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Frederick Chopin as a Man and Musician, Volume 1 by Frederick Niecks

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Frederick Chopin as a Man and Musician, Volume 1 (of 2)

Frederick Niecks

Third Edition (1902)




While the novelist has absolute freedom to follow his artistic
instinct and intelligence, the biographer is fettered by the
subject-matter with which he proposes to deal. The former may
hopefully pursue an ideal, the latter must rest satisfied with a
compromise between the desirable and the necessary. No doubt, it
is possible to thoroughly digest all the requisite material, and
then present it in a perfect, beautiful form. But this can only
be done at a terrible loss, at a sacrifice of truth and
trustworthiness. My guiding principle has been to place before
the reader the facts collected by me as well as the conclusions
at which I arrived. This will enable him to see the subject in
all its bearings, with all its pros and cons, and to draw his own
conclusions, should mine not obtain his approval. Unless an
author proceeds in this way, the reader never knows how far he
may trust him, how far the evidence justifies his judgment. For--
not to speak of cheats and fools--the best informed are apt to
make assertions unsupported or insufficiently supported by facts,
and the wisest cannot help seeing things through the coloured
spectacles of their individuality. The foregoing remarks are
intended to explain my method, not to excuse carelessness of
literary workmanship. Whatever the defects of the present volumes
may be--and, no doubt, they are both great and many--I have
laboured to the full extent of my humble abilities to group and
present my material perspicuously, and to avoid diffuseness and
rhapsody, those besetting sins of writers on music.

The first work of some length having Chopin for its subject was
Liszt's "Frederic Chopin," which, after appearing in 1851 in the
Paris journal "La France musicale," came out in book-form, still
in French, in 1852 (Leipzig: Breitkopf and Hartel.--Translated
into English by M. W. Cook, and published by William Reeves,
London, 1877). George Sand describes it as "un peu exuberant de
style, mais rempli de bonnes choses et de tres-belles pages."
These words, however, do in no way justice to the book: for, on
the one hand, the style is excessively, and not merely a little,
exuberant; and, on the other hand, the "good things" and
"beautiful pages" amount to a psychological study of Chopin, and
an aesthetical study of his works, which it is impossible to over-
estimate. Still, the book is no biography. It records few dates
and events, and these few are for the most part incorrect. When,
in 1878, the second edition of F. Chopin was passing through the
press, Liszt remarked to me:--

"I have been told that there are wrong dates and other mistakes
in my book, and that the dates and facts are correctly given in
Karasowski's biography of Chopin [which had in the meantime been
published]. But, though I often thought of reading it, I have not
yet done so. I got my information from Paris friends on whom I
believed I might depend. The Princess Wittgenstein [who then
lived in Rome, but in 1850 at Weimar, and is said to have had a
share in the production of the book] wished me to make some
alterations in the new edition. I tried to please her, but, when
she was still dissatisfied, I told her to add and alter whatever
she liked."

From this statement it is clear that Liszt had not the stuff of a
biographer in him. And, whatever value we may put on the Princess
Wittgenstein's additions and alterations, they did not touch the
vital faults of the work, which, as a French critic remarked, was
a symphonie funebre rather than a biography. The next book we
have to notice, M. A. Szulc's Polish Fryderyk Chopin i Utwory
jego Muzyczne (Posen, 1873), is little more than a chaotic,
unsifted collection of notices, criticisms, anecdotes, &c., from
Polish, German, and French books and magazines. In 1877 Moritz
Karasowski, a native of Warsaw, and since 1864 a member of the
Dresden orchestra, published his Friedrich Chopin: sein Leben,
seine Werke und seine Briefe (Dresden: F. Ries.--Translated into
English by E. Hill, under the title Frederick Chopin: His Life,
Letters, and Work," and published by William Reeves, London, in
1879). This was the first serious attempt at a biography of
Chopin. The author reproduced in the book what had been brought
to light in Polish magazines and other publications regarding
Chopin's life by various countrymen of the composer, among whom
he himself was not the least notable. But the most valuable
ingredients are, no doubt, the Chopin letters which the author
obtained from the composer's relatives, with whom he was
acquainted. While gratefully acknowledging his achievements, I
must not omit to indicate his shortcomings--his unchecked
partiality for, and boundless admiration of his hero; his
uncritical acceptance and fanciful embellishments of anecdotes
and hearsays; and the extreme paucity of his information
concerning the period of Chopin's life which begins with his
settlement in Paris. In 1878 appeared a second edition of the
work, distinguished from the first by a few additions and many
judicious omissions, the original two volumes being reduced to
one. But of more importance than the second German edition is the
first Polish edition, "Fryderyk Chopin: Zycie, Listy, Dziela, two
volumes (Warsaw: Gebethner and Wolff, 1882), which contains a
series of, till then, unpublished letters from Chopin to Fontana.
Of Madame A. Audley's short and readable "Frederic Chopin, sa vie
et ses oeuvres" (Paris: E. Plon et Cie., 1880), I need only say
that for the most part it follows Karasowski, and where it does
not is not always correct. Count Wodzinski's "Les trois Romans de
Frederic Chopin" (Paris: Calmann Levy, 1886)--according to the
title treating only of the composer's love for Constantia
Gladkowska, Maria Wodzinska, and George Sand, but in reality
having a wider scope--cannot be altogether ignored, though it is
more of the nature of a novel than of a biography. Mr, Joseph
Bennett, who based his "Frederic Chopin" (one of Novello's
Primers of Musical Biography) on Liszt's and Karasowski's works,
had in the parts dealing with Great Britain the advantage of
notes by Mr. A.J. Hipkins, who inspired also, to some extent at
least, Mr. Hueffer in his essay Chopin ("Fortnightly Review,"
September, 1877; and reprinted in "Musical Studies"--Edinburgh:
A. & C. Black, 1880). This ends the list of biographies with any
claims to originality. There are, however, many interesting
contributions to a biography of Chopin to be found in works of
various kinds. These shall be mentioned in the course of my
narrative; here I will point out only the two most important
ones--namely, George Sand's "Histoire de ma Vie," first published
in the Paris newspaper "La Presse" (1854) and subsequently in
book-form; and her six volumes of "Correspondance," 1812-1876
(Paris: Calmann Levy, 1882-1884).

My researches had for their object the whole life of Chopin, and
his historical, political, artistical, social, and personal
surroundings, but they were chiefly directed to the least known
and most interesting period of his career--his life in France,
and his visits to Germany and Great Britain. My chief sources of
information are divisible into two classes--newspapers,
magazines, pamphlets, correspondences, and books; and
conversations I held with, and letters I received from, Chopin's
pupils, friends, and acquaintances. Of his pupils, my warmest
thanks are due to Madame Dubois (nee Camille O'Meara), Madame
Rubio (nee Vera de Kologrivof), Mdlle. Gavard, Madame Streicher
(nee Friederike Muller), Adolph Gutmann, M. Georges Mathias,
Brinley Richards, and Lindsay Sloper; of friends and
acquaintances, to Liszt, Ferdinand Hiller, Franchomme, Charles
Valentin Alkan, Stephen Heller, Edouard Wolff, Mr. Charles Halle,
Mr. G. A. Osborne, T. Kwiatkowski, Prof. A. Chodzko, M. Leonard
Niedzwiecki (gallice, Nedvetsky), Madame Jenny Lind-Goldschmidt,
Mr. A. J. Hipkins, and Dr. and Mrs. Lyschinski. I am likewise
greatly indebted to Messrs. Breitkopf and Hartel, Karl Gurckhaus
(the late proprietor of the firm of Friedrich Kistner), Julius
Schuberth, Friedrich Hofmeister, Edwin Ashdown, Richault & Cie,
and others, for information in connection with the publication of
Chopin's works. It is impossible to enumerate all my
obligations--many of my informants and many furtherers of my
labours will be mentioned in the body of the book; many, however,
and by no means the least helpful, will remain unnamed. To all of
them I offer the assurance of my deep-felt gratitude. Not a few
of my kind helpers, alas! are no longer among the living; more
than ten years have gone by since I began my researches, and
during that time Death has been reaping a rich harvest.

The Chopin letters will, no doubt, be regarded as a special
feature of the present biography. They may, I think, be called
numerous, if we consider the master's dislike to letter-writing.
Ferdinand Hiller--whose almost unique collection of letters
addressed to him by his famous friends in art and literature is
now, and will be for years to come, under lock and key among the
municipal archives at Cologne--allowed me to copy two letters by
Chopin, one of them written conjointly with Liszt. Franchomme,
too, granted me the privilege of copying his friend's epistolary
communications. Besides a number of letters that have here and
there been published, I include, further, a translation of
Chopin's letters to Fontana, which in Karasowski's book (i.e.,
the Polish edition) lose much of their value, owing to his
inability to assign approximately correct dates to them.

The space which I give to George Sand is, I think, justified by
the part she plays in the life of Chopin. To meet the objections
of those who may regard my opinion of her as too harsh, I will
confess that I entered upon the study of her character with the
impression that she had suffered much undeserved abuse, and that
it would be incumbent upon a Chopin biographer to defend her
against his predecessors and the friends of the composer. How
entirely I changed my mind, the sequel will show.

In conclusion, a few hints as to the pronunciation of Polish
words, which otherwise might puzzle the reader uninitiated in the
mysteries of that rarely-learned language. Aiming more at
simplicity than at accuracy, one may say that the vowels are
pronounced somewhat like this: a as in "arm," aL like the nasal
French "on," e as in "tell," e/ with an approach to the French
"e/" (or to the German "u [umlaut]" and "o [umlaut]"), eL like
the nasal French "in," i as in "pick," o as in "not," o/ with an
approach to the French "ou," u like the French ou, and y with an
approach to the German "i" and "u." The following consonants are
pronounced as in English: b, d, f, g (always hard), h, k, I, m,
n, p, s, t, and z. The following single and double consonants
differ from the English pronunciation: c like "ts," c/ softer
than c, j like "y," l/ like "ll" with the tongue pressed against
the upper row of teeth, n/ like "ny" (i.e., n softened by i), r
sharper than in English, w like "v," z/ softer than z, z. and rz
like the French "j," ch like the German guttural "ch" in "lachen"
(similar to "ch" in the Scotch "loch"), cz like "ch" in "cherry,"
and sz like "sh" in "sharp." Mr. W. R. Morfill ("A Simplified
Grammar of the Polish Language") elucidates the combination szcz,
frequently to be met with, by the English expression "smasht
china," where the italicised letters give the pronunciation.
Lastly, family names terminating in take a instead of i when
applied to women.

April, 1888.


The second edition differs from the first by little more than the
correction of some misprints and a few additions. These latter
are to be found among the Appendices. The principal addition
consists of interesting communications from Madame Peruzzi, a
friend of Chopin's still living at Florence. Next in importance
come Madame Schumann's diary notes bearing on Chopin's first
visit to Leipzig. The remaining additions concern early Polish
music, the first performances of Chopin's works at the Leipzig
Gewandhaus, his visit to Marienbad (remarks by Rebecca
Dirichlet), the tempo rubato, and his portraits. To the names of
Chopin's friends and acquaintances to whom I am indebted for
valuable assistance, those of Madame Peruzzi and Madame Schumann
have, therefore, to be added. My apologies as well as my thanks
are due to Mr. Felix Moscheles, who kindly permitted a fac-simile
to be made from a manuscript, in his possession, a kindness that
ought to have been acknowledged in the first edition. I am glad
that a second edition affords me an opportunity to repair this
much regretted omission. The manuscript in question is an "Etude"
which Chopin wrote for the "Methode des Methodes de Piano," by F.
J. Fetis and I. Moscheles, the father of Mr. Felix Moscheles.
This concludes what I have to say about the second edition, but I
cannot lay down the pen without expressing my gratitude to
critics and public for the exceedingly favourable reception they
have given to my book.

October, 1890.


BESIDES minor corrections, the present edition contains the
correction of the day and year of Frederick Francis Chopin's
birth, which have been discovered since the publication of the
second edition of this work. According to the baptismal entry in
the register of the Brochow parish church, he who became the
great pianist and immortal composer was born on February 22,
1810. This date has been generally accepted in Poland, and is to
be found on the medal struck on the occasion of the semi-
centenary celebration of the master's death. Owing to a
misreading of musicus for magnificus in the published copy of the
document, its trustworthiness has been doubted elsewhere, but, I
believe, without sufficient cause. The strongest argument that
could be urged against the acceptance of the date would be the
long interval between birth and baptism, which did not take place
till late in April, and the consequent possibility of an error in
the registration. This, however, could only affect the day, and
perhaps the month, not the year. It is certainly a very curious
circumstance that Fontana, a friend of Chopin's in his youth and
manhood, Karasowski, at least an acquaintance, if not an intimate
friend, of the family (from whom he derived much information),
Fetis, a contemporary lexicographer, and apparently Chopin's
family, and even Chopin himself, did not know the date of the
latter's birth.

Where the character of persons and works of art are concerned,
nothing is more natural than differences of opinion. Bias and
inequality of knowledge sufficiently account for them. For my
reading of the character of George Sand, I have been held up as a
monster of moral depravity; for my daring to question the
exactitude of Liszt's biographical facts, I have been severely
sermonised; for my inability to regard Chopin as one of the great
composers of songs, and continue uninterruptedly in a state of
ecstatic admiration, I have been told that the publication of my
biography of the master is a much to be deplored calamity. Of
course, the moral monster and author of the calamity cannot
pretend to be an unbiassed judge in the case; but it seems to him
that there may be some exaggeration and perhaps even some
misconception in these accusations.

As to George Sand, I have not merely made assertions, but have
earnestly laboured to prove the conclusions at which I
reluctantly arrived. Are George Sand's pretentions to self-
sacrificing saintliness, and to purely maternal feelings for
Musset, Chopin, and others to be accepted in spite of the fairy-
tale nature of her "Histoire," and the misrepresentations of her
"Lettres d'un Voyageur" and her novels "Elle et lui" and
"Lucrezia Floriani"; in spite of the adverse indirect testimony
of some of her other novels, and the adverse direct testimony of
her "Correspondance"; and in spite of the experiences and firm
beliefs of her friends, Liszt included? Let us not overlook that
charitableness towards George Sand implies uncharitableness
towards Chopin, place. Need I say anything on the extraordinary
charge made against me--namely, that in some cases I have
preferred the testimony of less famous men to that of Liszt? Are
genius, greatness, and fame the measures of trustworthiness?

As to Chopin, the composer of songs, the case is very simple. His
pianoforte pieces are original tone-poems of exquisite beauty;
his songs, though always acceptable, and sometimes charming, are
not. We should know nothing of them and the composer, if of his
works they alone had been published. In not publishing them
himself, Chopin gave us his own opinion, an opinion confirmed by
the singers in rarely performing them and by the public in little
caring for them. In short, Chopin's songs add nothing to his
fame. To mention them in one breath with those of Schubert and
Schumann, or even with those of Robert Franz and Adolf Jensen, is
the act of an hero-worshipping enthusiast, not of a
discriminating critic.

On two points, often commented upon by critics, I feel regret,
although not repentance--namely, on any "anecdotic iconoclasm"
where fact refuted fancy, and on my abstention from pronouncing
judgments where the evidence was inconclusive. But how can a
conscientious biographer help this ungraciousness and
inaccommodativeness? Is it not his duty to tell the truth, and
nothing but the truth, in order that his subject may stand out
unobstructed and shine forth unclouded?

In conclusion, two instances of careless reading. One critic,
after attributing a remark of Chopin's to me, exclaims: "The
author is fond of such violent jumps to conclusions." And an
author, most benevolently inclined towards me, enjoyed the humour
of my first "literally ratting" George Sand, and then saying that
I "abstained from pronouncing judgment because the complete
evidence did not warrant my doing so." The former (in vol. i.)
had to do with George Sand's character; the latter (in vol. ii.)
with the moral aspect of her connection with Chopin.

An enumeration of the more notable books dealing with Chopin,
published after the issue of the earlier editions of the present
book will form an appropriate coda to this preface--"Frederic
Francois Chopin," by Charles Willeby; "Chopin, and Other Musical
Essays," by Henry T. Finck; "Studies in Modern Music" (containing
an essay on Chopin), by W. H. Hadow; "Chopin's Greater Works," by
Jean Kleczynski, translated by Natalie Janotha; and "Chopin: the
Man and his Music," by James Huneker.

Edinburgh, February, 1902.



THE works of no composer of equal importance bear so striking a
national impress as those of Chopin. It would, however, be an
error to attribute this simply and solely to the superior force
of the Polish musician's patriotism. The same force of patriotism
in an Italian, Frenchman, German, or Englishman would not have
produced a similar result. Characteristics such as distinguish
Chopin's music presuppose a nation as peculiarly endowed,
constituted, situated, and conditioned, as the Polish--a nation
with a history as brilliant and dark, as fair and hideous, as
romantic and tragic. The peculiarities of the peoples of western
Europe have been considerably modified, if not entirely levelled,
by centuries of international intercourse; the peoples of the
eastern part of the Continent, on the other hand, have, until
recent times, kept theirs almost intact, foreign influences
penetrating to no depth, affecting indeed no more than the
aristocratic few, and them only superficially. At any rate, the
Slavonic races have not been moulded by the Germanic and Romanic
races as these latter have moulded each other: east and west
remain still apart--strangers, if not enemies. Seeing how deeply
rooted Chopin's music is in the national soil, and considering
how little is generally known about Poland and the Poles, the
necessity of paying in this case more attention to the land of
the artist's birth and the people to which he belongs than is
usually done in biographies of artists, will be admitted by all
who wish to understand fully and appreciate rightly the poet-
musician and his works. But while taking note of what is of
national origin in Chopin's music, we must be careful not to
ascribe to this origin too much. Indeed, the fact that the
personal individuality of Chopin is as markedly differentiated,
as exclusively self-contained, as the national individuality of
Poland, is oftener overlooked than the master's national descent
and its significance with regard to his artistic production. And
now, having made the reader acquainted with the raison d'etre of
this proem, I shall plunge without further preliminaries in
medias res.

The palmy days of Poland came to an end soon after the extinction
of the dynasty of the Jagellons in 1572. So early as 1661 King
John Casimir warned the nobles, whose insubordination and want of
solidity, whose love of outside glitter and tumult, he deplored,
that, unless they remedied the existing evils, reformed their
pretended free elections, and renounced their personal
privileges, the noble kingdom would become the prey of other
nations. Nor was this the first warning. The Jesuit Peter Skarga
(1536--1612), an indefatigable denunciator of the vices of the
ruling classes, told them in 1605 that their dissensions would
bring them under the yoke of those who hated them, deprive them
of king and country, drive them into exile, and make them
despised by those who formerly feared and respected them. But
these warnings remained unheeded, and the prophecies were
fulfilled to the letter. Elective kingship, pacta conventa,
[Footnote: Terms which a candidate for the throne had to
subscribe on his election. They were of course dictated by the
electors--i.e., by the selfish interest of one class, the
szlachta (nobility), or rather the most powerful of them.]
liberum veto, [Footnote: The right of any member to stop the
proceedings of the Diet by pronouncing the words "Nie pozwalam"
(I do not permit), or others of the same import.] degradation of
the burgher class, enslavement of the peasantry, and other
devices of an ever-encroaching nobility, transformed the once
powerful and flourishing commonwealth into one "lying as if
broken-backed on the public highway; a nation anarchic every
fibre of it, and under the feet and hoofs of travelling
neighbours." [Footnote: Thomas Carlyle, Frederick the Great, vol.
viii., p. 105.] In the rottenness of the social organism,
venality, unprincipled ambition, and religious intolerance found
a congenial soil; and favoured by and favouring foreign intrigues
and interferences, they bore deadly fruit--confederations, civil
wars, Russian occupation of the country and dominion over king,
council, and diet, and the beginning of the end, the first
partition (1772) by which Poland lost a third of her territory
with five millions of inhabitants. Even worse, however, was to
come. For the partitioning powers--Russia, Prussia, and Austria--
knew how by bribes and threats to induce the Diet not only to
sanction the spoliation, but also so to alter the constitution as
to enable them to have a permanent influence over the internal
affairs of the Republic.

The Pole Francis Grzymala remarks truly that if instead of some
thousand individuals swaying the destinies of Poland, the whole
nation had enjoyed equal rights, and, instead of being plunged in
darkness and ignorance, the people had been free and consequently
capable of feeling and thinking, the national cause, imperilled
by the indolence and perversity of one part of the citizens,
would have been saved by those who now looked on without giving a
sign of life. The "some thousands" here spoken of are of course
the nobles, who had grasped all the political power and almost
all the wealth of the nation, and, imitating the proud language
of Louis XIV, could, without exaggeration, have said: "L'etat
c'est nous." As for the king and the commonalty, the one had been
deprived of almost all his prerogatives, and the other had become
a rightless rabble of wretched peasants, impoverished burghers,
and chaffering Jews. Rousseau, in his Considerations sur le
gouvernement de Pologne, says pithily that the three orders of
which the Republic of Poland was composed were not, as had been
so often and illogically stated, the equestrian order, the
senate, and the king, but the nobles who were everything, the
burghers who were nothing, and the peasants who were less than
nothing. The nobility of Poland differed from that of Other
countries not only in its supreme political and social position,
but also in its numerousness, character, and internal

[Footnote: The statistics concerning old Poland are provokingly
contradictory. One authority calculates that the nobility
comprised 120,000 families, or one fourteenth of the population
(which, before the first partition, is variously estimated at
from fifteen to twenty millions); another counts only 100,000
families; and a third states that between 1788 and 1792 (i.e.,
after the first partition) there were 38,314 families of nobles.]

All nobles were equal in rank, and as every French soldier was
said to carry a marshal's staff in his knapsack, so every Polish
noble was born a candidate for the throne. This equality,
however, was rather de jure than de facto; legal decrees could
not fill the chasm which separated families distinguished by
wealth and fame--such as the Sapiehas, Radziwills, Czartoryskis,
Zamoyskis, Potockis, and Branickis--from obscure noblemen whose
possessions amount to no more than "a few acres of land, a sword,
and a pair of moustaches that extend from one ear to the other,"
or perhaps amounted only to the last two items. With some
insignificant exceptions, the land not belonging to the state or
the church was in the hands of the nobles, a few of whom had
estates of the extent of principalities. Many of the poorer
amongst the nobility attached themselves to their better-situated
brethren, becoming their dependents and willing tools. The
relation of the nobility to the peasantry is well characterised
in a passage of Mickiewicz's epic poem Pan Tadeusz, where a
peasant, on humbly suggesting that the nobility suffered less
from the measures of their foreign rulers than his own class, is
told by one of his betters that this is a silly remark, seeing
that peasants, like eels, are accustomed to being skinned,
whereas the well-born are accustomed to live in liberty.

Nothing illustrates so well the condition of a people as the way
in which justice is administered. In Poland a nobleman was on his
estate prosecutor as well as judge, and could be arrested only
after conviction, or, in the case of high-treason, murder, and
robbery, if taken in the act. And whilst the nobleman enjoyed
these high privileges, the peasant had, as the law terms it, no
facultatem standi in judicio, and his testimony went for nothing
in the courts of justice. More than a hundred laws in the
statutes of Poland are said to have been unfavourable to these
poor wretches. In short, the peasant was quite at the mercy of
the privileged class, and his master could do with him pretty
much as he liked, whipping and selling not excepted, nor did
killing cost more than a fine of a few shillings. The peasants on
the state domains and of the clergy were, however, somewhat
better off; and the burghers, too, enjoyed some shreds of their
old privileges with more or less security. If we look for a true
and striking description of the comparative position of the
principal classes of the population of Poland, we find it in
these words of a writer of the eighteenth century: "Polonia
coelum nobilium, paradisus clericorum, infernus rusticorum."

The vast plain of Poland, although in many places boggy and
sandy, is on the whole fertile, especially in the flat river
valleys, and in the east at the sources of the Dnieper; indeed,
it is so much so that it has been called the granary of Europe.
But as the pleasure-loving gentlemen had nobler pursuits to
attend to, and the miserable peasants, with whom it was a saying
that only what they spent in drink was their own, were not very
anxious to work more and better than they could help, agriculture
was in a very neglected condition. With manufacture and commerce
it stood not a whit better. What little there was, was in the
hands of the Jews and foreigners, the nobles not being allowed to
meddle with such base matters, and the degraded descendants of
the industrious and enterprising ancient burghers having neither
the means nor the spirit to undertake anything of the sort. Hence
the strong contrast of wealth and poverty, luxury and distress,
that in every part of Poland, in town and country, struck so
forcibly and painfully all foreign travellers. Of the Polish
provinces that in 1773 came under Prussian rule we read that--

the country people hardly knew such a thing as bread, many
had never in their life tasted such a delicacy; few villages
had an oven. A weaving-loom was rare; the spinning-wheel
unknown. The main article of furniture, in this bare scene of
squalor, was the crucifix and vessel of holy-water under
it....It was a desolate land without discipline, without law,
without a master. On 9,000 English square miles lived 500,000
souls: not 55 to the square mile. [Footnote: Carlyle.
Frederick the Great, vol. x., p. 40.]

And this poverty and squalor were not to be found only in one
part of Poland, they seem to have been general. Abbe de Mably
when seeing, in 1771, the misery of the country (campagne) and
the bad condition of the roads, imagined himself in Tartary.
William Coxe, the English historian and writer of travels, who
visited Poland after the first partition, relates, in speaking of
the district called Podlachia, that he visited between Bjelsk and
Woyszki villages in which there was nothing but the bare walls,
and he was told at the table of the ------ that knives, forks, and
spoons were conveniences unknown to the peasants. He says he
never saw--

a road so barren of interesting scenes as that from Cracow to
Warsaw--for the most part level, with little variation of
surface; chiefly overspread with tracts of thick forest;
where open, the distant horizon was always skirted with wood
(chiefly pines and firs, intermixed with beech, birch, and
small oaks). The occasional breaks presented some pasture-
ground, with here and there a few meagre crops of corn. The
natives were poorer, humbler, and more miserable than any
people we had yet observed in the course of our travels:
whenever we stopped they flocked around us in crowds; and,
asking for charity, used the most abject gestures....The
Polish peasants are cringing and servile in their expressions
of respect; they bowed down to the ground; took off their
hats or caps and held them in their hands till we were out of
sight; stopped their carts on the first glimpse of our
carriage; in short, their whole behaviour gave evident
symptoms of the abject servitude under which they groaned.
[FOOTNOTE: William Coxe, Travels in Poland, Russia, Sweden,
and Denmark (1784--90).]

The Jews, to whom I have already more than once alluded, are too
important an element in the population of Poland not to be
particularly noticed. They are a people within a people,
differing in dress as well as in language, which is a jargon of
German-Hebrew. Their number before the first partition has been
variously estimated at from less than two millions to fully two
millions and a half in a population of from fifteen to twenty
millions, and in 1860 there were in Russian Poland 612,098 Jews
in a population of 4,867,124.

[FOOTNOTE: According to Charles Forster (in Pologne, a volume of
the historical series entitled L'univers pittoresque, published
by Firmin Didot freres of Paris), who follows Stanislas Plater,
the population of Poland within the boundaries of 1772 amounted
to 20,220,000 inhabitants, and was composed of 6,770,000 Poles,
7,520,000 Russians (i.e., White and Red Russians), 2,110,000
Jews, 1,900,000 Lithuanians, 1,640,000 Germans, 180,000
Muscovites (i.e., Great Russians), and 100,000 Wallachians.]

They monopolise [says Mr. Coxe] the commerce and trade of the
country, keep inns and taverns, are stewards to the nobility,
and seem to have so much influence that nothing can be bought
or sold without the intervention of a Jew.

Our never-failing informant was particularly struck with the
number and usefulness of the Jews in Lithuania when he visited
that part of the Polish Republic in 1781--

If you ask for an interpreter, they bring you a Jew; if you
want post-horses, a Jew procures them and a Jew drives them;
if you wish to purchase, a Jew is your agent; and this
perhaps is the only country in Europe where Jews cultivate
the ground; in passing through Lithuania, we frequently saw
them engaged in sowing, reaping, mowing, and other works of

Having considered the condition of the lower classes, we will now
turn our attention to that of the nobility. The very unequal
distribution of wealth among them has already been mentioned.
Some idea of their mode of life may be formed from the account of
the Starost Krasinski's court in the diary (year 1759) of his
daughter, Frances Krasinska. [FOOTNOTE: A starost (starosta) is
the possessor of a starosty (starostwo)--i.e., a castle and
domains conferred on a nobleman for life by the crown.] Her
description of the household seems to justify her belief that
there were not many houses in Poland that surpassed theirs in
magnificence. In introducing to the reader the various ornaments
and appendages of the magnate's court, I shall mention first,
giving precedence to the fair sex, that there lived under the
supervision of a French governess six young ladies of noble
families. The noblemen attached to the lord of the castle were
divided into three classes. In the first class were to be found
sons of wealthy, or, at least, well-to-do families who served for
honour, and came to the court to acquire good manners and as an
introduction to a civil or military career. The starost provided
the keep of their horses, and also paid weekly wages of two
florins to their grooms. Each of these noble-men had besides a
groom another servant who waited on his master at table, standing
behind his chair and dining on what he left on his plate. Those
of the second class were paid for their services and had fixed
duties to perform. Their pay amounted to from 300 to 1,000
florins (a florin being about the value of sixpence), in addition
to which gratuities and presents were often given. Excepting the
chaplain, doctor, and secretary, they did not, like the preceding
class, have the honour of sitting with their master at table.
With regard to this privilege it is, however, worth noticing that
those courtiers who enjoyed it derived materially hardly any
advantage from it, for on week-days wine was served only to the
family and their guests, and the dishes of roast meat were
arranged pyramidally, so that fowl and venison went to those at
the head of the table, and those sitting farther down had to
content themselves with the coarser kinds of meat--with beef,
pork, &c. The duties of the third class of followers, a dozen
young men from fifteen to twenty years of age, consisted in
accompanying the family on foot or on horseback, and doing their
messages, such as carrying presents and letters of invitation.
The second and third classes were under the jurisdiction of the
house-steward, who, in the case of the young gentlemen, was not
sparing in the application of the cat. A strict injunction was
laid on all to appear in good clothes. As to the other servants
of the castle, the authoress thought she would find it difficult
to specify them; indeed, did not know even the number of their
musicians, cooks, Heyducs, Cossacks, and serving maids and men.
She knew, however, that every day five tables were served, and
that from morning to night two persons were occupied in
distributing the things necessary for the kitchen. More
impressive even than a circumstantial account like this are
briefly-stated facts such as the following: that the Palatine
Stanislas Jablonowski kept a retinue of 2,300 soldiers and 4,000
courtiers, valets, armed attendants, huntsmen, falconers,
fishers, musicians, and actors; and that Janusz, Prince of
Ostrog, left at his death a majorat of eighty towns and boroughs,
and 2,760 villages, without counting the towns and villages of
his starosties. The magnates who distinguished themselves during
the reign of Stanislas Augustus (1764--1795) by the brilliance
and magnificence of their courts were the Princes Czartoryski and
Radziwill, Count Potocki, and Bishop Soltyk of Cracovia. Our
often-quoted English traveller informs us that the revenue of
Prince Czartoryski amounted to nearly 100,000 pounds per annum,
and that his style of living corresponded with this income. The
Prince kept an open table at which there rarely sat down less
than from twenty to thirty persons. [FOOTNOTE: Another authority
informs us that on great occasions the Czartoryskis received at
their table more than twenty thousand persons.] The same
informant has much to say about the elegance and luxury of the
Polish nobility in their houses and villas, in the decoration and
furniture of which he found the French and English styles happily
blended. He gives a glowing account of the fetes at which he was
present, and says that they were exquisitely refined and got up
regardless of expense.

Whatever changes the national character of the Poles has
undergone in the course of time, certain traits of it have
remained unaltered, and among these stands forth predominantly
their chivalry. Polish bravery is so universally recognised and
admired that it is unnecessary to enlarge upon it. For who has
not heard at least of the victorious battle of Czotzim, of the
delivery of Vienna, of the no less glorious defeats of
Maciejowice and Ostrolenka, and of the brilliant deeds of
Napoleon's Polish Legion? And are not the names of Poland's most
popular heroes, Sobieski and Kosciuszko, household words all the
world over? Moreover, the Poles have proved their chivalry not
only by their valour on the battle-field, but also by their
devotion to the fair sex. At banquets in the good olden time it
was no uncommon occurrence to see a Pole kneel down before his
lady, take off one of her shoes, and drink out of it. But the
women of Poland seem to be endowed with a peculiar power. Their
beauty, grace, and bewitching manner inflame the heart and
imagination of all that set their eyes on them. How often have
they not conquered the conquerors of their country? [FOOTNOTE:
The Emperor Nicholas is credited with the saying: "Je pourrais en
finir des Polonais si je venais a bout des Polonaises."] They
remind Heine of the tenderest and loveliest flowers that grow on
the banks of the Ganges, and he calls for the brush of Raphael,
the melodies of Mozart, the language of Calderon, so that he may
conjure up before his readers an Aphrodite of the Vistula. Liszt,
bolder than Heine, makes the attempt to portray them, and writes
like an inspired poet. No Pole can speak on this subject without
being transported into a transcendental rapture that illumines
his countenance with a blissful radiance, and inspires him with a
glowing eloquence which, he thinks, is nevertheless beggared by
the matchless reality.

The French of the North--for thus the Poles have been called--are
of a very excitable nature; easily moved to anger, and easily
appeased; soon warmed into boundless enthusiasm, and soon also
manifesting lack of perseverance. They feel happiest in the
turmoil of life and in the bustle of society. Retirement and the
study of books are little to their taste. Yet, knowing how to
make the most of their limited stock of knowledge, they acquit
themselves well in conversation. Indeed, they have a natural
aptitude for the social arts which insures their success in
society, where they move with ease and elegance. Their oriental
mellifluousness, hyperbolism, and obsequious politeness of speech
have, as well as the Asiatic appearance of their features and
dress, been noticed by all travellers in Poland. Love of show is
another very striking trait in the character of the Poles. It
struggles to manifest itself among the poor, causes the curious
mixture of splendour and shabbiness among the better-situated
people, and gives rise to the greatest extravagances among the
wealthy. If we may believe the chroniclers and poets, the
entertainments of the Polish magnates must have often vied with
the marvellous feasts of imperial Rome. Of the vastness of the
households with which these grands seigneurs surrounded
themselves, enough has already been said. Perhaps the chief
channel through which this love of show vented itself was the
decoration of man and horse. The entrance of Polish ambassadors
with their numerous suites has more than once astonished the
Parisians, who were certainly accustomed to exhibitions of this
kind. The mere description of some of them is enough to dazzle
one--the superb horses with their bridles and stirrups of massive
silver, and their caparisons and saddles embroidered with golden
flowers; and the not less superb men with their rich garments of
satin or gold cloth, adorned with rare furs, their bonnets
surmounted by bright plumes, and their weapons of artistic
workmanship, the silver scabbards inlaid with rubies. We hear
also of ambassadors riding through towns on horses loosely shod
with gold or silver, so that the horse-shoes lost on their
passage might testify to their wealth and grandeur. I shall quote
some lines from a Polish poem in which the author describes in
detail the costume of an eminent nobleman in the early part of
this century:--

He was clad in the uniform of the palatinate: a doublet
embroidered with gold, an overcoat of Tours silk ornamented
with fringes, a belt of brocade from which hung a sword with
a hilt of morocco. At his neck glittered a clasp with
diamonds. His square white cap was surmounted by a
magnificent plume, composed of tufts of herons' feathers. It
is only on festive occasions that such a rich bouquet, of
which each feather costs a ducat, is put on.

The belt above mentioned was one of the most essential parts and
the chief ornament of the old Polish national dress, and those
manufactured at Sluck had especially a high reputation. A
description of a belt of Sluck, "with thick fringes like tufts,"
glows on another page of the poem from which I took my last

On one side it is of gold with purple flowers; on the other
it is of black silk with silver checks. Such a belt can be
worn on either side: the part woven with gold for festive
days; the reverse for days of mourning.

A vivid picture of the Polish character is to be found in
Mickiewicz's epic poem, Pan Tadeusz, from which the above
quotations are taken.

[FOOTNOTE: I may mention here another interesting book
illustrative of Polish character and life, especially in the
second half of the eighteenth century, which has been of much use
to me--namely, Count Henry Rzewuski's Memoirs of Pan Severin
Soplica, translated into German, and furnished with an
instructive preface by Philipp Lubenstein.]

He handles his pencil lovingly; proclaiming with just pride the
virtues of his countrymen, and revealing with a kindly smile
their weaknesses. In this truest, perhaps, of all the portraits
that have ever been drawn of the Poles, we see the gallantry and
devotion, the generosity and hospitality, the grace and
liveliness in social intercourse, but also the excitability and
changefulness, the quickly inflamed enthusiasm and sudden
depression, the restlessness and turbulence, the love of outward
show and of the pleasures of society, the pompous pride,
boastfulness, and other little vanities, in short, all the
qualities, good and bad, that distinguish his countrymen.
Heinrich Heine, not always a trustworthy witness, but in this
case so unusually serious that we will take advantage of his
acuteness and conciseness, characterises the Polish nobleman by
the following precious mosaic of adjectives: "hospitable, proud,
courageous, supple, false (this little yellow stone must not be
lacking), irritable, enthusiastic, given to gambling, pleasure-
loving, generous, and overbearing." Whether Heine was not
mistaken as to the presence of the little yellow stone is a
question that may have to be discussed in another part of this
work. The observer who, in enumerating the most striking
qualities of the Polish character, added "MISTRUSTFULNESS and
SUSPICIOUSNESS engendered by many misfortunes and often-
disappointed hopes," came probably nearer the truth. And this
reminds me of a point which ought never to be left out of sight
when contemplating any one of these portraits--namely, the time
at which it was taken. This, of course, is always an important
consideration; but it is so in a higher degree in the case of a
nation whose character, like the Polish, has at different epochs
of its existence assumed such varied aspects. The first great
change came over the national character on the introduction of
elective kingship: it was, at least so far as the nobility was
concerned, a change for the worse--from simplicity, frugality,
and patriotism, to pride, luxury, and selfishness; the second
great change was owing to the disasters that befell the nation in
the latter half of the last century: it was on the whole a change
for the better, purifying and ennobling, calling forth qualities
that till then had lain dormant. At the time the events I have to
relate take us to Poland, the nation is just at this last turning-
point, but it has not yet rounded it. To what an extent the bad
qualities had overgrown the good ones, corrupting and deadening
them, may be gathered from contemporary witnesses. George
Forster, who was appointed professor of natural history at Wilna
in 1784, and remained in that position for several years, says
that he found in Poland "a medley of fanatical and almost New
Zealand barbarity and French super-refinement; a people wholly
ignorant and without taste, and nevertheless given to luxury,
gambling, fashion, and outward glitter."

Frederick II describes the Poles in language still more harsh; in
his opinion they are vain in fortune, cringing in misfortune,
capable of anything for the sake of money, spendthrifts,
frivolous, without judgment, always ready to join or abandon a
party without cause. No doubt there is much exaggeration in these
statements; but that there is also much truth in them, is proved
by the accounts of many writers, native and foreign, who cannot
be accused of being prejudiced against Poland. Rulhiere, and
other more or less voluminous authorities, might be quoted; but,
not to try the patience of the reader too much, I shall confine
myself to transcribing a clenching remark of a Polish nobleman,
who told our old friend, the English traveller, that although the
name of Poland still remained, the nation no longer existed. "An
universal corruption and venality pervades all ranks of the
people. Many of the first nobility do not blush to receive
pensions from foreign courts: one professes himself publicly an
Austrian, a second a Prussian, a third a Frenchman, and a fourth
a Russian."



GOETHE playfully describes himself as indebted to his father for
his frame and steady guidance of life, to his mother for his
happy disposition and love of story-telling, to his grandfather
for his devotion to the fair sex, to his grandmother for his love
of finery. Schopenhauer reduces the law of heredity to the simple
formula that man has his moral nature, his character, his
inclinations, and his heart from his father, and the quality and
tendency of his intellect from his mother. Buckle, on the other
hand, questions hereditary transmission of mental qualities
altogether. Though little disposed to doubt with the English
historian, yet we may hesitate to assent to the proposition of
the German philosopher; the adoption of a more scientific
doctrine, one that recognises a process of compensation,
neutralisation, and accentuation, would probably bring us nearer
the truth. But whatever the complicated working of the law of
heredity may be, there can be no doubt that the tracing of a
remarkable man's pedigree is always an interesting and rarely an
entirely idle occupation. Pursuing such an inquiry with regard to
Frederick Chopin, we find ourselves, however, soon at the end of
our tether. This is the more annoying, as there are circumstances
that particularly incite our curiosity. The "Journal de Rouen" of
December 1, 1849, contains an article, probably by Amedee de
Mereaux, in which it is stated that Frederick Chopin was
descended from the French family Chopin d'Arnouville, of which
one member, a victim of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes,
had taken refuge in Poland. [Footnote: In scanning the Moniteur
of 1835, I came across several prefects and sous-prefects of the
name of Choppin d'Arnouville. (There are two communes of the name
of Arnouville, both are in the departement of the Seine et Oise--
the one in the arrondissement Mantes, the other in the
arrondissement Pontoise. This latter is called Arnouville-les-
Gonesse.) I noticed also a number of intimations concerning plain
Chopins and Choppins who served their country as maires and army
officers. Indeed, the name of Chopin is by no means uncommon in
France, and more than one individual of that name has illustrated
it by his achievements--to wit: The jurist Rene Chopin or Choppin
(1537--1606), the litterateur Chopin (born about 1800), and the
poet Charles-Auguste Chopin (1811--1844).] Although this
confidently-advanced statement is supported by the inscription on
the composer's tombstone in Pere Lachaise, which describes his
father as a French refugee, both the Catholicism of the latter
and contradictory accounts of his extraction caution us not to
put too much faith in its authenticity. M. A. Szulc, the author
of a Polish book on Chopin and his works, has been told that
Nicholas Chopin, the father of Frederick, was the natural son of
a Polish nobleman, who, having come with King Stanislas
Leszczynski to Lorraine, adopted there the name of Chopin. From
Karasowski we learn nothing of Nicholas Chopin's parentage. But
as he was a friend of the Chopin family, and from them got much
of his information, this silence might with equal force be
adduced for and against the correctness of Szulc's story, which
in itself is nowise improbable. The only point that could strike
one as strange is the change of name. But would not the death of
the Polish ruler and the consequent lapse of Lorraine to France
afford some inducement for the discarding of an unpronounceable
foreign name? It must, however, not be overlooked that this story
is but a hearsay, relegated to a modest foot-note, and put
forward without mention of the source whence it is derived.
[FOOTNOTE: Count Wodzinski, who leaves Nicholas Chopin's descent
an open question, mentions a variant of Szulc's story, saying
that some biographers pretended that Nicholas Chopin was
descended from one of the name of Szop, a soldier, valet, or
heyduc (reitre, valet, ou heiduque) in the service of Stanislas
Leszczinski, whom he followed to Lorraine.] Indeed, until we get
possession of indisputable proofs, it will be advisable to
disregard these more or less fabulous reports altogether, and
begin with the first well-ascertained fact--namely, Nicholas
Chopin's birth, which took place at Nancy, in Lorraine, on the
17th of August, 1770. Of his youth nothing is known except that,
like other young men of his country, he conceived a desire to
visit Poland. Polish descent would furnish a satisfactory
explanation of Nicholas' sentiments in regard to Poland at this
time and subsequently, but an equally satisfactory explanation
can be found without having recourse to such a hazardous

In 1735 Stanislas Leszczynski, who had been King of Poland from
1704 to 1709, became Duke of Lorraine and Bar, and reigned over
the Duchies till 1766, when an accident--some part of his dress
taking fire--put an end to his existence. As Stanislas was a
wise, kind-hearted, and benevolent prince, his subjects not only
loved him as long as he lived, but also cherished his memory
after his death, when their country had been united to France.
The young, we may be sure, would often hear their elders speak of
the good times of Duke Stanislas, of the Duke (the philosophe
bienfaisant) himself, and of the strange land and people he came
from. But Stanislas, besides being an excellent prince, was also
an amiable, generous gentleman, who, whilst paying due attention
to the well-being of his new subjects, remained to the end of his
days a true Pole. From this circumstance it may be easily
inferred that the Court of Stanislas proved a great attraction to
his countrymen, and that Nancy became a chief halting-place of
Polish travellers on their way to and from Paris. Of course, not
all the Poles that had settled in the Duchies during the Duke's
reign left the country after his demise, nor did their friends
from the fatherland altogether cease to visit them in their new
home. Thus a connection between the two countries was kept up,
and the interest taken by the people of the west in the fortunes
of the people in the east was not allowed to die. Moreover, were
not the Academie de Stanislas founded by the Duke, the monument
erected to his memory, and the square named after him, perpetual
reminders to the inhabitants of Nancy and the visitors to that

Nicholas Chopin came to Warsaw in or about the year 1787.
Karasowski relates in the first and the second German edition of
his biography of Frederick Chopin that the Staroscina [FOOTNOTE:
The wife of a starosta (vide p. 7.)] Laczynska made the
acquaintance of the latter's father, and engaged him as tutor to
her children; but in the later Polish edition he abandons this
account in favour of one given by Count Frederick Skarbek in his
Pamietniki (Memoirs). According to this most trustworthy of
procurable witnesses (why he is the most trustworthy will be seen
presently), Nicholas Chopin's migration to Poland came about in
this way. A Frenchman had established in Warsaw a manufactory of
tobacco, which, as the taking of snuff was then becoming more and
more the fashion, began to flourish in so high a degree that he
felt the need of assistance. He proposed, therefore, to his
countryman, Nicholas Chopin, to come to him and take in hand the
book-keeping, a proposal which was readily accepted.

The first impression of the young Lorrainer on entering the land
of his dreams cannot have been altogether of a pleasant nature.
For in the summer of 1812, when, we are told, the condition of
the people had been infinitely ameliorated by the Prussian and
Russian governments, M. de Pradt, Napoleon's ambassador, found
the nation in a state of semi-barbarity, agriculture in its
infancy, the soil parched like a desert, the animals stunted, the
people, although of good stature, in a state of extreme poverty,
the towns built of wood, the houses filled with vermin, and the
food revolting. This picture will not escape the suspicion of
being overdrawn. But J.G. Seume, who was by no means over-
squeamish, and whom experience had taught the meaning of "to
rough it," asserts, in speaking of Poland in 1805, that, Warsaw
and a few other places excepted, the dunghill was in most houses
literally and without exaggeration the cleanest spot, and the
only one where one could stand without loathing. But if the
general aspect of things left much to be desired from a
utilitarian point of view, its strangeness and picturesqueness
would not fail to compensate an imaginative youth for the want of
order and comfort. The strong contrast of wealth and poverty, of
luxury and distress, that gave to the whole country so melancholy
an appearance, was, as it were, focussed in its capital. Mr.
Coxe, who visited Warsaw not long before Nicholas Chopin's
arrival there, says:--

The streets are spacious, but ill-paved; the churches and
public buildings large and magnificent, the palaces of the
nobility are numerous and splendid; but the greatest part of
the houses, especially the suburbs, are mean and ill-
constructed wooden hovels.

What, however, struck a stranger most, was the throngs of
humanity that enlivened the streets and squares of Warsaw, the
capital of a nation composed of a medley of Poles, Lithuanians,
Red and White Russians, Germans, Muscovites, Jews, and
Wallachians, and the residence of a numerous temporary and
permanent foreign population. How our friend from quiet Nancy--
which long ago had been deserted by royalty and its train, and
where literary luminaries, such as Voltaire, Madame du Chatelet,
Saint Lambert, &c., had ceased to make their fitful appearances--
must have opened his eyes when this varied spectacle unfolded
itself before him.

The streets of stately breadth, formed of palaces in the
finest Italian taste and wooden huts which at every moment
threatened to tumble down on the heads of the inmates; in
these buildings Asiatic pomp and Greenland dirtin strange
union, an ever-bustling population, forming, like a
masked procession, the most striking contrasts. Long-bearded
Jews, and monks in all kinds of habits; nuns of the strictest
discipline, entirely veiled and wrapped in meditation; and in
the large squares troops of young Polesses in light-coloured
silk mantles engaged in conversation; venerable old Polish
gentlemen with moustaches, caftan, girdle, sword, and yellow
and red boots; and the new generation in the most incroyable
Parisian fashion. Turks, Greeks, Russians, Italians, and
French in an ever-changing throng; moreover, an exceedingly
tolerant police that interfered nowise with the popular
amusements, so that in squares and streets there moved about
incessantly Pulchinella theatres, dancing bears, camels, and
monkeys, before which the most elegant carriages as well as
porters stopped and stood gaping.

Thus pictures J. E. Hitzig, the biographer of E. Th. A. Hoffmann,
and himself a sojourner in Warsaw, the life of the Polish capital
in 1807. When Nicholas Chopin saw it first the spectacle in the
streets was even more stirring, varied, and brilliant; for then
Warsaw was still the capital of an independent state, and the
pending and impending political affairs brought to it magnates
from all the principal courts of Europe, who vied with each other
in the splendour of their carriages and horses, and in the number
and equipment of their attendants.

In the introductory part of this work I have spoken of the
misfortunes that befel Poland and culminated in the first
partition. But the buoyancy of the Polish character helped the
nation to recover sooner from this severe blow than could have
been expected. Before long patriots began to hope that the
national disaster might be turned into a blessing. Many
circumstances favoured the realisation of these hopes. Prussia,
on discovering that her interests no longer coincided with those
of her partners of 1772, changed sides, and by-and-by even went
the length of concluding a defensive and offensive alliance with
the Polish Republic. She, with England and other governments,
backed Poland against Russia and Austria. Russia, moreover, had
to turn her attention elsewhere. At the time of Nicholas Chopin's
arrival, Poland was dreaming of a renascence of her former
greatness, and everyone was looking forward with impatience to
the assembly of the Diet which was to meet the following year.
Predisposed by sympathy, he was soon drawn into the current of
excitement and enthusiasm that was surging around him. Indeed,
what young soul possessed of any nobleness could look with
indifference on a nation struggling for liberty and independence.
As he took a great interest in the debates and transactions of
the Diet, he became more and more acquainted with the history,
character, condition, and needs of the country, and this
stimulated him to apply himself assiduously to the study of the
national language, in order to increase, by means of this
faithful mirror and interpreter of a people's heart and mind, his
knowledge of these things. And now I must ask the reader to bear
patiently the infliction of a brief historical summary, which I
would most willingly spare him, were I not prevented by two
strong reasons. In the first place, the vicissitudes of Nicholas
Chopin's early life in Poland are so closely bound up with, or
rather so much influenced by, the political events, that an
intelligible account of the former cannot be given without
referring to the latter; and in the second place, those same
political events are such important factors in the moulding of
the national character, that, if we wish to understand it, they
ought not to be overlooked.

The Diet which assembled at the end of 1788, in order to prevent
the use or rather abuse of the liberum veto, soon formed itself
into a confederation, abolished in 1789 the obnoxious Permanent
Council, and decreed in 1791, after much patriotic oratory and
unpatriotic obstruction, the famous constitution of the 3rd of
May, regarded by the Poles up to this day with loving pride, and
admired and praised at the time by sovereigns and statesmen, Fox
and Burke among them. Although confirming most of the privileges
of the nobles, the constitution nevertheless bore in it seeds of
good promise. Thus, for instance, the crown was to pass after the
death of the reigning king to the Elector of Saxony, and become
thenceforth hereditary; greater power was given to the king and
ministers, confederations and the liberum veto were declared
illegal, the administration of justice was ameliorated, and some
attention was paid to the rights and wrongs of the third estate
and peasantry. But the patriots who already rejoiced in the
prospect of a renewal of Polish greatness and prosperity had
counted without the proud selfish aristocrats, without Russia,
always ready to sow and nurture discord. Hence new troubles--the
confederation of Targowica, Russian demands for the repeal of the
constitution and unconditional submission to the Empress
Catharine II, betrayal by Prussia, invasion, war, desertion of
the national cause by their own king and his joining the
conspirators of Targowica, and then the second partition of
Poland (October 14, 1793), implying a further loss of territory
and population. Now, indeed, the events were hastening towards
the end of the sad drama, the finis poloniae. After much
hypocritical verbiage and cruel coercion and oppression by Russia
and Prussia, more especially by the former, outraged Poland rose
to free itself from the galling yoke, and fought under the noble
Kosciuszko and other gallant generals with a bravery that will
for ever live in the memory of men. But however glorious the
attempt, it was vain. Having three such powers as Russia,
Prussia, and Austria against her, Poland, unsupported by allies
and otherwise hampered, was too weak to hold her own. Without
inquiring into the causes and the faults committed by her
commanders, without dwelling on or even enumerating the
vicissitudes of the struggle, I shall pass on to the terrible
closing scene of the drama--the siege and fall of Praga, the
suburb of Warsaw, and the subsequent massacre. The third
partition (October 24, 1795), in which each of the three powers
took her share, followed as a natural consequence, and Poland
ceased to exist as an independent state. Not, however, for ever;
for when in 1807 Napoleon, after crushing Prussia and defeating
Russia, recast at Tilsit to a great extent the political
conformation of Europe, bullying King Frederick William III and
flattering the Emperor Alexander, he created the Grand Duchy of
Warsaw, over which he placed as ruler the then King of Saxony.

Now let us see how Nicholas Chopin fared while these whirlwinds
passed over Poland. The threatening political situation and the
consequent general insecurity made themselves at once felt in
trade, indeed soon paralysed it. What more particularly told on
the business in which the young Lorrainer was engaged was the
King's desertion of the national cause, which induced the great
and wealthy to leave Warsaw and betake themselves for shelter to
more retired and safer places. Indeed, so disastrous was the
effect of these occurrences on the Frenchman's tobacco
manufactory that it had to be closed. In these circumstances
Nicholas Chopin naturally thought of returning home, but sickness
detained him. When he had recovered his health, Poland was rising
under Kosciuszko. He then joined the national guard, in which he
was before long promoted to the rank of captain. On the 5th of
November, 1794, he was on duty at Praga, and had not his company
been relieved a few hours before the fall of the suburb, he would
certainly have met there his death. Seeing that all was lost he
again turned his thoughts homewards, when once more sickness
prevented him from executing his intention. For a time he tried
to make a living by teaching French, but ere long accepted an
engagement as tutor in the family--then living in the country--of
the Staroscina Laczynska, who meeting him by chance had been
favourably impressed by his manners and accomplishments. In
passing we may note that among his four pupils (two girls and two
boys) was one, Mary, who afterwards became notorious by her
connection with Napoleon I., and by the son that sprang from this
connection, Count Walewski, the minister of Napoleon III. At the
beginning of this century we find Nicholas Chopin at Zelazowa
Wola, near Sochaczew, in the house of the Countess Skarbek, as
tutor to her son Frederick. It was there that he made the
acquaintance of Justina Krzyzanowska, a young lady of noble but
poor family, whom he married in the year 1806, and who became the
mother of four children, three daughters and one son, the latter
being no other than Frederick Chopin, the subject of this
biography. The position of Nicholas Chopin in the house of the
Countess must have been a pleasant one, for ever after there
seems to have existed a friendly relation between the two
families. His pupil, Count Frederick Skarbek, who prosecuted his
studies at Warsaw and Paris, distinguished himself subsequently
as a poet, man of science, professor at the University of Warsaw,
state official, philanthropist, and many-sided author--more
especially as a politico--economical writer. When in his Memoirs
the Count looks back on his youth, he remembers gratefully and
with respect his tutor, speaking of him in highly appreciative
terms. In teaching, Nicholas Chopin's chief aim was to form his
pupils into useful, patriotic citizens; nothing was farther from
his mind than the desire or unconscious tendency to turn them
into Frenchmen. And now approaches the time when the principal
personage makes his appearance on the stage.

Frederick Chopin, the only son and the third of the four children
of Nicholas and Justina Chopin, was born on February 22, 1810,

[FOOTNOTE: See Preface, p. xii. In the earlier editions the date
given was March 1,1809, as in the biography by Karasowski, with
whom agree the earlier J. Fontana (Preface to Chopin's posthumous
works.--1855), C. Sowinski (Les musiciens polonais et slaves.--
1857), and the writer of the Chopin article in Mendel's
Musikalisches Conversations-Lexikon (1872). According to M. A.
Szulc (Fryderyk Chopin.--1873) and the inscription on the
memorial (erected in 1880) in the Holy Cross Church at Warsaw,
the composer was born on March 2, 1809. The monument in Pere
Lachaise, at Paris, bears the date of Chopin's death, but not
that of his birth. Felis, in his Biographie universelle des
musiciens, differs widely from these authorities. The first
edition (1835--1844) has only the year--1810; the second edition
(1861--1865) adds month and day--February 8.]

in a mean little house at Zelazowa Wola, a village about twenty-
eight English miles from Warsaw belonging to the Countess

[FOOTNOTE: Count Wodzinski, after indicating the general features
of Polish villages--the dwor (manor-house) surrounded by a
"bouquet of trees"; the barns and stables forming a square with a
well in the centre; the roads planted with poplars and bordered
with thatched huts; the rye, wheat, rape, and clover fields, &c.--
describes the birthplace of Frederick Chopin as follows: "I have
seen there the same dwor embosomed in trees, the same outhouses,
the same huts, the same plains where here and there a wild pear-
tree throws its shadow. Some steps from the mansion I stopped
before a little cot with a slated roof, flanked by a little
wooden perron. Nothing has been changed for nearly a hundred
years. A dark passage traverses it. On the left, in a room
illuminated by the reddish flame of slowly-consumed logs, or by
the uncertain light of two candles placed at each extremity of
the long table, the maid-servants spin as in olden times, and
relate to each other a thousand marvellous legends. On the right,
in a lodging of three rooms, so low that one can touch the
ceiling, a man of some thirty years, brown, with vivacious eyes,
the face closely shaven." This man was of course Nicholas Chopin.
I need hardly say that Count Wodzinski's description is
novelistically tricked out. His accuracy may be judged by the
fact that a few pages after the above passage he speaks of the
discoloured tiles of the roof which he told his readers before
was of slate.]

The son of the latter, Count Frederick Skarbek, Nicholas Chopin's
pupil, a young man of seventeen, stood godfather and gave his
name to the new-born offspring of his tutor. Little Frederick's
residence at the village cannot have been of long duration.

The establishment of the Grand Duchy of Warsaw in 1807 had
ushered in a time big with chances for a capable man, and we may
be sure that a young husband and father, no doubt already on the
look-out for some more lucrative and independent employment, was
determined not to miss them. Few peaceful revolutions, if any,
can compare in thoroughness with the one that then took place in
Poland; a new sovereign ascended the throne, two differently-
constituted representative bodies superseded the old Senate and
Diet, the French code of laws was introduced, the army and civil
service underwent a complete re-organisation, public instruction
obtained a long-needed attention, and so forth. To give an idea
of the extent of the improvement effected in matters of
education, it is enough to mention that the number of schools
rose from 140 to 634, and that a commission was formed for the
publication of suitable books of instruction in the Polish
language. Nicholas Chopin's hopes were not frustrated; for on
October 1, 1810, he was appointed professor of the French
language at the newly-founded Lyceum in Warsaw, and a little more
than a year after, on January 1, 1812, to a similar post at the
School of Artillery and Engineering.

The exact date when Nicholas Chopin and his family settled in
Warsaw is not known, nor is it of any consequence. We may,
however, safely assume that about this time little Frederick was
an inhabitant of the Polish metropolis. During the first years of
his life the parents may have lived in somewhat straitened
circumstances. The salary of the professorship, even if regularly
paid, would hardly suffice for a family to live comfortably, and
the time was unfavourable for gaining much by private tuition. M.
de Pradt, describing Poland in 1812, says:--

Nothing could exceed the misery of all classes. The army was
not paid, the officers were in rags, the best houses were in
ruins, the greatest lords were compelled to leave Warsaw from
want of money to provide for their tables. No pleasures, no
society, no invitations as in Paris and in London. I even saw
princesses quit Warsaw from the most extreme distress. The
Princess Radziwill had brought two women from England and
France, she wished to send them back, but had to keep them
because she was unable to pay their salaries and travelling
expenses. I saw in Warsaw two French physicians who informed
me that they could not procure their fees even from the
greatest lords.

But whatever straits the parents may have been put to, the weak,
helpless infant would lack none of the necessaries of life, and
enjoy all the reasonable comforts of his age.

When in 1815 peace was restored and a period of quiet followed,
the family must have lived in easy circumstances; for besides
holding appointments as professor at some public schools (under
the Russian government he became also one of the staff of
teachers at the Military Preparatory School), Nicholas Chopin
kept for a number of years a boarding-school, which was
patronised by the best families of the country. The supposed
poverty of Chopin's parents has given rise to all sorts of
misconceptions and misstatements. A writer in Larousse's "Grand
dictionnaire universel du XIXe siecle" even builds on it a theory
explanatory of the character of Chopin and his music: "Sa famille
d'origine francaise," he writes, "jouissait d'une mediocre
fortune; de la, peut-etre, certains froissements dans
l'organisation nerveuse et la vive sensibilite de l'enfant,
sentiments qui devaient plus tard se refleter dans ses oeuvres,
empreintes generalement d'une profonde melancolie." If the writer
of the article in question had gone a little farther back, he
might have found a sounder basis for his theory in the extremely
delicate physical organisation of the man, whose sensitiveness
was so acute that in early infancy he could not hear music
without crying, and resisted almost all attempts at appeasing

The last-mentioned fact, curious and really noteworthy in itself,
acquires a certain preciousness by its being the only one
transmitted to us of that period of Chopin's existence. But this
scantiness of information need not cause us much regret. During
the first years of a man's life biography is chiefly concerned
with his surroundings, with the agencies that train his faculties
and mould his character. A man's acts and opinions are
interesting in proportion to the degree of consolidation attained
by his individuality. Fortunately our material is abundant enough
to enable us to reconstruct in some measure the milieu into which
Chopin was born and in which he grew up. We will begin with that
first circle which surrounds the child--his family. The negative
advantages which our Frederick found there--the absence of the
privations and hardships of poverty, with their depressing and
often demoralising influence--have already been adverted to; now
I must say a few words about the positive advantages with which
he was favoured. And it may be at once stated that they cannot be
estimated too highly. Frederick enjoyed the greatest of blessings
that can be bestowed upon mortal man--viz., that of being born
into a virtuous and well-educated family united by the ties of
love. I call it the greatest of blessings, because neither
catechism and sermons nor schools and colleges can take the
place,, or compensate for the want, of this education that does
not stop at the outside, but by its subtle, continuous action
penetrates to the very heart's core and pervades the whole being.
The atmosphere in which Frederick lived was not only moral and
social, but also distinctly intellectual.

The father, Nicholas Chopin, seems to have been a man of worth
and culture, honest of purpose, charitable in judgment, attentive
to duty, and endowed with a good share of prudence and
commonsense. In support of this characterisation may be advanced
that among his friends he counted many men of distinction in
literature, science, and art; that between him and the parents of
his pupils as well as the pupils themselves there existed a
friendly relation; that he was on intimate terms with several of
his colleagues; and that his children not only loved, but also
respected him. No one who reads his son's letters, which indeed
give us some striking glimpses of the man, can fail to notice
this last point. On one occasion, when confessing that he had
gone to a certain dinner two hours later than he had been asked,
Frederick foresees his father's anger at the disregard for what
is owing to others, and especially to one's elders; and on
another occasion he makes excuses for his indifference to non-
musical matters, which, he thinks, his father will blame. And
mark, these letters were written after Chopin had attained
manhood. What testifies to Nicholas Chopin's, abilities as a
teacher and steadiness as a man, is the unshaken confidence of
the government: he continued in his position at the Lyceumtill
after the revolution in 1831, when this institution, like many
others, was closed; he was then appointed a member of the board
for the examination of candidates for situations as
schoolmasters, and somewhat later he became professor of the
French language at the Academy of the Roman Catholic Clergy.

It is more difficult, or rather it is impossible, to form
anything like a clear picture of his wife, Justina Chopin. None
of those of her son's letters that are preserved is addressed to
her, and in those addressed to the members of the family
conjointly, or to friends, nothing occurs that brings her nearer
to us, or gives a clue to her character. George Sand said that
she was Chopin's only passion. Karasowski describes her as
"particularly tender-hearted and rich in all the truly womanly
virtues.....For her quietness and homeliness were the greatest
happiness." K. W. Wojcicki, in "Cmentarz Powazkowski" (Powazki
Cemetery), expresses, himself in the same strain. A Scotch lady,
who had seen Justina Chopin in her old age, and conversed with
her in French, told me that she was then "a neat, quiet,
intelligent old lady, whose activeness contrasted strongly with
the languor of her son, who had not a shadow of energy in him."
With regard to the latter part of this account, we must not
overlook the fact that my informant knew Chopin only in the last
year of his life--i.e., when he was in a very suffering state of
mind and body. This is all the information I have been able to
collect regarding the character of Chopin's mother. Moreover,
Karasowski is not an altogether trustworthy informant; as a
friend of the Chopin family he sees in its members so many
paragons of intellectual and moral perfection. He proceeds on the
de mortuis nil nisi bonum principle, which I venture to suggest
is a very bad principle. Let us apply this loving tenderness to
our living neighbours, and judge the dead according to their
merits. Thus the living will be doubly benefited, and no harm be
done to the dead. Still, the evidence before us--including that
exclamation about his "best of mothers "in one of Chopin's
letters, written from Vienna, soon after the outbreak of the
Polish insurrection in 1830: "How glad my mamma will be that I
did not come back!"--justifies us, I think, in inferring that
Justina Chopin was a woman of the most lovable type, one in whom
the central principle of existence was the maternal instinct,
that bright ray of light which, dispersed in its action, displays
itself in the most varied and lovely colours. That this
principle, although often all-absorbing, is not incompatible with
the wider and higher social and intellectual interests is a
proposition that does not stand in need of proof. But who could
describe that wondrous blending of loving strength and lovable
weakness of a true woman's character? You feel its beauty and
sublimity, and if you attempt to give words to your feeling you
produce a caricature.

The three sisters of Frederick all manifested more or less a
taste for literature. The two elder sisters, Louisa (who married
Professor Jedrzejewicz, and died in 1855) and Isabella (who
married Anton Barcinski--first inspector of schools, and
subsequently director of steam navigation on the Vistula--and
died in 1881), wrote together for the improvement of the working
classes. The former contributed now and then, also after her
marriage, articles to periodicals on the education of the young.
Emilia, the youngest sister, who died at the early age of
fourteen (in 1827), translated, conjointly with her sister
Isabella, the educational tales of the German author Salzmann,
and her poetical efforts held out much promise for the future.



OUR little friend, who, as we have seen, at first took up a
hostile attitude towards music--for his passionate utterances,
albeit inarticulate, cannot well be interpreted as expressions of
satisfaction or approval--came before long under her mighty sway.
The pianoforte threw a spell over him, and, attracting him more
and more, inspired him with such a fondness as to induce his
parents to provide him, notwithstanding his tender age, with an
instructor. To lessen the awfulness of the proceeding, it was
arranged that one of the elder sisters should join him in his
lessons. The first and only pianoforte teacher of him who in the
course of time became one of the greatest and most original
masters of this instrument, deserves some attention from us.
Adalbert Zywny [FOOTNOTE: This is the usual spelling of the name,
which, as the reader will see further on, its possessor wrote
Ziwny. Liszt calls him Zywna.], a native of Bohemia, born in
1756, came to Poland, according to Albert Sowinski (Les musiciens
polonais et slaves), during the reign of Stanislas Augustus
Poniatowski (1764--1795), and after staying for some time as
pianist at the court of Prince Casimir Sapieha, settled in Warsaw
as a teacher of music, and soon got into good practice, "giving
his lessons at three florins (eighteen pence) per hour very
regularly, and making a fortune." And thus teaching and composing
(he is said to have composed much for the pianoforte, but he
never published anything), he lived a long and useful life, dying
in 1842 at the age of 86 (Karasowski says in 1840). The punctual
and, no doubt, also somewhat pedantic music-master who acquired
the esteem and goodwill of his patrons, the best families of
Warsaw, and a fortune at the same time, is a pleasant figure to
contemplate. The honest orderliness and dignified calmness of his
life, as I read it, are quite refreshing in this time of rush and
gush. Having seen a letter of his, I can imagine the heaps of
original MSS., clearly and neatly penned with a firm hand, lying
carefully packed up in spacious drawers, or piled up on well-
dusted shelves. Of the man Zywny and his relation to the Chopin
family we get some glimpses in Frederick's letters. In one of the
year 1828, addressed to his friend Titus Woyciechowski, he
writes: "With us things are as they used to be; the honest Zywny
is the soul of all our amusements." Sowinski informs us that
Zywny taught his pupil according to the classical German method--
whatever that may mean--at that time in use in Poland. Liszt, who
calls him "an enthusiastic student of Bach," speaks likewise of
"les errements d'une ecole entierement classique." Now imagine my
astonishment when on asking the well-known pianoforte player and
composer Edouard Wolff, a native of Warsaw, [Fooynote: He died at
Paris on October 16, 1880.] what kind of pianist Zywny was, I
received the answer that he was a violinist and not a pianist.
That Wolff and Zywny knew each other is proved beyond doubt by
the above-mentioned letter of Zywny's, introducing the former to
Chopin, then resident in Paris. The solution of the riddle is
probably this. Zywny, whether violinist or not, was not a
pianoforte virtuoso--at least, was not heard in public in his old
age. The mention of a single name, that of Wenzel W. Wurfel,
certainly shows that he was not the best pianist in Warsaw. But
against any such depreciatory remarks we have to set Chopin's
high opinion of Zywny's teaching capability. Zywny's letter,
already twice alluded to, is worth quoting. It still further
illustrates the relation in which master and pupil stood to each
other, and by bringing us in close contact with the former makes
us better acquainted with his character. A particularly curious
fact about the letter--considering the nationality of the persons
concerned--is its being written in German. Only a fac-simile of
the original, with its clear, firm, though (owing to the writer's
old age) cramped penmanship, and its quaint spelling and
capricious use of capital and small initials, could fully reveal
the expressiveness of this document. However, even in the
translation there may be found some of the man's characteristic
old-fashioned formality, grave benevolence, and quiet homeliness.
The outside of the sheet on which the letter is written bears the
words, "From the old music-master Adalbert Ziwny [at least this I
take to be the meaning of the seven letters followed by dots],
kindly to be transmitted to my best friend, Mr. Frederick Chopin,
in Paris." The letter itself runs as follows:--

DEAREST MR. F. CHOPIN,--Wishing you perfect health I have the
honour to write to you through Mr. Eduard Wolf. [FOOTNOTE:
The language of the first sentence is neither logical nor
otherwise precise. I shall keep throughout as close as
possible to the original, and also retain the peculiar
spelling of proper names.] I recommend him to your esteemed
friendship. Your whole family and I had also the pleasure of
hearing at his concert the Adagio and Rondo from your
Concerto, which called up in our minds the most agreeable
remembrance of you. May God give you every prosperity! We are
all well, and wish so much to see you again. Meanwhile I send
you through Mr. Wolf my heartiest kiss, and recommending
myself to your esteemed friendship, I remain your faithful


Warsaw, the 12th of June, 1835.

N.B.--Mr. Kirkow, the merchant, and his son George, who was
at Mr. Reinschmid's at your farewell party, recommend
themselves to you, and wish you good health. Adieu.

Julius Fontana, the friend and companion of Frederick, after
stating (in his preface to Chopin's posthumous works) that Chopin
had never another pianoforte teacher than Zywny, observes that
the latter taught his pupil only the first principles. "The
progress of the child was so extraordinary that his parents and
his professor thought they could do no better than abandon him at
the age of 12 to his own instincts, and follow instead of
directing him." The progress of Frederick must indeed have been
considerable, for in Clementina Tanska-Hofmanowa's Pamiatka po
dobrej matce (Memorial of a good Mother) [FOOTNOTE: Published in
1819.] the writer relates that she was at a soiree at Gr----'s,
where she found a numerous party assembled, and heard in the
course of the evening young Chopin play the piano--"a child not
yet eight years old, who, in the opinion of the connoisseurs of
the art, promises to replace Mozart." Before the boy had
completed his ninth year his talents were already so favourably
known that he was invited to take part in a concert which was got
up by several persons of high rank for the benefit of the poor.
The bearer of the invitation was no less a person than Ursin
Niemcewicz, the publicist, poet, dramatist, and statesman, one of
the most remarkable and influential men of the Poland of that
day. At this concert, which took place on February 24, 1818, the
young virtuoso played a concerto by Adalbert Gyrowetz, a composer
once celebrated, but now ignominiously shelved--sic transit
gloria mundi--and one of Riehl's "divine Philistines." An
anecdote shows that at that time Frederick was neither an
intellectual prodigy nor a conceited puppy, but a naive, modest
child that played the pianoforte, as birds sing, with unconscious
art. When he came home after the concert, for which of course he
had been arrayed most splendidly and to his own great
satisfaction, his mother said to him: "Well, Fred, what did the
public like best?"--"Oh, mamma," replied the little innocent,
"everybody was looking at my collar."

The debut was a complete success, and our Frederick--Chopinek
(diminutive of Chopin) they called him--became more than ever the
pet of the aristocracy of Warsaw. He was invited to the houses of
the Princes Czartoryski, Sapieha, Czetwertynski, Lubecki,
Radziwill, the Counts Skarbek, Wolicki, Pruszak, Hussarzewski,
Lempicki, and others. By the Princess Czetwertynska, who, says
Liszt, cultivated music with a true feeling of its beauties, and
whose salon was one of the most brilliant and select of Warsaw,
Frederick was introduced to the Princess Lowicka, the beautiful
Polish wife of the Grand Duke Constantine, who, as Countess
Johanna Antonia Grudzinska, had so charmed the latter that, in
order to obtain the Emperor's consent to his marriage with her,
he abdicated his right of succession to the throne. The way in
which she exerted her influence over her brutal, eccentric, if
not insane, husband, who at once loved and maltreated the Poles,
gained her the title of "guardian angel of Poland." In her salon
Frederick came of course also in contact with the dreaded Grand
Duke, the Napoleon of Belvedere (thus he was nicknamed by
Niemcewicz, from the palace where he resided in Warsaw), who on
one occasion when the boy was improvising with his eyes turned to
the ceiling, as was his wont, asked him why he looked in that
direction, if he saw notes up there. With the exalted occupants
of Belvedere Frederick had a good deal of intercourse, for little
Paul, a boy of his own age, a son or adopted son of the Grand
Duke, enjoyed his company, and sometimes came with his tutor,
Count de Moriolles, to his house to take him for a drive. On
these occasions the neighbours of the Chopin family wondered not
a little what business brought the Grand Duke's carriage, drawn
by four splendid horses, yoked in the Russian fashion--i.e., all
abreast--to their quarter.

Chopin's early introduction into aristocratic society and
constant intercourse with the aristocracy is an item of his
education which must not be considered as of subordinate
importance. More than almost any other of his early disciplines,
it formed his tastes, or at least strongly assisted in developing
certain inborn traits of his nature, and in doing this influenced
his entire moral and artistic character. In the proem I mentioned
an English traveller's encomiums on the elegance in the houses,
and the exquisite refinement in the entertainments, of the
wealthy nobles in the last quarter of the eighteenth century. We
may be sure that in these respects the present century was not
eclipsed by its predecessors, at least not in the third decade,
when the salons of Warsaw shone at their brightest. The influence
of French thought and manners, for the importation and spreading
of which King Stanislas Leszczinski was so solicitous that he
sent at his own expense many young gentlemen to Paris for their
education, was subsequently strengthened by literary taste,
national sympathies, and the political connection during the
first Empire. But although foreign notions and customs caused
much of the old barbarous extravagance and also much of the old
homely simplicity to disappear, they did not annihilate the
national distinctiveness of the class that was affected by them.
Suffused with the Slavonic spirit and its tincture of
Orientalism, the importation assumed a character of its own.
Liszt, who did not speak merely from hearsay, emphasises, in
giving expression to his admiration of the elegant and refined
manners of the Polish aristocracy, the absence of formalism and
stiff artificiality:--

In these salons [he writes] the rigorously observed
proprieties were not a kind of ingeniously-constructed
corsets that served to hide deformed hearts; they only
necessitated the spiritualisation of all contacts, the
elevation of all rapports, the aristocratisation of all

But enough of this for the present.

A surer proof of Frederick's ability than the applause and favour
of the aristocracy was the impression he made on the celebrated
Catalani, who, in January, 1820, gave four concerts in the town-
hall of Warsaw, the charge for admission to each of which was, as
we may note in passing, no less than thirty Polish florins
(fifteen shillings). Hearing much of the musically-gifted boy,
she expressed the wish to have him presented to her. On this
being done, she was so pleased with him and his playing that she
made him a present of a watch, on which were engraved the words:
"Donne par Madame Catalani a Frederic Chopin, age de dix ans."

As yet I have said nothing of the boy's first attempts at
composition. Little Frederick began to compose soon after the
commencement of his pianoforte lessons and before he could handle
the pen. His master had to write down what the pupil played,
after which the youthful maestro, often dissatisfied with his
first conception, would set to work with the critical file, and
try to improve it. He composed mazurkas, polonaises, waltzes, &c.
At the age of ten he dedicated a march to the Grand Duke
Constantine, who had it scored for a military band and played on
parade (subsequently it was also published, but without the
composer's name), and these productions gave such evident proof
of talent that his father deemed it desirable to get his friend
Elsner to instruct him in harmony and counterpoint. At this time,
however, it was not as yet in contemplation that Frederick should
become a professional musician; on the contrary, he was made to
understand that his musical studies must not interfere with his
other studies, as he was then preparing for his entrance into the
Warsaw Lyceum. As we know that this event took place in 1824, we
know also the approximate time of the commencement of Elsner's
lessons. Fontana says that Chopin began these studies when he was
already remarkable as a pianist. Seeing how very little is known
concerning the nature and extent of Chopin's studies in
composition, it may be as well to exhaust the subject at once.
But before I do so I must make the reader acquainted with the
musician who, as Zyvny was Chopin's only pianoforte teacher, was
his only teacher of composition.

Joseph Elsner, the son of a cabinet and musical instrument maker
at Grottkau, in Silesia, was born on June 1, 1769. As his father
intended him for the medical profession, he was sent in 1781 to
the Latin school at Breslau, and some years later to the
University at Vienna. Having already been encouraged by the
rector in Grottkau to cultivate his beautiful voice, he became in
Breslau a chorister in one of the churches, and after some time
was often employed as violinist and singer at the theatre. Here,
where he got, if not regular instruction, at least some hints
regarding harmony and kindred matters (the authorities are
hopelessly at variance on this and on many other points), he made
his first attempts at composition, writing dances, songs, duets,
trios, nay, venturing even on larger works for chorus and
orchestra. The musical studies commenced in Breslau were
continued in Vienna; preferring musical scores to medical books,
the conversations of musicians to the lectures of professors, he
first neglected and at last altogether abandoned the study of the
healing art. A. Boguslawski, who wrote a biography of Elsner,
tells the story differently and more poetically. When, after a
long illness during his sojourn in Breslau, thus runs his
version, Elsner went, on the day of the Holy Trinity in the year
1789, for the first time to church, he was so deeply moved by the
sounds of the organ that he fainted. On recovering he felt his
whole being filled with such ineffable comfort and happiness that
he thought he saw in this occurrence the hand of destiny. He,
therefore, set out for Vienna, in order that he might draw as it
were at the fountain-head the great principles of his art. Be
this as it may, in 1791 we hear of Elsner as violinist in Brunn,
in 1792 as musical conductor at a theatre in Lemberg--where he is
busy composing dramatic and other works--and near the end of the
last century as occupant of the same post at the National Theatre
in Warsaw, which town became his home for the rest of his life.
There was the principal field of his labours; there he died,
after a sojourn of sixty-two years in Poland, on April 18, 1854,
leaving behind him one of the most honoured names in the history
of his adopted country. Of the journeys he undertook, the longest
and most important was, no doubt, that to Paris in 1805. On the
occasion of this visit some of his compositions were performed,
and when Chopin arrived there twenty-five years afterwards,
Elsner was still remembered by Lesueur, who said: "Et que fait
notre bon Elsner? Racontez-moi de ses nouvelles." Elsner was a
very productive composer: besides symphonies, quartets, cantatas,
masses, an oratorio, &c., he composed twenty-seven Polish operas.
Many of these works were published, some in Warsaw, some in
various German towns, some even in Paris. But his activity as a
teacher, conductor, and organiser was perhaps even more
beneficial to the development of the musical art in Poland than
that as a composer. After founding and conducting several musical
societies, he became in 1821 director of the then opened
Conservatorium, at the head of which he continued to the end of
its existence in 1830. To complete the idea of the man, we must
not omit to mention his essay In how far is the Polish language
suitable for music? As few of his compositions have been heard
outside of Poland, and these few long ago, rarely, and in few
places, it is difficult to form a satisfactory opinion with
regard to his position as a composer. Most accounts, however,
agree in stating that he wrote in the style of the modern
Italians, that is to say, what were called the modern Italians in
the later part of the last and the earlier part of this century.
Elsner tried his strength and ability in all genres, from
oratorio, opera, and symphony, down to pianoforte variations,
rondos, and dances, and in none of them did he fail to be
pleasing and intelligible, not even where, as especially in his
sacred music, he made use--a sparing use--of contrapuntal
devices, imitations, and fugal treatment. The naturalness,
fluency, effectiveness, and practicableness which distinguish his
writing for voices and instruments show that he possessed a
thorough knowledge of their nature and capability. It was,
therefore, not an empty rhetorical phrase to speak of him
initiating his pupils "a la science du contre-point et aux effets
d'une savante instrumentation."

[FOOTNOTE: "The productions of Elsner," says Fetis, "are in the
style of Paer and Mayer's music. In his church music there is a
little too much of modern and dramatic forms; one finds in them
facility and a natural manner of making the parts sing, but
little originality and variety in his ideas. Elsner writes with
sufficient purity, although he shows in his fugues that his
studies have not been severe."]

For the pupils of the Conservatorium he wrote vocal pieces in
from one to ten parts, and he composed also a number of canons in
four and five parts, which fact seems to demonstrate that he had
no ill-will against the scholastic forms. And now I shall quote a
passage from an apparently well-informed writer [FOOTNOTE: The
writer of the article Elsner in Schilling's Universal-Lexikon der
Tonkunst] (to whom I am, moreover, otherwise indebted in this
sketch), wherein Elsner is blamed for certain shortcomings with
which Chopin has been often reproached in a less charitable
spirit. The italics, which are mine, will point out the words in

One forgives him readily [in consideration of the general
excellence of his style] THE OFFENCES AGAINST THE LAW OF
OF STRICT PART-WRITING, especially in the dramatic works,
where he makes effect apparently the ultimate aim of his
indefatigable endeavours.

The wealth of melody and technical mastery displayed in "The
Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ" incline Karasowski to think
that it is the composer's best work. When the people at Breslau
praised Elsner's "Echo Variations" for orchestra, Chopin
exclaimed: "You must hear his Coronation Mass, then only can you
judge of him as a composer." To characterise Elsner in a few
words, he was a man of considerable musical aptitude and
capacity, full of nobleness of purpose, learning, industry,
perseverance, in short, possessing all qualities implied by
talent, but lacking those implied by genius.

A musician travelling in 1841 in Poland sent at the time to the
Neue Zeitschrift fur Musik a series of "Reiseblatter" (Notes of
Travel), which contain so charming and vivid a description of
this interesting personality that I cannot resist the temptation
to translate and insert it here almost without any abridgment.
Two noteworthy opinions of the writer may be fitly prefixed to
this quotation--namely, that Elsner was a Pole with all his heart
and soul, indeed, a better one than thousands that are natives of
the country, and that, like Haydn, he possessed the quality of
writing better the older he grew:--

The first musical person of the town [Warsaw] is still the
old, youthful Joseph Elsner, a veteran master of our art, who
is as amiable as he is truly estimable. In our day one hardly
meets with a notable Polish musician who has not studied
composition under Pan [i.e., Mr.] Elsner; and he loves all
his pupils, and all speak of him with enthusiasm, and,
according to the Polish fashion, kiss the old master's
shoulder, whereupon he never forgets to kiss them heartily on
both cheeks. Even Charles Kurpinski, the pensioned
Capelhneister of the Polish National Theatre, whose hair is
already grey, is, if I am not very much misinformed, also a
pupil of Joseph Elsner's. One is often mistaken with regard
to the outward appearance of a celebrated man; I mean, one
forms often a false idea of him before one has seen him and
knows a portrait of him. I found Elsner almost exactly as I
had imagined him. Wisocki, the pianist, also a pupil of his,
took me to him. Pan Elsner lives in the Dom Pyarow [House of
Piarists]. One has to start early if one wishes to find him
at home; for soon after breakfast he goes out, and rarely
returns to his cell before evening. He inhabits, like a
genuine church composer, two cells of the old Piarist
Monastery in Jesuit Street, and in the dark passages which
lead to his rooms one sees here and there faded laid-aside
pictures of saints lying about, and old church banners
hanging down. The old gentleman was still in bed when we
arrived, and sent his servant to ask us to wait a little in
the anteroom, promising to be with us immediately. All the
walls of this room, or rather cell, were hung to the ceiling
with portraits of musicians, among them some very rare names
and faces. Mr. Elsner has continued this collection down to
the present time; also the portraits of Liszt, Thalberg,
Chopin, and Clara Wieck shine down from the old monastic
walls. I had scarcely looked about me in this large company
for a few minutes, when the door of the adjoining room
opened, and a man of medium height (not to say little),
somewhat stout, with a round, friendly countenance, grey
hair, but very lively eyes, enveloped in a warm fur dressing-
gown, stepped up to us, comfortably but quickly, and bade us
welcome. Wisocki kissed him, according to the Polish fashion,
as a token of respect, on the right shoulder, and introduced
me to him, whereupon the old friendly gentleman shook hands
with me and said some kindly words.

This, then, was Pan Joseph Elsner, the ancestor of modern
Polish music, the teacher of Chopin, the fine connoisseur and
cautious guide of original talents. For he does not do as is
done only too often by other teachers in the arts, who insist
on screwing all pupils to the same turning-lathe on which
they themselves were formed, who always do their utmost to
ingraft their own I on the pupil, so that he may become as
excellent a man as they imagine themselves to be. Joseph
Elsner did not proceed thus. When all the people of Warsaw
thought Frederick Chopin was entering on a wrong path, that
his was not music at all, that he must keep to Himmel and
Hummel, otherwise he would never do anything decent--the
clever Pan Elsner had already very clearly perceived what a
poetic kernel there was in the pale young dreamer, had long
before felt very clearly that he had before him the founder
of a new epoch of pianoforte-playing, and was far from laying
upon him a cavesson, knowing well that such a noble
thoroughbred may indeed be cautiously led, but must not be
trained and fettered in the usual way if he is to conquer.

Of Chopin's studies under this master we do not know much more
than of his studies under Zywny. Both Fontana and Sowinski say
that he went through a complete course of counterpoint and
composition. Elsner, in a letter written to Chopin in 1834,
speaks of himself as "your teacher of harmony and counterpoint,
of little merit, but fortunate." Liszt writes:--

Joseph Elsner taught Chopin those things that are most
difficult to learn and most rarely known: to he exacting to
one's self, and to value the advantages that are only
obtained by dint of patience and labour.

What other accounts of the matter under discussion I have got
from books and conversations are as general and vague as the
foregoing. I therefore shall not weary the reader with them. What
Elsner's view of teaching was may be gathered from one of his
letters to his pupil. The gist of his remarks lies in this

That with which the artist (who learns continually from his
surroundings) astonishes his contemporaries, he can only
attain by himself and through himself.

Elsner had insight and self-negation (a rare quality with
teachers) enough to act up to his theory, and give free play to
the natural tendencies of his pupil's powers. That this was
really the case is seen from his reply to one who blamed
Frederick's disregard of rules and custom:--

Leave him in peace [he said], his is an uncommon way because
his gifts are uncommon. He does not strictly adhere to the
customary method, but he has one of his own, and he will
reveal in his works an originality which in such a degree has
not been found in anyone.

The letters of master and pupil testify to their unceasing mutual
esteem and love. Those of the master are full of fatherly
affection and advice, those of the pupil full of filial devotion
and reverence. Allusions to and messages for Elsner are very
frequent in Chopin's letters. He seems always anxious that his
old master should know how he fared, especially hear of his
success. His sentiments regarding Elsner reveal themselves
perhaps nowhere more strikingly than in an incidental remark
which escapes him when writing to his friend Woyciechowski.
Speaking of a new acquaintance he has made, he says, "He is a
great friend of Elsner's, which in my estimation means much." No
doubt Chopin looked up with more respect and thought himself more
indebted to Elsner than to Zywny; but that he had a good opinion
of both his masters is evident from his pithy reply to the
Viennese gentleman who told him that people were astonished at
his having learned all he knew at Warsaw: "From Messrs. Zywny and
Elsner even the greatest ass must learn something."



FREDERICK, who up to the age of fifteen was taught at home along
with his father's boarders, became in 1824 a pupil of the Warsaw
Lyceum, a kind of high-school, the curriculum of which comprised
Latin, Greek, modern languages, mathematics, history, &c. His
education was so far advanced that he could at once enter the
fourth class, and the liveliness of his parts, combined with
application to work, enabled him to distinguish himself in the
following years as a student and to carry off twice a prize.
Polish history and literature are said to have been his favourite

Liszt relates that Chopin was placed at an early age in one of
the first colleges of Warsaw, "thanks to the generous and
intelligent protection which Prince Anton Radziwill always
bestowed upon the arts and upon young men of talent." This
statement, however, has met with a direct denial on the part of
the Chopin family, and may, therefore, be considered as disposed
of. But even without such a denial the statement would appear
suspicious to all but those unacquainted with Nicholas Chopin's
position. Surely he must have been able to pay for his son's
schooling! Moreover, one would think that, as a professor at the
Lyceum, he might even have got it gratis. As to Frederick's
musical education in Warsaw, it cannot have cost much. And then,
how improbable that the Prince should have paid the comparatively
trifling school-fees and left the young man when he went abroad
dependent upon the support of his parents! The letters from
Vienna (1831) show unmistakably that Chopin applied to his father
repeatedly for money, and regretted being such a burden to him.
Further, Chopin's correspondence, which throws much light on his
relation to Prince Radziwili, contains nothing which would lead
one to infer any such indebtedness as Liszt mentions. But in
order that the reader may be in possession of the whole evidence
and able to judge for himself, I shall place before him Liszt's
curiously circumstantial account in its entirety:--

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