so powerful a
thinker requires explanation, and in due course I shall exhaustively
treat the same.

Wagner and I were born in the same town, Leipzic, and within two years
of each other. This was a bond of friendship between us never severed,
Wagner ever fondly delighting to talk about his early surroundings and
associations. His references to Leipzic and prominent local characters
were coloured with strong affection, and to discuss with one who could
reciprocate his deep love for the charmed city of his birth, was for him
a certain source of happiness.

Wagner’s first music-master, properly so called, was Cantor Weinlig of
Leipzic. From him he received his first serious theoretical instruction.
Weinlig, too, was well known to me. He was an intimate friend of my
father, Henry Aloysius Praeger, director of the Stadttheater and
conductor of the famous Gewandhaus concerts, the latter post being
subsequently filled by Mendelssohn among other celebrities. Between
Weinlig and my father, whom the history of music has celebrated as a
violinist of exceptional skill and as a sound contrapuntist, constant
communications passed, and I was very often the bearer of such.

Common points of interest like this--striking Leipzic individualities,
the house at Gohlis, a suburb of Leipzic where poor Schiller spent part
of his time, the masters of St. Nicolas’ School, where we both attended,
though at different periods--I could multiply without end, each topic of
absorbing interest to us both, and productive of much mutual expansion
of the heart, but I will here refer to one only--that connected with
Carl Maria von Weber.

“Der Freischütz” was first performed at Dresden, the composer
conducting, on the 22d January, 1822. Wagner, then in his ninth year,
was living at Dresden with his family. In his letter to Frederick
Villot, he says of Weber: “His melodies filled me with an earnestness,
which came to me as a bright vision from above. His personality
attracted me with enthusiastic fascination; from him I received my first
musical baptism. His death in a distant land filled my childish heart
with sorrowful awe.” “Der Freischütz” was almost immediately produced at
Leipzic, and Weber came to Leipzic personally to supervise the
rehearsals and to acquaint my father, then the conductor of the theatre,
as to the special reading of certain parts. The work excited the utmost
enthusiasm in Leipzic, and was performed there innumerable times. I, the
son of the conductor, having free entry to the theatre, went nightly,
and acquired thus early a thoroughly intimate acquaintance with the
work, such as Wagner also had gained by his frequent visits to the
Dresden theatre through his family’s connection with the stage. In
after-life we found that Weber and his works had exercised over both of
us the same fascination. In 1844, the remains of the loved idol, Weber,
were removed from Moorfields Chapel, London, to Dresden. At that time I
was residing in London, and, in conjunction with Max von Weber, the
composer’s eldest son, and others, obtained the necessary authority and
carried out the removal. Wagner was in Germany. There he received the
body, and on its final interment pronounced the funeral oration over the
adored artist.

In this country, where I have now lived for an unbroken period of
fifty-one years, I was Wagner’s first and sole champion, and,
notwithstanding all the calumny with which he was persistently assailed
(which even now has not entirely ceased), stood firmly by him.

It was through my sole exertions that the Philharmonic Society in 1855
offered Wagner the post of conductor. His acceptance and retention of
the post for one season are now matters of history.

Wagner returned to London in 1877 to conduct the “Wagner Festival”
concerts at the Albert Hall. As his sixty-fourth birthday fell during
these concerts, some ardent friends promoted a banquet in his honour at
the Cannon Street Hotel on the 23d May. To that banquet I was invited,
and great was my amazement when Wagner, the applauded of all,
spontaneously and without the least hint to me, warmly and
affectionately said:--

“It is now twenty-two years ago since I came to this country,
unacknowledged as a composer and attacked on all sides by a hostile
press. Then I had but one friend, one support, one who acknowledged and
boldly defended me, one who has clung to me ever since with unchanging
affection; this is my friend Ferdinand Praeger.”

My Lord, I have felt it desirable to address these preliminary remarks
to you as indicative of the manner in which I propose to treat my
friend’s life and work. Wagner was extremely voluble, and, with his
intimate friends, most unreserved. He was a man of strong affections and
strong memory, and to those he loved he freely spoke of those whom he
loved, and thus I believe I am the sole recipient of many of his early
impressions and reminiscences, of his thoughts and ambitions in
after-life. Therefore shall I tell the story of his life and work, as he
made me see it and as I knew him, keeping back nothing, believing as I
do that the world has a right to know how its great men live: their
lives are its lawful inheritance.

It is with deep affection that I undertake a work prompted by your
Lordship’s love for the true in art, and it is to you that I dedicate
the result of my labour.

FERDINAND PRAEGER.

LONDON, 15th June, 1885.



CONTENTS.


CHAPTER I.

1813-1821

.....PAGE

“The child is father to the man”--Musician, poet, and dramatist--Stage
reformer--His grandfather a customs officer--His father, Frederick
Wagner, an officer of police, student, and amateur actor--Death of
Frederick, 1813--His mother--Eldest brother, Albert, a tenor
singer--Sisters Rosalie, Louisa, and Clara, actresses of repute--Ludwig
Geyer, a Leipzic actor--Marries Widow Wagner--Family removes to
Dresden--Affection of his step-father and mother for him--The girls
receive piano-forte lessons--Richard receives a few lessons in drawing
from Geyer--Beyond this, up to his ninth year, no regular education is
attempted with him--Geyer not of a robust constitution--Wagner plays the
bridal chorus from “Der Freischütz” by ear--Geyer’s prediction and
death.....1


CHAPTER II.

1822-1827.

His visit to an uncle Geyer at Eisleben--The Kreuzschule, Dresden--His
facility for languages--His modesty--Wagner a small man--Personal
appearance described--Wonder of school professors at unusual mental
activity of the delicate small boy--A prey to erysipelas--Love of
practical joking--Incident of the Kreuzschule roof--An adept in all
bodily exercises--His acrobatic feats--Love for his mother--Affection
for animals.....10


CHAPTER III.

1822-1827. _Continued._

Richard Wagner enters the Kreuzschule, Dresden, December,
1822--Translation of part of the “Odyssey” by private work--Begins to
learn English to read Shakespeare--Writes prize elegy in Germany at
eleven years of age--Theodore Körner, pupil of the Kreuzschule and poet
of freedom--Metrical translation of Romeo’s monologue--His first lessons
on the piano--Hatred of finger exercises--Berlioz--Up to fourteen his
aspirations distinctly musical.....20


CHAPTER IV.

LEIPZIC, 1827-1831.

Return to Leipzic--The Stadttheater; Rosalie and Louise--Jews, their
treatment by Leipzic townspeople--Wagner’s attitude towards them--His
first love a Jewess--At the St. Nicolas school three years, St. Thomas
school and the University a few months each--Describes himself during
his Leipzic school-days as “wild, negligent, and idle”--Reprehensible
gambling of his mother’s pension--Crisis of his life--Haydn’s symphonies
at the theatres and Beethoven’s symphonies in the concert-room--Beethoven
a pessimist--Haydn and Mozart optimists--Resolve to become a
musician--Private study of theory--His first overture, 1830, laughed
at--His marvellously neat penmanship--Takes lessons from Cantor
Weinlig--Writes a sonata without one original idea or one phrase of more
than common interest--Beethoven his daily study--Weber and Beethoven his
models--Combines in himself the special gifts of both, the idealism of
the former and the reasoned working of the latter.....26


CHAPTER V.

1832-1836.

Revolution and romanticism at the beginning of the nineteenth
century--Its effect on Wagner--First grand symphony for
orchestra--Mendelssohn and Wagner--Wondrous dual gift of music and
poesy--Portion of an opera, “The Wedding,” engaged at Würzburg--Albert
Wagner--Life at Würzburg--First opera, “The Fairies”--Schroeder-Devrient
and “The Novice of Palermo”--Stage manager at Magdeburg, 1834--Views
upon German National drama and national life.....44


CHAPTER VI.

1836-1839.

Life and troubles at Magdeburg--Wagner marries--Minna Planer: the woman,
her home, her trustful love--Reflections on his life at Magdeburg--His
ability as a conductor of the orchestra and singers--Popularity of Auber
and Rossini--Renewed trials at Königsberg, 1837--Success of
Meyerbeer--Paris the ruler of German taste--Wagner’s ambition of going
to Paris--Sends sketch of new libretto to Scribe--No answer--Writes an
overture on “Rule Britannia,” and sends it to Sir George Smart--Not
noticed--Wagner’s impressions of stage life after his experience at
Würzburg, Magdeburg, and Königsberg--Visit to Dresden and
“Rienzi”--Conductor at Riga, 1839--His difficulties increase--Paris the
sole hope of relief--Resolves to go to Paris--Sets sail for London--“The
Champagne Mill”--Arrival in London.....55


CHAPTER VII.

EIGHT DAYS IN LONDON, 1839.

First impression--Puts up at cheap hotel in Old Compton Street,
Soho--Loss and return of the dog--Visit to a house in Great Portland
Street where Weber died--Thoughts on English character and London
sights--Visit to Greenwich Hospital--Leaves by boat for Boulogne.....69


CHAPTER VIII.

BOULOGNE, 1839.

Passage to Boulogne--The Mansons, friends of Meyerbeer--Wagner’s visit
to Meyerbeer--Character of Meyerbeer--Interests himself in the youthful
Wagner--The reading of “Rienzi” libretto--Eulogium of Meyerbeer and
promises of help--Meyerbeer feels his way to the purchase of the
“Rienzi” book--Wishes Scribe to write one for him similarly
spectacular--Wagner and his wife at a restaurant; champagne the
“perfection of terrestrial enjoyment”--The Mansons advise him to stay in
Boulogne--The “Rienzi” music pleases Meyerbeer, who also, to Wagner’s
annoyance, praises his neat writing--The “Das Liebesverbot” draws
further laudation from Meyerbeer, and the success of Wagner is
prophesied--“Le petit homme avec le grand chien” leaves Boulogne for
Paris.....78


CHAPTER IX.

PARIS, 1839-1842.

The sanguine Wagner boldly invades Paris--Later reflections of the
bitter sufferings he underwent there--Why he went to Paris--Germany
offers no encouragement to native talent--Wagner has but a slight
acquaintance with the French tongue--Seeks out Monsieur Louis, who
becomes and remains his most devoted friend--With assistance of Louis,
engages modest apartments--Endeavours to deliver his letters of
introduction--Unsuccessful--Without occupation--His poverty--Help from
Germany for a short time--Their sadly straitened circumstances--In
absolute want--Writes for the press; Schlesinger--“A pilgrimage to
Beethoven,” imaginary--He composes three romances, imaginary--Still in
want, forced to the uncongenial task of “arranging” popular Italian
operas for all kinds of instruments--Minna Wagner: her golden qualities
and admiration of Wagner--Minna performs all the menial household
duties--Bright and cheerful temperament soothes the disappointed,
passionate Wagner--His birthday tribute--His subsequent acknowledgment
of her womanly devotion--The artists he met in Paris--Heinrich Laube, an
old Leipzic friend, introduces him to Heine--Meeting of the trio--Laube
and Heine as workers--Schlesinger, music-publisher, becomes his
friend--Schlesinger upon Meyerbeer--Wagner and Berlioz in Paris and
London--The two compared--Wagner’s opinion of Berlioz and his agreement
with Heine--Halévy--Vieuxtemps--Scribe--Kietz.....83


CHAPTER X.

PARIS, 1839-1842. _Continued._

The Paris sojourn the crucial epoch of Wagner’s career--The grand opera
the hothouse of spurious art--Concessions to anti-artistic
influences--Realism of the historic opera irreconcilable with his own
poetic idealism: why?--Is infected with the revolutionary spirit of the
age--From now we date the wondrous change in his art work--Protests
through the “Gazette Musicale” against Italian composers dominating the
French stage to the exclusion of native worth--Rebuked by
Schlesinger--The Conservatoire de Musique; its performances solid food
to Wagner--“Music a blessed reality”--Probability that the unrealities
of the French stage brought Richard Wagner to a quicker knowledge of
himself--Wagner’s estimate of French character--Their poesy--His
tact--Feeling of aversion towards the military and police--His
compositions--A year of non-productivity--Assertion of the
poet--Proposal by Schlesinger that he should write a light work for a
boulevard theatre--Refuses--Is put to bed with an attack of erysipelas
which lasts a week--“Overture to Faust”: “the subjects not music, but
the soul’s sorrows transformed into sounds”--Minna and his dog--Wagner’s
lugubrious forebodings and short novel, “End of a German Musician in
Paris”--Completes “Rienzi,” which is sent to Germany--The “Flying
Dutchman”--How the subject came to be adopted--Heine’s treatment of
Fitzball’s version--The original story as told by Fitzball--Libretto
completed, delivered to the director of the grand opera, who bargains
for it--Superiority of legend over history for musical treatment--Wagner
and his meaning of the “Dutchman” anecdote related at Munich, 1866--The
one of his music-dramas that occupied the shortest time in
composition--It is sent to Meyerbeer--News from Dresden--“Rienzi”
accepted, leaves for Germany.....99


CHAPTER XI.

DRESDEN, 1842-1843.

New and hopeful prospect--Feels assured of “Rienzi” proving
successful--Ignored by Paris, received with open arms by Dresden, the
hallowed scene of Weber’s labours--Joy at returning home a conqueror--A
new life for Minna--Reissiger, chief conductor of the Royal
Opera--Fischer, the manager and chorus director, his friend--His
“Rienzi” and “Adriano”--First performance of “Rienzi”--Unmistakable
success--Wagner appointed co-chief conductor with Reissiger--My own
first acquaintance with Richard Wagner--August Roeckel, the man, friend,
and musician--His letter describing Wagner--Intimacy and political sway
over Wagner--Visit of Berlioz to Dresden--His opinion of the “Dutchman”
and “Rienzi”--The father of Roeckel tutored by Beethoven in the part of
Florestan--Meetings of Richard Wagner and Hector Berlioz--Cold bearing
of the latter.....114


CHAPTER XII.

1843-1844.

Hostility of the Dresden press--Wagner’s energy and good humour when at
the conductor’s desk--A born disciplinarian--Unflagging efforts to
improve the spiritless performances of master works--Interest evinced by
Spohr, who stigmatizes Beethoven’s third period as barbarous
music--Wagner affects to ignore and despise criticism--In reality is
abnormally affected by it--Attacks on his personal attire, home
comforts, and manner of living--Wagner in seclusion--His tribute to the
constancy and devotion of August Roeckel--Wagner’s opinion of Marschner
and Mendelssohn’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream”--The “Faust” overture
unsuccessful--Spontini and the “Vestal”--Visit of Wagner and Roeckel to
Spontini--Weber obsequies--Max von Weber with me in London--Reception of
the body in Germany--Funeral oration delivered by Richard
Wagner--Comparison between Wagner’s public and private manner of
utterance.....124


CHAPTER XIII.

1845.

“Tannhäuser”: story of its composition, poem and music--Its performance,
1845--First mention of Richard Wagner’s name in the London press--The
criticisms (?) of 1845--An instance of the thoroughness of Richard
Wagner--Dawn of the 1848 revolution and Wagner’s relation thereto--The
follower of August Roeckel expresses regret at his heated
language--Performance of the Choral Symphony under Wagner--Unusual
activity displayed in the preparations--The way he set to work--Part
explanation why I came to induce the London Philharmonic to invite him
to this country--His grasp of detail--Forethought displayed in writing
an analytical programme to acquaint audience with the meaning of the
work--Successful performance--Characteristics of Richard Wagner--His
opinion of Italian opera and dictum that an art work to endure must be
founded in reason and reflection--“Lohengrin”: its popularity--“Music is
love”--The network of connection between Wagner’s operas--Thoughts about
“Lohengrin” remaining on earth--Wagner never able to control his
finances--His position becomes embarrassed--At enmity with the
world--Composition of “Lohengrin”--Letter to his mother--Passionate
nature of Wagner--Complete identification of himself with his art--The
manner of his accepting services--His courage inspires our
admiration--The publication by himself of “Rienzi,” “Dutchman,” and
“Tannhäuser”--A failure--“Tannhäuser” offered to the firm of Cramer,
Beale, & Co. by me for nothing--Refused.....136


CHAPTER XIV.

1848.

Wagner significantly silent as to his participation in the Saxon
Revolution, 1848-49--Wagner an active worker--Conclusive proof--A member
of the “Fatherland Union”--Paper read by Wagner before the Union--His
character--Charge of ingratitude towards his king absurd--Deputation to
king of Saxony--The four demands of the people--Refused--Leipzic
determines to march _en masse_ on Dresden--Reforms promised--Founding of
the “Fatherland Union”--Political leaflets printed and
distributed--Wagner reads his paper June 16, 1848: “What is the relation
that our republican efforts bear to the monarchy?”--Printed by the
Union--Copy forwarded to me at the time--Reproduced here--It is omitted
from Wagner’s “Collected Writings”--An important document, since it
forms part of the official indictment against Wagner--The paper treats
of (1) relation of republic to monarchy; (2) nobility appealed to and
urged to join in the commonwealth; (3) abolition of first chamber; (4)
manhood suffrage advocated; (5) creation of national armies; (6)
communism a senseless theory and its reign impossible; (7) appeal to
improve the impoverished condition of the masses by timely concessions;
(8) founding of colonies; (9) the greatest and most far-reaching reforms
only possible under a republic of which the monarch is the head; (10)
the king logically the first republican; (11) “subjects” converted
into “free citizens”; (12) war against the office of king and not
against the person; (13) laudation of the Saxon potentate; (14) Wagner’s
fidelity to the king; (15) advocates the abolition of the
monarchy--National armies--Roeckel, Wagner’s assistant conductor,
dismissed, autumn, 1848--Founds a political paper; Wagner
contributes--Roeckel imprisoned for three days--The elections--Triumph
of the democratic party--Roeckel elected a deputy--Revision of taxation
and civil list--Subsidy to the theatre: Wagner defends it in paper
delivered to minister; Roeckel to defend it in the chamber--Details of
the paper.....151


CHAPTER XV.

1849-1851.

The new Chamber of Deputies--The king of Saxony refuses to accept the
constitution formulated by the federated German parliament--The chambers
dissolved by the king--Wagner urges Roeckel to leave Dresden for fear of
arrest--Roeckel leaves for Prague--Hainberger, Bakunin, and Semper--The
outbreak--Wagner’s incriminating note to Roeckel--Return of
Roeckel--Wagner in charge of convoys--Characteristic incident--Roeckel
taken prisoner--Origin of the revolt--Its character--Source of the
government charge against Wagner--Heubner, Bakunin, and Roeckel
imprisoned--Sentenced to death--Commuted--Actual part played by
Wagner--He carries a musket; heads a barricade--Wagner not personally
brave--His flight to Weimar--Liszt and the police official--Wagner in
Paris--Naturalized at Zurich--Proclamation by Saxon government, June,
1853, directing the arrest of Wagner--The government indictment
summarized--Richard Wagner amnestied, March, 1862--Important letter from
Wagner, March 15, 1851, to Edward Roeckel of Bath, detailing his own
share in the Revolution--Attempts of biographers to gloss over Wagner’s
participation in Revolution--Wagner to blame--Conflicting extracts from
Wagner’s early and later writings as to his precise share--The case
summarized.....170


CHAPTER XVI.

1850-1854.

Wagner seeks an asylum in Paris--His reception disappointing--Leaves for
Switzerland--A second time within the year he returns to Paris--Again
vexed at the little recognition he meets with--Finally settles in Zurich
and becomes a naturalized subject--Reflections on the French and their
attitude towards art--His abruptness of speech, impatience of
incapacity, and vehement declamation wear the air of rudeness--Episode
at Bordeaux--He possesses the very failings of amorousness, Hebraic
shrewdness, and Gallic love of enjoyment denounced by him in others--At
Zurich unable to settle to work for some time--His exile the grandest
part of his life as regards art--Period of repose--For five years not
one single bar of music did he compose--Describes his Zurich life as
spent in “walking, reading, and literary work”--His literary
activity--Writes “Art and Revolution,” “The Art Work of the Future,”
“Art and Climate,” “Judaism in Music,” and “Opera and Drama”--The period
of his banishment the cradle of nearly all his great music-dramas: the
“Nibelung’s Ring,” “Tristan and Isolde,” the “Mastersingers,” and a
fragment of “Parsifal”--His pretty chalet, “The Retreat,” at Zurich. The
Wesendoncks--Compares himself to the philosopher Hegel--The first
printing of the Nibelung poem, 1853--Resents allusion to it as a work of
literary merit--Recites portions of the lied--At Zurich conducts the
opera house--Hans von Bülow his pupil--Wagner’s festival week at
Zurich--Chapelmaster Lachner’s prize symphony--His health always bad:
dyspepsia and erysipelas--At hydropathic establishments--His love for
the animal kingdom--Anecdote of “Peps,” the Tannhäuser dog.....194


CHAPTER XVII.

“JUDAISM IN MUSIC.”

The importance attached to the question--The paper said to have been
prompted by personal jealousy--Absurdity of the accusation--The London
press hostile because of his Jewish criticisms upon Mendelssohn and
Meyerbeer--The “Sunday Times” asserts that “the most ordinary English
ballad writer would shame him in the creation of melody, and no English
harmonist would pen such vile things”--The words he uttered in 1852 in
the Judaism paper lay deep in his heart, and he adhered to them in 1855
and 1869--Wagner of opinion that his ostracism and suppression for many
years were due alone to the power of the Jews--Publication of the
article--Attempt to dismiss Brendel from his professional office at the
Leipzic conservatoire--Wagner asserts an involuntary revulsion of
feeling towards the Jews--The Jew always a foreigner--Wagner’s Semitic
antipathy partly inherited--Cannot understand the natural humane
treatment of the Jews by the English--Admits the glorious history of the
Jews compared with the annals of the German barbarians--A Jew actor as a
hero or lover “ridiculous”--This assertion contradicted by
instances--The Jew offensive to Wagner in his speech, as regards
intonation and manner--Their absence of passion--Incapable of artistic
speech, the Jew is more incapable of artistic song--His unreasoned
attack on the lack of Jewish plastic artists--Further indulges in the
vulgar charge of usury--Attacks the cultivated Jew--The Jew incapable of
fathoming the heart of our civilized life--Cannot compose for those
whose feelings he does not understand--The synagogue the legitimate
sphere for the Hebraic composer--Outside this the Jewish musician can
only imitate Gentile composers--Criticism upon Mendelssohn--Criticism
upon Meyerbeer severe and unsparing--Meyerbeer’s attitude towards the
critics--Cordially hated by Wagner--Wagner’s own attitude towards the
London critics.....205


CHAPTER XVIII.

1855.

How Wagner came to be invited to London--I appear before the directors
of the Old Philharmonic--I find that they either know very little of him
or nothing at all--Richard Wagner visited at Zurich by a director--The
New York “Musical Gazette”--The London press upon Wagner--Condemned
before he is heard--The cause, “Judaism in Music”--Wagner’s agreement
with the Philharmonic directors--Imposes two conditions: (1) a second
conductor; (2) several rehearsals--Gives way as to the first, but
insists on the second--Will not lend himself to anything
unworthy--Letter of 18th January--In accepting the Philharmonic
engagement Wagner “makes a sacrifice,” but feels he must do this or
renounce forever all relations with the public--Projects a whole concert
of his works--The directors refuse--Irritation of Wagner--Letter of the
1st February--No special plan for his London expedition except what can
be done with a celebrated orchestra--States he does not know English and
is entirely without gift for modern languages--Enmity of the editor of
the “Musical World” (London), who confesses that Wagner is a “God in his
books, but he shall have no chance here”--Richard Wagner’s arrival,
midnight, Sunday, 5th March, 1855--His head-gear--Objects to change his
felt hat--His democratic principles of 1849 now modified--Visit to Mr.
Anderson--The Lachner symphony proposed--Volcanic explosion of
Wagner--Would cancel his engagement rather than conduct Kapellmeister
music--Wagner’s objection acceded to--Visit to Sainton and Costa--Wagner
refuses to call on any critics or pay any other visits of etiquette--At
dinner--Wagner dainty--Quick though moderate eater--His
workroom--Self-denial not his characteristic--His intrepidity borders
close upon the reckless--Introduction to the Philharmonic
orchestra--Briefly addresses them--Diplomatic, but his will law--The
concert--Programme--His conducting--The “Times” abuses him--After the
concert, at Wagner’s rooms--His playing the piano--His singing like the
barking or howling of a Newfoundland dog--Well pleased with his first
introduction to an English audience--His volubility--Abuse of fashion
and white kid gloves for a conductor--The second concert--“Lohengrin”
prelude, overture to “Der Freischütz,” “Ninth Symphony”--Overture
encored--Wagner objects to encores, but enthusiasm of audience demands
the repetition--“Lohengrin” prelude a surprise, as Wagner’s music had
been described “noise and fury”.....218


CHAPTER XIX.

1855. _Continued._

The “Ninth Symphony” rehearsed--Surprise of the orchestra--Guildhall,
Fafner, and Falsolt--The mint and his projected theatre--Daily promenade
of Richard Wagner with dog to Regent’s Park to feed the ducks--Wagner
and the introduction of the animal kingdom upon the stage--Unlimited
means the key to his passion for realism--Unlimited means the dream of
his life--The third concert; “Euryanthe”--Wagner’s habit of snuff-taking
while at the piano--His smoking--His irritability--Love for silks and
velvets partly due to physical causes--Anger at shams--“Punch” on
Wagner--Fourth concert; Wagner insists on leaving England next morning
and breaking his engagement--Dissuaded--Fifth concert; success of the
“Tannhäuser” overture--Wagner’s forty-second birthday; violet velvet
dressing-gown--Signs himself “Conductor of the Philharmonic omnibus,” in
allusion to the “full” programmes--Cyprian Potter--The Queen, Prince
Consort, and Richard Wagner--Repetition of “Tannhäuser”
overture--Berlioz and Wagner--The press and anonymous articles--Anxiety
of Wagner to serve Berlioz--The last concert and departure from London,
26th June--A few quotations from the contemporary press.....241


CHAPTER XX.

1855-1856.

Letters of Wagner--In Paris--Home at Zurich--Domestic pets--“Cries
constantly” at the death of “Peps”--Buries the dog--Minna ill--Wagner on
a sick-bed--His acquaintance with the French language--The French of
Berlioz and Wagner compared--Letter in French from Wagner--He is “more
luxurious than Sardanapalus and all the old Roman emperors”--His frame
of mind during the composition of the Walküre--Study of Schopenhauer and
request for London snuff.....268


CHAPTER XXI.

ZURICH, 1856.

A picture of Minna--Wagner an early riser--His acquaintance with
Schopenhauer--Wagner a pessimist?--The first promptings of “Tristan and
Isolde”--How did Richard Wagner compose?--The manner of Beethoven,
Haydn, and Wagner compared--Wagner’s thumping--Admits he is not at his
best when improvising--Schaffhausen--The lions--Wagner’s
extravagance--Duke of Coburg’s offer--The Wesendoncks.....288


CHAPTER XXII.

1857-1861.

His health “shattered”--Goes to Venice--Returns to Paris--Resides in
Octave Feuillet’s house--The strong opposition of the press--The origin
of the performance of “Tannhäuser”--The story of the cabal and
disaster.....300


CHAPTER XXIII.

LETTERS FROM 1861-1865.

Letters from Wagner.....309


CHAPTER XXIV.

1865-1883.

Munich--Wagner in low spirits--His relations with the young king of
Bavaria--His house--Fearlessness of speech--Presence of mind--Intrigues
against him--Leaves for Geneva--Return to Munich--Treatment of the
king--Approaching change in Wagner’s life--Madame von Bülow--Wagner’s
second marriage--Letters from him--Under a new light--His love for
home--“Siegfried”--Lucerne--Wagner at home--Peace--His
autobiography--His opinion of Liszt--The end--Wagner’s work and
character.....317



WAGNER AS I KNEW HIM.



CHAPTER I.

1813-1821.


Seldom has the proverb “The child is father to the man” been more
completely verified in the life of any prominent brain-worker than in
that of Richard Wagner. The serious thinker of threescore, with his soul
deep in his work, is the developed school-boy of thirteen lauded by his
masters for unusual application and earnestness. All his defects and
virtues, his affections and antipathies, can be traced to their original
sources in his childhood. No great individuality was ever less
influenced by misfortune or success in after-life than Wagner. The
mission he felt within him and which he resolutely set himself to
accomplish, he unswervingly pursued throughout the varied phases of his
eventful career. Beyond contention, Richard Wagner is, I think, the
greatest art personality of this century,--unequalled as a musician,
great as a poet as regards the matter, moral, and mode of expression,
whilst in dramatic construction a very Shakespeare. With an ardent
desire to reform the stage, he has succeeded beyond his hopes; and well
was he fitted to undertake such a gigantic task. His family--father,
step-father, eldest brother, and three sisters--and early surroundings
were all connected with the stage. Cradled in a theatrical atmosphere,
nurtured on theatrical traditions, with free access to the best theatres
from the first days his intellect permitted him to enjoy stage
representations, himself a born actor, and with earnestness as the rule
of his life, it is no matter for surprise that he stands foremost among
the great stage reformers of modern times.

By birth he belonged to the middle class. A son of the people he always
felt himself; and throughout his career he strove to soften the hard
toil of their lot by inspiring in them a love for art, the power to
enjoy which he considered the goal of all education and civilization. To
him the people represented the true and natural, untainted by the
artificiality that characterized the wealthy classes.

[Sidenote: _HIS FATHER, FREDERICK WAGNER._]

Painstaking, energy, and ability seem to have been the attributes of
Wagner’s ancestors. His paternal grandfather held an appointment under
the customs at Leipzic as “thorschreiber,” _i.e._ an officer who levied
toll upon all supplies that entered the town. Family tradition describes
him as a man of attainments in advance of his station, a characteristic
which also distinguished his son Frederick (Richard’s father). Frederick
Wagner, born in 1770, also held an appointment under the Saxon
government. A sort of superintendent of the Leipzic police, he spent his
leisure time in studying French. Although unaided, he must have attained
some degree of proficiency; as subsequently he was called upon to make
use of it, and it proved of great service to him. He was a man of
literary tastes, and was famed in Leipzic for his great reading and
knowledge. Goethe and Schiller were then the beacon-lights of young
German poetry. Their pregnant philosophical reasoning, clothed in so
attractive, new, and beautiful a garb, fascinated Frederick Wagner, and
he made them his serious study--a love which was inherited by his son
Richard, who oft in his literary works refers to Goethe and Schiller as
the two greatest German poets.

Like all natives of Leipzic he was passionately fond of the stage. The
enthusiasm of all classes of society in Leipzic for matters theatrical
is historic. Frederick Wagner attached himself to a company of amateur
actors, and threw himself with such zest into the study of the
histrionic art as to achieve considerable distinction and court
patronage. The performances of this company were not unfrequently open
to the public; indeed, at one time, when the town theatre was
temporarily closed, the amateurs replaced the regular professionals, the
Elector of Saxony evincing enough interest in the troupe to pay the hire
of the building specially engaged for their performances.

When the peace of Europe was disturbed by the wild, ambitious plottings
of Napoleon, a body of French troops were quartered at Leipzic under
Marshal Davoust. It was now that Frederick Wagner’s self-taught French
was turned to account, as he was appointed to carry on communications
between the German and the French soldiers. The Saxon Elector submitting
to the French conqueror, the government of the town passed into French
hands. Davoust, with the shrewd perspicacity of an officer of Napoleon’s
army, saw the solid qualities of Frederick, and directed him to
reorganize the town police, at the same time nominating him
superintendent-in-chief. He did not retain this appointment many months,
as he died of typhoid fever, caught from the French soldiers, on the 22d
of November, 1813.

Of his “dear little mother” Wagner often spoke to me, and always in
terms of the fondest affection. He described her as a woman of small
stature, active frame, self-possessed, with a large amount of common
sense, thrifty and of a very affectionate nature.

The Wagner family consisted of nine children, four boys and five girls.
Richard, the youngest of all, was born on the 22d May, 1813, at Leipzic.
At the time of his father’s death he was therefore but six months old.
The eldest of the children, Albert, was born in 1799. He went on the
stage as a singer at an early age, having a somewhat high tenor voice.
In 1833 we find him stage manager and singer at Wurtzburg, engaging his
brother Richard as chorus director. He afterwards became stage manager
at Dresden and Berlin, dying in 1874.

[Sidenote: _LUDWIG GEYER._]

Three of Wagner’s sisters, Rosalie, born 1803, Louisa, born 1805, and
Clara, born 1807, were also induced to choose the stage as a profession,
each being endowed with unmistakable histrionic talent. Although not
great they were actresses of decided merit. Laube, an eminent German art
critic and writer, has given it as his opinion that Rosalie was to be
preferred to Wilhelmina Schroeder, afterwards the celebrated
Schroeder-Devrient, but this praise Wagner considered excessive,
attributing it to the critic’s friendly relations with the family.

The unexpected death of Frederick Wagner threw the family into great
tribulation. A small pension was allowed the widow by government, but
with eight young children (one, Karl, born some time before, had died),
the eldest but fourteen years of age, the struggle was severe and likely
to have terminated disastrously, notwithstanding the watchful thrift of
Frau Wagner, had not Ludwig Geyer, a friend of the dead Frederick,
generously helped the widow. Geyer was a favourite actor at Leipzic. A
man of versatile gifts, he was poet, portrait-painter, and successful
playwright. For two years he continuously identified himself with the
Wagner household, after which, in 1815, he assumed the whole
responsibility by marrying his friend’s widow. Shortly after his
marriage Geyer was offered an engagement at the Royal Theatre, Dresden,
which would confer on him the highly coveted title of “Hofschauspieler,”
or court actor. He accepted the appointment, and the whole family
removed with him to the Saxon capital. At this time Richard was two
years old. Frederick Wagner, as a thorough Leipzic citizen, had already
interested his family in theatrical matters; now by Geyer becoming the
head of the household, the stage and its doings became the every-day
topic, and therefore the next consequence was its adoption by the eldest
children, Albert, Rosalie, Louisa, and Clara. What wonder then that
Richard was influenced by the theatrical atmosphere in which he was
trained.

From the first Geyer displayed the tenderest affection towards the small
and delicately fragile baby. Throughout his life Wagner was a spoilt
child, and the spoiling dates from his infancy. Both step-father and
mother took every means of petting him. His mother particularly idolized
him, and seems, so Wagner told me, to have often built castles in the
air as to his future. They were drawn towards the boy, first, because of
his sickly, frail constitution; and secondly, owing to his bright powers
of observation, which made his childish remarks peculiarly winning. As
the boy grew up he remained delicate. He was affected with an irritating
form of erysipelas, which constantly troubled him up to the time of his
death.

[Sidenote: _BOYHOOD AT DRESDEN._]

Ludwig Geyer’s income from all sources,--acting, portrait-painting, and
play-writing--did not amount to a sum sufficient to admit of luxuries.
Poor Madame Geyer, with her large, growing family, had still to keep a
watchful eye over household expenditure. Portrait-painting was not a
lucrative occupation, and play-writing less so, yet she contrived that
the girls should receive pianoforte lessons. It was customary for needy
students of the public schools to eke out their existence by giving
lessons in music, languages, or sciences; indeed, it was not uncommon to
find some students wholly dependent on such gains for the payment of
their own school fees. The fees usually paid in such instances were
sadly small, and not unfrequently did the remuneration take the form of
a “free table.” At that time there was scarcely a family in Germany that
had not its piano. A piano was then obtainable at a cost incredibly
small compared with the sums paid to-day. True, the cases were but
coloured deal or some common stained wood, whilst the mechanism was of
the least expensive kind. In shape they were square, with the plainest
unturned legs. Upright instruments had not then been introduced.

The Wagner family went to Dresden in 1815, and from that time, up to the
date of his entering the town school at the end of 1822, Richard
received either at school or at home no regular tuition. The boy was
sickly and his mother was content to let him live and develop without
forcing him to any systematic school work. It would seem that he
received irregular lessons in drawing from his step-father, as Wagner
told me that Geyer had hoped to discover some talent in him for the
pencil, and on finding he had not the slightest gift, he was very much
disappointed. As a boy, he continued to be a pet with Geyer,
accompanying his step-father in his rambles during the day or attending
with him the rehearsals at the theatre. Such home education as he did
receive was of the most fragmentary kind, a little help here and there
from his sisters or attention from Geyer or his mother. Music lessons he
had none. All he remembered in after-life was having listened to his
sisters’ playing, and only by degrees taking interest in their work. His
own reminiscences of his boyhood were plain in one point--he certainly
was not a musical prodigy. He fingered and thumbed the keyboard like a
boy, but such scraps as he played were always by ear.

Anxieties for a second time now began to thicken round the Wagner
family. The court actor Geyer was laid on a sick-bed. He was not of a
robust constitution, and conscious of failing health and apprehensive of
death, sought anxiously to find some indication in young Richard of any
decided talent which might help him to suggest as to the boy’s future
career. He had tried, as I have said, to find whether his step-son
possessed any skill with the pencil, and sorrowfully perceived he had
none. In other directions, of course, it was difficult for Geyer to
determine as to any particular gift, if we remember the tender years of
the boy. As to music, it would have been nothing short of divination to
have predicted that there lay his future, since up to that time Richard
had not even been taught his notes. But the court actor was an artist,
and with unerring instinct detected in a simple melody played by Richard
from memory that in music “he might become something.”

[Sidenote: _THE WAGNER HOUSEHOLD._]

Richard had been fascinated by a snatch of melody which was constantly
played by his sisters. He caught it by ear, and was one day strumming it
softly on the piano when alone. His mother overheard him. Surprised and
pleased at the boy’s unsuspected accomplishment, Geyer was told, and the
melody was repeated in a louder tone for the benefit of the invalid in
the next room. It was the bridal chorus from “Der Freischütz.” Although
a very simple melody and of easy execution, it must have been played
with unusual feeling for a child to prompt Geyer almost to the prophetic
utterance, “Has he perhaps talent for music?” Wagner heard this, and
told me how deeply he was impressed by it. On the next day Geyer died,
13th September, 1821. Richard was then eight years and four months old,
and preserved the most vivid remembrance of his mother coming from the
death chamber weeping, but calm, and walking straight to him, saying,
“He wished to make something of you, Richard.” These words, Wagner
said, remained with him ever after, and he boyishly resolved “to be
something.” But he had not then the faintest notion in what direction
that something was going to be. Certainly music was not forecast as the
arena of his future triumphs, since in his letter to F. Villot, dated
September, 1860, he tells us that it was not until after his efforts in
the poetical art, and subsequent to the death of Beethoven, 1827, _i.e_.
six years after Geyer’s death, that he seriously began to study music.

For a second time was the family thrown into comparative adversity. But
the embarrassment was less serious than in 1813, since the three eldest
children were now at an age to contribute materially to the general
support. A trifling annuity was again awarded to the widow, and with
careful thrift she resumed her sway of the household. The family at this
time consisted of the widow; Albert, twenty-two years; Rosalie,
eighteen; Julius, seventeen, apprenticed to a goldsmith; Louisa,
sixteen; Clara, fourteen; Ottilie, ten; Richard, eight and four months;
and Cecilia Geyer, six, the only child of Frau Wagner’s second marriage.
The two eldest girls and Albert had already embraced the theatrical
profession. Family circumstances were therefore not so pinched as at the
death of Frederick Wagner.

No plan having yet been devised as to the future of Richard, he was sent
on a visit to an uncle Geyer at Eisleben, between which place and his
mother’s home at Dresden, he spent the next fifteen months, when it was
decided to enter him at the Kreuzschule (the Cross School), Dresden.



CHAPTER II.

1822-1827.


His first visit to Eisleben--the going among strange people, new
scenery, and for the first time sleeping away from his mother’s
home--was the first great event of his life, and left an indelible
impression on him. The details he remembered in connection with this
early visit, at a time when he was not nine years old, point to the
vividness of the picture of the whole journey in his mind and his strong
retentive memory.

The story I had from Wagner in one of our rambles at Zurich in 1856.

[Sidenote: _HIS VISIT TO EISLEBEN._]

“My first journey to Eisleben,” said Wagner to me, “was in the beginning
of 1822. Can one ever forget a first impression? And my first long
journey was such an event! Why, I seem even to remember the physiognomy
of the poor lean horses that drew the jolting ‘postkarre.’ They were
being changed at some intermediate station, the name of which I have now
forgotten, when all the passengers had to alight. I stood outside the
inn eating the ‘butterbrod,’ with which my dear little mother (‘mein
liebes Mütterchen’ was the term of endearment invariably used by Wagner,
when referring to his mother) had provided me, and as the horses were
about to be led away, I caressed them affectionately for having brought
me so far. How every cloud seemed to me different from those of the
Dresden sky! How I scrutinized every tree to find some new
characteristic! How I looked around in all directions to discover
something I had not yet seen in my short life! How grand I felt when the
heavy car rolled into the town of Eisleben! Even then Eisleben had a
halo of something great for my boyish imagination, since I knew it to be
the birthplace of Luther, one of the heroes of my youth, and one that
has not grown less with my increasing years. Nor was it without a reason
that, at so early a period, religion should occupy the attention of a
boy of my age. It was forced upon my family when we came to Dresden. The
court was Roman Catholic, and in consequence, no inconsiderable pressure
was brought to bear upon all families who were connected in any manner
with the government to compel them to embrace the court-religion. My
family had been among the staunchest of Lutherans for generations. What
attracted me most in the great reformer’s character, was his dauntless
energy and fearlessness. Since then I have often ruminated on the true
instinct of children, for I, had I not also to preach a new Gospel of
Art? Have I not also had to bear every insult in its defence, and have I
not too said, ‘Here I stand, God help me, I cannot be otherwise!’

“My good uncle tried his best to put me through some regular educational
training. It was intended that he should prepare me as far as he could
for school, as the famous Kreuzschule was talked of for me. Yet, I must
confess I did not profit much by his instruction. I preferred rambling
about the little country town and its environs to learning the rules of
grammar. That I profited little was, I fear, my own fault. Legends and
fables then had an immense fascination over me, and I often beguiled my
uncle into reading me a story that I might avoid working. But what
always drew me towards him was his strong affection for my own loved
step-father. Whenever he spoke of him, and he did so very often, he
always referred to his loving good-nature, his amiability, and his gifts
as an artist, and then would murmur with a tearful sigh ‘that he had to
die so young!’

“It was arranged that I should enter the Dresden school in December,
1822, just at a time when my sisters were busy with the exciting
preparations for the family Christmas-tree. How good it was of my mother
then to let us have a tree, poor as we were! I was not pleased to go to
school just three days before Christmas Day, and probably would have
revolted had not my mother talked me over and made me see the advantages
of entering so celebrated an academy as the Kreuzschule, pacifying my
disappointment by allowing me to rise at early dawn to do my part to the
tree. Now I cannot see a lighted Christmas-tree without thinking of the
kind woman, nor prevent the tears starting to my eyes, when I think of
the unceasing activity of that little creature for the comfort and
welfare of her children.”

[Sidenote: _MENTAL ACTIVITY.--STATURE._]

Wagner was deeply moved when, on Christmas Day, he found amongst the
usual gifts, such as “Pfefferkuchen” (ginger-bread) and “Stolle” (butter
cake), a new suit of clothes for himself, a present from his thoughtful
mother for him to go to school with. Throughout his life Wagner was
always remarkably prim and neatly dressed, caring much for his personal
appearance. The low state of the widow’s exchequer was well known to
Richard, and he could appreciate the effort made for him. He was no
sooner at school than he attracted to himself a few of the cleverest
boys by his early developed gift of ready speech and sarcasm. “Die
Dummer haben mich immer gehasst” (the stupid have ever hated me) was a
favourite saying of his in after-life. The study of the dead languages,
his principal subject, was a delight to him. He had a facility for
languages. It was one of his gifts. History and geography also attracted
him. He was an omnivorous reader, and his precise knowledge on any
subject was always a matter of surprise to the most intimate. It could
never be said what he had read or what he had not read, and here perhaps
is the place to note a remarkable feature in Wagner’s disposition, viz.
his modesty. Did he require information on any subject, his manner of
asking was childlike in its simplicity. He was patient in learning and
in mastering the point. But it should be observed that nothing short of
the most complete and satisfactory explanation would satisfy him. And
then would the thinking-power of the man declare itself. The information
he had newly acquired would be thoroughly assimilated and then given
forth under a new light with a force truly remarkable.

In stature Wagner was below the middle size, and like most undersized
men always held himself strictly erect. He had an unusually wiry,
muscular frame, small feet, an aristocratic feature which did not extend
to his hands. It was his head, however, that could not fail to strike
even the least inquiring that there he had to do with no ordinary
mortal. The development of the frontal part, which a phrenologist would
class at a glance amongst those belonging only to the master-minds,
impressed every one. His eyes had a piercing power, but were kindly
withal, and were ready to smile at a witty remark. Richard Wagner lacked
eyebrows, but nature, as if to make up for this deficiency, bestowed on
him a most abundant crop of bushy hair, which he carefully kept brushed
back, thereby exposing the whole of his really Jupiter-like brow. His
mouth was very small. He had thin lips and small teeth, signs of a
determined character. The nose was large and in after-life somewhat
disfigured by the early-acquired habit of snuff-taking. The back of his
head was fully developed. These were according to phrenological
principles power and energy. Its shape was very similar to that of
Luther, with whom, indeed, he had more than one point of character in
common.

In answer to my inquiries about his school period at Dresden, he told me
that he was remarkably small, a circumstance not unattended with good
fortune, since it served to increase the favour of his school
professors, who looked upon his unusual mental energy in comparison with
his pigmy frame as nothing short of wonderful.

As a boy he was passionate and strong-headed. His violent temper and
obstinate determination were not to be thwarted in anything he had set
his mind to. Among boys such wilfulness of character was the cause of
frequent dissensions. He rarely, however, came to blows, for he had a
shrewd wit and was winningly entreating in speech, and with much
adroitness would bend them to his whims.

[Sidenote: _HIS YOUTHFUL ESCAPADES._]

Erysipelas sorely tried the boy during his school life. Every change in
the weather was a trouble to him. As regards the loss of his eyebrows,
an affliction which ever caused him some regret, Wagner attributed it to
a violent attack of St. Anthony’s fire, as this painful malady is also
called. An attack would be preceded by depression of spirits and
irritability of temper. Conscious of his growing peevishness, he sought
refuge in solitude. As soon as the attack was subdued, his bright animal
spirits returned and none would recognize in the daring little fellow
the previous taciturn misanthrope.

Practical joking was a favourite sport with him, but only indulged in
when harm could befall no one, and incident offered some funny
situation. To hurt one willingly was, I think, impossible in Wagner. He
was ever kind and would never have attempted anything that might result
in real pain.

His superabundance of animal spirits, well-seconded by his active frame,
led him often into hairbrained escapades which threatened to terminate
fatally. But his fearless intrepidity was tempered and dominated by a
strong self-reliance, which always came to the rescue at the critical
moment.

On one occasion when the boys of the Kreuzschule were assembled in class
for daily work, an unexpected holiday was announced for that day. A
chance like that was a rare thing at schools on the continent. The boys,
wild with excitement, rushed pell mell from the building, and showed
their delight in the usual tumultuous manner of school-boys freed from
restraint. Caps were thrown in the air, when Wagner, seizing that of one
of his companions, threw it with an unusual effort on to the roof of
the school-house, a feat loudly applauded by the rest of the scholars.
But there was one dissentient, the unlucky boy whose cap had been thus
ruthlessly snatched. He burst into tears. Wagner could never bear to see
any one cry, and with that prompt decision so characteristic of him at
all periods of his life, decided at once to mount the roof for the cap.
He re-entered the school-house, rushed up the stairs to the cock-loft,
climbed out on the roof through a ventilator, and gazed down on the
applauding boys. He then set himself to crawl along the steep incline
towards the cap. The boys ceased cheering at the sight and drew back in
fear and terror. Some hurriedly ran to the “custodes.” A ladder was
brought and carried up stairs to the loft, the boys eagerly crowding
behind. Meanwhile Wagner had secured the cap, safely returned to the
opening, and slid back into the dark loft just in time to hear excited
talking on the stairs. He hid himself in a corner behind some boxes,
waited for the placing of the ladder, and “custodes” ascending it, when
he came from his hiding-place, and in an innocent tone inquired what
they were looking for, a bird, perhaps? “Ja, ein Galenvogel” (yes, a
gallows bird), was the angry answer of the infuriated “custodes,” who,
after all, were glad to see the boy safe, their general favourite. He
did not go unrebuked by the masters this time, and was threatened with
severe chastisement the next time he ventured on such a foolhardy
expedition.

[Sidenote: _HIS ACROBATIC FEATS._]

Wagner told me that whilst on the roof, which, like all roofs of old
houses in Germany, was extremely steep, he felt giddy, and was seized
with a dread of falling. Bathed in a fever of perspiration, he uttered
aloud, “liebe mütterchen,” upon which he felt transformed. It acted on
his frame with the power of magic, and helped him to retrace his steps
from a position which would appall a practised gymnast. Many years after
this, Wagner’s eldest brother, Albert, when referring to Richard having
taken part in the rising of the people of Saxony in 1849, which he
personally strongly deprecated, told me the above story in illustration
of Richard’s extreme foolhardiness. The episode was fully confirmed by
Wagner, who then told me of his fears on the roof.

It was not in climbing only that Richard excelled. He was known as the
best tumbler and somersault-turner of the large Dresden school. Indeed,
he was an adept in every form of bodily exercise; and as his animal
spirits never left him, he still performed boyish tricks even when
nearing threescore and ten. The roof of the Kreuzschule was not
infrequently referred to by me, and when Wagner proposed some
venturesome undertaking, I would say, “You are on the roof again.”

“Ah, but I shall get safely down again, too,” was the answer,
accompanied with his pleasant boyish laugh.

Richard early began to exhibit his love of acrobatic feats. When as
young as seven, he would frighten his mother by sliding down the
banisters with daring rapidity and jumping down stairs. As he always
succeeded in his feats, his mother and the other children took it for
granted that he would not come to grief, and sometimes he would be asked
to exhibit his unwonted skill to visitors. This no doubt increased the
boy’s confidence in himself--a self-reliance which never left him to the
time of his death.

Wagner’s affection for his mother was of the tenderest. It was the love
of a poet infused with all his noblest ideality. The dear name, whenever
uttered by Richard Wagner, was spoken in tones so soft and tender as to
bespeak at once the sympathy and affection existing between the two. A
halo of glory ever encircled “mein leibe mütterchen.” Nothing can give a
better idea of this gentle love than the passages in “Seigfried,” the
child of the forest, where the hero demands of the ugly dwarf, Mime, who
had brought him up, “Who was my mother?” an inquiry he repeated after he
had killed the hideous dragon, Fafner, and thereby became able to
understand the song of the birds. If ever music could give an idea of
love, here in these passages we have it. In what touching accents comes,
“How may my mother have looked? Surely her eyes must have shone with the
radiant sparkle of the hind, but much more beautiful!” Every allusion to
his mother in this scene is expressed in the orchestra with an ethereal
refinement and originality of conception to which one finds no parallel
in the whole range of music of the past. I verily believe that Richard
Wagner never loved any one so deeply as his “liebe mütterchen.” All his
references to her of his childhood period were of affection, amounting
almost to idolatry. With that instinctive power of unreasoned yet
unerring perception possessed by women, she from his childhood felt the
gigantic brain-power of the boy, and his love for her was not unmixed
with gratitude for her tacit acknowledgment of his genius.

[Sidenote: _HIS LOVE FOR ANIMALS._]

One of his early developed affections was a strong love for animals. On
this point, and what I know of its strong sway with him in his dramas,
I shall have something to say hereafter. Now I shall confine myself to
the recital of an incident of his boyhood. To see a helpless beast
ill-treated was to rouse all the strong passion within him. Anger would
overcome all reason, and he would as a child fly at the offender.

One of his first impressions was a chance visit he paid with some of his
school-fellows to a slaughter yard. An ox was about to be killed. The
butcher, stripped, stood with uplifted axe. The horrible implement
descended on the head of the stately animal, who gave a low, deep moan.
The blows and moans were repeated. The boy grew wild, and would have
rushed at the butcher had not his companions forcibly held him back and
taken him away from the scene. For some time after he could not touch
meat, and it was only when other impressions effaced this scene that he
became reconciled by his mother reasoning that animals must be killed,
and that it was perhaps preferable to dying slowly by sickness and old
age. When a man, he could not refer to this incident without a shudder.

In after-life he rarely missed an opportunity of pleading for better
treatment of animals, drawing the attention of the municipal authorities
to the prevention of wanton cruelty, and arguing that animals, to be
killed for human food, should be despatched with the minimum of pain.



CHAPTER III.

1822-1827. _Continued._


From the record of the Kreuzschule it appears that Wagner entered that
famous training college on the 22d December, 1822, as Richard Wilhelm
Geyer, son of the late court actor of that name. He would then be nearly
ten years old.

[Sidenote: _AT THE KREUZSCHULE, DRESDEN._]

He told me that he well remembered the eager delight with which he
looked forward to the prospect of enjoying systematic instruction. He
hoped to be placed high in the school, yet dreaded the entrance
examination, conscious how very patched was _then_ his store of
information. During his first seven years’ residence in Dresden, from
1815-1822, the Kreuzschule, had been an every-day object to him, and yet
on entering the building for the first time as an intending student, a
feeling of awe took possession of him. The unsuspected majesty of the
building, the echo of his footfall on the stone steps, made his young
heart beat with expectant wonder. The result of the examination was to
place him in the first form, his bright, quick, intelligent replies
proving more valuable than his disconnected knowledge. For the masters
of the Kreuzschule he ever retained an affection, their genial bearing
and friendly tuition comparing favourably with the pedantic overbearing
demeanour of the masters of the St. Nicholas school in Leipzic, where
he went later on, men who represented a past and effete dogmatic German
pedantry.

The direction of his school studies was almost entirely classic. For
Greek he evinced a strong affection. Many a time has he told me that he
was drawn towards the history of the Greeks by their refined sense of
beauty, and the didactic nature of their drama, embodying as it did
their religion, politics, and social existence.

Wagner never lost an opportunity of dilating upon, by speech and pen,
what might accurately be described as the basis of all his art work. The
drama of a nation, he persistently contended, was a faithful mirror of
its people. Where the tone of the drama was base the people would be
found degraded either through their own acts or the superior force of
others. Where the mission of the national drama was the inculcation of
high moral lessons, patriotism, and love, there the people were thrice
blessed. This idea of a national drama for his fatherland possessed him.
He longed to lift the German drama from its “miserable” condition, and
his model was “the noble, perfect, grand, and heroic tragedy of the
Hellenes.” These words I have quoted from a pamphlet, “The Work and
Mission of my Life,” written less than ten years ago by Wagner. Their
meaning is so clear and they summarize so accurately what Wagner in his
younger days oft discussed with me that I am glad to add my testimony to
what I know was the ambition of his life.

In his ardent struggles to found a national drama we clearly trace the
young Dresden student. Here, indeed, is a plain incontestable instance
of the boy as the father of the man. His school studies were
pre-eminently Greek language and literature, and it was this which
dominated almost the whole of his future career. Hellenic history
permeated his entire being, and he gave it forth in the form and model
of his immortal music-dramas, in the mode of their development, and in
their close union between the stage story and the life of the people.

At school, translations of Æschylus by Apel, a German writer of
mediocrity, constituted his chief textbooks. The tragedies suited so
well the boy’s nature that he soon became possessed with a longing to
read them in the original. So real and fruitful was his earnestness,
that by the time he was thirteen he had translated at home, and entirely
for his own gratification, several books of the “Odyssey.” This private
home work was, he remembered, greatly encouraged by his mother, who,
although untutored herself, revered, with a divination characteristic of
women of the people, his efforts after a knowledge which she felt would
surely be productive of future greatness. This piece of diligent extra
school work is another of the many examples of the boy Wagner, “father
to the man.” Hard worker he always was. Persistency of application
characterized him throughout his life, and when it is stated that during
this very period of the “Odyssey” translation, he was also privately
studying English to read Shakespeare, who is not amazed at the
extraordinary energy of the boy? No wonder that the school professors
spoke flatteringly of him, and looked for great things from him, and no
wonder that the fond mother felt confirmed in her belief that Richard
“would become something,” and that Geyer’s dying utterance would not be
falsified.

[Sidenote: _EARLY POETICAL EFFORTS._]

Wagner’s nature was that of a poet. The metrical skill of the Hellenes
fascinated him and fostered his strongly marked sense of rhythm.

As regards mathematics, I never remember him in all our discussions to
have uttered anything which might lead me to suppose he had ever any
special liking for that branch of education, but at the same time I
should add that his power of reasoning was at all times strong and
lucid, as if based upon the precision acquired by close mathematical
study. In all he did he was eminently logical.

His effort as a poet dates from a very early period. The incident, the
death of a fellow-scholar, was just that which would touch a sensitive
nature like Richard’s. A school prize was offered for an elegy, and
Wagner, eleven years old, competed. The presence of death to him was at
all times terrible in its awful annihilation of all consciousness.
Whether in man or beast, it was sure to set him pondering on the
“whither?” a question to which at a later period of his life he devoted
much labour to satisfactorily answer. Although not twelve years old,
death had robbed him of his father and step-father, and their dark
shadows flitted before him, reviving sad memories which time had paled.
It was under this spell that the elegy was written, and it is not
astonishing that the prize was adjudged to him. The poem was printed,
but, unhappily, not preserved. In telling me of this early creative
effort, and in reply to a naturally expressed desire to hear his own
opinion about it, he said that beyond the incident he had not the
faintest remembrance of the style or wording of the poem, jocularly
adding that he would himself much like to see his “Opus I.”

There was a halo of poetry about the Dresden school. Theodore Körner,
the poet of freedom, was a pupil at the Kreuzschule up to 1808. His
inspiriting songs were sung by old and young. Loved by all, his death,
at the early age of twenty-two on the battle-field fighting for German
freedom, made him the idol of his countrymen. The boys of his own school
were intensely proud of him. To emulate Körner was the eager wish of
every one of them, and into Wagner’s poetic nature the poetry of the man
and the cause he sung sank deeper than with the rest. The battle-songs
of the fiery young patriot received an immortal setting by Wagner’s
idol, Weber.

[Sidenote: _FIRST LESSONS ON THE PIANO._]

The admiration of the future poet of “Tristan” for the genius of
Shakespeare impelled him, as soon as he had sufficiently mastered
English, to produce a metrical translation of Romeo’s famous soliloquy.
This was done when he had hardly completed his fourteenth year. Up to
this period, poetry unquestionably dominated him. All his essays had
been literary. Nothing had been done in music. It was now, however, that
his latent music forced itself out of him. Up to the time that he
entered the Dresden school, in his ninth year, he had received
absolutely no instruction in music, and during his five years of school
life a few desultory piano lessons from a young tutor, who used to help
him at home with his school exercises, embraced the whole of his musical
tuition up to the age of fourteen. For the technical part of his music
lessons he had a decided dislike. The dry study of fingering he greatly
objected to, and to the last never acquired any rational finger method.
When joked about his ridiculous clumsy fingering, he would reply with
characteristic waggishness, “I play a great deal better than Berlioz,”
who, it should be stated, could not play at all.



CHAPTER IV.

LEIPZIC, 1827-1831.


For some time Rosalie and Louisa, Richard’s two sisters, had been
engaged at the Leipzic theatre, where they were very popular. Madame
Geyer, desirous of being near her daughters and within easy reach of
assistance, returned to Leipzic with the younger children and Richard
with them. For ten years, from about 1818 to 1828, my father held the
post of Kapellmeister at the Stadttheater, under the management of
Küstner, a celebrated director. The period of Küstner’s management is
famous in the annals of the German stage for the high intellectual tone
that pervaded the performances under his direction. The names of some of
the artists who appeared there are now historic. So high was the
standard of excellence reached in these truly model performances, that
the whole character of German stage representations was influenced and
elevated by it. This was the theatre at which Rosalie and Louisa were
engaged. These were the high artistic performances which the youthful
poet Richard witnessed, and which deeply affected the impressionable
embryo dramatist.

[Sidenote: _ROSALIE AND LOUISA WAGNER._]

Of this period, actors, plays, and incidents, I had the most vivid
remembrance from the close connection of my father with the theatre and
the friendly intercourse of my family with the actors. Wagner would
take great delight in discussing the performances and actors. He was
fond, too, of hearing what I, in my boyhood, thought of the acting of
his sisters, and from our frequent and intimate conversations, bearing
on his youthful impressions of the stage, he uttered many striking and
original remarks which will appear later on. A popular piece then was
Weber’s “Sylvana,” in which Louisa performed the part of the forest
child. This part apparently won the youthful admiration of both of us.
Wagner’s remembrance of certain incidents connected with it was
marvellous to me.

On his return to Leipzic, his first impulse drove him to visit the house
in the Brühl in which he was born. Is it not possible that even at that
early stage of his life his extraordinary ambition of “becoming
something great” might have foreshadowed to him that the humble
habitation of his childhood would later on bear the proud inscription,
“Richard Wagner was born here”? What struck him at once as very strange
was the foreign aspect of that part of the town where the Jews
congregated. It was continually recruited by an increasing immigration
of the nomadic Polish Jews, who seemed to have consecrated the Brühl
their “Jerusalem,” as Wagner christened it and ever referred to it when
speaking to me. The Polish Jews of that quarter traded principally in
furs, from the cheapest fur-lined “Schlafrock” to the finest and most
costly furs used by royalty. Their strange appearance with their
all-covering gabardine, high boots, and large fur caps, worn over long
curls, their enormous beards, struck Wagner as it did every one, and
does still, as something very unpleasant and disagreeable. Their
peculiarly strange pronunciation of the German language, their
extravagantly wild gesticulations when speaking, seemed to his aesthetic
mind like the repulsive movements of a galvanized corpse.

[Sidenote: _HIS FIRST ATTACHMENT._]

I was sorry to find that Wagner, although generally averse to acts of
violence and oppression, was but little shocked at the unreasoned hatred
and contempt of the Leipzic populace (especially the lower classes) for
the Jews. Their innate thrift, frugality, and skill in trading, were
regarded as avarice and dishonesty. Tales of unmitigated cruelty and
horror perpetrated by the Jews floated in the brains of the lower
Christian (?) populace. The murder of Christian infants for the sake of
their blood, to be used in sacrifice of Jewish rites, was a commonplace
rejoinder in justification of the suspicion and hatred against this
unfortunate race. Crying babes were speedily silenced by the threat,
“The Polish Jew is coming.” What wonder, then, to see what was almost a
daily occurrence,--a number of Christian boys rush upon an unprotected,
inoffensive Jew boy and mercilessly beat him to revenge the imaginary
wrongs which the Jews were said to have done to Christian infants. Nor,
I am sorry to add, did the fully grown Christian burgher interfere in
such brutal scenes; the poor wretched victim, beaten by overwhelming
numbers and rolled howling in the mud, was but a Jew boy! Strange to
say, Wagner had imbibed some intuitive dislike to the Egyptian type of
Hebrew, and never entirely overcame that feeling. No amount of reasoning
could obliterate it at any period of his life, although he counted among
his most devoted friends and admirers a great many of the oppressed
race. Still considerably more odd is it that Wagner’s first attachment
was for one of the black-eyed daughters of Judah. When passing in review
our earliest impressions of school life, we naturally came to that
never-to-be-forgotten period of the earliest blossoms of first love,
which then revealed to me this remarkably strange episode. Events of
everyday occurrence, which in the lives of ordinary mortals scarcely
deserve mentioning, are invested with a significance in the lives of men
whose destiny points to immortality. When Wagner came to this curious
incident of his school life, amazed, I ejaculated, “a Jewess?” in a tone
of “impossible!”

It was after a discussion of Jew-hating, and my pointing to the many
friends and adherents he had among the Jews, he with his joyous outbreak
of humor said, “After all, it was the dog’s fault,” referring to
“Faust,” where Mephisto, as a large dog, lies “unter dem Ofen.” Then
followed the story.

He had called at his sister Louisa’s house (by the way, he had an
affection for this sister which, in our intimate converse, he likened to
that which Goethe in his case speaks of as having for its basis the
frontier where love of kin ends and love of sex commences), went to her
room, where he found an enormous dog which attracted his attention. Any
one acquainted with Wagner knew of his devoted attachment to dogs, of
which I shall have more to say hereafter. Not many could understand an
affection which included every dog in creation. Wagner would engage in
long conversations with dogs, and in supplying their answers would
infuse into them much of that caustic wit which philosophers of all ages
and countries have so often and powerfully put into the mouth of
animals. Richard Wagner delighted to make dumb pets speak scornfully of
the boasted superiority of man, thinking that after all the animal’s
quiet obedience to the prescribed laws of instinct was a surer guide
than man’s vaunted free will and reasoning power. He was fond, too, of
quoting Weber on such occasions, who, when _his_ dog became disobedient,
used to remark, “If you go on like that, you will at last become as
silly and bad as a human being.”

The dog so wholly engrossed Richard’s attention that he failed to notice
a visitor, Fräulein Leah David, who had come to fetch her dog, left at
her friend’s house whilst paying visits in the neighbourhood. The young
Jewess was of the same age as Richard, tall, and possessed that superior
type of Oriental beauty more frequently found among the Portuguese Jews.
She was on intimate terms with Louisa Wagner, who shortly after married
one of the celebrated book publishers of Germany. Leah David made an
immediate conquest of Richard. “I had never before been so close to so
richly attired and beautiful a girl, nor addressed with such an animated
eastern profusion of polite verbiage. It took me by surprise, and for
the first time in my life I felt that indescribable bursting forth of
first love.”

[Sidenote: _FRÄULEIN LEAH DAVID._]

Wagner was invited to the house of her father, who, like most wealthy
Jews, surrounded himself with artists of every kind. Indeed, it was
there that Richard made many acquaintances which subsequently proved
useful to him. There was an extravagant luxury in the ostentatious house
of Herr David, which made the ambitious young student poignantly feel
the frugal economy practised in his own home. Wagner’s imaginative
brain always made him yearn for all the enjoyments that life could
supply. Unlimited means was the roseate cloud that incessantly hovered
before his longing fancy. In this respect he differs largely from most
other creative great minds, who, by force of inventive genius, have
conjured up worlds of power and riches, and yet have lived contentedly
on the most modest fare and in the lowliest of habitations.

Richard’s new-found friend was an only daughter, and having lost her
mother, she was free to do as she willed; the enthusiastic young
musician was allowed to visit the house and proved a very genial
companion, fond of her dog, and adoring art. Wagner did not declare his
passion, feeling that in the sympathetic, friendly treatment he received
it was divined and accepted. But he was regarded more in the light of a
boy than as a lover, small and slight in stature, dreamy and absorbed as
he was then. If the young lady chanced to be out when he called, he
either went to the piano or occupied himself with the dog, Iago, if at
home. The visits becoming frequent, the attachment ripened into an
intimacy. At such a house, with a daughter fond of music, _soirées
musicales_ were constantly occurring. At one of them a young Dutchman,
nephew of Herr David, was present. He was a pianist, and had just that
gift which Wagner lacked, dexterity of fingering. Flatteringly
applauded, the jealous Wagner intemperately and injudiciously launched
out about absence of soul and similar expressions. Taunted into playing,
his clumsy, defective manipulation provoked a sneer from the Dutchman
and a titter from the assembly. Wagner lost his temper. Stung in his
tenderest feelings before the Hebrew maiden, with the headlong
impetuosity of an unthinking youth he replied in such violent, rude
language that a dead silence fell upon the guests. Then Wagner rushed
out of the room, sought his cap, took leave of Iago, and vowed revenge.
He waited two days, upon which, having received no communication, he
returned to the scene of the quarrel. To his indignation he was refused
admittance. The next morning he received a note in the handwriting of
the young Jewess. He opened it feverishly. It was as a death-blow.
Fräulein Leah was shortly going to be married to the hated young
Dutchman, Herr Meyers, and henceforth she and Richard were to be as
strangers.

“It was my first love-sorrow, and I thought I should never forget it,
but after all,” said Wagner, with his wonted audacity, “I think I cared
more for the dog than for the Jewess. Whilst under the love-spell I had
paid little heed to much that soon after, in pondering over the episode,
revolted me. The strange characteristics of the Jews were unpleasant to
me. Then it was that I first perceived that impassable barrier which
must always rise up between Jews and Christians in their dealings with
the world. One cannot help an instinctive feeling of repulsion against
this strange element, which has been gradually creeping into our midst,
growing like mistletoe upon the oak tree, a parasite taking root
wherever it can fasten but the smallest fibre, and clinging with a
tenacity entirely its own, drawing in all nutriment within reach, and
yet remaining, notwithstanding, a parasite. Such is the Jew in the midst
of Christian civilization.”

[Sidenote: _AT SCHOOL AND UNIVERSITY._]

His entrance to the St. Nicolas school in 1827, where he remained three
years, was as the passing through a dark cloud. The whole training here
differed vitally from that at the Kreuzschule. The masters and their
mode of tuition was unsympathetic to him. I did not wonder at this when
he told me. I had been at the school, too, and experienced similar
feelings of resentment. The Martinet system of discipline was irksome to
high-spirited boys. No attempt was made to develop individuality of
character. This was unfortunate for Wagner. He was just then at an age
when personal interest and sympathetic guidance would have been
invaluable. Filled with wild dreams of a glorious future that was to
follow his self-dedication to the drama, he threw himself with ardour
into the completion of a play he had begun to work at. Ambition had
prompted him to base it on the model of Shakespeare’s tragedies. The
plot was as wild and impossible as the unrestricted exuberance of so
extravagant a fancy might suggest. It occupied him for upwards of two
years, and greatly interfered with his legitimate school work. When in
later life he surveyed this period he describes himself as “wild,
negligent, and idle,” absorbed with one thought, his great drama.

[Sidenote: _HIS ARTISTIC CRISIS._]

From the St. Nicolas school he passed to St. Thomas’s school, where he
stayed but a few months, leaving it for the University. At the
University he attended occasional lectures only, showing none of that
assiduity which distinguished him at the Kreuzschule. His University
days were marked by a profligacy to which he afterwards referred with
regret and even disgust. He was young and wild, and had determined with
his insatiable nature to drain to the dregs the cup of dissoluted
frivolity. I should not be performing the duty of an honest biographer
were I to omit an incident which occurred at this period, regrettable as
it might seem. His mother still received her modest pension. On one
occasion Richard was commissioned to receive it for her. Returning home
with the money in his pocket he chanced to pass a public gambling house.
_There_ was one sensation he had not yet experienced. At that moment he
felt that in the throw of the fascinating dice lay the fateful omen of
his future. The money was not his, yet he entered and risked the hazard
of the dice. He was unfortunate; lost all but a small sum he had kept
back. Yet he could not resist the alluring excitement. He staked this
too. Fortune, happily for the wide world of art, befriended him, and he
left the debasing den with more than he had entered, “But,” inquired I,
“what would you have done had you lost all?” “Lord!” he replied, “before
going into the house I had firmly resolved that should I lose I would
accept the omen and seek my end in the river.” A man in years calmly
telling me this so long after the incident had occurred urged me again
to ask, “Would you really have done that?” “I would,” was the short
determined answer. He was unable to keep the story back from his mother,
and at once on his return told her all. “Instead of upbraiding me,”
Wagner said, “she fell with passionate love around my neck, exclaiming,
‘You are saved. Your free confession tells me that never again will you
commit so wicked a wrong.’” This Wagner related to me when I was staying
with him at Zurich in 1856. This hazardous throw of the dice was not the
only occasion on which he had boldly defied fate. He was ever buoyed up
with an implicit faith in his destiny, which sustained him through many
trials, though at the same time it urged him to act in a manner where
more thoughtful minds would have hesitated.

I now come to what was undoubtedly the crisis of Wagner’s artistic
career. It was the practice at German theatres, between the acts, for
the orchestra to play movements of Haydn’s symphonies or similar
excerpts by other masters. The rule was to hurry through them in the
most indifferent manner. Not the slightest attention was paid to
expression, and if it happened that the manager’s bell rang while the
“playing” was going on, the performance would terminate with a jerk,
each artist seemingly anxious not to play a note more, and heedless of
finishing the “phrase” together.

At Leipzic, the entire music was particularly slovenly, played under the
cynical Matthey. And yet the very men who played so reprehensibly in the
stage orchestra, when performing at the famous Gewandhaus concerts
seemed to be moved by feelings of reverence for their work, unknown to
them in the theatre. It would be an interesting investigation to
discover why this was. The symphonies of Beethoven in the concert-room
compelled their whole worship; the symphonies of Haydn in the theatre
were treated like “dinner” music. Perhaps the explanation is, that the
symphonic movements played in the theatre bore no relation to the drama
enacted, whereas music played for itself went with a verve and spirit,
and attention to its meaning quite unknown to thestop-gap-music-scrambling
of the theatre.

[Sidenote: _RESOLVE TO BECOME A MUSICIAN._]

From the unsatisfying scrambling performances of the theatre, Wagner,
fifteen years old, went to the Gewandhaus concerts. There he heard
Beethoven’s symphonies. What a revelation were they to him, played with
the artistic perfection for which that orchestra was so justly
celebrated, although there was room for improvement. They forced open in
him the floodgates of a torrent of emotion. A new world dawned upon him.
Music that had hitherto lain dormant, suddenly awakened into a vigorous
existence truly electrifying. His future career was decided. Henceforth
he, too, would be a musician. And what was there in Beethoven that
should so startle him into new life? He had heard Haydn, Mozart, and
earlier masters without being so completely awed and fascinated. What
was there in these symphonies that should exercise such a determining
influence over him? It was the overpowering earnestness of the unhappy
composer. Beethoven dealt with life problems according to the spirit of
his age--the demand for freedom of thought and liberty of the person.
Beethoven had been baptized in that mighty wave, the struggle for
freedom, which rolled over Germany at the beginning of this century. He
could not help being eloquently earnest. He was the creature of his
time, and when called upon to declare himself, was not found wanting in
rugged, bold earnestness. Yet although Haydn and Mozart, I too, were
earnest, their utterances were of a subjective character. The world to
them presented none of the doubts and philosophic speculations which
convulsed Beethoven’s period. Their view of life was pure optimism. A
vein of bright joyousness runs through all their works, aye, even their
most serious. But Beethoven was a pessimist, and his works betray him.
When he has a sunshiny moment it serves only to show how deep is his
prevailing gloom. Wagner at fifteen was a poet, and the energetic,
suggestive music of Beethoven was mentally transformed into living
personalities. He has said that he felt as if Beethoven addressed him
“personally.” Every movement formed itself into a story, glowed with
life, and assumed a clear, distinct shape. I do not forget the earlier
influence of Weber over him, but then that was more due to emotion than
to reason. The novelty of “Der Freischütz,” the freshness of its melodic
stream, and the wild imaginative treatment of the romantic story
captivated his first affection and enchained it to the last. The whole
of his impressions of Beethoven (whom, by the way, Wagner never saw)
were embodied by him in a sketch written for a periodical and entitled,
“A Pilgrimage to Beethoven.” Although the incidents painted there are
not to be taken as having happened to the pilgrim, Wagner, yet the story
is clear on one point--the unbounded spell Beethoven exercised over him.

As he was now determined to become a musician, and seeing the necessity
of acquiring some theoretical knowledge of his new art, with his usual
perseverance he began studying alone. His progress was so disappointing
that he made arrangements with a local organist, with whom, too, he
advanced but little. However, he was resolved. Music he wanted for his
own play; without music he felt it was incomplete, and although he
worked assiduously, theory seemed a long, dreary road which, instead of
helping him to the goal he yearned to reach, presented innumerable
obstacles in the path. He wanted to compose, yet all the grammarian’s
rules were so many caution-boards, warning him against doing this or
that, impediments that prevented him accomplishing what he strove to
perform. It was always what should _not_ be done instead of what should
be done. With youthful impetuosity he then revolted against all
grammarianism, and to the end of his life maintained an attitude of
derisive defiance towards all who fought behind the shield inscribed
fugue, canon and counterpoint.

Although conscious of how unsatisfactory his theoretical progress had
been, ambition prompted him to write an overture for the orchestra. The
young composer was seventeen. The overture is characterized by Wagner’s
besetting sin--extravagance of means. Through his sister’s connection
with the stage he became acquainted with the music director of the
Leipzic theatre, a young man, Heinrich Dorn, a few years older than
Wagner. I knew Dorn as a friendly, easy-going, good-tempered fellow.
Impressed with the unusual enthusiasm of the youth, Dorn kindly offered
to perform his overture at the theatre. It was performed. The audience
laughed at it, and Wagner was not slow to admit the justice of its
reception.

[Sidenote: _A PUPIL OF CANTOR WEINLIG._]

Of the caligraphy displayed in this work I must say a few words. The
score was written in different-coloured inks, the groups of strings,
wood, and brass, being distinguished by special colours. His extreme
neatness and care at all times of his life, when using the pen, was
wonderful. Before putting word or note to paper every thought had been
so fully digested that there was never any need of erasure or
correction. In strange contrast with Richard Wagner’s clean, neat,
distinct writing, stand Beethoven’s hieroglyphics, whole lines of which
were sometimes smudged out with the finger.

Wagner accepted the judgment upon his overture, though not without a
painful feeling of disappointment. But as he was determined to be a
musician, his family now encouraged him, and for that purpose placed him
under Cantor Weinlig of Leipzic. The Cantor was on intimate terms with
my father, and therefore was well known to me. He had a great name as a
skilled contrapuntist. Gentle and persuasive in demeanour, he soon won
the affection of his pupil, and although his tuition lasted for about
six months only, it was sufficient to cause Wagner to refer with
affection to this, his only real master.

The immediate result of Weinlig’s tuition was the production of a sonata
for the pianoforte. It is in strict form, but Wagner’s conscientious
adherence to the dogmatic principles he had learned seem to have dried
up all sources of inspiration. He was evidently in a straight jacket,
for the sonata does not contain one original idea, not one phrase of
more than common interest. It is just the kind of music that any average
pupil without gift might have written. Time was wanting before the
careful, orthodox training of Weinlig could thoroughly assimilate itself
to the peculiarity of Wagner’s genius.

It is curious that he should have produced such a very inferior work as
regards ideas and development while he was at the same time a most
ardent student of Beethoven. It can only be explained by regarding the
period as one of transition and receptivity. He was not full grown nor
strong enough to wing himself to independent flight.

Beethoven was his daily study. He was carefully storing up all the grand
thoughts of the great master, but his fiery enthusiasm had not yet come
to that burning-point when it should ignite his own latent powers. His
acquaintance with the scores of Beethoven has never been equalled. It
was extraordinary. He had them so much by heart that he could play on
the piano, with his own awkward fingering, whole movements. Indeed,
beyond Weber, the idol of his boyhood, and Beethoven, there was no
master whose works interested him at that period. His family considered
him Beethoven-mad. His eldest brother, Albert, then engaged actively in
the profession, and more of a practical business man, particularly
condemned the exclusive hero-worship of a master not then understood or
acknowledged by the general public. But Richard persevered with his
study, and as a testimony of his affection for Beethoven it may be
mentioned that, at eighteen, he produced a pianoforte arrangement of the
whole of the “Ninth Symphony.”

[Sidenote: _WEBER AND BEETHOVEN HIS MODELS._]

In the school of Weber and Beethoven did Wagner form himself. The
musical utterances of both his models were in harmony with their time.
Weber was romantic, Beethoven pessimistic. The cry for liberty which ran
throughout Europe at the end of the eighteenth century affected the
republic of letters sooner than the world of music. It was Wagner’s
“idol,” his “adored” master, who first musically portrayed the
revolutionary spirit of the dawn of this century. It was he who founded
the romantic school of musicians. His ideality, his “romantic” genius,
taking that word in its highest and noblest sense, place him in an
entirely separate niche of the temple of art. His inventive faculty, the
irresistible charm of his melody, his entirely new delineation and
orchestral colouring of character, are immeasurably superior to anything
of the kind which preceded him. He was the basis, the starting-point of
a new phase in the art of music. And yet, with it all, the great Weber
fell short in one important feature of his art--the consequential
development of his themes. All his chamber music testifies to this. Even
in his three great overtures, “Der Freischütz,” “Euryanthe,” and
“Oberon,” the “working-out” of the subjects is feeble and unskilful, and
only compensated for by the ever gushing forth of new and potent ideas.
Weber had not passed through the crucible of a serious study of the
classical school. In his early period he had treated music more as an
amateur than as an earnest-thinking musician. Nor was he gifted with the
brain power of Beethoven. It was the latter master’s causal strength of
brain, combined with his deep, serious studies and his incessant
striving to express exactly what he felt, which have secured for him
that exceptional position in modern tonal art.

[Sidenote: _STUDY OF INSTRUMENTATION._]

Coming now to Wagner, we find him possessing, to a truly remarkable
degree, the special powers of both. His wondrous inventive genius was
controlled by a brain power as solid as rare. It enabled him to fuse in
his own work the gifts of the idealist, Weber, and of the thinker,
Beethoven. The latter’s mastery of workmanship, his reasoned sequence of
ideas, are vastly surpassed in Wagner’s dialectic treatment. As an
instrumental colourist Weber was superior to Beethoven. The deafness of
the latter sometimes led him to mark the wrong instrument in his scores.
He could not hear, and therefore was not fully able to comprehend the
qualities of every instrument, like Weber. The greatness of his power as
an orchestral writer is undeniable, yet many instances could be quoted
where he has misapplied a particular instrument of whose character,
through his deafness, he had lost the exact knowledge. Wagner based his
instrumentation on that of Weber. In spite of an almost unlimited
admiration of Beethoven, Wagner has not refrained from pointing to
certain defects of scoring in him. He shows that whilst Beethoven
modelled his orchestra after Haydn and Mozart, his conceptions went
immeasurably beyond them and clashed with the somewhat inadequate means
of their orchestra. Beethoven had neither the modern keyed brass
instruments to support the wood-wind against the doubled and trebled
strings, nor did he dare to venture beyond the then supposed range of
the wood, brass, and string instruments. Often when reaching what was
thought to be the topmost note on either, he suddenly jumps in an almost
childishly anxious manner to an octave below, interrupting the melody
and producing an irritating effect. Wagner has asserted that had
Beethoven heard the tonal effect of portions of his marking, he would
unquestionably have rewritten them or altered the instruments. But
whilst deploring his great predecessor’s deafness as the cause of
certain defective instrumentation he renders unstinted homage to the
general orchestration of the symphonies. The enormous amplification of
deeply reasoned detail in those nine grand works demands from each
individual of the orchestra an attention and refinement of expression
to be expected only from an orchestra composed of virtuosi.

It was shortly after his return to Leipzic that Wagner began to study
instrumentation. The Gewandhaus concerts and Beethoven’s symphonies had
stirred him. He thumped the piano, was conscious of his lack of skill,
but nevertheless bought the scores of the symphonies and studied them
with heart and soul. The magnificent colouring charmed him. To work the
score at the piano, and see where the secret lay, was his careful study,
and then, when he found it, he saw how necessary was individual
excellence of performance. Even the Gewandhaus performances failed to
completely satisfy him. The members of the orchestra were familiar with
the works, yet was the performance far from conveying that lasting
impression which the delineation of the intensely grand ideas were
capable of, and which from his piano-reading he expected. The
dissatisfaction he experienced induced him to seek further for the
explanation, and after careful thought he fixed the blame on the
shortcomings of the conductor. The head of an orchestra, he asserted,
should study the work to be played under him until every phrase, its
meaning, and bearing to the whole composition were thoroughly
assimilated by him. He should, further, have a perfect acquaintance with
the capabilities of every instrument, and an excellent memory. Works
performed under conductors not possessing these qualifications never
produce their legitimate effect. “It was only when I had conducted
Mozart’s works myself,” says Wagner, “and had made the orchestra execute
every detail as I felt it, that I took real pleasure in their
performance.”



CHAPTER V.

1832-1836.


[Sidenote: _THE REVOLUTIONARY PERIOD._]

Had Wagner’s youthful enthusiasm been fired at the Dresden Kreuzschule
with love for Germany and hatred of the French oppressor, a feeling
which flew through the land like lightning, had the songs of Körner’s
“Lyre and Sword,” set to vigorous music by Weber, inspired him, his
patriotism was intensified tenfold when, returning to his native city,
he came into the midst of a population that had suffered all the horrors
and privations of actual war. His study of modern literature,
assimilated with surprising facility in a brain where all was order and
consecutiveness, gave him an insight into the deplorable state of his
beloved country, whilst indicating the direction in which future efforts
should be directed. He found that the revolutionary spasm of the end of
the eighteenth century had shattered time-honoured traditions, roughly
shaken the creeds of the past, and indeed had left nothing untouched,
infiltrating itself into every great and small item of human existence.
The impetus of the time was “revolution!” To throw down the trammels of
moral and physical slavery, to free man and raise him to the throne of
humanity, was the desire of all European peoples. All worked towards one
common goal; there was not one movement of importance then that was not
influenced by the revolution. In literature the tendency was to make
letters a concrete part of the national mind, just as the great French
revolution called into existence the first notion of national life by
investing the people with the controlling power of their country’s
interests. All the master-minds of the time of Louis the Fourteenth were
an some measure connected with the king; but with the nineteenth century
revolution a third state was developed, which enriched national life,
and, acting upon literature, drove the hitherto secluded savants and
their works into the vortex of popular life. Before this upheaval,
literature had been the exclusive property of the professional savant
and his high-born protector. The tendency of modern social life was to
enthrone mind and genius. The third state was actually breaking down
social barriers, the line of demarcation between them and so-called
“good society,” the monarch and aristocracy. That such a violent change
at the beginning of the century should have unsettled and bewildered
some otherwise remarkably gifted men is not surprising. The turbulent
state of society, and the confused investigation and awkward handling of
important moral questions, led to doubt and despair. Men like the
brothers Schlegel became Roman Catholics, hoping by so doing to cast the
responsibility of their life on a religion which closes every aperture
to the reasoning powers. Ludwig Tieck, another German savant, followed
their example, whilst men like Zacharias Werner, after having given
proofs of the highest capability, destroyed their mental being by
pursuing a most dissolute and reprehensible course; or, like Hoffman, by
an over-indulgence in wine, helped to create an unæsthetic phase in
German literature which, alas, serves only to show how sadly distorted
gifted brains can become. Kleist was driven to commit suicide. I could
cite more unhappy victims of that troublous epoch, existences blighted
by the powerful wave of romanticism and freedom that swept over the
land. The only man who remained unaffected by the movement was Goethe.
In his striving for plastic beauty and classicism, he never became
enthusiastic for the romantic school. He even stood somewhat aloof from
Shakespeare; nor would he, in his cold simplicity and placid grandeur,
see in all the romantic movement aught but a remnant of revolution
against his “legitimate” supremacy.

Those early years of Wagner were passed in a scene of unusual activity
and excitement. His native city a great battle-field the year of his
birth, people hardly recovered from the shock of the 1793 revolution,
when again they are startled by its reverberation in July, 1830. Then
Wagner was seventeen, of an age and thoughtful enough to be impressed by
the struggle carried on around him, or, to quote his own words, “all
that acted more and more on my mind, on my imagination and reason.” This
was the spirit which he brought to bear on his study of
orchestration,--ideality controlled by strong reasoning power. He had
studied under the first professor of Leipzic, had had an overture
performed in public, and now, in 1832, he essayed a grand symphony for
orchestra, which ever remained a pleasing work to him, and to which he
would refer with evident satisfaction. Its history is a curious one.

[Sidenote: _HIS ONLY SYMPHONY._]

Though not twenty, he, with his usual self-reliance, boldly took the
score and parts to Vienna. He wanted his work to be heard. His daring
ambition was not satisfied with a lesser centre than the Austrian
capital. Vienna was then, as it is now, the city of pleasure and light
Italian music. As Beethoven himself could command but a small section of
adherents among the pleasure-seeking Viennese, it is not surprising that
the untried and unknown young composer was ignored. But undaunted, he
took his treasure to Prague, where Dionys Weber, conductor of the
Conservatorium, performed it to Wagner’s unbounded delight. Returning
home, he had the proud satisfaction of hearing it played at the
classical Gewandhaus concerts and also at its rival but lesser
institution, the “Euterpe.” This was a promising augury, and to Wagner
amply sufficient for assuming that later his work would be repeated.
Therefore, when in 1834 Mendelssohn was appointed conductor at the
Gewandhaus, Wagner unhesitatingly took the symphony to him. For a long
time nothing was heard of it. Wagner became anxious, and applied to
Mendelssohn, when to his indignation he was informed that the score had
unfortunately been lost. Wagner never alluded to this incident without
indulging in one of those bitter ironical attacks upon Mendelssohn in
which he was such an adept. The incident rankled in the memory of the
over-sensitive composer, and no amount of external amiability at a later
period from Mendelssohn was ever able to efface it. This symphony was
Wagner’s first acknowledged work and acknowledged, too, by men of
weight, whose commendation had, not unnaturally, elated him. “My first
symphony!” How often have I heard that phrase? and spoken with such
satisfaction that on several occasions I tried to induce Wagner to play
some reminiscences of it to me. He could not; he had lost all
remembrance of it. Accident or fate willed it that shortly before his
death the orchestral parts were discovered at Dresden. A score was
arranged and the fifty-year-old work performed _en famille_ in 1882,
under the revered old man’s bâton at Venice.

[Sidenote: _DIRECTOR OF A CHORUS._]

Though proud of his success as a musician, the poetic side of his nature
was not repressed. He was a poet as well as musician. Suddenly the poesy
within him leaped forth and impelled him to write words already wedded
in his own heart to sounds. Its appearance was as a revelation
disclosing an allied power which was to exalt him to a pinnacle to which
no other composer in the whole history of art could possibly lay claim.
He wrote a libretto to “The Wedding.” This was to be his first opera,
and the same year, 1833, in which he wrote the words he also began the
music. However, he composed but three numbers, still in existence, the
introduction, a chorus, a sextet, and then was dissuaded by his sister
from proceeding further with it. The story and its treatment were both
pronounced ill-adapted for stage representation. The book was the
veriest hyper-romantic scum, a mixture of the gloomy fatalist Werner and
the wildly extravagant Hoffman. The opera was abandoned with regret, and
a living was sought in any form of musical drudgery. He was willing to
“arrange,” to “correct proofs,” or do anything but teaching, to which he
always had the strongest antipathy. To my knowledge, he never gave a
lesson in his life. When, therefore, the post of chorus master at the
Würzburg theatre was offered to him, he readily accepted it. His eldest
brother, Albert, was then engaged at Würzburg as singer, actor, and
stage manager. It was the practice of Albert all through life to assume
the rôle of mentor to his younger brother, but against this Richard
strongly rebelled, though at the same time readily admitting his
brother’s abilities as a manager and singer. Possessed of a remarkably
high tenor voice, Albert was unfortunately subject to intermittent
attacks of total loss of vocal power. But the singer’s loss was the
actor’s gain, for to compensate for this defect he exerted himself and
succeeded in shining as an actor.

This Würzburg engagement was Richard Wagner’s first real active
participation in stage life. He had entered upon his new duties but a
short time when an opportunity presented itself wherein he could exhibit
his practical skill as a musician. Albert was cast for the tenor part in
Marschner’s “Vampyre.” According to his notion, his chief solo finished
unsatisfactorily. Richard’s aid was invoked, and the result was
additional words, some forty lines and music, too, which enabled Albert
to display his unusually fine high tones.

The life to Wagner was novel, attractive, and full of bright promise.
The friendly relations that existed between the chorus and their
director, the habitual banter of the players, their studied posing,
their concealing home miseries beneath a simulated gaiety, attracted and
charmed the inexperienced neophyte. He was yet blind to all the wiles,
trickeries, and petty infamies that seem inseparable from stage life. In
the theatre the meannesses and jealousies that clog human existence
under all forms are focused and exposed to the glare of publicity,
whereas in the wide world they are lost among the crowd. It was not
long before Wagner began to hate the shams and petty meannesses of the
stage with ten-fold the intensity he had at first been bewitched by it.

During his stay at Würzburg, urged by his brother he again thought of
composing an opera. Casting about for a fitting subject, he alighted
upon a volume of legends by Gozzi. One, “La Donna Serpente,” attracted
him, and seemed to invite operatic treatment. He resolved to write his
own text, and within the year produced what was his first complete
opera, which he called “The Fairies.” The musical treatment was entirely
in the romantic style of Weber and Marschner, but Wagner frankly
confesses it did not realize his expectations. He had thought himself
capable of greater things than his powers were yet equal to.
Nevertheless, he strove to obtain a hearing for it, but without success.
French and Italian opera ruled the German stage, and native productions
were not encouraged. However, an ardent aspirant for fame like Wagner
was not to be discouraged by the cold slights offered to his first stage
work. He returned to Leipzic, 1834, again energetically endeavouring to
get it accepted, but only to be disappointed once more.

[Sidenote: “_DAS LIEBESVERBOT._”]

It was during this visit to Leipzic that an event occurred which was
destined to strongly influence his future career. He heard that great
dramatic artist, Schroeder-Devrient. The effect of her performance upon
him was startling, although the operas in which she appeared, “Romeo”
and “Norma” of Bellini, were of the weakest. He saw what a striking
impression could be produced by careful attention to dramatic detail.
The poorest work was elevated into the realms of high art by the grand
style of the inspired artist. For the first time he realized the immense
value of perfection of “style.” The lesson was not lost, and the high
point to which Wagner artists have subsequently carried it by the
master’s imperative insistence upon the most thorough and exhaustive
attention to every detail of art, has formed the undying Wagner school.

Fired by enthusiasm, he began the composition of a new opera, in which
he ambitiously hoped the great actress would perform the principal rôle.
This was his second music-dramatic work, “Das Liebesverbot” (“The Novice
of Palermo”), founded upon Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure.” It took
him about two years to write it. To Wagner this period was one of
transition, alternately dominated by the serious Beethoven, the
“romantic” Weber, Auber, and even the popular Italian school. He was as
a tree through whose branches the winds rushed from all quarters, only
the more firmly to consolidate the roots. He, too, was young, and a not
unnatural desire to acquire some of the world’s riches induced him to
write his new work in a “popular” vein. The “Novice of Palermo” has but
very faint indications of the Wagner of after-life, and in the
composer’s own judgment was but an indifferent work, although comparing
favourably with the operas of its day.

[Sidenote: _ART AND NATIONALITY._]

After the termination of his Würzburg engagement Wagner went to
Magdeburg, 1834, where he was appointed music director, a post he held
for nearly two years, steadily working, meanwhile, at the “Novice of
Palermo.” The Magdeburg company was above the usual level of provincial
troupes. The conductor was young and energetic, and soon secured the
good will of his subordinates. But the Magdeburghers were apathetic in
musical matters, and in the spring of 1836 the theatre announced its
final performances. The “Novice of Palermo” was not then completed.
After some discussion it was decided to perform it. Wagner hurried on
his work, battling with innumerable difficulties which presented
themselves thick and fast. First the theatre was threatened with
bankruptcy. To escape this it was arranged to close the building a month
earlier than the time originally announced. It left Wagner ten days for
rehearsals. His book had not been submitted to the censor, and as it was
now the Lenten season, there was a dread that the title might subject
the libretto to vexatious pruning. The opera was given out as founded on
one of the serious plays of Shakespeare, and by this means escaped all
maltreatment. But what could be done in ten days? Little even where
friendly will was engaged. However, after rehearsal upon rehearsal, the
work was performed. Its reception was moderate. The tenor singer had
been unable to learn his part in the short time and resorted to
unlimited “gag.” Perhaps hardly one was perfect in his rôle, and the
whole work went badly enough. In after-life Wagner could afford to laugh
at this makeshift performance, but at that time it was terribly real. He
once gave me a representation of the tenor singer and other
impersonators in a manner so ludicrous and mirth-provoking that he said,
“You laugh now, but listen! A second performance was promised for my
benefit. We were assembled and about to begin, when suddenly a
hand-to-hand fight sprung up between two of the characters, and the
performance had to be given up.” This put him in sad straits. He had
hoped to receive such a sum of money from this “benefit” as would free
him from all monetary difficulties, but no performance taking place he
was worried in a most uncomfortable manner.

I suppose that if there be any feature in Wagner’s character about which
there is no difference of opinion it is his love for his native land. At
critical junctures, he has not hesitated, by speech or action, to
declare his pronounced feelings. At present, however, my purpose is not
to illustrate this point, but to emphasize a phase of thought in
Wagner’s early manhood, which, boldly proclaimed at the time, gathered
strength with increasing years, and forms one of the most important
factors in his art-workings. He contended that the national life of a
people was intimately entwined with their art productions. “The stage,”
said Wagner, “is the noblest arena of a nation’s mind.” This was a very
favourite theme of his. He would descant on it unceasingly. The stage
was the mirror of a people. Shakespeare he worshipped, and gloried that
such an intellect was counted in the republic of letters. England should
be proud of her great man. He thought Carlyle right when he said
Shakespeare was worth more to a nation than ten Indias. But poor
Germany! What could she show? Where was her race of literary giants? The
war of liberation had fired every German heart with the intensest
patriotism. Young Germany had fought with unexampled ardour, and the
hateful Napoleonic yoke was victoriously cast off. Liberty, patriotism,
and fraternity were the watchwords of every German, and they found
their art expression in the inspiriting strains of the soldier-poet,
Körner, and the vigorous melodies of the patriotic Weber. And German
potentates looked on bewildered. Where would this torrent of enthusiasm
end? Were they themselves secure on their thrones? Would it not sap the
foundations of their own rule? And, as history too sadly shows, fear
developed into despotism. The princes turned, and with the iron heel
trampled upon the very men who had valiantly defended them against the
ruthless invader. They were fearful of the German mind awakening to a
sense of its political and social shortcomings. They argued that this
uncontrolled enthusiasm for liberty of speech and person was a menace to
their thrones; therefore they strove to crush it out. Their conduct
Wagner later stigmatized as “replete with the blackest ingratitude,” and
their treatment of national art as dictated by “cold, calculating
cruelty.” For the stage, alien productions were imported. French
frivolity reigned supreme. Rossini’s operas, licentious ballets, were
patronized to the exclusion of Beethoven’s works, and now, though half a
century has elapsed, the baneful influence is still discernible. Such
feelings greatly agitated Wagner’s early manhood. By 1840 they had
assumed definite shape, and we find him through the public journals
deploring the want of a German national drama. It was his effort to
supply this want. He went to work with a fixed purpose. How far he has
succeeded posterity will judge.



CHAPTER VI.

1836-1839.


For nine months, from the Easter of 1836 to the opening of the new year,
1837, Wagner was without engagement. It was a period of hardship and
suffering. In a most miserable plight he went to Leipzic and Berlin,
energetically exerting himself to get his opera, “The Novice of Palermo”
accepted. He met with plenty of promises but no performances. His needs
became more pressing. Debts had been incurred and the prospect of paying
them was of the gloomiest. An ordinary mortal would have sunk under such
overwhelming trouble, but Wagner was made of sterner stuff. His
indomitable self-reliance and pluck, based upon an abnormal self-esteem,
ever kept alight the lamp of hope within him, and sustained him through
sadder times than this. True, he had not proved to the world that he was
a genius, but he, himself, was fully convinced of it. He had written two
operas, a symphony, and other works, and though they did not surpass or
even equal what had been accomplished by other artists, yet for all that
he was strongly imbued with a consciousness of the greatness of his own
power in the tonal and poetic arts. He was convinced that he had a
mission to fulfil, a new art gospel to preach, and, too, that he would
succeed. The death-bed prediction of his step-father that he would be
“something” would be fulfilled.

As far as his art creations show, this was a period of non-productivity.
But it is impossible to suppose that Wagner was idle. Genius is never
inactive. If not visibly at work the reflective faculties are certain to
be actively employed. Though beset with every conceivable worldly
trouble, depending for daily wants on what he could borrow, he, with
alarming temerity, married.

It was on the 24th November, 1836; the bride, Fräulein Wilhelmina
Planer, leading actress of the Magdeburg company. She was the daughter
of a working spindle-maker. It was not the known possession of any
histrionic gift that caused her to become a professional actress, but a
very natural desire, as the eldest of the family, to increase the
resources of the household. Spindle-making was not a profitable calling,
and with a family, other help was gladly welcomed. But, as necessity has
oft discovered and forced to the front many a talent that would have
lain hidden from the world, so now was Magdeburg astonished by the
presence of an unquestionably gifted artist. Minna Planer played the
leading characters in tragedy and comedy. When off the stage her bearing
was quiet and unobtrusive. No theatrical trick or display indicated the
actress. And, after she had finally quitted stage life, it had been
impossible to suppose that the soft-spoken, retiring, shy little woman
had ever successfully impersonated important tragic rôles.

[Sidenote: _MINNA A HOUSE-WIFE._]

Minna was handsome, but not strikingly so. Of medium height, slim
figure, she had a pair of soft gazelle-like eyes which were a faithful
index of a tender heart. Her look seemed to bespeak your clemency, and
her gentle speech secured at once your good-will. Her movements in the
house were devoid of everything approaching bustle. Quick to anticipate
your thoughts, your wish was complied with before it had been expressed.
Her bearing was that of the gentle nurse in the sick-chamber. It was joy
to be tended by her. She was full of heart’s affection, and Wagner let
himself be loved. Her nature was the opposite of his. He was passionate,
strong-willed, and ambitious: she was gentle, docile, and contented. He
yearned for conquest, to have the world at his feet: she was happy in
her German home, and desired no more than permission to minister to him.
From the first she followed him with bowed head. To his exuberant
speech, his constant discourses on art, and his position in the future,
she lent a willing, attentive ear. She could not follow him, she was not
able to reason his incipient revolutionary art notions, to combat his
seemingly extravagant theories; but to all she was sympathetic,
sanguine, and consoling,--“a perfect woman, nobly planned,” as
Wordsworth sweetly sings. As years rolled by and the genius of Wagner
assumed more definite shape and grew in strength, she was less able to
comprehend the might of his intellect. To have written “The Novice of
Palermo” at twenty-three, and to have been received so cordially was to
her unambitious heart the zenith of success. More than that she could
not understand, nor did she ever realize the extent of the wondrous
gifts of her husband. After twenty years of wedded life it was much the
same. We were sitting at lunch in the trimly kept Swiss chalet at Zurich
in the summer of 1856, waiting for the composer of the then completed
“Rienzi,” “Dutchman,” “Tannhäuser,” and “Lohengrin” to come down from
his scoring of the “Nibelungen,” when in full innocence she asked me,
“Now, honestly, is Richard such a great genius?” On another occasion,
when he was bitterly animadverting on his treatment by the public, she
said, “Well, Richard, why don’t you write something for the gallery?”
And yet, notwithstanding her inaptitude, Wagner was ever considerate,
tender, and affectionate towards her. He was not long in discovering her
inability to understand him, but her many good qualities and domestic
virtues endeared her greatly to him. She had one quality of surpassing
value in any household presided over by a man of Wagner’s thoughtless
extravagance. She was thrifty and economical. At all periods of his life
Wagner could not control his expenditure. He was heedless, relying
always upon good fortune. But Minna was a skilled financier, and he knew
this. For years their lot was uphill, sometimes a hard struggle for bare
existence, and through all the devotion and homely love of the woman
soothed and cheered the nervous, irritable Wagner. When their means
enabled them to enjoy the comforts of life without first anxiously
counting the cost, Minna was possessed of one thought, her husband and
his happiness. And Wagner knew it and gratefully appreciated the heart’s
devotion of the worshipping woman. Home was her paradise, her husband
the king. Love, simple, trusting love, was her religion, and no greater
testimony to the noble work of a genuine woman could be offered than
that of the poet Milton in his “Paradise Lost”:--

    Nothing lovelier can be found
    In woman, than to study household good.

[Sidenote: _DIRECTOR AT KÖNIGSBERG._]

Throughout his career Wagner shook off the troubles of daily life with
an elasticity truly remarkable. But now he must do something. He had
incurred the most sacred of all obligations, to provide for his wife,
and employment of some description was a pressing necessity. Viewed from
an artistic point, his lost appointment had been a success. He had
acquired all the skill of an efficient conductor and had familiarized
himself with a large number of opera scores. But what had he done with
his own gifts? The miserable finale of the Magdeburg episode, and his
increased responsibilities, made him seriously reflect on this past year
and a half. True he had composed an entire opera. But of what material
was it made? He had regretfully to acknowledge that it was not as he
would wish it. He had thrown over his household gods to worship Baal. He
had rejected Weber and Beethoven, “his adored idols,” to dress his
thoughts in attractive, showy, French attire. He had forsaken heartfelt
truth for a graceful exterior. And what had he gained by imitating Auber
and Rossini? Not even the satisfaction of public success. And why? His
models spoke as they felt, whilst he clothed his thoughts in a borrowed
garb. He was now conscious that he had but to express himself in his own
language to convince others of the truth of his art gospel.

Some such similar post as at Magdeburg was what he now desired. There he
would be Wagner himself. But in these early years smiling fortune was
not always his happy companion. Nearly a year elapses before he again
finds himself directing an operatic company. This time it is at
Königsberg.

[Sidenote: _CONDUCTS ORCHESTRAL CONCERTS._]

But before accompanying the weary artist to his new home some mature
reflections of Wagner on his Magdeburg period are worthy of notice. His
elevation to the post of music director of the Magdeburg theatre was a
joyful moment. For the first time he would be sole controller of
operatic performances. When a youth he had been revolted by the
slatternly manner in which theatre conductors had led the performances.
Even the Gewandhaus concerts had not been altogether satisfactory.
Something then was lacking in the ensemble. Now was his opportunity. The
mechanical time-beating prevalent among conductors of opera houses would
find no place with the ardent youthful composer. He first secured the
affection of the singers by evincing a personal interest in their public
success. His born actor’s skill enabled him to illustrate how such a
character should move, whilst with the orchestra he would sing passages
and rehearse one phrase incessantly until he was satisfied. He was
indefatigable. The secret of his success was his earnestness. He knew
what he wanted, which was half-way to securing it. The company seems to
have been fairly intelligent and to have responded freely to his wishes,
but the audiences were phlegmatic. Magdeburg was a garrison city, and
the audiences were domineered by the cold reserve observed by the
military. Wagner thought of all publics the worst was a military one.
Effusive exhibitions of joy they regard as indecorous and unseemly, and
the absence of spontaneous enthusiasm exercises a depressing effect on
artists. Among the operas he conducted were Auber’s “Masaniello” and
Rossini’s “William Tell.” Both of them were favourites of his. At that
period, 1836, they stood out in bold relief from modern and ancient
operas. Their melodies were fresh and graceful, and a dramatic
truthfulness pervaded them which to the embryo imitator of the Greek
tragedy was a strong recommendation. Further, the revolutionary subjects
were congenial to the outlaw of 1848. But Auber and Rossini were soon to
be eclipsed by the clever Hebrew, Meyerbeer, and it is this last writer
who in a couple of years impels Wagner to leave his fatherland for
Paris. It is Meyerbeer’s works that he is now about to conduct at
Königsberg, where we shall at once follow him.

The time he spent in Königsberg was a prolongation of the miserable
existence which had followed the breaking up of the Magdeburg company,
intensified now, alas, by anxiety for his young wife. It was unenlivened
by any gleam of even passing sunlight. The time dragged heavily, and was
never referred to without a shudder. In later years, in the presence of
his first wife, he has compassionately remarked, “Yes, poor Minna had a
hard time of it then, and after the first few months of drudgery no
doubt repented of her bargain.” To which the gentle Minna would reply by
a look full of tender affection. Wagner’s references to the devotion and
untiring energy of his wife during the Königsberg year of distress
always affected him.

He began his public life at Königsberg by conducting orchestral concerts
in the town theatre. This led to his appointment as music director of
the theatre. The operatic stage was then governed almost entirely by
Meyerbeer, “Robert le Diable” and “Le Prophète,” both recent novelties,
being the great attraction. They met with an enormous success
everywhere. Meyerbeer was in Paris, the idol of the populace. A man
possessed of undeniable genuine merit, he bartered it away for gold.
The real merit was over-laden with a thick coat of meretricious glitter.
Attractive and dazzling show was what he set before the light-hearted
public of the French capital, and they mistook the tinsel for pure gold.
But, for all that, Meyerbeer was the hero of the hour, and what was
fashionable in Paris was immediately reproduced in the fatherland towns
and cities. In matters of art Paris was the acknowledged leader of
Germany. From afar, the young ambitious music director of Königsberg
heard of the fabulous sums which Meyerbeer received for his works. He
was in the direst distress. The troubles of Magdeburg had followed him
to his new home, and he looked with longing eyes towards Paris, the El
Dorado of his dreams. He became haunted with visions of luxurious
independence, startling in their contrast to his present penurious
position. He looked about him and bestirred himself. With his accustomed
boldness, not to say audacity, he promptly wrote to Scribe, hoping by
one effort to emerge from all his trouble. What he sent to the famous
French librettist was a plan he had sketched of a grand five-act opera
based on a novel by König, “Die Hohe Braut” (“The Noble Bride”). He was
anxious for the collaboration of Scribe, since in that he saw the _open
sesame_ of the Grand Opera House, Paris. The French writer did not
reply. Wagner felt the slight. This was the second time the assistance
of an acknowledged litterateur had been solicited, and it was the last.
Laube did not satisfy him. Scribe did not notice him. Henceforth he
would rely on himself.

[Sidenote: _THE LOST OVERTURE._]

His stay at Königsberg is marked by an event of peculiar interest to
Englishmen. Wagner had heard “Rule Britannia.” He gave me his
impressions of it. He thought the whole song wonderfully descriptive of
the resolute, self-reliant character of the English people. The opening,
ascending passage, which he vigorously shouted in illustration, was, he
thought, unequalled for fearless assertiveness. The dauntless
expressiveness of its themes seemed admirably adapted for orchestral
treatment, and he therefore wrote an overture upon it. This he sent to
Sir George Smart, one of the most prominent of English musicians, justly
appreciated, among other things, for having introduced Mendelssohn’s
“Elijah” to England at the Liverpool festival of 1836. When Wagner
related this incident to me in 1855, on his visit to London, he said
that, having received no reply, he inquired and ascertained that the
score seemed to have been insufficiently prepaid for transmission, and
that Sir George Smart had refused to pay the balance, “and for all I
know,” continued Wagner, “it must still be lying in the dead-letter
office.”

A digest of Wagner’s impressions of the world beyond the footlights,
after his intimate connection with the provincial theatres of Würzburg,
Magdeburg, and Königsberg, will explain how so serious a thinker could
adapt himself to the slipshod existence of thoughtless, light-hearted
play-actors. Among modern stage reformers Richard Wagner stands in the
front rank. He was earnest. He was practical. He had experienced all
evils arising from the shortcomings of the theatre, and he knew where to
place his finger on the plague spot. His drawings and prescriptions were
those of the practical worker; and he was enabled to make them so
through the knowledge acquired during his early life behind the scenes.

What a curious medley stage life introduces one to! “My first contact
with the theatre seems like the fantastic recollection of a masked
ball,” was Wagner’s vivid description of his early stage experiences.
The stage in Germany has too frequently, for the advance of dramatic
art, been the last resort for gaining a livelihood. People of all ranks,
highly educated, or with no more than the thinnest smattering of
education, as soon as they find themselves without the means of
existence, fly to the stage. To one individual endowed by nature for the
histrionic vocation who thus adopts the profession, there are ten with
absolutely no gifts and whose appearance is due to failure in other
walks of life, or to want. All this motley group is, by the restricted
stage precincts, brought _nolens volens_ into daily contact and cannot
avoid constantly elbowing each other. Their private affairs, their
friendships, are an open secret. A special jargon is current coin among
them. Cant phrases abound and their very occupation familiarizes them
with sententious quotations on almost every subject. In no profession is
there such an ardent catering for momentary praise. It is the food, the
absolute nourishment of the actor; hence jealousy and envy exist
stronger here than anywhere else, and Byron does not exaggerate when he
speaks of “hate found only on the stage!”

[Sidenote: _READS BULWER’S “RIENZI.”_]

To Wagner’s impressionable and pageant-loving nature, the stage
possessed fascinating attractions. The free and easy intercourse that
existed between all the members of the company, actors, singers, and
orchestral performers, the existence of a sort of masonic equality, and
the general light-hearted exterior, was in accordance with the jocular
temperament of the chorus master. He was familiarly joking and laughing
with all his surroundings, a habit he retained to the day of his death.
His self-esteem would at all times insist on a certain deference to his
opinion, nor would he brook with equanimity any infraction of his ruling
as music director. From the age of twenty, when he first ruled the
chorus girls at Würzburg, down to the Bayreuth rehearsals for
“Parsifal,” at which he would illustrate his intention by gesture,
speech, and song, he was eminently the commander of his company. His
lively temperament, his love of fun, and remarkable mimetic gifts made
him a general favourite. In the supervision of operas, musically
distasteful to him, he was earnest and energetic, attending to detail
and appropriate gesture in a manner that demanded the respectful
admiration of all under his bâton. Respect and submission to his rule he
exacted as due to his office, and he rarely had difficulty in securing
it.

From Königsberg he paid a flying visit to Dresden, the city of his
school-boy days. With his accustomed omnivorous reading, scanning every
book within reach, he fell upon Bulwer Lytton’s “Rienzi.” Here was a
subject inviting treatment on a large scale. Here was a hero of the
style of William Tell and Masaniello. The spirit was revolution and
moral regeneration of the people. It was a happy chance which led him to
this story, the sentiment of which harmonized so perfectly with his own
aspirations. Visions of Paris and its grand opera house had never left
him. “Rienzi” offered the very situations calculated to impress an
audience accustomed to the gorgeous splendour of the grand opera.
Although his eyes were turned towards the French capital, and his
immediate hope the conquest of the Parisians, it was not his sole nor
ultimate desire. Paris was a means only. He saw that Paris governed
German art, and he felt that only through Paris lay his hope of success
in his fatherland. It was while under such influences that he began to
formulate “Rienzi.”

His stay in Königsberg was cut short owing to the company becoming
bankrupt. This was the second experience of the kind he had met with in
the provinces, and it helped to intensify his contempt for stage life.
He was again in money troubles. Fortunately, his old friend Dorn was
well placed at Riga and able to secure for him the post of conductor of
the opera there. The company was a good one, and its director, Hotter,
an intelligent and well-known playwright, who understood Wagner’s
artistic ambition. The young conductor was very exacting in his demands
at rehearsals. To appeal to him was useless. He was earnest and
inflexible. And yet, notwithstanding his earnestness and the trouble he
took in producing uncongenial operas, he became weary of their flimsy
material. Within him the sap of the future music-drama was beginning to
rise. His own genius and artistic tendencies were in conflict with what
was enacted before him. It was the difference between simulated and real
feeling. What he was forced to conduct was stage sentiment, what he
yearned for was life-blood. And this latter he strove to infuse into his
“Rienzi,” which was now assuming definite shape, words and part of the
music being written.

[Sidenote: _STARTS FOR PARIS._]

When two acts were finished to his satisfaction, there was no longer any
peace for him. Paris was the only fitting place where it could be
adequately represented. But how to get to Paris? At Riga, as elsewhere,
he lived beyond his means. I have before remarked on his incapability of
controlling his expenses and living within a fixed income. Minna was
thrifty and anxious, but her will was not strong enough to restrain her
self-willed husband. She was in a constant state of nervous worry, but
her devotion to Wagner prevented her making serious resistance. Now
funds were wanting for the projected Paris trip, he had none. However,
such a trivial item was not likely to thwart his ambition and to stand
in his way. He borrowed again. He was without any letters of
recommendation to Paris, spoke but very little French, and yet was full
of buoyancy and hope of the success that awaited him when there. It was
a bold, not to say reckless, venture. But it is characteristic of
Wagner. At all great junctures of his life he risked the whole of his
stakes on one card. His determination to leave Riga, and to turn his
back on the irritating miseries of a provincial theatre, led him to
embark with his wife and an enormous dog, in a small merchant vessel
_Pillau_ for London. Totally unprovided with any convenience for
passengers, badly provisioned and undermanned, the frail trading-craft
took the surprisingly long period of three weeks and a half to reach
London. It encountered severe weather and on two occasions narrowly
escaped foundering. The three passengers, Richard Wagner, his wife, and
dog, were miserably ill. On one occasion the bark was driven into a
Norwegian fiord; the crew and its passengers--there were no others on
board beside the Wagner trio--landed at a point where an old mill stood.
The poor wretches, snatched from the jaws of death, were hospitably
received by the owner, a poor man. He produced his only bottle of rum
and struck joy into all their hearts by brewing a bowl of punch. It was
evidently appreciated by the hapless ship’s company, as Wagner was
hilarious when he spoke of what he humorously called his “Adventures at
the Champagne Mill.” When the weather had cleared sufficiently the ship
set sail for London and arrived without any further mishap.



CHAPTER VII.

EIGHT DAYS IN LONDON.

1839.


[Sidenote: _LONDON IS TOO LARGE._]

His first impression of London was not a pleasant one. The day was
wretched, raining heavily, and the streets were thick with mud. At the
Custom House Wagner was helped through the vexatious passport annoyance
by a German Jew--one of those odd men always to be found about the
stations and docks ready to perform any service for a trifling
consideration. He recommended Wagner to a small, uninviting hotel in Old
Compton Street, Soho, much resorted to by needy travellers from the
continent. The hotel, considerably improved, still exists. It is
situated a dozen doors or so from Wardour Street, and is opposite to a
public house known then, as now, as the “King’s Arms.” Wagner would have
gone straight away to a first-class hotel, but this time, feeling how
very uncertain the immediate future was, he asked to be recommended to a
cheap inn. He hired a cab, one of those curious old two-wheeled
vehicles, where the driver was perilously perched at the side, and with
his big dog, carefully sheltered from the weather under the large apron
which protected the forepart of the vehicle, they started for Old
Compton Street. Arrived there without incident, such of their luggage
as they had been able to bring with them at once was carried upstairs,
and Wagner and his wife sat down gloomily regarding each other. The room
was dingy and poorly furnished, and not of a kind to brighten weary,
seasick travellers. Wagner called his dog. No response. He opened the
door, rushed down the narrow, dark staircase to the street. Alas!
Neither dog nor cab were to be seen. He inquired of every one in broken
English, but could learn nothing hopeful or certain about his dumb
friend, the companion of his journey, and silent receiver of much of his
exuberant talk. Returning to Minna, they came to the conclusion that the
dog had leaped down from underneath the covering while the luggage was
being transported upstairs. But where was he now? They had not the
faintest clue, and knew not in which direction to seek for him. That
evening, their first in London, was one of sorrow and discomfort. The
next morning Wagner went back to the docks and gleaned tidings
sufficient only to dishearten him the more. The dog had been seen the
previous evening. Back to Old Compton Street, disconsolate; he had
scarcely ascended the first flight of stairs when, his step recognised,
loud barks of welcome greeted him from above. The dog was there. It had
found its way into the room where his wife had remained during his
absence. The poor beast was bespattered with mud, but this did not
prevent Wagner affectionately fondling him. To Wagner the return of the
dog was wonderful. How a dumb brute, that had seen absolutely nothing
during the journey from the docks to Old Compton Street, could find its
way back to the old starting-place, and then retrace its steps was a
marvellous instance of canine instinct, and one which endeared the race
to him deeper than ever, a love that endured to the last.

Wagner remained in London about eight days, time to look round and to
arrange for passage to Boulogne, where Meyerbeer was staying, and from
whom he hoped to receive introductions to Paris. Although Wagner could
read English he was not sufficient master of it to understand it when
spoken. This in some degree accounts for the slight interest he felt in
his London visit. But he made the best use of his time. He was living
within a quarter of an hour’s walk of the house in Great Portland Street
where his “adored idol,” Weber, had died. To that shrine he made his
first pilgrimage, to reverently gaze upon the hallowed house. He
traversed all London, determining to see everything. The vastness of the
metropolis with its boundless sea of houses oppressed him. He had
strong, decided opinions as to what the dimensions of a town should be,
attributing much of the poverty and misery of large towns to their
overgrowth, and felt that when a township exceeded certain limits it was
beyond the control of a governing body, and that neglect in some form or
another would soon make itself felt. No city, he used to argue, should
be larger than Dresden then was.

[Sidenote: _FASCINATED BY SHIPS._]

He was amazed and most disagreeably surprised with the bustle of the
city. It bewildered him, and, as he expressed it, “fretted his artistic
soul out of him.” The great extremes of poverty and riches, dwelling in
close proximity to each other, were a sad, unsolvable enigma. His
lodgings were perhaps in one of the worst neighbourhoods of London. Old
Compton Street abutted on the Seven Dials. There he saw misery under
some of its saddest aspects, and then, but a few minutes’ walk and he
found himself amidst the luxury of Oxford Street and Regent Street. The
feelings engendered by this glaring inequality in his radical spirit
were never effaced. He thought that the English in their character,
their institutions, and habits were strangely contradictory, and the
impressions of 1839 were confirmed on his subsequent visits to this
country. The grand, extensive parks, open to all, delighted him. In
Germany he had seen no parks, and where public walks or gardens had been
laid out, walking on the grass was prohibited, whilst here no officious
guardian attempted to interfere with the free perambulation of the
visitor. The bearing of the police, too, equally surprised him. Here
they were ready with information, acting as protectors of the public,
whereas in Germany at that period they were aggressive and bureaucratic.
It is curious, but at no time do I remember Wagner speaking of having
visited any of the London theatres in 1839, whilst in 1855, when he was
here for the second time, he went to almost every place of amusement
then open, even those of third-rate order. But if in London he fell upon
“sunny places,” compared with his German home, he also was sorely tried.
As I have remarked, his rooms were in a very unaristocratic quarter. The
bane of all studious Englishmen, especially musicians--the imported
organ-grinder, unknown in Germany--worried the excitable composer out of
all patience. The Seven Dials was a favourite haunt of the wandering
minstrel, and the man who retired at night, full of wild imaginings as
to his “Rienzi,” was worked into a state of frenzy by two rival organ
men grinding away, one at each end of the street.

The immensity of the shipping below London Bridge was a wonderful sight
to him. He had come into dock in a tiny, frail sailing craft, the cradle
of “The Flying Dutchman,” after a hazardous passage across the North
Sea. The size and number of the trading vessels appealed direct to his
largely developed imaginative faculty. He pictured the mysterious
Vanderdecken in this and that vessel, and was full of strange fancies of
the spectral crew. The sea of sail so fascinated him that he took a
special river trip to Greenwich, the closer to inspect the shipping, and
with the further intent to visit the Naval Pensioners’ hospital.

When it was known at the hotel in Old Compton Street that he was about
starting for Greenwich, he was advised to go over the _Dreadnought_
hospital-ship, then lying in the river just above Greenwich. He seized
at the suggestion. The _Dreadnought_ was one of the vessels of Nelson’s
conquering fleet in the famous battle of Trafalgar, in the year 1805.
Wagner was a devoted worshipper of great men. An opportunity now
presented itself to inspect one of the wooden walls of England. It is a
widely known fact that hero-worship was a salient feature of Wagner’s
character. He always referred to Weber as his “adored idol” or “adored
master,” and for Beethoven he was equally enthusiastic. The “Dutchman,”
that weird story of the sea, had taken possession of him, and a visit to
so celebrated a ship as the _Dreadnought_ was an occasion of some
importance. In his maturer age, when closer acquaintance with the
English people had given him the right to express an opinion as to
their nature, he said that in his judgment they were the most poetic of
European nations. Poetry, with them, lay not on the surface as with the
impetuous Gauls, nor was it sought after and cultivated as with the
Germans; but with the English it was deep in their hearts and associated
with their national institutions in a manner unknown among any other
modern people. No nation has produced such a galaxy of poetic
luminaries. The employment of the disabled battle-ship as a refuge for
worn-out seamen, men who had fought their country’s battles, was, he
thought, an incontestable proof of a poetic sentiment founded in the
heart of a nation and fostered by natural love. I am aware how much this
is in opposition to the judgment of the English by a man who enjoyed a
high social standing and intimate acquaintance with the best of Albion’s
intellect, viz. Lord Beaconsfield, whose famous dictum it was that the
“English people care for nothing but religion, politics, and commerce,”
but the thoughtful opinion of a poet of acknowledged celebrity, Wagner
himself, I have deemed it advisable to set forth.

[Sidenote: _IN POETS’ CORNER._]

The visit to the _Dreadnought_ left an indelible impression upon Wagner.
Arrived at the ship, he was in the act of ascending the pilot ladder put
over the side of the vessel, by which passengers came on board, when his
snuff-box fell out of his pocket into the water. The snuff-box was the
gift of Schroeder-Devrient. He prized it highly and attempted to clutch
it in its fall. In so doing, it seems he lost his hold of the ladder and
was himself only saved from immersion by his presence of mind and
gymnastic ability. The precious snuff-box was lost, but the composer of
“Parsifal” was saved. From the _Dreadnought_ he went with the nervous
Minna to the Greenwich hospital. Wagner had the habit of talking loudly
in public, and while walking about the building, seeing a pensioner
taking snuff, he said to Minna, “Could I speak English, I would ask him
for a pinch.” Wagner was an inveterate snuff-taker from early manhood.
Imagine Wagner’s surprise and delight when the Greenwich snuff-taker
accosted him with, “Here you are, my friend,” in good German. The
pensioner proved to be a Saxon by birth, and, delighted to hear his
native tongue, was soon at home with his interlocutor. He told him that
he was perfectly contented with his lot, but that his companions, the
English, were dissatisfied and were “a grumbling lot.”

Wagner was filled with admiration at the generosity and beneficence
displayed in the bounteous provision for the comfort of the pensioners.
He told me his thoughts sped back to the German sailors on the East
Prussian coast, their miserably poor and scanty food, their ill-clothed
forms, and the general poverty of their position, when he saw the
apparently unlimited supplies of good, wholesome provisions and
substantial clothing; and yet, he said, the poor Germans are contented,
while the Greenwich pensioners complain.

Wagner had been but two days in London in 1855, when he took me off to
Westminster. This was not his first visit to the national mausoleum; he
had been there in 1839, and recollections of that occasion induced him
at once to revisit the Abbey. We went specially to pay homage to the
great men in Poets’ Corner, Shakespeare’s monument being the main
attraction. It will be remembered that his first effort in English had
been a translation from Shakespeare, and I found that with increasing
years such an enthusiasm for the great dramatist had been developed as
was only possible in the ardent brain of an earnest poet. While
contemplating the Shakespeare monument on his first visit, it seems he
was led to a train of thought, the substance of which he related to me
in our 1855 visit. At the time I considered it noteworthy as an
important psychological feature and now relate it here. In reflecting
over the work done by the British genius, and its far-reaching influence
in creating a new form, he was carried back to the classic school of
ancient Greece and its Roman imitator.

The ancient classic and the modern romantic schools were opposed to each
other. The English founder of the modern school had cast aside all the
rigid rules of the classical writers, which even the powerful efforts of
the three Frenchmen, Corneille, Racine, and Voltaire, had been unable to
revivify. In these reflections, referring to an antecedent period of
sixteen years, I have often thought I could discern the germ of his
daring revolution in musical form. Turning from the serious to the gay,
as was his wont at all times, he added that his reverie had a
commonplace ending. Minna plucked his sleeve, saying, “Komm, Lieber
Richard, du standst hier zwanzig minuten wie eine Bildsaule, ohne ein
Wort zusprechen” (Come, dear Richard, you have been standing here for
twenty minutes like one of these statues, and not uttered a word), and
when he repeated to her the substance of his meditations, he found as
usual she understood but little the serious import of his speech.

[Sidenote: _MINNA LIKES LONDON._]

Wagner’s anxiety to reach the goal of his ambition left him no peace,
and on the eighth day after his arrival in London he left by steamer for
Boulogne.

The London visit charmed Minna. The quiet, unobtrusive manner of the
English pleased her, but annoyed Wagner. He was irritated by their
stolidity, and complained always of a want of expansiveness in them.
Their stiff politeness he thought angular, and the impression did not
wear off during his second visit. These first eight days were not wholly
pleasant to him. He was anxious to get to Paris, and all his thoughts
were turned towards the city of the grand opera. Minna carried away
pleasant recollections, but Wagner thought his dog was the happiest of
all, for in London he had been provided daily with special dog’s fare,
an institution unknown in Germany.



CHAPTER VIII.

BOULOGNE, 1839.


[Sidenote: _MEETING WITH MEYERBEER._]

The passage to Boulogne began pleasantly, but a bad sailor at all times,
he did not escape the invariable discomforts of a channel journey. His
large Newfoundland dog, for whom he had an affection almost parental,
was on board, and excited general interest. Two Jewish ladies, named
Manson, mother and daughter, hearing Wagner speak German to his wife and
dog, soon entered into conversation with him through the medium of the
dog. Speaking a vitiated German with a facility which seems to be the
heirloom of the tribe of Judah, they discussed music, and with a
familiarity also characteristic of the race they told Wagner they were
going to spend a few days in Boulogne before proceeding to Paris.
Interested in music, they at once blundered into the delusion, common to
all the race, that every great composer was a Jew, supporting their
assertion by naming Mendelssohn, Halévy, Rossini, and their personal
intimate, Meyerbeer, including also Haydn, Mozart, and Weber. Wagner
seized with such eagerness at the name of Meyerbeer that he did not stop
to disprove the supposed Israelitic descent of Haydn, Mozart, and Weber.
As the ladies were going to call on Meyerbeer, they promised to apprise
him of Wagner’s intended visit. In this opportune meeting, Wagner
thought fate seemed to be stretching out a helping hand to the young
German, he who had abandoned in disgust his post of conductor at Riga,
to compel the admiration of Paris for his genius. With Meyerbeer at
Boulogne and a friendly introduction to the ruler of the Paris Grand
Opera, the future seemed promising. Notwithstanding his wife’s
misgivings he did not hesitate to accompany his travelling companions to
their hotel. The expenses were so great, and out of all proportion to
his scanty funds, that in a few days he sought a more humble abode.

He saw Meyerbeer, and though he was received amicably enough, yet were
his first impressions not altogether agreeable. The ever-present smile
of the composer of the “Huguenots” seemed studied and insincere, as
though it was rather the outcome of simulated affability than of natural
good feeling. Meyerbeer was a polished courtier, his manners bland and
his speech unctuous. Diplomatic, committing himself to nothing, he
seemingly promised everything. The impassioned language of the young
idealist, his fervid outpourings on art, surprised and startled the
worldly-wise Meyerbeer. The earnest expression of honest conviction
rarely fails to excite interest even in the shrewd business man of the
world. Meyerbeer listened attentively to Wagner’s story of his early
struggles, and of his hopes for the future, ending by fixing a meeting
for the next day, when the “Rienzi” poem might be read. The subject and
treatment pleased Meyerbeer greatly. From all that is known of him, it
is clear that his great and only gift lay in the treatment of spectacle.
The stage effects which “Rienzi” offered were many, and the situations
powerful. Both features were then adjudged imperative for a successful
grand opera in Paris, and in proportion as the “Rienzi” book promised
spectacular display, so Meyerbeer grew eulogistic and generous in his
promises of help. Wagner was strongly of opinion that Meyerbeer’s first
friendly feeling was won entirely by the striking tableaux of the story.
Meyerbeer discussed with Wagner kindred scenes and situations in “Les
Huguenots,” and such comparison was made between the two books, that
Wagner was forced to the conclusion that effect was the chief aim of
Meyerbeer, and truth a subordinate consideration.

[Sidenote: _MEYERBEER HEARS “RIENZI.”_]

But to have won the unstinted praise of the enormously popular opera
composer seemed to promise immediate and certain success. It unduly
elated him, so that when he experienced the difficulties of getting his
work accepted at the Paris Grand Opera House, the shock was more severe
and harder to bear. But in Boulogne everything augured well. Indeed,
Meyerbeer expressed himself so strongly on the libretto as to request
Scribe to write one for him in imitation of it. When talking over this
incident with me, Wagner said that he believed Meyerbeer’s lavish praise
of the book was uttered partly with a view to its purchase, but that
Wagner’s enthusiasm for his own work prevented Meyerbeer making a direct
offer. However this may have been, from Wagner’s plain language to me
there is no doubt at all in my mind that Meyerbeer did feel his way to
purchase the “Rienzi” text for his own purpose. Another meeting was
arranged for trying the music. On leaving Meyerbeer, he went direct to
relate all to the expectant Minna. As was his wont at all times after an
event of unusual import, he made this a cause of festivity. With Minna
he went to dine at a restaurant, and with juvenile exultation ordered
his favourite beverage, a half bottle of champagne. To Wagner champagne
represented the perfection of “terrestrial enjoyment,” as he often
phrased it. While sipping their wine they met their newly made
acquaintances, the Mansons. Flushed with his recent success, he
recounted the whole of the morning episode. The Mansons advised him to
stay in Boulogne as long as he could whilst Meyerbeer was there, arguing
that he was such an amiable man, and since his good-will had been won
was sure to do all he could to promote Wagner’s success; and they added
significantly, “He has the power to do all.”

The trying over of the “Rienzi” music with Meyerbeer was as successful
as the reading of the book. Two acts only were then completed, but with
these Meyerbeer expressed himself perfectly satisfied. It was just the
music to be successful in Paris, and he prognosticated for Wagner a
triumph with the Parisians. In discussing the incident with me, Wagner
said he believed Meyerbeer’s laudation of the music was perfectly
sincere, “for,” he cynically added, “the first two acts are just the
very part of the opera which please me least, and which I should like to
disown.” It means that Meyerbeer committed the unpardonable fault in
Wagner’s eyes of praising the careful and neat writing of the composer
when the score was opened. On all occasions Wagner would become
irritated if his really remarkably neat writing were praised. He would
say it was like praising the frame at the expense of the picture, and a
slight on the intelligence of the composer.

Wagner took his place at the piano without being asked, and impetuously
attacked the score in his own rough-and-ready manner. Meyerbeer was
astonished at the rough handling of his piano. He was himself a highly
finished performer on the instrument, having begun his public artistic
career as a pianist. Wagner supplied as well as he could the vocal parts
(with as little technical perfection as his piano-playing), whilst
Meyerbeer carefully studied the score over the performer’s shoulder. The
opinion of Meyerbeer was most flattering, his admiration for Wagner
intensifying greatly when at a subsequent meeting he went through the
only complete work Wagner had brought with him to conquer Paris--“Das
Liebesverbot.” Before such lavish and warm praise Wagner’s first
distrust of Meyerbeer melted as snow before the sun’s rays. Meyerbeer
pointed to what he considered many admirable stage effects in the “Das
Liebesverbot” libretto, and thought that a man so young who could write
that and the “Rienzi” text was sure of future celebrity as a dramatist.

Meyerbeer was profuse in his promises of help, and proposed at once to
recommend him to the director of a small Paris theatre and opera house,
though he pointed out to Wagner that letters of recommendation were of
little avail compared to personal introduction. But buoyed with such
testimonials and a letter from the Mansons, he left Boulogne, where he
was known as “le petit homme avec le grand chien,” for Paris, again
accompanied by his wife and dumb friend.



CHAPTER IX.

PARIS, 1839-1842.


That a young artist but six and twenty years of age, with a wife
dependent on him for existence, unknown to fame, almost penniless, and
even without art works that he could show in evidence of his ability,
should boldly assault the stronghold of European musical criticism,
confident of success, often flitted before Wagner’s mind in after-life
as an act of temerity closely allied to insanity. “And ah!” he has added
in tones of bitter pain, “I had to pay for it dearly: my privations and
sufferings were as the tortures in Dante’s ‘Purgatorio.’” “But why did
you undertake such a seemingly Quixotic expedition?” I asked. “Because
at that time Paris was the resort of almost every artist of note,
whether painter, sculptor, poet, or musician, and even statesmen, when
all Europe clothed itself with the livery of Paris fashion.” He felt
within him a power which urged him forward without fear of failure, and
so he came to Paris.

Germany offered no encouragement to native talent. Paris was the gate to
the fatherland. First achieve success in Paris, and then his German
countrymen would receive him with open arms. It is true, that even a
short residence in Paris invested an artist with a certain superiority
over his confrères.

As Wagner had but a very imperfect acquaintance with the French
language, he at once sought out the relative of the Mansons to whom he
had been recommended. I have been unable to recall the surname of
Wagner’s new friend, but do remember well that he was spoken of as
Louis. This Monsieur Louis was a Jew and a German. He proved an
exceedingly faithful and constant companion of Wagner’s during his stay
in Paris, indeed played the part of factotum to the Wagner household. He
must have been quite an exceptional friend, for on one occasion, when
Wagner and I were discussing Judaism _per se_, he turned to me and with
unusual warmth even for him, said, “How can I feel any prejudice against
the Jews as men, when I sincerely believe that it was excess of
friendship of poor Louis for me that killed him,--running about in all
weathers, exerting himself everywhere, undertaking most unpleasant
missions to find me work, and all whilst suffering from consumption. He
did it too from pure love of me without any thought of self.” Through
the aid of Louis he found a modest lodging in a dingy house. The future
was so much an uncertainty that with the remembrance of the first days
of the Boulogne expensive hotel before him, he yielded to Minna’s
persuasiveness and reconciled himself to the new abode. He was told that
Molière was born there; indeed, a bust of the great Frenchman did, I
believe, adorn the front of the house, and this helped to make him
accept his new quarters with a little more contentment than his own
ambitious notions would have admitted.

[Sidenote: _TROUBLES IN PARIS._]

Settled in his scantily furnished rooms, with ready business habits, so
unusual in a genius, he made it his first duty to call wherever he had
been recommended. Difficult as it may be in any European city to gain
access to the houses of prominent men, in Paris the troubles are
greater, if only on account of that terrible Cerberus, the concierge,
who instinctively divines an applicant for favours, and as skilfully
throws obstacles in the way while angling for pourboires.

Disappointment upon disappointment met Wagner. Nowhere was he
successful. In speech at all times he uttered himself _en prince_, and
for a man seeking the favour and patronage of others this feature
militated against him. Meyerbeer had told him in Boulogne that letters
of introduction would avail him little or nothing, and that only by
personal introduction could he hope to make headway. But though
unsuccessful in every direction, he was not the man to give up without
desperate efforts. In a few months his funds were entirely exhausted.
Where to turn for the necessary money to provide the daily sustenance
was the exciting trouble of the moment. His family in Germany had helped
him at first, but material help soon gave place to sage advice. Barren
criticism on his “mad” Parisian visit, and admonition on his present
mode of existence, Wagner would not brook, and so communications soon
ceased between him and Germany. But how to live was the harrowing
question. It is with feelings of acute pain that I am forced to recall
the deep distress that overwhelmed this mighty genius, and the
humiliating acts to which cruel necessity drove him. After one more
wretched day than the last he suggested to Minna the raising of
temporary loans upon her trinkets. Let the reader try and realize the
proud Wagner’s misery and anguish, when Minna confessed that such as she
had were already so disposed of, Louis having performed the wretched
office.

[Sidenote: _ARRANGING POPULAR MUSIC._]

This state of sad absolute poverty lasted for months. He could gain no
access to theatres or opera house. He offered himself as chorus master,
he would have taken the meanest appointment, but everything failed him.
With no prospect of succeeding as a musician, he turned to the press. As
he possessed a facile pen and a wide acquaintance with current
literature, he sought for existence as a newspaper hack. Here he
succeeded, and deemed himself fortunate to obtain even that thankless
work. The one man to whom he owed the chief means of existence during
this wretched Paris sojourn was a Jew, Maurice Schlesinger, the great
music publisher and proprietor of the “Gazette Musicale,” a weekly
periodical. It is curious to note how again he finds a kind friend in a
Jew. For Schlesinger he wrote critical notices and feuilletons upon art
topics, one, now famous in Wagner’s collected writings as “A Pilgrimage
to Beethoven.” The pilgrimage is wholly imaginary for as I have already
stated Wagner never saw Beethoven. The paper itself contains some
remarkable foreshadowings of the matured, thinking Wagner and his
revolutionary art principles. He also wrote for other papers, Schumann’s
“Die Neue Zeitschrift,” for a Dresden journal, and the “Europa,” a
fashionable art publication which occasionally printed original tonal
compositions. For this last paper he wrote three romances, “Dors mon
enfant,” “Attente,” and “Mignonne.” He hoped by these to gain some entry
into the Paris fashionable world, but, though he tried to assimilate his
style to the popular drawing-room ballad of the day, his songs were
pronounced “too serious,” and met with no success.

But alas! his literary work was not financially productive enough, and
dire necessity drove him to very uncongenial musical drudgery. For the
same music-seller, Schlesinger, he made “arrangements” from popular
Italian operas, for every kind of instrument. He told me that “La
Favorita” had been arranged by him from the first note to the last. The
whole of this occupation, to a man as intimate with the orchestra as he,
was an easy task, yet very uninteresting and to him humiliating. But
though suffering actual privation, he would not give lessons in music.
Teaching was an occupation which, even in the darkest days, he would not
entertain for a moment.

Such were the means by which Richard Wagner gained an existence during
his Paris sojourn. But they were not productive enough. Often he was in
absolute want. It was then in this hour of tribulation that the golden
qualities of Minna were proved. Sorrow, the touch-stone of man’s worth,
tried her and she was not found wanting. The hitherto quiet and gentle
housewife was transformed into a heroine. Her placid disposition was
healing comfort to the disappointed, wearied musician. The whole of the
Paris period is “a gem of purest ray serene” in the diadem of Minna
Wagner. Thoughts of what the self-denying, devoted little woman did then
has many a time brought tears to Wagner’s eyes. The most menial house
duties were performed by her with willing cheerfulness. She cleaned the
house, stood at the wash-tub, did the mending and the cooking. She hid
from the husband as much of the discomforts attaching to their poor
home as was possible. She never complained, and always strove to present
a bright, cheerful face, consoling and upholding him at all times. In
the evening she and his dog, the same that was temporarily lost in
London, were his regular companions on the boulevards. The bustle of
life and the Parisians diverted him from more anxious thoughts, whilst
supplying him with constant food for his ever-ready wit.

In dress Wagner was at all times scrupulously neat. After nearly a
year’s residence in Paris, the clothes he had brought with him from
Germany were showing sad signs of wear. The year had been fruitless from
a money point, and his wardrobe had not been replenished. His
sensitiveness on this topic was of course well known to Minna. To give
him pleasure she hunted Paris to find, if possible, some German tailor
in a small way of business who, swayed by the blandishments of Minna,
provided her with a suit of clothes for her husband for his birthday,
22d May, 1840, agreeing to wait for payment until more favourable times.
This delicate and thoughtful attention on the part of Minna deeply
touched Wagner, and he related the incident to me in illustration of the
loving affection she bore him. He said that during those three years of
pinching poverty and bitter disappointments his temperament was variable
and trying. It was hard to bear with him. Vexed and worn with fruitless
trials to secure a hearing for his “Rienzi,” angered at witnessing the
lavish expenditure at the opera house upon works inferior to his own, he
has admitted that his already passionate nature was intensified, and yet
all his outbursts were met by Minna in an uncomplaining, soothing
spirit, which, the first fury over, he was not slow to acknowledge. Her
sacrifices for him and all she did became only known years after, when
their worldly position had changed vastly for the better. He never
forgot her devotion, nor did he ever hide his indebtedness and gratitude
to her from his friends.

[Sidenote: _FRIENDSHIP WITH JEWS._]

During the three years that Wagner was in Paris, he was brought into
communication with several prominent men in the world of art, men
eminent in literature, in music, both as composers and as executants, in
painting, and other phases of art. Of the dozen or so of men with whom
he thus became more intimately acquainted, the greater portion were his
own countrymen and about half were Jews. This constant close intimacy of
Wagner with the descendants of Judah is a curious feature in his life,
and shows that when he wrote as strongly as he did of Jews and their art
work, his judgments were based upon close personal knowledge of the
question. As may be supposed, the acquaintance of a young man between
twenty-six and thirty years of age with these several thinkers and
writers, could not fail to influence, more or less, an impressionable
and receptive nature.

It was an odd freak of fortune that almost immediately after Wagner had
settled in Paris, he should, by accident, meet in the streets an old
friend from Leipzic, Heinrich Laube. It was in a paper edited by Laube
that Richard Wagner’s first printed article on the non-existence of
German opera had appeared. That was when Wagner was about one and
twenty. Laube was a political revolutionist who underwent several terms
of imprisonment for daring to utter his thoughts about Germany and its
government through his paper. But prison confinement never controlled
the dauntless courage of the patriot. He was a man of considerable and
varied gifts. It is not only as a political demagogue that he will be
known in future times, but as a philosopher, novelist, and playwright.
In Leipzic he had shown himself very friendly to Wagner, whose sound,
vigorous judgment attracted him, and now after hearing of Wagner’s
precarious situation, offered to introduce him to Heine. Such an
opportunity could not be lost, and so the cultured Hebrew poet and
Richard Wagner met.

[Sidenote: _MEETS HEINRICH HEINE._]

A curious trio this: Laube, hard-featured and unpleasant to look upon,
with a weirdness begotten possibly of frequent incarcerations,--a
strange contrast to the handsome, regular-featured, soft-spoken Heine;
and then the pale, slim, young Wagner, short in stature, but with
piercing eyes and voluble speech which surprised and amazed the cynical
Heine. When Heinrich Heine heard that Meyerbeer had given Wagner
introductions, he doubted the abilities of the newcomer. Heine was
strongly biassed against Meyerbeer and distrusted his sincerity.
Although the meeting with Laube was a delight to Wagner, as it brought
back to him all his youthful enthusiasm and hope, yet his appreciation
of the accomplished writer, which in Leipzic amounted almost to
reverence, had been by time and events considerably lessened. Wagner’s
greatest majesty, earnestness, was wanting in Laube. The litterateur in
Wagner’s estimation had no fixed purpose, no ideal. He frittered away
considerable gifts in innumerable directions. Incongruities the most
glaring not unfrequently appeared in his writings. A paragraph of sound
philosophical reasoning would be followed by a page of the merest
bombastic phraseology. In his dramatic efforts tragedy and farce were
placed in amazing juxtaposition. He wrote a large number of novels, but
not one proved entirely satisfactory. “Reisenovellen” was an imitation
of Heine, but it fell immeasurably below the standard attained by his
model. His best literary production was, without doubt, the history of
his life in prison, which interests and touches us by its simplicity.
However, Wagner could not resist the attraction which Laube’s
peculiarities possessed for him. The litterateur’s unprepossessing
pedantic exterior contrasted strangely with his voluptuous and
imaginative mind. Possessed of a brain specially fitted for the
conception of the noblest schemes for the freedom of human thought, he
often childishly indulged in a roguish _plaisanterie_. From a thoughtful
disquisition on the philosophy of Hegel he glides into the description
of such unworthy topics as a ball-room, love behind the scenes,
coffee-room conversation, etc. But, curiously, his revolutionary
tendencies in all other matters were in strange contrast to his
tenacious clinging to the then existing opera form, and Wagner’s
outspoken notions about the regeneration of the opera into that of the
musical drama were vehemently opposed by him.

In Heinrich Heine Wagner found a more congenial listener to his advanced
theories. Although Heine’s appreciation of music was not based on any
more solid ground than that of a general acquaintance with the operas
then in vogue, he was far more affected, and was a greater critic on the
tonal art than his contemporary, Laube. Heine had resided in Paris since
1830, and was thoroughly acclimatized to Parisian taste. He was accepted
as the representative of modern German poetry, and his works,
particularly “Les deux Grenadiers,” “Les Polonais de la vraie Pologne,”
were popular amongst all classes. Heine was pre-eminently spiritual, a
quality exceedingly appreciated by the French; hence his popularity.
However serious or painful the topic, Heine could enliven it by his
clever Jewish antithetic wit. Heine received Wagner with a certain
amount of reserve. His respect for musicians was not great. He had found
many who, with the exception of their musical knowledge, were
uncultured. Wagner’s thorough acquaintance with literature, especially
that of the earlier writers, agreeably surprised him, and the composer’s
elevated idea of the sacred mission of music touched the nobler chords
of the poet’s nature. His opinion on Wagner, as quoted by Laube,
presents an interesting example of Heine’s perspicacity. As a specimen
of unaffected appreciation from a critic like Heine, who rarely sat in
judgment without giving vent to a vitiated vein of sarcasm, it is most
interesting.

“I cannot help feeling a lively interest in Wagner. He is endowed with
an inexhaustible, productive mind, kept almost uninterruptedly in
activity by a vivacious temperament. From an individuality so replete
with modern culture, it is possible to expect the development of a solid
and powerful modern music.” Heine could never refrain from employing a
degenerated imitation of irony, called persiflage, as a weapon for the
purpose of mockery, and for the production of effect. Heine’s
imagination is bold, and his language idiosyncratic, though not
affected. His sentiment is deep, but his fault is the want of an ideal
outside the circle of his own ideas. In his poems, effeminate tenderness
is contrasted by a vigorous boldness, the purest sentiment by sensual
frivolity, noble thought by the meanest vulgarity, and lofty aspirations
by painful indifference. Whilst overturning all existing theories and
institutions, he failed to establish any one salutary doctrine.

[Sidenote: _SCHLESINGER’S ADMIRATION._]

It was a happy chance for Wagner that a man in the prominent position of
Schlesinger should have interested himself in a young musician, whose
nature was the opposite of his own. A shrewd music-seller, with an eye
always to the main chance, and an art enthusiast in close intimacy, was
a strange spectacle, only to be accounted for by the fact that opposite
natures attract, whereas similar characters repel each other.
Schlesinger admired in Wagner the very qualities of earnestness and
enthusiasm which were lacking in his own being. Meyerbeer was his deity.
It was one day in a mail coach that I found myself the travelling-companion
of Schlesinger. He talked the whole day, of Meyerbeer principally. He
said that Meyerbeer showed a commercial sagacity in composing his works
which was remarkable. Behind the stage he was as painstaking with
artists and the _mise-en scène_ as he was careful in the comfortable
seating of critics. Not the smallest journalist, nor even their
relations, failed to be seated well. Meyerbeer was the embodiment of the
art of _savoir faire_. It seemed to me, then, a curious contradiction in
my companion’s character, that he could regard such phases in a man’s
character as wonderful, and at the same time have listened to the
intemperate outpourings of the earnest Wagner. But it was so.

At the back of Schlesinger’s music shop was a room where artists
casually met for conversation. Wagner, owing to the “musical
arrangements” for the firm and being writer for Schlesinger’s “Gazette
Musicale,” was a frequent visitor. He met many known men and noted their
speech. It all tended one way. The French were light-hearted, persiflage
was a principal subject of their composition, and for such a public only
light dainties were to be provided. They wanted the semblance and not
the reality. Amusement first and truth after. His own romances, penned,
as he hoped, in a fittingly light manner, were not light enough and as a
consequence were not pleasing enough.

[Sidenote: _WAGNER AND BERLIOZ._]

With Berlioz his relations were less happy. The two men met often, but
were mutually antagonistic. They admired each other always. Both were
serious and earnest, but their friendship was never intimate. In
after-life the same strained bearing towards each other was maintained.
From close observation of the two men under my roof, at the same table,
and under circumstances when they were open heart with each other, I
should say however that the constraint arose purely from their
antagonistic individualities. Berlioz was reserved, self-possessed, and
dignified. His clear, transparent delivery was as the rhythmic cadence
of a fountain. Wagner was boisterous, effusive, and his words leaped
forth as the rushing of a mountain torrent. Wagner undoubtedly in Paris
learned much from Berlioz. The new and refined orchestration taught, or
perhaps I should rather say indicated, to Wagner what could be done with
the orchestra. Indeed, Wagner has said that the instrumentation of
Berlioz influenced him, but disagrees with the use to which the
orchestra was put. To Berlioz it was the end: to Wagner, a means.
Berlioz expended his ideas in special colouristic effects, whilst
Wagner’s pre-eminent desire was truthfulness of situation, the orchestra
serving as the medium for the delineation of his ideas. Wagner paid
Berlioz a tribute in Paris by declaring that he was distinguished from
his Parisian colleagues, that he did not compose for money, and then in
the same breath sarcastically asserts that “he lacks all sense of
beauty.” This I think unfair, nor do I consider it as representing what
Wagner really wished to convey. Berlioz was undoubtedly possessed of
ideality, his intentions were noble and earnest, but in their execution
he fell short of his conceptions. However, he towers above all French
composers for earnestness of purpose and strength of intellect.

Although Wagner often and strongly disagreed with Heine’s judgment in
matters of art, yet with one, the poet’s racy notice dated April, 1840,
published in “Lutèce,” a miscellaneous collection of letters upon
artistic and social life in Paris, he felt that the pungent criticism
was not altogether wide of the truth. Wagner kept the notice, and when
he and Berlioz were in this country together in 1855, he gave it to me,
remarking that though grotesque it was in the main faithful. As it is
very interesting I reproduce it:--

     We will begin to-day by Berlioz, whose first concert has served as
     the début of the musical season, as the overture, so to speak. His
     productions, more or less new, which have been performed, found a
     just tribute of applause, and even the most indolent present were
     aroused by the force of his genius, which revels in creations of
     the “grand master.” There is a flapping of wings, but it is not of
     an ordinary bird, it is a colossal nightingale, a skylark of the
     grandeur of the eagle, as it existed, it is said, in the primitive
     world. Yes, the music of Berlioz, in general, has for me something
     primitive, if not antediluvian, and it makes me think of extinct
     gigantic beasts, of mammoths, of fabulous worlds, and of fabulous
     sins; indeed, of impossibilities piled one upon another. His magic
     accents recall to us Babylon, the suspended gardens of Semiramis,
     the marvels of Nineveh, the bold edifices of Mizraim, such as are
     seen in the pictures of the Englishman, Martin. Indeed, if we seek
     for analogous productions in the realms of the painter’s art, we
     find a perfect resemblance with the elective Berlioz and the
     eccentric Englishman. The same outrageous sentiment of the
     prodigious, of the excessive, of material immensity. With one
     brilliant effect of light and darkness, with the other thundery
     instrumentation: with one little melody, with the other little
     colour, in both a perfect absence of beauty and of naïveté. Their
     works are neither antique nor romantic, they recall to us neither
     the Greek pagan, nor the mediæval catholic, but seem to lift us to
     the highest point of Assyrico-Babylonio-Egyptian architecture, and
     bear us back to those poems in stone which trace in the pyramids
     the passion of humanity, the eternal mystery of the world.

[Sidenote: _A NATIONAL DRAMA._]

Of the other notabilities in the art world with whom Richard Wagner came
into contact in Paris, the chief were Halévy, Vieuxtemps, Scribe, and
Kietz. For Halévy he had great admiration. His music was honest. It had
a national flavour in it. It was of the French, French. There was a
visible effort to reflect in tones the mind and sentiment of a people
which was highly meritorious. He was the legitimate descendant of Auber,
the founder of a really national French opera. If conventionality proved
too strong for Auber, Halévy made less effort to throw off the thraldom.
The latter was wholly in the hands of opera directors, singers, ballet
masters, etc. Had he been a strong man, an artist of determination,
governed more with the noble desire to elevate his glorious art than of
pleasing popular favourites, he might have done great things. Opera
comique represented truly the national taste of the Gauls. Auber and
Halévy were the men who, assisted by Boildieu, could have laid a sure
foundation, but conventionality proved too powerful for all three.

It is not difficult to understand why Wagner so constantly made a
“national music-drama” the subject of discourse. In his judgment a drama
reflecting the culture and life of a people was the noblest teacher of
men. It appeals direct to the heart and understanding. It is the mirror
of themselves, purified, idealized, and as such cannot fail to be the
most powerful and effective moral instructor. “National drama” was an
undying subject with Wagner. His constant effort was the founding of a
national art for his own compatriots. It was the ambition of his life,
so that after the first and so grandly successful festival performance
of the “Nibelungen” in the Bayreuth theatre, 1876, his address to the
spectators began, “My children, you have here a really German art.” No
wonder, then, that he spoke in Paris with such earnestness of the
absence of a true national opera, and of the destruction of such as
there promised to be through the attention lavished on Rossini and
Donizetti. Halévy’s “La Juive,” a grand opera, Wagner considered a
particularly praiseworthy work, and thought it promised great things. So
much did he consider it worthy of notice, that when later on he became
conductor of the Dresden Opera House, he devoted great attention to its
production and adequate rendering.

Vieuxtemps, Wagner met occasionally, but was on less intimate terms with
him. He admired him as a virtuoso on the violin; he had a grand style,
but in his conversation and writings he was without any distinguishing
or attractive ability, adhering so steadfastly to the rigid classical
form that there was little sympathy between them. In Scribe he admired
the skill and esprit of his stage works. He saw that the Frenchman most
accurately gauged the taste of his public and was dexterous in the
manipulation of his matter. Scribe was not then at anything like the
zenith of his power, yet was possessed of a finish and delicacy in
writing that Wagner admired. Lastly, Kietz, a painter from Germany, of a
certain merit, was perhaps one of his most intimate friends. He painted
a portrait of Richard Wagner which is now regarded as very excellent.
Full of fun, his jocularity harmonized completely with Wagner’s own
humour, and, united with Louis, the three were ever at their most
comfortable and happy ease.



CHAPTER X.

PARIS, 1839-1842. _Continued._


Viewed from an art standpoint, those dreary years of misery, spent in
the centre of European gaity, were the crucial epoch of Richard Wagner’s
career. Then, for the first time, was he filled with the consciousness
of the complete impossibility of the French operatic stage and its
kindred institutions outside France, ever becoming the platform from
which he could preach his doctrine of earnestness and truth. The Paris
grand opera was the hothouse of spurious art. The master who would
succeed there must abandon his inspiration and make concessions to
artists and to managers. He found the so-called grand opera tainted, an
unreal thing which dealt not with verities, but was the handmaid of
fashion. It had no heart, no living, free-flowing blood, but was a
patchwork of false sentiment rendered attractive by its gorgeous
spectacular frame.

But it was not at one bound that Wagner arrived at this conclusion. The
turning-point was not reached until after he had himself essayed a grand
opera success, and found how inadequate and imperfect fettered
utterances were to free thoughts. Indeed, by degrees he discovered that
realism, the prime element of the grand historic opera, was completely
antagonistic to the tenderness of his own poetic instinct, idealism. He
looked too, to the grand opera for expression of the feelings of a
people, and found works manacled by a rigid conventionality.

He had come to Paris with the “Das Liebesverbot” (the manuscript of
which, by the by, I believe passed into the possession of King Ludwig of
Bavaria: it would be interesting to see the score of this early work
written in 1834) and a portion of “Rienzi.” His aspirations were to
complete this latter in a manner worthy of the Paris stage. He attended
much the productions of the opera house. He heard Auber, Halévy,
Meyerbeer, Rossini, and Donizetti, and, as the months rolled by he grew
sick in heart at seeing the sumptuous settings devoted to works that
were paltry, mean, and artificial compared with his own.

[Sidenote: _A CHAMPION OF AUBER._]

Wagner was now a young man rapidly nearing thirty winters of life. He
was in a foreign land, earning a bare existence, but withal full of
earnest enthusiasm and vigorous work. A thinker always, he set himself
the problem in the midst of pinching poverty, why was it that an
unmistakable and growing aversion for the grand opera had been awakened
in him? He pondered over it. For months it exercised his mind and then,
suddenly, the revolutionary spirit of the age took possession of him,
and he threw over once for all preconceived operatic notions, and
resolved to be no longer the slave of a form walled in by
conventionality, nor the puppet of an institution like the grand opera
house, controlled by innumerable anti-artistic influences. It is from
this time that we date that glorious change in his art work which has
made music an articulate language understood by all, whereas hitherto it
had been but a lisping speech, with occasional beautiful moments
undoubtedly, but for all that, an imperfect art.

Poor Wagner, what sorrows did he not pass through in 1840 and 1841! Now
he has stolen into the opera house to listen to the sensuous melodies of
Rossini and Meyerbeer, and afterwards wended his way home dejected and
disconsolate, with his heart a prey to the bitterest pangs. He could
vent a little of his imprisoned indignation in the “Gazette Musicale,”
and availed himself of this channel of publicity. He fell upon Rossini
and Donizetti. Why should they, aliens, dominate the French stage to the
exclusion of superior native worth and pure national sentiment? In his
opinion Auber was badly treated by the Parisians, “La Muette de
Porticci” (Masaniello), contained germs of a real national French opera.
It was a work of excellence and merited a better reception at the hands
of the composer’s countrymen. “Poor Wagner!” I feel myself again and
again unconsciously uttering, when I remember that his championship of
Auber nearly cost him the little emolument his newspaper articles
brought him, for Schlesinger administered a sharp rebuke, and told him
that if he wished to enter the political arena he must write for a
political and not a musical journal. That Wagner’s attitude toward Auber
was based on purely artistic grounds will be admitted, I think, when it
is known that during these three years of Paris life the two men never
met.

But if the grand opera procured him no pleasure he was compensated by
the orchestral performances at the Conservatoire de Musique. Wagner has
often related an incident connected with one of his visits to the
miserable rooms of the Conservatoire in the Rue Bergère, that will never
fail to make affection’s chords vibrate with compassionate sympathy for
the beloved master. I remember well Wagner telling the story to me. It
was during his worst hours of poverty. Disappointments had fallen thick
around him. For two whole days his food had been almost nothing.
Hungered and wearied, he silently and unobtrusively entered the
Conservatoire. The orchestra were playing the “Ninth Symphony.” What
thoughts did it not recall! It was more than ten years since he had
heard the symphonies of Beethoven. Then he was in his Leipzic home. How
changed were all things now! But the music was the same! The old
enchantment overcame him. The genius of Beethoven again dazzled his
senses, and he left the concert-room broken down with grief, but more
determined and with a fixity of purpose more resolute than he had had at
any time during the Paris period. “It was,” he says, “as a blessed
reality in the midst of a maze of shifting, gloomy dreams.” He went home
invigorated with the healthy, refreshing draughts of the “Ninth
Symphony,” bent upon pouring out the feelings of his early manhood, but
falling sick, his original intentions were abandoned.

[Sidenote: _HIS OPINION OF THE FRENCH._]

The concerts at the Conservatoire afforded him genuine pleasure. The
director, Habeneck, seems to have been a zealous, painstaking artist,
all works conducted evidencing the very careful study they had received
at his hands. It was at the Conservatoire that Wagner’s soul of music
was fed, his heart and mind satisfied, the eye was gratified by the
magnificent mise-en-scene of the grand opera. These two institutions
exercised a vast and wholesome influence over him, though he rebelled
wholly against the dicta of the grand opera. Perhaps had it not been for
the violent antagonism the Paris opera excited within him, and the deep
feeling of revulsion that it engendered, Richard Wagner would not so
soon have come to that invaluable knowledge of himself, nor the art-fire
within have glowed with such clearness and intensity.

To Wagner the Gallic character was at once the source of attraction and
repulsion. He admired the light-hearted gaiety, the racy wit, and
agreeable tact which seems to be the birthright of even the lowest and
least educated. Such qualities were akin to his own being. At all times
he sparkled with witty remarks, and as for tact, the times are without
number when I have seen him display a discretion and dexterity of tact
which belong only to the born diplomat. It was not tact in the common
understanding of the term, but a keen sense of perceiving when to
conciliate, when to hit hard, and when to stop. I have been present on
occasions when his language has been so intemperate and severely
sarcastic that I have expected as the only possible consequence an
unpleasant dénouement; but his fine discernment, aided by undoubted
skill and adroitness of speech, have produced a marvellous change, and I
am convinced that the happy termination was only arrived at because of
the tone of conviction in which he expressed himself. His words bore so
plainly the stamp of unadulterated truth, that those who could not agree
with him were captivated by his enthusiasm and earnestness. On the other
hand, he was repelled by the frivolous tone with which the Parisians
characteristically treated serious topics. There was a want of causality
in them. His conception of the world with its duties and obligations was
in complete contrast to theirs. Moreover, he felt they lacked true
poetic sentiment. Their poesy was superficial. It was replete with grace
and charm, nor was beauty occasionally wanting. But it did not well up
from their hearts. They associated it closely with every action of life
but it was more often the veneer than the thing itself that shone. And
again, their proclivities were in favour of realism, whereas his own
sentiments were entwined round a poetic ideal. It was during this Paris
period that the aspiration for the ideal burst forth with an intensity
that never afterwards dimmed. The longing for the ideal was no new
sensation. Flashes had been observed earlier at Leipzic when under the
fascination of Beethoven’s symphonies, but, ambition, love of fame, and
a not unnatural youthful desire to acquire wealth had diverted him from
the ideal to the real, and it was not till saddened with disappointments
and sorely tried in the crucible of misfortune that he emerged purified,
with a vision of his ideal beautified and enthroned on high, resolved
henceforth never to tire in his efforts to achieve his purpose.

[Sidenote: _THE REVOLUTIONARY SPIRIT._]

I should not omit to refer to certain observations Wagner made upon the
military and police element in these early Paris years. He was a keen
scrutinizer of men and manners, and failed not to observe the power
wielded by the army. The French were a pageant-loving people, but were
heavily burdened to maintain their large military force. Poverty was a
natural result, and bitter feelings were engendered towards a
government which employed the army as an awe-inspiring power towards
peaceful citizens. Though the soldier was drawn from the people, yet as
the unit of an army he came to be regarded as an enemy of his class. Nor
was Wagner more satisfied with the police. He said he never could be
brought to regard them as custodians of the peace and protectors of the
rights of citizens. Instead of being well-disposed, they assumed a
hostile attitude towards civilians. Perhaps these may seem items of no
great importance, but to me the shrewd, perceptive Wagner of 1840-41,
with his revolt against an overbearing military and police is the father
of the revolutionist of 1848. It is but a short space of seven years.

With all its attendant suffering and weariness Wagner was accustomed to
regard his first sojourn in Paris as the most eventful period of his
life in the cause of art. There he burnt the ships of the youthful
aspirant for public renown. Worldly tribulation tried and proved him,
and the art genius emerged from the conflict purified and strengthened.
As he says in his short autobiographical sketch, “The spirit of
revolution took possession of me once forever.” As it is not an uncommon
fact in history that great events have often been brought about by most
trifling incidents, so now did the first step in this wondrous
development arise out of an apparently unimportant conversation to which
I shall shortly refer. He had come to Paris sustained by an
over-sanguine conviction of compelling French admiration by a rich
display of its own art proclivities. Omitting for the moment his “Faust”
overture, he first completed “Rienzi,” in the all-spectacular spirit
suited to the grand opera house. Then, as far as actual production went,
ensued nearly a year of sterility, only to be followed by the advent of
the poetic ideal which, when once cherished, was never afterwards cast
aside. It was the poet who was now asserting his power. Poesy was
claiming its birthright with the tonal art, and as the holy union of the
twin arts manifested itself before his seer-like vision, so the artist,
Wagner, the creator of a music whose every phase glows with the blood of
life, so the poet-musician clearly perceiving his ideal, strove towards
its attainment and never abated his efforts to realize his object, nor
turned aside from its pursuit.

It is a matter of vast interest to learn how he was led in this
direction. Some months after he had been in Paris, with little prospect
of obtaining a hearing at the grand opera house, and suffering the
keenest pangs of poverty, he heard the “Ninth Symphony” at the
Conservatoire. He had heard it years ago, but now its story, its
“programme,” was clear before him. He too would write a symphony. He
would speak the feelings within him, and music should be a “reality” and
not the language of mysticism.

[Sidenote: _“EINE FAUST” OVERTURE._]

Overburdened with such feelings as these, a few days later he entered
the music shop of Schlesinger. There was news for him. The publisher had
a proposition which he thought promised well for Wagner. Deeply
interested in his penniless, enthusiastic compatriot, he had almost
brought to a successful conclusion an arrangement by which Wagner was to
write a piece for a boulevard theatre. The conditions were that the
trifle should be light and showy, nothing serious, but attractive. Such
an offer at any other period prior to this, Wagner said he would have
gladly welcomed. The time, however, was inopportune. Unfortunately for
him, but to the incalculable gain of the art, just now he was under the
magnetic influence of the “Ninth Symphony.” He seems to have burst into
an uncontrollable onslaught upon the trivialities that ruled the French
stage. He would have none of them. Music now for him was a “blessed
reality,” and the hollow fictions of the boulevard theatres were
unworthy of a true artist. Schlesinger reasoned with him, urged the
wisdom of accepting the offer, though at the same time uncompromising in
his demand that the proposed piece must not be serious, and must be
written to suit the tastes of the uneducated public. But Wagner was not
to be won over, quoting the dictum of Schiller, a great favourite with
him, that “the artist should not be the bantling of his period, but its
teacher.” No arrangement come to, Wagner went home. It was raining
heavily. Excited and wet through, he talked wildly to Minna, the result
being that he was put to bed with a severe attack of erysipelas.
Brooding over his position, angered with the world and himself, caring
not for life, his thoughts reverted to the “Ninth Symphony,” and he,
with the energy of a sick, strong-willed man, resolved to write
forthwith that which should be the expression of his pent-up rage with
the world, and, as by magic, he fell upon the story of Faust. To Wagner,
then, as to the aged student, “Life was a burden, and death a desired
consummation.” And so he plunged with his woes thick upon him into the
composition, superscribing his work with the words of Faust:--

    Thou God, who reigns within my heart,
    Alone can touch my soul.

[Sidenote: _HEINE’S “FLYING DUTCHMAN.”_]

While writing this, Wagner told me, that then for the first time did
music speak to him in plain language. The subjects poured hot out of his
heart as molten metal from a furnace. It was not music he wrote, but the
sorrows of his soul that transformed themselves into sounds. His illness
lasted for about a week, the erysipelas attacking his face and head. The
forced reflection upon the past that his confinement induced was bitter,
but his floating ideas about the poetic drama were cemented. That
sick-chamber was the hothouse of the “romantic” Wagner. There the
revolutionary views first gathered strength and the germs of the “art of
the future” consolidated themselves. All his thoughts and feelings upon
the future he communicated to his gentle nurse, Minna, who was always a
ready listener to his seemingly random talk. This quality of “a good
listener,” of always lending a sympathetic ear, was perhaps more
soothing and valuable than a criticising, discerning companion might
have been to him, especially during his days of sickness. He had also
another ever-ready and attentive auditor, his dog, the companion of his
voyage from Riga to London and thence to Paris. How fond he was of that
dumb brute! The innumerable times he addressed it as if it were a human
being! And Wagner was not forgetful of its memory. During the worst
hours of want he wrote for a newspaper a short story entitled, “The end
of a German Musician in Paris”; in that one sees with what affection he
regarded his devoted friend. The principal character in this realistic
romance is himself, whom he causes to die through starvation. In that
the sorrow and suffering endured by Wagner are set forth in a manner
that touches one to the quick. As soon as he was sufficiently
recovered, he did not, as the majority of natures would have done, rest
from all active mental work, but at once vigorously attacked his
unfinished “Rienzi,” the remaining acts of which were completed by the
end of the year 1840. A curious fate Wagner’s. He had embarked upon a
hazardous voyage to the French capital with the view of producing
“Rienzi” there, and yet no sooner was the work quite finished than he
despatched it to Germany, hoping to get it performed at Dresden. A
glance at the music reveals the gulf that separates the Wagner of the
first two acts--composed before he came to Paris--from the writer of the
remaining three. Yet another composition, a complete opera, was given to
the world in Paris in the end of 1841. It has the unique distinction of
being the work of Wagner that occupied the shortest time in writing.
From the time of its inception--I am now speaking only of the music--to
its completion, about seven weeks sufficed for the work. The poem had
been completed some months earlier. He had submitted “Rienzi” to the
director of the grand opera, who gave him no tangible hope of its being
accepted, but promised to do his best in producing a shorter opera by
him. This engagement on the part of the director, though not couched in
unequivocal terms, was not to be allowed to drop. Wagner went to Heine
and discussed the situation. Among the subjects proposed for an opera
was Heine’s own treatment of the romantic legend of “The Flying
Dutchman” and his spectral crew. The story was not new to Wagner. He had
heard it for the first time from the lips of the sailors on his voyage
to London. Then it had impressed him. Now it took hold of him.

How this legend of the ill-fated mariner came to form the basis of an
opera text is curious and interesting. There are few, perhaps, who have
any notions from what crude material the significant “Dutchman,” as we
know it, was fashioned.

There existed in England, and a copy can still be obtained from French,
the Strand theatrical publisher, a melodramatic burlesque by Fitzball, a
prolific writer for the English stage, entitled “Vanderdecken, or The
Phantom Ship.” To mention the names of three of the original dramatis
personae, Captain Peppersal, the father of the Senta, Von Swiggs, a
drunken Dutchman in love with Senta, and Smutta, a black servant, the
character and mode of treatment of the story will be at once perceived.
Vanderdecken retains much of the legendary lore with which we are
accustomed to surround him, except that Fitzball causes him occasionally
to appear and disappear in blue and red fire. Vanderdecken too is under
a spell; the utterance of a single word though it be joy at his
acceptance by Senta, will consign him again to his terrible fate for
another thousand years.

[Sidenote: _WAGNER’S “FLYING DUTCHMAN.”_]

It was a perusal of this medley, of the spectral and burlesque, which
led Heine to treat the story after his own heart, and it was the
discussion with the poet that determined Wagner in his choice of
subject. The libretto was finished and delivered to the director, who,
whilst expressing entire satisfaction at the work, only asked its price
so that he might deliver it to a composer to whom a text had been
promised, and whose opera had the next right of being accepted. The poem
was not sold, and Wagner turned again to his “arranging” drudgery.
Later, however, he retook his text. The subject-legend was in the
highest manner adapted for musical treatment. Whilst writing the poem he
had felt in a very different mood than when writing the “Rienzi” text.
In the latter, his object was a story so arranged as would admit of the
then orthodox operatic treatment with its set forms of solos, choruses,
ensembles, etc., etc. Wagner was a man of thought. He did not perform
things in a haphazard manner. He saw his mark and flew to it. The
historic opera, he reasoned, demanded a precise and careful treatment of
detail incidents. This was not the province of music. The tonal art was
a medium for the expression of feelings, to illustrate the workings of
the heart. Now with legend the conditions are entirely opposite to those
demanded by the historic opera. It is of no consequence among what
people a particular legend originated. Place and period are equally
unimportant. Romantic legends possess this superlative advantage over
historical subjects; no matter when the period, or where the place, or
who the people, the legends are invested with none of the trammelling
conditions of nationality or epoch, but treat exclusively of that which
is human. This is an immense gain to both poet and musician. By this
process of reasoning, Wagner gradually came to exclude word-repetition.
In the “Dutchman” much verbal reiteration is still indulged in; but the
story and treatment show us the real Wagner of the future.

As to the composition of the music, I have heard so much from Wagner on
this particular opera, to convince me that, though it occupied but a few
weeks, it was not done without much careful thought. The scaffolding
upon which it was constructed is very clear. Indeed, the “make” of the
whole work is most transparent. There are three chief subjects. (1)
Senta’s song, (2) Sailor’s and (3) Spinning chorus, and those have been
woven into an organic whole by thoughtful work.

In the summer of 1866, I was sitting with Wagner at dinner in his house
at Munich. It chanced that the conversation turned upon the weary
mariner, his yearning for land and love, and Wagner’s own longing for
his fatherland at the time he composed the “Dutchman,” when going to a
piano that stood near him, he said, “The pent-up anguish, the
homesickness that then held complete possession of me, were poured out
in this phrase,”--playing the short cadence of two bars thrice repeated
that preludes Vanderdecken’s recital to Daland of his woeful wanderings.
“At the end of the phrase, on the diminished seventh, in my mind I
paused and brooded over the past, the repetitions, each higher,
interpreting the increased intensity of my sufferings,” and, Wagner went
on, that with each note he originally intended that Vanderdecken should
move but one step, and move only in time with the music. Now this
careful premeditated tonal working in the young man of twenty-eight is
indicative, as much as any portion of Wagner is, of his _style_, a word
of pregnant meaning when used in relation to Wagner’s works.

[Sidenote: _HE LEAVES PARIS._]

The “Dutchman” was written at Mendon, a village about five miles from
Paris. It was composed at the piano. This incident is of importance,
since for several months he had not written a note, and knew not whether
he still possessed the power of composing. He had left Paris because of
the noise and bustle, and to his horror discovered that his new landlord
was a collector of musical instruments, so there was little likelihood
of securing the quietude he so much desired. When the work was finished,
conscious that realistic France was not the place where he could produce
his poetic ideal, he despatched it to Meyerbeer, then in Germany, whose
aid he solicited in getting it performed. Replies were not encouraging.
Meanwhile, sorely harassed how to provide life’s necessities, he sold,
under pressure, his manuscript of the poem for £20.

The sole ray of hope, the one chance of rescue from this sad plight, lay
in “Rienzi.” It had been accepted at Dresden and in the spring of 1842
he was informed that it was about to be put into preparation and his
presence would be desirable. He therefore left Paris for Germany after
nearly three years of absence.



CHAPTER XI.

DRESDEN, 1842-1843.


From now begins a new epoch in Wagner’s life. The call he had received
from Dresden filled him with delirious joy. The world was not large
enough to hold him. He trod on air. That Dresden, the hallowed scene of
Weber’s labours, possessing the then first theatre in Germany, famed
alike for its productions, style, and artists, should accept his work,
and request his presence to supervise the rehearsals, was an
acknowledgment which transformed, as by magic, a sombre, cruel outlook
into a gloriously bright and warm future.

He was very sanguine of succeeding with “Rienzi.” It was completely in
the style of the foreign operas then in vogue among his countrymen.
Germany had no opera of her own. Mozart and Gluck both composed in the
French and Italian style, and Meyerbeer, the then ruler of the German
operatic stage, fashioned his popular works on the spectacular style of
the grand French opera. “Rienzi” was spectacular, with plenty of the
same description of material as “Les Huguenots.” So Wagner’s hopes ran
high, and a vista of happiness spread itself before him as an enchanted
fairy-land.

[Sidenote: _THE CHOSEN OF DRESDEN._]

With joy he took leave of Schlesinger and his few Parisian intimates,
and set out for Germany, his fatherland. His fatherland! what a sea of
tumultuous feelings did that thought of returning home produce in him.
He was going back a conqueror. The creative artist was at last
recognized; he was rescued from desperate distress at the very moment it
seemed as if he were going to succumb to the conflict. It is difficult
to at all thoroughly understand what Wagner went through after he had
been summoned to Germany. The transformation scene in his life’s drama
was taking place. Again and again has he expatiated upon it with an
honesty characteristic of him, and with a volubility that laid bare all
his heart’s hopes and emotions at the time.

Paris had not accepted him. He came, he saw, but had not conquered. His
soul had swelled with artistic ambition; he was enthusiastic, desiring a
platform from which to expound his cherished tenets; and Paris ignored
him, treated his projects and himself as nought, and for all it cared,
he might have perished unheeded, with none but his dog to mourn his
loss. And now, from an unacknowledged artist, he was the chosen of
celebrated Dresden, still warm with the inspired accents of his
“beloved” Weber. Well might he become delirious with joy.

His homeward journey was full of happy incident and profit. He heard his
native language again as the common tongue. Of German as a language
Wagner was always enamoured. He possessed a large vocabulary himself,
was a poet of no mean rank, and had always a wealth of illustration
ready at command. Now to hear German spoken about him was delight. He
was in a happy frame, ready to be touched with whatever he saw. The
Rhine unusually excited him. In later years, when writing of the period,
he tells us that at sight of the Rhine he vowed eternal fidelity to his
country. He remarked to me, in his poetic language, that its eddying
wavelets seemed to be telling him its legends, and dolefully inquiring,
Why did you leave us? He was happy to come home. His escape from
feverish, sensuous Paris, to his healthy, honest fatherland, was, to use
his own graphic analogy, as Tannhäuser emerging from the Venus grotto to
breathe the invigorating, bracing atmosphere of the German mountains. It
was the awakening from an oppressive nightmare. The unvarnished
straightforwardness of the German character welcomed him with the
affection of fond parents. With all its rude plainness and stolidity, he
loved the German mind. It was sincere, true, and made the French
courteous polish, which he had just quitted, seem as a thing unreal, a
lacquer, an affection that became offensive.

The return of Wagner and his wife to Dresden was particularly agreeable
to the latter. In Dresden, she had a reputation as an actress, though
not in the first rank, yet she was somebody, and would be so recognized.
Besides, there she could have the respect paid to her due to the wife of
the composer of “Rienzi.” Poor Minna! what a patient and gentle woman
she was. To hear her unaffected talk of the change in her own position,
on their coming to live in Dresden, was touching, indeed. In Paris she
had been a drudge, and no one knew but Wagner the half of her heroism,
self-denial, and suffering. Now for her, too, the horizon was clearing,
and it was with difficulty that she endeavoured to restrain the
overflowing hopefulness of Richard. But he would not be repressed, and
on nearing Dresden the two who had suffered together consoled and
encouraged each other with visions of prospective prosperity.

[Sidenote: _A VISIT TO REISSIGER._]

A change of scene was always conducive to happiness in Wagner. For the
first few days he visited well-remembered spots. He had a veritable
passion for at once setting off to see familiar places. The joy of
Dresden homely life contrasted with the Paris mode of living, acted like
a charm on him. His spirits were at their best, his health good, and the
kindly greetings he met everywhere worked together to make him
thoroughly enjoy life. His sister Rosalie, the actress, was dead, so
that all that was really known of him when he came to Dresden was that
he was born at Leipzic, had been educated at the Dresden Schule, and had
wholly written and composed two operas, and was the brother of the late
Rosalie Wagner.

One of his first visits was to Reissiger, chief conductor at the Royal
Opera (where Wagner’s “Rienzi” was to be performed), and of the Royal
Chapel. Reissiger was some fifteen years older than Richard Wagner. He
had been trained in the school of strict fugue and counterpoint at
Leipzic, and as a musician was prolific and clever, but lacked poetical
inspiration and intellectual power. He was eminently a professor. He
received Wagner politely, praised the “Rienzi,” the score of which he
knew, but with it all maintained an attitude of reserve. Wagner, who was
on the best terms with himself and the world, ready to embrace
everybody, was cooled by his reception, and felt that he could never be
intimate with Reissiger, who occupied the greater part of their first
interview with complaints about his own non-success on the operatic
stage, all of which he peevishly attributed to the shortcomings of the
_libretti_.

If, however, Wagner was disappointed with his probable standing with
Reissiger, he was amply compensated by the warmth and spontaneity of
Fischer’s greeting. Fischer was stage manager and chorus director. He
was a musician of superior attainments, a man of sound reflection, and
felt that theirs was to be a friendship for life. He was enthusiastic
about “Rienzi,” foretold a certain success, and showed his earnestness
by untiring activity in training the chorus, so important in the new
work. He proved of invaluable service to Wagner by describing the
character and temperament of the many individuals connected with the
theatre with whom he would come into contact.

There was yet another friend who affectionately greeted Wagner.
Tichatschek, the “Rienzi” of the forthcoming performance. Tichatschek
was of heroic stature, finely proportioned, and dignified in bearing. He
was enraptured with his part. He saw in it one which fitted him to
perfection, both as to physical appearance and vocal powers, which, in
his case, were strong and enduring.

A passing cloud was the absence of the “Adriano,” his womanly ideal,
Schroeder-Devrient. But she soon came to Dresden and was present at the
“Rienzi” rehearsals. Wagner related to her the episode of the
_Dreadnought_, and the fate of her precious gift, the snuff-box, when
she pleasantly rejoined that “Rienzi” would produce him a shower of
golden snuff-boxes from all the potentates of Germany, so convinced was
she of its success.

[Sidenote: _PRODUCTION OF “RIENZI.”_]

“Rienzi” was performed at the end of 1842. An unquestioned success,
everybody enthusiastic, the orchestra played with an energy that went
quite beyond the phlegmatic Reissiger who conducted. Apart from the
effective situations, the well-treated story and verve with which the
chief characters worked, there is no doubt that a great portion of the
success was due to the splendid appearance of Tichatschek. Commanding in
stature and clad in glittering armour, possessing a powerful voice which
he used to advantage, the audience were enraptured with the hero and
cheered him lustily. The processions, the conflagrations, and all those
stage effects so skilfully calculated by Wagner and intended for the
grand opera house, Paris, appealed to the spectacle-loving portion of
the playgoers. The plot, the revolt of an oppressed people, was
unquestionably in harmony with the spirit of the period, for revolution
was in the air; all over Germany there were disquieting signs. It has
often been suggested that “Rienzi” was a confession of faith of Wagner’s
political, so-called revolutionary, principles, and was a forecast of
the democratic storm of 1848, but it need scarcely be said that it was
mere coincidence.

I have now arrived at the time when my own acquaintance with Richard
Wagner began. It was in the beginning of the spring of 1843. Wagner had
been appointed in January of that year co-chief conductor at the opera
with Reissiger, but the superiority of his intellectual and artistic
abilities over the homespun plebeian Reissiger soon gave him the first
position in Dresden. Their second in command was August Roeckel. Roeckel
was my most intimate friend. We were of the same age, and had but one
judgment upon music. He was the nephew of Nepomuck Hummel and possessed
much of the talent of that celebrated pianist. He was also a composer of
merit; indeed, it was by reason of the sound musicianly skill displayed
in his opera “Farinelli” that he was appointed second music director at
Dresden, similarly as Wagner had been appointed chief director through
the success of “Rienzi.” The director of the opera had accepted
“Farinelli” and announced a performance, but so dazzled was Roeckel by
the brilliancy of Wagner’s genius that he withdrew “Farinelli” and would
under no circumstances permit its production. This act of
self-effacement accurately paints the character of the over-modest man.
Between Wagner and Roeckel the closest intimacy sprang up. Through all
that stormy period of the revolution, Wagner thought and spoke of none
other as he did of Roeckel. They were twin souls. For range of
knowledge, active intelligence, and similarity of thought, Wagner had
met with no one more congenial to him, and, I must add, none worshipped
Wagner as August Roeckel did. He had resided in London and Paris, and
the literature of both countries was as familiar to him as that of his
native land. The first description I had of Richard Wagner was from
August Roeckel. I had such complete confidence in his perception and
judgment that I was at once won over to Wagner’s side by the tone of
hero-worship that pervaded the letter. Happily it has been preserved and
I now reproduce it:--

[Sidenote: _INFLUENCE OF ROECKEL._]

     At last fortune smiles on me. Think, I have been appointed
     Sachsischer music director, at the head of the most celebrated
     orchestra of Germany, no longer doomed to give lessons, my horror
     and abomination. “Farinelli,” after all, was the right thing, but
     what chiefly reminds me of your perspicacity was the encouragement
     in regard to my pianoforte playing. Now that is of the greatest
     importance in helping me to establishing a name here. It was but
     natural that I doubted my gift as a pianist, when Edward (his
     brother) was the favourite of uncle “Hummel,” but when at Vienna,
     I remembered your prophecy, and worked at the piano harder than
     ever, and now it stands me in good stead. Henceforth, I drop myself
     into a well, because I am going to speak of the man whose greatness
     overshadows that of all other men I have met, either in France or
     England,--our new friend, Richard Wagner. I say advisedly, our
     friend, for he knows you from my description as well as I do. You
     cannot imagine how the daily intercourse with him develops my
     admiration for his genius. His earnestness in art is religious; he
     looks upon the drama as the pulpit from which the people should be
     taught, and his views on a combination of the different arts for
     that purpose opens up an exciting theory, as new as it is ideal.
     You would love him, aye, worship him as I do, for to gigantic
     powers of intellect he unites the sportive playfulness of a child.
     I have a great advantage over him in piano-playing. It seems
     strange, but his playing is ludicrously defective; so much so, that
     when anything is to be tried I take the piano and my sight-reading
     seems to please him vastly.

     DRESDEN, March, 1843.

My correspondence with August Roeckel was at this period a large one. He
had a religious reverence for the gift, intellectual attainments, and
eloquence of his new friend, topics which constitute the main theme of
his letters. That Roeckel had an equal sway over Wagner in another
direction, viz. politics, arose, too, from that same earnest enthusiasm,
the parent of Wagner’s own successful art efforts. It is necessary that
I should explain that Roeckel was Wagner’s shadow. They were
inseparable, visiting each other during the day and at the theatre
together at night. They had, so Wagner told me afterwards, a life in
common. He was as much fired by Roeckel’s wealth of literary lore, his
heroic notions of life and duty, and the claim of a people to be well
governed, as Roeckel was sympathetic and appreciative of those art
theories which, according to Wagner, formed the upper stratum of man’s
existence. Roeckel’s view is therefore the judgment of Wagner’s other
self, and as such has a right of existence here. It is full of warm
interest about Wagner, who, in later years, greatly enjoyed the perusal
of the correspondence. The absolute worship of Roeckel for his chief
shows itself in the following letter written under the influence of
early relations:--

     I have the most affectionate letter from Bamberg. They want me back
     there, offer me greater advantages, urging that I was the first and
     only conductor there, whilst at Dresden I am but second. But can
     they understand to whom I am second? Such a man as Richard Wagner I
     never yet met, and you know I am not inclined to Caesar’s maxim,
     that it were better to be the first in a village than the second in
     Rome. I have begun to rescore my opera under Wagner’s supervision;
     his frank criticism has opened my eyes to some very important
     instrumental defects. His notions of scoring are most novel, most
     daring, and altogether marvellous; but not more so than his
     elevated notions about the high purpose of the dramatic art;
     indeed, they foreshadow a new era in the history of art.

     DRESDEN.

[Sidenote: _BERLIOZ AND WAGNER._]

An incident of interest in the first part of 1843 was a visit of Hector
Berlioz to Wagner. The great Frenchman came to hear “Rienzi.” Satisfied
he was not; about the only number that he thought meritorious was the
prayer. With the “Dutchman,” which he also heard, he was even still less
contented. He complained of the excess of instrumentation. This is
curious, to put it gently, that a composer who employs four orchestras
with twelve kettledrums in one work, whose own scoring is noted for
excessive employment of means, should make such a charge. It is
inexplicable. The truth is, Berlioz was jealous of Wagner. Roeckel had
been intimate with Berlioz in Paris. The father of Roeckel was the
impressario who introduced the first complete German opera troupe to
Paris and London. He had been an intimate friend of Beethoven, had
impersonated “Florestan” in “Fidelio,” and, indeed, had been tutored by
the composer for the tenor part. The elder Roeckel’s company included
Schroeder-Devrient when he went to Paris. August Roeckel was therefore
well known to Berlioz, and Schroeder-Devrient, having travelled with
Roeckel’s father, and being known intimately by August, was also a link
between Wagner and himself. When, therefore, Berlioz came to Dresden,
August was delighted, and was always present at the friendly meetings of
the two composers. He wrote to me that their meetings were embarrassed.
Wagner was first attracted, but the cold, austere, though always
polished demeanour of Berlioz checked Wagner’s enthusiasm. He had the
air of patronizing Wagner; his speech was bitter, freezing the
boisterous expansiveness of Wagner. At times the conversation was so
strained that Roeckel was of opinion that Berlioz intentionally slighted
Wagner. The more they were together, the less they appeared to
understand each other; and yet, notwithstanding the fastidious
criticism, the constant fault-finding of Berlioz, he took pains to
arrange meetings with Wagner, naturally fascinated by the vigour with
which Wagner discussed art.



CHAPTER XII.

1843-1844.


[Sidenote: _A TOUCH OF HIS HUMOUR._]

However inclined the Dresden musical press may have been to be captious
and antagonistic towards Wagner, there were certain decided evidences of
gifts whose existence they could not deny, and which they were
reluctantly compelled to acknowledge, in spite of their openly
pronounced hostility. The rehearsing and conducting of “Rienzi” and the
“Dutchman” had established Wagner’s reputation as a conductor of unusual
ability. “But,” said his censorious critics, “that proves nothing, for
he worked with heart and soul to secure success, just because the operas
were his own. Wait until he is called upon to produce a classic; then we
shall see.” They had not to wait long. Within a month, Gluck’s “Armide”
and Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” were performed under his bâton. His reading
of both was original. He had, first, his individual conception of the
opera as an organic art work, and then very pronounced views as to the
manner in which each should be studied and performed. He spared not the
orchestra. This not unnaturally created among the less intelligent some
amount of irritation. Custom had sanctioned a certain slovenly
rendering, and they revolted at the revolutionary spirit of the new
conductor. But the openly expressed appreciation of the unquestioned
abilities of the conductor by the leading members of the orchestra, was
not without effect upon the malcontents. The friction did not last long;
a marked improvement was felt by all, and Wagner’s irrepressible animal
spirits and jocularity won over even the drudges. I have it from August
Roeckel, his colleague at the desk, that the intelligent members of the
orchestra idolized Wagner, and never wearied under his bâton.

Wagner was possessed of a keen sense of euphonic balance. The
predominance of one section of the orchestra over another, except where
specially required to produce certain effects, he would not tolerate, be
the defaulting instrument ever so difficult to control. On one occasion
the trombones were excessively noisy at a “Rienzi” rehearsal in the
overture, where they should accompany the violins _piano_. Their braying
aroused Wagner’s anger; however, with ready wit, instead of a reproof, a
joke, and turning good-humouredly to the culprits, he laughingly said,
“Gentlemen, if I mistake not, we are in Dresden, and not marching round
Jericho, where your ancestors, strong of lung, blew down the city
walls.” The humour of the admonition was not lost, and after a moment’s
general hilarity Wagner obtained the desired effect.

[Sidenote: _SPOHR’S KINDLY DEED._]

Wagner was a born disciplinarian. He held the orchestra completely in
the palm of his hand. The members were so many pawns which he moved at
will, responding to his slightest expressed wish. The rigid enforcement
of his will upon the players became talked of outside the doors of the
theatre. The critics could not understand why he should wish to change
the order of things, have a greater number and longer rehearsals than
any one else, and have the works performed in his heterodox way; and so,
they first ridiculed him, and then uncompromisingly attacked him,
attacks which, it is regrettable to add, lasted all the years he
remained in Dresden. But for all this, he was not to be deterred from
his purpose. He knew what he wanted, and meant to have it, and in this
Wagner has again and again acknowledged to me his indebtedness to August
Roeckel, who so ably seconded his chief. According to Wagner’s notions
the masterpieces of German musicians could never be properly understood
by the music-loving public, owing to their imperfect and faulty
rendering under conductors who were so many automaton time-beaters.
Great works of all descriptions were produced in a styleless manner, no
regard, indeed, but very little effort, being made to discover the
intention of the composer. All were rendered in the same pointless
manner. This was revolting to his sense of artistic probity, therefore
when he held the office of conductor he altered this almost dishonest
state of things, for it was dishonest not to seek to reproduce a
composer’s intention. Thus the works of all masters suffered. Therefore
Wagner made it a rule that whatever he conducted should be, when
possible, entirely committed to memory. His earnestness became
infectious, until players and singers became animated by one feeling.
They felt that he, at the desk, was as much a worker as any of them, and
the result was a performance hitherto unknown for perfection. It
happened, therefore, that when “Don Giovanni” was given, according to
his feelings and as he willed it, the critics fell upon him fiercely,
going so far even as to declare he did not understand Mozart, so
unexpectedly new did they find his conception. The contest waged hotly.
A large and important body of directors of art opinion selected the
phlegmatic Reissiger as their idol, and lauded him indiscriminately. It
is, to say the least, strange that there should have been found any one
to prefer a man of the diminutive talents of Reissiger to Richard
Wagner. The former was a pure mechanic, respectable in his way, but
completely overshadowed by the mighty genius of Wagner. This study of
conductors and conducting was a phase of his art to which Wagner devoted
much careful thought, embodying at a later period his views in a
pamphlet on the subject, which will be found invaluable by orchestral
conductors of every degree.

An incident of this year, 1843, his first at Dresden, to which Wagner
referred with pleasure, was the performance of the “Dutchman” at Cassel
by Spohr. It was done entirely on its merits, without any solicitation
from Wagner, the pleasure being intensified by reason of the ripe age of
the conductor and his well-known reverence for the orthodox. Spohr was
sixty-nine, and Richard Wagner thirty. Wagner felt and expressed himself
as deeply touched at the interest a musician of such opposite tendencies
should take in his work, particularly, too, on receiving later a letter
from Spohr expressing the delight he experienced on making the
acquaintance of a young artist who showed in all he did such earnestness
and striving after truth. When Wagner related this to me, wondering at
the curious contradiction in Spohr’s character, I remarked that the
solution seemed to lie in the gentle, almost effeminate nature of Spohr,
which found its completion in the robust, manly vigour of Wagner’s own
conceptions.

How Spohr could have been attracted by Wagner, and repulsed by the “last
period” of Beethoven, is a contradiction difficult to account for; but
that it existed is beyond doubt, for the last time he was in London,
about 1850-51, I put the question direct to him whether it was true, as
asserted, that he had stigmatized the third period of Beethoven as
“barbarous music,” to which he promptly and emphatically replied, “Yes,
I do think it barbarous music.” After the performance at Cassel, Wagner
endeavoured to get the “Dutchman” accepted elsewhere, but signally
failed; from Munich, where a quarter of a century later he was to be the
ruling spirit, came the discouraging response that “it was not German
enough,” though the composer thought this its distinguishing merit.

[Sidenote: _HIS PECULIAR DRESS._]

The acrimoniously bitter attacks that were made upon Wagner, during his
first year at Dresden, increased in poignancy, as he showed himself
uncontrolled by custom’s laws. He affected a careless, defiant attitude
towards all criticism, whereas he was abnormally sensitive to
journalistic opinion. He could scoff, play the cynic, treat his opponent
with derisive scorn, but it was all simulated; the iron entered into his
soul, and he chafed and grew irritable under it. It was as though he
suffered a bodily castigation. He brooded over the attacks, and there
can be no doubt that they caused him moments of acute pain. It is true
that in combat he could parry and thrust with as much vigour as his
opponents; that the sting of his reproof was as torturing as any he
suffered; perhaps even that his assaults were more annihilating than
the occasion demanded; yet with it all, though he emerged from the
contest victorious, he suffered deeply, acutely. There can be no doubt
that the genesis of this hostile criticism was directed more against the
man than his art work, and that wounded personality played an important
part in it. Richard Wagner was seen to be a man of artistic taste, with
proclivities which were exhibited in his domestic surroundings, novel,
perhaps, to the somewhat heavy Dresdenites. First, Wagner’s attire was
different from that of the ordinary individual. He persisted in wearing
in the house a velvet dressing-gown and a biretta, truly an uncommon
head-gear. His apartments were asserted to be upholstered luxuriously.
And in these things the art critics (?) saw a target for ridicule and
sarcasm. Now that his apartments were furnished in a costly manner is
absolutely untrue. Wagner had a keen appreciation of the beautiful, and
loved tasty decoration, but it was secured at the minimum of cost. The
thrifty Minna contrived and invented, to gratify Wagner’s fancies, at an
outlay which does credit to German thrift. And yet there were found
Dresden journals that went so far as to discuss his mode of living,
attributing all the apparent extravagance to gratification of an
over-rated self-esteem, the appeasing of an inordinate vanity.

A year of vexation! a year of consolidation was 1844! From Wagner I have
often heard it: “My failures were the stepping-stones to success”; and
this year, when the hot blood of ambition coursed violently through his
youthful veins, when he aimed as high as the heavens, and met with
failures everywhere, when directors of German opera houses returned his
scores “unopened” or pronounced them unripe and lacking in melody,
truly, it was an epoch of bitter disappointment. Attacked relentlessly
by journalistic hacks, imbued with the bitter feeling that he was the
rejected of his countrymen; that for him there was not a glimmer of hope
of success on the German stage, and yet convinced of his own exceptional
gifts, and the living truth of the mission he was destined to
accomplish, he, broken down in spirit, angered with the world, and
fractious with himself, retired from all intercourse with his
fellow-men, shunned society as the plague, appeared at the Dresden
theatre only when absolutely necessary, and went into seclusion,
accessible to none except August Roeckel. Of this gloomy period, and the
devotion of his friend, Wagner has left it on record. “I left the world,
retired from public life, and lived in the closest communion with one
intimate companion only, one friend, who was so full of sympathy for me,
so wholly engrossed in my artistic development, that he ignored his own
unquestioned talents, artistic instinct, and inventive powers, and cast
to the winds his own chances of worldly success. This companion of my
gloom was Roeckel.” In referring to his friend’s self-abnegation, Wagner
evidently alludes to Roeckel’s opera, “Farinelli,” which the composer
had withdrawn from the Dresden repertoire through excess of modesty,
over-awed, as he was, by his conception of Richard Wagner’s genius.

[Sidenote: _HE PRODUCES “ARMIDE.”_]

This tribute to the constancy and humble workship of August Roeckel is
not a whit too much. Roeckel idolized Wagner. The two men were the
complement of each other; whilst the vivacious imagination of Wagner
inspired admiration in Roeckel, the latter’s placid, closely-reasoned
logic soothed the excitable poet-musician. All Roeckel’s letters to me
of this period--and he was an excellent correspondent--might be summed
up in the word “Wagner.” The minutest incidents of work and details of
their conversations are related. This poor Roeckel suffered thirteen
years imprisonment, from May, 1849, when his friend Wagner escaped. At
the termination of his confinement, the two friends met with a warmth of
affection difficult to describe. Seeing, then, the intimacy of the men
during this year of retirement, it is the letters of August Roeckel
which will supply the faithfullest record of Wagner’s life and work.

He tells me that Wagner spoke of himself as “one crying in the desert.”
But few sympathized with him, his breaking away from the “Rienzi” period
being frowned upon, but that through all disappointment Wagner’s
inexhaustible animal spirits never left him. The following letter is
dated March, 1844:--

     Wagner has returned from Berlin, very morose in temper; the “Flying
     Dutchman” did not touch the scoffing Berliners, who certainly have
     less poetical feeling than most Germans; they only saw in
     Schroeder-Devrient a star, and in the touching drama an opera like
     other operas; yet they pose as profound art critics. Bah! they are
     simply stupid!

     Since then we have had “Hans Heiling” and “Vampyr.” Wagner thinks
     much of Marschner’s natural gifts, but finds that his general
     intelligence is not on a level with his musical gifts, and that
     this is often painfully evident in his recourse to commonplace
     padding.... I wish you could have witnessed the work of the old
     Gluck “Armide,” most tenderly cared for by Wagner. I doubt that it
     ever was rendered with such reverence,--nay, not even in Paris. We
     have also had what Wagner considers the masterwork of Mendelssohn,
     “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” with which he also took considerable
     pains, although fully aware of the composer’s unfriendly feeling
     towards himself.

Later I find the following:--

     You cannot conceive what a system of espionage has grown up about
     Wagner, how keenly all his actions are criticised. He deemed it
     advisable to rearrange the seating of the band (I send you a plan);
     but oh! the hubbub it has produced is dreadful. “What! change that
     which satisfied Morlacchi and Reissiger?” They charge Wagner with
     want of reverence for tradition and with taking delight in
     upsetting the established order of things.

In the middle of the year it seems the “Faust” overture was performed;
the reception was disheartening. It was another disappointment, and
showed Wagner how little the public was in sympathy with his art ideal.
Although performed twice, it produced no effect.

[Sidenote: _SPONTINI AND “LA VESTALE.”_]

     This is not to be wondered at [writes Roeckel]; for in the judgment
     of some here it compares favourably with the grandest efforts of
     Beethoven. Such a work ought to be heard several times before its
     beauties can be fully perceived.

     Wagner day by day becomes to me the beacon-light of the future; his
     depth of thought, his daring philosophical investigations, his
     unrestrained criticism, startle one out of the every-day optimism
     of the Dresden surroundings. The only ready ear besides myself is
     Semper, who, however, agrees with Wagner’s outbursts only so far as
     they are applicable to his own art, architecture, as in music he is
     but a dilettante. Much of Wagner’s earnestness in his demands for
     improvement in art matters is attributed by the opposition to
     self-glorification. At the head of it stands Reissiger, who can not
     and will not accept the success of “Rienzi” as _bona fide_. He is
     forever hinting at some nefarious means, and cannot understand why
     his own operas should fail with the same public, unless, indeed,
     he stupidly adds, it is because he neglected to surround himself
     with a “life-guard of claqueurs”; but he was a true German, and
     against such malpractices. You can imagine how such things annoy
     Wagner; and although he eventually laughs, it is not until they
     have left a scar somewhere. For myself, I wonder how he can mind
     such stuff. I keep it always from him, but nevertheless it always
     seems to reach him; and Minna is not capable of withholding either
     praise or blame from him, although I have tried hard to prove to
     her that it affects her husband deeply, whose health is none of the
     strongest. Another annoyance is the Leipzic clique, with
     Mendelssohn at the head, or, to put the matter into the right
     light, as the ruling spirit. He gives the watchword to the clique,
     and then sneaks out of sight, as if he lived in regions too refined
     and sublime to bother himself about terrestrial affairs. But the
     worst sore is that coming from our intendant. He has not the shadow
     of an idea upon music; takes all his initiative from current
     phrases learnt by heart; he is the veriest type of a courtier, and
     hates nothing so much as “revolutionary” suggestions from a
     subordinate, for as such he rates the conductors, nor has he a
     glimpse of discernment as to their relative merits, and finding
     Reissiger always ready to bow to his aristocratic acumen, he
     evidently thinks him the more gifted. The matter is not made better
     by the bitter tone of the press, which, arrogating to itself the
     office of defenders of true art, smites heavily the “iconoclast
     Wagner.” Schladebach leads them, and unfortunately, his prominent
     position inspires courage in scribblers.

            *       *       *       *       *

     We have had a very interesting event here. Spontini came to conduct
     his “Vestal.” It was done twice. He is a composer who has said what
     he had to say in his own manner. He commands respect, is full of
     dignity and amiability. Wagner had trained the orchestra well; his
     respectful bearing to the veteran composer incited them to exert
     themselves heart and soul. The result was a very satisfactory
     rendering. But after the second performance, a peremptory order
     came from Luttichorn, that the “Vestal” was not to be repeated, and
     Wagner was to convey the decision to Spontini. Wagner prayed me to
     accompany him; first, because he does not speak French so fluently
     as I do; and secondly, since Spontini had shown himself very
     friendly towards me, and it was hoped my presence might calm the
     composer’s expected anger, for Spontini is known for his
     irritability on such occasions. We went. The time was most
     opportune, for as a new dignity had just been conferred upon him by
     the Pope, his vanity was so flattered that he listened with
     unruffled temper to what was, for him, unpleasant news.

     DECEMBER, 1844.

Perhaps the event of the year was the removal of the remains of Weber
from London to Dresden. An earnest committee had been working some time
towards this end; concerts and operatic performances had been given in
Germany and subscription lists opened to provide the necessary funds.
Wagner was truly enthusiastic in the matter, but August Roeckel merits
equal tribute. It was arranged that the deceased musician’s eldest son,
Max von Weber, should come to London to carry out the necessary
arrangements. He came in June, 1844, and was the guest of Edward
Roeckel. We met daily. Max von Weber was a bright, intelligent man.
Enthusiastic for the cause, I accompanied him everywhere, soliciting
subscriptions from compatriots in this country and interviewing the
authorities to facilitate the removal.

August Roeckel writes:--

[Sidenote: _AT THE GRAVE OF WEBER._]

     All Dresden was in excitement; the event produced a profound
     sensation. The body was received by us all. We had been rehearsing
     for some time a funeral march arranged by Wagner from themes in
     “Euryanthe.” The loving care bestowed by Wagner on the rehearsals
     touched every one. It was clear that his whole heart was in the
     work. His own opinion is that he never succeeded in anything as in
     this. The soft, appealing tones of the wood-wind were wonderfully
     pathetic, and when the march was performed in the open air,
     accompanying the body, not a member of the cortège or bystander but
     was moved. And then the scene at the grave! Schulz delivered an
     oration, and Richard Wagner too. Wagner had composed and written
     his out. Think of the care! He wished to avoid being led away at
     the sight of the mourners’ grief, and the great concourse which was
     sure to be present, and so he learned his speech by heart. The
     impression produced upon me was such a one as I never before
     experienced. Deep sympathy reigned everywhere; all the musicians
     adored Weber; and the towns-people, members of whom had known that
     lovable man personally, did honour to Germany’s great son, for
     national sentiment played an important part in the matter. You know
     that in ordinary conversation, the strong accent of the Leipzic
     dialect is the common speech of Richard Wagner, but when delivering
     his oration, his utterance was pure German, his measured periods
     were declaimed in slow, clear, ringing tones, showing unmistakable
     evidence of histrionic power. As an effort of will it was
     remarkable, and surprised all his intimate friends.

This curious and interesting feature of dropping the somewhat harsh
Leipzic accent and delivering himself in the purest German remained with
Wagner to the last. On all what might be termed state occasions, when
addressing an assembly his speech was clear, measured, and dignified;
not a trace of his Leipzic accent was observable. It should be explained
that the Leipzic accent is a sort of sing-song, almost whining
utterance, with as strongly marked a pronunciation compared to pure
German as that of a broad Somerset dialect to pure English.



CHAPTER XIII.

1845.


The story of the composition of “Tannhäuser,” poem and music, is a
forcible illustration of the proverb, that the life of a man is
reflected in his works. Of the music and the performance of “Tannhäuser”
in October, 1845, at Dresden, I wrote a notice for a London periodical,
called the “English Gentleman.” This was the first time, I believe, that
Wagner’s name was mentioned in England. They were exciting times, and it
is of exceptional interest at this epoch to reflect upon the judgment of
the composer at the birth of “Tannhäuser.”

When the legend first engaged Wagner’s attention, with a view to its
composition, he was not thirty years old. It will be remembered that the
transformation from Paris poverty to a comparative Dresden luxury
infused new life into him. He tells me, “I resolved to throw myself into
a world of excitement, to enjoy life, and taste fully its pleasures.”
And he did. It was in this mood of feverish excitation that the Venus
love invaded him. His state was one of intense nervous tension. The poem
was worked out, but not in the shape we now have it. The end was
subsequently changed. The poetry and music simmered in his brain for
three years. He began elated, filled with sensations of ecstasy. He
ended dejected, fearing that death would intervene before the last notes
were written.

[Sidenote: _THE WRITING OF “TANNHÄUSER.”_]

Now wherein lies the explanation of this? Let me recount briefly his
life during these three years, and the reason will at once be perceived.
He had opened his Dresden career with brilliancy. “Rienzi” had proved a
great success; he had been appointed conductor to the court, a
competence of 1500 thalers or £ 225 yearly was guaranteed him, and his
horizon seemed brighter;--but the reverse soon began to show itself. The
“Dutchman,” by which he had hoped to increase his reputation, proved a
failure; even “Rienzi” was refused outside Dresden, and the press was
violently inimical. His excited sanguine temperament had received a
grievous shock. At Berlin, the “Dutchman” proved so abortive, that he
took counsel with himself, and resolved that this “Tannhäuser” should
not be written for the world, but for those who had shown themselves in
sympathy with him. As “Tannhäuser” neared its completion, his state grew
more morbid and desponding. His only solace, outside Roeckel, was his
dog. It was a common saying with Wagner that his dog helped him to
compose “Tannhäuser.” It seems that when at the piano, at which he
always composed, singing with his accustomed boisterousness, the dog,
whose constant place was at his master’s feet, would occasionally leap
to the table, peer into his face, and howl piteously. Then Wagner would
address his “eloquent critic” with, “What? it does not suit you?” and
shaking the animal’s paw, would say, quoting Puck, “Well, I will do thy
bidding gently.”

[Sidenote: _THE REVOLUTION OF 1849._]

During the composition Tichatschek, who was to impersonate the hero,
practised such portions as were already written. His enthusiasm was
unbounded, and with Roeckel, he urged the Dresden management to provide
special scenery. The appeal was responded to, and painters were even
brought from Paris. On the 19th October, 1845, the opera was performed,
Johanna Wagner, aged nineteen, the daughter of his brother Albert,
singing the part of Elizabeth. As an illustration of Richard Wagner’s
thoroughness and attention to detail, I would mention that for this
performance he wrote a prefatory notice to the book of words, in which
he explained the purport of the story, with the object of ensuring a
better understanding of the drama by the public. The performance, alas,
was only a partial success, nor was a second representation, given
within a fortnight, any more successful. The music was unlike anything
heard before. It was noised abroad that passages had been written for
the first violins which were unplayable, and the audience listened
expectantly for the “scramble.” No doubt there were violin passages as
difficult as original, but the heart of the leader, Lipenski, was in his
work, and he set himself so earnestly to teach individually each
violinist difficult phrases, even carefully noting the fingering, that
the performance was anything but a “scramble.” Then the critics
ridiculed the hundred and forty-two bars of repetition in the overture
for the violins. This confession of superficial intellect was not
confined to Dresden critics; a dozen years later, that sound musician,
Lindpaintner, expressed the opinion to me that the first eight bars of
the overture were “sublime,” but that the remainder was all “erratic
fiddling.” Such were the criticisms (?) passed upon the work. Wagner saw
there was no hope of its acceptation elsewhere, and thinking to bring it
prominently before Germany, wrote in the following year for permission
to dedicate the work to the king of Prussia. The reply was to the effect
that if he would arrange portions of it for military performance, it
might in that manner be brought to the notice of the king, and perhaps
his request complied with. It is needless to say Wagner did nothing of
the kind, and “Tannhäuser” sank temporarily into oblivion.

As the part which Richard Wagner played in the Revolution of 1848-49 is
of absorbing interest, the incidents which led up to it are of
importance to be carefully noted. The first sign of the coming
opposition to the government appeared in 1845. In itself it was slight,
when we think of the terrible struggle that was shortly to be carried on
with such desperation, but it shows the embers of revolt in Wagner,
which were later fanned into a glowing flame by the patriot, August
Roeckel. Wagner’s heart, as that of all men, revolted at the cause, but
had it not been for the “companion of my solitude,” as Wagner calls
Roeckel, he would never have taken so active a part in the struggle for
liberty. Upon this part, I cannot lay too much stress.

Throughout Saxony, a feeling had been growing against the restraint of
the Roman Catholic ritual. One Wronger, a Roman Catholic priest,
proposed certain revisions and modifications. To this the Dresden court,
steadfastly ultramontane, offered violent opposition, and Duke Johann,
brother of the king, showed himself a prominent defender of the faith.

The struggle was precipitated by the following incident. In his capacity
as general commandant of the Communal guard, the Duke entered Leipzic
one day in August, to review the troops. He and his staff were
received, on the parade ground, by a large concourse of spectators with
such chilling silence that, losing command of himself, the Duke at once
broke off the projected review. Later in the day, while at an hotel on
the city boulevard, some street urchins marched up and down singing,
“Long live Wronger.” In a moment a tumult arose, upon which the royal
guard stationed outside the hotel, by whose order is not known, fired
upon the citizens promenading in the town. “The street,” writes Roeckel,
“was bathed in blood.” This caused a tremendous stir throughout Saxony.
This wanton act of butchery was openly denounced by Roeckel and Wagner,
in terms so emphatic that they were called upon to offer some sort of
apology to the court. The two friends arranged a meeting with Reissiger,
Fisher, and Semper, when the subject was discussed, with the result that
it was deemed advisable, while holding service under the court, to
express regret at the exuberance of the language, and the matter was
allowed to drop. But it rankled in Wagner. His position of a servitor
was irksome; he became restive in his royal harness, and vented his
annoyance in anonymous letters to the papers. From this time his
interest in the political situation increased; continually stimulated by
Roeckel, his sympathies were always with the people, his pen ready to
support his feelings. And so the time wore on till the outbreak of 1848.

[Sidenote: _BEETHOVEN’S “NINTH SYMPHONY.”_]

In the spring of 1846 an event occurred which had a great deal to do
with my subsequent introduction of Wagner to the London public. It was
his conducting of the “Ninth Symphony.” A custom existed in Dresden, of
giving annual performances on Palm Sunday for the benefit of the
pension fund of the musicians of the royal opera. Two works were usually
produced, one a symphony, the two conductors dividing the office of
conductor. This year the symphony fell to Wagner, and he elected to
perform the “Choral.” When a youth he had copied it entirely at Leipzic,
knew it almost by heart, and regarded it as the greatest of Beethoven’s
works, the one in which the great master had felt the inadequacy of
instrumental music to express what he wished to convey, and that the
accents of the human voice were imperatively necessary for its full and
complete realization. When it became known what symphony had been
selected the orchestra revolted. They implored Wagner to produce
another. The ninth had been done under Reissiger and proved a failure,
in which verdict Reissiger had agreed, himself going so far as to
describe that sublime work as “pure nonsense.” But Wagner was
inexorable. The band, fearing poor receipts, sought the aid of Intendant
Luttichorn: to no purpose, however. Wagner’s mind was made up, and he
set to work with his usual thoroughness and earnestness. To avoid
expense he borrowed the orchestral parts from Leipzic, learned the
symphony by heart, and went through all the band parts himself, marking
the nuances and tempi. As to rehearsals, he was unrelenting. For the
double basses he had special meetings, would sing and scream the parts
at them. He increased the chorus by choir-boys from neighbouring
churches, and worked for the success of the performance with an energy
hitherto unknown. To Roeckel he detailed the practice of the best
portion of the band, whilst he persisted with the less skilful. The
result was a performance as successful financially as artistically.
More money was taken than at any previous concert, and the fame of
Richard Wagner increased mightily. This performance brings out
prominently certain features in Wagner’s character which enable us to
see how, through subsequent reverses, he was able to achieve success.
First, witness his courage and indomitable will in overcoming the
obstacles of Luttichorn’s opposition and the ill-will of the orchestra,
the want of funds; then his earnestness and care in committing the score
to memory, his energy at rehearsals, his forethought and wondrous grasp
of detail evident in the programme he wrote explaining the symphony, and
his untiring efforts to succeed. Such points of character show of what
material the man was made, how in all he did he was thorough, and how
firmly impressed with the conviction that he must succeed.

[Sidenote: _THE FASHIONABLE OPERA._]

The analytical remarks he appended to the symphony were not those that
the musical world now know as Richard Wagner’s programme, but a shorter
and more discursive exposition. The year was 1846, but two from the
revolution. The spirit of the brotherhood of nations was in the air, and
the references of Schiller to this world’s bond of union were seized by
Wagner as presenting the means of contemplating Beethoven’s work from a
more exalted elevation than that of an ordinary symphony. It was
currently known that the poet had originally addressed his “Ode to
Liberty! the beautiful spark of heaven,” but that the censor of the
press had struck out “Freiheit” (liberty), and Schiller had substituted
“Freude” (joy). The sentiment, then, was one shared by all, and there
can be no question that the success of the final chorus was as much
owing to the inspiriting language as to the tonal interpretation.

Of recent years much has been said of Wagner’s attitude towards the
opinions upon Italian opera. The years he served at the conductor’s desk
at Dresden, at the period when the sap of his art ambition was rising
rapidly, truly brought him into intimate acquaintance enough with the
fashionable works of French and Italian masters, but his resentment, I
can vouch, was not directed against the composer. He often and often
pointed out to me what, in his opinion, were passages which seemed to
betoken the presence of real gift. What he did regret was that their
faithful adherence to an illogical structure should have crippled their
natural spontaneity. That the talent of the orchestra, too, should be
thrown away on puerile productions annoyed him. But Wagner was nothing
if not practical, and after a season of light opera, the conducting of
which was shared by Reissiger and Roeckel, he writes, “After all, the
management are wise in providing just that commodity for which there is
demand.” When his own “Tannhäuser” was produced with its new ending, he
was charged in the press with being governed too much by reflection,
that his work lacked natural flow, that he was domineered by reasoning
at the expense of feeling. To this Wagner replied in very weighty words,
significant of the thought which always governed the earnest artist,
“The period of an unconscious productivity has long passed: an art work
to endure the process of time, and to satisfy the high culture which is
around us, must be solidly rooted in reason and reflection.” Such
utterances are clearly traceable to his elevated appreciation of poetry
and keen reasoning faculties.

“Lohengrin,” beyond contradiction the most popular of all Wagner’s
operas, or music-dramas, for it should be well remembered that Wagner in
all his literary works up to the last persistently applies the term
“opera” to “Lohengrin,” and its two immediate predecessors, whilst
music-drama was not employed until 1851, and then only for compositions
subsequent to that period. The popularity of “Lohengrin” is not confined
to its native soil, Germany, but all Europe, England, Russia, Italy,
Spain, Portugal, and Denmark (shameful to add, France alone excepted),
and America and Australia, have received it with acclamations. And why?
The secret of it? For learned musicians too, anti-Wagnerians though they
be, accepted it. From notes in my possession, I think the explanation
becomes clear. Wagner writes at that time, “Music is love, and in my
projected opera melody shall stream from one end to the other.” The
form, too, does not break from traditions. It is the border between the
old and new. When “Lohengrin” was composed, not one of his theoretical
works had been penned. He was untrammelled then. The principles upon
which his subsequent works were based can only be applied, he says, to
the first three operas “with very extensive limitations.” Hence he
satisfies the orthodox in their two fundamental principles, “form and
melody.” “Lohengrin” is a love-poem; to Wagner, then, music was love,
and he was intent on writing melody as then understood throughout the
new work.

[Sidenote: _AT WORK ON “LOHENGRIN.”_]

The network of connection that exists between Wagner’s opera texts, is
but one of the many examples which might be adduced of the sequential
thought characteristic of the composer. Each was suggested by its
predecessor. The contest of the Minnesingers’ “Tannhäuser” was naturally
followed by the story of the Mastersingers, first sketched in 1845, the
year of the “Tannhäuser” performance, and then Elsa the love-pendant of
innocence and purity to the material, voluptuous Venus.

In this story of “Lohengrin,” Wagner wavered for a time whether the hero
should not remain on earth with Elsa. This ending he was going to adopt,
Roeckel informs me, out of deference to friends and critics, but Wagner
told me that Roeckel argued so eloquently for the return of Lohengrin to
his state of semi-divinity, that to permit the hero to lead the life of
a citizen would clash harshly with the poetic aspect, and so Wagner,
strengthened in his original intention, reverted to his first
conception. Allusion is made to this by Wagner in “A Commutation to my
Friends,” written in Switzerland, 1851; the friend there referred to is
August Roeckel.

During the composition of “Lohengrin” Wagner was at deadly strife with
the world. He flattered where he despised. He borrowed money where he
could. Just then the world was all black to Wagner. Of no period of his
life can it be said that Wagner managed his finances with even ordinary
care. He always lived beyond his means. Though he was in receipt of £225
a year from the Dresden theatre, a respectable income for that period be
it remembered, he did not restrict his expenses. And so his naturally
irritable temperament was intensified and he resolutely threw himself
into the “Lohengrin” work, determined not to write for a public whose
taste was vitiated by “theatres having no other purpose but amusement,”
but to pour his soul out in the love-strains with which his heart was
bursting. The original score shows that the order of composition was Act
III, I, II, and the prelude last, the whole covering a period of eleven
months, from September, 1846, to August, 1847. It was unusual for Wagner
to compose in this manner; indeed, as far as I am aware, it was the only
work so written.

At the time Wagner was meditating upon the “Lohengrin” music, when it
was beginning to assume a definite shape in his mind, weighed down with
the feeling of being “rejected” by his countrymen and depressed in
general circumstances, the following letter, written to his mother,
throws a charming sidelight upon Wagner, the man. The deep filial
tenderness and poetic sentiment that breathe throughout it, touch and
enchant us.

[Sidenote: _A LETTER TO HIS MOTHER._]

     MY DARLING MOTHER: It is so long since I have congratulated you on
     your birthday, that I feel quite happy to remember it once at the
     right time, which I have, alas, in the pressure of circumstances,
     so often overlooked. To tell you how intensely it delights me to
     know you body and soul among us; to press your hand from time to
     time; and to recall the memory of my own youth so lovingly tended
     by you. It is the consciousness that you are with us that makes
     your children feel one family. Thrown hither and thither by fate,
     forming new ties, they think of you, dearest mother, who have no
     other ties in this world than those which bind you to your
     children. And so we are all united in you: we are all your
     children. May God grant thee this happiness for years yet to come,
     and keep you in health and strength to see your children prosper
     until the end of your time.

     When I feel myself oppressed and hindered by the world, always
     striving, rarely enjoying complete success, oft a prey to
     annoyances through failure, and wounded by the rough contact with
     the outer world, which, alas, so rarely responds to my inner wish,
     nothing remains to me but the enjoyment of nature. I throw myself
     weeping into her arms. She consoles me, and elevates me, whilst
     showing how imaginary are all those sufferings that trouble us. If
     we strive too high, Nature shows us that we belong to her, are her
     outgrowth, like the trees and plants, which, developing themselves
     from her, grow and warm themselves in the sun of heaven, enjoy the
     strengthening freshness, and do not fade or die till they have
     thrown out the seed which again produces germs and plants, so that
     the once created lives an eternity of youth.

     When I feel how wholly I belong also to nature, then vanishes every
     selfish thought, and I long to shake every brother-man by the hand.
     How can I then help yearning for that mother from whose womb I came
     forth, and who grows weaker while I increase in strength? How do I
     smile at those societies which seek to discover why the loving ties
     of nature are so often bruised and torn asunder.

     My darling mother, whatever dissonances may have sounded between
     us, how quickly and completely have they disappeared. It is like
     leaving the mist of the city to enter into the calm retreat of the
     wooded valley, where, throwing myself upon mossy earth, with eyes
     turned towards heaven, listening to the songsters of the air, with
     heart full, the tear unchecked starts forth, and I involuntarily
     stretch my hand towards you, exclaiming, “God protect thee, my
     darling mother; and when He takes thee to Himself, may it be done
     mildly and gently.” But death is not here: you live on through us;
     and a richer and more eventful life perhaps awaits you through us
     than yours ever could have been. Therefore, thank God who has so
     plentifully blessed you.

     Farewell, my darling mother,

Your son,

RICHARD.

     DRESDEN, 19th September, 1846.

It was well for Wagner that his mind was occupied with the composition
of “Lohengrin” during 1846-47, for by the summer of the latter year the
pressure of circumstances had become so acute that notwithstanding his
exceptional elasticity of spirits the mental worry must have resulted in
a more distressing depression than that which we know did take hold of
him. This exuberance of youthful frolic is an important characteristic
of Wagner. It was his sheet anchor, a refuge from annoyances that would
have incisively irritated or crushed another. True, he would burst into
a passion at first,--there is no denying his passionate nature,--but it
was of short duration and once over the boisterous merriment of a
high-spirited school-boy succeeded. Though deeply wounded, as only
finely strung sensitive natures can be, he was quick to recover, and
whilst animadverting upon the denseness of those who slighted his art,
he distorted the incident and treated it as worthy of affording fun
only. Wagner identified himself with his art body and soul, his breath
of life was art, his pulse throbbed for art, and to wound him was
insulting art. His success was the triumph of art, and the sacrifices
his friends made of mental energy, wealth, and time were regarded by him
but as votive offerings to the altar of the divine art, honouring the
donor. Then when his scores of “Rienzi,” the “Dutchman,” and
“Tannhäuser” were returned unopened by managers, he turned with
undiminished ardour upon “Lohengrin,” doubting his capacity to realize
in tones his feelings, but with dauntless fortitude to write his
“love-music” for the glory of art, conscious that its scenic
interpretation was, for the present at least, a very improbable
circumstance.

[Sidenote: _PUBLISHING THREE OPERAS._]

What, in Wagner’s character at all times, inspires our admiration is his
courage. “He never knew when he was beaten.” Weighed down with monetary
difficulties,--though his poor means were made rich by the wealth of
love and ready invention of Minna, whose patience and self-denial he was
always ready to extol,--with a cloudy art horizon, he sought to approach
the great public in a more direct manner than by stage representations,
by publishing the three operas already composed. It was not a difficult
matter; he was a local celebrity, and on the strength of his reputation
he entered into an engagement with a Dresden firm, Messrs. Meser and Co.
The large initial cost was borne by the firm, but the liability was
Wagner’s. Messrs. Meser and Co. predicted a success, and risking
nothing, or comparatively nothing, urged the issue of “Rienzi,”
“Dutchman,” and “Tannhäuser.” The contract was signed, the works were
produced, but alas, the forecast was pleasant to the ear but breaking in
the hope. There was absolutely no sale, and claims were soon preferred
on the luckless composer for the cost of production. Of course they
could not be met. Wagner had no available funds, his income was
insufficient for his daily needs, and so he borrowed, borrowed where he
could, sufficient to temporarily appease the publishers. This debt, paid
by instalments, hung over him as a black cloud for years, always
breaking when he was least equal to meet it. How he has stormed at his
folly, and regretted his heedlessness of the future, but the demand met,
his tribulation was immediately forgotten. A brother of mine, passing
through Dresden in 1847, wrote to me of his surprise at the state of
Wagner’s finances, and of the sum that was necessary to keep him afloat,
which under my direction was immediately supplied.

It was then that Wagner wrote to me: “Try and negotiate for the sale of
my opera ‘Tannhäuser’ in London. If there be no possibility of
concluding a bargain, and gaining a tangible remuneration for me,
arrange that some firm shall take it so as to secure the English
copyright.” I went off at once to my friend Frederick Beale, the head of
the house Cramer, Beale and Co., now Cramer and Co. Though Frederick
Beale was an enthusiast in art, with a sense beyond that of the ordinary
speculator in other men’s talent, yet “he could not see his way to
publishing ‘Tannhäuser.’” I knew Beale would have done much for me, our
relations being of so intimate a character, but the times “were out of
joint,” his geniality had just then led him to accept much that proved a
financial loss to the firm, and so the work which, as time now shows,
would have produced a future, was rejected, yes, rejected, though on
behalf of Wagner I offered it _for nothing_. It is the old, old story;
Carlyle offering his “Sartor Resartus” for nothing, Schubert his songs,
etc., etc., and rejected as valueless by the purblind publisher. The
publisher invariably is the man of his period; he is incapable of seeing
beyond his age, and thrusts aside the genius who writes for futurity.
“Wouldst thou plant for eternity?” asks Carlyle, “then plant into the
deep, infinite faculties of man, his fantasy and heart; wouldst thou
plant for a year and a day? then plant into his shallow, superficial
faculties, his self-love and arithmetical understanding.”



CHAPTER XIV.

1848.


I now come to perhaps the most important period in Richard Wagner’s
life, full of deep interest in itself, and pregnant with future good to
our art. Additional interest is further attached to it because of the
incomplete or inaccurate accounts given by the many Wagner biographers.
For this shortcoming, this unsatisfactory treatment, Wagner is himself
to blame. He has left behind him rich materials for an almost exhaustive
biography; he was a man of great literary power, a clear and full
writer, and yet, with reference to the part he played in the revolution
in Saxony, of 1848-49, he is singularly, I could almost say
significantly, silent, or, when he does allude to it, his references are
either incomplete or misleading.

Wagner was an active participator in the so-called Revolution of 1849,
notwithstanding his late-day statements to the contrary. During the
first few of his eleven years of exile his talk was incessantly about
the outbreak, and the active aid he rendered at the time, and of his
services to the cause by speech, and by pen, prior to the 1849 May days;
and yet in after-life, in his talk with me, I, who held documentary
evidence, under his own hand, of his participation, he in petulant tones
sought either to minimize the part he played, or to explain it away
altogether. This change of front I first noticed about 1864, at Munich.
But before stating what I know, on the incontestable evidence of his own
handwriting, his explicit utterances to me, the evidence of
eyewitnesses, and the present criminal official records in the
procès-verbal Richard Wagner, of his relations with the reform movement
(misnamed the Revolution); I will at once cite one instance of his--to
me--apparent desire to forget the part he enacted during a trying and
excited period.

Wagner was a member of a reform union; before this body he read, in
June, 1848, a paper of revolutionary tendencies, the gist of which was
abolition of the monarchy, and the constitution of a republic. This
document, of somewhat lengthy proportions, harmless in itself, which was
printed by the union, constituted part of the Saxon government
indictment against Richard Wagner. From 1871-1883 Wagner edited his
“Collected Writings,” published by Fritsch, of Leipzic, in eleven
volumes; these include short sketches on less important topics, written
in Paris, in 1841, but this important and interesting statement of his
political opinions is significantly omitted. Comment is needless.

[Sidenote: _THE REVOLUTION AGAIN._]

To help in forming an accurate judgment of Richard Wagner’s
“revolutionary tendencies” (?) a slight sketch of the outbreak, its
objects, and the means employed, will be of assistance. Secondly, as the
head and front of Wagner’s offending, according to the government,
rested on a letter he had written from Dresden to August Roeckel at
Prague, on the first day of the rise, which letter was unfortunately
found on Roeckel when taken prisoner, references to Roeckel’s
participation will be necessary. Indeed, from an intimate knowledge of
the two men, I place my strong conviction on record, that had it not
been for August Roeckel, the patriot, Wagner, revolutionary demagogue,
would never have existed nor have been expatriated. True and undoubted
it is, that Richard Wagner’s nature was of the radical reformer’s type,
but in these matters he was cautious, and would not have played the
prominent part he did, had it not been for the stirring appeals of “the
friend who sacrificed his art future for my sake.” The feeling already
existed in him; it was fanned into a glowing flame by his colleague,
Roeckel. When aroused, Wagner was not the spirit to falter.

Wagner has often been charged with base ingratitude towards his king.
The accusation is absurd, and proceeds solely from ignorance, forsooth,
indeed, it is disproved emphatically in the very revolutionary paper
which forms part of the official government indictment against him.
Although he therein argues in favour of a republic, his personal
references to the king of Saxony are inspired by feelings of reverential
affection. Wagner was no common trickster, or prevaricator, and when he
speaks of the “pure virtues” of the king, “his honourable, just, and
gentle character,” of the “noblest of sovereigns,” we may unhesitatingly
acquit him of any personal animosity. He even seems to have had a
prophetic instinct of this charge, and meets it by, “He who speaks this
to-day, and ... is most firmly convinced that he never proved his
fidelity to the oath of allegiance he took to the king, on accepting
office, more than on the day he penned this address.”

[Sidenote: _HIS INCENDIARY PAPER._]

In the year 1848 the kingdom of Saxony, and other German principalities,
were in a state of much unrest. The outbreak of the French Revolution
caused an onward movement, and the German people clamoured for
constitutional government, and demanded (1) freedom of the press, (2)
trial by jury, (3) national armies, and (4) political representatives. A
deputation set out from Leipzic, in February, 1848, and pleaded
personally before the king of Saxony. He replied by a more rigorous
press censorship. The people congregated in thousands before the Leipzic
town hall, to hear the royal reply read. Enraged at the refusal of their
requests, and at the tone of that refusal, they determined on sending a
second deputation. Wagner was present when this arrived. They no longer
prayed, but plainly told the king that the press was free, demanded
another minister, and intimated that if the freedom was not officially
recognized, Leipzic would march _en masse_ on Dresden. Six other towns
then sent deputations; the king was advised not to receive them, but
they forced their way to the presence chamber, which the king left by
another door, exclaiming, “I will not listen--go!” As a reply to such
unwise treatment, Wagner’s townsmen prepared to make good their words,
and marched on Dresden. Prussian aid was sought, and promptly given,
troops mobilizing on the northern frontier, the Saxon soldiery being
despatched to surround Leipzic. Other towns arranged mass deputations to
the king, who despatched a minister to report on the attitude of
Leipzic. The report came, “The people are determined and orderly.” The
whole report was favourable to the town; upon which, the king changed
his ministers, abolished the press censorship, instituted trial by jury,
and promised a reform of the electoral laws. The people became
delirious with joy, and received the king everywhere with acclamations.

It was during these stirring times that Wagner and Roeckel became
members of the “Fatherland Union,” a reform institution with a modest
propaganda. The Union was really a federation of existing reform and
political institutions, adopting for its motto, “The will of the people
is law,” leaving the question of a republic or a monarchy an open one.

There was plenty of enthusiasm and strong determination among members of
the Union, but they lacked organization. The drift of the government’s
attitude was clear, seemingly conciliatory, but really more oppressive.
The Union felt that until the electoral laws were altered and national
armies instituted, the people would never be in a position to cope with
the government. It was not that they desired the abolition of the
monarchy so much as the acknowledgment that capable, law-abiding
citizens had a right to a voice in the selection of their rulers. The
Union had its own printing-press, and distributed largely political
leaflets, a proceeding carried on openly, though the members knew
themselves exposed to every hazard.

It is a fact that one of the best papers read before the members of the
Union was written by Richard Wagner. It was not possible that a man of
Wagner’s excitable temperament, with his love of freedom, his
deep-rooted sympathy with the masses, would have joined such a society
without actively exerting himself to further its objects. In his heart
he was not a revolutionist, he had no wish to overturn governments, but
his principles were decidedly utilitarian, and to secure these he did
not scruple to urge the abolition of the monarchy, although represented
by a prince he dearly loved. His argument was delivered against the
office and not against the man. Among the many reforms he advocates in
this paper are two to which democratic England has not yet attained: (1)
manhood suffrage without limitation or restriction of any kind, and (2)
the abolition of the second chamber. Though he urges the substitution of
a republic for a monarchy, he strives at the impossible task of proving
that the king can still be the first, the head of a republic, and that
the name only would be changed, and that he would enjoy the heart’s love
of a whole people in place of a varnished demeanour of courtiers. His
paper was read on the 16th June, 1848, before the Fatherland Union. It
was ordered to be printed and circulated among the various federated
societies. A copy of this paper was sent to me, of which I give a
translation here. It will be noted that it is not signed Richard Wagner
but only “A Member of the Fatherland Union.” This mattered not, as the
author was well known, and when Wagner was numbered among those accused
by the government, this paper was filed as part of the indictment
against him. It is entitled:--

“What is the Relation that our Efforts bear to the Monarchy?” and is as
follows:--

[Sidenote: “_STRIP HIM OF HIS TINSEL._”]

     As it is desirable that we become perfectly clear on this point,
     let us first closely examine the essence of republican
     requirements. Do you honestly believe that by marching resolutely
     onward from our present basis we should very soon reach a true
     republic, one without a king? Is this your deliberate opinion, or
     do you say so only to delude the timorous? Are you so ignorant, or
     do you intentionally purpose to mislead?

     Let me tell you to what goal our republican efforts are tending.

     Our efforts are for the good of all and are directed towards a
     future in which our present achievements will be but as the first
     streak of moonlight. With this object kept steadily in view, we
     should insist on the overthrow of the last remaining glitter of
     aristocracy. As the aristocracy no longer consists of feudal lords
     and masters who can enslave and bodily chastise us at their will,
     they would do wisely to obliterate old grievances by relinquishing
     the last remnants of class distinction which, at any moment, might
     become a Nessus shirt, consuming them if not cast off in time.

     Should they answer us that the memory of their ancestors would
     render it impious to resign any privileges inherited by them, then
     let them remember also that we too have forefathers, whose noble
     deeds of heroism, though not inscribed on genealogical trees, are
     yet inscribed--their sufferings, bondage, oppression, and slavery
     of every kind--in letters of blood in the unfalsified archives of
     the history of the last thousand years.

     To the aristocracy I would say, forget your ancestors, throw away
     your titles and every outward sign of courtly favour, and we will
     promise you to be generous and efface every remembrance of our
     ancestors. Let us be children of one father, brothers of one
     family! Listen to the warning--follow it freely and with a good
     will, for it is not to be slighted. Christ says, “If thy right eye
     offend thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee, for it is better
     that one of thy members should perish than that thy whole body
     should be cast into hell.”

     And now another point. Once for all, resign the exclusive honour of
     ever being in the presence of our monarch. Pray him to cease
     investing you with a medley of useless court offices, distinctions,
     and privileges; in our time they make the court a subject for
     unpleasant reflection. Discontinue to be lords of the chamber and
     lords of the robes, whose only utterance is “our king,”--strip him
     of his tinsel, lackeys, and flunkeys, frivolous excrescences of a
     bad time--the time of Louis the Fourteenth, when all princes sought
     to imitate the French monarch. Withdraw from a court which is an
     almshouse for idle nobility, and exert yourselves, that it may
     become the court of a whole and happy people, which every
     individual will enjoy and will be ready to defend, and smile on a
     sovereign who is the father of a whole contented people.

     Therefore, do away with the first chamber. There is but one people,
     not a first and a second, and they need but one house for their
     representation. This house, let it be a simple, noble building,
     with an elevated roof, resting on tall and strong pillars. Why
     would you disfigure the building by dividing it with a mean
     partition, thus causing two confined spaces?

     We further insist upon the unconditional right of every
     natural-born subject, when of age, to a vote. The more needy he be,
     the more his right, and the more earnestly will he aid in keeping
     the laws which he himself assisted in framing and which,
     henceforth, are to protect him from any similar future state of
     need and misery. Our republican programme further includes a new
     system of national defence, in which every citizen capable of
     bearing arms shall be enrolled. No standing army. It shall be
     neither a standing army nor a militia, nor yet a reduction of the
     one nor an increase of the other. It must be a new creation, which
     in its process of development, will do away with the necessity of a
     standing army as well as a militia.

     [Sidenote: _NOT THREATS, BUT WARNING._]

     And when all who draw breath in our dear German land are united
     into one great free people, when class prejudices shall have ceased
     to exist, then do you suppose we have reached our goal? Oh, no; we
     are just equipped for the beginning. Then will it be our duty to
     investigate boldly, with all our reasoning power, the cause of
     misery of our present social status, and determine whether man, the
     crown of creation, with his high mental abilities and his wonderful
     physical development, can have been destined by God to be the
     servile slave of inert base metal. We must decide whether money
     shall exert such degrading power over the image of God--man--as to
     render him the despicable slave of the passions of usury and
     avarice. The war against this existing evil will cause neither
     tears nor blood. The result of the foregone victory will be a
     universal conviction that the highest attainable happiness is
     commonwealth, a state in which as many active men as Mother Earth
     can supply with food will join in the well-ordered republic,
     supporting it by a fair exchange of labor, mutually supplying each
     other’s wants, and contributing to the universal happiness. Society
     must be in a diseased state when the activity of individuals is
     restrained and the existing laws imperfectly administered. In the
     coming contest we shall find that society will be maintained by
     the physical activity of individuals, and we shall destroy the
     nebulous notion that money possesses any inherent power. And heaven
     will help us to discover the true law by which this shall be
     proved, and dispel the false halo with which the unthinking mind
     invests this demon money. Then shall we root out the miseries
     engendered and nourished by public and secret usury, deceptive
     paper money and fraudulent speculations. This will tend to promote
     the emancipation of the human race (whilst fulfilling the teachings
     of Christ, a simple and clear truism which it is ever sought to
     hide behind the glamour of dogma, once invented to appeal to the
     feeble understanding of simple-minded barbarians), and to prepare
     it for a state towards the highest development of which we are now
     tending with clear vision and reason.

     Do you think that you scent in this the teachings of communism?

     Are you then so stupid or wicked as to confound a theory so
     senseless as that of communism with that which is absolutely
     necessary to the salvation of the human race from its degraded
     servitude? Are you not capable of perceiving that the very attempt,
     even though it were allowed, of dividing mathematically the goods
     of this world, would be a senseless solution of a burning question,
     but which attempt, fortunately however, in its complete
     impossibility, carries its own death-warrant. But though communism
     fails to supply the remedy, will you on that account deny the
     disease? Have a care! Notwithstanding that we have enjoyed peace
     for thirty-three years now, what do you see around you? Dejection
     and pitiful poverty; everywhere the horrid pallor of hunger and
     want. Look to it while there is yet time and before it becomes too
     late to act!

     Think not to solve the question by the giving of alms; acknowledge
     at once the inalienable rights of humanity, rights vouchsafed by
     the Omnipotent, or else you may live to see the day that cruel
     scorn will be met by vengeance and brute force. Then the wild cry
     of victory might be that of communism, and although the
     impossibility of any lengthened duration of its principles as a
     ruling power can be boldly predicted, yet even the briefest reign
     of such a thraldom might be sufficient to expunge for a long time
     to come all the advantages of a civilization of two thousand years
     old.

     Do you believe I threaten? No; I warn! When by our republican
     efforts we shall have solved this most important problem for the
     weal of society, and have established the dignity of the freed man,
     and established his claim to what we consider his rights, shall we
     then rest satisfied? No; then only are we reinvigorated for our
     great effort. For when we have succeeded in solving the
     emancipation question, thereby assisting in the regeneration of
     society, then will arise a new, free, and active race, then shall
     we have gained a new mean to aid us towards the attainments of the
     highest benefits, and then shall we actively disseminate our
     republican principles.

     Then shall we traverse the ocean in our ships, and found here and
     there a new young Germany, enriching it with the fruits of our
     achievements, and educating our children in our principles of human
     rights, so that they may be propagated everywhere. We shall do
     otherwise than the Spaniards, who made the new world into a
     papistic slaughter-house; we shall do otherwise than the English,
     who convert their colonies into huge shops for their own individual
     profit. Our colonies shall be truly German, and from sunrise to
     sunset we shall contemplate a beautiful, free Germany, inhabited,
     as in the mother country, by a free people. The sun of German
     freedom and German gentleness shall alike warm and elevate Cossack,
     Frenchmen, Bushmen, and Chinese. You see our republican zeal in
     this respect has no termination; it pushes on further and further
     from century to century, to confer happiness on the whole of the
     human race! Do you call this a Utopian dream? When we once set to
     work with a good will, and act courageously, then every year shall
     throw its light on a good deed of progress.

     But you ask, will all this be achieved under a monarchy? My answer
     is that throughout I have persistently kept it in view, but if you
     have any doubts of such a possibility, then it is you who pronounce
     the monarchical death-warrant. But if you agree with me, and
     consider it possible as I realize it, then a republic is the exact
     and right thing, and we should but have to petition the king to
     become the first and most genuine republican.

     [Sidenote: _THE QUESTION TO BE SOLVED._]

     And who is more called upon to be the most genuine republican than
     the king? _Res-publica_ means the affairs of the people. What
     individual can be destined more than the king to belong with his
     whole soul and mind to the people’s affairs? When he has been
     convinced of this undeniable truth, what is there possible that
     could induce him to lower himself from his exalted position to
     become the head of a special and small section only of his people.

     However deeply any republican may feel for the general good, he
     never can emulate the feelings of the king, nor become so genuine a
     republican, for the king’s anxiety is for his people as a whole,
     whilst every one of us is, in the nature of things, compelled to
     divide his attention between private and public affairs. And in
     what would consist a sacrifice, which it might be supposed the king
     would have to make in order to effect so grand and noble a change?
     Can it be considered a sacrifice for a king to see his free
     citizens no longer subjects? This right has been acknowledged and
     granted by the new constitution, and he who confirms its justice
     and adopts it with fidelity, cannot see a sacrifice in the
     abolition of subjects, and the substitution of “free men.” Would it
     be possible that a monarch could view the loss of the idle, vapid
     court attendance, with its surfeit of extinct titles and obsolete
     offices, as a sacrifice? What a contemptuous notion we should have
     of one of the most gentle-minded, true-hearted princes of our
     period, were we to assume that the fulfilment of our wishes
     entailed a sacrifice on his part, when we feel convinced that even
     a real sacrifice might with safety be expected from him, and the
     more so, when it is proved to him that the love of his people
     depended on the removal of an obstacle. What gives us the right to
     suppose this? that by our interpretation of the feelings of so
     exceptional a prince, we are able to infer that he would grant our
     request when we could not dare act thus with one of our body? It is
     the spirit of our time, the new state of things, that has grown up,
     which seems to give to the simplest among us the power of prophecy.
     There is a decided pressure for a decision. There are two camps
     amongst the civilized nations of Europe; from one we hear the cry
     of monarchy; republic, is the cry of the other.

     Will you deny that the time has come when a solution of this
     question must be arrived at, a question, the reply to which
     embodies all that which, at the present moment, excites human
     sympathies down to their lowest depths? Do you mean to say that you
     do not recognize the hour as inspired by God, that all this had
     been said and attempted before, and would again pass off like a fit
     of inebriation, and would fall back into its old place? Well,
     then, it would seem as though the heavens had stricken you with
     blindness. No; at the present moment we clearly perceive the
     necessity of distinguishing between truth and falsehood, and
     monarchy as the embodiment of autocracy is a falsehood--our
     constitution has proved it to be so.

     All who despair of a reconciliation throw yourselves boldly into
     the arms of the republic; those still willing to hope, lift their
     eyes for the last time to the points of existing circumstances to
     find a solution. The latter see that if the contest be against
     monarchy, it is only in isolated cases against the person of the
     prince, whilst everywhere war is being waged against the party that
     lifts the monarch on a shield, under the cover of which they fight
     for their own selfish ends. This is the party that has to be thrown
     down and conquered, however bloody the fight. And if all
     reconciliation fail, party and prince will simultaneously be hit.
     But the means of peace are in the hands of the prince; if he be the
     genuine father of his people, and by one single noble resolution he
     can plant the standard of peace, there where war seems otherwise
     inevitable peace will reign. Let us then cast our glance around,
     and seek among the European monarchs those said to be the chosen
     instruments of heaven for the great work of paternal government,
     and what do we see? A degenerated race, unfit for any noble
     calling! What a sight we find in Spain, Portugal, or Naples. What
     heartache fills us when we look in Germany, on Hanover, Hesse,
     Bavaria. Let us look away from these! God has judged the weak and
     wicked; their evils extend from branch to branch. Let us turn our
     eyes towards home. There we meet a prince beloved by his people,
     not in the old traditional sense, but from a genuine acknowledgment
     of his real self, his pure virtues, his honourable, just, and
     gentle character; therefore, we cry aloud, “This is the man
     Providence has chosen!”

     [Sidenote: _A SELF-DEPOSING KING._]

     If Prussia insists on monarchy, it is to suit its notion of
     Prussian destiny, a vain idea that cannot fail to pale soon. If
     Austria is of the same mind, it is because she sees in her dynasty
     the only means of keeping together a conglomeration of people and
     lands thrown into an unnatural whole and which cannot by any
     possibility hold together much longer. But if a Saxon chooses
     monarchy, it is because he loves his king, is happy in calling such
     a prince his own, not from a cold, calculating spirit of
     advantage, but from genuine affection. This pure affection shall be
     our beacon-light, our guide not only during this troubled state of
     things, but for the future and forever. Filled with this
     unspeakably grand and important thought, we with inspired
     conviction courageously exclaim, “We are republicans!”

     By what we have achieved we are rapidly nearing our goal,--the
     republic,--and although much anger and deception attach themselves
     still to the name, all doubts can be dispelled by one word from our
     sovereign. It is not we who shall proclaim the republic; it will be
     our king, the noblest of sovereigns; he shall say:--

     “I declare Saxony to be a free state, and the first of this free
     state shall give to every one the fullest security of his station,
     and we further proclaim that the highest power in the land of
     Saxony is invested in the royal house of Wettin to descend from
     branch to branch by the right of the firstborn. And we swear to
     keep the oath that the law shall never be broken, not that our
     taking it will be the safeguard of its being kept, for how many
     oaths are continually broken to such covenants! No; its safeguard
     will be the conviction we had before we took the oath, that the law
     will be the beginning of a new era of unchangeable happiness, not
     only for Saxony, but the whole of Germany, aye, to all Europe will
     it carry the beneficent message.”

     He who speaks this to-day, emboldened by inspired hope, is most
     firmly convinced that he never proved his fidelity to the oath of
     allegiance he took to the king on accepting office more than on the
     day he penned this address. Does it appear to you that by this
     proposition, _monarchy would be altogether abolished? Yes, so it
     would!_ But the kingdom would thereby be emancipated. Do not
     deceive yourselves, ye who clamour for “a constitutional monarchy
     on the broadest basis.”

     You are either not honest in reference to that basis, or if you are
     in real earnest, you will torture your artificial monarchy to
     death, for every step you take in advancing on that democratic
     basis will be an encroachment on the power of the monarch, viz.:
     his autocracy; and in this light only can a monarchy be understood,
     therefore every step you take in a democratic direction will be a
     humiliation to the monarch, since it will bespeak a distrust of his
     rule. How can love and confidence prosper in a continual conflict
     between totally opposed principles? A monarch cannot fail to be
     thwarted and annoyed in a contest in which very often undignified
     measures are employed that cannot but produce an unhealthy state of
     things. Let us save the monarch from such an unhappy half-life.
     _Therefore, let us abolish monarchy altogether_, as autocracy,
     _i.e._ sole-reigning, becomes impossible by the strong opposition
     of democracy,--the reign of the many,--but, on the other hand, let
     us set against this the complete emancipation of royalty.

     At the head of the free state--the republic, the king by lineal
     descent, will be what he in the noblest sense should be, viz. the
     first of the people, the freest of the free!

     Would this not be the grandest realization of Christ’s teaching,
     “the highest among you shall be the servant of all,” for in serving
     and upholding the liberty of all, he raises in himself the
     conception of liberty to the highest pinnacle, the divine. The more
     earnestly we dive into the annals of German history, the more we
     become convinced that the signification of sovereignty, as we have
     given it, is but a resuscitated one. The circle of historical
     development will be closed when we have adopted it, and its
     greatest aberration will be found in the present un-German
     conception of monarchy.

     Should we wish to formulate our heartfelt wishes into a petition,
     then I am convinced we should have to count our petitions by the
     hundred thousands, for their contents would lead to a
     reconciliation of contesting parties, at least of all of them that
     mean well. But only one signature is wanted here to be conclusive,
     that is, the signature of our beloved king, whom from the innermost
     depth of our hearts we wish a happier lot than he can at present
     enjoy!

A MEMBER OF THE FATHERLAND UNION.

     16TH JUNE, 1848.

[Sidenote: _HE BECOMES A MASKED MAN._]

It may be supposed with such documents scattered broadcast by a great
political institution, that the government would have shown discretion
and endeavoured to conciliate the people by judicious concessions. Their
action, however, was in the contrary direction. They were well aware
they could crush the people at the first appearance of an outbreak, and
cared not. As long as they had control of the army they felt secure.
This question of natural armies was for the moment pressing. Wagner had
endeavoured to solve it in his paper, but his were more suggestions than
a detailed plan, so his talk with his friend, August Roeckel, led to the
latter attempting a solution. Roeckel took for his basis the various
military organizations in force in Switzerland. His paper was read
before the Fatherland Union, and Wagner told me, he was loudly
applauded. Like his own paper it was printed, and in thousands. He, too,
signed his scheme, “A Member of the Fatherland Union,” but it was an
open secret who was the author. The result was that he was dismissed
from his post of assistant court conductor, after five years of service.
The Union then resolved to hold themselves in readiness for extreme
measures, and with that view directed Roeckel to amplify his plan. As
this was a question of technical skill and practical experience, the aid
of officers in the army was sought. The movement was popular with the
troops, and advice was readily forthcoming. The government, becoming
aware of this, at once dismissed all military men who had aided in
formulating the plan. From this time Wagner was what might be termed a
marked man. It was known that “the companion of my solitude” was his
offending assistant director, and means were taken to indicate the
disapprobation of the court. August Roeckel was dismissed in the autumn
of 1848, just at the time all Dresden was celebrating the three-hundred
years’ jubilee of its theatre. Among the favours bestowed by the king
were decorations for Chapel Master Reissiger, (a man vastly the inferior
of Wagner) and other subordinates, but Wagner was passed over. The
slight was intentional.

But a few weeks later Liszt was going to produce “Tannhäuser” at Vienna.
To secure as perfect a representation as possible, Jenasst, the Vienna
stage manager, visited Richard Wagner, for consultation, and he relates
how Wagner took him to a meeting of republicans where the men all wore
large hats, and behaved themselves generally in a wild, excited fashion.

No longer a musician by profession, but engaged entirely in the cause of
the people, August Roeckel founded a small weekly paper called the
“Volksblatte” (People’s Paper), naturally supported by the Union; it was
narrowly watched by the government. Occasionally seizures were made, but
no charge was brought against Roeckel. In this Wagner wrote, and I know
that the tenour of his articles was, “Destroy an interested clique of
flatterers who surround the King; and let the royal ear be open to the
prayers of all the people.” The government contemplated a prosecution of
Roeckel, but refrained solely because of the difficulty of securing a
conviction.

[Sidenote: _ROECKEL’S PROMINENCE._]

In November the _Prussian National Gathering_ was dissolved. This
procedure exasperated the people, upon which Berlin openly announced
that any exhibition of revolt would be at once put down mercilessly by
bayonet and cannon. August Roeckel was appealed to, and he wrote a
letter to the Prussian military authorities on the subject, copies of
which he sent to the public journals. For this the government arrested
him and put him in prison, where he remained three days without trial;
a generous unknown friend, putting ten thousand dollars as bail, secured
his release. Shortly after, he was tried and acquitted, but to this day
it is not known who was the benefactor on that occasion. So popular was
August Roeckel with the people, that on his acquittal, he was met by a
large concourse of friends, to which joined a detachment of Life Guards,
some two dozen, from the barracks close at hand, and headed a procession
through the town. As may be expected, the whole of the troop of soldiers
were tried, punished, and dismissed from the army. I mention this
incident as bearing upon the prominence of Roeckel in the eyes of the
government; and because the charges against Wagner rested on his
friendship with Roeckel, and on papers found at Roeckel’s house,
implicating Richard Wagner.

In the opening winter months of 1848, the air was thick with reform. A
new chamber was to be elected; every one was straining his utmost for
the cause. It was felt that on the result of the elections the fate of
the people rested. The Fatherland Union determined to run as many
candidates of their own as possible, and Roeckel was of the chosen
number. He was elected deputy for Limbach, near Chemnitz, the electors
purchasing and presenting him with the freehold property, which it was
required all members should possess. The result of the elections gave an
overwhelming majority for what were termed the people’s candidates.
Roeckel wrote me the result, which was as follows:--

    Government party, nil seats.
    Moderate liberals, one-tenth.
    Democratic party, nine-tenths.

[Sidenote: _A GERMAN NATIONAL THEATRE._]

The democratic party as a body had pledged itself to a revision of
taxation. It was felt that the new chamber would not trifle with an
iniquitously large court list, nor would it tolerate luxuries on the
civil list. This was openly talked about. Wagner was in distress. The
subsidy granted by the government to the theatre was one of the items of
the civil list; was this to go? He saw Roeckel; there was the man most
fitted to urge the wisdom of retaining the charge. His devotion to the
cause of the masses was unhesitatingly admitted on all hands, and he
knew the theatre and its necessary expenditure better than any one. It
was decided that while Roeckel should work in the chamber, Wagner
should, as conductor, draw out a scheme and submit it to ministers,
independently of his coadjutor. The plan once begun assumed much larger
proportions than was intended for the occasion. It was delivered, and he
heard nothing of it for months, officially, but he knew that the
discussion was being shirked. When it was returned to him, there was
evidence in the shape of pencil-marks that he had been laughed at as a
visionary, anticipating a great measure of reform when it was intended
none should be granted. Communications had been opened up secretly with
the Prussian government, who promised on the first show of discontent to
enter Saxony with their troops and very effectively stamp it out; and so
the king’s advisers had no intention of considering any plan the newly
elected chamber might submit. In itself the plan is a marvel of
administrative and constructive ability. He entitled it, “Scheme for the
Organization of a German National Theatre.” There are many propositions
advanced in it which are very moot points, in urging which Wagner, in
my judgment, was in error; _e.g._ private enterprise was to be
discountenanced for the reason that an impressario might produce immoral
pieces. To him the theatre was a great educator of a nation, and he
would insist on all theatres being under the direct control of the
government. But apart from this, which is a matter of opinion, the
scheme is a logical and exhaustive treatment of the whole question of
dramatic and vocal art, from the training-school for girls and boys to
their retirement on a pension to be allowed by the government. I will
briefly mention the main features of his plan: (1) Girls to enter
training-schools at fourteen, boys at sixteen, for three years; (2)
curriculum to embrace dancing, fencing, and general culture; (3) pupils
to first appear in the provinces; (4) pensions to be guaranteed, and
innumerable details as to construction of chorus, orchestra,
qualification of directors and instructors, practice, etc.



CHAPTER XV.

1849-1851.


The year of the Revolution, Wagner’s flight and exile,--to comprehend
the full significance of these three incidents of magnitude, the
condition of society, the determination of the masses, and the unwise
prevarication of the ministry must be understood. Before stating what I
know of Wagner’s active participation during the next few exciting
months, I will describe the events themselves, and then treat of Wagner.

[Sidenote: _LEANING ON A REED._]

The newly elected chamber met on the 10th January. For weeks they
struggled to make headway. Whatever measure they passed was vetoed or
postponed by the king’s advisers. The excuse ever was, “Wait until the
constitution of the Frankfort diet has been promulgated”; or, when the
chamber insisted on reforms as regards the jury system and law
procedure, they were hung up on the miserable plea that the minister of
justice was ill, and could not devote himself to a careful study of the
changes proposed. The constitution as laid down by the federated German
parliament at Frankfort gave to every native German equal civil rights
and freedom of speech and press. Special civil privileges for the
nobility were not recognized; all Germans were to be governed by the
same laws. Out of the thirty-four principalities, twenty-nine had
accepted the enactment wholly, but Saxony held out. The Dresden chamber
resolved on coming to close quarters; they insisted on its official
recognition. Matters were assuming a cloudy aspect, but the king had no
intention of granting what a representative parliament of the whole
German people held to be the just rights of every man. The ministry,
therefore, at the wish of the king, resigned on the 24th February. This
purchased a short period of tranquillity. The new ministry would require
time to examine the question. False hopes were held out, but nothing was
done in the shape of advance or concession. The people refrained from
breaking out, expecting the Frankfort diet to insist on the Saxon
monarch acknowledging the constitution. But they leaned on a reed. The
king of Prussia, aware of the disturbed state of Saxony, sent a note to
the king, intimating that at a word from him he was ready to overrun
Saxony with his soldiers. Thus supported, there was no hope of any
reform passing into Saxon law. And so, on the 23d April, August Roeckel
writes to me, “This day we have passed a vote of want of confidence in
the king’s advisers.” Five days later, the 28th, I hear again that “the
ministry had the temerity to demand the imposition of a new tax.” This
was fiercely resisted, and the king, to bring his unfaithful commons to
their senses, issued a proclamation dissolving the chamber. This
unconstitutional and high-handed act was protested against with
vehemence, and was denounced in plain terms by Roeckel. The chambers
would not dissolve then, but arranged a final meeting two days hence.
Rough work was expected by the ministry; orders were given to confine
all troops to barracks on the 29th April, the day before the final
meeting arranged for; armaments were to be held ready for use.

On the 3Oth April the angered and excited chambers met. The debate was
stormy, for the members were aware that troops and police were held in
readiness to seize certain of their members, immediately on the rising
of the house. Richard Wagner still held his office under the government.
In a sketch of these exciting days, written and published by Roeckel, at
my instigation, he states that Wagner, by some means, became aware that
his friend Roeckel was to be taken prisoner; at once making his way to
the house, he called Roeckel out, while the debate was in progress.
Deputies had an immunity from arrest while the house was sitting, a
privilege similarly enjoyed by English members of Parliament.

[Sidenote: _MICHAEL BAKUNIN._]

Roeckel desired to stay till the end of the sitting. He had long felt,
he says, that the government wished to force a decision by an appeal to
arms, and he was anxious to remain to the last, to hear what the
intentions of the government were. To this Wagner would not listen, but
finding his own entreaties not strong enough, he quickly brought a few
friends together, Hainberger, Bakunin, and Semper, and to their
unanimous decision he gave way. They urged that he should not even go
home to take farewell of his wife and five young children, but escape at
once. The question then was--where? Roeckel proposed Berlin, as he
thought there the revolt would first break out, but Bakunin advised
Prague, where the cause had some staunch friends, as safer. It was
decided then for Prague. Roeckel was to be recalled immediately there
was need for his presence.

The men who advised this temporary flight were important leaders of the
people during the outbreak. First, Hainberger, son of Herr von
Hainberger, one of the eight imperial councillors of the emperor of
Austria. A musician of gift, his father wished him to enter the law, his
studies in which drove him into the ranks of democracy. He came to
Dresden, and took up his abode with August Roeckel, was a member of the
Fatherland Union, addressed public gatherings, and though but twenty
years of age, was of invaluable service in the organizing (such as it
was) and controlling of the people. He was on the staff, too, of
Roeckel’s paper.

Michael Bakunin, an historic revolutionary figure, was, by birth, a
Russian. Driven into exile by the severity of the laws in his own
country, he had taken refuge in Dresden, where he was hidden by Roeckel.
A man of imposing personality, high and noble-minded, of impassioned
speech, he was one of the greatest figures during those terrible May
days. As gentle and inoffensive as a lamb, his intellect and energy were
called into action by the unjust treatment of the people. He
unfortunately gave Roeckel a letter addressed to the heads of the
movement in Prague, urging no precipitation, but combination, unity of
action.

Here, for a moment, I must turn aside to the most prominent of Wagner’s
biographers, Glasenapp. In vol. I, p. 267, it is stated that Roeckel had
left Dresden to escape the consequences of a law-suit. This is totally
inaccurate. My information is derived from manuscript now before me,
under Roeckel’s own hand, and I will produce textually what he says:--

     I had scarcely been three days in Prague, when a premature outbreak
     recalled me. Richard Wagner, whose later long years of persecution
     can but find their explanation in that he dared to distinguish
     between his duties as a court conductor and his conscience as a
     citizen, he who as conductor insisted on being unfettered, had long
     since been wearied out in bitter disappointment, by the
     non-fulfilment of the promises of 1848. Wagner wrote to me during
     the feverish excitement of 3d May. “Return immediately. For the
     moment you are not threatened with any danger, but there is a fear
     that the excitement will precipitate a premature outbreak.” These
     last words [Roeckel goes on to add], were held by his judges to
     imply a preconcerted plot to overthrow all German princes, whereas
     his letter had reference solely to Dresden. The inference was
     erroneous. As you know, no organization existed by which the
     principalities could be united.

[Sidenote: _HE MUST HAVE ICE._]

Simultaneously with this incriminating note from Wagner, a messenger
arrived from Bakunin urging Roeckel to return with all possible speed,
as directing heads were sorely needed, and particularly popular men.
This was on the 4th. He left Prague immediately, arriving outside
Dresden on Sunday, the 6th May, whence he heard the booming of guns,
ringing of church bells, fusillading of musketry, and saw two columns of
fire rising to the sky. From his position, he discerned that one was
from the site of the old opera house. His heart sank. Had the people
grown wild? Were they reckless, and was the grand cause to be lost in
fury and ill-directed efforts? The gates of the town were held open to
him by citizens. He made his way at once to the town hall. In his
patriotism he thought not of wife or children. The streets presented an
appearance akin to the sickening, horrible sight he had seen in Paris
during the July Revolution of 1830,--shops closed, paving-stones doing
duty as barricades, strengthened by overturned carts, etc., etc., a
miscellaneous collection of domestic articles.

Hurrying along, he came suddenly upon Hainberger. The incident is
curious and characteristic. Rapid inquiries and answers passed. It
appeared that Hainberger was at the same barricades as Richard Wagner,
who, he said, had just returned to the town in charge of a convoy of
provisions, and a strong detachment of peasants, and Hainberger was sent
in search of an ice for the parched Wagner. The significance of this
incident should not be lost sight of. The character of “Wagner as I knew
him” is herein painted accurately in a few lines. He was fond of luxury;
a sort of Oriental craving possessed him; and, whether weighed down with
debt and the horizon obscure, or in the midst of a nation’s throes for
liberty, he would appease his luxurious senses. Hainberger was the
messenger, first, because of his devotion, and secondly, because of his
long legs, which enabled him to step over the barricades.

At the town hall he found the members of the provisional
government--Heubner, Todt, Tzchirner--that had been appointed on the
flight of the king, 4th May. With them were Bakunin and Heinze, a first
lieutenant in the army, who had thrown in his lot with the people, and
took the military lead during the outbreak. Heinze had no means of
communicating his orders to anybody. Every man guarded the post he
thought best, and left it at his discretion. The commander had no notion
how many men he commanded; it was a chaos, a seething medley of
uncontrolled enthusiasm. Up to the 5th May no one had realized the
serious nature of the conflict; masses streamed hither and thither, were
in a rough sort of manner marshalled and directed to defend certain
streets; but it was a terribly unorganized mass, each man fighting as he
thought best.

[Sidenote: _THE ARREST OF ROECKEL._]

Roeckel placed himself at the disposal of the provisional government,
and was appointed director of a district,--that in which Wagner worked.
Roeckel visited the barricades, encouraged the people, and to open up
communications with comrades in neighbouring streets, he had walls
broken down and passages made through houses. But his chief crime,
according to the government, was the making of pitch rings to be flung
burning into public buildings held by the soldiers. The actual facts of
the case were these: The barricades were too low; men could with little
effort step over them. He hurriedly consulted Wagner, and it was agreed
that a storming by the soldiers could only be prevented by covering the
top of the barricades with some substance easy of ignition. Then Roeckel
suggested tar or pitch rings; and while Wagner went off to his convoy
supervision, Roeckel, with a body of men, set to work making these rings
in the yard opposite the town hall. The work had only proceeded an hour
when he received a message from the provisional government. His presence
was urgently required elsewhere, so the ring-making was discontinued at
once. This was on the Monday, or but one day after he had entered
Dresden. That evening information was received that a convoy of
provisions and a detachment of peasants were a few miles outside the
city waiting to enter. It was raining hard, and very dark; only some
person acquainted with the road and place would be of service. Roeckel
knew both, and started with Hainberger. As their mission was of such
importance, they deemed it advisable to wait until night had completely
set in. The rain and darkness increasing, the utmost caution was
imperative; but alas! they were met by a patrol of the Saxon troops, and
Roeckel was taken prisoner, his companion Hainberger escaping, owing to
his nimbleness. Roeckel was immediately taken before an officer and
searched. On him were found papers inculpating Wagner and others. A few
lines, too, from Commander Heinze as to the conduct of the people in the
event of a sortie taking place, caused him considerable discomfort. His
hands were tied behind him with rope which cut the flesh, and for the
night he was left in a barn. Next morning, still tied, he was sent down
the Elbe to Dresden under a strong escort, for the importance of the
capture was soon known. On his way down, he passed his own house; his
wife was at the window, and his children, attracted by the helmets of
the troops, were on the banks, unconscious that their father was a
prisoner on board. He was confined in a narrow, dark room, in his wet
clothes, and saw no one for two days, by which time the firing in the
town had ceased, and he knew then that the outbreak was at an end.

And now, to measure accurately the extent of Wagner’s culpability or his
claim to eulogy, the precise nature of the revolt should be understood,
the class and character of the insurgents, and their avowed purpose,
plainly stated. Further, the source of the government indictment against
Wagner and the reason of their relentless persecution should both be
fully comprehended.

First, the revolt. It began through pure accident. Naturally the
townspeople were excited at the knowledge of the military being held in
readiness to suppress, by force of arms, any public expression at the
arbitrary dissolution of the chambers. They gathered in groups about the
streets, the pressure being greatest near the town hall. As the crowd
swayed, a wooden gate, opening upon a military magazine, gave way. The
troops were turned out, and defenceless people fired upon,--men, women
and children dying in the streets. This was May 3d. Then began that
loose organization. And who took part in it? Let the official records
supply the answer. I find that when the insurrection was suppressed the
government indicted twelve thousand persons, this lamentably lengthy
list including thirty mayors of different towns, about two-thirds of the
members of the dissolved chambers, government officials, town
councillors, lawyers, clergy, school-masters, officers and privates of
the army, men of culture, position, and social influence.

[Sidenote: _WAGNER’S SEDITION._]

Well might Herr von Beust, the king of Saxony’s chosen prime minister
during March and April, 1849, when speaking in the Dresden chamber on
the 15th August, 1864, or fifteen years after the terrible May days of
1849 that condemned Richard Wagner to exile, describe this revolt as an
“insurrection that embraced the whole of the people of Saxony.” After
such striking, conclusive testimony to the character of the revolt, from
the highest minister of the crown, no stigma can attach to Wagner or any
member who united in defence of the liberty of the subject, but rather
is such action to be commended.

One more fact from the official report now before me: of Prussian and
Saxon troops thirty-four are recorded dead and a hundred wounded;
whereas, of the people, or “insurgents,” one hundred and ninety men,
seven women killed, and a hundred and eleven men and four women wounded,
besides “about fifty more” of the people admittedly killed by the
soldiery, and then thrown into the Elbe, or a gross total of a hundred
and thirty-four soldiers killed and wounded against three hundred and
sixty-two people.

And now as to the source of the government charge and the reason of its
intolerant bearing for thirteen years towards Richard Wagner. I have
already referred to the note taken upon Roeckel, which Wagner wrote and
addressed to him at Prague, urging his immediate return. Further, I have
reproduced the revolutionary paper which Wagner read before the
Fatherland Union, a copy of which figures in the official indictment
_re_ Wagner. There yet remain other incriminating documents, and
occasional words uttered by prisoners under examination, besides the
knowledge the government possessed of his close intimacy with that
revolutionary directing spirit, Bakunin, and also with August Roeckel;
and further, his membership in the Union. But the chief materials for
the government accusation were furnished by poor Roeckel himself. There
was, first, the letter taken upon him--“Return immediately ...
excitement may precipitate a premature outbreak.” Then his house was
sacked. He was the editor and proprietor of the “Volksblatte,” the
people’s paper. Naturally, therefore, documents and papers of every
description were found in profusion, held to incriminate several
persons. Here copies were found of the June, 1848, paper, by Richard
Wagner, on the “Abolition of the Monarchy,” and articles written by him
for the “Volksblatte,” then minutes of meetings of the Fatherland Union
and of the sub-committee. In a letter from his wife to me, detailing the
incidents of the sacking of his house in Dresden, she says, “Every
paper, printed and in manuscript, was taken away by the police officer
who accompanied the military guard”; and, further, she says, “When I was
ordered to leave Dresden I went first to Leipzic and Halle, thence to
Weimar, and at each town, when it became known who we were, I and my
five children were received with every sign of affection; at Leipzic the
townspeople coming out in a body to welcome us.”

[Sidenote: _A CHIEF OF INSURRECTION._]

Roeckel’s wife was ordered to quit Dresden so that she might not witness
the execution of her husband. Both Bakunin and Roeckel were, by order of
the Prussian commander, to be shot in the market place, an order only
countermanded when it was thought that further information could be
extracted from them. Ten days after Roeckel’s capture he was brought up
for investigation, in company with Heubner, the head of the provincial
government, Heinze, the military commander of the people, and Bakunin,
directing spirit. These four men were all chained. From this time each
was examined and interrogated separately. Roeckel’s investigations were
endless. He could not at the time perceive why he was repeatedly
cross-questioned on the same point. Alas, it was too cruelly potent
when, on the 14th January, 1850, or nineteen months after he was taken
prisoner, for the first time he heard specifically with what he was
charged, and his sentence,--death. He saw then clearly that the last
part of Wagner’s note to him had been interpreted as implying a general
organized rising throughout Saxony at a moment to be decided upon by the
leaders, Bakunin, Heubner, Todt, Wagner, and Roeckel--“return
immediately ... the excitement will precipitate a premature outbreak.”
The official interpretation was entirely wrong. No decision of the kind
had been arrived at. There was a complete lack of organization. They
wished to be prepared for emergencies, but a deliberate attack was not
contemplated. However, it sufficed to include Wagner among the chiefs of
the insurrection.

Then there were Bakunin’s letters to the sympathizers at Prague,
unaddressed. By all manner of cunning questions that legal ingenuity
could suggest was it sought to drag out from Roeckel in his cell, the
names of the leaders at Prague. The addresses of several personages were
found in the sacking of Roeckel’s house, and these were all arraigned.
For a year these secret investigations were carried on, in June, July,
and August at Dresden, and subsequently at the fortress of Königstein.
On the last day of August, 1849, Heubner, Bakunin, and Roeckel seem to
have been confronted separately by a witness who swore to the part
actually played by Wagner during the rising. Refusing to utter a word
that should incriminate their friend, they were transported that night
in three separate wagons to the impregnable fortress of Königstein.
Officers with loaded revolvers sat inside each conveyance, a troop of
mounted soldiery forming the van and rear of the cavalcade. The night
had been chosen, as these men were known to be beloved of the people;
they were martyrs in a nation’s cause, and it was feared that, should it
become known who were the prisoners being conveyed, a rescue might be
attempted. Inside the prison house, Roeckel met with kind treatment and
was permitted to receive letters from his friends. The nobility of his
character, his integrity, fearlessness, and unselfishness had rendered
him so popular that the directors of the Royal Library at Dresden placed
their whole store of books at his disposal. Within the walls of his
prison he was equally popular, warders and soldiers uniting to form a
plan for his escape, and that of Heubner and Bakunin. Roeckel and
Bakunin declared themselves ready, but Heubner refused, whereupon
Roeckel and Bakunin declined to hazard the attempt without their friend.
It is to these efforts of the soldiers that Wagner refers in a letter to
Edward Roeckel, brother of August, which appears later on. The
friendliness of the warders being perceived by the authorities, Roeckel
was removed to that Bastille of Saxony, the fortress of Waldheim, and
Bakunin to Prague.

[Sidenote: _WAGNER’S ACTIVE PART._]

And now for the first time was Roeckel brought before a properly
constituted tribunal. It was on the morning of the 14th January, 1850,
that he heard for the first time the charge formulated against him and
the sentence. The official accusation of my friend is before me, and as
Richard Wagner is concerned, I will summarize the charge. It consists of
eight distinct counts to the effect that he, Roeckel, had placed himself
at the disposal of the provisional government, constructed barricades,
was present at military councils, received the convoys of men and
provisions that were brought into Dresden by Wagner and others, prepared
tar brands, was concerned in a plot for a general uprising in the
principalities to overthrow the lawful rulers, as proved by the letter
from Richard Wagner taken upon him, etc., etc. The sentence passed upon
Roeckel was death, Heubner and Bakunin having been brought up for trial
and sentenced at the same time. The friends shook hands for the last
time.

Outside a party had arisen demanding a second trial. The clamour was
strong, so that a rehearing was conceded, but the second court, on 16th
April, 1850, only confirmed the judgment of the first, the extreme
penalty, however, being commuted by the king, who had under all
circumstances shown himself averse to capital punishment, to
imprisonment for life. Roeckel was, however, reprieved after having been
incarcerated nearly thirteen years.

And now for the actual part played by Wagner. Throughout he was most
active. He was, as he says, “everywhere.” His genius for organizing and
directing, which we have seen carried to such perfection on the stage,
proved of infinite value during those anxious days. An outbreak had long
been expected, but not at the moment it actually took place, and when it
came he was found ready to carry out the work appointed him. Though not
on the executive of the provisional government, he was consulted
regularly by the heads, and as he says, “it was pure accident” he was
not taken prisoner with Heubner and Bakunin, as he had but “left them
the night before their arrest to meet them in the morning for
consultation.”

[Sidenote: _LEAD FROM THE HOUSE-TOPS._]

His temperament, all who have come into contact with him well know, was
very excitable, and under such a strain as he then endured it was at
fever pitch. Hainberger related to me a dramatic episode which thrilled
Wagner’s frame and stirred the whole of the eye-witnesses. I recounted
it subsequently to Wagner, and he agreed entirely as to the truth of
Hainberger’s recital. It was in the morning about eight o’clock, the
barricade at which Wagner and Hainberger were stationed was about to
receive such morning meal as had been prepared, the outposts being kept
by a few men and women. Amongst the latter was a young girl of eighteen,
the daughter of a baker belonging to this particular barricade. She
stood in sight of all, when to their amazement a shot was suddenly
heard, a piercing shriek, followed by the fall of the girlish patriot.
The miscreant Prussian soldier, one of a detachment in the
neighbourhood, was caught redhanded and hurried to the barricade. Wagner
seized a musket and mounting a cart called out aloud to all, “Men, will
you see your wives and daughters fall in the cause of our beloved
country, and not avenge their cowardly murder? All who have hearts, all
who have the blood and spirit of their forefathers, and love their
country follow me, and death to the tyrant.” So saying he seized a
musket, and heading the barricade they came quickly upon the few
Prussians who had strayed too far into the town, and who, perceiving
they were outnumbered, gave themselves up as prisoners. This is but one
of those many examples of what a timid man will do under excitement, for
I give it as my decided opinion, and I have no fear of lack of
corroboration, that Richard Wagner was not personally brave. I have
closely observed him upon many occasions, and though entering into a
quarrel readily enough,--once in the London streets with a grocer who
had cruelly beaten his horse,--he always moved away when it looked like
coming to blows. This might be termed discretion; well, he was discreet,
there are no two opinions about that, but I distinctly affirm that what
is commonly understood by personal bravery, Wagner possessed none of it.

He was ever ready to harangue the people; his volubility, excitability,
and unquenchable love of freedom instigating him at all times. This was
well known to the government, as also the foregoing incident, I am
convinced, for, be it remembered, Wagner and his companions only made
the Prussian soldiers prisoners, and it is not supposing the impossible
that on release they would have reported fully who it was that led,
musket in hand, the people against them.

Another incident of the campaign, and this time the author is Wagner.
When it was reported that the ammunition was running short, the not very
original idea sprang from him in this instance to use the lead from the
house-tops. That Wagner’s very active participation was fully reported
to the government, is proved by their attitude towards him. They
expected to take him prisoner with Heubner and Bakunin, for he was
constantly with them, and they were betrayed by the Prussians; and, as
Wagner says, it was “pure accident” only that he was not taken with
them.

As soon as the leaders were taken, and Wagner saw there was no use in
continuing the conflict, he fled. He knew not in what direction to turn,
but the thought of his precious manuscripts which he had with him
determined his course--Weimar, Liszt. And so it fell out. Liszt was good
and sheltered him, and interested himself so far as to go to the police
official at Weimar to try and discover whether any warrant had been
issued for his apprehension. Wagner remained below while Liszt entered
to inquire. He was not kept in suspense long. Liszt hurried out
breathless and excited. “For the love of God, stay not a moment; a
warrant has been issued and is upstairs now waiting to be executed, but
I have prevailed upon H----, who out of friendship will not put it into
execution for an hour.” Under Liszt’s advice he left for Paris, the
Weimar virtuoso being intrusted with Wagner’s precious manuscripts. He
went to Paris, but remained a few weeks only, seeking an asylum in
Zurich, of which city in the October following he became a naturalized
subject.

In the summer of 1853 he thought of quitting Zurich, information which
was soon conveyed to the Dresden government, who at once issued the
following proclamation. I draw attention to the words “most prominent,”
and further to the date, June, 1853; or, it should be borne in mind,
four years after the Revolution. It ran as follows:--

[Sidenote: _A HAPPY ACCIDENT._]

     Wagner, Richard, late chapel master of Dresden, one of the most
     prominent supporters of the party of insurrection, who by reason of
     his participation in the Revolution of May, 1849, in Dresden, has
     been pursued by police warrant, this is to give notice that it
     having transpired he intends to leave Zurich, where he at present
     resides, in order to enter Germany, he should be arrested; whereby,
     for the better purpose of apprehension, a portrait of the said
     Richard Wagner is hereby given, so that should he touch German land
     he may at once be delivered over to the police authorities at
     Dresden.

The question then arises, is it to be supposed that a man thus pursued
by the Saxon government had taken little or no part in the insurrection?
There cannot be any doubt as to the answer. As I have before stated,
Richard Wagner was deeply implicated in revolutionary proceedings before
the May days of 1849, facts within the cognizance of the government.
They knew he was a member of the political society, Fatherland Union,
the centre of Saxon discontent; it was notorious that the conductor,
Wagner, had written and read a celebrated paper in June, 1848, before
the society, advocating the abolition of the monarchy; his most intimate
companion and confidant was the second conductor, Roeckel, dismissed
from office by reason of his revolutionary (?) practices, and he,
Wagner, had already expressed his regret for hasty language condemnatory
of the powers, and what was even still more convincing evidence, did he
not stand convicted by his own handwriting--the short note taken on the
person of August Roeckel, besides the evidence of his having contributed
articles to Roeckel’s paper? It is then a matter of universal rejoicing,
that the “pure accident” did prevent his meeting Bakunin and Heubner,
for, judging from the sentence of death passed upon those two, and upon
Roeckel, it is more than probable that the same sentence would have been
pronounced against him.

That the government regarded Roeckel and Wagner in much the same light,
is to my mind further shown by the similarity in time of their
respective imprisonment and exile--August Roeckel serving nearly
thirteen years, and Richard Wagner’s amnesty dating March, 1862. Several
persons of high rank interceded for him, among them Napoleon the Third,
who, after the “Tannhäuser” fiasco in Paris of 1861, expressed himself
amazed at the fatherland exiling so great a son. After the perusal of
the following letter, dated by Wagner, Enge, near Zurich, 15th March,
1851, future biographers can no longer ignobly treat the patriotism of
Wagner by striving to whitewash or gloss over the part he played during
those sad days. It is addressed to my life-long friend, Edward Roeckel
(the brother of August), now living at Bath, where he has resided since
1849.[2]

[Sidenote: _LETTER TO EDWARD ROECKEL._]


ENGE, NEAR ZURICH, 15th March, 1851.

     MY DEAR FRIEND: Many a time have I longed to write to you, but have
     been compelled to desist, uncertain as to your address. But now I
     must take my chance in sending you a letter, as the occasion is
     pressing, and I have to claim your kindness in the interest of
     another. I will, therefore, at once explain matters, and so have
     done with the immediate cause of this letter.

     A young man, Hainberger, still very young, half German, half Pole,
     at present my exile companion in Switzerland, originally found
     refuge in the Canton Berne. This canton has expelled all political
     refugees, refusing to harbour them any longer, and, indeed, no
     canton will now receive another exile, at most keeping those
     already domiciled there; thus Hainberger is obliged to seek
     sanctuary either in England or America. Being a good violinist, I
     had already secured for him several months’ engagement in the
     Zurich orchestra. His present intention, if possible, is to go next
     winter to Brussels, in order to profit by lessons from de Beriot,
     but alas! for him, his most reactionary Austrian parents and
     relations are as yet too angry with him to permit him to hope of
     their furnishing the necessary money for that plan. Until he can
     expect a change in that quarter, he does not wish to go as far as
     America, but prefers London, there to await that happy
     reconciliation with his relations. Meanwhile, and in order to
     ensure the means of subsistence, he would much like to find an
     engagement in one of the London orchestras. As he does not know a
     soul in London to whom he could apply for help in this case, I turn
     to you in friendship, to assist in procuring him such an
     engagement. And, further, besides knowing no one in London, my
     young friend does not speak English. If, therefore, you could
     indicate any house where he could live moderately, and make himself
     understood, you would confer a great favour on me. Could we not
     direct him at once to Praeger? I take a deep interest in this young
     man, as he is of an amiable disposition, and I have become closely
     acquainted with him at Dresden, where indeed he stayed for some
     long time, with August. He is really a talented violinist, and
     possesses letters of recommendation from his masters, Helmsberger
     and David (in the first instance, he was a pupil of Jansa), which
     he wishes to be known, as he believes the name of Helmsberger a
     guarantee. If you are willing to do me this service I beg, in my
     name, that he may be sustained in all power.

     Now to another matter. During the last few years much has occurred
     of a most painful nature, and oft have I thought of your sorely
     tried brotherly devotion. We were all compelled to be prepared for
     extremes during those times, for it was no longer possible to
     endure the state of things in which we lived, unless we had become
     unfaithful to ourselves. I, for my part, long before the outbreak
     of the Revolution, was incapable of anything but contemplating that
     inevitable catastrophe. What in me was a mixture of contemplation,
     was with August all action. His whole being was impelled to
     energetic activity. It was not until the fourth day of the outbreak
     at Dresden that I saw him on a Monday morning for the first and
     last time. For some time after he was captured, I could get no news
     of him but what I gathered from the public journals. Although I had
     not accepted a special rôle, yet I was present everywhere, actively
     superintending the bringing in of convoys, and indeed, I only
     returned with one from the Erzgebirge[3] to the town hall, Dresden,
     on the eve of the last day. Then I was immediately asked on all
     sides after August, of whom since Monday evening no tidings had
     been received, and so, to our distress, we were forced to conclude
     that he had either been taken prisoner or shot.

     [Sidenote: _A CONVENIENT MEMORY._]

     I was actively engaged in the revolutionary movement up to its
     final struggle, and it was a pure accident that I, too, was not
     taken prisoner in company with Heubner and Bakunin, as I had but
     taken leave of them for the night to meet in consultation again the
     next morning. When all was lost, I fled first to Weimar, where,
     after a few days, I was informed that a warrant of apprehension was
     to be put in motion after me. I consulted Liszt about my next
     movements. He took me to a house to make inquiries on my behalf.
     While awaiting his return in the street, I suddenly caught sight of
     Lullu,[4] who told me her mother had arrived at Weimar, was living
     close by, and gave me their address, I promising to call at once;
     but on Liszt returning he told me that not a moment was to be lost,
     the warrant of apprehension had been received, and I must quit
     Weimar at once. It became, therefore, impossible to call on
     August’s wife; and only now, as I am writing, does it strike me
     that “Linchen”[5] might perhaps think my behaviour unfeeling. I beg
     of you, then, when you have an opportunity, if she may have
     considered me wanting in sympathy, to explain how the matter then
     stood, as I should feel deeply distressed at such a belief
     existing. I heard from Dresden that, thanks to your brotherly
     devotion, the family of the unhappy August have been well provided
     for. Where they at present reside I do not know. As regards August,
     from whom, alas, I have not yet received any detailed information,
     I can, thinking of the terrible trial he is now undergoing, have
     only one profound anxiety, that is, his health. Should he lose
     this, it would be the worst possible thing; for his imprisonment
     cannot last eternally, of that there is no doubt. I cannot speak of
     “plots,” as of them I know nothing authoritatively, and most likely
     they even do not exist, but a glance at the affairs of Europe
     clearly shows that the present state of things can be but
     shortlived. Good health and patience are most to be desired for
     those who suffer the keenest under existing circumstances. Happily,
     August’s constitution is of the kind that gives every hope for him.
     I know, from his manner of living, that neither an active nor a
     sedentary life affect him deeply. But one thing is to be feared,
     viz. that his patience will not last him; and alas, in this respect
     I have heard, to my sorrow, that he has been incautious, and
     suffers in consequence stricter discipline. Altogether, however, I
     believe that the political prisoners in Saxony are treated
     humanely, and we must hope that by prudent behaviour August will
     soon experience milder treatment, could we but influence him in
     respect to his easily understood passionate outbreaks.

     I live here very retired with my wife, receiving from certain
     friends in Germany just sufficient monetary assistance. My special
     grief is my art, which, though I had my freedom of action, I could
     not unfold. I was in Paris, intended even going to London, but the
     feeling of nausea, engendered by such art excursions, drove me back
     here; and so I have taken to write books, amongst others, “Das
     Kunstwerk der Zukunft,” and, on a larger scale, “Oper und Drama,”
     my last work. I could also turn again to composing “Siegfried’s
     Tod,” but after all, it would only be for myself, and that in the
     end is too mournful. Dear Edward, write to me. Perhaps I may hear
     much news from you, and I would greatly like to hear how you are
     getting on. Farewell. Be assured of my heartiest devotion.

RICHARD WAGNER.



And now for a few closing remarks upon this revolutionary epoch. I have
alluded to the whitewashing, as it were, of Wagner by his biographers
when treating of this period. If it were asked who is to blame, the
answer might fairly be, “Imperfect or inadequate knowledge of the
facts,” fostered, I regret to add, by Wagner’s own later utterances and
writings upon the point. When Wagner visited London in 1855, the
Revolution and the thousand and one episodes connected therewith were
related and discussed fully and dwelt upon with affection, but as the
years rolled on he exhibited a decided aversion towards any reference to
his participation. Perhaps we should not judge harshly in the matter; he
had suffered much and there were not wanting, and I fear it may be said
there are still not wanting, those who speak in ungenerous, malignant
tones about the court conductor being false to his oath of allegiance,
of the demagogue luxuriating in the wealth of a royal patron. Wagner’s
art popularity was increasing and his music-dramas were gradually
forcing themselves upon the stage, and he did not wish his chance of
success to be marred by the everlastingly silly and spiteful references
to the revolutionist. But whether he was justified in writing as he did,
in permitting almost an untruth to be inferred and history falsified, I
should not care to decide. As, however, I am of opinion that the lives
of great men (their public actions at least) are the property of
posterity, I have stated what I know to have been the true facts, and
will bring my remarks to a close by appending a few extracts from
Wagner’s early and later writings upon this point which, read by the
light of the uncontrovertible facts, I leave for each to form his own
opinion:--

     (1) Paper on the “Abolition of the Monarchy,” read before the
     Fatherland Union, dated 16th June, 1848.

     (2) Note to August Roeckel: “Return immediately; a premature
     outbreak is feared.”--May, 1849.

     (3) Letter to Edward Roeckel: March, 1851:

     (_a_) “It was no longer possible to endure the state of things in
     which we lived.”

     (_b_) “I was present everywhere, actively superintending the
     bringing in of convoys, etc.”

     (_c_) “I was actively engaged in the revolutionary movement up to
     its final struggle.”

     (4) His active participation, related by himself to me,
     corroborated by Hainberger’s testimony. (I should add that
     Hainberger came to London in April, 1851, stayed with me, and that
     I secured for him lessons and a place in the orchestra of the New
     Philharmonic.)

     (5) Max von Weber, son of Carl Maria von Weber, told me that he was
     present during the Revolution, and saw Wagner shoulder his musket.

[Sidenote: _A SIGNIFICANT OMISSION._]

As I have stated, the general drift of Wagner’s references to the
Revolution is to minimize his share; I content myself with two extracts
only:--

     1. From “Eine Mittheilung an meine Freunde” (a communication to my
     friends), vol. IV. of his collected writings, and dated 1851: “I
     never had occupied myself really with politics.”

     2. “The Work and Mission of my Life,” the latest of Wagner’s
     published writings, written in 1876 for America: “In my innermost
     nature I really had nothing in common with its political side,”
     _i.e._ of the Revolution.

The significant omission of “The Abolition of the Monarchy” paper from
his eleven volumes of “Collected Writings,” a collection which includes
shorter papers written too at earlier periods than the above, may also
be noted.



CHAPTER XVI.

1850-1854.


[Sidenote: “_TERRIBLY IN EARNEST._”]

Pursued by a police warrant, Wagner first sought refuge and a home in
Paris. The French capital possessed alluring attractions for him, but
his reception, in 1849, was no brighter or more promising than it had
been ten years earlier. He therefore left Paris, after a few weeks, and
went to Zurich. Here he found a true home and hearty friends, and felt,
as far as was possible, so contented that in the autumn following he
became a naturalized subject. And yet Wagner used to say his forced
exile pressed sore upon him, and there is no doubt he did chafe under
it, and strove hard to free himself from its galling chains. He could
not settle to work. He endeavoured to open communications with August
Roeckel, through influential friends in Dresden, but was unsuccessful.
When in Paris, and whilst still under the influence of the
multitudinous, unsettling thoughts that had pressed him into the ranks
of liberty, making him one of its most energetic champions, he
endeavoured to negotiate with the editor of a newspaper of standing, for
a series of letters, on the interesting and timely topic of “The
Revolution, and its Relation to Art.” But the proposal came to nothing.
He was told the time was inopportune. “Strange and silly people,” was
his comment, and he left the Parisians for the more homely, though
heavier folk, of Zurich.

And still he could not tear himself away from Paris. The city and people
fascinated him then and at all times, and he returned, in the early part
of 1850, to make another effort in the cause of art. Though his
invectives were frequent and bitter, yet I have seen enough, and know
enough, of the inner Wagner, to state positively that he highly esteemed
the French intellect and judgment in matters of art. This is one of
those curious paradoxes in Richard Wagner’s character. He could never
refer to the French without some sarcastic allusion to their frivolity.
At all times Wagner was “terribly in earnest,” and he almost took it as
a personal insult to see the French full of sensuous enjoyment, and
regarding art as a pleasant, agreeable relaxation, at the end of the
day’s labour. And yet he strove to succeed there for all that; even in
1860, when he was again in Paris, his feelings were precisely the same.
Writing on this point, some sixteen years later, he says: “I thought
that it was there (_i.e._ Paris) only that I could find the atmosphere
so necessary to the success of my art,[6] that element of which I so
much stood in need.”

His success in 1849-50, however, was no more than it had been hitherto.
His vanity was piqued at his reception. He visited old acquaintances,
and was received with a patronizing friendship, as one who had come to
Paris, an aspirant for fame. They would not see in him the “Tannhäuser”
composer, the prophet who had come to baptize them with the pure, holy
water of the true in art. His pride was wounded.

He was envious, too, of that smooth, highly polished gracefulness which
the French possess in the small matters of every-day life, and which he
was conscious he lacked. Though refined in intellect, courteous in
bearing, carrying himself with majestic dignity when occasion demanded,
yet Richard Wagner’s natural characteristic was a plainness and
directness of speech, which often took the form of abruptness.
“Amiability usually runs into insincerity,” says Mr. Froude, when
describing Carlyle’s character in the “Reminiscences,” and Wagner was at
all times sincere. Sensitive, too, as artists commonly are, he saw the
Parisians resolving life and art into a pastime, and doing it with an
elegant, natural gracefulness that was absent in his own serious
utterances of the heart. Impatient of incapacity, blunt in speech, and
vehement in declamation, even with bursts of occasional rudeness, he was
angered and jealous, that a people--his intellectual inferior--should
take life so easily.

[Sidenote: _NOT FOND OF EXILE._]

Sick in heart, he soon became sick in body; seriously ill indeed. On his
recovery, feeling naught congenial to him in Paris, he left again for
Zurich, via Bordeaux and Geneva. At Bordeaux an episode occurred similar
to one which happened later at Zurich, about which the press of the day
made a good deal of unnecessary commotion and ungenerous comment. I
mention the incident to show the man as he was. The Opposition have not
spared his failings, and over the Zurich incident were hypercritically
censorious. The Bordeaux story I am alluding to, is, that the wife of a
friend, Mrs. H----, having followed Wagner to the south, called on him
at his hotel, and throwing herself at his feet, passionately told of
her affection. Wagner’s action in the matter was to telegraph to the
husband to come and take his wife home. On telling me the story, Wagner
jocosely remarked that poor Beethoven, so full of love, never had his
affection returned, and lived and died, so it is said, a hermit.

Another adventure of this description took place at Berlin, which to my
mind is a verification of the homeopathic doctrine, _similia similibus
curantur_, for I often taunted him with possessing, though in
homeopathic doses, just those very failings he denounced in others, viz.
amorousness, Hebraic shrewdness, and the Gallic love of enjoyment. When
he was in a jocular mood he would laugh heartily at my endeavour to
prove the truth of my opinions by the citation of instances, and
occasionally he would admit the impeachment, whereas, at other times, he
would become irritated, and put an end to any such conversation by
charging me with having lost all my German feeling under the pernicious
influence of a London fog.

Back in Zurich, he could not force himself to compose. He could not, and
never did, take kindly to his compulsory exile, even appealing himself
to the authorities more than ten years later for permission to re-enter
his fatherland. And yet I have no hesitation in asserting that the world
should regard it as a boon for art that he was thus driven into exile.
Away from the theatre and the busy activity connected with his office of
conductor, he had time to reflect over the many schemes for the
elevation of art that constantly held communion with his inner self.
Freed from the contact of that vortex of petty agitation which
constitutes the active life of the stage, and of which every
individual, no matter how inferior his grade, thinks himself the chief
attraction, he gained that repose which enabled him to see art matters
in their just proportion. His state, he described to me, as that spoken
of by both Aristotle and Plato: “One of the highest happinesses attained
through the pleasures of the intellect by the contemplative life.”
Indeed, it can be maintained, that all the great works of his after-life
were either completed or sketched during those years of exile.

[Sidenote: _THE VILLA AT ZURICH._]

To begin with his literary work. In this branch of thought he was
remarkably active. For five whole years, the first five of his Zurich
life, I remember he said he did not compose a bar; all was literary
outpouring, and so much was he given to reflection on the strange
position in which he found himself in the art world, and the manner in
which his operas had been received, that he even seriously considered
the question whether music was his province, whether he should not
reject tonal composition entirely in favour of the spoken drama. In a
letter of that period he says, “I spend my time in walking, reading, and
literary work.” And when one considers what Wagner did during those
years of banishment, it will be seen how hard a worker he was. His exile
lasted for something like twelve years, and during that time he wrote
those masterly expositions: “Art and Revolution,” “The Art Work of the
Future,” “Art and Climate,” “Judaism in Music,” and “Opera and Drama,”
whilst, as regards the music-drama, he wrote the whole of the words and
music of the “Nibelung’s Ring,” “Tristan and Isolde,” the
“Mastersingers” (1861-62), and a fragment of music subsequently
embodied and amplified in “Parsifal.”

Wagner met with many reverses in the early portion of his career, but he
also, on occasions, enjoyed exceptionally good fortune. Though caged, as
he said, like an angry, irritable lion in Zurich, longing to burst his
prison door, yet he met everywhere with troops of friends. The personnel
of the opera house united to do him honour, and individually he was
treated with hearty good will. One of his ardent admirers and intimate
friends was Madame Wesendonck, the wife of a wealthy retired merchant
who had come, with her husband, to take up her abode in Zurich.
Wesendonck was a musical amateur, but not so gifted as his wife, who was
enthusiastic for Wagner. Wesendonck had purchased some land overlooking
the beautiful lake, and was building himself a house there. For that
purpose he had brought architects and upholsterers from Paris. While the
building was in course of erection, a very pretty chalêt adjoining the
property became untenanted, which it was stated was about to be used as
an asylum. Such information was not pleasant to Wesendonck, and at the
suggestion and wish of his wife he purchased it and rented it to Wagner
for a nominal sum. This really charming villa was an immense delight to
Wagner. Hitherto, living in the town, he had grown fractious under the
infliction of noises and cries inseparable from the bustle of civic
life, and the “Retreat,” as he called the chalêt, afforded him a
pleasure, and procured that quiet comfort invaluable to him at that
period of thought.

At the house of his friends there were frequent gatherings of musicians
from Zurich and neighbouring towns, at which, it seems, he often
delivered himself of lengthy harangues on his view of art, to find that
one only of those who applauded him comprehended the heart of the thing
he spoke of. He said it was with him, just as it had been with the
unfortunate Hegel, the philosopher, who with facetious cynicism
remarked, that “nobody understands me, except one disciple, and he
misunderstands me.” Perhaps the fault was partly his own. His fervid
perorations were ambitious, and he spoke above the heads of his hearers.
They saw in him only the composer of “Tannhäuser” and “Lohengrin,”
whereas he felt within himself the embryo of the colossal tetralogy; and
how could they comprehend, then, a man who addressed his inward
clamourings rather than his auditors. When I say the embryo of the
tetralogy, I include the musical sketch of certain of the leading ideas,
for the whole of the Nibelung poem was completed, and a few copies
printed in 1853 for his intimate friends, of one copy of which I am the
fortunate possessor.

[Sidenote: _CONDUCTING THE OPERA._]

On recalling the occasion, when in 1855 Wagner gave me a bound copy of
his “Nibelung lied,” one incident stands out prominently. On studying
the poem I had been struck with the keen dramatic insight displayed by
Wagner throughout his treatment of the old Norse sagas: the laying out
of the ground plan, the sequence of the story, the exclusion of
extraneous and subsidiary matter, the many powerful and striking
tableaux presented, the crisp dialogue and scholarly retention of the
alliterative verse, the merit of these features being increased by the
high literary standard attained throughout the work. Now when I
congratulated Wagner on the literary skill he had shown, he grew
peevish; and indeed he resented at all times praise of his poetic
ability, seeming to think that in some measure it was a denial of his
musical power.

Some portion of the Nibelung poem Wagner read to his small circle of
intimates in London. At that time Richard Wagner was forty-two years of
age, and his histrionic powers, at all times great, were perhaps then at
their best. With his head well thrown back, he declaimed his poem with a
majestic earnestness that cast a spell over all. But of his histrionic
and mimetic powers I shall have something to say later on.

At Zurich he interested himself largely in the opera house. He sought to
control the local taste, but the directors were governed with one
thought and that, that only such works as bore the hall-mark of Paris
success could succeed in Zurich. Accepting the state of things, he
conducted performances of “Robert le Diable,” “Les Huguenots,”
“Guillaume Tell,” Halévy’s “La Juive,” Donizetti’s “La Fille du
Regiment,” and other works of similar type. He even conducted the
rehearsals, attending and exerting himself at these for the benefit,
however, of Hans von Bülow, who had become his pupil. I know he was
deeply attached to Bülow; he spoke of him with enthusiasm, praised his
wonderful reading at sight, and was much impressed by his general
culture. There is no doubt that Bülow merited the high opinion Wagner
held of him, as subsequent events have proved.

On Richard Wagner’s fortieth birthday, 22 May, 1853, a grand Wagner
festival was held at Zurich, musicians from neighbouring towns being
invited. All the principal theatres responded with the exception of
Munich, which through its conductor, Lachner, refused to permit
orchestral members of the theatre to attend, giving as the flimsy
pretext that journeymen, _i.e._ orchestral performers, could not be
granted passports. Lachner as a composer has found his level, and there
it is wise to leave him. I will only note the curious fate which later
made Wagner supreme at Munich and, further, how odd it was that when
Wagner was conducting the Philharmonic concerts in London, Mr. Anderson
informed him that it was the wish of the directors he should produce a
prize symphony of Lachner. The proposition startled Wagner and perhaps,
somewhat contemptuously, he exclaimed, “What! have I come all this way
to conduct a prize symphony by Lachner? No! no!” and he would not
either, not because the composition was superscribed “Lachner,” but
because of the really wretched Kapellmeister music it was.

The Wagner festival at Zurich was very gratifying to him. For a whole
week he was fêted, and at the close received an ovation that took all
his self-control. He addressed the audience in faltering accents, and on
bidding his friends farewell he broke down entirely--that they should
return to the fatherland and he an exile. Such a wail of anguish went
out from his heart as only those who have known the sensitive character
of the man can understand.

[Sidenote: _LOVE FOR HIS DOG._]

From the time Wagner went into exile his health generally gave way.
Constant brooding over his enforced isolation from his countrymen
induced melancholia, and in its train a malignant attack of his old
enemy, dyspepsia. His wife, fortunately, was of a homely nature with a
buoyancy of spirits, the value of which cannot be over-estimated, nor,
must I add, was Wagner insensible to her worth. But with these terrible
fits of dyspepsia which prostrated him for days, there also came, as one
ill upon another, attacks of erysipelas. When he had the strength, he
fought against them, but more often he succumbed. He sought relief at
hydropathic establishments, for which form of prevention and cure he
retained a fancy for many years. The bracing air of the mountains, too,
he sought as a means of removing the ills under which he suffered. He
was fond, too, of taking “Peps” with him in these rambles. “Peps,” it
will be remembered, was the dog who, he used to assert, helped him to
compose “Tannhäuser.” He was passionately fond of his dog, referred to
him in his letters with affection, and ascribed to him feelings and a
perceptiveness only possible from a man loving the animal kingdom as he
did. All who remember the last sad incidents connected with the
interment at Wahnfried will think of the faithful canine creature (a
successor of “Peps”), who came to lie on the grave, and could not be
induced to quit the spot where his master was buried. As it was there,
so it was at Zurich. He loved “Peps” with a human love. Taking his
constitutional on the Zurich mountains, “Peps” his companion, reflecting
upon his treatment by his fatherland, he would declaim against imaginary
enemies, gesticulate, and vent his irascible excitement in loud
speeches, when “Peps,” “the human Peps,” as he called him, with the
sympathy of the intelligent dumb creation, would rush forward, bark and
snap loudly as if aiding Wagner in destroying his enemies, and then
return, plainly asking for friendly recognition for the demolition. Such
an expression of sympathy delighted Wagner, and he was very pleased to
rehearse it all to his friends, calling in “Peps” to go through the
performance, and I must say the dog seemed to understand and appreciate
it all. Numerous anecdotes of this kind he could tell, and he generally
capped them with such a remark as, “‘Peps’ has more sense than your
wooden contrapuntists,” pointing his speech by naming the authors of
some concocted Kappelmeister music who were specially objectionable to
him.



CHAPTER XVII.

“JUDAISM IN MUSIC.”


As regards his literary productions, that which provoked most discussion
and engendered a good deal of acrimonious hostility towards him was
“Judaism in Music.” No one knowing Wagner, and writing any reminiscences
of him, no matter how slight, could omit reference to this subject. Any
such treatment would be incomplete, though it would be easy to
understand such omission, for no friend of Richard Wagner would elect to
put him in the wrong, nor care to admit that his attitude towards the
descendants of Abraham, in certain phases, was as unreasoned, and
perhaps as ungenerous, as that of earlier anti-Semitic agitators of the
fatherland. However, an impartial critic must confess that in Wagner’s
attacks on the Jews and their treatment of art, he has, in much that he
says, force and truth on his side. Unfortunately, much of the cogency of
his reasoning is weakened in the eyes of many by the introduction of the
names of two of his prominent contemporaries, Mendelssohn and Meyerbeer,
both of Hebraic descent. His attack is put down to personal spite,
jealousy born of anger at the success of his rivals. Never was charge
more groundless. Richard Wagner was high above such small-minded enmity.
His was a nature incapable of mean, paltry envy. Rancour was not in
him. Yet how could an attack upon “Judaism in music” be maintained
without indicating Semitic composers, in whose works supposed
shortcomings and spurious art were to be found? That he was not animated
by any personal motive I am convinced, and that the things he wrote of
lay deep, deep in his heart, I am equally persuaded. Finding in me a
partial antagonist, he debated the question freely. Perhaps, too, it was
a subject impossible of exclusion from our discussion, since, when he
came here (London) in 1855, or three years after his Jew pamphlet had
been published, the press spared not its sneers and satire for a man who
only saw in the grand composer of “Elijah” “a Jew,”[7] the man Wagner,
whom “it would be a scandal to compare with the men of reputation this
country (England) possesses, and whom the most ordinary ballad writer
would shame in the creation of melody, and of whose harmony no English
harmonist of more than one year’s growth could be found sufficiently
without ears or education to pen such vile things.”

[Sidenote: _TROUBLE FOR BRENDEL._]

To understand this “Jew” question thoroughly, one should remember the
admiration, the just admiration, in which Mendelssohn was held in this
country. He was the idol of English musicians. That he should have been
“assailed” by Wagner because of his Hebraic descent was unpardonable.
This was the spirit of hostility with which the larger proportion of the
press received him, seeing in him the personal enemy of the “Jew”
Mendelssohn. And thus it happened that references to this question were
continually being made, and discussions, occasionally of an angry
character, were thrust upon us. What Richard Wagner wrote in 1852, the
date the paper was first published, he adhered to in 1855, and what is
more, in 1869, when he was master of the situation, he somewhat
pertinaciously appended a letter to the original indictment, from which
he did not recede one step.

When Wagner had almost attained the zenith of his fame, at a time when
his weight and genius were admitted, he then deliberately placed on
record that years of his earlier suppression and ostracism from great
musical centres were due, and due alone, to the power wielded by the
Jews, and their determination to keep his works out of sight where
possible.

The article, “Judaism in Music,” was originally published in “Die Neue
Zeitschrift,” under the nom de plume of “Freethought.” At the time the
journal was edited by Franz Brendel, and when the subject-matter of the
article is known, it will be admitted that the editor was courageous,
and perhaps no one will be surprised at the hostile acts which followed.
Poor Wagner seems to have been much troubled at the difficult position
in which he had placed his friend. No sooner had the article appeared,
he told me, than about a dozen of Brendel’s co-professors at the Leipzic
conservatoire sent forward a petition to the directors of the Institute
urging the dismissal of the editor, but, though the signatories of the
document were such names as Moritz Hauptmann, David, Joachim, Rietz,
Moschelles (all Jews), Brendel retained his post. Of course there was no
attempt at withholding the name of the real author; it was at once
admitted. It was a bold act to first publish the paper in Leipzic, for
though Richard Wagner’s birthplace, it had received, as it were, a
Jewish baptism from the lengthened sojourn of Mendelssohn there.

Certainly the article contained enough to create enmity on the part of
the Jews. It opened with an assertion that one has an involuntary and
inexplicable revulsion of feeling towards the Jews; that, as a people,
there is something objectionable in them, their person repellant, and
manner obnoxious. Now when it is remembered that Wagner’s daily visitor
during his first sojourn in Paris was Dessauer, a Jew, that the man who
brought about his own death for love of Wagner was a Jew, and that the
music-publisher Schlesinger, his friend, was also a Jew, it will be
confessed that this was a startling charge to come from him. I must add
that Wagner always insisted it was not a personal question, and pointed
out that some of his staunchest friends were Jews.

Then he further asserted, in the “Judaism” pamphlet, that it mattered
not among what European people the Jew lived, he was always a foreigner,
and our wish was to have nothing to do with him. This, again, was
surprising, for Wagner was not slow to admit the loyalty of the people
of Shiloh to the government of the country in which they were domiciled,
and there is no doubt they are eminently patriotic, calling themselves
by the name of the country in which they live. Indeed, it cannot be
contended that the Jews are one nation; they are many.

[Sidenote: _FOR AND AGAINST JEWS._]

Wagner’s antipathy towards the Hebrew people was, he felt, partly
inherited by him as a German. He knew them to be observant, discerning,
energetic, and ambitious, yet he could not put away from him an
instinctive feeling of repugnance, and could not understand why the
“Musical World” and the London press should so severely flagellate him
because of his attitude towards the Jews. He found the Semitic race
regarded here in an entirely different manner from what it was in
Germany. Here it was much the same as in France. Civil disabilities had
been removed, and the Israelites had proved themselves as great patriots
as English Christians, one, Mr. Solomons, filling the post of alderman
of the city of London at the time Wagner was here. This Mr. Solomons had
been, with others of his co-religionists, previously elected a member of
Parliament, and Wagner used often to express his wonder how a man
waiting for the advent of the Messiah could sit in a house of Gentiles.
Wagner marvelled, too, how the citizens of London could permit the Jews
to amass such a large proportion of the wealth of the country, but he
soon came to admit the force of the argument, that special laws having
been enacted against them, preventing the acquisition of land, denying
them the professions, and restricting them to certain trades, it was
unreasonable, after having driven them to mean occupations, to reproach
them for not having embraced honourable professions. I pointed out to
him that in bygone centuries, when the Germans were barbarians, this
much-despised people had produced poets, men of letters, statesmen,
historians, and philosophers, all, too, of such brilliant genius as
would add lustre to any galaxy of modern luminaries. He was struck by
this, and, as his bent was art, fully admitted the poetic fancy and
genius of the harpist David, the imagination of Solomon, and other of
the old Hebraic writers.

And yet he would insist on the truth of his own assertion in the
pamphlet. “If in the plastic art a Jew has to be represented,” he said,
“the artist models after an ideal, or, if working from life, omits or
softens those very details in the features which are the characteristic
of the countrymen of Isaiah.”

As regards the histrionic art, he laid it down that it is impossible to
picture a Jew impersonating a hero or lover without forcing a sense of
the ridiculous upon us. And this feeling he felt of an actor,
irrespective of sex. It would not be difficult to destroy this argument
now: the names of Rachel, Sarah Bernhardt, Patti at once cross the mind.
He asserted that their strength in art lay in imitation and not in
creation.

[Sidenote: _MAKING STRANGE STATEMENTS._]

In speech, too, the Jew was offensive to him. The accent was always that
of a foreigner, and not of a native. The language was spoken as if it
had been acquired, as something alien, and had not the ring of
naturalness in it; for language, he argued, was the historic growth of a
nation, and the Jew’s mother tongue, Hebrew, was a dead language. To the
Jew, our entire civilization and art had remained a foreign language. He
could only imitate it; the product, therefore, was artificial; and as in
speech, so in song. “Notwithstanding two thousand years of contact with
European peoples, as soon as a Jew spoke our ear was offended by a
peculiar hissing and shrill manner of intonation.” Moreover, he
contended, in their speech and writing there was a wilful transposition
of words and construction of phrases, characteristics of an alien
people, also discernible in their music. These racial characteristics
which Wagner asserted were repugnant, were intensified in their
offensiveness in his eyes by an absence of genuine passion, _i.e._
strong emotion coming deep from the heart. In the family circle he
allowed the probability of the Jews being earnest and impassioned, yet
in their works it was absent. On the stage he would have it that the
passion of a child of Israel was always ridiculous. He was incapable of
artistic expression in speech, and therefore less capable of its
expression in song; for true song is speech raised to the highest
intensity of emotion.

It will not be difficult to call to the mind the names of celebrated
Hebrews, great as histrionic artists, who at once appear to confute this
statement; and for my part, one name is sufficient, viz. Pauline Viardot
Garcia, though it will be admitted, on closely examining Wagner’s
feeling, there is a vein of truth in it, which grows upon one on
reflection.

And then Wagner turns towards the plastic art, and examines the position
of the Jew under that art aspect. He states as his opinion that the
Hebrew people lack the sense of balance and proportion, and in this he
sees the explanation of the non-existence of Jewish sculptors and
architects. Now it is regrettable that Wagner should have committed
himself to so faulty a statement. The sculptor’s art was not practised
by the Jews, because it was prohibited by the Mosaic law, and to this
day strict Hebrews would not fashion “any graven image, nor the likeness
of anything that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, or in the
waters under the earth.” But Wagner was of opinion that the Jew was too
practical to employ himself with beauty, and yet he was unable to
explain the Jew’s acknowledged supremacy as a connoisseur in works of
art.

In such a general indictment, it is hardly to be expected that Wagner
would have omitted the vulgar charge of usury, nay, he even went so far
as to assert that it was their chief craft. This, I told Wagner, was
hardly generous or fair on his part. By persecution and restriction of
the Jew to certain trades we had driven him to the tables of the
money-changers, and then charged, as crime, the very vice persecution
had engendered.

Nor was he less severe towards the cultivated Jew, charging him with a
desire to disown his descent, and wipe out his nationality, by embracing
Christianity, but whatever his efforts, he remained isolated in a
society he did not understand, with whose strivings and likings he had
no sympathy, and whose history and development had remained indifferent
to him.

[Sidenote: _MUSIC OF THE SYNAGOGUE._]

With such convictions, strong and deep, it follows that Wagner would not
allow that Hebraic tonal art could be acceptable to European peoples.
The Jew, he said, was unable to fathom the heart of our civilized life;
he could not feel for or with the masses. He was an alien, and at the
utmost, the cultured Jew could only create that which was trivial and
indifferent to us. Not having assimilated our civilization, he could not
sing in our heart’s tones. He could compose something pleasant, slight,
and even harmonious, since the possibility of babbling agreeably,
without singing anything in particular, is easier in music than in any
other art. When the Jew musician tried to be serious, the creative
faculty was entirely absent; all he could do was to imitate the earnest,
impressive speech of others, and then the imitation was of the parrot
kind, tones, without the purport being understood, and occasionally
exhibiting an unconscious gibberishness of utterance. Now this seemed to
me the denial of pure feeling to the Jew, and so I sought to get from
Wagner precisely what he did mean by his charges on this point in the
“Judaism” pamphlet. Music, I urged, was the art of expressing feelings
by sounds; did he deny feelings to the Semitic people? “No.” Then it is
only the mode of utterance, I urged, to which you so strongly object.
But he would not wholly subscribe to this view, though he confessed it
was an important element in the question. His view was, that the true
tone poet, the genius, was he who transfixed in immortal tones the joys
and sorrows of the people. “Now,” said he, “where is the Jew’s people to
be found, where would you go to see the Hebrew people, in the practice,
as it were, of unrestrained Judaism, which Christianity and civilization
have left untouched, and where the traditions of the people are
preserved in their purity? Why, to the synagogue.” Now if this be
admitted, Wagner has certainly made out a strong case. Truly, the folk
melody proper of the Hebrews is to be found in the song service of the
synagogue, and a dreadful tortuous exhibition it is. As Wagner said, “it
is a sort of ‘gargling or jodelling,’ which no caricature could make
more nauseous than it is in its naïve seriousness.” There was the proper
sphere for the Hebrew musician, wherein to exercise his art, and when he
attempted to work outside his own people’s world he was engaged in an
alien occupation. The melodies and rythmical cadences of the synagogue
are already discernible in the music of Jewish composers, as our folk
melodies and rhythm are in ours. If the Jew listened to our music and
sought so dissect its heart and nerves, he would find it so opposed to
his own cult, that it were impossible for him to create its like from
his own heart; he could only imitate it. Following up this reasoning,
Wagner argued that the Hebrew composer only imitated the external of our
great composers, and that his reproductions were cold and false, just as
if a poem by Goethe were delivered in Jewish jargon. The Hebrew musician
threw the most opposed styles and forms about, regardless of period,
making what Wagner called, with his usual jocularity, a Mosaic of his
composition. A real impulse will be sure to find its natural expression,
but a Jew could not have that, since his impulse would not be rooted in
the sympathies of the Christian people. Then he enters into a
description of Mendelssohn and Meyerbeer, or of the men and their music.
Of Mendelssohn he says:--

     In this man we see that a Jew may be gifted with the most refined
     and great talent, that he may have received a most careful and
     extensive education, that he may possess the greatest and noblest
     ambition, and yet, with the aid of all these advantages, be unable,
     even once, to impress on our mind and heart that profound sensation
     we look for in music, and which we have so many times experienced
     as soon as a hero of our art intones one single chord for us. Those
     who specially occupy themselves with musical criticism, and who
     share our opinion, will, on analyzing the works of Mendelssohn, be
     able to prove the truthfulness of this statement, which, indeed,
     can hardly be contested.

     [Sidenote: _COLD WORDS FOR MEYERBEER._]

     In order to explain the general impression which the music of this
     composer makes upon us, it will be sufficient to state that it
     interests us only when our imagination, always more or less eager
     for distraction, is excited in following in its many shapes, a
     series of forms most refined, and most carefully and artistically
     worked. These several forms only interest us, in the same manner as
     the combinations of colour in a kaleidoscope. But when these forms
     ought to express the profoundest and most forcible emotions of the
     human heart, they entirely fail to satisfy us.

No one, judging dispassionately, will contend that Wagner has exceeded
the legitimate limits of criticism. It is not dogmatism, since he
appealed to the reasoning faculty and adduced proof in favour of his
deduction. The context of the article naturally imparts additional force
to his statements. Mendelssohn is credited with the highest gifts,
natural and acquired, and yet falls short in the production of a
masterpiece that appeals direct to the heart, because by ancestry and
surroundings he has stood without the pale of our European civilization,
and consequently has not assimilated the feelings of the masses.

In his observations upon Meyerbeer he says:--

     A musical artist of this race, whose fame in our time has spread
     everywhere, writes his works to suit that portion of the public
     whose musical taste has been so vitiated by those only desiring to
     make capital out of the art. The opera-going public has for a long
     time omitted to demand from the dramatic art that which one has a
     right to look for from it.

     This celebrated composer of operas to whom we are making allusion,
     has taken upon himself to supply the public with this deception,
     this sham art. It would be superfluous to enter upon a profound
     examination of the artistic means which this artist employs with
     profusion to achieve his aim; it will be sufficient to say that he
     understands perfectly how to deceive the public. His successes are
     the proof of it. He succeeds particularly in making the bored
     audience accept that jargon which we have characterized as a
     modern, piquant expression of all the trivialities already served
     up to them so many times in their primitive absurdity. One will not
     be astonished that this composer equally takes care to introduce
     into his works those grand catastrophes of the soul which so
     profoundly stir an audience, for one knows how much those people
     who are the victims of boredom seek such emotions. Whoever reflects
     upon the reasons which insure success under such circumstances,
     will not be surprised to see that this artist succeeds so
     completely.

     The faculty of deceiving is so great with this artist, that he
     deceives himself. Perhaps, indeed, he wishes it as much for himself
     as for the public. We verily believe that he would like to create
     works of art, but that he knows he is not able of doing so. In
     order to escape from this painful conflict between his wish and his
     ability, he composes operas for Paris, and has them produced in
     other countries, which in these days is the surest means of
     acquiring the reputation of an artist without being one. When we
     see him thus overwhelmed by the trouble he gives himself in
     practising self-deception, he almost assumes, in our eyes, a
     tragical figure, were there not in him too much personal interest
     and self at work, the amalgamation of which reduces it to the
     comic. Besides the Judaism which reigns generally in art, and which
     this composer represents in music, he is distinguished by an
     impotence to touch us, and further by the ridiculous which is
     inherent in him.

[Sidenote: _OFFENDING THE CRITICS._]

This criticism upon Meyerbeer is caustic and unsparing. Yet even now
public opinion has testified to its veracity. It is not making too bold
a statement to say that no musician of taste, no musician--it matters
not of what nationality or school--of to-day will accord Meyerbeer that
exalted position he occupied when Wagner had the temerity to show the
sham and unreal art in the man. At that time, now nearly forty years
ago, Richard Wagner suffered severely for his fearless and outspoken
criticism. Personal jealousy was freely hurled at him as the paltry
incentive of his article. I frankly admit, with an intimate acquaintance
of Wagner’s feelings regarding Meyerbeer, that he despised the
“mountebank,” hating cordially the thousand commercial incidents
Meyerbeer associated with the production of his works. Schlesinger told
me indeed of well-authenticated instances where Meyerbeer had gone so
far as to conciliate the mistresses of critics to secure a favourable
verdict. It can easily be understood that Wagner could not help feeling
contempt for such a man, for when he himself came to London in 1855, he
absolutely refused to call on any single critic, notwithstanding I
impressed upon him how necessary and habitual such custom was. The
result we know. He offended them all.



CHAPTER XVIII.

1855.


[Sidenote: _THE LONDON PHILHARMONIC._]

The story of the invitation of Richard Wagner, the then dreaded
iconoclast of music, to London, to conduct the concerts of the
conservative Philharmonic Society, is both curious and interesting, in
the history of the tonal art. Costa, the previous conductor, had
resigned. The pressing question was, who could succeed so popular a man?
The names of many German notabilities were proposed, and as soon
dismissed. In England there was Sterndale Bennett, but he had quarrelled
with the directors; the field was therefore open. It was then that the
appointment of Wagner was suggested and agreed to. The circumstances
were as follows. Prosper Sainton, the eminent violinist, was both leader
of the orchestra of the Philharmonic, and one of the seven directors of
the society. He was and is[8] an intimate friend of mine, and to him I
proposed Richard Wagner. At that time Sainton was living with Charles
Lüders, a dear, lovable German musician, with whom he had travelled on
concert tours throughout Europe. From the time the two men met in
Russia, they lived together for twenty-five years, until the marriage of
Sainton with Miss Dolby, since which time Lüders was a daily visitor at
his friend’s house, Sainton administering always to his comfort, and
tending him on his death-bed, in the summer of 1884. Lüders and I were
heart and soul, and catching my enthusiasm he pressed Sainton so warmly,
that the name of Wagner was at once proposed. Richard Wagner was then
but a myth to the average English musician. However, as Sainton was a
general favourite with his colleagues, and was, further, held in high
esteem on account of his artistic perception, I was requested, through
his influence, to appear before the directors. I had then been a
resident in the metropolis for twenty-one years; I attended at a
directors’ meeting in Hanover Square, and stated my views.

Up to the present time, I have never been able to discover how it was
that seven sedate gentlemen could have been so influenced by my red-hot
enthusiasm as to have been led to offer the appointment to Richard
Wagner. I found that they either knew very little of him or nothing at
all, nor did I know him personally; I was but the reflection of August
Roeckel; as a composer, however, I had become so wholly his partisan as
to regard him the genius of the age. The crusade in favour of Richard
Wagner, upon which I then entered with so much fervour, will be best
understood by an article contributed by me at the time to the “New York
Musical Gazette,”[9] parts of which I think it advisable to reproduce
here, even at the expense of repeating an incident or two. The article
was summarized in the London musical papers, and immediately a shower of
virulent abuse fell upon me which, however, at no period affected in the
slightest my ardour for Wagner’s cause.

[Sidenote: _AN EDITOR AGITATED._]

     The musical public of London is in a state of excitement which
     cannot be described. Costa, the autocrat of London conductors, is
     just now writing an oratorio, and no longer cares for what he would
     have sacrificed anything for before he got possession of it,
     namely, the conductorship of the Old Philharmonic; and whom to have
     in his place, has for some time sorely puzzled the directors of the
     said society. No Englishman would do, that is certain, for the
     orchestra adores Costa; and besides, it belongs to Covent Garden,
     where Costa reigns supreme (and where he really does wonders; being
     musical conductor and stage manager; looking after the _mise en
     scène_ and everything else with remarkable intelligence). Whom to
     seek for, the government knew not. They made overtures to Berlioz,
     but he had already signed an engagement with the New Philharmonic,
     their presumptuous and hated rival. Things looked serious,
     appalling, to the Old Philharmonic; they were in danger of losing
     many subscribers, and a strong tide was setting in against them. At
     last, seeing themselves on the verge of dissolution, and the New
     Philharmonic ready to act as pall-bearers, they resolved upon a
     risk-all, life-or-death remedy, and Richard Wagner was engaged!
     Yes; this red republican of music is to preside over the Old
     Philharmonic of London, the most classical, orthodox, and exclusive
     society on this globe.

     Mr. Anderson, the conductor of the queen’s private band, and acting
     director of the Old Philharmonic, was despatched as minister
     plenipotentiary and envoy extraordinary to Zurich, where Wagner is
     staying, to open negotiations and conclude arrangements, and
     happily succeeded in his mission. Wagner agreed to give up certain
     previously made conditions (some correspondence had taken place on
     the subject), which required a second conductor for the vocal part
     of the concerts, and unlimited rehearsals. In regard to pecuniary
     considerations, Wagner rather astonished the entire John Bull; he
     coolly told Mr. Anderson that he was too much occupied to give that
     point much thought, and only desired to know at what time he
     (Wagner) would be wanted in London. The society has requested
     Wagner to have some of his works performed here. He, however, has
     written nothing for concerts on former occasions; he has arranged a
     suite of morceaux from each of his three operas, and these give a
     public, unacquainted with his works, some idea of his
     peculiarities.

     To see Wagner and Berlioz, the two most ultra red republicans
     existing in music, occupying the two most prominent positions in
     the musical world of this classical, staid, sober, proper,
     exclusive, conservative London, is an unmitigatedly “stunning”
     fact. We are now ready for anything, and nothing more can astonish
     us. Some of our real old cast-iron conservatives will never recover
     from this shock--among others, the editor of the London “Musical
     World.” This estimable gentleman is in a truly deplorable state,
     whereby his friends are caused much concern. The engagement of
     Wagner seems to have affected his brain, and from the most amiable
     of men and truthful of critics, he has changed to the--well, see
     his journal. He lavishes abuse, in language no less violent than
     vehement, upon Wagner and all who will not condemn “poor Richard”
     without hearing him. Wagner once wrote an article, “Das Judenthum
     in der Musik” (“Judaism in Music”), in which he conclusively proves
     that a Jew is not a Christian, and neither looks nor “feels,” nor
     talks nor moves like one, and consequently does not compose like a
     Christian; and in that same article, which is written with
     exceeding cleverness, Wagner makes a severe onslaught upon
     Mendelssohn and Meyerbeer, on Judaistic grounds. The editor of the
     London “Musical World,” considering himself one of Mendelssohn’s
     heirs, and Mendelssohn having (so it is said) hated Wagner, _ergo_,
     must the enraged editor also hate him? He certainly seems to do so,
     “con molto gusto.”

            *       *       *       *       *

     Wagner is at Zurich, quietly industrious, and does not even know or
     care about the hue and cry concerning him, which is raised by a set
     of idlers, who wish to identify themselves with something new and
     great; being nothing themselves, nor likely ever to be anything.

It having been decided that the directors were to make proposals to
Richard Wagner, I wrote to him detailing the events that had occurred,
and stating that he might expect at any moment to receive a
communication from the society. He did hear almost immediately, and on
the 8th January, 1855, he wrote to me from Zurich.

[Sidenote: _HE ACCEPTS THE POSITION._]

     I enter into correspondence with you, my dear Praeger, as with an
     old friend. My heartiest thanks are due to you, my ardent champion
     in a strange land and among a conservative people. Your first
     espousal of my cause, ten years ago, when August[10] read to me a
     vigorous article, from some English journal,[11] by you on the
     “Tannhäuser” performance at Dresden, and the several evidences you
     have given subsequently of a devotion to my efforts, induce me to
     unhesitatingly throw the burden of somewhat wearisome arrangements
     upon your shoulders, as papa Roeckel[12] urges me in a letter which
     I inclose.

     I must tell you that before concluding arrangements with the
     directors of the Philharmonic, I imposed two conditions: first, an
     under conductor; secondly, the engagement of the orchestra for
     several rehearsals for each concert. You may imagine how enchanted
     I am at the promised break of this irritating exile, and with what
     joy I look forward to an engagement wherein my views might find
     adequate expression; but frankly, I should not care to undertake a
     journey all the way to London only to find my freedom of action
     restricted, my energies cramped by a directorate that might refuse
     what I deem the imperatively necessary number of rehearsals;
     therefore, am I willing to agree with what papa Roeckel advises, if
     it meets, too, with your support, viz. to forego the engagement of
     a second conductor. In such an event, I would beg of you to talk
     over, in my name, this affair with Mr. Hogarth,[13] and so far to
     arrange that only the question of honorarium be left open for
     settlement, for which I would then ask your friendly counsel.
     Altogether, what specially decides me to come to London, is the
     certainty of your help in the matter, for, being totally incapable
     to do that which may be necessary there, I shall be compelled in
     many more respects to have recourse to your decision. If you will
     venture to burden yourself with me, then tell me in friendship, and
     take your chance how you fare with me. My position forces me to
     wish again to undertake something desirable, but in how far that is
     possible, without lending myself to anything unworthy, I have to
     find out.

     Be not angry with me that I have thus bluntly cast myself upon you.
     If you receive my entreaty, then act in my name as you consider
     good. Heartily shall I be glad of such an opportunity of becoming
     more intimate with you.

With best greeting to you, yours heartily,

RICHARD WAGNER.

     ZURICH, 8th January, 1855.

     P.S. Hogarth’s letter I received twelve days ago, and I answered
     immediately, but up till to-day I have had no reply, most likely
     for the reason which papa Roeckel surmises.

The inclosure to Wagner’s letter was a long epistle from papa Roeckel,
advising him to accept the Philharmonic engagement as a means of
introducing some of Wagner’s own works to a London public in a worthy
manner, the orchestra of the Philharmonic having acquired a continental
reputation. Wagner had respect for the opinion of old Mr. Roeckel,
taking counsel with him immediately the Philharmonic conductorship was
proposed to him.

[Sidenote: _HIS WORKS NOT WELCOMED._]

The next letter is dated--


ZURICH, 18th January, 1855.

     Hearty thanks, dear Praeger. You show yourself in your letter
     exactly as I expected, and that gives me great courage for London.
     You no doubt know that I have given my word to Mr. Anderson. He was
     anxious to telegraph it at once to London in order to have the
     advertisement printed. I received your letter after Mr. Anderson
     had left. I was glad to find from you that you had been informed
     officially of my having accepted the engagement. What I think of
     this engagement I cannot briefly explain to you. I feel positive,
     however, that I make a sacrifice. I felt that either I must
     renounce the public and all relations with it once and for all, and
     turn my back upon it, or else, if but the slightest hope were yet
     within me, I must accept the hand which is now held out to me. I
     have repeatedly experienced, however, that where I was most
     sanguine I have ever been most positively in error; and although I
     have again and again felt this, yet I have been induced by this
     offer to make a last attempt, and as such I look upon the whole
     transaction. That the directors of the Philharmonic have no idea
     whom they have engaged, I am perfectly sure; but they will soon
     discover. They might have been more generous, for if these
     gentlemen intentionally go abroad to find a celebrity, they ought
     to have been inclined to spend a little extra. As to the question
     of emolument, I answered Mr. Anderson with tolerable indifference.
     They seem to attach great importance to the performance of my
     works. You no doubt are aware that I have never written anything
     for concert performances, and only on special occasions have I
     arranged characteristic movements from my three last operas, and
     even those which might perhaps give a concerted impression would
     occupy a whole concert. By these means I have been enabled to give
     to a public unacquainted with the peculiarities of my music an
     intelligent first impression. I might have wished to have begun
     with such a concert in London, but as this would entail somewhat
     heavy expenses at first starting, the concert might be repeated. Do
     you think this is practicable, or do you think I, myself, could
     undertake it as an enterprise? In which case I would keep back my
     compositions from the Philharmonic. I surmise, however, that such a
     speculation would encounter insurmountable difficulties in London,
     and therefore I shall be obliged after all to give detached
     selections in the concerts of the Philharmonic, whereby my meaning
     will be considerably weakened. If you think it worth while to give
     me an answer on this point, I beg of you to tell me whether I
     should have the parts of my compositions copied out here (Zurich),
     or whether I should only bring the scores, or, perhaps, should I
     previously send them to you so that they might be copied in London.
     Of course you can only inform me as to this after an official
     interview with the directors of the Philharmonic. In any case the
     choral sections would have to be translated. As regards my lodgings
     and London diet, Mr. Anderson mumbled something that this could be
     arranged to be free for me. I was, however, so preoccupied that I
     did not pay much attention to it. Have I, after all, correctly
     understood? He spoke, I think, of a pleasant residence near
     Regent’s Park which could be procured for me. Would you have the
     amiability, when opportunity presents itself, to question Mr.
     Anderson on this point? If they could provide me such a pretty,
     friendly, and quiet lodging, with a good piano, from the 1st
     March, it would suit me well, for I would then save you trouble,
     and it would free me from all anxiety on that score, especially
     about my supposed daintiness. Now I presume I shall soon have
     something more to say about this. Meanwhile, I pity you beforehand
     on account of my acquaintanceship, and for the trouble I shall be
     to you. May heaven help that I shall have something good and noble
     to offer you.

Yours,

RICHARD WAGNER.



On reading this letter, admiration for the fearless courage of Wagner
grows upon one. A whole concert devoted to his own works! He little knew
with whom he was dealing. Wagner’s temper was quick, and I feared to
irritate him by conveying the certain refusal of the directors, but it
had to be done. It was a difficult and delicate matter to prevent
friction between Richard Wagner, possessed with the exalted notion of
his mission, on the one hand, and the steady-going time-serving
directors on the other. I saw Mr. Anderson. Timorous of the leap in the
dark he and his colleagues had made in engaging Wagner, they feared
hazarding the reputation of their concerts by the devotion of a whole
evening to Wagner’s works, but a compromise--that some selections should
be given--was readily effected. The conveyance of this news to Wagner
brought from him the following letter:--

     My best thanks to you for so amiably taking such trouble. That you
     sounded the directors of the Philharmonic as to the question
     whether they would fill up a whole evening with selections from
     those of my operas which I have arranged specially for concert
     performances, although fully authorized to do so, produced a
     somewhat disagreeable effect upon me. Heaven knows how strange it
     is to me that I should force myself upon any body, and originally,
     I only wished your opinion whether I had any chance to have one
     concert set apart for my works, for in such case I should have held
     back the various selections. I had a similar intimation from
     Hogarth, to whom I briefly answered that I would conduct the
     classical works only, and that if the directors later on wished to
     perform any of my compositions, they might tell me so, when I
     should select such as I deemed most appropriate, for which
     contingency I should bring the orchestral parts with me, some of
     which, no doubt, would require additional copies, the expense of
     which, in London, could not be of much account. I am quite
     satisfied with this arrangement, and the people will learn to know
     me there. On the whole, I have really no special plan for my London
     expedition, except to essay what can be done with a celebrated
     orchestra, and further, a little change for me is desirable, but
     under no circumstances can London even be a home for me. As you
     open your hospitable doors to me, I shall avail myself of your
     kindness, and if you will let me stay until I have found a suitable
     apartment, I shall be grateful to you, and shall heartily beg
     pardon of your amiable wife for my intrusion. I shall be in London
     in the first days of March. I sincerely repeat to you that I have
     no great expectations, for really I do not count any more upon
     anything in this world. But I shall be delighted to gain your
     closer friendship. The English language I do not know, and I am
     totally without gift for modern languages, and at present am averse
     to learn any on account of the strain on my memory. I must help
     myself through with French. Now for mutual personal acquaintance,

Yours very faithfully,

RICHARD WAGNER.

     ZURICH, 1st February, 1855.

[Sidenote: _HE STARTS FOR LONDON._]

The following incident, as showing the enmity towards Wagner prior to
his landing on these shores, should be noted. It was after receiving the
previous letter that I met James Davison, the editor of the London
“Musical World,” and also musical critic of the “Times,” at the house of
Leopold de Meyer, the pianist. We had hitherto been on terms of
friendship. The power of this gentleman was enormous. He told me, “I
have read some of Richard Wagner’s literary works; in his books he is a
god, but as long as I hold the sceptre of musical criticism, I’ll not
let him have any chance here.” He did his utmost. With what result is
matter of history.

The next letter from Wagner is dated Zurich, 12th February. In it he
speaks of “wishing for some quiet room, free from annoying visitors,
where no one but yourself, knowing of my existence, will come to pester
me while scoring part of my tetralogy. Your house I will gladly make as
my own, but as a number of strangers are likely to call, I hope to
escape them in solitude of unknown regions. You must not think this
strange, as I isolate myself at home the whole morning, and do not
permit a soul to come near me when at work, unless it be ‘Peps.’ You
will remember, too, when I did something similar to this at Dresden, and
left the world to go into retirement with August Roeckel.”

A few days after he left Zurich for London, his next letter being
dated--


PARIS, 2d March, 1855.

     I am on the road to you. I expect to leave here Sunday morning
     early, and shall accordingly arrive in London in the evening,
     probably somewhat late. If, therefore, without further notice, I
     must be so unceremonious with you, the friend, whom, alas, I am not
     yet personally acquainted with, as to tumble right into the house,
     then must I beg of you to expect me on Sunday night. Trusting that
     I shall not ill-use your friendly hospitality, if only for this
     night, for I suppose we shall succeed in trying to find on Monday
     morning an agreeable lodging, in which I might at once install
     myself, for from the many exertions, I fear I shall come very
     fatigued to you. I do not doubt that you will have the kindness to
     inform Hogarth that, dating from Monday morning early, I shall be
     at the disposition of the directors of the Philharmonic. In so
     doing I keep my promise to be in London a week before the first
     concert. With the entreaty to best excuse me to your wife, and in
     hearty joy of your personal acquaintanceship,

I am yours very faithful,
RICHARD WAGNER.



Wagner arrived at midnight precisely on Sunday, the fifth of March.

[Sidenote: _HIS HAT WOULD NOT DO._]

If I had not already acquired through the graphic letters of August
Roeckel an insight into the peculiarities of Richard Wagner’s habits of
thought, power of grasping profound questions of mental speculation,
whilst relieving the severity of serious discourse by the intermingling
of jocular ebulitions of fancy, I was soon to have a fair specimen of
these wondrous qualities. One of the many points in which we found
ourselves at home, was the habit of citing phrases from Schiller or
Goethe, as applicable to our subjects of discussion, as often ironically
as seriously. To these we added an almost interminable dictionary of
quotations from the plays and operas of the early part of the century.
These mental links were, in the course of a long and intimate
friendship, augmented by references to striking qualities, defects, or
oddities, our circle of acquaintances forming a means of communication
between us which might not inaptly be likened to mental shorthand.
Nothing could have exceeded the hilarity, when, upon showing him, at an
advanced hour, to his bedroom, he enthusiastically said, “August was
right; we shall understand each other thoroughly!” I felt in an exalted
position, and dreamed that, like Spontini, I had received a new
decoration from some potentate which delighted me, but the pleasant
dream soon turned to nightmare, when I could find no room on my coat to
place the newly acquired bauble. The next morning I found the
signification of the dream. Exalted positions have their duties as well
as their pleasures, and it became my duty to acquaint Wagner that a
so-called “Necker” hat (_i.e._ a slouched one) was not becoming for the
conductor of so conservative a society as the Philharmonic, and that it
was necessary that he should provide himself with a tall hat, indeed,
such headgear as would efface all remembrance of the social class to
which his soft felt hat was judicially assigned, for, be it known, in
some parts of Germany the soft slouched felt hat had been interdicted by
police order as being the emblem of revolutionary principles. I think it
was on the strength of the accuracy of this last statement that Wagner
gave way, and I at once followed up the success by taking the composer
of “Tannhäuser” to the best West End hatter, where, after an onslaught
on the sons of Britannia and their manias, we succeeded in fitting a hat
on that wondrous head of the great thinker. I could not help
sarcastically joking Wagner on his compulsory leave-taking with the
“revolutionary” hat for four months,--the time he was to sojourn amongst
us,--by citing from Schiller’s “Fiesco” the passage about the fall of
the hero’s cloak into the water, upon which Verina pushes him after it
with the sinister words, “When the purple falls, the duke must follow.”
As to Richard Wagner’s democratic principles, I observed that the
solitude of exile had considerably modified them. This I noticed to my
surprise and no less pain, for, when I anxiously inquired after our poor
friend, August Roeckel, he shrugged his shoulders and said, “Perhaps he
tries to revolutionize the prison warders, for the ‘Wuhlers’”
(uprooters, a name of the period) “are never at rest in their
self-elected role of reformers!” I, who knew the unambitious,
self-sacrificing nature of the poor prisoner, felt a pang of
disappointment at Wagner’s remark, and had often to suffer the same when
the year 1849 was mentioned.

[Sidenote: _A DIFFICULT INTERVIEW._]

We drove from the hatmaker straight to the city to inquire after a box
containing the compositions Wagner had been requested to bring over with
him. The box had arrived, and then we continued our peregrination back
to the West, alighting at Nottingham Place, the residence of Mr.
Anderson. The old gentleman possessed all the suave, gentle manner of
the courtier, and all went well during the preliminary conversation
about the projected programme, until Mr. Anderson mentioned a prize
symphony of Lachner as one of the intended works to be performed. Wagner
sprang from his seat, as if shot from a gun, exclaiming loudly and
angrily, “Have I therefore left my quiet seclusion in Switzerland to
cross the sea to conduct a prize symphony by Lachner? no; never! If that
be a condition of the bargain I at once reject it, and will return. What
brought me away was the eagerness to head a far-famed orchestra and to
perform worthily the works of the great masters, but no Kapellmeister
music; and that of a ‘Lachner,’ bah!” Mr. Anderson sat aghast in his
chair, looking with bewildered surprise on this unexpected outbreak of
passion, delivered with extraordinary volubility and heat by Wagner,
partly in French and partly in German. I interposed a more
tranquillizing report of the harangue and succeeded in assuring Mr.
Anderson that the matter might be arranged by striking out the “prize”
composition, to which he directly most urbanely acceded. Wagner, who did
not fail to perceive the startling effect his derisive attack on the
proposed work had produced on poor Mr. Anderson, whose knowledge of the
French language was fairly efficient in an Andante movement, but quite
incapable of following such a _presto agitato_ as the Wagner speech had
assumed, begged me to explain the dubious position of prize compositions
in all cases, and certainly no less in the case of the Lachner
composition, and Wagner himself laughingly turned the conversation into
a more general and quiet channel. After thus having tranquillized the
storm, the interview ended more agreeably than the startling episode had
promised. I, however, then clearly foresaw the many difficulties likely
to occur during the conductorship of a man of Wagner’s Vesuvius-like
temper, and the sequel amply proved that I had not been unduly
prejudiced in this respect. Yet in all his bursts of excitability, a
sudden veering round was always to be expected, should it chance that
the angry poet-musician perceived any ludicrous feature in the
controversy, when he would turn to that as a means of subduing his
ebullition of temper, and falling into a jocular vein, would plainly
show he was conscious of having exceeded the bounds of moderation. I was
glad that we had passed the Rubicon of our difficulties for the present,
for I was fully aware that whatever difficulties might arise with regard
to Wagner’s relation to the other directors, they would be easily
overcome by Mr. Anderson’s support, for it was he who unquestionably
ruled the “Camarilla,” or secret Spanish council, as Wagner styled the
“seven,” when any work proposed by them for performance met with
disapproval. I never could well understand how the Lachner episode
became known, but it is certain that it did, for the German opposition
journals, and there were many, made great capital out of the refusal of
Wagner to conduct a prize symphony.

[Sidenote: _HIS CHILDLIKE JOLLITY._]

Our next visit was an unclouded one. We went to call on Sainton, who was
as refined a soloist as he was an intelligent and energetic orchestral
leader. His jovial temperament, Gasconic fun (born at Toulouse), his
good and frank nature, pleased Wagner at once. Charles Lüders, a German
musician, “le frère intime” of Sainton, formed the oddest contrast to
his friend’s character. Quiet, reflective, and somewhat old-fashioned,
he nevertheless became an ardent admirer of Wagner’s music, and proved
that “extremes meet,” for in his compositions, and they are many, known
in Germany and in France, the good Lüders tenaciously clung to the
traditions of a past period. We soon identified him in gentle fun with
the “contrapuntista.” Notwithstanding the marked contrast of the
quartette, Wagner, Sainton, Lüders, and myself, we harmonized remarkably
well, and many were our pleasant, convivial meetings during the time of
Wagner’s stay in London. As Sainton had always been very intimate with
Costa, and was his recognized deputy in his absence, he accompanied us
on the first visit to the Neapolitan conductor, Wagner expressing a wish
to make Costa’s acquaintance. This was the only visit of etiquette
Wagner paid. He sternly refused to pay any more, no matter to whom, and
I gladly desisted from advocating any, though he suffered severely in
consequence from a press which stigmatized him as proud and unsociable.

We went home to dine. What a pleasant impression did the master give us
of his childlike jollity. Full of fun, he exhibited his remarkable power
of imitation. He was a born actor, and it was impossible not to
recognize immediately who was the individual caricatured, for Wagner’s
power of observation led him at all times to notice the most minute
characteristics of all whom he encountered. A repast in his society
might well be described as a “feast of reason and flow of soul,” for,
mixed in odd ways, were the most solid remarks of deep, logical
intuition, with the sprightliest, frolicsome humour. Wagner ate very
quickly, and I soon had occasion to notice the fatal consequences of
such unwise procedure, for although a moderate eater, he did not fail to
suffer severely from such a pernicious practice. This first day afforded
a side-light upon the master’s peculiarities. Never having been used to
the society of children, he was plainly awkward in his treatment of
them, which we did not fail to perceive whenever my little boy was
brought in to say “good-night.”

As soon as we had discovered a fitting apartment at Portland Place,
Regent’s Park, within a few minutes’ walk of my house, the first thing
he wanted was an easel for his work, so that he might stand up to score.
No sooner was that desire satisfied than he insisted on an eider-down
quilt for his bed. Both these satisfied desires are illustrative of
Wagner. He knew not self-denial. It was sufficient that he wished, that
his wish should be gratified. When he arrived in London his means were
limited, but nevertheless the satisfaction of the desires was what he
ever adhered to.

He had not been here a day before his determined character was made
strikingly apparent to me. In the matter of crossing a crowded
thoroughfare his intrepidity bordered close upon the reckless. He would
go straight across a road; safe on the other side, he was almost boyish
in his laugh at the nervousness of others. But this was Wagner. It was
this deliberate attacking everything that made him what he was;
timorousness was not in his character; dauntless fearlessness, perhaps
not under proper control, naturally gave birth to an iconoclast, who
struck with vigour at all opposition, heedless of destroying the penates
worshipped by others.

[Sidenote: _HIS FIRST LONDON CONCERT._]

The rehearsal and the introduction of the band of the Philharmonic was a
nervous moment for me. I knew the spirit of opposition had found its way
among a few members of the orchestra; indeed, it numbered one at least,
who felt himself displaced by Wagner’s appointment. However, Wagner
came. He addressed the band in a brotherly manner, as co-workers for the
glory of art; made an apt reference to their idol, his predecessor, and
secured the good-will at once of the majority. I say advisedly the
majority only, because they had not long set to work when he was gently
admonished by some that “they had not been in the habit of taking this
movement so slowly, and that, perhaps, the next had been taken a trifle
too fast.” Wagner was diplomatic; his words were conciliatory, but, for
all that, he went on his way, and would have the _tempi_ according to
his will. At the end he was applauded heartily, and henceforth the band
apparently followed implicitly his directions.

The first concert took place on the 12th March; the programme was as
follows:--

  Symphony                                Hadyn.
  Operatic terzetto (vocal)               Mozart.
  Violin Concerto                         Spohr.
  Scena (“Ocean, Thou Mighty Monster”)    Weber.
  Overture (“The Isle of Fingal”)         Mendelssohn.
  The “Eroica”                            Beethoven.
  Duet (“O My Father”)                    Marschner.
  Overture (“Zauberflöte”)                Mozart.

The effect of the concert will be best understood by the following
notice, which I contributed at the time for the “New York Musical
Gazette”:--

     The eagerly looked for event has taken place. Costa’s bâton, so
     lately swayed with such majestical and even tyrannical ardour, this
     self-same bâton was taken on Monday last (12th March) by Richard
     Wagner. The audience rose almost _en masse_ to see the man first,
     and whispers ran from one to another: “He is a small man, but what
     a beautiful and intelligent forehead he has!” Haydn’s symphony, No.
     7 (grand) began the concert, and opened the eyes of the audience to
     a state of things hitherto unknown, as regards conducting. Wagner
     does not beat in the old-fashioned, automato-metronomic manner. He
     leaves off beating at times--then resumes again--to lead the
     orchestra up to a climax, or to let them soften down to a
     _pianissimo_, as if a thousand invisible threads tied them to his
     bâton. His is the beau ideal of conducting. He treats the orchestra
     like the instrument on which he pours forth his soul-inspired
     strains. Haydn’s well-known symphony seemed a new work through his
     inexpressibly intelligent and poetical conception. Beethoven’s
     “Eroica,” the first movement of which used to be taken always with
     narcotic slowness by previous conductors, and in return the funeral
     march always much too fast, so as to rob it of all the magnificent
     _gran’dolore_; the scherzo, which always came out clumsily and
     heavily; and the finale, which never was understood.--Beethoven’s
     “Eroica” may be said to have been heard for the first time here,
     and produced a wonderful effect. As if to beat the Mendelssohnian
     hypercritics on their own field, Wagner gave a reading of
     Mendelssohn’s “Isle of Fingal” that would have delighted the
     composer himself, and even the overture of “Die Zauberflöte”
     (“Magic Flute”) was invested with something not noticed before. Let
     it be well understood that Wagner takes no liberties with the works
     of the great masters; but his poetico-musical genius gives him, as
     it were, a second sight into their hidden treasures; his worship
     for them and his intense study are amply proved by his conducting
     them all without the score, and the musicians of the orchestra, so
     lately bound to Costa’s reign at Covent Garden, and prejudiced to a
     degree against the new man, who had been so much abused before he
     came, and judged before he was heard (by those who are not capable
     of judging him when they do hear him!)--this very orchestra already
     adores Wagner, who, notwithstanding his republican politics, is
     decidedly a despot with the orchestra. In short, Wagner has
     conquered, and an important influence on musical progress may be
     predicted for him. The next concert will bring us the “Ninth
     Symphony” and a selection of “Lohengrin,” which the directors would
     insist on, notwithstanding the refusal of the composer. The “Times”
     abuses Wagner and revenges the neglected English conductors; mixes
     up his music with the Revolution, 1848, and falsely states that he
     hates Mozart, Beethoven, etc., etc., and furthermore asserts, just
     as falsely, that he wrote his books in defence of his operas; but
     is so virulent against the man, and says so little about his
     conducting, that it strikes us the article must have been written
     some years ago, as an answer to “Judaism in Music.” The “Morning
     Post” agrees perfectly with us as to Wagner being the conductor of
     whom musicians have dreamed, when they sought for perfection,
     hitherto unbelieved.

[Sidenote: _SUPPER AFTER THE CONCERT._]

After the first concert, we went by arrangement to spend a few hours at
his rooms. Dear me, what an evening of excitement that was! There were
Wagner, Sainton, Lüders, Klindworth (whom I had introduced to Wagner as
a pupil of Liszt), myself and wife. Animal spirits ran high. Wagner was
in ecstasies. The concert had been a marked success artistically, and
Richard Wagner’s reception flattering. On arriving at his rooms, he
found it necessary to change his dress from “top to toe.” He had
perspired so freely from excitement that his collar was as though it had
that moment been dipped into a basin of water. So while he went to
change his attire and don a somewhat handsome dressing-robe made by
Minna, Sainton prepared a mayonnaise for the lobster, and Lüders rum
punch made after a Danish method, and one particularly appreciated by
Wagner, who, indeed, loved everything unusual of that description.
Wagner had chosen the lobster salad, I should mention, because crab fish
were either not to be got at all in Germany, or were very expensive.
When he returned he put himself at the piano. His memory was excellent,
and innumerable “bits” or references of the most varied description were
rattled off in a sprightly manner; but more excellent was his running
commentary of observations as to the intention of the composer. These
observations showed the thinker and discerning critic, and in themselves
were of value in helping others to comprehend the meaning of the music.
What he said has mostly found its way into print; indeed, it may be
affirmed that the greater part of his literary productions was only the
transcription of what he uttered incessantly in ordinary conversation.
Then, too, he sang; and what singing it was! It was, as I told him then,
just like the barking of a big Newfoundland dog. He laughed heartily,
but kept on nevertheless. He cared not. Yet though his “singing” was
but howling, he sang with his whole heart, and held you, as it were,
spellbound. There was the real musician. He felt what he was doing. He
was earnest, and that was, and is, the cause of his greatness. Then when
we sat at supper he was in his liveliest mood. Richard Wagner a German?
Why, he behaved then with all that uncontrolled expansion of the
Frenchman. But this is only another instance of those contradictions in
Wagner’s life. His volubility at the table knew no bounds. Anecdotes and
reminiscences of his early life poured forth with a freshness, a vigour,
and sparkling vivacity just like some mountain cataract leaping
impetuously forward. He spoke with evident pleasure of his reception by
the audience; praised the orchestra, remarking how faithfully they had
borne in mind and reproduced the impressions he had sought to give them
at the rehearsal. On this point he was only regretful that the
inspiration, the divination, the artistic electricity, as it were, which
is in the air among German or French executants, should be wanting here;
or, as he phrased it, “Ils jouent parfaitement, mais le feu sacré leur
manque.”

[Sidenote: _CONDUCTING WEBER’S MUSIC._]

Then followed his abuse of fashion. White kid gloves on the hands of a
conductor he scoffed at. “Who can do anything fettered with these
things?” he pettishly insisted; and it was only after considerable
pressure, and pointing out the aristocratic antecedents of the
Philharmonic and the class of its supporters, that he had consented to
wear a pair just to walk up the steps of the orchestra on first
appearing, to be taken off immediately he got to his desk. That evening,
at Wagner’s request, we drank with much acclamation eternal
“brotherhood,” henceforth to “tutoyer” each other, and broke up our
high-spirited meeting at two in the morning.

But the second concert, 26th March, 1855, the programme was after
Wagner’s own heart. It was, perhaps, the _one_ of the whole eight which
delighted him the most, embracing as it did the overture to “Der
Freischütz,” the prelude and a selection from “Lohengrin,” and
Beethoven’s “Ninth Symphony.” It was the first time any of Wagner’s
music was to be performed in England, and Wagner was anxious. But the
rehearsal was reassuring. At first the orchestra could not understand
the _pianissimo_ required in the opening of the “Lohengrin” prelude; and
then the crescendos and diminuendos which Wagner insisted upon having
surprised the executants. They turned inquiringly to each other,
seemingly annoyed at his fastidiousness. But the conductor knew what he
wanted and would have it. Then came the overture to “Der Freischütz.”
Now this was exceedingly popular in England, and it was thought nothing
could be altered in the mode of rendering it. Traditions, however, of
the “adored idol,” Weber, were strong in Wagner, and he took it in the
composer’s way; the result was, that at the concert the applause was so
boisterous, and the demands of the audience so emphatic, that a
repetition was at once given. That the overture was repeated will show
how insistent were the audience, for Wagner then, as afterwards, was
decidedly opposed to encores; however, upon this occasion there was no
way of avoiding the repeat. Though, as I have said, the overture was
extremely popular, yet the reading was so new and striking, the phrasing
and _nuances_ marked with such decision, that the people were startled,
and expressed their appreciation heartily.

The reception of the “Lohengrin” selection, too, was unmistakably
favourable. The delicately fragile orchestration of the sweetly melodic
prelude, followed by the bright and attractive rhythmical phrases of the
bridal chorus, caused a bewildered, pleased surprise among the audience,
who had expected something totally different. The “music of the future
was noise and fury,” so said the leading English musical journal, and
this authority counted for something; but the “Lohengrin” prelude was
very inaccurately described, if that had been included, and Wagner felt
pleased and contented at the impression which the first performance of
any of his music had created in this country.



CHAPTER XIX.

1855. _Continued._


On the “Ninth Symphony,” that colossal work, Richard Wagner expended
commensurate pains. I remember how surprised the vocalists were at the
rehearsal, when he stopped them, inquiring did they understand the
meaning of what they were singing, and then he briefly explained in
emphatic language what he thought about it. The bass solo was especially
odd: the vocalist was taking it as though it were an ordinary ballad,
when Wagner burst in fiery song, natural and falsetto, illustrating how
it should go, singing the whole of the solo of Mr. Weiss (the bass
vocalist) in such a decided, clean cut manner that it was impossible for
the singer to help imitating him, and with marked effect too. As for the
band, that rehearsal was a revelation to them. That symphony was a
stupendous work, yet the conductor knew it by heart and was conducting
without score. They felt they were in the hands of a man whose artistic
soul was fired with enthusiasm; his earnestness infected them; they
caught it quickly and responded with a zealousness that only sympathetic
artists can put forth, ably supported by Sainton, whom the Prince
Consort complimented to Wagner as a splendid “Chef d’attaque.” The
concert performance created, too, such a stir that even the most violent
of all the anti-Wagner critics spoke of it as an “intellectual and
elevated conception.” This concert placed Wagner permanently in the
heart of his band; they loved to be under the command of such an earnest
art worker and yielded willingly to his inspirations.

That evening after the concert, at our now established gathering, Wagner
was positively jubilant. He had been able to produce the “Ninth
Symphony” in London as he wished, and he hoped the “traditions” would
remain. He emphasized “traditions” in a slyly sarcastic manner, and well
had he reason to do so. Traditions of Mendelssohn and Spohr were
omnipotent, and omnipotent with the orchestra, and Wagner hoped the
conservative English mind would retain “his” traditions of the “Choral
Symphony,” among which would be found how he had sung the long
recitative for the strings,--double-basses,--that ushers in the choral
portion of the work. When Wagner first sang this part to the orchestra,
they all engaged in a good-humoured titter, which speedily gave way to
respect; for Wagner certainly was marvellously successful in explaining
how he wanted a phrase played by first singing it,--a gift it
undoubtedly was.

[Sidenote: _A VISIT TO ST. PAUL’S._]

He said he would not do any work next day, and arranged that we should
visit the city. We went first to the Guildhall. It was astonishing how
he absorbed everything to himself, to his purposes, how his fancy freely
exercised itself. Gog and Magog! they were his Fafner and Fasolt; then
his humour leaped in advance of the period, and he laughingly asked me
whether there was a “Götterdämmerung” in store for the City Fathers, and
whether Guildhall, their Walhalla, supported by the giants Gog and
Magog, would also crumble away through the curse of gold. We next went
to the Mint. There, too, the central figure was Wagner; the main theme
of discussion, Wagner. When the attendant put into his hands, as was the
custom, a roll of cancelled bank notes, amounting to thousands of pounds
sterling, he turned to me and said, “The hundredth part of this would
build my theatre, and posterity would bless me.” His speech certainly
savoured of the consciousness of genius. I do not think this is a
euphemistic way of saying he had a good opinion of himself. I say it,
because I feel it to be the truth. It was through this very
consciousness that he triumphed over the many difficulties that beset
him. Without it he could not have achieved what he did. The buoyancy of
hope begotten of conscious strength is a powerful factor in the securing
of success. The theatre he had in his mind then, I thought to be that
which he had urged the Saxon authorities to establish, the scheme for
which I was then well acquainted with, but his latter discourse showed
how, during his exile, that original thought had amplified itself. Of
our visit to St. Paul’s Cathedral I can recall but one observation of
Wagner, to the effect that it was as cold and uninspiring as the
Protestant creed--a strange remark from one whose own religious
tendencies were Lutheran, and who could express his religious
convictions so powerfully and poetically in his last work, “Parsifal.”

Richard Wagner’s intense attachment to the canine species led him to
make friends with our dog, a large, young, black Norwegian beast, given
me by Hainberger, the companion of Wagner in the forward movement of
1848-9, and sharer of his exile. The dog showed in return a decided
affection for his newly made acquaintance. After a few days, when Wagner
found that the dog was kept in a small back yard, he expostulated
against such “cruelty,” and proposed to take the dog’s necessary
out-door exercise under his own special care--a task he never shirked
during the whole of his London stay. Whenever he went for his daily
promenade, a habit never relinquished at any period of his life, the dog
was his companion, no matter who else might be of the party. Nor was the
control of the dog an easy task. It was a curious sight to witness
Wagner’s patience in following the wild gyrations of the spirited
animal, who, in his exultation of that semi-freedom, tugged at his
chain, dragging the Nibelung composer hither and thither.

[Sidenote: _ANIMALS ON THE STAGE._]

Part of Wagner’s daily constitutional was to the Regent’s Park, entering
by the Hanover Gate. There, at the small bridge over the ornamental
water, would he stand regularly and feed the ducks, having previously
provided himself for the purpose with a number of French rolls--rolls
ordered each day for the occasion. There was a swan, too, that came in
for much of Wagner’s affection. It was a regal bird, and fit, as the
master said, to draw the chariot of Lohengrin. The childlike happiness,
full to overflowing, with which this innocent occupation filled Wagner,
was an impressive sight never to be forgotten. It was Wagner you saw
before you, the natural man, affectionate, gentle, and mirthful. His
genuine affection for the brute creation, united to a keen power of
observation, gave birth to numberless anecdotes, and the account of the
Regent’s Park peregrinations often formed a most pleasant subject of
after-dinner conversation. I should explain that though Wagner had rooms
in Portland Place, St. John’s Chapel, Regent’s Park, he only took his
breakfast there, and did such work in the matter of scoring in the
morning, coming directly after to my house for his dog and rolls,
returning for dinner and to spend the rest of the day under my roof,
where also a room was provided for him.

[Sidenote: _THAT UNHAPPY DRAGON._]

In our friendly talks upon the animal kingdom, we soon came to a decided
dissension. I casually remarked on the ludicrous effects animals produce
at times, and under all circumstances on the stage; here I found myself
in direct opposition to Wagner’s notions on the subject. Had he not the
dragon Fafner, the young bear in “Siegfried,” the Gräne, the steed of
the Valkyrie, even the fluttering bird in the tetralogy? Was not the
swan in “Lohengrin” another proof of his predilection for realistic
representation of animals on the stage? It was in vain that I cited the
lamentable failure of the serpent in Mozart’s “Magic Flute,” which, even
at the best theatres in Germany, never produced other than a burst of
hilarity at its wriggling in the pangs of death, when pierced by the
three donnas; or again the two lions in the same opera which are rolled
on to the stage like children’s wooden horses; or Weber’s mistake of
introducing a serpent in his “Euryanthe,” which always mars that scene!
But I found myself obliged to cease quoting examples, and seek a basis
for establishing principles for my argument against the introduction of
animals on the stage. Here more success awaited me on the strength of
Wagner’s own exalted notion of the histrionic art; viz. that an actor,
to be worthy of the name, must possess the creative power of a poet, and
become, as it were, inspired into the state impersonated, which might
not inaptly be likened to that of mesmerism. The actor must believe
himself another being, must be unconscious of aught else. One such
artist, he asserted, was Garrick, in the delivery of monologues, when
the great tragedian was said to have isolated himself to such a degree,
that though with his eyes wide open, he became, as it were, visionless.
It was on this ground that I attempted my argument against Wagner’s
illogical and intemperate introduction of the brute creation into his
dramas. If, I argued, you will not accept an actor properly so-called, a
reasoning man, unless his poetic creative fancy can enable him to
transport his identity into a character entirely different from his own,
how still less can you expect any animal to impersonate a set rôle in
any performance? Whatever actions may be required from it, a dog will
always represent a dog; a horse, a horse. Wagner saw the argument, but
reluctant as at all times to confess himself beaten, he advanced
“training” as a defence. This, however, served only to destroy his case
the more; for he had previously reasoned, and with much force, that all
training for the stage as a profession was useless, and but so much
mis-directed effort and waste of time, unless the student had given
evidence of a genius, which nature, alas! is chary in bestowing. So much
for the introduction of real animals upon the stage; there the case is
bad enough, and the results occasionally disastrous and ludicrous; but
when one has to make shift with imitation, the matter is still worse.
Here, too, however, Wagner was reluctant to forego the semblance as
much as he was the reality. Yet, let the case be tested by oneself.
Recall the bear Siegfried brings with him into the smithy, think of the
ridiculous effect produced by the actor’s antics in his vain efforts to
worthily perform his part and seem a real bear. There is no margin left
for the imagination, and the sad attempt at a mistaken realism defeats
its own purpose. It is an extraordinary feature in a poetic brain like
that of Wagner, that he would cling persistently to such a realism. This
subject remained always one on which we dissented, and I never failed to
prognosticate a failure for his pets in the Nibelung tetralogy, which to
my mind was fully proved even under his own supervision, and on the
hallowed ground of Bayreuth at the performances there, which were, in
all other respects, so marvellously perfect. Who is there that was
terribly impressed by the sight of the dragon, or who could divest
himself of the thought that a recital of the combat would have proved
infinitely more impressive than the slaying of the snorting monster,
however well Siegfried bears himself towards the pasteboard pitiful
imitation of a fabulous beast? Who, again, would not sooner have heard a
description of the wild, spirited steed, Gräne, than witness the nervous
anxiety of Brünhilde in mounting and dismounting a funeral charger,
which is the cynosure of all eyes while on the stage, to the loss of the
music-dramatic setting? The attention of the dramatis personæ and
audience is distracted from the action of the drama, and centred on the
probable next movement of an animal unable to grasp the situation. This
question of realism is a debatable point; but if it be not kept within
strictly defined limits, I fear there will be danger of the ludicrous
triumphing over the serious.

An inquiry into the probable causes of an exaggerated tendency to
realism, in a man like Wagner, cannot but be interesting to those who,
without bias, accept him as a master-mind. After many years of an ardent
study of his character, compelled by his commanding genius, I am forced
to a conclusion, the key to many of his actions, which is equally the
explanation in the present instance, is the lack of self-denial. He
yearned for unlimited means to achieve his purpose, and would have the
most gorgeous and costly trappings, to set off his pictures of the
imagination. It was the same in every-day matters of life. Nor, must I
add, did he ever care from whence the means came. That this was the case
in real life, all who know him will testify. How much more, then, would
such a tendency be fed in realizing the vivid impressions with which his
active poetical fancy so freely provided him. Unlimited means! that was
the dream of his life, and up to a late period, when these means at last
realized themselves by the astounding success of his works and the
enormous sums they produced, his inability to curb his wants down to his
actual means kept him in a state of constant trouble and yearning for
freedom from those shackles.

[Sidenote: _THE THIRD LONDON CONCERT._]

He accepted his humble descent, fully convinced from earliest time of
having the patent of nobility in his brain--in his genius! He ever bore
himself with the consciousness of superiority, but as for titles and
decorative distinctions, he disdained them all. Were they not bestowed
on numskulls? therefore, he has loudly proclaimed genius should not
dishonour its lofty intelligence in accepting empty baubles. But riches
and the profuse luxurious splendour that can be purchased thereby would
not have seemed too much for him, had they equalled the fabulous
possessions of a Monte Cristo. The traditional humble state of the great
composers, if not actual poverty, as compared with the fortunes amassed
in other arts, was a continual source of complaint with him.

The programme of the third concert was as follows:--

  THIRD CONCERT, 16TH APRIL.

  Symphony in A                     Mendelssohn.
  Aria from “Faust”                 Spohr.
  Concerto, pianoforte              Beethoven.
  Aria                              Mozart.
  Overture (“Euryanthe”)            Weber.
  Symphony in C minor, No. 5        Beethoven.
  Recitative and Aria               Spohr.
  Overture (“Les deux journées”)    Cherubini.

That evening, the 16th April, there was a stir among the Mendelssohnian
supporters. They mustered in force; for it had been rumoured that at the
rehearsal Wagner had not stopped the orchestra once. But however Wagner
may have regarded the works of the composer of “Elijah,” he was
straightforward enough to do with all his might what he put his hand to,
as the sequel proved, since the “Daily News” reported that it “never
heard the ‘Italian’ Symphony go so well.” That there were some whose
prejudice was not appeased, is to be accepted as a matter of course, and
Wagner was taunted in the “Times,” “with a coarse and rigorously frigid”
performance.

As for the overture to “Euryanthe,” it is not too much to say the
audience was startled out of itself; there was a dead silence for a
moment on the work being brought to a close, and the enthusiasm,
vigorous and hearty, burst forth. It was a new reading. Such was the
surprise with which we witnessed the rapturous applause, that at the
convivial gathering after the concert Wagner set himself at the piano,
and from memory poured forth numerous excerpts from “Euryanthe.” Then we
learned that that opera was intensely admired by Wagner. He thought it
“logical” and “philosophical,” and throughout showed that Weber was a
reflective musician, and, as he himself forcibly argued, that only works
of reflection could ever be immortal. The plot, its treatment, and the
language employed were, he felt, the causes of the opera’s
non-popularity, and that these wretched drawbacks dreadfully changed the
intrinsically beautiful music.

[Sidenote: _A FONDNESS FOR SNUFF._]

Reflections upon the habits and customs of a past generation sometimes
introduce us to situations that produce in the mind wonder and perhaps a
feeling of disgust. Who can picture the composer of that colossal work
of intellect, the “Nibelung Ring,” sitting at the piano, in an elegant,
loose robe-de-chambre, singing, with full heart, snatches and scenes
from his “adored” idol, Weber’s “Euryanthe,” and at intervals of every
three or four minutes indulging in large quantities of scented snuff.
The snuff-taking scene of the evening is the deeper graven on my memory,
because Wagner abruptly stopped singing, on finding his snuff-box empty,
and got into a childish, pettish fit of anger. He turned to us in
deepest concern, with “Kein schnupf tabac mehr also Kein gesang mehr”
(no more snuff, no more song); and though we had reached the small hours
of early morn, would have some one start in search of this “necessary
adjunct.” When singing, the more impassioned he became, the more
frequent the snuff-taking. Now, this practice of Wagner’s, one
cultivated from early manhood, in my opinion pointedly illustrates a
phase in the man’s character. He did not care for snuff, and even
allowed the indelicacy of the habit, but it was that insatiable nature
of his that yearned for the enjoyment of all the “supposed” luxuries of
life. It was precisely the same with smoking. He indulged in this, to
me, barbarous acquirement more moderately, but experienced not the
slightest pleasure from it. I have seen him puffing from the mild and
inoffensive cheroot, to the luxurious hookah--the latter, too, as he
confessed, only because it was an Oriental growth, and the luxury of
Eastern people harmonized with his own fondness for unlimited profusion.
“Other people find pleasure in smoking; then why should not I?” This is,
briefly, the only explanation Wagner ever offered in defence of the
practice--a practice which he was fully aware increased the malignity of
his terrible dyspepsia.

There was in Wagner a nervous excitability which not infrequently led to
outbreaks of passion, which it would be difficult to understand or
explain, were it not that there existed a positive physical cause.
First, he suffered, as I have stated earlier, from occasional attacks of
erysipelas; then his nervous system was delicate, sensitive,--nay, I
should say, irritable. Spasmodic displays of temper were often the
result, I firmly feel, of purely physical suffering. His skin was so
sensitive that he wore silk next to the body, and that at a time when
he was not the favoured of fortune. In London he bought the silk, and
had shirts made for him; so, too, it was with his other garments. We
went together to a fashionable tailor in Regent Street, where he ordered
that his pockets and the back of his vest should be of silk, as also the
lining of his frock-coat sleeves; for Wagner could not endure the touch
of cotton, as it produced a shuddering sensation throughout the body
that distressed him. I remember well the tailor’s surprise and
explanation that silk for the back of the vest and lining of the sleeves
was not at all necessary, and that the richest people never had silk
linings; besides, it was not seen. This last observation brought Wagner
up to one of his indignant bursts, “Never seen! yes; that’s the tendency
of this century; sham, sham in everything; that which is not seen may be
paltry and mean, provided only that the exterior be richly gilded.”

On the matter of dress he had, as on most things, decided opinions! The
waistcoat he condemned as superfluous, and thought a garment akin to the
mediæval doublet in every way more suitable and comely, and was strongly
inclined at one time to revert to that style of costume himself. He did
go so far as to wear an uncommon headgear, one sanctioned by antiquity,
the _biretta_, which few people of to-day would have courage to don.
Thus it was that from physical causes Wagner preferred silks and
velvets, and so a constitutional defect produced widespread and
ungenerous charges of affected originality and sumptuous luxuriousness.

[Sidenote: _TOO MUCH GOOD MUSIC._]

Wagner was greatly amused at the references to him in the London
Charivari “Punch,” wherein his “music of the future” was described as
“Promissory Notes,” and on a second occasion when it was asserted that
“Lord John Russell is in treaty with Dr. Wagner to compose some music of
the future for his Reform Bill.”

The fourth concert on the 30th April nearly led to a rupture between
Wagner and the directors. The programme was as follows:--

  Symphony in B flat                       Lucas.
  Romanza (“Huguenots”)                    Meyerbeer.
  Nonetto for string and wind instruments  Spohr.
  Recitative and Aria                      Beethoven.
  Overture (“Ruler of the Spirits”)        Weber.
  Symphony No. 7                           Beethoven.
  Duetto (“cosi fan Tutti”)                Mozart.
  Overture (“l’Alcade de la Velga”)        Onslow.

Wagner had a decided objection to long programmes. The London public, he
said, “overfeed themselves with music; they cannot healthily digest the
lengthy menu provided for them.” This programme was distasteful, and
what a scene did it produce! During the aria from “Les Huguenots,” the
tenor, Herr Reichardt, after a few bars’ rest, did not retake his part
at the proper moment, upon which Wagner turned to him,--of course
without stopping the band,--whereupon the singer made gestures to the
audience indicating that the error lay with Wagner. At the end of the
vocal piece a slight consternation ensued. Wagner was well aware of the
unfriendliness of a section of the critics, and in all probability
capital would be made out of this. At the end of the first part of the
concert I went to him in the artists’ room. His high-pitched excitement
and uncontrolled utterances, it was easy to foresee, boded no good. And
so when we reached home after the concert there ensued a positive storm
of passion. Wagner at his best was impulsive and vehement; suffering
from a miserable insinuation as to his incapacity, he grew furious. On
one point he was emphatic,--he would return to Switzerland the next day.
All entreaties and protestations were unavailing. Sainton, Lüders, and
myself actually hung upon him, so ungovernable was his anger. He knew
how I had suffered in the press for championing his cause.
“Chef-de-claque,” “madman,” and “tutto quanti” were the elegant epithets
bestowed upon me in print; and if Wagner left now, the enemy would have
some show of truth in charging him with admitted incompetence: however,
after two or three hours’ talking he engaged to stay and see whether he
could not win success with the “Tannhäuser” overture, which was to be
performed at the next concert.

A distorted report of this event appearing in certain German musical
papers, he wrote an explanatory letter to Dresden, in which he stated,
“I need not tell you that it was only the entreaties of Ferdinand
Praeger and those friends who accompanied me home, that dissuaded me
from my somewhat impulsive determination.”

At the fifth concert, 14th May, the “Tannhäuser” overture was performed.
It came at the end of the first part of another of those long programmes
which Wagner disliked so much. In a letter to me to Brighton, where I
had gone for a few days, he writes: “These endless programmes, with
these interminable masses of instrumental and vocal pieces, torture me.”
The programme of the fifth concert was:--

[Sidenote: _THE “TANNHÄUSER” OVERTURE._]

  Symphony                           Mozart.
  Aria                               Paer.
  Concerto (pianoforte)              Chopin.
  Aria                               Mozart.
  Overture (“Tannhäuser”)            Wagner.
  Symphony (“Pastorale”)             Beethoven.
  Romance                            Meyerbeer.
  Barcarola (vocal)                  Ricci.
  Overture (“Preciosa”)              Weber.

How those violin passages on the fourth string in the “Tannhäuser”
overture worried the instrumentalists! But as Lipinski had done at
Dresden, so Sainton did now in London, and fingered the passages for
each individual performer. The concert room was well filled. At the
close of the overture tumultuous applause followed, the audience rising
and waving handkerchiefs; indeed, Mr. Anderson informed me that he had
never known such a display of excitement at a Philharmonic concert where
everything was so staid and decorous. As this overture has become
perhaps one of the most popular of Wagner excerpts, it will be
interesting to read what the two acknowledged leading musical critics in
London, i.e. of the “Musical World” (who was also the critic of the
“Times”) and the “Athenæum,” said with reference to it. The former
wrote: “The instrumentation is always heavy and thick”; and the
“Athenæum” said: “Yawning chromatic progressions ... a scramble; ... a
hackneyed eight-bar phrase, the commonplace of which is not disguised by
an accidental sharp; ... the instrumentation is ill-balanced,
ineffective, thin, and noisy.”

On the morning of the 22d May, Wagner came to Milton Street very early.
It was his birthday; he was forty-two, and the good, devoted Minna had
so carefully timed the arrival of her congratulatory letter, that Wagner
had received it that morning. He was informed that her gift was a
dressing-gown of violet velvet, lined with satin of similar colour,
headgear--the _biretta_, so well known--to match,--articles of apparel
which furnished his enemies with so much opportunity for charges of
ostentation, egregious vanity, etc. Minna knew her husband well; the
gift was entirely after his heart. He read us the letter. The only
portion of it which I can remember referred to the animal world,--the
dog, Peps, who had been presented with a new collar; and of his parrot,
who had repeated unceasingly, “Richard Wagner, du bist ein grosser mann”
(Richard Wagner, you are a great man). Wagner’s imitation of the parrot
was very amusing. That day the banquet was spread for Richard Wagner.
How he did talk! It was the never-ending fountain leaping from the rock,
sparkling and bright, clear and refreshing. He told us episodes of his
early career at Magdeburg and Riga. How he impressed me then with his
energy! Truly, he was a man whose onward progress no obstacles could
arrest. The indomitable will, and the excision of “impossible” from his
vocabulary, were prominent during the recital of the stirring events of
his early manhood. Certainly it was but a birthday feast, and the talk
was genial and merry; yet there went out from me, unbidden and
unchecked, “Truly, that is a great man.” Yes, though it was but
after-dinner conversation, the reflections were those of a man born to
occupy a high position in the world of thought and to compel the
submission of others to his intellectual vigour.

[Sidenote: “_THE PHILHARMONIC OMNIBUS._”]

At the sixth concert, 28th May, another of those lengthy programmes was
gone through, and comprised--

  Symphony in G minor                      C. Potter.
  Aria (“Il Seraglio”)                     Mozart.
  Concerto, violin, Mr. Sainton            Beethoven.
  Sicilienne                               Pergolesi.
  Overture (“Leonora”)                     Beethoven.
  Symphony, A minor                        Mendelssohn.
  Aria (“Non mi dir”)                      Mozart.
  Song, “O ruddier than the cherry”        Handel.
  Overture (“Der Berg-geist”)              Spohr.

Think of the anger of Wagner! two symphonies and two overtures in the
same evening, besides the vocal music and concerto! This was the fourth
concert at which a double dose of symphony and overture was administered
to an audience incapable of digesting such a surfeit; it was these
“full” programmes, reminding him of the cry of the London omnibus
conductors, “full inside,” which led him humorously to speak of himself
as “conductor of the Philharmonic Omnibus.” In the subjoined letter
addressed to my wife, anent their daily promenade for the “banquetting,”
as he called it, of the ducks in the Regent’s Park, he subscribes
himself as above.

     CARISSIMA SORELLA: Croyez-vous le temps assez bon, pour
     entreprendre notre promenade? Si vous avez le moindre doute, et
     comme l’affaire ne presse pas du tout, je vous prie de vous en
     dispenser pour aujourd’hui. Faites-moi une toute petite reponse si
     je dois venir vous chercher dans un Hansom, ou non?

     En tous cas je gouterai des 4 heures des delices de votre table!

Votre cordialement, dévoúé frère,

RICHARD WAGNER,
_Conductor d’omnibus de la Société
Philharmonique, 1855_.



The letter was sent by hand, as his rooms were but ten minutes from my
house. Perhaps I may here reproduce another short note from Wagner to my
wife, with no other intention than showing the degree of close
friendship that existed between him and us:--

     MA TRÈS CHÈRE SŒUR LÉONIE: Si vous voulez je viendrai demain
     (Samedi) diver avec vous à 6 heures le soir. Pour Dimanche il m’a
     fallu accepter une invitation pour Camberwell, que je ne pouvais
     absolument pas refuser. Serez-vous contente de me voir demain?

Votre très obligé frère,

RICHARD WAGNER.

     VENDREDI SOIR, 1865.

[Sidenote: _MR. POTTER MADE HAPPY._]

Reverting to the concert, the universal criticism was that Wagner had
achieved great things with Cipriani Potter’s symphony. The music Wagner
thought the exact reflection of the man, antiquated but respectable.
Potter was a charming man in daily intercourse, of short stature, thin,
ample features, huge shaggy eyebrows, stand-up collars behind whose
points the old man could hide half his face, and a coat copied from a
Viennese pattern of last century. Wagner was genuinely drawn to the man;
and as the inimical “Musical World” said, “took great pains with the
symphony” (p. 347). Wagner used to declaim greatly against
Mendelssohnian tradition, in the orchestra,--that no movement should be
taken too slow, for fear of wearying the audience. However, being a man
of strong independent character, he would have his way, and movements
were taken as slow as the spirit appeared to require. The critics abused
him heartily; indeed, to such an extent that when the Mozart symphony in
E flat was to be done, the directors implored Wagner to allow the
orchestra to take the slow movement in the quick _tempo_ taught by
Mendelssohn. Similarly, when Potter’s symphony was to be done, Mr.
Potter particularly requested Wagner to take the _andante_ somewhat
fast, otherwise he feared a failure. But Wagner, who, with his
accustomed earnestness had almost the whole by heart, told the composer
that the _andante_ was an extremely pretty, naïve movement, and that no
matter the speed, if the expression were omitted or slurred, the whole
would fall flat; but, added Wagner, it should go thus: Then he sang part
to Mr. Potter, who was so touched that he grasped Wagner’s hand, saying,
“I never dreamed a conductor could take a new work so much to heart as
you have; and as you sing it, just so I meant it.” After the concert Mr.
Potter was very delighted.

But the work of the evening was the “Leonora” overture. Here again
Wagner had his reading, one which the orchestra fell in with
immediately, for they perceived the truth, the earnestness of what
Wagner taught.

At the seventh concert, 11th June, the “Tannhäuser” overture was
repeated, by royal command. The programme, again “full,” included three
overtures and two symphonies.

  Overture (“Chevy Chase”)              Macfarren.
  Air (“Jessonda”)                      Spohr.
  Symphony (“Jupiter”)                  Mozart.
  Scena (“Oberon”)                      Weber.
  Overture (“Tannhäuser”)               Wagner.
  Symphony (No. 8)                      Beethoven.
  Song (“Ave Maria”)                    Cherubini.
  Duet                                  Paer.
  Overture (“Anacreon”)                 Cherubini.

The press did Wagner the justice to state that he showed himself earnest
in the matter of Macfarren’s “Chevy Chase.” His own overture,
“Tannhäuser,” was again a brilliant success. The queen sent for him into
the royal salon, and, congratulating him, said that the Prince Consort
was “a most ardent admirer of his.” Richard Wagner was pleased at the
unaffected and “winning” manner of Her Majesty, who spoke German to him,
but as his own account of the interview, written to a friend at Dresden
two days after the concert, is now before me, I will reproduce it.

...It was therefore the more pleasing to me that the queen (which
     very seldom happens, and not every year) had signified her
     intention of being present at the seventh concert, and ordered a
     repetition of the overture. It was in itself a very pleasant thing
     that the queen overlooked my exceedingly compromised political
     position (which with great malignity was openly alluded to in the
     “Times”), and without fear attended a public performance which I
     directed. Her further conduct towards me, moreover, infinitely
     compensated for all the disagreeable circumstances and coarse
     enmities which hitherto I had encountered. She and Prince Albert,
     who sat in front before the orchestra, applauded after “Tannhäuser”
     overture, which closed the first part, with such hearty warmth that
     the public broke forth into lively and sustained applause. During
     the interval the queen sent for me into the drawing-room, receiving
     me in the presence of her suite with these words: “I am most happy
     to make your acquaintance. Your composition has charmed me.” She
     thereupon made inquiries, during a long conversation, in which
     Prince Albert took part, as to my other compositions; and asked if
     it were not possible to translate my operas into Italian. I had, of
     course, to give the negative to this, and state that my stay here
     could only be temporary, as the only position open was that of
     director of a concert-institute which was not properly my sphere.
     At the end of the concert the queen and the prince again applauded
     me....

[Sidenote: _BURLESQUE OF HIS OWN SONG._]

That evening after the concert our usual meeting included Berlioz and
his wife. Berlioz had arrived shortly before this concert. Between him
and Wagner I knew an awkward constraint existed, which I hardly saw how
to bridge over, but I was desirous to bring the two together, and
discussing the matter with Wagner, he agreed that perhaps the convivial
union after the concert afforded the very opportunity. And so Berlioz
came. But his wife was sickly; she lay on the sofa and engrossed the
whole of her husband’s attention, causing Berlioz to leave somewhat
early. He came alone to the next gathering.

After such a triumph as Wagner had had that evening with the overture,
he was unusually excited. Hector Berlioz, too, was of an excitable
temperament, but could repress it. Not so Wagner. He presented a
striking contrast to the polished, refined Frenchman, whose speech was
almost classic, through his careful selection of words. Wagner went to
the piano, and sang the “Star of Eve,” with harmonies which Chellard, a
German composer of little note (he had composed “Macbeth” as an opera),
said “must be intended.” The effect was extremely mirth-provoking, for
Wagner could ape the ridiculous with irresistible humour.

That evening Wagner, who was always fond of “tasty” dinners, spoke so
glowingly of the French, and their culinary art powers, that we arranged
a whitebait dinner at Greenwich at the Ship, one such as the ministers
sat down to. Edward Roeckel, the brother of August, came up from Bath
for the occasion, and was the giver of the feast. We went by boat. I
remember well the journey, for poor Wagner had an attack of
_malde-mer_, as though he actually were at sea; the wind was blowing
hard, and the water rough. He appreciated highly the whitebait,
especially the dish of devilled ones, and the much-decried cooking of
the British ascended several degrees in his opinion.

The attitude of the bulk of the London press towards Wagner I have
spoken of as unfriendly; they condemned him, indeed, before he was
heard. Not content with writing bitterly against him, some persons were
in the habit of sending him every scurrilous article that appeared about
him. Who was the instigator I could not positively say. On one occasion,
a letter was addressed to Wagner by an English composer, whom I will not
do the honour of naming, who had sought by every possible means to
achieve notoriety, stating that it was said Wagner had spoken
disparagingly of his name and music, and desiring an explanation with
complete satisfaction. Wagner was excessively angry. He had never heard
the name of the composer, wanted to write an indignant remonstrance, but
was dissuaded by me, for I saw both in this and the regular receipt of
the anonymously sent papers, an attempt to draw Wagner into a dispute.
Of course the writer was but the tool of others. In these matters Wagner
yielded himself entirely into my hands, though he was often desirous of
wielding a fluent and effective pen against his ungenerous enemies.

[Sidenote: _HIS FONDNESS FOR LUXURY._]

At that time I had in London a friend on a visit from Paris, a musical
amateur of gift, named Kraus. He was in the confidence of the emperor of
the French, holding the position of steward to a branch of the Bonaparte
family. I invited him to meet Wagner, of whom he was an admirer. Now
listen to what took place. Wagner did all that was possible by
persuasive language to induce Kraus to move the emperor to do something
for Berlioz. It was to no purpose that we were told the emperor was not
enthusiastic for music, and that so many impossible difficulties were in
the way. Wagner kept to his point; Berlioz was poor, had been compelled
to resort to pledging trinkets, etc., whereby to live, and that it was a
crime to the art which he, Kraus, professed to love, that Berlioz should
be in want. I have thought this incident worthy of notice, as showing
the good-will of Wagner for a brother artist was stronger than the icy
restraint that existed between them when they met.

Much has been written and said of Wagner’s extravagance, his prodigality
of luxury. Well, ‘tis true, Wagner knew not self-denial, and that his
taste was ever for the beautiful and costly. With such characteristics,
his indulgence in the choice and elegant can be understood. Should
something pretty attract his attention in the street, say in a shop
window, he would stop suddenly and exclaim aloud what he thought,
heedless of the people standing by. Wagner was not wealthy when in
London, yet he spent freely; silk for shirts for ordinary wear, and
costly Irish laces for Minna. In these shopping expeditions my wife was
his companion, and Wagner showed he possessed that kindly tact born of
natural goodness of heart, in discovering what might be considered
pretty, when it was straightway purchased and presented to her.

I now come to the last concert, the eighth, which took place on the 25th
June. Again the programme included two symphonies and two overtures:--

  Symphony (No. 3, C minor)             Spohr.
  Scena (“Der Freischütz”)              Weber.
  Concerto (pianoforte)                 Hummel.
  Song                                  Haydn.
  Overture (“Midsummer Night’s Dream”)  Mendelssohn.
  Symphony (No. 4, B flat)              Beethoven.
  Duet (“Prophète”)                     Meyerbeer.
  Overture (“Oberon”)                   Weber.

At the close of this concert he met with applause, hearty from a
section, but I cannot say it was universal. He had won many friends and
had made many enemies, but on the whole, Wagner was satisfied. That
evening our last festive gathering was very jovial. Wagner expressed
himself with all the enthusiasm his warm, impulsive nature was capable
of; he was deeply sensible of the value of his stay here. He had almost
retired from the world, but now Paris and Germany would again be brought
to hear of him. He regretted much the spiteful criticism that had fallen
upon me, and which I was likely to meet with still more. We remained
with Wagner until about three in the morning, helping him to prepare for
his departure from London that 26th June.

[Sidenote: “_NOT A MUSICIAN AT ALL._”]

I have refrained from making any quotations about myself. Those who are
interested enough to know how a pioneer is treated by his contemporaries
will discover many silly, impotent reflections upon me in the musical
journals of the period. I will content myself with reproducing a few
extracts about Richard Wagner and his music. The principal papers in
London, those that directed public opinion in musical matters, were the
“Musical World,” “Times,” “Athenæum,” and “Sunday Times.” Four days
after Wagner had left, the following sad specimens appeared. The
“Musical World,” 30th June, 1855:--

     We hold that Herr Richard Wagner _is not a musician at all_ ...
     this excommunication of pure melody, this utter contempt of time
     and rhythmic definition, so notorious in Herr Wagner’s compositions
     (we were about to say Herr Wagner’s music), is also one of the most
     important points of his system, as developed at great length in the
     book of “Oper und Drama.” ... It is clear to us that Herr Wagner
     wants to upset both opera and drama. Let him then avow it without
     all this mystification of words--this tortuous and sophisticated
     systematizing.... He is just now cleansing the Augean stables of
     the musical drama, and meanwhile, with a fierce iconoclasm, is
     knocking down imaginary images, and levelling temples that are but
     the creations of his own brain. When he has done this to his own
     satisfaction, he will have to grope disconsolate among the ruins of
     his contrivance, like Marius on the crumbled walls of Carthage, and
     in a brown study begin to reflect, “What next?” For he, Wagner, can
     build up nothing himself. He can destroy, but not reconstruct. He
     can kill, but not give life.... What do we find there in the shape
     of Wagnerian “Art Drama.” So far as music is concerned, nothing
     better than chaos--“absolute” chaos. The symmetry of form--ignored
     or else abandoned; the consistency of keys and their
     relations--overthrown, contemned, demolished; the charm of rhythmic
     measure, the whole art of phrase and cadence, the true basis of
     harmony and the indispensable government of modulation, cast away
     for a reckless, wild, extravagant, and demagogic cacophony, the
     symbol of profligate libertinage!... Look at “Lohengrin”--that
     “_best_ piece”; hearken to “Lohengrin”--that “_best_ piece.” Your
     answer is there written and sung. Cast that book upon the waters;
     it tastes bitter, as the little volume to the prophet. It is
     poison--_rank poison_....

     This man, this Wagner, this author of “Tannhäuser,” of “Lohengrin,”
     and so many other hideous things--and above all, the overture to
     “Der Fliegende Holländer,” the most hideous and detestable of the
     whole--this preacher of the “future,” was born to feed spiders
     with flies, not to make happy the heart of man with beautiful
     melody and harmony. What is music to him, or he to music?... Who
     are the men that go about as his apostles? Men like Liszt--the
     apostle of Weimar and Professor Praeger, madmen, enemies of music
     to the knife, who, not born for music, and conscious of their
     impotence, revenge themselves by endeavouring to annihilate it....
     Wagner’s theories are impious. No words can be strong enough to
     condemn them; no arraignment before the judgment-seat of truth too
     stern and summary; no verdict of condemnation too sweeping and
     severe.... Not to compare things earthly with things heavenly, has
     Mendelssohn lived among us in vain?... All we can make out of
     “Lohengrin,” by the flaming torch of truth, is an incoherent mass
     of rubbish, with no more real pretension to be called music than
     the jangling and clashing of gongs and other uneuphonious
     instruments.... Wagner, on the contrary, who, though a mythical
     dramatist, is no musician and very little poet.... He cannot write
     music himself, and for that reason arraigns it. His contempt for
     Mendelssohn is simply ludicrous; and we would grant him forty years
     to produce one melodious phrase like any of those so profusely
     scattered about in the operas of Rossini, Weber, Auber, and
     Meyerbeer.... Wagner is as unable to invent genuine tune as pure
     harmony, and he knows it. Hence “the books.” ... Richard Wagner and
     his followers--sham prophets.... Listen to their wily eloquence,
     and you find yourself in the coils of rattle-snakes.... There is as
     much difference between “Guillaume Tell” and “Lohengrin” as between
     the sun and ashes.

From the “Sunday Times,” May, 1855:--

[Sidenote: _GEMS OF CRITICISM._]

     Music is not his special birthgift--is not for him an articulate
     language or a beautiful form of expression.... Richard Wagner is a
     desperate charlatan, endowed with worldly skill and vigorous
     purpose enough to persuade a gaping crowd that the nauseous
     compound he manufactures has some precious inner virtue, that they
     must live and ponder yet ere they perceive.... Anything more
     rambling, incoherent, unmasterly, cannot well be conceived. In
     composition it would be a scandal to compare him with the men of
     reputation this country possesses. Scarcely the most ordinary
     ballad writer but would shame him in the creation of melody, and no
     English harmonist of more than one year’s growth could be found
     sufficiently without ears and education to pen such vile things.

The “Athenæum,” upon the fifth concert says:--

     The overture to “Tannhäuser” is one of the most curious pieces of
     patchwork ever passed off by self-delusion for a complete and
     significant creation.

The critic, after finding a plagiarism of Mendelssohn and Cherubini,
continues:--

     The instrumentation is ill-balanced, ineffective, thin and noisy.

The “Musical World” of 13th October, 1855, says:--

     TANNHÄUSER--We never before heard an opera in which the orchestra
     made such a fuss; the cacophony, noise, and inartistic
     elaborations! We can detect little in “Tannhäuser” not positively
     commonplace. It is tedious beyond endurance. We are made aware, by
     a few bars, that he has never learned how to handle the implements;
     and that, if it were given him as a task to compose the overture to
     “Tancredi,” he would be at straits to accomplish anything so easy,
     clear, and natural.



CHAPTER XX.

1855-1856.


Richard Wagner left London for Paris, from whence he wrote immediately
the following letter. The humorously descriptive reference to the
Channel passage is characteristic.

     DEAREST FRIENDS: Heartiest thanks for your love, which after all is
     the one thing which has made the dull London lastingly dear to me.
     I wish you joy and happiness, and, if possible, to be spared the
     dreariness of the London pavement. Were it not that I regret to
     have left you, I would speak of the delightful feeling which has
     taken possession of me since I have returned to the continent. Here
     the weather is beautiful, the air balmy and invigorating. The past
     night’s rest has somewhat recruited my strength after the recent
     fatigue. At present I am enjoying peace and quiet, which I hope
     will soon enable me to resume work, the only enjoyment in life
     still left to me.

     I have not much to tell of adventures, except that when I went on
     board I felt rather queer. I lay down in the cabin and had just
     succeeded in getting into a comfortable position for sleep, hoping
     thereby to keep off the sea-sickness, when the steward shook me,
     wanting to look at my ticket. To comply, I had to turn over so as
     to get to my pocket. This movement caused me to feel unwell; and
     then the unhappy man claiming his steward’s fee, I was obliged to
     sit up in order to find my money. This new movement brought on the
     sea-sickness, so that just as he thankfully received his gratuity,
     he also received the whole of my supper. Yet he still seemed quite
     content, notwithstanding, whilst I had such a fit of laughter that
     drove away both sickness and drowsiness so that I entered Calais in
     tolerably good spirits.

     The custom-house visiting only took place in Paris. It was well
     for me that the lace I had secreted for Minna was not discovered.
     Here I soon found my friend Kietz, to whom I poured out my heart
     about you, dear friends. To-morrow I leave with a Zurich friend,
     who has waited for me. From Zurich you shall have news. As I write
     to you all, I beg you to divide my greetings, and do this from the
     depth of your hearts. To my sister Léonie, give her as well a
     hearty kiss for me.

     Adieu, good lovable humankind, think with love of thy

RICHARD WAGNER.

     PARIS, 28th June, 1855.

From Paris he went direct to Zurich, where Minna was waiting for him. He
had scarcely arrived when he sent me the following. It is noteworthy, as
it illustrates how a great man could interest himself in the small
concerns of home life. His affection for domestic pets is once more
touched upon, and that humour, which but rarely forsook him even in his
pessimistic Schopenhauerian utterances, again playfully laughs
throughout the letter.

[Sidenote: _GRIEF OVER HIS DOG._]

     Best greetings from Switzerland.

     I hope you have already received tidings of me from Lüders. From
     you, however, I have not yet heard anything. You might at least
     have written to say you were glad to have got rid of me, how sister
     Léonie fares, and how Henry is, whether “Gypsy” (the dog) has made
     his appearance in society, whether the cat has still its bad cough.
     Heaven! how many things there are of which I ought to be informed
     in order to be perfectly at ease. As for me, I am still idle. My
     wife has made me a new dressing-gown, and what is more, wonderfully
     fine silk trousers for home wear, so that all the work I do is to
     loll about in this costume, first on one sofa and then on another.

     On Monday next I go with my wife, the dog, and bird, to Seelisberg;
     there I think I shall at last get straight! If you could but visit
     me there. My address for the present is Kurhaus, Sonnenberg,
     Seelisberg, Canton Uri. I do not know how I can sufficiently
     express the pleasure which my wife wishes me to convey to you.
     Whilst I unpacked I chatted, and kept on chatting and unpacking.
     Several times she was deeply moved, particularly when we came to
     the carefully marked and neatly folded socks. Again and again she
     called out, “What a good woman that Léonie must be!” and then when
     the needle-case came out and that beautiful thimble, both she and I
     were mightily pleased. We wish your wife the happiest confinement
     that woman ever had, and at least six healthy children all at once
     with heavenly organized brains, every one to be born with a pocket
     containing ten thousand pounds each, and further, that your wife
     shall be able on the same evening of the confinement to dance a
     polka in the Praeger drawing-room. May it please heaven that this
     reverential wish shall be tenfold fulfilled, then your love for
     children will be fully satisfied.

     In a few days you will receive a box with three medallions in
     plaster of Paris. These were modelled by the daughter of “the
     Princess Lichtenstein,” and are to be divided thus: one for the
     Praeger family, one for the family Sainton and Lüders (who I
     sincerely trust will never separate, and who are regarded by me as
     one family), and the other for the poor fellow of Manchester
     Street, Klindworth, the invalid, from whom I am expecting news
     about his performance of last Wednesday. I trust he is already at
     Richmond enjoying the benefit of hydropathy. I purpose writing to
     him as soon as I know his address. For the present greet the poor
     fellow heartily for me, and in my name try to console him for me. I
     will soon write to Sainton, and for that occasion I will pull
     together all the French I learned in London, so that I might be
     able to express to him my opinion that he is a splendid fellow. And
     what is dear Lüders about? I hear that he has headed the riot in
     Hyde Park. Is that true?[14] I hope he has not used my letter to
     Prince Albert in making lobster salad. I have often been unlucky
     with letters of mine. Even yesterday I found reproduced in
     Brendel’s “Neue Zeitschrift” a letter I had written to my old
     friend, Fischer, at Dresden. It has most disagreeably affected me,
     for if I had wished to express myself about the London annoyances I
     should have done it in a different manner, but I had not the
     slightest wish to do anything of the kind. However, I am heartily
     glad my time of penance is past, and forgive with my whole heart
     Englishmen for being what they are; still I am resolved, even in
     thought, never to have anything more whatsoever to do with them.
     But you, my dear friends, I will ever cherish in remembrance, and
     if all that is agreeable be but a negative of pain, then by the
     memory of your love and friendship is the period of my London
     tribulation blotted out.

     A thousand hearty thanks for your love! Now you will, I hope, give
     me the joy of good news, and say that you love me still. To dear
     Edward[15] give my best greetings. It was a great pity I did not
     see him again.

     Farewell, my dear Ferdinand; all happiness to yours, and to the
     dear wife good wishes.

RICHARD WAGNER.

     ZURICH, 7th July, 1855.

The next letter, dated eight days later than the preceding, will be
admitted a jewel in Wagner’s crown. Picture this great intellect, the
creator of the colossal Nibelung tetralogy (with its Gräne, the steed of
the Valkyrie), crying “incessantly” over the grave of a dead dog,
postponing the removal of his household to nurse the dying creature
until its last moments, and then himself burying it in the garden. The
whole of this touching recital bespeaks a tenderness, a wealth of human
love and large-heartedness, which show Wagner, the man!

[Sidenote: _ILL-HEALTH OF MINNA._]

     DEAREST FRIEND FERDINANDUS: A thousand hearty congratulations to
     the newly born. Right gladly I agree to become god-father and, if
     you think it will bring fortune, add my surname as well.

     I arrived here in this paradise a few days ago. I read your letter
     on the left corner of the balcony of the hotel, the picture of
     which heads this letter. Occasionally, while reading, I raised my
     eyes and looked beyond upon the magnificent Alps, which you cannot
     fail to notice at the side of the hotel. I say that I looked from
     the letter occasionally, since its contents afforded me matter for
     reflection, and I found solace and comfort in the contemplation of
     the sacred and noble surroundings. You have no conception how
     beautiful it is here, how pure the air that one breathes, and how
     beneficially this wonderful spectacle acts on me. I fancy you would
     become delirious with joy at the prospect, so that the return to
     London would be a sad event; yet you must undertake this trip next
     year with your dear wife.

     But how strange that the same incident should have happened to us
     both at about the same moment! You remember that I expected to see
     my old and faithful dog, “Peps.”[16] Well, shortly before my
     arrival he had been taken ill, but nevertheless he received me with
     the greatest delight, and soon began to improve somewhat in health.
     The day of our departure for Seelisberg was already fixed, where,
     as I wrote to you, I was going with my wife, my dog, and bird.[17]
     Suddenly dangerous symptoms showed themselves in “Peps,” in
     consequence of which we put off our journey for two days so as to
     nurse the poor dying dog. Up to the last moment “Peps” showed me a
     love as touching as to be almost heartrending; kept his eyes fixed
     on me, and, though I chanced to move but a few steps from him,
     continued to follow me with his eyes. He died in my arms on the
     night of the 9th-10th of the month, passing away without a sound,
     quietly and peacefully. On the morrow, midday, we buried him in the
     garden beside the house. I cried incessantly, and since then have
     felt bitter pain and sorrow for the dear friend of the past
     thirteen years, who ever worked and walked with me. It has clearly
     taught me that the world exists only in our hearts and conception.
     That the same fate should befall your young dog at almost the same
     moment has deeply affected me. I have often thought of “Gypsy,”[18]
     and wished I had taken him with me, and now that fiery creature too
     is also suddenly dead!! There is something terrible in all this!!!
     And yet there are those who would scoff at our feeling in such a
     matter!

     Alas! I am often tired of life, yet life is ever returning in a new
     guise, alluring us anew to pain and sorrow. With me now it is
     sublime nature which ever impels me to cling to life as a new love,
     and thus it is I have begun once more to work. You have again been
     presented with a new-born life. I wish you happiness with all my
     heart. I feel as though I had some claim to the boy, for it was
     during the last four months prior to his entering the world that I
     came a new member into your household. The affection I sought was
     vouchsafed to me in the highest degree; the mother’s mind was no
     doubt much occupied with that strange, whimsical individual, whom,
     to his great joy, she so heartily welcomed. May it not be, perhaps,
     that before he saw the light, this may have influenced the little
     stranger! if so, my heartiest wish is that it may bring him
     blessings. Now give my best greetings to sister Léonie, and thank
     her heartily for all the kindness she showed me. I can but wish her
     the happiest motherly joys; remember me to Henry; he is to care for
     his little brother as if it were a sister.

     Farewell, and let me soon know how you all are, Keep up, and above
     all, see well that you come to visit me next year; kindly remember
     me also to my few London friends. Lüders and Sainton I thank for
     their friendly letter; you will soon hear from me. Farewell, dear
     brother,

Your
RICHARD WAGNER.

     P.S. Liszt will not come until October. Ask Klindworth to write to
     me. Thousand kind things from my wife.

     SEELISBERG, CANTON URI, 15th July, 1855.

In the next letter he speaks sorrowfully of the demon of ill-health
which had settled in his house. Poor Minna suffered with heart-disease,
an illness to which she eventually succumbed, whilst he, too, was
somewhat broken down, and shortly to be laid upon a sick-bed. His only
relief from worry and trouble was work. Indeed, the major portion of his
work was done at times when the horizon was dark for him.

[Sidenote: _“TANNHÄUSER” AT MUNICH._]

     Best thanks, dear friend, for your letter, which was, alas, sad
     enough to make me sad too. The worst of misfortune in a life like
     yours is that in surveying all circumstances, it is positively
     unrectifiable: to revolt against it, even at the best, has still
     something ridiculous in it. To him, who like you suffers keenly
     (and amongst your surroundings must perforce suffer the most), all
     I can say is, think, dear friend, no man is happy except he who is
     foolish enough to think that he is. You and I are not fit for this
     life except to be tired of it; he who becomes so the soonest
     finishes his task the quickest. All so-called “fortunate events”
     are but deceptive palliations, making the evil worse. I know this
     is capable of being understood in a double sense, so that it might
     be interpreted either as a trivial commonplace or the deepest
     possible reflection. I must leave it to chance how you will
     understand it. The only ray of light in the dark night of our life
     is that which sympathy affords us. We only lose consciousness of
     our own misery when we feel that of others. Entire freedom from
     one’s own sorrow is only possible if one could live solely for the
     sorrows of others, but the evil of it is, that one cannot do this
     continually, as one’s own troubles always return the stronger to
     attack the feelings. I, for my part, must say that since in London
     I have never had my mind free from troubles. The demon of sickness
     has come to lodge in my house. My wife, particularly, causes me
     great anxieties. Her ever-increasing ill-health helps to render me
     very sad. Worried and troubled, I resumed work. I struggle at it,
     as work is the only power that brings to me oblivion and makes me
     free. Only look to it that next year you come to Switzerland;
     meanwhile amuse yourself as much as you can in your polemical war
     against London music-artists and critics, not on my account,
     however, but only as I believe it is a good channel to absorb your
     otherwise sad thoughts.

     From New York I have just received an invitation to go over and
     conduct there for six months; it would be well paid. It is
     fortunate, however, that the emolument is not after all so very
     large, or else, perhaps, I might myself be obliged to seriously
     consider the matter. But of course I shall not accept the
     invitation. I had enough in London. I am somewhat fidgety that you
     have not yet acknowledged my three medallions, one for you, one for
     Sainton and Lüders, and one for Klindworth. I paid freight for them
     some time ago, and thought they would have been in your hands long
     before this. If you have not yet received them, I beg of you to
     make inquiries at the post-office, since I sent the little box from
     Basle by the mail, and your address was correctly written. Do not
     forget to speedily inform me of its arrival.

     Please send at once to Berlin the box which I left at your house,
     containing my manuscripts, and address it to the Royal Music
     Director, Julius Stern, Dessauer Strasse No. 2. Do not prepay it.
     You may have some expense on my account which I will settle with
     you when we meet. Do not forget to mention it.

     Perhaps you have heard already that “Tannhäuser” has created a
     perfect furore at Munich. I felt constrained to laugh at the sudden
     veering round in my favour when I remembered that only two years
     ago Lachner contrived that the performance of the overture to
     “Tannhäuser” should be a complete fiasco. On the whole, I live
     almost entirely isolated. Working, walking, and a little reading
     constitute my present existence. At present, I am expecting Liszt
     at Christmas. How fares my sister Leonie? Well, I hope. You write
     so ambiguously about it that I cannot make out the exact thing. How
     is the boy? Is he really called Richard Wagner? Are you not right
     glad to have him? Greet your dear wife for me with all my heart,
     and tell her I often think of her with pleasure, and of the
     friendly interest she took in me. My love to the poor
     hypochondriacal Lüders. How well I ought to have felt myself in
     London. When he became excited, he was irresistible. I will write
     to Sainton soon. He is happy, and finds himself best where he is.

     Farewell, dear Ferdinand. A thousand thanks for your friendship.
     When things go badly with you, laugh at them.

     Adieu,

Your
RICHARD WAGNER.

     ZURICH, 14th September, 1855.

The next letter shows Wagner in a new light. It is addressed to my wife
in her native language, French. Wagner has freely admitted in his
published writings that he had no gift for languages, still he spoke
French well, truly, not as a born Frenchman, yet, as a thoughtful man,
and moreover as an earnest student he was able to express himself with
clearness and freedom, and to a degree was master of the idiom.
Intellect, combined with earnestness, will forge a path through
difficulties where education alone would halt. Berlioz was an educated
Frenchman, and expressed himself in elegant and polished diction--it was
like music to hear him speak--yet he soon succumbed to Wagner’s torrent
of enthusiasm. Of course this in part finds its natural explanation in
Wagner ever having something new to say, and “Wagner eloquent” was
irresistible. But as he ever depreciated his ability in French, I have
inserted the following in the original (with translation) so as to
enable the reader to form his own judgment.

[Sidenote: _HE WRITES IN FRENCH._]

This letter is a well-drawn portrait of Wagner by himself. It shows the
boy in the man. Picture this man, after a serious illness of some weeks,
which must have been terribly irksome to a man of his active
temperament, setting himself the task the first day of his convalescence
to write in French and at such length. Instead of grumbling at the
mental miseries such an illness must have caused him, through the
interruption of that work so dear to him, he roused himself, in order to
amuse by his boyish, humorous chat, “his sister Léonie,” whom he knew
was all sympathy for him. The boy’s affectionate heart is plainly
discernible in the man, tried and battered as he was by the world. It
makes one think of the boy’s gentle love for his “little mother,” as he
endearingly spoke of his mother. In him there were always glimpses of
sunshine which would burst forth, aye, in the midst of the storms which,
caused by disappointment and ill-usage, raged within himself or round
about him. It was impossible for those who knew Wagner not to love him,
notwithstanding those defects of character which he possessed; they
disappeared entirely in the love one bore him, and the worship his
mighty genius compelled. The sun itself has spots, which,
notwithstanding, do not prevent it from glittering with radiance. Why
should not Wagner be allowed the privilege of the sun?

[Sidenote: _LIFE IS BURDENSOME._]


ANSICHT VOM KURHAUSE SONNENBERG AUF
SEELISBERG, CT. URI.

     MA TRÈS CHÈRE SŒUR! Allons donc! Je vais vous écrire en
     français. Dieu donne que vous en entendiez quelques mots--ce qui ne
     sera pas chose facile. Mais je ne serai pas si absurde de me donner
     de la peine, pour faire de bonnes phrases; cela sera l’affaire du
     Dr. Wylde, qui s’y entend probablement aussi bien qu’à la musique!
     Plutôt je porterai sur ce papier quelques bêtises de mon genre, qui
     ne toucheront au caractère d’aucune langue, ni vivante, ni morte.

     Enfin, je vous félicité, ma soeur, d’être doublement mère!
     L’événement que Ferdinand m’a annoncé il y a quelque temps, était
     prévu par moi moyennant d’un pressentiment prophétique, qui me
     naissait pendant mon séjour à Londres; car, pendant que je me
     souhaitais au diable--c’est à dire: hors du monde--je m’avisais,
     que le bon Dieu se preparait à remplir la lacune attendue, en
     mettant au monde un remplaçant pour moi. Mais ce bon Dieu s’est
     trompé, comme il lui arrivé quelques fois (en toute confiance soit
     dit!); le diable ne m’a pas encore accepté; je suis resté au monde,
     par obstination seulement, comme vous allez voir--et mon remplaçant
     est arrivé pendant que je vis encore, de la sorte qu’il y a
     maintenant deux Richard Wagner. Ainsi, je ne suis pas surpris de
     cet événement, que j’ai plutôt préparé en quelque sorte (et sans la
     moindre offense pour Ferdinand!) seulement par ma résolution de
     quitter la terre, résolution, dont le changement me procure
     maintenant le plaisir passablement rare, de vivre ensemble avec mon
     remplaçant future, de faire sa connaissance personelle, de
     m’entende avec lui sur la direction des concerts de la Société
     Philharmonique, enfin sur mille choses d’une importance extrême,
     qui ne s’arrangent pas si bien par une distance si énorme que celle
     de la mort à la vie.--Cette affaire a donc bien réussie. Seulement
     je plains de vous avoir causé tout de désagrements et de
     souffrances, comme vous les avez dû subir pour cela (je le dis vous
     savez toujours sans la moindre offense pour Ferdinand!). Jugez donc
     de la grande et intime satisfaction, que je viens d’eprouver à la
     nouvelle de votre rétablissement complêt, et croyez à la sincérité
     bien cordiale des félicitations, que je vous addresse.

     Maintenant je n’ai pas d’autre soin, que de m’entendre aussitôt que
     possible avec ma doublette sur nos démarches réunies pour conquérir
     le monde avant de le quitter de ma part c’est-à-dire: de la part de
     Richard Wagner l’aîné. Ainsi je vous prie de me donner toujours des
     nouvelles bien promptes et exactes sur l’état du développement de
     mon remplaçant. J’ai déjâ très besoin de ses fonctions auxiliares.
     On m’a invité de venir en Amérique, pour faire de la musique à New
     York et à Boston on m’a promis des recettes très fortes, et mille
     autres choses. Mais il m’est impossible d’y aller: cela serait
     alors l’affaire de Richard Wagner le jeune; quand pourra-t-il
     accepter l’invitation? Expliquez-vous, je vous en prie, très
     clairement sur ce point là. Aussi j’ai une multitude de projets de
     sujets d’opéras dans ma tête: Ferdinand les croît sous le toît de
     ma maison; il se trompe, ma maison c’est moi, et le toît c’est mon
     crâne. Je n’ai ni le temps, ni la tranquillité nécessaire pour les
     ôter de leur cage, là, où ils sont encore enfermés: ainsi, ce sera
     l’affaire de mon remplaçant de delivrer ces plans d’opéras et d’en
     donner ce qui lui plaît à son petit père pour qu’il en fasse la
     musique. Quand sera-t-il assez développé pour ce travail bien
     pressant? Répondez-moi avec promptitude sur cette demande; demandez
     à Ferdinand si elle est importante! Ah! mon dieu! il y a encore
     tant d’autres choses à arranger ensemble qu’une conférence
     prochaine me parait indispensable. Connaissez-vous le Dr. Wylde? Eh
     bien! j’attends son invitation pour lui donner des leçons de
     “musique du future.” Richard Wagner le jeune ne serait-il pas
     encore mieux avancé que moi pour instruire ce genre de musique,
     puis qu’il est encore plus du future que moi? Que voulez-vous? Il
     n’y a pas de temps à perdu. Dépechez-vous du peu d’education qu’il
     faudra pour mûrir les facultés de mon remplaçant, et écrivez moi
     aussitôt télégraphe quand le moment sera venu, ce moment de
     développement accompli que j’attends avec impatience. N’est-ce pas,
     chère soeur Léonie? N’est-ce pas, ma mère (entendez-bien!!)
     n’est-ce pas, vous n’oublierez pas cela par hasard? Et surtout vous
     ne manquerez pas d’instruire mon “alter-ego” de gagner de l’argent?
     le seul talent (entre autres) que, par une faute incomprehensible
     dans mon education, je n’ai pas cultivé dutout ce qui me cause
     quelquefois, _i.e._ toujours--des peines horribles, puisque je suis
     luxurieux, prodigue et dépensier par nature, beaucoup plus que
     Sardanapale et tous les empereurs Romains pris ensemble. J’ai donc
     besoin d’un autre moi! (“passez-moi le mot”) qui gagne énormément
     d’argent pour moi. Vous n’oubliez pas cela, et m’enverrez sous peu
     de temps quelques millions, volés par mon remplaçant aux
     admirateurs innombrables que j’ai l’aissé en Angleterre. J’y pense
     bien, je trouve que c’est là le point décisif, de la sorte que je
     vous donne le conseil final, de faire apprendre à mon remplaçant
     seulement ce que je n’ai jamais appris-moi; cela veut dire faire de
     l’argent--“make money”--mais beaucoup! Beaucoup! Enormément
     beaucoup!

     Voilà ma bénédiction:--que Dieu m’exance!!

     Quant à Richard Wagner l’aîné, je ne puis vous donner que des
     nouvelles peu agréables: il se traîne à travers la vie comme un
     fardeau. Sa seule réjouissance est son travail; son plus grand
     déplaisir est quand il perd l’envie de travailler; mais la cause de
     sa mort sera un jour le sort terrible auquel il lui faut livrer ses
     travaux, à la mutilation et à la destruction parfaite par des
     exécutants bêtes ou mérchants; contre lesquels il lui est défendu
     de protéger son œuvre, puisqui’il est exilé de là, où il est
     exécuté. (Pensez donc à mon remplaçant!) Tout autre malheur ne me
     touche plus fortement: mais celui-là me touche au cœur et aux
     entrailles. Sous de telles influences je perds quelques fois,
     l’envie de travailler parfaitement et pour longtemps: ces époques
     sont terribles, car alors il ne me resto rien, rien pour me
     soulager. Aux derniers mois j’ai regagné heureusement un peu mon
     ancien zêle, et je travaillais assez bien au second de nos drames
     musicals; que je voulais finir à Londres (so’t que j’étais!)
     Malheureusement j’étais forcé de passer les dernières sermaines au
     lit, en proie d’une maladie, long temps cachée en moi, et enfin
     éclatée--j’espère à mon salut. Je viens de quitter le lit hier, et
     me voilà aujourdhui à la table pour vous écrire. Soyez indulgent,
     et pardonnez-moi le tas de bêtises que je vous envoie avec cette
     lettre; mon écrit ne sera pas probablement mieux que ma
     conversation, qui était bien triste et bêto. Mais néanmoins vous
     m’avez voué votre amitié, car vous savez lire entre les lignes de
     ma conversation. Soyez bien cordialement remercié pour ce
     bien-fait! Maintenant soyez heureuse, ce qu’on est qu’au milieu de
     désagrements et de souffrances de toute sorte--par un cœur plein
     de compassion, de cette compassion qui s’égaie aussi à
     l’apperception d’un sourire de l’autrui, même si ce n’était que le
     sourire exalté de la mélancolie. Par example:--

     Vive le punch et la salade de hommard! Vive Lüders qui la
     préparait! Vive Ferdinand qui devorait les os! Vive Sainton qui
     venait tard, mais qui venait! Vive Klindworth, quine mangeait et ne
     buvait pas, mais qui assistait! Vive, vive Léonie, qui riait de
     compassion de notre hilarité! Cela n’était pas si mal! Soyons
     reconnaissants, et restons amis! Et vous ma chère mère? restez ma
     soeur!

Adieu.
Votre
RICHARD WAGNER l’aîné.

     P.S. La prochaine lettre sera à Sainton. Je ne puis pas dépenser
     autant de Français dans un jour!--

     3^{D} Novembre, 1855.

[Sidenote: _INVITED TO AMERICA._]


ANSICHT VON KIRHAUSE SONNENBERG AUF
SEELISBERG, CT. URI.

     MY DEAR SISTER: Now, then, I am going to write to you in French.
     May heaven help you to understand something of it, for I fear it
     will not be an easy matter. I shall not, however, be foolish enough
     to give myself the trouble of making fine phrases. That I leave to
     Dr. Wylde,[19] who, no doubt, understands that much better than he
     does composing. Rather do I prefer to put down on paper some
     stupidities of my own, which will have no relation either to a dead
     or living language.

     Now, I congratulate you, my sister, in being doubly mother.[20]
     The event, Ferdinand had announced to me some time ago, I had
     foreseen, by means of prophetic vision generated during my stay in
     London; for whilst I was wishing myself to the devil--that is to
     say, out of the world--I perceived that Providence was preparing to
     fill the gap, by sending into the world a substitute. But the same
     Providence made a mistake, as He occasionally does (this, remember,
     is quite confidential!); the devil has not yet wanted me; I have
     remained in the world, as you shall see, through sheer obstinacy,
     and my other self has arrived whilst I am still living, so that now
     there are two Richard Wagners!!

     I am not surprised, then, at the event, which, by my resolve to
     quit the world, I had in some measure prepared (this without the
     slightest offence to Ferdinand); but fate having ordained
     otherwise, I have the rare pleasure of living at the same time with
     my future substitute, of making his personal acquaintance, of
     coming to some understanding with him about conducting the concerts
     of the Philharmonic Society; in short, upon a thousand things of
     the greatest importance, which could not conveniently be arranged
     at such an enormous distance as that of the other world to this. So
     the event has been quite a success. But I must ever regret to have
     caused you so much pain and suffering on that account. I say it,
     you know, always without any offence to Ferdinand. Think, then, of
     the great personal relief I have just experienced at the news of
     your convalescence, and believe in the warm-hearted sincerity of my
     congratulations.

     I have no other care now but to come to an understanding as quickly
     as possible with my other self, respecting our united efforts to
     conquer the world before I myself (_i.e._ Richard Wagner the elder)
     leave it. I therefore entreat you to keep me well informed of the
     exact state of the development of my substitute. Even at this very
     moment I very much need his help.

     I have received an invitation from America to conduct at New York
     and Boston. In addition to a thousand other things I have been
     promised very large receipts. It is, however, quite impossible for
     me to accept; that must be the province of Richard Wagner the
     younger. When will he be able to accept the invitation? I beg of
     you to be very explicit on this point. Further, I have a multitude
     of projects and subjects for operas in my head. Ferdinand imagines
     them under the roof of my house; he is mistaken, my house is
     myself, the roof my skull. But, alas, I have neither the time nor
     the requisite tranquillity to release them from the prison-house in
     which they are confined: that also, then, must be the work of my
     other self; and when he has liberated them he may give what he
     likes of them to his father to set to music. When will he be
     developed enough for this pressing work? Be prompt in your reply on
     this point. Ask Ferdinand if it is not important! Ah! good heavens!
     there are such a number of other things which we must arrange
     together that an early conference is imperative.

     Do you know Dr. Wylde? Well, I am expecting an invitation from him
     to give him lessons in the “music of the future.” But will not
     Richard Wagner the younger be better fitted than I to teach that
     kind of music, since he is still more closely connected with the
     future? What think you? There is no time to lose. Make haste with
     the little education absolutely necessary for ripening the
     faculties of my _alter ego_, and telegraph to me the moment the
     time has arrived--that time of complete development so anxiously
     waited for by me. Is it not so, dear sister Léonie? Eh! my mother
     (you understand!) Now you must not fail to remember this.

     But above all, you must not omit to teach my _alter ego_ to make
     money, the one talent of all others which, by some incomprehensible
     fault in my education, has never been cultivated. And this causes
     me sometimes (_i.e._ always) horrible anxieties, since by nature I
     am luxurious, prodigal, and extravagant, much more than
     Sardanapalus and all the old Roman emperors put together. In this I
     am sadly in want of another self (pardon me for saying so), who
     will gain money enormously. Now be sure and do not forget this and
     send me as soon as possible a few millions, stolen by my double
     from the innumerable admirers I have left behind in England! On
     pondering over the situation, I perceive that herein lies the
     crucial point, so that my last entreaty is that you instruct my
     other self in that which I have never learnt, viz. making
     money--make money--but much! Much! Enormously much!

     This is my prayer; may heaven hearken to me!

     [Sidenote: _AFTER A LONG ILLNESS._]

     Of Richard Wagner the elder I can only give you poor news. He drags
     himself through life as a burden. His only delight is his work. His
     greatest sorrow, the loss of desire to work. The cause of his
     death will one day be the terrible fate to which he cannot help
     exposing his works, _i.e._ to their mutilation and complete
     destruction by stupid or wicked executants, from whom he is
     powerless of protecting them, since he is an exile from that land
     where they are being performed. (Think, therefore, of my _alter
     ego_!) No other misfortune affects me so keenly. This touches me to
     the heart, to the very core. It is when under such feelings that I
     occasionally lose completely--yes, even for a long time--the desire
     to work. These periods are terrible, for then nothing remains,
     nothing to comfort me. During the last few months I had happily
     regained a little of my old enthusiasm, and I had been working
     pretty well at the second of my musical dramas, which I had hoped
     to finish in London (fool that I was!). But alas, I have been
     confined, during the last few weeks, to my bed, a prey to a long
     latent illness, which, having at last broken out, I hope has been
     the saving of my life. I only left my sick-bed yesterday, and here
     I am to-day at my table, writing to you. Be indulgent, and excuse
     the mass of nonsense I am sending you in this letter. My
     correspondence will probably be no better than my conversation,
     which was very dull and stupid. But nevertheless, you vowed to me
     your friendship, for you know how to read between the lines of my
     conversation. I thank you very heartily for that kindness!

     Now be happy, although one lives in the midst of annoyances and
     sufferings of all kinds--for it is only by a heart full of
     compassion which brightens up even at the perception of a smile
     from another, though it be but the forced smile of melancholy.

     Three cheers for the punch and lobster salad! Long live Lüders, who
     prepared it! Long live Ferdinand, who devoured the bones! Long live
     Sainton, who came late, but who came! Long live Klindworth, who
     neither ate nor drank, but who was present! Long live, long live
     Léonie, who laughed sympathetically at our boisterousness! That was
     not so bad. Let us be grateful, and let us remain friends. And you,
     my dear mother, remain my sister.

Adieu.
Yours,
RICHARD WAGNER THE ELDER.

     NOVEMBER 3d, 1855.

     P.S. The next letter will be to Sainton. I cannot dole out so much
     French in one day.

The next letter, written three months after the preceding, is of
interest in showing that Wagner kept up the practice of his daily
promenade.

     DEAREST FRIEND: Thanks for your beautiful London notice, which I
     have just read in Brendel’s “Zeitschrift.” As I am thoroughly
     acquainted with all the circumstances, I pronounce it excellent; in
     short, so important, and so always hitting the mark, that were I
     not the leading subject I should have much less restraint in
     praising it.

     Be assured that the remembrance I seem to have left with you will
     always remain one of my most cherished thoughts. That I was so
     fortunate to create a good opinion in you, is to me exhilarating
     and touching. After all, what a lot of trouble we both had to
     endure. Be content with these few words, written immediately after
     reading your notice, and just before taking my accustomed stroll,
     and be assured that they contain much joy.

     Farewell, dearest Ferdinand, and continue to love me.

Yours,
RICHARD WAGNER.

     Many, many hearty greetings for sister Léonie and the god-child!

     Adieu.

     ZURICH, 15th January, 1856.

Again was Wagner laid upon a sick-bed. One anxiety seems to have
possessed his mind--the longing to complete the “Walküre.” The following
letter is of importance, since it shows the composer’s frame of mind
during the composition of the above work, a state of “pure despair”
which, says Wagner, could alone have created it:--

[Sidenote: _THE “WALKÜRE” POETRY._]

     Best thanks, dearest friend for your letters. You are right; I have
     again been laid on a sick-bed, and when at last I became
     convalescent I was in a perfect rage to get to the score of my
     “Walküre” (in the composition of which I have been hindered for
     the last year). So much do I long to finish it that I have entirely
     ceased letter-writing. Altogether, the older one grows, that is to
     say, in sense and reason, the more the worldly events of every-day
     life dwindle away into nothingness. That which one experiences in
     the inward heart becomes more and more difficult to explain. I do
     not mean to say that the events one has passed through, and which
     have touched you most intimately, cease to exist to live on; no,
     no; therefore I assure you that you and your family are ever
     vividly before me, yet as soon as one commences to write one finds
     after all there is nothing of real worth to put down. On the whole,
     we can only agree with each other, then there remains nothing but
     actual occurrences, views, and intentions to discuss. In these my
     life at present is as poor as my art creations are prolific, and
     which, indeed, are surging to the surface and becoming richer and
     richer. When you come to me, and I play my works to you, you will
     agree with me. In so far as the world has a claim upon me I can
     point solely to my work. I have nothing else to offer to it.

     If you read the poetry of the “Walküre” again, you will find such a
     superlative of sorrow, pain, and despair expressed therein, that
     you will understand me when I say the music terribly excites me. I
     could not again accomplish a similar work. When it is once
     finished, much will then appear quite different (looking at the
     work as an art whole), and will afford enjoyment, whereas nothing
     but pure despair could have created it. But we shall see!

     Altogether I live so secluded and retired that I feel at a loss
     when I am anxious to talk to you about it. I look forward to the
     time of Liszt’s coming to me as a bracing up of my heart. Alas! on
     account of illness, I was compelled last winter to put off the
     visit. About the illness in your little family I take a hearty
     interest. In your new garden I picture you gambolling with your
     children. How I wish that I had a little house with a little garden
     attached; alas! an enjoyment hitherto unattainable.

     At first I was tolerably indifferent about the sad
     conflagration,[21] but when I thought of Sainton it became painful
     to me. Now I hear that Gye has managed to continue his opera
     notwithstanding, and therefore Sainton’s income, no doubt, will not
     be endangered, and the misfortune overcome! That he now plays
     under Wylde amuses me much. It was ridiculous that he had to resign
     the Old Philharmonic. After all, Costa has succeeded in this! When
     I recall my London visit, I find I do not remember much except the
     friends I left there; they are all that remind me of it--happily!

     But now try and come to visit me. For my operas wait until you hear
     them produced by me. Now you can get a very inadequate impression
     of them. If, therefore, you desire more of me, come to me yourself;
     in so doing you will give me great pleasure. I remain here during
     the summer. If I can arrange it, I intend going in the autumn with
     Semper to Rome; at least, such is my present hope. But continue to
     give me frequent news of you, and be assured that in so doing you
     give the greatest gratification to

Your
RICHARD WAGNER.

     Greet your dear wife heartily for me; she is to continue to hold me
     in good remembrance. Happiness and prosperity to my godchild!

     Kiss poor Lüders a thousand times; I shall soon inquire more
     precisely after Bumpus.

Adieu,
R. W.

     ZURICH, 28th March, 1856.

[Sidenote: _TROUBLED BY SCHOPENHAUER._]

The next letter is again dated from Zurich:--

     That’s right, dearest Ferdinandus, to determine to leave Richard
     Wagner of the future to come to the R. W. of the present. My _alter
     ego_ will not regret it. When you are here I will hammer out the
     “Walküre” to you, and I hope it will force its way from ear to
     heart. Then there is a bit of the “Siegfried,” and that, too, must
     I sing to you. How my head is full of projects for work!

     Minna is very delighted at the prospect of seeing you, and says she
     will treat you as a brother. I have told her how heartily you enter
     into the mysteries of household matters, and are of just that
     temperament to agree with her, and appreciate that domestic skill
     for which I am totally unfitted. To me also your presence will be a
     delight, for I can talk to you with open heart, and have much to
     say to you. Now see that you do not let anything intervene that
     shall prevent your coming. I am just now full of work, and when you
     are here I shall work all the same. Some hours during the morning
     shall be devoted to work while you shall be sent upstairs to deeply
     study Schopenhauer, and then shall we not argue and discuss like
     orators in the old Athenian lyceum! Two months, and you will be
     with me! ah! that is good! Then bring all your brain-power, all
     your keen penetration, for you shall explain to me some obscure
     passages in that best of writers, Schopenhauer, which now torment
     me exceedingly. He will, perhaps, cause you many researches of the
     heart, so you must come fully equipped with all your intellectual
     faculties in the full vigorous glow of health, and then I promise
     myself some happy hours. And what shall be your reward? Well, the
     “Walküre” shall entreat you, and man, the original man, “Siegfried”
     shall show you what he is! Now, good, dear friend, come!

     Mind, now, no English restraint and propriety; bother that
     invisible old lady, Mrs. Grundy, that hovers over the English
     horizon, ruling with a rod of iron what is supposed to be proper
     and virtuous!

     Heartiest greetings to dear sister Léonie, and tell her that her
     son, Richard Wagner the elder, sends his best affection to the
     younger, and inquires whether he has yet been taught how to make
     money.

Yours,
RICHARD WAGNER.

     P.S. Ferdinand, bring me a packet of snuff from that shop in Oxford
     Street, you know, where you got it before for me.

R. W.

     ZURICH, May, 1856.



CHAPTER XXI.

ZURICH, 1856.


In the summer of 1856 I spent two months under Wagner’s roof at Zurich.
As it was holiday time for me, and Wagner had no engagements of any
importance, we passed the whole period in each other’s society debating,
in a most earnest, philosophical, logical manner, art matters, most of
our discussions taking place during our rambles upon the mountains.

One figure I found in that quiet, tastily arranged chalet, who filled a
large portion of Wagner’s life; to whom, first, Wagner owed an unpayable
debt, and then that wide world of countless ones which has been enriched
by the artist’s creations. But that solitary, heroic Minna is, it
seems--judging from the many writings which have appeared of the
master--likely to be forgotten. Her glory is obscured by the more
brilliant luminary that succeeded her. Still a domestic picture of the
creator of the “Walkyrie,” whilst that work was actually in hand, is of
interest, as herein we see the man, the actual man, the human being,
with his irritabilities and good humour, all under the gentle sway of a
soft-hearted, brave woman.

[Sidenote: _CHARACTER OF MINNA._]

Nor should the reader think that the worth of Wagner’s first wife is
here over-estimated through partiality. There is another witness to her
good qualities, who certainly will not be suspected of friendly
feeling, viz. Count von Beust, the Saxon minister, who vigorously and
unrelentingly persecuted the so-called revolutionist in 1849. Beust knew
Minna in Dresden, and what he then learnt of the chapel master’s wife
was not obliterated by forty years active participation in the
diplomatic subtleties of European politics. In his autobiography,[22]
published the latter end of 1886, he speaks of Minna’s amiable
character, and describes her as an excellent woman.

Minna may be spoken of as a comely woman. Gentle and active in her
movements, unobtrusive in speech and bearing, possessing a forethought
akin to divination, she administered to her husband’s wants before he
knew them himself. It was this lovable foresight of the woman which
caused such a horrible vacancy in Wagner’s life when, later, Minna left
him, a break which he so bitterly bemoaned, and which all the adoration
and wealth of Louis of Bavaria could not atone for. As a housewife she
was most efficient. In their days of distress she cheerfully performed
what are vulgarly termed menial services. In this she is as fitting a
parallel of Mrs. Carlyle, as Wagner is of Carlyle. Both the men were
thinkers, aye, and “original” thinkers (which in Carlyle’s estimation
was “the event of all others,” a fact of superlative importance). They
both elected hard fare, nay, actual deprivation, to submission to the
unrealities, and both are educators of our teachers: and Minna’s efforts
in the house and sustaining Wagner in the dark days is the pendant of
Mrs. Carlyle’s scrubbing the floors of the little house at Scotsbrig in
the wilds of Scottish moors. But though Minna was not the intellectual
equal of this cultured Scottish lady, she is not to be confounded with
the German housewife, so often erroneously spoken of as a sort of head
cook. She was eminently practical, and full of remedies for sickness.

[Sidenote: _NOT A TRUE PESSIMIST._]

In art, however, Minna could not comprehend the gifts of her husband. He
was an idealist; she, a woman alive to our mundane existence and its
necessities. She worshipped afar off, receiving all he said without
inquiry. In their early years their common youth glossed over
difficulties. Moreover, Wagner was not in the full possession of his
wings. He knew not his own power. For him exile was the turning-point of
his greatness, the crucible wherein was destroyed the dross of his art,
the fire from which he emerged, the teacher of a purified art. Exile was
the period of his literary achievements. There was the test of his
greatness. “A man thinks he has something to say. He indulges in an
abundance of spoken language, but when in the quiet of his study he
seeks to transfix on paper the fleeting theories of his brain, then is
he face to face with himself, with actualities. And in exile Wagner
first sought to set down in writing the theories which hitherto, in a
limited manner only, had governed his work.”[23] From this
self-examination Wagner rose up nobler and stronger. And here it was
that Minna failed to keep pace with him. She had been a singer and an
actress, and could, in a manner, interpret his work, but the meaning of
it lay deep, hidden from her. It was not her fault, yet she was to
suffer for it. Still I must point out that all Wagner’s works were
created during the period of his first marriage. His union with Cosima
von Bülow is dated 25th August, 1870, since which time “Götterdämmerung”
(a poem written in 1848) and “Parsifal” only, have been given to the
world.

While I was with Wagner it was his invariable habit to rise at the good
hour of half-past six in the morning. If Minna was not about, he would
go to the piano, and soon would be heard, at first softly, then with odd
harmonies, full orchestral effects, as it were, “Get up, get up, thou
merry Swiss-boy.” That was his fun. Early breakfast would be served in
the garden, after which Wagner would hand me “Schopenhauer,” with my
allotted task for the morning study. This plan, though Wagner’s, was one
which coincided happily with my own inclinations. I was, as it were,
ordered up to my room, there to ponder over the arguments of the
pessimistic philosopher, and so be well prepared for discussion at the
dinner-table, or later, during our regular daily stroll.

Now to me Schopenhauer was not the original great thinker that Wagner
considered him. Some of his most prominent points I had found enunciated
already by Burke, that eloquent and vigorous writer, in his “Enquiring
into the Origin of our Ideas on the Sublime and Beautiful.” The
personally well attested statement that “the ideas of pain are much more
powerful than those which enter on the part of pleasure,” was so well
reasoned by Burke, that Wagner induced me to read the whole of that
author’s work to him.

Wagner a pessimist! So he would have had every one believe then, and for
some time later too. But my impression then and now is that, as with a
good many people, pessimism is only pre-eminent when fortune fails to
favour. This feeling is confirmed by an extract recently published from
certain manuscripts found after Wagner’s death: “He who does not strive
to find joy in life is unworthy to live.” Certainly this was not the
utterance of Wagner in the dark days of his work. While on this subject
I may recall one incident which has remained prominently with me because
of the locality where it occurred. We were on the top of one of the
heights overlooking the Zurich Lake, discussing the much debated
Schopenhauer, when I observed that pessimism, in a well-balanced mind,
could only lead to optimism, on the ground that, “what cannot be cured
must be endured,” and jocularly cited from Brant’s “Narrenschiff,”
written in the quaint language of the fifteenth century:--

        Wer sorget ob die genss gaut blos,
        Und fegen will all goss und stross,
        Und eben machen berg und tal
        Der hat keyn freyd, raw überal.

    He who shall fret that the geese have no dress,
    The sweeper will be of street, road and mess.
    He who would level both valley and hill
    Shall have of life’s gifts no joy, but the ill.

Wagner stopped, shouted with exultation, and then commenced probing my
knowledge of one of our earliest German poets. He assumed the part, as
it were, of a schoolmaster, and so when we arrived home, in a boyish
manner, he, delighted, called aloud to Minna before the garden gate was
opened, “Ach, Ferdinand knows all about my pet poets.”

[Sidenote: _THE BIRTH OF “TRISTAN.”_]

Every morning after breakfast he would read to Minna her favourite
newspaper, “Das Leipziger Tageblatt,” a paper renowned for its prosy
character. Imagination and improvisation played her some woeful tricks.
With a countenance blameless of any indication of the improviser, he
would recite a story, embellishing the incidents until their colouring
became so overcharged with the ludicrous, that Minna would exclaim, “Ah,
Richard, you have again been inventing.”

He had spoken to me of Godfrey von Strassburg, saying, “To-morrow I will
read you something good.” He did next day read me “Tristan” in his
study, and we spoke long and earnestly as to its adaptability for
operatic treatment. Events have shown it to have been the ground-work of
the music-drama of the same name. But at the time he spoke, it appeared
to me he had no thought of utilizing it as a libretto. This intention
only presented itself to his mind while we three were at breakfast on
the following day. He was reading the notices in the Leipzic paper with
customary variation, when, without any indication, he dropped the paper
onto his knees, gazed into space, and seemed as though he were in a
trance, nervously moving his lips. What did this portend? Minna had
observed the movement, and was about to break the silence by addressing
Wagner. Happily, she caught my warning glance and the spell remained
unbroken. We waited until Wagner should move. When he did, I said, “I
know what you have been doing.” “No,” he answered, somewhat abruptly,
“how can you?” “Yes; you have been composing the love-song we were
speaking of yesterday, and the story is going to shape itself into a
drama!” “You are right as to the composition, but--the libretto--I will
reflect.” Such is the history of the first promptings of that wondrous
creation, “Tristan and Isolde.”

But how, how did this Titanic genius compose? Did he, like dear old papa
Haydn, perform an elaborate toilet, donning his best coat, and pray to
be inspired before setting himself to his writing-table away from the
piano? or were his surroundings and method akin to those of
Beethoven?--a room given over to muddle and confusion, the Bonn master
writing, erasing, re-writing, and again scratching out, while _at_ the
piano! Well, distinctly, Wagner had nothing in common with Haydn. The
style of Beethoven is far removed from him as regards the state of his
working-room. I am desirous there should be no misunderstanding on
Wagner’s method of composing, because I find that my testimony is in
conflict with some published statements on this subject, from those
whose names carry some weight.

[Sidenote: _WORKING AT THE PIANO._]

Wagner composed at the piano, in an elegantly well arranged study. With
him composing was a work of excitement and much labour. He did not shake
the notes from his pen as pepper from a caster. How could it be
otherwise than labour with a man holding such views as his? Listen to
what he says: “For a work to live, to go down to future generations, it
must be reflective,” and again in “Opera and Drama,” written about this
time, “A composer, in planning and working out a great idea, must pass
through a kind of parturition.” Mark the word “parturition.” Such it was
with him. He laboured excessively. Not to find or make up a phrase; no,
he did not seek his ideas at the piano. He went to the piano with his
idea already composed, and made the piano his sketch-book, wherein he
worked and reworked his subject, steadily modelling his matter until it
assumed the shape he had in his mind. The subject of representative
themes was discussed much by us, and he explained to me that he felt
chained to the piano until he had found precisely that which shaped
itself before his mental vision. I had one morning retired to my room
for the Schopenhauer study, when the piano was pounded--yes, pounded is
the exact word--more vigorously than usual. The incessant repetition of
one theme arrested my attention. Schopenhauer was discarded. I came down
stairs. The theme was being played with another rhythm. I entered the
room. “Ah!” he exclaimed, “you have been listening!” “Who could help
it?” was my answer. “Your vigorous playing fascinated me more than
skilful philosophical dialectics!” And then I inquired as to the reason
of the change of rhythm. The explanation astonished me. Wagner was
engaged on a portion of “Siegfried,” the scene where Mime tells
Siegfried of his murderous intentions whilst under the magic influence
of the tarn helm. “But how did you come to change the rhythm?” “Oh,” he
said, “I tried and tried, thought and thought, until I got just what I
wanted.” And that it was perseverance with him, and not spontaneity, is
borne out by another incident. The Wesendoncks were at the chalet.
Wagner was at the piano, anxious to shine, doubtless, in the presence of
a lady who caused such unpleasantness in his career later on. He was
improvising, when, in the midst of a flowing movement, he suddenly
stopped, unable to finish. I laughed. Wagner became angry, but I
jocularly said, “Ah, you got into a _cul-de-sac_ and finished _en queue
de poisson_.” He could not be angry long, and joined in the laugh too,
confessing to me that he was only at his best when reflecting.

The morning’s work over, Wagner’s practice was to take a bath
immediately. His old complaint, erysipelas, had induced him to try the
water cure, for which purpose he had been to hydropathic establishments,
and he continued the treatment with as much success as possible in the
chalet.

[Sidenote: _THE RHINE MAIDENS’ MUSIC._]

The animal spirits and physical activity of Wagner have before been
referred to by me. He really possessed an unusual amount of physical
energy, which, at times, led him to perform reckless actions. One day he
said to Minna, “We must do something to give Praeger some pleasure, to
give him a joyful memento of his visit; let us take him to
Schaffhausen,” and though I remonstrated with him on account of his
work, he insisted, and so we went. We stayed there the night. Breakfast
was to be in the garden of the hotel. The hour arrived, but Wagner was
not to be found. Search in all directions, without results. We hear a
shout from a height. Behold! Wagner, the agile, mounted on the back of a
plaster lion, placed on the top of a giddy eminence! And how he came
down! The recklessness of a school-boy was in all his movements. We were
in fear; he laughed heartily, saying he had gone up there to get an
appetite for breakfast. The whole incident was a repetition of Wagner’s
climbing the roof of the Dresden school-house when he was a lad. Going
to and returning from Schaffhausen, Wagner took first-class railway
tickets. Now in Switzerland, first-class travelling is confined to a
very few, and those only the wealthiest, so that Minna expostulated with
him. This was typical. As he described himself, he was more luxurious
than Sardanapalus, though he lived then on the generosity of his friends
to enjoy such comfort. Minna was the housewife, and strove to curb the
unlimited desires of a man who had not the wherewithal to purchase his
excess. And Wagner was not to be controlled, for he not only travelled
first-class, but also telegraphed to Zurich to have a carriage in
waiting for us.

At Zurich Wagner had a sense of his growing power, and he cared not for
references to his early youthful struggles. I remember an old Magdeburg
singer, with her two daughters, calling to see her old comrade. The
mother and her daughters sang the music of the Rhine maidens, Wagner
accompanying, and they acquitted themselves admirably. But when the old
actress familiarly insisted on taking a pinch of snuff from Wagner’s
box, and told stories of the Magdeburg days, then did Wagner resent the
familiarity in a marked manner.

When they finished singing, Minna asked me: “Is it really so beautiful
as you say? It does not seem so to me, and I am afraid it would not
sound so to others.” Such observations as these show where Minna was
unable to follow Wagner, and the estrangement arising from
uncongeniality of artistic temperament.

When I was at Zurich, Wagner showed me two letters from august
personages. First, the Duke of Coburg offered him a thousand dollars and
two months’ residence in the palace, if he would score an opera for him.
The offer was refused, for he said, “Look, now, though I want the money
sadly, yet I cannot and will not score the duke’s opera.”

The second letter was from a count, favourite of the emperor of Brazil.
The emperor was an unknown admirer of Wagner’s, it appears, and was
desirous of commissioning Wagner to compose an opera, which he would
undertake should be performed at the Italian opera house, Rio Janeiro,
under his own special direction. Wagner did not care to expatriate
himself to this extent, but the offer spurred him on to compose an
opera, which he said, “shall be full of melody.” He did write his opera,
and it was “Tristan and Isolde.”

How was Wagner as a revolutionist at this time? Well, one of his old
Dresden friends came to see him, Gottfried Semper. We spoke of the sad
May days, and poor August Roeckel. Again did Wagner evade the topic, or
speak slightly of it. The truth is, he was ready to pose as the saviour
of a people, but was not equally ready to suffer exile for patriotic
actions, and so he sought to minimize the part he had played in 1849. It
appears from “The Memoires of Count Beust,” to which I have before
alluded, that Wagner also sought to minimize his May doings, by speaking
of them as unfortunate, when he called upon the minister after his exile
had been removed, on which Beust retorted, “How unfortunate! Are you not
aware that the Saxon government possesses a letter wherein you propose
burning the prince’s palace?” I am forced to the conclusion that Wagner
would have torn out that page from his life’s history had it been
possible.

[Sidenote: _DOMESTIC TROUBLES GATHERING._]

During my stay I saw Minna’s jealousy of another. She refused to see in
the sympathy of Madame Wesendonck for Wagner as a composer, that for
the artist only. It eventually broke out into a public scandal, and
filled the opposition papers with indignant reproaches about Wagner’s
ingratitude toward his friend. On leaving Zurich I went to Paris. There
I wrote to Wagner an expostulatory letter, alluding to a couple of plays
with which we were both familiar, viz. “The Dangerous Neighbourhood” and
“The Public Secret,” with a view of warning him privately in such a
manner that Minna should not understand should she chance to read my
letter. The storm burst but too soon. Wagner wrote to me while I was
still in Paris: “The devil is loose. I shall leave Zurich at once and
come to you in Paris. Meet me at the Strassburg station.” ... But two
days after, this was cancelled by another letter, an extract from which
I give.

     Matters have been smoothed over, so that I am not compelled to
     leave here. I hope we shall be quite free from annoyance in a short
     time; but ach, the virulence, the cruel maliciousness of some of my
     enemies....

I can testify Wagner suffered severely from thoughtlessness.



CHAPTER XXII.

1857-1861.


[Sidenote: _A STAY IN VENICE._]

From the time I left Zurich in the autumn of 1856, to the untoward fate
of “Tannhäuser,” at Paris, in March, 1861, of the several letters which
passed between Richard Wagner and me I reproduce the few following, as
possessing more than a personal interest.

On the 17th July he writes:--

     Hard have I toiled at “Siegfried,” for work, work, is my only
     comfort. Unable to return to the fatherland! Cruel! cruel! and why?
     The efforts of the grand duke[24] are fruitless; one hopes for the
     best, but that best comes not. Eh! is not Schopenhauer right? Is
     not the degree of my torment more intense than that of any joy I
     have experienced? Here I am working alone, with no seeming
     probability of my compositions ever being performed as I yearn for.
     My efforts are in vain, and then when I look round and see what is
     being done at the theatres,--the list of their representations
     _fills me with rage_,--such unrealities!

     You tell me that Goethe says, “The genius cannot help himself, and
     that the demon of fate seizes him by the nape of the neck, and
     forces him to work _nolens volens_.” And must I work on without a
     chance of being heard? _Nous verrons_....

     But listen, Ferdinandus! I am pondering over the Tristan legend. It
     is marvellous how that work constantly leaps from out the darkness
     into full life, before my mental vision. Wait until next summer,
     and then you shall “hear something”! But now my health is poor, and
     I am out of spirits....

     Keep me in thy love.

Thine,
RICHARD WAGNER.



Not long after the above reached me, Wagner’s health did begin to give
way, so that his next letter is dated:--


VENICE, October, 1858.

     Yes; I have been long in writing, but you are a second me and
     understand the cause. Since I have been here I have been very ill.
     I have sought to avoid all correspondence, and have endeavoured to
     restore my somewhat shattered self. Thank sister Léonie for her
     account of my _alter ego_. Poor little fellow! he is in terribly
     wondrous sympathy with me. Perhaps, were he here, we might together
     come through our pains triumphantly.... What was good news for me
     was that “Lohengrin” was done at Vienna, though I cannot understand
     how it can be adequately given without me. Only “hearty love and
     good-will could conquer....

Your
RICHARD WAGNER.

     [Sidenote: _THE TRIALS OF GENIUS._]



Wagner appears to have stayed at Venice through the winter of 1858-59,
going in the spring of 1859 to Lucerne. It was from this latter place he
wrote to me that he meant to go to Paris.

Strange the fascination Paris possessed for Wagner! He always spoke
against it, yet when his fortunes were at the lowest, it was towards
Paris that he turned for succour. He has told me that he felt the French
were in a manner gifted in art as no other European people; that they
inherited a perception of the beautiful and sense of the delicate
refinement to a degree beyond that of other nations, though he saw it in
an artificiality which gave it an unsound basis. And thinking of
Meyerbeer, he felt the French to be generous in their treatment of
aliens. So, in the autumn of 1859, again he attempts the conquest of
Paris. He wrote to me, asking for an introduction to certain friends who
would assist him in securing the legal copyright of his compositions. I
took steps to put him into communication with the desired advisers, and
he then did his best to make friends in all directions. He became
popular; gave musical parties, inviting art celebrities, beside
musicians. Minna was with him. They brought some of the furniture and
hangings from their Swiss chalet, and transformed the house of Octave
Feuillet, which Richard Wagner had taken, into the same agreeable and
pleasant abode as at Zurich. Of course there was the usual opposition
party, and they made the most out of the upholstery, charging Wagner in
the press with keeping his house like that of a _lorette_, and behaving
altogether with the vanity and ostentation of an Eastern potentate.

“Look here,” said he to me, when I was with him in Paris, “now you know
this furniture, and how carefully Minna has preserved it, and yet see
how I am treated.” He was desirous of replying to the press notices, but
I endeavoured to dissuade him. He went to the Rue Newton, a street
situated on the left hand of the Champs Elysée, beyond the Rondpoint,
because it was quieter than the Rue Martignan, and he had trees near
him. The Rue Martignan was the first he went to on returning to Paris,
and where I visited him. It was in the Rue Newton, however, that his
reunions took place.

And who were present at these gatherings? Well, occasionally men of
note: Villot, famed as the recipient of that lengthy exposition of
Wagner’s views in the shape of a letter; Gasparini, a medical gentleman
from the south of France; Champfleury, an enthusiastic pamphleteer who
wrote then, and published his views of Wagner; and Olivier, the husband
of Cosima Bülow’s eldest sister. There doubtless were others, but I do
not know. What I do know is that I marvelled much at some of the
visitors who found themselves in Wagner’s salon. A very mixed assembly.
At one of his receptions, while Wagner was singing (in his way) and
accompanying himself at the piano, I remember an old lady (a Jewess) who
snored painfully audibly while Wagner was at the piano. Aroused by the
applause of the others, she suddenly burst into grunts of approval,
clapping her hands at the same time. I expostulated with Wagner. How
could he sing and play before such an audience? “How could he help it,”
was his reply; to that lady he was under obligations for £200. She
resided in Manchester, and had been introduced to him by a German
friend, a Bayreuth figure, known to all pilgrims to Wahnfried. His
singing was like that of a composer who tries over at the piano all the
parts of his score. What among musicians and composers would be regarded
as a grand boon seemed to me, before the uninitiated, as a profanation.
He hardly liked such references to his performance, but conscious of
their sincerity, he fully explained his position to me. The trials which
a genius is sometimes compelled to undergo are bitter, very.

I was one day discussing with Wagner, when he was called away by a
visitor. On his return, he told me I should never guess who it was. M.
Badjocki, chamberlain of the Emperor Napoleon III., had been directed
to arrange for a performance of “Tannhäuser” at the grand opera. The
story of the “Tannhäuser” disaster is now known to almost every one. I
therefore shall touch upon certain points, only particularly those with
which I am acquainted as an eyewitness, and which have not been spoken
of elsewhere. Richard Wagner told me that one day, at a reception, the
emperor had asked the Princess Metternich whether she had seen the last
opera of Prince Poniatowski. She replied, contemptuously, “I do not care
for such music.” “But is it not good?” doubtingly observed the emperor.
“No,” she said, curtly. “But where is better music to be got, then?”
“Why, Your Majesty, you have at the present moment the greatest German
composer that ever lived in your capital.” “Who is he?” “Richard
Wagner.” “Then why do they not give his operas?” “Because he is in
earnest, and would require all kinds of concessions and much money.”
“Very well; he shall have _carte blanche_.” This is the whole story.

After many fluctuations, as to whether the performance would take place
or no, the translation was begun. On this were engaged at first one
Lindau and Roche, who shaped it in the rough, but so badly that it had
to be redone. This time Nuitre, a well-known poet, did it. Connected
with Roche is an incident which Wagner related to me, and perhaps has an
interest for all.

[Sidenote: _“TANNHÄUSER” IN PARIS._]

On Wagner’s return to Paris, in 1859, he had some difficulty with his
luggage at the custom-house. He spoke to an officer who seemed in
command. “What is your name?” the officer inquired. “Richard Wagner.”
The French officer threw himself on his knees, and embraced Wagner,
exclaiming, “Are you the Richard Wagner whose ‘Tannhäuser’ I know so
well?” It appears Roche was an amateur, and, alighting upon Wagner’s
“Tannhäuser,” had studied it closely. This was a good beginning in Paris
for Wagner.

Well, Nuiter was the poet. The translation was in progress while I was
in Paris, and I was a daily witness of the combined efforts of Nuiter
and Wagner at the translation. How Wagner stormed while it was being
done. “Tannhäuser” teems with references to “love,” and every time such
words or references were to be rendered into French, Nuiter was
compelled to say, “No, master, it cannot be done like that,”--so many
were the possible double interpretations likely to be put upon such by
the public. To all Wagner’s anger Nuiter posed a soft answer. “It shall
be all right, master; it shall be done well, if I sit up all night;” and
this was the frequent response of the poor poet.

The rehearsal began in September, 1860, and ended the first week in
March, 1861. Wagner applied to the authorities for permission to conduct
himself. The answer came: “The general regulations connected with the
performances at the grand opera house cannot be interfered with for the
proposed representation of ‘Tannhäuser.’” This was communicated
officially to Wagner, and he sent the letter to me. What did happen was
that Dietsch, the composer for whom Wagner’s poem, the “Flying
Dutchman,” had been purchased, conducted instead. Dietsch received
Wagner’s suggestions and hints in a good-natured manner, and worked as
well as he could for the success of the performance. Before the
rehearsals came to an end Wagner had become quite indifferent as to the
possible reception of “Tannhäuser.” The first public representation was
to take place on the 13th March, 1861. On the 12th February Wagner wrote
me the following:--

     Come, dear old friend, now is the time when I want all my friends
     about me. The opposition is malicious; fair play is no part of the
     critic’s stock in trade.... I have had pressure put upon me from
     high quarters, urging me to give way, and that unless I bend before
     the storm my proud self-will will be snapped in twain.... But I
     will have none of it. I hear David[25] has been subsidized by the
     members of the Jockey Club to purchase tickets of admission for
     himself and gang of hirelings, who are going to protest vigorously
     against their exclusion. We may, therefore, expect much rough work,
     and so I want you and others to be about me. I care not for all the
     mercenaries in Paris. The work of my brain, the thought and labour
     I have in solitude anxiously bestowed upon it, shall not (by my
     will, at any rate) be left to the mercy of a semi-inebriated,
     sensual herd. Here are artists working zealously for the success of
     my work, men and women really exerting themselves in an astonishing
     manner. There are truly some annoyances both on the stage and in
     the orchestra; but on the whole, the energy shown is wonderful....
     My indignation was at a boiling-point when Monsieur Royer
     insolently observed that if Monsieur Meyerbeer contrived a ballet
     for half-past eight he saw no reason why I could not follow so
     popular a composer. I!... Meyerbeer! Never! Fail me not then,
     Ferdinand. You will find me in the most jubilant spirits, and well
     supported, but in the moment of trial it is the old faces one longs
     to see about. Bring “ma mère Léonie” to witness the downfall of her
     son, and to console him in his anger. If good old Lüders could only
     come, his quaint humour would be irresistible. Now come.

Yours,
RICHARD WAGNER.



[Sidenote: _THE JOCKEY CLUB CABAL._]

I returned, therefore, to Paris, and went with Wagner to the final
rehearsals. At the last, the dress rehearsal, one of the chief
characters ... walked on the stage in ordinary morning attire, creating
a laugh and some confusion. Wagner might have avoided what was almost
the inevitable reception of the performance, for he told me he had
received a visit from some manager, whose name I now cannot recall, of a
theatre at St. Petersburgh, who had agreed to produce “Tannhäuser”
there, provided the Paris representations were foregone. To this he
refused. Thus the Paris performances took place.

On the 13th March we were all assembled. In a private box sat the
Princess Metternich, whose influence with the emperor had brought about
the performance. Before the princess showed herself in the box, the
noisy hissing, which greeted her from a section of the audience,
indicated the hostility present. The overture was, on the whole, well
received. Indeed, altogether, the opera created a favourable impression
among those who had not come with the avowed intention of making the
performance a failure. When the dog-whistles of the “protectors” of the
_corps-de-ballet_ were first heard, a goodly portion of the audience
rose indignantly, endeavouring to suppress the organized opposition, but
to no purpose, and the work dragged itself on to a torturing
accompaniment of strife among the audience.

How indignant was Wagner! His excitement and anger were great. Annoyed
with himself for coming to Paris, with having so little perception in
seeking to succeed with an opera opposed to the formality where
tradition was king. But the second performance took place, all the same,
on the 18th March. Then the opposition was but little up to the end of
the first act, but from there it gathered in force. At the third and
last representation, which was on Sunday, the 24th March, the members of
the Claque appeared in force, paid again, it was commonly asserted, by
the Jockey Club. This performance decided the fate of “Tannhäuser.” At
this last representation I was not present. The scenic artist, Monsieur
Cambon, however, came to London and gave me a description of it. The
whistles and toy flageolets of the enemy destroyed all hope of hearing
any portion comfortably, but as far as he could gather from independent
testimony of those musicians and artists outside the opera house,
“Tannhäuser” was regarded as a great work, and but for the persistent
tactics of the Jockey Club would have proved a success. Such was the
enthusiasm the work inspired in some of the artists, that Monsieur
Cambon told me he himself went specially to the Wartburgh, there to
prepare his canvas for the performances.

There is now one point characteristic of Wagner’s earnestness. He went
through the score with me before the performances, I should add, and he
told me, “I have been through it before and found many bald places,
which required filling in, and which my long experience has taught me
how to improve.”



CHAPTER XXIII.

LETTERS FROM 1861-1865.


From Paris Wagner went to Carlsruhe, whence he wrote to me the following
letter. The allusion in the opening phrases of his letter is to my
inability to stay for the third performance of “Tannhäuser.”

     You never heard such a din. It was a pity indeed you were away. I
     would it had been possible to prevent it; however, it could not be
     otherwise. But we did very well, until one whistle more shrill than
     the rest screamed for fully a minute. It seemed an hour. Horrible!
     horrible!--and my work was submitted to such an audience! Had I but
     the strength--but no, my indignation is now nearly over; the joy of
     being on my native soil once again, a free man, has removed a load
     from me that really at moments felt insupportable. Aye, those who
     have kept me from my fatherland little know how dearly they
     punished me for my, perhaps, imprudence in those early Dresden
     days. The sight is again reproduced before my vision, but in my joy
     at being free to go--except in Saxony--where I choose, poor
     August’s earnest face appears before me; and he is still the
     political prisoner of a power that could crush him in a moment. It
     is unkingly. Those days have made me suffer so keenly in what I
     love the dearest and tenderest on earth, my art, that in my
     happiness at being once more home I could shut out forever that sad
     past. Now I may go forward with my work. I shall not rest contented
     until Saxony once again is free to me as to the birds of the air;
     but how my hopes are built upon the future, and I feel all the
     confidence of success. I am sick again in body just now, but I will
     be conqueror. Was ever work like mine created for no purpose? Is it
     miserable egoism, the stupidest vanity? It matters not what it is,
     but of this I feel positive; yes, as positive as that I live, and
     that is my “Tristan and Isolde,” with which I am now consumed, does
     not find its equal in the world’s library of music. Oh, how I yearn
     to hear it! I am feverish; I feel worn; perhaps that causes me to
     be agitated and anxious, but my “Tristan” has been finished now
     these three years and has not been heard. When I think of this I
     wonder whether it will be with this as with “Lohengrin,” which now
     is more than thirteen years old, and has been as dead to me. But
     the clouds seem breaking--are breaking. The grand duke is good. He
     shows himself desirous of befriending me; no doubt intends well,
     and has even proposed that I shall return to Paris to engage
     singers to perform “Tristan.” I am going to Vienna soon. There they
     are going to give me a surprise. It is supposed to be kept a secret
     from me, but a friend has informed me they are going to bring out
     “Lohengrin.” You will hear about it.

     Ah! I have so run away with my thoughts that I have nearly failed
     to tell you what I began to say; and that is, strong pressure was
     brought upon me to consent to a fourth performance of “Tannhäuser.”
     I was officially informed that all the seats had been taken; the
     public were strongly desirous of hearing an opera which had caused
     such a stir in high circles, that the sale of tickets had been so
     brisk that now not one was unsold. But nothing, nothing would
     induce me to submit again to such debasing treatment. I would
     sooner lose all hope of assistance from imperial and noble
     personages, and fight my battle alone, than again appear before
     such tribunal. The royalty, £60, I left for Nuiter; it was a poor
     recompense.... Now commend me to sister Léonie; tell her that Minna
     is grateful for her thoughtful kindness, and bids me send her a
     thousand hearty greetings.

Always thine,
RICHARD WAGNER.

     CARLSRUHE, April, 1861.

The next letter, August, 1862, is from Biebrich, near Mayence, on the
Rhine.

[Sidenote: _SCHNORR VON CAROLSFELD._]

     MY DEAR FRIEND: It is a long time since I wrote to you; yes, but I
     have had a worrying, anxious time. I do not seem to be able to
     forge ahead. Each time I feel now I am within reach of my goal, it
     flies from me like a “will o’ the wisp.”

     No, “Tristan” has not yet been done; but it will, it will soon be
     done. I have found such a Tristan as charms my soul, such a one as
     will worthily enact my hero. He has been here with me for a few
     days studying it. Schnorr! Ah, the alighting upon him was
     miraculous! At one time last winter, so saddened and broken down
     was I by successive disappointments, that I had a presentiment of
     approaching death. I actually had rehearsals of “Tristan” at
     Vienna, and then the proposed performance does not take place. But
     now it will. Yet I dare not be too positive. If it does, Schnorr
     will be grand; then you must come. Why can’t you come now to me? I
     am going to stay here till the end of the summer; that my poor
     second self is so weakly as to compel you to go to the seaside, I
     am concerned deeply. May the sea-breezes invigorate him, and soon
     give his mother no cause for anxiety. But I intended telling you
     how I heard Schnorr first.

     He was going to sing “Lohengrin” at Carlsruhe. I did not want him
     or anybody to know I should be present, so I went secretly, for I
     feared a disappointment; he is fat, and picture a corpulent Knight
     of the Swan! I had not heard him before. I went, and he sang
     marvellously. He was inspired, and I was enchanted; he realized my
     ideal. So come now and see him; you will be delighted too.... I am
     staying here because I want to superintend the printing of my
     “Meistersinger.”

Yours,
RICHARD WAGNER.



     AH! DEAR FERDINAND: I am faring tolerably well; have made some good
     friends, influential ones too, but that is not what I crave.
     “Tristan”! that’s it! I am ready to go back to Vienna at any
     moment, am expecting information from there, but again have
     feelings that the performance will not take place. Here, as you
     have doubtless seen through the press notices, my music has been
     received with an enthusiasm beyond what it ever before achieved in
     Germany. Tell Lüders that I called on his friends and they behaved
     in the kindest manner to me. Give the dear fellow my heartiest
     greetings. I would Minna were here with me; we might, in the
     excitement that now moves fast around me, grow again the quiescent
     pair as of yore. The whole thing is annoying. I am not in good
     spirits. I move about freely, and see a number of people, but my
     misery is bitter. Can you not arrange to come and be with me in the
     summer, wherever I may be? Write to me a long letter of how all is
     with you.

Yours ever,
RICHARD WAGNER.

     ST. PETERSBURGH, February, 1863.

I did not see him that year; matters could not be arranged. But since
that time the storm was gathering in intensity which was to soon break.
Minna had been in correspondence with me. Of her letters I publish
nothing. But the next from Wagner tells its own sad story in plain
language. It is dated--


MARIAFELD, April, 1864.

     And so she has written to you? Whose fault was it? How could she
     have expected I was to be shackled and fettered as any ordinary
     cold common mortal. My inspirations carried me into a sphere she
     could not follow, and then the exuberance of my heated enthusiasm
     was met by a cold douche. But still there was no reason for the
     extreme step; everything might have been arranged between us, and
     it would have been better had it been so. Now there is a dark void,
     and my misery is deep. It has struck into my health, though I
     carefully attend to what you ever insist is the root of my
     ills--diet. Yet I do not sleep, and am altogether in a feverish
     state. It is now that I feel I have sounded my lowest note of dark
     despair. What is before me? I know not! Unless I can shortly and
     quickly rescue myself from this quicksand of gloom, it will engulf
     me and all will then be over. Change of scene I must have. If I do
     not I fear I shall sink from inanition. I like comfort, luxury--she
     fettered me there--How will it end?

     Write to me soon.

RICHARD WAGNER.



[Sidenote: _LUDWIG’S PRINCELY HELP._]

But a startling change was nigh at hand. The curtain was about to rise
upon the “Wahnfried” act of the hitherto stormy drama of Richard
Wagner’s life. As far as the wit of man could devise, Wagner was
henceforth to be relieved from all care and anxiety as to the future.
His wants--and be it remembered they were not few, for, on his own
confession, he stands described as “more luxurious than
Sardanapalus”--were all about to be provided for with regal liberality.
But the following extracts from a letter which conveyed to me the news,
will be noted with interest, since they give a vivid picture of the man
and his feelings, in a word, paint the human being in characters so
striking, and lay bare the workings of the heart in a manner which was
impossible for his most intimate friend to hope to achieve. It was not
wealth he wanted. Luxury when he possessed it in abundance did not
comfort him: the worship and close intimacy of a king solaced him not:
the void was sympathy, such as only a loving woman could give. The
gloomy picture he draws of desolation amidst plenty invokes our
heartiest compassion.

     DEAREST FERDINAND: I owe it to you that you should be informed of
     what my joy--clouded though it is by certain thoughts--has been
     during the last few weeks. Such a state of intoxication have I been
     cast into, that it has been as though I were another being than
     myself, and I but a dazed reflection of the real mortal. It is a
     state of living in another atmosphere, like that induced by the
     drinking of hasheesh. A message from the sun-god has come to me;
     the young king of Bavaria, a young man not yet twenty years of age,
     has sent for me, and resolves to give me all I require in this
     life, I in return to do nothing but compose and advise him. He
     urges me strongly to be near him; sends for me sometimes two and
     even three times in one day; talks with me for hours, and is, as
     far as I can see, devoted heart and soul to me. There is but one
     name for him--a god-like youth. But though I have now at my
     command a profusion of unlimited means, my feeling of isolation is
     torturing. With no one to realize and enjoy with me this limitless
     comfort, a feeling of weariness and desolation is induced which
     keeps me in a constant state of dejection terrible to bear. The
     commonest domestic details now must be done by me; the purchasing
     of kitchen utensils and such kindred matters am I driven to--Ah!
     poor Beethoven! Now is it forcibly brought home to me what his
     discomforts were with his washing-book, and engaging of
     housekeepers, etc., etc. I who have praised woman more than
     Frauenlob, have not one for my companion. The truth is, I have
     spoilt Minna: too much did I indulge her, too much did I yield to
     her; but it were better not to talk upon a subject which never
     ceases to vex me. The king strives his utmost to gratify me, and if
     I do not seem happy when with him and show my appreciation of his
     wondrous goodness, I should deserve to be branded as “ingrate.”

     There is one good being who brightens my household--the wife of
     Bülow; she has been with her children. If you can come to see me I
     shall be happy. My god-child, Richard Wagner, is now eight years
     old, you tell me; bring him; the talk of a dear innocent child will
     do me good; to have him near me will, perhaps, comfort me.

Your unhappy
RICHARD WAGNER.

     STARNBERG, June, 1864.

The preceding letter is to me a landmark in Wagner’s life. The facts
have only to be recited for it to be clearly perceived what a striking
climax had been reached. Upon them I make no comment. They speak for
themselves--the sudden transformation from a state of hardship into one
of security; the powerful patronage and friendship of the king of
Bavaria; the absence of Minna; the presence of Madame von Bülow.

[Sidenote: _THE LOVE OF A KING._]

New influences were now beginning to work upon Wagner; and--they were
not weak. I did not see Wagner until the next year, when the change was
pronounced. During the winter the attachment of the king grew in
warmth, until in a manner Wagner may be said to have dominated the
youthful monarch completely. In the early spring of 1865, Wagner wrote
me the following short note. It was in reply to one from me, urging him
to find some occupation for August Roeckel, who had been released since
the January of 1862. When Roeckel was at Dresden, in 1849, with Richard
Wagner, he had effaced himself entirely for his friend. Then Wagner was
appreciative of sacrifices upon the altar of friendship, and regarded
them as done on his behalf entirely; but he later grew so absorbed with
his mission that no sacrifice did he regard as done to himself, but for
the glory of his art, and in this no sacrifice could be too great. The
short note after a private reference to Roeckel runs as follows:--

...At present I cannot. Time may be when the good August shall feel
     that his old friend lives--now, all I can say is that the king
     loves me with a love beyond description. I feel as sure of his love
     for me till the end, as I am conscious of his unbounded goodness to
     me now. It is a trial, though, of the heaviest; the formation of
     his mind I feel it a duty to undertake. He is so strikingly
     handsome that he might pose as the King of the Jews (and--this in
     confidence--I am seriously reflecting on the Christian tragedy;
     possibly something may come of it). But you must forgive me any
     more correspondence just now, I am busy.

Yours,
RICHARD WAGNER.

     MUNICH (London post-mark), 8th April, 1865.

It appeared later that he was deeply engrossed in preparations for
“Tristan’s” performance, his next letter--but a short
invitation--bearing on the subject.

     DEAR PRAEGER: 15, 18, 22 May: Wonderfully fine representations of
     “Tristan” at Munich. Come, if you can, and write first. I should be
     heartily glad to know you present at them.

Yours,
RICHARD WAGNER.

     MUNICH, 7th May, 1865.

I found it impossible to be present at the “Tristan” performances, and
was compelled to postpone my visit to the summer of the same year. On
the 27th July, Madame von Bülow wrote to me for “her friend,” explaining
that he was so much touched by the death of poor Schnorr (the Tristan of
the recent performances), that he was unable to write any letters, but
that Wagner would be at Munich up to the 8th August--though she “had
advised Richard very strongly to retire to the mountains there to
strengthen his nerves.”



CHAPTER XXIV.

1865-1883.


I went to Munich and found Wagner considerably depressed. “Tristan,” the
work he evidently loved with no ordinary affection, had, after seven
years of hoping against hope, but just been performed to his intense
satisfaction, when the ideal impersonator dies. The happiness he had
recently felt at the three “Tristan” performances, coupled with the
publication of the piano scores of the “Walküre” and “Tristan” had, to
an extent, kept his mind free. These events passed, and his friends
departed, he fell into a desponding mood. Minna, his wife, was not
there. This was a constant irritation to him. He affected to care
nothing about it, but his references to her absence showed how it
annoyed and preyed upon him. Then was he placed in delicate relations
with the young king of Bavaria. Louis constituted Wagner his
adviser--his Mentor. Questions of state were submitted to him. The
king’s personal advisers were aware of this, and resented it. Wagner
knew of the intrigues against him. He sincerely yearned for quietude;
all the more because he instinctively felt the coming storm. He showed
me all the letters that his royal devotee had written to him, and this I
can testify, that breathing as they did the fervid adoration of a
cultured, highly gifted youth for a genius, Wagner on his side felt no
less intense admiration and affection for the “god-like” king. So great
was the influence it was assumed Wagner possessed over the monarch, that
his good-will was sought by all classes of petitioners for the royal
favour.

The house inhabited by Richard Wagner was detached, an uncommon thing
for houses in Germany. It had been built, he told me, by an Englishman,
and now that he could command practically “unlimited means,” he did not
restrict his wants. I may say he positively revelled in his grandeur
like a boy. His taste in arranging his house once again provoked the
hostile comments of an ever-ready opposition press. As I have before
remarked, this charge of Oriental luxury was a stock one with some
people. Even now, his velvet coat and biretta are made the subject of
puerile attacks; but I cannot refrain from stating that Richard Wagner’s
house and decorations are far surpassed by the luxuriously appointed
palaces of certain English painters, musicians, and dramatic poetasters.
Wagner was fond of velvets and satins, and he knew how best to display
them. The arrangements in the house, too, showed the unmistakable
guiding of a woman. Madame von Bülow acted as a sort of secretary to
Wagner. Wagner was a prolific correspondent, but during the early
portion of the summer, he had, it seems, been busy finishing the score
of the second act of “Siegfried.”

[Sidenote: _WAGNER A BORN ACTOR._]

Wagner laid bare his hopes and wishes to me. He merits eulogy for his
fearlessness. With that trait I was particularly struck. In relating the
subject of a certain interview with the king, I was of opinion he had
been too blunt of speech, too outspoken in his criticism, and I asked
what would he do were he to lose the royal favour, remembering how dark
and mournful had been his days at the moment the king sought him out.
His reply startled me. “I have lived before without the king, and I can
do so again.” Honour to Wagner! He was fearless here as he was in his
music--no concessions to false art.

A born actor Wagner? Certainly. Out together one day he related to me
the story of his climbing the Urirothstock in company with a young
friend. Some distance up the mountain, his companion, who was following,
exclaimed he was giddy and falling, upon which Wagner turned round on
the ledge of rock, caught his friend, and passed him between the rock
and himself to the front. The scene was reproduced very graphically. His
presence of mind never left him. Truly, Wagner was born to teach actors.

I found that the same boyish love of fun remained with Wagner. He dearly
loved a joke, a good story, a witty anecdote. Many did he tell me. Even
when I was leaving Munich, his stories came out, so that on saying
good-bye, he added, “Well, we have had some discomforts, but a good many
jokes.”

Towards the end of the year the intrigues of his opponents proved too
strong for him. He left Bavaria; but I will give some few extracts from
his next letter, which will tell the history in his own way. It is
dated--


CAMPAGNE AUX ARTICHAUX.

...The stories you read in the papers of my flying the country are
     wholly untrue. The king did nothing of the kind. He _implored_ me
     to leave; said my life was in danger; that the director of the
     police had represented to him the positive necessity for my
     quitting Munich, or he could not guarantee my safety. Think, so
     greatly did he fear the populace! The populace opposed to me? No;
     not if they knew me. My return, I am told, is only a question of
     time; until the king is able to change his advisers. May he come
     out of his troubles well....

Yours,
RICHARD WAGNER.

     GENEVA, 1866.

The next letter of interest is dated nearly six months later. It shows
that Wagner and the king did not then always get on well together.


MUNICH, June, 1867.

     MY GOOD FERDINAND: I will keep my promise about August. He is here.
     I will see to it, but there are so many obstacles. The king is
     influenced by innumerable enemies, who are jealous of me, and
     angered at my influence with him. I have, indeed, almost broken off
     our relations, only the scandal would be too great!

     “Lohengrin” and “Tannhäuser” were to be produced with the best
     artists and dresses. I was anxious to have Tichatschek as
     Lohengrin. He had, however, been singing elsewhere, in
     “Masaniello,” so that he was hoarse. The _entourage_ of the king
     seemed to have conceived a thorough dislike of Tichatschek. But
     what is more true, they were, I am convinced, desirous of
     preventing my appearing with the king at the performance, because
     they feared a demonstration.

     After the last rehearsal, a few days ago, the king, who was
     present, sent for me. Tichatschek had displeased him, and he
     asserted he would never again attend a performance or rehearsal in
     which that singer took part. As this dislike referred only to the
     stiff acting of Tichatschek (for he had sung splendidly), I felt
     that the king’s enthusiasm inclined to the spectacular, and where
     this was defective, he could not elsewhere find compensation. But
     now comes the outrage. Without consulting me, he ordered
     Tichatschek and the “Ortrud” to be sent away. I was, and am,
     furious, and forthwith mean to quit Munich. Now you know the
     situation, you will understand the impossibility of doing anything
     at present.

Yours,
RICHARD WAGNER.



[Sidenote: _THE MARRIAGE WITH COSIMA._]

Nothing came of the promise to help Roeckel, though Wagner and the king
were soon reconciled. Roeckel became editor of a democratic newspaper,
ceasing all active participation in the musical world. The friendship of
Louis grew stronger, if that were possible, and Wagner shows by his
letters that he was quite “the guide, philosopher, and friend” of the
young monarch. Of his communications to me during the next year, I
select the following short note, as possessing a wider interest than a
merely personal communication.

     DEAR OLD FRIEND: The 21st June first performance of the
     “Meistersinger” (model). On the 25th the second, and repetition of
     it up to about the 20th July. Now see whether you can catch
     something of it. It will be worth while, and will give me great joy
     when you come. Many hearty greetings.

From yours,
RICHARD WAGNER.

     MUNICH, at Bülows, 11 Arcos Strasse, 11th June, 1868.

As the above note shows, Wagner was living in Bülow’s house. I purposely
pass over the next two years. Events were coming to a climax. He and I
did not agree; but still his friendship never waned or abated one jot.
Meanwhile his wife, Minna, had died at Dresden. The two following notes
tell their own tale. The first is but a very short communication of what
the world had foreseen; the second was the printed card announcing his
second marriage, which I presume was sent to all his friends.

CENTER
(1)

     MY DEAR FERDINAND: You will be no doubt angry with me when you hear
     that I am soon to marry Bülow’s wife, who has become a convert in
     order to be divorced.

Yours,
RICHARD WAGNER.

     JULY, 1870.

CENTER
(2)

     We have the honour to announce our marriage, which took place on
     the 25th August of this year, at the Protestant Church of Lucerne.

RICHARD WAGNER,
COSIMA WAGNER, _née_ LISZT.

     25TH AUGUST, 1870.

In the following November Wagner wrote to me again. It was the first of
a series of letters relative to the purchase of a costly edition of
Shakespeare, in English, as a birthday present to Madame Wagner. I
publish six of these. They show Wagner by the fireside, at home with
wife and children. Nearly sixty, with the close of his life almost in
sight, he first bathes in that unspeakable happiness--the presence of
children constantly about him, ready to receive the pent-up affection of
half a century. It seems to me that his state of mind will be best
understood by a few words, taken from the closing paragraph of his
letter of the 25th November, 1870: “God make every one happy. Amen!”

     (1)

[Sidenote: “_A SPLENDID SON._”]

     DEAR OLD ONE: If you are still alive, and not angry with me for
     various reasons, you could do me a right good service. I should
     like to make a present to my wife (you know the deep, serious
     happiness that has been mine) on her birthday, which falls just on
     Christmas Eve,--a present of one of the most beautiful editions of
     Shakespeare in English. I do not so much want one of those editions
     with a voluminous appendix of critical notes as a really luxurious
     edition of the text. If such an edition de luxe is only published
     with notes, and so forth, well, then I will have that. I know that
     in this respect the English have achieved something extraordinary,
     and it is just one of their grand editions I should like to
     possess. Further, it must be encased in a truly magnificent
     binding, and of the greatest beauty. All this, I feel sure, can
     only be obtained for certain in London. Now be so good as to occupy
     yourself in the most friendly manner for me. Deem me worthy of a
     response and a note of the price, that we may arrange everything,
     and I will forthwith send you the necessary funds.

     How are you all at home? I hear that the English are making
     colossal profits by the war. I hope something of the good may fall
     to you. Your last letter coming after such a long time was a
     delightful surprise, and has given me much joy, for I perceive in
     it that you still are actively employed. Often do I now think of
     you because of your love for children. My house, too, is full of
     children, the children of my wife, but beside there blooms for me a
     splendid son, strong and beautiful, whom I dare call _Siegfried
     Richard Wagner_. Now think what I must feel, that this at last has
     fallen to my share. I am fifty-seven years old.

Be most fondly greeted.
From your
RICHARD WAGNER.

     LUCERNE, 11 November, 1870.

(In pencil on the last page of the letter.)

     Perhaps the director of the theatre might make me a present of a
     copy of Shakespeare.


     (2)


    When Ferdinand in pious rage,
    The Moors afar did chase!

     Therefore, thou most excellent good one, quick to business!

     Your recommendation seems to point to the Cambridge edition of
     Dyce. You say that the cost will be about three guineas (_i.e._ £3.
     3_s._) therefore--let us stop at Dyce’s--this Cambridge edition.
     But you do not tell me, however, whether it is one volume or in
     several. Further, how am I to decide about the binding? I know that
     in London bookbinding is treated as an art, and I would much like
     to have a good specimen of London art work for my wife (for I
     cannot present her with anything else). Acting upon the hypothesis
     that it is in one volume only, I have forwarded to you six pounds
     for disposal upon the work, and therefore three pounds less three
     shillings will be available for the binding. Should there be two
     volumes, then you must consider whether for the money you can still
     obtain something remarkably good. If not--then order unhesitatingly
     what is good, and write to me at once and I will send you a few
     pounds more immediately. The chief point to be kept in view is that
     you arrange with the bookbinder so as to have the work finished in
     time to enable me to present it here on Christmas Eve.

     But now, above all, be not angry with me for thus earnestly
     importuning you. If you but think of Milton Street and Portland
     Terrace, lobster salad, punch, and Lüders, then shall I be
     pardoned. And lastly will come your good wife to the rescue, who,
     notwithstanding that she, as I see, has still little children, may
     yet have some kind remembrance for me.

     I am glad that you write to me about yourself in full; one cannot
     do anything better than write about one’s self to one’s friends,
     for the more one reflects the less one seems to know of others.
     According to this, I ought to write a great deal about myself, but
     that I must defer for an ocular inspection by you; therefore, come
     and see me. My son is Helferich Siegfried Richard. My son! Oh, what
     that says to me!

     _You_ have plenty of children’s prattle, are used to it like the
     English to hanging, but with me the hanging is only just beginning.
     Now I must prepare to live to a good old age, for then will others
     profit by it. Outside my home life, one thing only do I propose to
     accomplish, and that, the performance of my “Nibelungen” drama as I
     have conceived it. It appears to me that the whole German Empire is
     only created to aid me in attaining my object. Carlyle’s letter in
     the “Times” has caused me intense satisfaction. The Messieurs
     Englishmen I have already learned to know through you. I need but
     refer to divers data I have from you to be at once clear about the
     character of this strangely ragged nation.

     God make every one happy. Amen! Now greet mamma and children, and
     tell them of Milton Street. Come next summer into Switzerland and
     keep me in your heart as I do you.

Yours,
RICHARD WAGNER.

     LUCERNE, 25th November, 1870.

[Sidenote: _HIS IDEA OF SHAKESPEARE._]

     (3)

     MY GOOD FERDINAND: Is it not too bad that I am still to give you so
     much trouble? I thought there must be, especially in London, a
     central depot where one could quickly be informed about the most
     complicated matters of all kinds. Does there not exist, _i.e._ in
     Regent Street, or in some other main thoroughfare, a bookseller who
     keeps on hand a stock of editions de luxe of celebrated authors, in
     elegant and costly bindings, ready for sale for certain festive
     occasions? Certainly it would have been better could you have
     alighted upon such an edition of “Shakespeare” already bound. That
     a bookbinder would now undertake such a task, I myself feel it is
     somewhat venturesome to hope. But as you are such a good fellow I
     leave the whole business entirely in your hands. Do not let the
     price frighten you, for when it is a question of a birthday gift
     for such a noble, dear woman, then, in honour of Shakespeare, one
     may afford to be liberal. Yet on this occasion, I insist that the
     external must be the pre-eminent consideration, the thing to be
     first thought of, viz. beautiful, correct print on beautiful paper,
     artistic binding, and--the internal Shakespeare supplies himself;
     but do not trouble at all about the critical notes of English
     editors.

     As the time is now very close upon us, it would be best if you
     could still discover, all ready and complete, a luxurious book, in
     a luxurious shop, in a luxurious binding; for the rest--go on! I am
     not sending you any further money to-day, as I want to leave the
     matter entirely in your hands. How much more I am to send you we
     will arrange later on.

     Adieu for to-day!

     Good old fellow!

     Make sure that we see you next summer here!

     Don’t be melancholy, and keep me in your love.

Yours,
RICHARD WAGNER.

     LUCERNE, 9th December, 1870.

     (Herewith the addresses of the London banker: nice fellows those!!)

     (4)

     DEAR GOOD PRAEGER: Ah, now all is right, and the trouble at an end.
     You will have seen by my last letter that it seemed to me our only
     hope lay in finding an edition de luxe ready bound. That this
     should have been in nine volumes, though not precisely an edition
     de luxe, is satisfactory; therefore, have you acted most
     blamelessly and correctly. Instead of having to transmit to you
     further subsidies, you tell me there is even a balance at my
     disposition. Now I have cudgelled my brains as to what can be
     purchased with the remaining twelve shillings. In this matter it
     will depend on the patience and perseverance of your wife, should
     she see some pretty trifling _article-de-mode_ to put on the
     Christmas table, where it might look well, perhaps. My wife has
     spoken to me about, and would like, if possible, an East India, or
     even Chinese, foulard dress, rich, highly-coloured patterns on
     satin ground, brilliant and luxurious, _i.e._ Orientally fantastic,
     such as is sure to be found in London. Now if your good wife would
     be kind enough to look to this, and should it not go into the
     abnormal in cost, of which, naturally, there is no intention, since
     the proposed costume is not to serve for ostentation, but for the
     gratification of a fantastic taste, I would beg of you to make bold
     and send me about twenty metres of such a material, and to send it
     off at once. The settlement of the transaction on my side would
     follow immediately. I do not restrict the price, as that might
     hamper you; but on the other hand, I beg you to understand that, in
     case it is really something beautiful and original, Oriental, do
     not stop at the price. Only in respect of the design, I remember
     there must be no figures, nothing but flowers--that much do I
     remember. God knows to what new trouble I am putting you again.
     Don’t take it too seriously, but remain good to me, for this is the
     most important of your business.

Heart greetings to all of you, from yours,
RICHARD WAGNER.

     LUCERNE, 11th December, 1870.

     (5)

[Sidenote: _PREPARING FOR “DER RING.”_]

     DEAR OLD FRIEND: Yes, yes! so it is, and I have neglected to inform
     you that “Shakespeare” rightly and well came into my hands. It
     arrived somewhat late, but for the efforts on your part to fully
     gratify me I give you my thanks. Altogether I am sorry I did not
     pay more thought to the gigantic proportions of London business,
     as I feel by that I have unknowingly thrown upon you a lot of
     trouble in this affair. But now that everything has turned out
     well, I thank you once more, and promise not to trouble you again
     with such commissions. I write to you in haste, as I am preparing
     for a journey; to-morrow I go with my wife into Germany, where I
     propose to try and discover how matters stand. Several things are
     in preparation, but all tend to one good, that is, the performance
     of the “Nibelung” _after my own way_. Leipzic, Dresden, and above
     all, Berlin, will be visited by me. In Berlin, where they have made
     me a member of the Academy, I shall deliver a discourse on the
     mission of the opera, etc.

     I will send to you the “Kaisermarsch,” and all else that comes out.

     Now look to it that you pay me a visit next summer in our beautiful
     retreat. By the middle of May we shall have returned.

     And now, farewell!

     Be not angry with me!

     Greet wife and children, and keep loving

Your faithful friend,
RICHARD WAGNER.

     LUCERNE, April, 1871.

     (6)


LEIPZIG, 12th May, 1871.

     This I have carried about with me on a long journey, for, when I
     wanted to send it from Lucerne, I found I had mislaid your address.
     It is fortunate that in your last letter, sent after me from
     Lucerne, and which has just reached me, I have once again your
     address.

     I am fatigued, and I return to-morrow.

     As regards the proposals and offer of the English music-sellers, I
     would beg you to request them to address in the matter, Tausig,
     Dessauer Strasse 35, Berlin. He has urged me to let him manage many
     things in which I am always worsted. He will arrange with the
     publishers, O. F. Peters, music bureau, in a manner that I shall
     derive all possible advantage. Else, dearest, I am well, and my
     undertaking bodes well for a success.

     Best greetings to wife and children.

Love me, and forever yours,
RICHARD WAGNER.



Then came the following:--

     DEAREST: Come when you will! Alas, everybody comes in the few weeks
     of the summer, and it is possible that you will find visitors
     already when you come. In the quiet time not even a cock crows
     after you, but you will find your place prepared for you; only,
     therefore, to our next meeting.

Yours,
RICHARD WAGNER.

     LUCERNE, TRIBSCHEN, 6th June, 1871.

[Sidenote: _STANDING ON HIS HEAD._]

In the summer I went to stay with Wagner. How changed! Fifty-eight years
old, and yet but one year in the possession of what is called home. His
had been a roving life. Not through choice, but necessity. Energetic and
persevering, never leaving a stone unturned or failing in an effort to
preach his creed. And so through the long years of early manhood and
middle age had he struggled with adversity, never finding an abiding
resting-place. But the sunset of his life was setting in rich, warm
colours. A feeling of serenity, born of the conscious security from
worldly anxieties, had taken possession of him. His work had been
acknowledged throughout Europe. He was ambitious, and his soul was
satisfied. Now was he for the first time living in that warm-hearted,
self-denying atmosphere of “home,” where dwelt a remarkably cultured,
intellectual wife and children. _There_ “bloomed for him a splendid son,
strong and beautiful.” Yes; he was happy. His naturally buoyant
temperament had not lessened with years. I remember full well, one day
when we were sitting together in the drawing-room at Tribschen, on a
sort of ottoman, talking over the events of the years gone by, when he
suddenly rose and stood on his head upon the ottoman. At the very
moment he was in that inverted position the door opened and Madame
Wagner entered. Her surprise and alarm were great, and she hastened
forward, exclaiming, “Ah! lieber Richard! Richard!” Quickly recovering
himself, he reassured her of his sanity, explaining that he was only
showing Ferdinand he could stand on his head at sixty, which was more
than the said Ferdinand could do. This was a ridiculous incident, but
strikingly illustrative of the “Wagner as I knew him.” I suppose there
are few thinking people who will deny the seriousness and profundity of
Wagner’s mind, and that perhaps in earnestness of purpose and power of
reflection, he may be said to have been the equal of Carlyle; yet who
can picture the “sage of Chelsea” standing on his head at sixty, or
indeed at any period of his life?

Wagner’s tranquillity of mind was delightful to contemplate. He longed
for “peace on earth and good will to all men.” The desire of his heart,
the dream of those early Dresden days, was about to be realized. A
theatre constructed after his own theory was soon to be erected. The
architect and engineer, Neumann and Brandt, came to Lucerne during my
visit. I was privileged to be present at their discussions. It was
another illustration of “to have a clear notion of what you want is
half-way to get it.” “The theatre must be so built that it can be
emptied in the space of one or two minutes”; upon this Wagner insisted.
Did the experts explain some detail to him it was marvellous to see how
quickly he grasped the point and debated it with them. His heart was in
his work, in this as in all he did, and there lay the secret of his
success, for of this I am convinced, that without his indomitable will,
that untiring perseverance which would not be conquered, the genius of
Wagner would have availed him but little.

In writing of “Wagner as I knew him” I have touched upon certain
subjects and criticised him in a manner which I am aware many of his
worshippers might perhaps shrink from. But in this I have in no way
offended Wagner. He wished to be known as he was. Indeed, he has written
his own life, which, should it please the Wagner heirs, may one day be
given to the world to its great gain. I became aware of the existence of
this autobiography in the following manner. Wagner and his wife were
going out, leaving me alone at Tribschen. Before going, Wagner placed in
my hands a volume for my perusal during his absence. “It is my
autobiography,” he said. “Only Liszt has a copy; none other has seen it,
and it shall not be published until my Siegfried has reached his
majority.” I read it carefully, and I may state, without touching upon
any of the matter contained therein, that in my treatment of Wagner I
have not uttered one word to which he himself would not have subscribed.

To see Wagner surrounded by children was a pleasant sight. He was as
frolicsome as they. He would have the children sing the “Kaisermarsch”
at the piano, and reward them with coins. As regards their discipline
and training, he effaced himself completely before Madame Wagner. To his
wife he showed the tenderest affection. It might almost be said of him
that he was the most uxorious of husbands.

[Sidenote: _LISZT “BEGAN TOO LATE.”_]

No matter the mood in which I found Wagner, it was always the old
Wagner. Did we set out for a stroll, he would take me into some wayside
inn, there to eat sausages and drink beer. I must add that his drinking
was of the most moderate description. It was during one of these rambles
that we spoke of Liszt, and in the talking, he told me that Liszt had
been more pained at his daughter Cosima’s change of religion from Roman
Catholic to Protestant, than at her divorce from von Bülow. Among other
things, too, he said, speaking of Liszt as a composer, that “he [Liszt]
had begun too late in life.”

To me Wagner was all affection. He played to me, showed me everything
received from the king (among the many presents were two handsome vases,
the equivalent of which in money Wagner said he would have preferred),
and did all that he could to make my stay agreeable. I did not stay the
whole time I had purposed; I left somewhat unexpectedly. My departure
brought the following letter from Wagner:--

     Thou strangest of all men, why do you not give a sign of life? Is
     it right or just? After having lived among us, as one of us, to
     have left us so suddenly, and not without causing us some anxiety,
     too, on your behalf. How wrong if you were in a dissatisfied mood
     with us; but that cannot be; rather be convinced that we take the
     most hearty interest in you, and that this is the sole reason which
     induces me to make this inquiry.

     Let me hear from you, and be heartily greeted.

From yours ever,
RICHARD WAGNER.



From now to the day of his death I have but little to tell. He had
arrived at a time when the world accepted him as one of its great men.
His movements were chronicled in the press as though he were some
minister of state. I saw him repeatedly since 1872, notably at the
opening of the Bayreuth theatre in 1874, and at the succeeding
representations there, and naturally on his coming to London for the
Albert Hall Wagner Festival in 1877, when at the banquet given at the
Cannon Street Hotel in his honour, he toasted me as the friend, “the
first in this country to nobly support him,” at a time when he was a
stranger in the land and the target of hostile criticism. Later on, I
saw him again at the “Parsifal” performances at Bayreuth, which proved
to be for the last time.

My task is done.

Wagner’s labours ceased at Venice on the 13th February, 1883. What he
has accomplished is beyond the power of any man to destroy. Were Wagner
himself to return to us, _he_ could not undo what he has done. In future
years, aye, in future centuries, men will come from all parts of the
civilized globe to worship at Bayreuth; that is the Mecca of musicians.
There is the shrine of the founder of a new religion in art, pure and
ennobling to all who have ears to hear and human hearts that can be
touched. To use an old metaphor, but accurate and appropriate when
applied to Wagner, his work is as the boundless ocean; many will sail
their craft upon it, from the majestic ship of tragedy to the winsome
bark of comic opera, and then shall they not have navigated all the
seas.

[Sidenote: _HIS EARNESTNESS OF PURPOSE._]

The key of Wagner’s success is his truth. Look at his work from
whichever side we may, that is it which ever finds its way into all
hearts. While the musicians were, and some still are, engaged in the
dissecting-room, with a bar here and bar there, with the people, the
laymen, he is universally popular. And what is the cause? His truth, his
earnestness. At bottom, it is this sincerity which has made him great.
Speaking of the laymen, I am forcibly reminded of perhaps the most
musically gifted and most devoted of all, one Julius Cyriax, a German
merchant of the city of London, whose friendship Wagner contracted here
in 1877, and with whom Wagner was in intimate correspondence down to the
last.

And if this be the judgment passed upon his work, what shall be said of
the character of the man? Without fear, I say earnestness of purpose
guided him here too; that he was impatient of incompetence when it
sought to pose as the true in art was, and is, natural in a great
genius. Autocratic in bearing, and the intimate of a king, though
democratic in music and a professed lover of the _demos_ in his earlier
career, this is but a seeming contradiction. Democratic describes his
music; no domineering there of one voice; and democratic, too, in the
last days, when he refused imperial distinctions, preferring to remain
one of the people. An opponent in art, he was to be dreaded. Why?
Because he fought for his cause with such a whole-heartedness that he
drove, as Napoleon used to say, “fear into the enemy’s camp.” His
memory, like that of all great men, was extremely retentive. He was a
hard worker, as his eleven published volumes of literary matter and
fourteen music-dramas abundantly testify. To accomplish such work was
only possible to a man of method, and he _was_ methodical and careful
withal in what he did. Look at his handwriting and music notation, small
but clear, neat and clean. He was not free from blemish or
prejudice,--who is?--but

                    Take him all in all,
    We ne’er shall look upon his like again.

Typography by J. S. Cushing & Co., Boston.

       *       *       *       *       *

THE STORY OF MUSIC.

BY W. J. HENDERSON.

_12mo, Ornamental Cloth Cover, $1.25._

“Mr. Henderson tells in a clear, comprehensive, and logical way the
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events that are not further mentioned in the text.... Few contemporary
writers on music have a more agreeable style, and few, even among the
renowned and profound Germans, a firmer grasp of the subject. The book,
moreover, will be valuable to the student for its references, which form
a guide to the best literature of music in all languages. The story of
the development of religious music, a subject that is too often made
forbidding and uninteresting to the general reader, is here related so
simply as to interest and instruct any reader, whether or not he has a
thorough knowledge of harmonics and an intimate acquaintance with the
estimable dominant and the deplorable consecutive fifths. The chapter on
instruments and instrumental forms is valuable for exactly the same
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as on the artistic side of music.”--BOSTON TRAVELLER.

LONGMANS, GREEN, & CO., 15 East 16th Street, New York.

       *       *       *       *       *

PRELUDES AND STUDIES.

_MUSICAL THEMES OF THE DAY._

BY W. J. HENDERSON,

Author of “The Story of Music.”

_12mo, Cloth, Extra, Guilt Top, $1.25._

“The questions which he handles are all living. Even the purely
historical lectures which he has grouped together under the general head
of “The Evolution of Piano Music,” are informed with freshness and
contemporaneous interest by the manner which he has chosen for their
treatment.... The concluding chapter of the book is an essay designed to
win appreciation for Schumann, ... and is the gem of the book both in
thought and expression.”--NEW YORK TRIBUNE.

“Leaving Wagner, of whom the book treats in a most interesting way, the
evolution of piano music is taken up and treated in such a way as to
convince one that the writer is a master of his subject. Mr. Henderson
dwells on the performances of some living players, their methods,
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programme symphony.”--DETROIT SUNDAY NEWS.

“The book is written by one who knows his subject thoroughly and is made
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music.”--PUBLIC OPINION.

“Mr. Henderson studies carefully and intelligently the evolution of
piano music and Schumann’s relation to the development of the programme
symphony. This is a suggestive, original, and well-equipped group of
essays upon themes which interest musicians.”--LITERARY WORLD.


LONGMANS, GREEN, & CO., 15 East 16th Street, New York.

       *       *       *       *       *

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Letter to F. Villot.

[2] The original in the possession of Edward Roeckel, Bath.

[3] Neighbouring mountains.

[4] A daughter of August Roeckel.

[5] August’s wife.

[6] The Work and Mission of my Life, chap. ix.

[7] Sunday Times, 6th May, 1855.

[8] Written before his death in 1890.

[9] 24th February, 1855.

[10] Roeckel.

[11] English Gentleman.

[12] August’s father.

[13] Secretary of the Philharmonic Society.

[14] This is Wagner’s characteristic jocularity, Lüders being a man of
short and slight stature and most mild in temper.

[15] Edward Roeckel of Bath.

[16] “Peps” was the dog which helped to compose “Tannhäuser.”

[17] The parrot.

[18] Wagner used to take “Gypsy” out for a walk daily.

[19] Then conductor of the New Philharmonic concerts, at present
director of the London Academy of Music.

[20] Meaning of two Richard Wagners.

[21] Burning of the opera house, Covent Garden.

[22] An English translation of these memoirs by Baron de Worms was
published in 1887.

[23] Letter to Mr. Villot, page 35.

[24] Alluding to the action taken by Frederick of Baden (whose wife was
a lover of Wagner’s music) to secure the reinstalment of Wagner as a
citizen of Germany.

[25] Then “Chef de claque.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Typographical errors corrected by the etext transcriber:

Seigfried=> Siegfried {pg 18}

Kapelmeister=> Kapellmeister {pg 26}

misletoe=> misletoe {pg 32}

orchestra after Hadyn=> orchestra after Haydn {pg 42}

the gift of Shroeder-Devrient.=> the gift of Schroeder-Devrient. {pg 74}

Niebulungen=> Nibelungen {pg 97}

as Tannhauser emerging from=> as Tannhäuser emerging from {pg 116}

“Rienzi” rehersal in the overture=> “Rienzi” rehearsal in the overture
{pg 125}

order came from Luttichon=> order came from Luttichorn {pg 133}

Liepzic dialect=> Leipzic dialect {pg 135}

his easily understoood=> his easily understood {pg 191}

Götterdamerung=> Götterdämmerung {pg 242}

Aria (“Non mi du”)=> Aria (“Non mi dir”) {pg 257}

cequi ne sera pas chose facile=> ce qui ne sera pas chose facile {pg
277}

absolutely nesessary=> absolutely necessary {pg 282}

Götterdammerung=> Götterdämmerung {pg 291}

Nuitre posed a soft answer=> Nuiter posed a soft answer {pg 305}

If it does=> It it does {pg 311}

run as follows=> runs as follows {pg 315}

Freischutz=> Freischütz {x3}





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