Part 2 out of 12
more out of her; she bade him be quiet, and to let her go on with her work.
She seemed to be absorbed in her sewing; she looked anxious, and did not
raise her eyes. But after some time she looked at him where he was in the
corner, whither he had retired to sulk, began to smile, and told him to go
and play outside.
These scraps of conversation profoundly agitated Jean-Christophe. There had
been a child, a little boy, belonging to his mother, like himself, bearing
the same name, almost exactly the same, and he was dead! Dead! He did not
exactly know what that was, but it was something terrible. And they never
talked of this other Jean-Christophe; he was quite forgotten. It would be
the same with him if he were to die? This thought was with him still in the
evening at table with his family, when he saw them all laughing and talking
of trifles. So, then, it was possible that they would be gay after he was
dead! Oh! he never would have believed that his mother could be selfish
enough to laugh after the death of her little boy! He hated them all. He
wanted to weep for himself, for his own death, in advance. At the same time
he wanted to ask a whole heap of questions, but he dared not; he remembered
the voice in which his mother had bid him be quiet. At last he could
contain himself no longer, and one night when he had gone to bed, and
Louisa came to kiss him, he asked:
"Mother, did he sleep in my bed?"
The poor woman trembled, and, trying to take on an indifferent tone of
voice, she asked:
"The little boy who is dead," said Jean-Christophe in a whisper.
His mother clutched him with her hands.
"Be quiet--quiet," she said.
Her voice trembled. Jean-Christophe, whose head was leaning against her
bosom, heard her heart beating. There was a moment of silence, then she
"You must never talk of that, my dear.... Go to sleep.... No, it was not
She kissed him. He thought he felt her cheek wet against his. He wished he
could have been sure of it. He was a little comforted. There was grief in
her then! Then he doubted it again the next moment, when he heard her in
the next room talking in a quiet, ordinary voice. Which was true--that or
what had just been? He turned about for long in his bed without finding any
answer. He wanted his mother to suffer; not that he also did not suffer in
the knowledge that she was sad, but it would have done him so much good, in
spite of everything! He would have felt himself less alone. He slept, and
next day thought no more of it.
Some weeks afterwards one of the urchins with whom he played in the street
did not come at the usual time. One of them said that he was ill, and they
got used to not seeing him in their games. It was explained, it was quite
simple. One evening Jean-Christophe had gone to bed; it was early, and from
the recess in which his bed was, he saw the light in the room. There was a
knock at the door. A neighbor had come to have a chat. He listened
absently, telling himself stories as usual. The words of their talk did not
reach him. Suddenly he heard the neighbor say: "He is dead." His blood
stopped, for he had understood who was dead. He listened and held his
breath. His parents cried out. Melchior's booming voice said:
"Jean-Christophe, do you hear? Poor Fritz is dead."
Jean-Christophe made an effort, and replied quietly:
His bosom was drawn tight as in a vise.
Melchior went on:
"'Yes, papa.' Is that all you say? You are not grieved by it."
Louisa, who understood the child, said:
"'Ssh! Let him sleep!"
And they talked in whispers. But Jean-Christophe, pricking his ears,
gathered all the details of illness--typhoid fever, cold baths, delirium,
the parents' grief. He could not breathe, a lump in his throat choked him.
He shuddered. All these horrible things took shape in his mind. Above all,
he gleaned that the disease was contagious--that is, that he also might die
in the same way--and terror froze him, for he remembered that he had shaken
hands with Fritz the last time he had seen him, and that very day had gone
past the house. But he made no sound, so as to avoid having to talk, and
when his father, after the neighbor had gone, asked him: "Jean-Christophe,
are you asleep?" he did not reply. He heard Melchior saying to Louisa:
"The boy has no heart."
Louisa did not reply, but a moment later she came and gently raised the
curtain and looked at the little bed. Jean-Christophe only just had time to
close his eyes and imitate the regular breathing which his brothers made
when they were asleep. Louisa went away on tip-toe. And yet how he wanted
to keep her! How he wanted to tell her that he was afraid, and to ask her
to save him, or at least to comfort him! But he was afraid of their
laughing at him, and treating him as a coward; and besides, he knew only
too well that nothing that they might say would be any good. And for hours
he lay there in agony, thinking that he felt the disease creeping over him,
and pains in his head, a stricture of the heart, and thinking in terror:
"It is the end. I am ill. I am going to die. I am going to die!"... Once he
sat up in his bed and called to his mother in a low voice; but they were
asleep, and he dared not wake them.
From that time on his childhood was poisoned by the idea of death. His
nerves delivered him up to all sorts of little baseless sicknesses, to
depression, to sudden transports, and fits of choking. His imagination ran
riot with these troubles, and thought it saw in all of them the murderous
beast which was to rob him of his life. How many times he suffered agonies,
with his mother sitting only a few yards away from him, and she guessing
nothing! For in his cowardice he was brave enough to conceal all his terror
in a strange jumble of feeling--pride in not turning to others, shame of
being afraid, and the scrupulousness of a tenderness which forbade him to
trouble his mother. But he never ceased to think: "This time I am ill. I am
seriously ill. It is diphtheria...." He had chanced on the word
"diphtheria."... "Dear God! not this time!..."
He had religious ideas: he loved to believe what his mother had told, him,
that after death the soul ascended to the Lord, and if it were pious
entered into the garden of paradise. But the idea of this journey rather
frightened than attracted him. He was not at all envious of the children
whom God, as a recompense, according to his mother, took in their sleep and
called to Him without having made them suffer. He trembled, as he went to
sleep, for fear that God should indulge this whimsy at his expense. It must
be terrible to be taken suddenly from the warmth of one's bed and dragged
through the void into the presence of God. He imagined God as an enormous
sun, with a voice of thunder. How it must hurt! It must barn the eyes,
ears--all one's soul! Then, God could punish--you never know.... And
besides, that did not prevent all the other horrors which he did not know
very well, though he could guess them from what he had heard--your body in
a box, all alone at the bottom of a hole, lost in the crowd of those
revolting cemeteries to which he was taken to pray.... God! God! How sad!
And yet it was not exactly joyous to live, and be hungry, and see your
father drunk, and to be beaten, to suffer in so many ways from the
wickedness of other children, from the insulting pity of grown-up persons,
and to be understood by no one, not even by your mother. Everybody
humiliates you, no one loves you. You are alone--alone, and matter so
little! Yes; but it was just this that made him want to live. He felt in
himself a surging power of wrath. A strange thing, that power! It could do
nothing yet; it was as though it were afar off and gagged, swaddled,
paralyzed; he had no idea what it wanted, what, later on, it would be. But
it was in him; he was sure of it; he felt it stirring and crying out.
To-morrow--to-morrow, what a voyage he would take! He had a savage desire
to live, to punish the wicked, to do great things. "Oh! but how I will live
when I am ..." he pondered a little--"when I am eighteen!" Sometimes he put
it at twenty-one; that was the extreme limit. He thought that was enough
for the domination of the world. He thought of the heroes dearest to
him--of Napoleon, and of that other more remote hero, whom he preferred,
Alexander the Great. Surely he would be like them if only he lived for
another twelve--ten years. He never thought of pitying those who died at
thirty. They were old; they had lived their lives; it was their fault if
they hat failed. But to die now ... despair! Too terrible to pass while yet
a little child, and forever to be in the minds of men a little boy whom
everybody thinks he has the right to scold! He wept with rage at the
thought, as though he were already dead.
This agony of death tortured his childish years--corrected only by disgust
with all life and the sadness of his own.
* * * * *
It was in the midst of these gloomy shadows, in the stifling night that
every moment seemed to intensify about him, that there began to shine, like
a star lost in the dark abysm of space, the light which was to illuminate
his life: divine music....
His grandfather gave the children an old piano, which one of his clients,
anxious to be rid of it, had asked him to take. His patient ingenuity had
almost put it in order. The present had not been very well received. Louisa
thought her room already too small, without filling it up any more; and
Melchior said that Jean Michel had not ruined himself over it: just
firewood. Only Jean-Christophe was glad of it without exactly knowing why.
It seemed to him a magic box, full of marvelous stories, just like the ones
in the fairy-book--a volume of the "Thousand and One Nights"--which his
grandfather read to him sometimes to their mutual delight. He had heard his
father try the piano on the day of its arrival, and draw from it a little
rain of arpeggios like the drops that a puff of wind shakes from the wet
branches of a tree after a shower. He clapped his hands, and cried
"Encore!" but Melchior scornfully closed the piano, saying that it was
worthless. Jean-Christophe did not insist, but after that he was always
hovering about the instrument. As soon as no one was near he would raise
the lid, and softly press down a key, just as if he were moving with his
finger the living shell of some great insect; he wanted to push out the
creature that was locked up in it. Sometimes in his haste he would strike
too hard, and then his mother would cry out, "Will you not be quiet? Don't
go touching everything!" or else he would pinch himself cruelly in closing
the piano, and make piteous faces as he sucked his bruised fingers....
Now his greatest joy is when his mother is gone out for a day's service, or
to pay some visit in the town. He listens as she goes down the stairs, and
into the street, and away. He is alone. He opens the piano, and brings up a
chair, and perches on it. His shoulders just about reach the keyboard; it
is enough for what he wants. Why does he wait until he is alone? No one
would prevent his playing so long as he did not make too much noise. But he
is ashamed before the others, and dare not. And then they talk and move
about: that spoils his pleasure. It is so much more beautiful when he is
alone! Jean-Christophe holds his breath so that the silence may be even
greater, and also because he is a little excited, as though he were going
to let off a gun. His heart beats as he lays his finger on the key;
sometimes he lifts his finger after he has the key half pressed down, and
lays it on another. Does he know what will come out of it, more than what
will come out of the other? Suddenly a sound issues from it; there are deep
sounds and high sounds, some tinkling, some roaring. The child listens to
them one by one as they die away and finally cease to be; they hover in the
air like bells heard far off, coming near in the wind, and then going away
again; then when you listen you hear in the distance other voices,
different, joining in and droning like flying insects; they seem to call to
you, to draw you away farther--farther and farther into the mysterious
regions, where they dive down and are lost.... They are gone!... No; still
they murmur.... A little beating of wings.... How strange it all is! They
are like spirits. How is it that they are so obedient? how is it that they
are held captive in this old box? But best of all is when you lay two
fingers on two keys at once. Then you never know exactly what will happen.
Sometimes the two spirits are hostile; they are angry with each other, and
fight; and hate each other, and buzz testily. Then voices are raised; they
cry out, angrily, now sorrowfully. Jean-Christophe adores that; it is as
though there were monsters chained up, biting at their fetters, beating
against the bars of their prison; they are like to break them, and burst
out like the monsters in the fairy-book--the genii imprisoned in the Arab
bottles under the seal of Solomon. Others flatter you; they try to cajole
you, but you feel that they only want to bite, that they are hot and
fevered. Jean-Christophe does not know what they want, but they lure him
and disturb him; they make him almost blush. And sometimes there are notes
that love each other; sounds embrace, as people do with their arms when
they kiss: they are gracious and sweet. These are the good spirits; their
faces are smiling, and there are no lines in them; they love little
Jean-Christophe, and little Jean-Christophe loves them. Tears come to his
eyes as he hears them, and he is never weary of calling them up. They are
his friends, his dear, tender friends....
So the child journeys through the forest of sounds, and round him he is
conscious of thousands of forces lying in wait for him, and calling to him
to caress or devour him....
One day Melchior came upon him thus. He made him jump with fear at the
sound of his great voice. Jean-Christophe, thinking he was doing wrong,
quickly put his hands up to his ears to ward off the blows he feared. But
Melchior did not scold him, strange to say; he was in a good temper, and
"You like that, boy?" he asked, patting his head kindly. "Would you like me
to teach you to play it?"
Would he like!... Delighted, he murmured: "Yes." The two of them sat down
at the piano, Jean-Christophe perched this time on a pile of big books, and
very attentively he took his first lesson. He learned first of all that the
buzzing spirits have strange names, like Chinese names, of one syllable, or
even of one letter. He was astonished; he imagined them to be different
from that: beautiful, caressing names, like the princesses in the fairy
stories. He did not like the familiarity with which his father talked of
them. Again, when Melchior evoked them they were not the same; they seemed
to become indifferent as they rolled out from under his fingers. But
Jean-Christophe was glad to learn about the relationships between them,
their hierarchy, the scales, which were like a King commanding an army, or
like a band of negroes marching in single file. He was surprised to see
that each soldier, or each negro, could become a monarch in his turn, or
the head of a similar band, and that it was possible to summon whole
battalions from one end to the other of the keyboard. It amused him to hold
the thread which made them march. But it was a small thing compared with
what he had seen at first; his enchanted forest was lost. However, he set
himself to learn, for it was not tiresome, and he was surprised at his
father's patience. Melchior did not weary of it either; he made him begin
the same thing over again ten times. Jean-Christophe did not understand why
he should take so much trouble; his father loved him, then? That was good!
The boy worked away; his heart was filled with gratitude.
He would have been less docile had he known what thoughts were springing
into being in his father's head.
* * * * *
From that day on Melchior took him to the house of a neighbor, where three
times a week there was chamber music. Melchior played first violin, Jean
Michel the violoncello. The other two were a bank-clerk and the old
watchmaker of the _Schillerstrasse_. Every now and then the chemist joined
them with his flute. They began at five, and went on till nine. Between
each piece they drank beer. Neighbors used to come in and out, and listen
without a word, leaning against the wall, and nodding their heads, and
beating time with their feet, and filling the room with clouds of
tobacco-smoke. Page followed page, piece followed piece, but the patience
of the musicians was never exhausted. They did not speak; they were all
attention; their brows were knit, and from time to time they grunted with
pleasure, but for the rest they were perfectly incapable not only of
expressing, but even of feeling, the beauty of what they played. They
played neither very accurately nor in good time, but they never went off
the rails, and followed faithfully the marked changes of tone. They had
that musical facility which is easily satisfied, that mediocre perfection
which, is so plentiful in the race which is said to be the most musical in
the world. They had also that great appetite which does not stickle for the
quality of its food, so only there be quantity--that healthy appetite to
which all music is good, and the more substantial the better--it sees no
difference between Brahms and Beethoven, or between the works of the same
master, between an empty concerto and a moving sonata, because they are
fashioned of the same stuff.
Jean-Christophe sat apart in a corner, which was his own, behind the piano.
No one could disturb him there, for to reach it he had to go on all fours.
It was half dark there, and the boy had just room to lie on the floor if he
huddled up. The smoke of the tobacco filled his eyes and throat: dust, too;
there were large flakes of it like sheepskin, but he did not mind that, and
listened gravely, squatting there Turkish fashion, and widening the holes
in the cloth of the piano with his dirty little fingers. He did not like
everything that they played; but nothing that they played bored him, and he
never tried to formulate his opinions, for he thought himself too small to
know anything. Only some music sent him to sleep, some woke him up; it was
never disagreeable to him. Without his knowing it, it was nearly always
good music that excited him. Sure of not being seen, he made faces, he
wrinkled his nose, ground his teeth, or stuck out his tongue; his eyes
flashed with anger or drooped languidly; he moved his arms and legs with a
defiant and valiant air; he wanted to march, to lunge out, to pulverize the
world. He fidgeted so much that in the end a head would peer over the
piano, and say: "Hullo, boy, are you mad? Leave the piano.... Take your
hand away, or I'll pull your ears!" And that made him crestfallen and
angry. Why did they want to spoil his pleasure? He was not doing any harm.
Must he always be tormented! His father chimed in. They chid him for making
a noise, and said that he did not like music. And in the end he believed
it. These honest citizens grinding out concertos would have been astonished
if they had been told that the only person in the company who really felt
the music was the little boy.
If they wanted him to keep quiet, why did they play airs which make you
march? In those pages were rearing horses, swords, war-cries, the pride of
triumph; and they wanted him, like them, to do no more than wag his head
and beat time with his feet! They had only to play placid dreams or some of
those chattering pages which talk so much and say nothing. There are plenty
of them, for example, like that piece of Goldmark's, of which the old
watchmaker had just said with a delighted smile: "It is pretty. There is no
harshness in it. All the corners are rounded off...." The boy was very
quiet then. He became drowsy. He did not know what they were playing hardly
heard it; but he was happy; his limbs were numbed, and he was dreaming.
His dreams were not a consecutive story; they had neither head nor tail. It
was rarely that he saw a definite picture; his mother making a cake, and
with a knife removing the paste that clung to her fingers; a water-rat that
he had seen the night before swimming in the river; a whip that he wanted
to make with a willow wand.... Heaven knows why these things should have
cropped up in his memory at such a time! But most often he saw nothing at
all, and yet he felt things innumerable and infinite. It was as though
there were a number of very important things not to be spoken of, or not
worth speaking of, because they were so well known, and because they had
always been so. Some of them were sad, terribly sad; but there was nothing
painful in them, as there is in the things that belong to real life; they
were not ugly and debasing, like the blows that Jean-Christophe had from
his father, or like the things that were in his head when, sick at heart
with shame, he thought of some humiliation; they filled the mind with a
melancholy calm. And some were bright and shining, shedding torrents of
joy. And Jean-Christophe thought: "Yes, it is _thus_--thus that I will do
by-and-by." He did not know exactly what _thus_ was, nor why he said it,
but he felt that he had to say it, and that it was clear as day. He heard
the sound of a sea, and he was quite near to it, kept from it only by a
wall of dunes. Jean-Christophe had no idea what sea it was, or what it
wanted with him, but he was conscious that it would rise above the barrier
of dunes. And then!... Then all would be well, and he would be quite happy.
Nothing to do but to hear it, then, quite near, to sink to sleep to the
sound of its great voice, soothing away all his little griefs and
humiliations. They were sad still, but no longer shameful nor injurious;
everything seemed natural and almost sweet.
Very often it was mediocre music that produced this intoxication in him.
The writers of it were poor devils, with no thought in their heads but the
gaining of money, or the hiding away of the emptiness of their lives by
tagging notes together according to accepted formulae--or to be original, in
defiance of formulae. But in the notes of music, even when handled by an
idiot, there is such a power of life that they can let loose storms in a
simple soul. Perhaps even the dreams suggested by the idiots are more
mysterious and more free than those breathed by an imperious thought which
drags you along by force; for aimless movement and empty chatter do not
disturb the mind in its own pondering....
So, forgotten and forgetting, the child stayed in his corner behind the
piano, until suddenly he felt ants climbing up his legs. And he remembered
then that he was a little boy wife dirty nails, and that he was rubbing his
nose against a white-washed wall, and holding his feet in his hands.
On the day when Melchior, stealing on tiptoe, had surprised the boy at the
keyboard that was too high for him, he had stayed to watch him for a
moment, and suddenly there had flashed upon him: "A little prodigy!... Why
had he not thought of it?... What luck for the family!..." No doubt he had
thought that the boy would be a little peasant like his mother. "It would
cost nothing to try. What a great thing it would be! He would take him all
over Germany, perhaps abroad. It would be a jolly life, and noble to boot."
Melchior never failed to look for the nobility hidden in all he did, for it
was not often that he failed to find it, after some reflection.
Strong in this assurance, immediately after supper, as soon as he had taken
his last mouthful, he dumped the child once more in front of the piano, and
made him go through the day's lesson until his eyes closed in weariness.
Then three times the next day. Then the day after that. Then every day.
Jean-Christophe soon tired of it; then he was sick to death of it; finally
he could stand it no more, and tried to revolt against it. There was no
point in what he was made to do: nothing but learning to run as fast as
possible over the keys, by loosening the thumb, or exercising the fourth
finger, which would cling awkwardly to the two next to it. It got on his
nerves; there was nothing beautiful in it. There was an end of the magic
sounds, and fascinating monsters, and the universe of dreams felt in one
moment.... Nothing but scales and exercises--dry, monotonous, dull--duller
than the conversation at meal-time, which was always the same--always about
the dishes, and always the same dishes. At first the child listened
absently to what his father said. When he was severely reprimanded he went
on with a bad grace. He paid no attention to abuse; he met it with bad
temper. The last straw was when one evening he heard Melchior unfold his
plans in the next room. So it was in order to put him on show like a trick
animal that he was so badgered and forced every day to move bits of ivory!
He was not even given time to go and see his beloved river. What was it
made them so set against him? He was angry, hurt in his pride, robbed of
his liberty. He decided that he would play no more, or as badly as
possible, and would discourage his father. It would be hard, but at all
costs he must keep his independence.
The very next lesson he began to put his plan into execution. He set
himself conscientiously to hit the notes awry, or to bungle every touch.
Melchior cried out, then roared, and blows began to rain. He had a heavy
ruler. At every false note he struck the boy's fingers, and at the same
time shouted in his ears, so that he was like to deafen him.
Jean-Christophe's face twitched tinder the pain of it; he bit his lips to
keep himself from crying, and stoically went on hitting the notes all
wrong, bobbing his head down whenever he felt a blow coming. But his system
was not good, and it was not long before he began to see that it was so.
Melchior was as obstinate as his son, and he swore that even if they were
to stay there two days and two nights he would not let him off a single
note until it had been properly played. Then Jean-Christophe tried too
deliberately to play wrongly, and Melchior began to suspect the trick, as
he saw that the boy's hand fell heavily to one side at every note with
obvious intent. The blows became more frequent; Jean-Christophe was no
longer conscious of his fingers. He wept pitifully and silently, sniffing,
and swallowing down his sobs and tears. He understood that he had nothing
to gain by going on like that, and that he would have to resort to
desperate measures. He stopped, and, trembling at the thought of the storm
which was about to let loose, he said valiantly:
"Papa, I won't play any more."
"What! What!..." he cried.
He took and almost broke the boy's arm with shaking it. Jean-Christophe,
trembling more and more, and raising his elbow to ward off the blows, said
"I won't play any more. First, because I don't like being beaten. And
He could not finish. A terrific blow knocked the wind out of him, and
"Ah! you don't like being beaten? You don't like it?..."
Blows rained. Jean-Christophe bawled through his sobs:
"And then ... I don't like music!... I don't like music!..."
He slipped down from his chair. Melchior roughly put him back, and knocked
his knuckles against the keyboard. He cried:
"You shall play!"
And Jean-Christophe shouted:
"No! No! I won't play!"
Melchior had to surrender. He thrashed the boy, thrust him from the room,
and said that he should have nothing to eat all day, or the whole month,
until he had played all his exercises without a mistake. He kicked him out
and slammed the door after him,
Jean-Christophe found himself on the stairs, the dark and dirty stairs,
worm-eaten. A draught came through a broken pane in the skylight, and the
walls were dripping. Jean-Christophe sat on one of the greasy steps; his
heart was beating wildly with anger and emotion. In a low voice he cursed
"Beast! That's what you are! A beast ... a gross creature ... a brute! Yes,
a brute!... and I hate you, I hate you!... Oh, I wish you were dead! I wish
you were dead!"
His bosom swelled. He looked desperately at the sticky staircase and the
spider's web swinging in the wind above the broken pane. He felt alone,
lost in his misery. He looked at the gap in the banisters.... What if he
were to throw himself down?... or out of the window?... Yes, what if he
were to kill himself to punish them? How remorseful they would be! He heard
the noise of his fall from the stairs. The door upstairs opened suddenly.
Agonized voices cried: "He has fallen!--He has fallen!" Footsteps clattered
downstairs. His father and mother threw themselves weeping upon his body.
His mother sobbed: "It is your fault! You have killed him!" His father
waved his arms, threw himself on his knees, beat his head against the
banisters, and cried: "What a wretch am I! What a wretch am I!" The sight
of all this softened his misery. He was on the point of taking pity on
their grief; but then he thought that it was well for them, Had he enjoyed
When his story was ended, he found himself once more at the top of the
stairs in the dark; he looked down once more, and his desire to throw
himself down was gone. He even, shuddered a little, and moved away from the
edge, thinking that he might fall. Then he felt that he was a prisoner,
like a poor bird in a cage--a prisoner forever, with nothing to do but to
break his head and hurt himself. He wept, wept, and he robbed his eyes with
his dirty little hands, so that in a moment he was filthy. As he wept he
never left off looking at the things about him, and he found some
distraction in that. He stopped moaning for a moment to look at the spider
which, had just begun to move. Then he began with less conviction. He
listened to the sound of his own weeping, and went on, mechanically with
his sobbing, without much knowing why he did so. Soon he got up; he was
attracted by the window. He sat on the window-sill, retiring into the
background, and watched the spider furtively. It interested while it
Below the Rhine flowed, washing the walls of the house. In the staircase
window it was like being suspended over the river in a moving sky.
Jean-Christophe never limped down the stairs without taking a long look at
it, but he had never yet seen it as it was to-day. Grief sharpens the
senses; it is as though everything were more sharply graven on the vision
after tears have washed away the dim traces of memory. The river was like
a living thing to the child--a creature inexplicable, but how much more
powerful than all the creatures that he knew! Jean-Christophe leaned
forward to see it better; he pressed his mouth and flattened his nose
against the pane. Where was _it_ going? What did _it_ want? _It_ looked
free, and sure of its road.... Nothing could stop _it_. At all hours of the
day or night, rain or sun, whether there were joy or sorrow in the house,
_it_ went on going by, and it was as though nothing mattered to _it_, as
though _it_ never knew sorrow, and rejoiced in its strength. What joy to
be like _it_, to run through the fields, and by willow-branches, and over
little shining pebbles and crisping sand, and to care for nothing, to be
cramped by nothing, to be free!...
The boy looked and listened greedily; it was as though he were borne
along by the river, moving by with it.... When he closed his eyes he
saw color--blue, green, yellow, red, and great chasing shadows and
sunbeams.... What he sees takes shape. Now it is a large plain, reeds, corn
waving under a breeze scented with new grass and mint. Flowers on every
side--cornflowers, poppies, violets. How lovely it is! How sweet the air!
How good it is to lie down in the thick, soft grass!... Jean-Christophe
feels glad and a little bewildered, as he does when on feast-days his
father pours into his glass a little Rhine wine.... The river goes by....
The country is changed.... Now there are trees leaning over the water;
their delicate leaves, like little hands, dip, move, and turn about in
the water. A village among the trees is mirrored in the river. There are
cypress-trees, and the crosses of the cemetery showing above the white wall
washed by the stream. Then there are rocks, a mountain gorge, vines on the
slopes, a little pine-wood, and ruined castles.... And once more the plain,
corn, birds, and the sun....
The great green mass of the river goes by smoothly, like a single
thought; there are no waves, almost no ripples--smooth, oily patches.
Jean-Christophe does not see it; he has closed his eyes to hear it better.
The ceaseless roaring fills him, makes him giddy; he is exalted by this
eternal, masterful dream which goes no man knows whither. Over the turmoil
of its depths rush waters, in swift rhythm, eagerly, ardently. And from the
rhythm ascends music, like a vine climbing a trellis--arpeggios from silver
keys, sorrowful violins, velvety and smooth-sounding flutes.... The country
has disappeared. The river has disappeared. There floats by only a strange,
soft, and twilight atmosphere. Jean-Christophe's heart flutters with
emotion. What does he see now? Oh! Charming faces!... A little girl with
brown tresses calls to him, slowly, softly, and mockingly.... A pale
boy's face looks at him with melancholy blue eyes.... Others smile; other
eyes look at him--curious and provoking eyes, and their glances make
him blush--eyes affectionate and mournful, like the eyes of a dog--eyes
imperious, eyes suffering.... And the pale face of a woman, with black
hair, and lips close pressed, and eyes so large that they obscure her other
features, and they gaze upon Jean-Christophe with an ardor that hurts
him.... And, dearest of all, that face which smiles upon him with clear
gray eyes and lips a little open, showing gleaming white teeth.... Ah! how
kind and tender is that smile! All his heart is tenderness from it! How
good it is to love! Again! Smile upon me again! Do not go!... Alas! it is
gone!... But it leaves in his heart sweetness ineffable. Evil, sorrow,
are no more; nothing is left.... Nothing, only an airy dream, like serene
music, floating down a sunbeam, like the gossamers on fine summer days....
What has happened? What are these visions that fill the child with sadness
and sweet sorrow? Never had he seen them before, and yet he knew them and
recognized them. Whence come they? From what obscure abysm of creation? Are
they what has been ... _or what will be?_...
Now all is done, every haunting form is gone. Once more through a misty
veil, as though he were soaring high above it, the river in flood appears,
covering the fields, and rolling by, majestic, slow, almost still. And far,
far away, like a steely light upon the horizon, a watery plain, a line of
trembling waves--the sea. The river runs down to it. The sea seems to run
up to the river. She fires him. He desires her. He must lose himself in
her.... The music hovers; lovely dance rhythms swing out madly; all the
world is rocked in their triumphant whirligig.... The soul, set free,
cleaves space, like swallows' flight, like swallows drunk with the air,
skimming across the sky with shrill cries.... Joy! Joy! There is nothing,
nothing!... Oh, infinite happiness!...
Hours passed; it was evening; the staircase was in darkness. Drops of rain
made rings upon the river's gown, and the current bore them dancing away.
Sometimes the branch of a tree or pieces of black bark passed noiselessly
and disappeared. The murderous spider had withdrawn to her darkest corner.
And little Jean-Christophe was still leaning forward on the window-sill.
His face was pale and dirty; happiness shone in him. He was asleep.
E la faccia del sol nascere ombrata.
He had to surrender. In spite of an obstinate and heroic resistance, blows
triumphed over his ill-will. Every morning for three hours, and for three
hours every evening, Jean-Christophe was set before the instrument of
torture. All on edge with attention and weariness, with large tears rolling
down his cheeks and nose, he moved his little red hands over the black and
white keys--his hands were often stiff with cold--under the threatening
ruler, which descended at every false note, and the harangues of his
master, which were more odious to him than the blows. He thought that he
hated music. And yet he applied himself to it with a zest which fear of
Melchior did not altogether explain. Certain words of his grandfather had
made an impression on him. The old man, seeing his grandson weeping, had
told him, with that gravity which he always maintained for the boy, that it
was worth while suffering a little for the most beautiful and noble art
given to men for their consolation and glory. And Jean-Christophe, who was
grateful to his grandfather for talking to him like a man, had been
secretly touched by these simple words, which sorted well with his childish
stoicism and growing pride. But, more than by argument, he was bound and
enslaved by the memory of certain musical emotions, bound and enslaved to
the detested art, against which he tried in vain to rebel.
There was in the town, as usual in Germany, a theater, where opera,
opera-comique, operetta, drama, comedy, and vaudeville are presented--every
sort of play of every style and fashion. There were performances three
times a week from six to nine in the evening. Old Jean Michel never missed
one, and was equally interested in everything. Once he took his grandson
with him. Several days beforehand he told him at length what the piece was
about. Jean-Christophe did not understand it, but he did gather that there
would be terrible things in it, and while he was consumed with the desire
to see them he was much afraid, though he dared not confess it. He knew
that there was to be a storm, and he was fearful of being struck by
lightning. He knew that there was to be a battle, and he was not at all
sure that he would not be killed. On the night before, in bed, he went
through real agony, and on the day of the performance he almost wished that
his grandfather might be prevented from coming for him. But when the hour
was near, and his grandfather did not come, he began to worry, and every
other minute looked out of the window. At last the old man appeared, and
they set out together. His heart leaped in his bosom; his tongue was dry,
and he could not speak.
They arrived at the mysterious building which was so often talked about at
home. At the door Jean Michel met some acquaintances, and the boy, who was
holding his hand tight because he was afraid of being lost, could not
understand how they could talk and laugh quietly at such a moment.
Jean Michel took his usual place in the first row behind the orchestra. He
leaned on the balustrade, and began a long conversation with the
contra-bass. He was at home there; there he was listened to because of his
authority as a musician, and he made the most of it; it might almost be
said that he abused it. Jean-Christophe could hear nothing. He was
overwhelmed by his expectation of the play, by the appearance of the
theater, which seemed magnificent to him, by the splendor of the audience,
who frightened him terribly. He dared not turn his head, for he thought
that all eyes were fixed on him. He hugged his little cap between his
knees, and he stared at the magic curtain with round eyes.
At last three blows were struck. His grandfather blew his nose, and drew
the _libretto_ from his pocket. He always followed it scrupulously, so much
so that sometimes he neglected what was happening on the stage. The
orchestra began to play. With the opening chords Jean-Christophe felt more
at ease. He was at home in this world of sound, and from that moment,
however extravagant the play might be, it seemed natural to him.
The curtain was raised, to reveal pasteboard trees and creatures who were
not much more real. The boy looked at it all, gaping with admiration, but
he was not surprised. The piece set in a fantastic East, of which he could
have had no idea. The poem was a web of ineptitudes, in which no human
quality was perceptible. Jean-Christophe hardly grasped it at all; he made
extraordinary mistakes, took one character for another, and pulled at his
grandfather's sleeve to ask him absurd questions, which showed that he had
understood nothing. He was not bored: passionately interested, on the
contrary. Bound the idiotic _libretto_ he built a romance of his own
invention, which had no sort of relation to the one that was represented on
the stage. Every moment some incident upset his romance, and he had to
repair it, but that did not worry him. He had made his choice of the people
who moved upon the stage, making all sorts of different sounds, and
breathlessly he followed the fate of those upon whom he had fastened his
sympathy. He was especially concerned with a fair lady, of uncertain age,
who had long, brilliantly fair hair, eyes of an unnatural size, and bare
feet. The monstrous improbabilities of the setting did not shock him. His
keen, childish eyes did not perceive the grotesque ugliness of the actors,
large and fleshy, and the deformed chorus of all sizes in two lines, nor
the pointlessness of their gestures, nor their faces bloated by their
shrieks, nor the full wigs, nor the high heels of the tenor, nor the
make-up of his lady-love, whose face was streaked with variegated
penciling. He was in the condition of a lover, whose passion blinds him to
the actual aspect of the beloved object. The marvelous power of illusion,
natural to children, stopped all unpleasant sensations on the way, and
The music especially worked wonders. It bathed the whole scene in a misty
atmosphere, in which everything became beautiful, noble, and desirable. It
bred in the soul a desperate need of love, and at the same time showed
phantoms of love on all sides, to fill the void that itself had created.
Little Jean-Christophe was overwhelmed by his emotion. There were words,
gestures, musical phrases which disturbed him; he dared not then raise his
eyes; he knew not whether it were well or ill; he blushed and grew pale by
turns; sometimes there came drops of sweat upon his brow, and he was
fearful lest all the people there should see his distress. When the
catastrophe came about which inevitably breaks upon lovers in the fourth
act of an opera so as to provide the tenor and the _prima donna_ with an
opportunity for showing off their shrillest screams, the child thought he
must choke; his throat hurt him as though he had caught cold; he clutched
at his neck with his hands, and could not swallow his saliva; tears welled
up in him; his hands and feet were frozen. Fortunately, his grandfather was
not much less moved. He enjoyed the theater with a childish simplicity.
During the dramatic passages he coughed carelessly to hide his distress,
but Jean-Christophe saw it, and it delighted him. It was horribly hot;
Jean-Christophe was dropping with sleep, and he was very uncomfortable. But
he thought only: "Is there much longer? It cannot be finished!" Then
suddenly it was finished, without his knowing why. The curtain fell; the
audience rose; the enchantment was broken.
They went home through the night, the two children--the old man and the
little boy. What a fine night! What a serene moonlight! They said nothing;
they were turning over their memories. At last the old man said:
"Did you like it, boy?"
Jean-Christophe could not reply; he was still fearful from emotion, and he
would not speak, so as not to break the spell; he had to make an effort to
whisper, with a sigh:
The old man smiled. After a time he went on:
"It's a fine thing--a musician's trade! To create things like that, such
marvelous spectacles--is there anything more glorious? It is to be God on
The boy's mind leaped to that. What! a man had made all that! That had not
occurred to him. It had seemed that it must have made itself, must be the
work of Nature. A man, a musician, such as he would be some day! Oh, to be
that for one day, only one day! And then afterwards ... afterwards,
whatever you like! Die, if necessary! He asked:
"What man made that, grandfather?"
The old man told him of Francois Marie Hassler, a young German artist who
lived at Berlin. He had known him once. Jean-Christophe listened, all ears.
Suddenly he said:
"And you, grandfather?"
The old man trembled.
"What?" he asked.
"Did you do things like that--you too?"
"Certainly," said the old man a little crossly.
He was silent, and after they had walked a little he sighed heavily. It
was one of the sorrows of his life. He had always longed to write for the
theater, and inspiration had always betrayed him. He had in his desk one or
two acts written, but he had so little illusion as to their worth that he
had never dared to submit them to an outside judgment.
They said no more until they reached home. Neither slept. The old man was
troubled. He took his Bible for consolation. In bed Jean-Christophe turned
over and over the events of the evening; he recollected the smallest
details, and the girl with the bare feet reappeared before him. As he dozed
off a musical phrase rang in his ears as distinctly as if the orchestra
were there. All his body leaped; he sat up on his pillow, his head buzzing
with music, and he thought: "Some day I also shall write. Oh, can I ever do
From that moment he had only one desire, to go to the theater again, and he
set himself to work more keenly, because they made a visit to the theater
his reward. He thought of nothing but that; half the week he thought of the
last performance, and the other half he thought of the next. He was fearful
of being ill on a theater day, and this fear made him often, find in
himself the symptoms of three or four illnesses. When the day came he did
not eat; he fidgeted like a soul in agony; he looked at the clock fifty
times, and thought that the evening would never come; finally, unable to
contain himself, he would go out an hour before the office opened, for fear
of not being able to procure a seat, and, as he was the first in the empty
theater, he used to grow uneasy. His grandfather had told him that once
or twice the audience had not been large enough, and so the players
had preferred not to perform, and to give back the money. He watched
the arrivals and counted them, thinking: "Twenty-three, twenty-four,
twenty-five.... Oh, it is not enough ... there will never be enough!" 'And
when he saw some important person enter the circle or the stalls, his heart
was lighter, and he said to himself: "They will never dare to send him
away. Surely they will play for him." But he was not convinced; he would
not be reassured until the musicians took their places. And even then he
would be afraid that the curtain would rise, and they would announce, as
they had done one evening, a change of programme. With lynx eyes he watched
the stand of the contra-bass to see if the title written on his music was
that of the piece announced. And when he had seen it there, two minutes
later he would look again to make quite sure that he had not been wrong.
The conductor was not there. He must be ill. There was a stirring behind
the curtain, and a sound of voices and hurried footsteps. Was there an
accident, some untoward misfortune? Silence again. The conductor was at
his post. Everything seemed ready at last.... They did not begin! What
was happening? He boiled over with impatience. Then the bell rang. His
heart thumped away. The orchestra began the overture, and for a few hours
Jean-Christophe would swim in happiness, troubled only by the idea that it
must soon come to an end.
* * * * *
Some time after that a musical event brought even more excitement into
Jean-Christophe's thoughts. Francois Marie Hassler, the author of the
first opera which had so bowled him over, was to visit the town. He was to
conduct a concert consisting of his compositions. The town was excited. The
young musician was the subject of violent discussion in Germany, and for a
fortnight he was the only topic of conversation. It was a different matter
when he arrived. The friends of Melchior and old Jean Michel continually
came for news, and they went away with the most extravagant notions of the
musician's habits and eccentricities. The child followed these narratives
with eager attention. The idea that the great man was there in the town,
breathing the same air as himself, treading the same stones, threw him into
a state of dumb exaltation. He lived only in the hope of seeing him.
Hassler was staying at the Palace as the guest of the Grand Duke. He hardly
went out, except to the theater for rehearsals, to which Jean-Christophe
was not admitted, and as he was very lazy, he went to and fro in
the Prince's carriage. Therefore, Jean-Christophe did not have many
opportunities of seeing him, and he only succeeded once in catching sight
of him as he drove in the carriage. He saw his fur coat, and wasted hours
in waiting in the street, thrusting and jostling his way to right and left,
and before and behind, to win and keep his place in front of the loungers.
He consoled himself with spending half his days watching the windows of the
Palace which had been pointed out as those of the master. Most often he
only saw the shutters, for Hassler got up late, and the windows were closed
almost all morning. This habit had made well-informed persons say that
Hassler could not bear the light of day, and lived in eternal night.
At length Jean-Christophe was able to approach his hero. It was the day of
the concert. All the town was there. The Grand Duke and his Court occupied
the great royal box, surmounted with a crown supported by two chubby
cherubim. The theater was in gala array. The stage was decorated with
branches of oak and flowering laurel. All the musicians of any account made
it a point of honor to take their places in the orchestra. Melchior was at
his post, and Jean Michel was conducting the chorus.
When Hassler appeared there was loud applause from every part of the house,
and the ladies rose to see him better. Jean-Christophe devoured him with
his eyes. Hassler had a young, sensitive face, though it was already rather
puffy and tired-looking; his temples were bald, and his hair was thin on
the crown of his head; for the rest, fair, curly hair. His blue eyes looked
vague. He had a little fair mustache and an expressive mouth, which was
rarely still, but twitched with a thousand imperceptible movements. He was
tall, and held himself badly--not from awkwardness, but from weariness or
boredom. He conducted capriciously and lithely, with his whole awkward body
swaying, like his music, with gestures, now caressing, now sharp and jerky.
It was easy to see that he was very nervous, and his music was the exact
reflection of himself. The quivering and jerky life of it broke through the
usual apathy of the orchestra. Jean-Christophe breathed heavily; in spite
of his fear of drawing attention to himself, he could not stand still in
his place; he fidgeted, got up, and the music gave him such violent and
unexpected shocks that he had to move his head, arms, and legs, to the
great discomfort of his neighbors, who warded off his kicks as best they
could. The whole audience was enthusiastic, fascinated by the success,
rather than by the compositions. At the end there was a storm of applause
and cries, in which the trumpets in the orchestra joined, German fashion,
with their triumphant blare in salute of the conqueror, Jean-Christophe
trembled with pride, as though these honors were for himself. He enjoyed
seeing Hassler's face light up with childish pleasure. The ladies threw
flowers, the men waved their hats, and the audience rushed for the
platform. Every one wanted to shake the master's hand. Jean-Christophe
saw one enthusiast raise the master's hand to his lips, another steal a
handkerchief that Hassler had left on the corner of his desk. He wanted
to reach the platform also, although he did not know why, for if at that
moment he had found himself near Hassler, he would have fled at once in
terror and emotion. But he butted with all his force, like a ram, among the
skirts and legs that divided him from Hassler. He was too small; he could
not break through.
Fortunately, when the concert was over, his grandfather came and took him
to join in a party to serenade Hassler. It was night, and torches were
lighted. All the musicians of the orchestra were there. They talked only of
the marvelous compositions they had heard. They arrived outside the Palace,
and took up their places without a sound under the master's windows. They
took on an air of secrecy, although everybody, including Hassler, knew what
was to come. In the silence of the night they began to play certain famous
fragments of Hassler's compositions. He appeared at the window with the
Prince, and they roared in their honor. Both bowed. A servant came from the
Prince to invite the musicians to enter the Palace. They passed through
great rooms, with frescoes representing naked men with helmets; they were
of a reddish color, and were making gestures of defiance. The sky was
covered with great clouds like sponges. There were also men and women of
marble clad in waist-cloths made of iron. The guests walked on carpets so
thick that their tread was inaudible, and they came at length to a room
which was as light as day, and there were tables laden with drinks and good
The Grand Duke was there, but Jean-Christophe did not see him; he had eyes
only for Hassler. Hassler came towards them; he thanked them. He picked his
words carefully, stopped awkwardly in the middle of a sentence, and
extricated himself with a quip which made everybody laugh. They began to
eat. Hassler took four or five musicians aside. He singled out
Jean-Christophe's grandfather, and addressed very flattering words to him:
he recollected that Jean Michel had been one of the first to perform his
works, and he said that he had often heard tell of his excellence from a
friend of his who had been a pupil of the old man's. Jean-Christophe's
grandfather expressed his gratitude profusely; he replied with such
extraordinary eulogy that, in spite of his adoration of Hassler, the boy
was ashamed. But to Hassler they seemed to be pleasant and in the rational
order. Finally, the old man, who had lost himself in his rigmarole, took
Jean-Christophe by the hand, and presented him to Hassler. Hassler smiled
at Jean-Christophe, and carelessly patted his head, and when he learned
that the boy liked his music, and had not slept for several nights in
anticipation of seeing him, he took him in his arms and plied him with
questions. Jean-Christophe, struck, dumb and blushing with pleasure, dared
not look at him. Hassler took him by the chin and lifted his face up.
Jean-Christophe ventured to look. Hassler's eyes were kind and smiling; he
began to smile too. Then he felt so happy, so wonderfully happy in the
great man's arms, that he burst into tears. Hassler was touched by this
simple affection, and was more kind than ever. He kissed the boy and talked
to him tenderly. At the same time he said funny things and tickled him to
make him laugh; and Jean-Christophe could not help laughing through his
tears. Soon he became at ease, and answered Hassler readily, and of his own
accord he began to whisper in his ear all his small ambitions, as though he
and Hassler were old friends; he told him how he wanted to be a musician
like Hassler, and, like Hassler, to make beautiful things, and to be a
great man. He, was always ashamed, talked confidently; he did not know what
he was saying; he was in a sort of ecstasy, Hassler smiled at his prattling
"When you are a man, and have become a good musician, you shall come and
see me in Berlin. I shall make something of you."
Jean-Christophe was too delighted to reply.
Hassler teased him.
"You don't want to?"
Jean-Christophe nodded his head violently five or six times, meaning "Yes."
"It is a bargain, then?"
Jean-Christophe nodded again.
"Kiss me, then."
Jean-Christophe threw his arms round Hassler's neck and hugged him with all
"Oh, you are wetting me! Let go! Your nose wants wiping!"
Hassler laughed, and wiped the boy's nose himself, a little
self-consciously, though he was quite jolly. He put him down, then took him
by the hand and led him to a table, where he filled his pockets with cake,
and left him, saying:
"Good-bye! Remember your promise."
Jean-Christophe swam in happiness. The rest of the world had ceased to
exist for him. He could remember nothing of what had happened earlier in
the evening; he followed lovingly Hassler's every expression and gesture.
One thing that he said struck him. Hassler was holding a glass in his hand;
he was talking, and his face suddenly hardened, and he said:
"The joy of such a day must not make us forget our enemies. We must never
forget our enemies. It is not their fault that we are not crushed out of
existence. It will not be our fault if that does not happen to them. That
is why the toast I propose is that there are people whose health ... we
will not drink!"
Everybody applauded and laughed at this original toast. Hassler had laughed
with the others and his good-humored expression had returned. But
Jean-Christophe was put off by it. Although he did not permit himself to
criticise any action of his hero, it hurt him that he had thought ugly
things, when on such a night there ought to be nothing but brilliant
thoughts and fancies. But he did not examine what he felt, and the
impression that it made was soon driven out by his great joy and the drop
of champagne which he drank out of his grandfather's glass.
On the way back the old man never stopped talking; he was delighted with
the praise that Hassler had given him; he cried out that Hassler was a
genius such as had not been known for a century. Jean-Christophe said
nothing, locking up in his heart his intoxication of love. _He_ had kissed
him. _He_ had held him in his arms! How good _he_ was! How great!
"Ah," he thought in bed, as he kissed his pillow passionately, "I would die
for him--die for him!"
The brilliant meteor which had flashed across the sky of the little town
that night had a decisive influence on Jean-Christophe's mind. All his
childhood Hassler was the model on which his eyes were fixed, and to follow
his example the little man of six decided that he also would write music.
To tell the truth, he had been doing so for long enough without knowing it,
and he had not waited to be conscious of composing before he composed.
Everything is music for the born musician. Everything that throbs, or
moves, or stirs, or palpitates--sunlit summer days, nights when the wind
howls, flickering light, the twinkling of the stars, storms, the song of
birds, the buzzing of insects, the murmuring of trees, voices, loved or
loathed, familiar fireside sounds, a creaking door, blood moving in the
veins in the silence of the night--everything that is is music; all that is
needed is that it should be heard. All the music of creation found its echo
in Jean-Christophe. Everything that he saw, everything that he felt, was
translated into music without his being conscious of it. He was like a
buzzing hive of bees. But no one noticed it, himself least of all.
Like all children, he hummed perpetually at every hour of the day. Whatever
he was doing--whether he were walking in the street, hopping on one foot,
or lying on the floor at his grandfather's, with his head in his hands,
absorbed in the pictures of a book, or sitting in his little chair in the
darkest corner of the kitchen, dreaming aimlessly in the twilight--always
the monotonous murmuring of his little trumpet was to be heard, played with
lips closed and cheeks blown out. His mother seldom paid any heed to it,
but, once in a while, she would protest.
When he was tired of this state of half-sleep he would have to move and
make a noise. Then he made music, singing it at the top of his voice. He
had made tunes for every occasion. He had a tune for splashing in his
wash-basin in the morning, like a little duck. He had a tune for sitting on
the piano-stool in front of the detested instrument, and another for
getting off it, and this was a more brilliant affair than the other. He had
one for his mother putting the soup on the table; he used to go before her
then blowing a blare of trumpets. He played triumphal marches by which to
go solemnly from the dining-room to the bedroom. Sometimes he would
organize little processions with his two small brothers; all then would
file out gravely, one after another, and each had a tune to march to. But,
as was right and proper, Jean-Christophe kept the best for himself. Every
one of his tunes was strictly appropriated to its special occasion, and
Jean-Christophe never by any chance confused them. Anybody else would have
made mistakes, but he knew the shades of difference between them exactly.
One day at his grandfather's house he was going round the room clicking his
heels, head up and chest out; he went round and round and round, so that it
was a wonder he did not turn sick, and played one of his compositions. The
old man, who was shaving, stopped in the middle of it, and, with his face
covered with lather, came to look at him, and said:
"What are you singing, boy?"
Jean-Christophe said he did not know.
"Sing it again!" said Jean Michel.
Jean-Christophe tried; he could not remember the tune. Proud of having
attracted his grandfather's attention, he tried to make him admire his
voice, and sang after his own fashion an air from some opera, but that was
not what the old man wanted. Jean Michel said nothing, and seemed not to
notice him any more. But he left the door of his room ajar while the boy
was playing alone in the next room.
A few days later Jean-Christophe, with the chairs arranged about him, was
playing a comedy in music, which he had made up of scraps that he
remembered from the theater, and he was making steps and bows, as he had
seen them done in a minuet, and addressing himself to the portrait of
Beethoven which hung above the table. As he turned with a pirouette he saw
his grandfather watching him through the half-open door. He thought the old
man was laughing at him; he was abashed, and stopped dead; he ran to the
window, and pressed his face against the panes, pretending that he had been
watching something of the greatest interest. But the old man said nothing;
he came to him and kissed him, and Jean-Christophe saw that he was pleased.
His vanity made the most of these signs; he was clever enough to see that
he had been appreciated; but he did not know exactly which his grandfather
had admired most--his talent as a dramatic author, or as a musician, or as
a singer, or as a dancer. He inclined, to the latter, for he prided himself
A week later, when he had forgotten the whole affair, his grandfather said
mysteriously that he had something to show him. He opened his desk, took
out a music-book, and put it on the rack of the piano, and told the boy to
play. Jean-Christophe was very much interested, and deciphered it fairly
well. The notes were written by hand in the old man's large handwriting,
and he had taken especial pains with it. The headings were adorned with
scrolls and flourishes. After some moments the old man, who was sitting
beside Jean-Christophe turning the pages for him, asked him what the music
was. Jean-Christophe had been too much absorbed in his playing to notice
what he had played, and said that he did not know it.
"Listen!... You don't know it?"
Yes; he thought he knew it, but he did not know where he had heard it. The
old man laughed.
Jean-Christophe shook his head.
"I don't know."
A light was fast dawning in his mind; it seemed to him that the air....
But, no! He dared not.... He would not recognize it.
"I don't know, grandfather."
"What, you little fool, don't you see that it is your own?"
He was sure of it, but to hear it said made his heart thump.
Beaming, the old man showed him the book.
"See: _Aria_. It is what you were singing on Tuesday when you were lying on
the floor. _March_. That is what I asked you to sing again last week, and
you could not remember it. _Minuet_. That is what you were dancing by the
On the cover was written in wonderful Gothic letters:
"_The Pleasures of Childhood: Aria, Minuetto, Valse, and Marcia, Op. 1, by
Jean-Christophe was dazzled by it. To see his name, and that fine title,
and that large book--his work!... He went on murmuring:
"Oh! grandfather! grandfather!..."
The old man drew him to him. Jean-Christophe threw himself on his knees,
and hid his head in Jean Michel's bosom. He was covered with blushes from
his happiness. The old man was even happier, and went on, in a voice which
he tried to make indifferent, for he felt that he was on the point of
"Of course, I added the accompaniment and the harmony to fit the song. And
then"--he coughed--"and then, I added a _trio_ to the minuet, because ...
because it is usual ... and then.... I think it is not at all bad."
He played it. Jean-Christophe was very proud of collaborating with his
"But, grandfather, you must put your name to it too."
"It is not worth while. It is not worth while others besides yourself
knowing it. Only"--here his voice trembled--"only, later on, when I am no
more, it will remind you of your old grandfather ... eh? You won't forget
The poor old man did not say that he had been unable to resist the quite
innocent pleasure of introducing one of his own unfortunate airs into his
grandson's work, which he felt was destined to survive him; but his desire
to share in this imaginary glory was very humble and very touching, since
it was enough for him anonymously to transmit to posterity a scrap of his
own thought, so as not altogether to perish. Jean-Christophe was touched by
it, and covered his face with kisses, and the old man, growing more and
more tender, kissed his hair.
"You will remember me? Later on, when you are a good musician, a great
artist, who will bring honor to his family, to his art, and to his country,
when you are famous, you will remember that it was your old grandfather who
first perceived it, and foretold what you would be?"
There were tears in his eyes as he listened to his own words. He was
reluctant to let such signs of weakness be seen. He had an attack of
coughing, became moody, and sent the boy away hugging the precious
Jean-Christophe went home bewildered by his happiness. The stones danced
about him. The reception he had from his family sobered him a little. When
he blurted out the splendor of his musical exploit they cried out upon him.
His mother laughed at him. Melchior declared that the old man was mad, and
that he would do better to take care of himself than to set about turning
the boy's head. As for Jean-Christophe, he would oblige by putting such
follies from his mind, and sitting down _illico_ at the piano and playing
exercises for four hours. He must first learn to play properly; and as for
composing, there was plenty of time for that later on when he had nothing
better to do.
Melchior was not, as these words of wisdom might indicate, trying to keep
the boy from the dangerous exaltation of a too early pride. On the
contrary, he proved immediately that this was not so. But never having
himself had any idea to express in music, and never having had the least
need to express an idea, he had come, as a _virtuoso_, to consider
composing a secondary matter, which was only given value by the art of the
executant. He was not insensible of the tremendous enthusiasm roused by
great composers like Hassler. For such ovations he had the respect which he
always paid to success--mingled, perhaps, with a little secret
jealousy--for it seemed to him that such applause was stolen from him. But
he knew by experience that the successes of the great _virtuosi_ are no
less remarkable, and are more personal in character, and therefore more
fruitful of agreeable and flattering consequences. He affected to pay
profound homage to the genius of the master musicians; but he took a great
delight in telling absurd anecdotes of them, presenting their intelligence
and morals in a lamentable light. He placed the _virtuoso_ at the top of
the artistic ladder, for, he said, it is well known that the tongue is the
noblest member of the body, and what would thought be without words? What
would music be without the executant? But whatever may have been the reason
for the scolding that he gave Jean-Christophe, it was not without its uses
in restoring some common sense to the boy, who was almost beside himself
with his grandfather's praises. It was not quite enough. Jean-Christophe,
of course, decided that his grandfather was much cleverer than his father,
and though he sat down at the piano without sulking, he did so not so much
for the sake of obedience as to be able to dream in peace, as he always did
while his fingers ran, mechanically over the keyboard. While he played his
interminable exercises he heard a proud voice inside himself saying over
and over again: "I am a composer--a great composer."
From that day on, since he was a composer, he set himself to composing.
Before he had even learned to write, he continued to cipher crotchets and
quavers on scraps of paper, which he tore from the household account-books.
But in the effort to find out what he was thinking, and to set it down in
black and white, he arrived at thinking nothing, except when he wanted to
think something. But he did not for that give up making musical phrases,
and as he was a born musician he made them somehow, even if they meant
nothing at all. Then he would take them in triumph to his grandfather, who
wept with joy over them--he wept easily now that he was growing old--and
vowed that they were wonderful.
All this was like to spoil him altogether. Fortunately, his own good sense
saved him, helped by the influence of a man who made no pretension of
having any influence over anybody, and set nothing before the eyes of the
world but a commonsense point of view. This man was Louisa's brother.
Like her, he was small, thin, puny, and rather round-shouldered. No one
knew exactly how old he was; he could not be more than forty, but he looked
more than fifty. He had a little wrinkled face, with a pink complexion, and
kind pale blue eyes, like faded forget-me-nots. When he took off his cap,
which he used fussily to wear everywhere from his fear of draughts, he
exposed a little pink bald head, conical in shape, which was the great
delight of Jean-Christophe and his brothers. They never left off teasing
him about it, asking him what he had done with his hair, and, encouraged by
Melchior's pleasantries, threatening to smack it. He was the first to laugh
at them, and put up with their treatment of him patiently. He was a
peddler; he used to go from village to village with a pack on his back,
containing everything--groceries, stationery, confectionery, handkerchiefs,
scarves, shoes, pickles, almanacs, songs, and drugs. Several attempts had
been made to make him settle down, and to buy him a little business--a
store or a drapery shop. But he could not do it. One night he would get up,
push the key under the door, and set off again with his pack. Weeks and
months went by before he was seen again. Then he would reappear. Some
evening they would hear him fumbling at the door; it would half open, and
the little bald head, politely uncovered, would appear with its kind eyes
and timid smile. He would say, "Good-evening, everybody," carefully wipe
his shoes before entering, salute everybody, beginning with the eldest, and
go and sit in the most remote corner of the room. There he would light his
pipe, and sit huddled up, waiting quietly until the usual storm of
questions was over. The two Kraffts, Jean-Christophe's father and
grandfather, had a jeering contempt for him. The little freak seemed
ridiculous to them, and their pride was touched by the low degree of the
peddler. They made him feel it, but he seemed to take no notice of it, and
showed them a profound respect which disarmed them, especially the old man,
who was very sensitive to what people thought of him. They used to crush
him with heavy pleasantries, which often brought the blush to Louisa's
cheeks. Accustomed to bow without dispute to the intellectual superiority
of the Kraffts, she had no doubt that her husband and father-in-law were
right; but she loved her brother, and her brother had for her a dumb
adoration. They were the only members of their family, and they were both
humble, crushed, and thrust aside by life; they were united in sadness and
tenderness by a bond of mutual pity and common suffering, borne in secret.
With the Kraffts--robust, noisy, brutal, solidly built for living, and
living joyously--these two weak, kindly creatures, out of their setting, so
to speak, outside life, understood and pitied each other without ever
saying anything about it.
Jean-Christophe, with the cruel carelessness of childhood, shared the
contempt of his father and grandfather for the little peddler. He made fun
of him, and treated him as a comic figure; he worried him with stupid
teasing, which his uncle bore with his unshakable phlegm. But
Jean-Christophe loved him, without quite knowing why. He loved him first of
all as a plaything with which he did what he liked. He loved him also
because he always gave him something nice--a dainty, a picture, an amusing
toy. The little man's return was a joy for the children, for he always had
some surprise for them. Poor as he was, he always contrived to bring them
each a present, and he never forgot the birthday of any one of the family.
He always turned up on these august days, and brought out of his pocket
some jolly present, lovingly chosen. They were so used to it that they
hardly thought of thanking him; it seemed natural, and he appeared to be
sufficiently repaid by the pleasure he had given. But Jean-Christophe, who
did not sleep very well, and during the night used to turn over in his mind
the events of the day, used sometimes to think that his uncle was very
kind, and he used to be filled with floods of gratitude to the poor man. He
never showed it when the day came, because he thought that the others would
laugh at him. Besides, he was too little to see in kindness all the rare
value that it has. In the language of children, kind and stupid are almost
synonymous, and Uncle Gottfried seemed to be the living proof of it.
One evening when Melchior was dining out, Gottfried was left alone in the
living-room, while Louisa put the children to bed. He went out, and sat by
the river a few yards away from the house. Jean-Christophe, having nothing
better to do, followed him, and, as usual, tormented him with his puppy
tricks until he was out of breath, and dropped down on the grass at his
feet. Lying on his belly, he buried his nose in the turf. When he had
recovered his breath, he cast about for some new crazy thing to say. When
he found it he shouted it out, and rolled about with laughing, with his
face still buried in the earth. He received no answer. Surprised by the
silence, he raised his head, and began to repeat his joke. He saw
Gottfried's face lit up by the last beams of the setting sun cast through
golden mists. He swallowed down his words. Gottfried smiled with his eyes
half closed and his mouth half open, and in his sorrowful face was an
expression of sadness and unutterable melancholy. Jean-Christophe, with his
face in his hands, watched him. The night came; little by little
Gottfried's face disappeared. Silence reigned. Jean-Christophe in his turn
was filled with the mysterious impressions which had been reflected on
Gottfried's face. He fell into a vague stupor. The earth was in darkness,
the sky was bright; the stars peeped out. The little waves of the river
chattered against the bank. The boy grew sleepy. Without seeing them, he
bit off little blades of grass. A grasshopper chirped near him. It seemed
to him that he was going to sleep.
Suddenly, in the dark, Gottfried began to sing. He sang in a weak, husky
voice, as though to himself; he could not have been heard twenty yards
away. But there was sincerity and emotion in his voice; it was as though he
were thinking aloud, and that through the song, as through clear water, the
very inmost heart of him was to be seen. Never had Jean-Christophe heard
such singing, and never had he heard such a song. Slow, simple, childish,
it moved gravely, sadly, a little monotonously, never hurrying--with long
pauses--then setting out again on its way, careless where it arrived, and
losing itself in the night. It seemed to come from far away, and it went no
man knows whither. Its serenity was full of sorrow, and beneath its seeming
peace there dwelt an agony of the ages. Jean-Christophe held his breath; he
dared not move; he was cold with emotion. When it was done he crawled
towards Gottfried, and in a choking voice said:
Gottfried did not reply.
"Uncle!" repeated the boy, placing his hands and chin on Gottfried's knees.
Gottfried said kindly:
"What is it, uncle? Tell me! What were you singing?"
"I don't know."
"Tell me what it is!"
"I don't know. Just a song."
"A song that you made."
"No, not I! What an idea!... It is an old song."
"Who made it?"
"No one knows...."
"No one knows...."
"When you were little?"
"Before I was born, before my father was born, and before his father, and
before his father's father.... It has always been."
"How strange! No one has ever told me about it."
He thought for a moment.
"Uncle, do you know any other?"
"Sing another, please."
"Why should I sing another? One is enough. One sings when one wants to
sing, when one has to sing. One must not sing for the fun of it."
"But what about when one makes music?"
"That is not music."
The boy was lost in thought. He did not quite understand. But he asked for
no explanation. It was true, it was not music, not like all the rest. He
"Uncle, have you ever made them?"
"Songs? Oh! How should I make them? They can't be made."
With his usual logic the boy insisted:
"But, uncle, it must have been made once...."
Gottfried shook his head obstinately.
"It has always been."
The boy returned to the attack:
"But, uncle, isn't it possible to make other songs, new songs?"
"Why make them? There are enough for everything. There are songs for when
you are sad, and for when you are gay; for when you are weary, and for when
you are thinking of home; for when you despise yourself, because you have
been a vile sinner, a worm upon the earth; for when you want to weep,
because people have not been kind to you; and for when your heart is glad
because the world is beautiful, and you see God's heaven, which, like Him,
is always kind, and seems to laugh at you.... There are songs for
everything, everything. Why should I make them?"
"To be a great man!" said the boy, full of his grandfather's teaching and
his simple dreams.
Gottfried laughed softly. Jean-Christophe, a little hurt, asked him:
"Why are you laughing?"
"Oh! I?... I am nobody."
He kissed the boy's head, and said:
"You want to be a great man?"
"Yes," said Jean-Christophe proudly. He thought Gottfried would admire him.
But Gottfried replied:
Jean-Christophe was taken aback. He thought for a moment, and said:
"To make beautiful songs!"
Gottfried laughed again, and said:
"You want to make beautiful songs, so as to be a great man; and you want to
be a great man, so as to make beautiful songs. You are like a dog chasing
its own tail."
Jean-Christophe was dashed. At any other time he would not have borne his
uncle laughing at him, he at whom he was used to laughing. And, at the same
time, he would never have thought Gottfried clever enough to stump him with
an argument. He cast about for some answer or some impertinence to throw at
him, but could find none. Gottfried went on:
"When you are as great as from here to Coblentz, you will never make a
Jean-Christophe revolted on that.
"And if I will!..."
"The more you want to, the less you can. To make songs, you have to be like
those creatures. Listen...."
The moon had risen, round and gleaming, behind the fields. A silvery mist
hovered above the ground and the shimmering waters. The frogs croaked, and
in the meadows the melodious fluting of the toads arose. The shrill tremolo
of the grasshoppers seemed to answer the twinkling of the stars. The wind
rustled softly in the branches of the alders. From the hills above the
river there came down the sweet light song of a nightingale.
"What need is there to sing?" sighed Gottfried, after a long silence. (It
was not clear whether he were talking to himself or to Jean-Christophe.)
"Don't they sing sweeter than anything that you could make?"
Jean-Christophe had often heard these sounds of the night, and he loved
them. But never had he heard them as he heard them now. It was true: what
need was there to sing?... His heart was full of tenderness and sorrow. He
was fain to embrace the meadows, the river, the sky, the clear stars. He
was filled with love for his uncle Gottfried, who seemed to him now the
best, the cleverest, the most beautiful of men. He thought how he had
misjudged him, and he thought that his uncle was sad because he,
Jean-Christophe, had misjudged him. He was remorseful. He wanted to cry
out: "Uncle, do not be sad! I will not be naughty again. Forgive me, I love
you!" But he dared not. And suddenly he threw himself into Gottfried's
arms, but the words would not come, only he repeated, "I love you!" and
kissed him passionately. Gottfried was surprised and touched, and went on
saying, "What? What?" and kissed him. Then he got up, took him by the hand,
and said: "We must go in." Jean-Christophe was sad because his uncle had
not understood him. But as they came to the house, Gottfried said: "If you
like we'll go again to hear God's music, and I will sing you some more
songs." And when Jean-Christophe kissed him gratefully as they said
good-night, he saw that his uncle had understood.
Thereafter they often went for walks together in the evening, and they
walked without a word along by the river, or through the fields. Gottfried
slowly smoked his pipe, and Jean-Christophe, a little frightened by the
darkness, would give him his hand. They would sit down on the grass, and
after a few moments of silence Gottfried would talk to him about the stars
and the clouds; he taught him to distinguish the breathing of the earth,
air, and water, the songs, cries, and sounds of the little worlds of
flying, creeping, hopping, and swimming things swarming in the darkness,
and the signs of rain and fine weather, and the countless instruments of
the symphony of the night. Sometimes Gottfried would sing tunes, sad or
gay, but always of the same kind, and always in the end Jean-Christophe
would be brought to the same sorrow. But he would never sing more than one
song in an evening, and Jean-Christophe noticed that he did not sing gladly
when he was asked to do so; it had to come of itself, just when he wanted
to. Sometimes they had to wait for a long time without speaking, and just
when Jean-Christophe was beginning to think, "He is not going to sing this
evening," Gottfried would make up his mind.
One evening, when nothing would induce Gottfried to sing, Jean-Christophe
thought of submitting to him one of his own small compositions, in the
making of which he found so much trouble and pride. He wanted to show what
an artist he was. Gottfried listened very quietly, and then said:
"That is very ugly, my poor dear Jean-Christophe!"
Jean-Christophe was so hurt that he could find nothing to say. Gottfried
went on pityingly:
"Why did you do it? It is so ugly! No one forced you to do it."
Hot with anger, Jean-Christophe protested:
"My grandfather thinks my music fine."
"Ah!" said Gottfried, not turning a hair. "No doubt he is right. He is a
learned man. He knows all about music. I know nothing about it...."
And after a moment:
"But I think that is very ugly."
He looked quietly at Jean-Christophe, and saw his angry face, and smiled,
"Have you composed any others? Perhaps I shall like the others better than
Jean-Christophe thought that his other compositions might wipe out the
impression of the first, and he sang them all. Gottfried said nothing; he
waited until they were finished. Then he shook his head, and with profound
"They are even more ugly."
Jean-Christophe shut his lips, and his chin trembled; he wanted to cry.
Gottfried went on as though he himself were upset.
"How ugly they are!"
Jean-Christophe, with tears in his voice, cried out: "But why do you say
they are ugly?"
Gottfried looked at him with his frank eyes.
"Why?... I don't know.... Wait.... They are ugly ... first, because they
are stupid.... Yes, that's it.... They are stupid, they don't mean
anything.... You see? When you wrote, you had nothing to say. Why did you
"I don't know," said Jean-Christophe, in a piteous voice. "I wanted to
write something pretty."
"There you are! You wrote for the sake of writing. You wrote because you
wanted to be a great musician, and to be admired. You have been proud; you
have been a liar; you have been punished.... You see! A man is always
punished when he is proud and a liar in music. Music must be modest and
sincere--or else, what is it? Impious, a blasphemy of the Lord, who has
given us song to tell the honest truth."
He saw the boy's distress, and tried to kiss him. But Jean-Christophe
turned angrily away, and for several days he sulked. He hated Gottfried.
But it was in vain that he said over and over to himself: "He is an ass! He
knows nothing--nothing! My grandfather, who is much cleverer, likes my
music." In his heart he knew that his uncle was right, and Gottfried's
words were graven on his inmost soul; he was ashamed to have been a liar.
And, in spite of his resentment, he always thought of it when he was
writing music, and often he tore up what he had written, being ashamed
already of what Gottfried would have thought of it. When he got over it,
and wrote a melody which he knew to be not quite sincere, he hid it
carefully from his uncle; he was fearful of his judgment, and was quite
happy when Gottfried just said of one of his pieces: "That is not so very
ugly.... I like it...."
Sometimes, by way of revenge, he used to trick him by giving him as his own
melodies from the great musicians, and he was delighted when it happened
that Gottfried disliked them heartily. But that did not trouble Gottfried.
He would laugh loudly when he saw Jean-Christophe clap his hands and dance
about him delightedly, and he always returned to his usual argument: "It is
well enough written, but it says nothing." He always refused to be present
at one of the little concerts given in Melchior's house. However beautiful
the music might be, he would begin to yawn and look sleepy with boredom.
Very soon he would be unable to bear it any longer, and would steal away
quietly. He used to say:
"You see, my boy, everything that you write in the house is not music.
Music in a house is like sunshine in a room. Music is to be found outside
where you breathe God's dear fresh air."
He was always talking of God, for he was very pious, unlike the two
Kraffts, father and son, who were free-thinkers, and took care to eat meat
* * * * *
Suddenly, for no apparent reason, Melchior changed his opinion. Not only
did he approve of his father having put together Jean-Christophe's
inspirations, but, to the boy's great surprise, he spent several evenings
in making two or three copies of his manuscript. To every question put to
him on the subject, he replied impressively, "We shall see; ..." or he
would rub his hands and laugh, smack the boy's head by way of a joke, or
turn him up and blithely spank him. Jean-Christophe loathed these
familiarities, but he saw that his father was pleased, and did not know
Then there were mysterious confabulations between Melchior and his father.
And one evening Jean-Christophe, to his astonishment, learned that he,
Jean-Christophe, had dedicated to H.S.H. the Grand Duke Leopold the
_Pleasures of Childhood_. Melchior had sounded the disposition of the
Prince, who had shown himself graciously inclined to accept the homage.
Thereupon Melchior declared that without losing a moment they must,
_primo_, draw up the official request to the Prince; _secondo_, publish the
work; _tertio_, organize a concert to give it a hearing.
There were further long conferences between Melchior and Jean Michel. They
argued heatedly for two or three evenings. It was forbidden to interrupt
them. Melchior wrote, erased; erased, wrote. The old man talked loudly, as
though he were reciting verses. Sometimes they squabbled or thumped on the
table because they could not find a word.
Then Jean-Christophe was called, made to sit at the table with a pen in his
hand, his father on his right, his grandfather on his left, and the old man
began to dictate words which he did not understand, because he found it
difficult to write every word in his enormous letters, because Melchior was
shouting in his ear, and because the old man declaimed with such emphasis
that Jean-Christophe, put out by the sound of the words, could not bother
to listen to their meaning. The old man was no less in a state of emotion.
He could not sit still, and he walked up and down the room, involuntarily
illustrating the text of what he read with gestures, but he came every
minute to look over what the boy had written, and Jean-Christophe,
frightened by the two large faces looking over his shoulder, put out his
tongue, and held his pen clumsily. A mist floated before his eyes; he made
too many strokes, or smudged what he had written; and Melchior roared, and
Jean Michel stormed; and he had to begin again, and then again, and when he
thought that they had at last come to an end, a great blot fell on the
immaculate page. Then they pulled his ears, and he burst into tears; but
they forbade him to weep, because he was spoiling the paper, and they began
to dictate, beginning all over again, and he thought it would go on like
that to the end of his life.
At last it was finished, and Jean Michel leaned against the mantelpiece,
and read over their handiwork in a voice trembling with pleasure, while
Melchior sat straddled across a chair, and looked at the ceiling and wagged
his chair and, as a connoisseur, rolled round his tongue the style of the
"_Most Noble and Sublime Highness! Most
"From my fourth year Music has been the first occupation of my childish
days. So soon as I allied myself to the noble Muse, who roused my soul to
pure harmony, I loved her, and, as it seemed to me, she returned my love.
Now I am in my sixth year, and for some time my Muse in hours of
inspiration has whispered in my ears: 'Be bold! Be bold! Write down the
harmonies of thy soul!' 'Six years old,' thought I, 'and how should I be
bold? What would the learned in the art say of me?' I hesitated. I
trembled. But my Muse insisted. I obeyed. I wrote.
"And now shall I,
"_O Most Sublime Highness!_
"--shall I have the temerity and audacity to place upon the steps of Thy
Throne the first-fruits of my youthful labors?... Shall I make so bold as
to hope that Thou wilt let fall upon them the august approbation of Thy
"Oh, yes! For Science and the Arts have ever found in Thee their sage
Maecenas, their generous champion, and talent puts forth its flowers under
the aegis of Thy holy protection.
"In this profound and certain faith I dare, then, approach Thee with these
youthful efforts. Receive them as a pure offering of my childish
veneration, and of Thy goodness deign,
"_O Most Sublime Highness!_
"to glance at them, and at their young author, who bows at Thy feet deeply
and in humility!
"_From the most submissive, faithful, and obedient servant of His Most
Noble and Most Sublime Highness_,
Jean-Christophe heard nothing. He was very happy to have finished, and,
fearing that he would be made to begin again, he ran away to the fields. He
had no idea of what he had written, and he cared not at all. But when the
old man had finished his reading he began again to taste the full flavor of
it, and when the second reading came to an end Melchior and he declared
that it was a little masterpiece. That was also the opinion of the Grand
Duke, to whom the letter was presented, with a copy of the musical work. He
was kind enough to send word that he found both quite charming. He granted
permission for the concert, and ordered that the hall of his Academy of
Music should be put at Melchior's disposal, and deigned to promise that he
would have the young artist presented to himself on the day of the
Melchior set about organizing the concert as quickly as possible. He
engaged the support of the _Hof Musik Verein_, and as the success of his
first ventures had blown out his sense of proportion, he undertook at the
same time to publish a magnificent edition of the _Pleasures of Childhood_.
He wanted to have printed on the cover of it a portrait of Jean-Christophe
at the piano, with himself, Melchior, standing by his side, violin in hand.
He had to abandon that, not on account of the cost--Melchior did not stop
at any expense--but because there was not time enough. He fell back on an
allegorical design representing a cradle, a trumpet, a drum, a wooden
horse, grouped round a lyre which put forth rays like the sun. The
title-page bore, together with a long dedication, in which the name of the
Prince stood out in enormous letters, a notice to the effect that "Herr
Jean-Christophe Krafft was six years old." He was, in fact, seven and a
half. The printing of the design was very expensive. To meet the bill for
it, Jean Michel had to sell an old eighteenth-century chest, carved with
faces, which he had never consented to sell, in spite of the repeated
offers of Wormser, the furniture-dealer. But Melchior had no doubt but the
subscriptions would cover the cost, and beyond that the expenses of
printing the composition.
One other question occupied his mind: how to dress Jean-Christophe on the
day of the concert. There was a family council to decide the matter.
Melchior would have liked the boy to appear in a short frock and bare legs,
like a child of four. But Jean-Christophe was very large for his age, and
everybody knew him. They could not hope to deceive any one. Melchior had a
great idea. He decided that the boy should wear a dress-coat and white tie.
In vain did Louisa protest that they would make her poor boy ridiculous.
Melchior anticipated exactly the success and merriment that would be
produced by such an unexpected appearance. It was decided on, and the
tailor came and measured Jean-Christophe for his little coat. He had also
to have fine linen and patent-leather pumps, and all that swallowed up
their last penny. Jean-Christophe was very uncomfortable in his new
clothes. To make him used to them they made him try on his various
garments. For a whole month he hardly left the piano-stool. They taught him
to bow. He had never a moment of liberty. He raged against it, but dared
not rebel, for he thought that he was going to accomplish something
startling. He was both proud and afraid of it. They pampered him; they were
afraid he would catch cold; they swathed his neck in scarves; they warmed
his boots in case they were wet; and at table he had the best of
At last the great day arrived. The barber came to preside over his toilet
and curl Jean-Christophe's rebellious hair. He did not leave it until he
had made it look like a sheep-skin. All the family walked round
Jean-Christophe and declared that he was superb. Melchior, after looking
him up and down, and turning him about and about, was seized with an idea,
and went off to fetch a large flower, which he put in his buttonhole. But
when Louisa saw him she raised her hands, and cried out distressfully that
he looked like a monkey. That hurt him cruelly. He did not know whether to
be ashamed or proud of his garb. Instinctively he felt humiliated, and he
was more so at the concert. Humiliation was to be for him the outstanding
emotion of that memorable day.
* * * * *
The concert was about to begin. The hall was half empty; the Grand Duke had
not arrived. One of those kindly and well-informed friends who always
appear on these occasions came and told them that there was a Council being
held at the Palace, and that the Grand Duke would not come. He had it on
good authority. Melchior was in despair. He fidgeted, paced up and down,
and looked repeatedly out of the window. Old Jean Michel was also in
torment, but he was concerned, for his grandson. He bombarded him with
instructions. Jean-Christophe was infected by the nervousness of his
family. He was not in the least anxious about his compositions, but he was
troubled by the thought of the bows that he had to make to the audience,
and thinking of them brought him to agony.
However, he had to begin; the audience was growing impatient. The orchestra
of the _Hof Musik Verein_ began the _Coriolan Overture_. The boy knew
neither Coriolan nor Beethoven, for though he had often heard Beethoven's
music, he had not known it. He never bothered about the names of the works
he heard. He gave them names of his own invention, while he created little
stories or pictures for them. He classified them usually in three
categories: fire, water, and earth, with a thousand degrees between each.
Mozart belonged almost always to water. He was a meadow by the side of a
river, a transparent mist floating over the water, a spring shower, or a
rainbow. Beethoven was fire--now a furnace with gigantic flames and vast
columns of smoke; now a burning forest, a heavy and terrible cloud,
flashing lightning; now a wide sky full of quivering stars, one of which
breaks free, swoops, and; dies on a fine September night setting the heart
beating. Now; the imperious ardor of that heroic soul burned him like fire.
Everything else disappeared. What was it all to him?--Melchior in despair,
Jean Michel agitated, all the busy world, the audience, the Grand Duke,
little Jean-Christophe. What had.' he to do with all these? What lay
between them and him? Was that he--he, himself?... He was given up to the
furious will that carried him headlong. He followed it breathlessly, with
tears in his eyes, and his legs numb, thrilling from the palms of his hands
to the soles of his feet. His blood drummed! "Charge!" and he trembled in
every limb. And as he listened so intensely, Hiding behind a curtain, his
heart suddenly leaped violently. The orchestra had stopped short in the
middle of a bar, and after a moment's silence, it broke into a crashing of
brass and cymbals with a military march, officially strident. The
transition from one sort of music to another was so brutal, so unexpected,
that Jean-Christophe ground his teeth and stamped his foot with rage, and
shook his fist at the wall. But Melchior rejoiced. The Grand Duke had come
in, and the orchestra was saluting him with the National Anthem. And in a
trembling voice Jean Michel gave his last instructions to his grandson.
The overture began again, and this time was finished. It was now
Jean-Christophe's turn. Melchior had arranged the programme to show off at
the same time the skill of both father and son. They were to play together
a sonata of Mozart for violin and piano. For the sake of effect he had
decided that Jean-Christophe should enter alone. He was led to the entrance
of the stage and showed the piano at the front, and for the last time it
was explained what he had to do, and then he was pushed on from the wings.
He was not much afraid, for he was used to the theater; but when he found
himself alone on the platform, with hundreds of eyes staring at him, he
became suddenly so frightened that instinctively he moved backwards and
turned towards the wings to go back again. He saw his father there
gesticulating and with his eyes blazing. He had to go on. Besides, the
audience had seen him. As he advanced there arose a twittering of
curiosity, followed soon by laughter, which grew louder and louder.
Melchior had not been wrong, and the boy's garb had all the effect
anticipated. The audience rocked with laughter at the sight of the child
with his long hair and gipsy complexion timidly trotting across the
platform in the evening dress of a man of the world. They got up to see him
better. Soon the hilarity was general. There was nothing unkindly in it,
but it would have made the most hardened musician lose his head.
Jean-Christophe, terrified by the noise, and the eyes watching, and the
glasses turned upon him, had only one idea: to reach the piano as quickly
as possible, for it seemed to him a refuge, an island in the midst of the
sea. With head down, looking neither to right nor left, he ran quickly
across the platform, and when he reached the middle of it, instead of
bowing to the audience, as had been arranged, he turned his back on it, and
plunged straight for the piano. The chair was too high for him to sit down
without his father's help, and in his distress, instead of waiting, he
climbed up on to it on his knees. That increased the merriment of the
audience, but now Jean-Christophe was safe. Sitting at his instrument, he
was afraid of no one.
Melchior came at last. He gained by the good-humor of the audience, who
welcomed him with warm applause. The sonata began. The boy played it with
imperturbable certainty, with his lips pressed tight in concentration, his
eyes fixed on the keys, his little legs hanging down from the chair. He
became more at ease as the notes rolled out; he was among friends that he
knew. A murmur of approbation reached him, and waves of pride and
satisfaction surged through him as he thought that all these people were
silent to listen to him and to admire him. But hardly had he finished when
fear overcame him again, and the applause which greeted him gave him more
shame than pleasure. His shame increased when Melchior took him by the
hand, and advanced with him to the edge of the platform, and made him bow
to the public. He obeyed, and bowed very low, with a funny awkwardness; but
he was humiliated, and blushed for what he had done, as though it were a
thing ridiculous and ugly.
He had to sit at the piano again, and he played the _Pleasures of
Childhood_. Then the audience was enraptured. After each piece they shouted
enthusiastically. They wanted him to begin again, and he was proud of his
success and at the same time almost hurt by such applause, which was also a
command. At the end the whole audience rose to acclaim him; the Grand Duke
led the applause. But as Jean-Christophe was now alone on the platform he
dared not budge from his seat. The applause redoubled. He bent his head
lower and lower, blushing and hang-dog in expression, and he looked
steadily away from the audience. Melchior came. He took him in his arms,
and told him to blow kisses. He pointed out to him the Grand Duke's box.
Jean-Christophe turned a deaf ear. Melchior took his arm, and threatened
him in a low voice. Then he did as he was told passively, but he did not
look at anybody, he did not raise his eyes, but went on turning his head
away, and he was unhappy. He was suffering; how, he did not know. His
vanity was suffering. He did not like the people who were there at all. It
was no use their applauding; he could not forgive them for having laughed
and for being amused by his humiliation; he could not forgive them for
having seen him in such a ridiculous position--held in mid-air to blow
kisses. He disliked them even for applauding, and when Melchior did at last
put him down, he ran away to the wings. A lady threw a bunch of violets up
at him as he went. It brushed his face. He was panic-stricken and ran as
fast as he could, turning over a chair that was in his way. The faster he
ran the more they laughed, and the more they laughed the faster he ran.
At last he reached the exit, which was filled with people looking at him.
He forced his way through, butting, and ran and hid himself at the back of
the anteroom. His grandfather was in high feather, and covered him with
blessings. The musicians of the orchestra shouted with laughter, and
congratulated the boy, who refused to look at them or to shake hands with
them. Melchior listened intently, gaging the applause, which had not yet
ceased, and wanted to take Jean-Christophe on to the stage again. But the
boy refused angrily, clung to his grandfather's coat-tails, and kicked at
everybody who came near him. At last he burst into tears, and they had to
let him be.
Just at this moment an officer came to say that the Grand Duke wished the
artists to go to his box. How could the child be presented in such a state?
Melchior swore angrily, and his wrath only had the effect of making
Jean-Christophe's tears flow faster. To stop them, his grandfather promised
him a pound of chocolates if he would not cry any more, and
Jean-Christophe, who was greedy, stopped dead, swallowed down his tears,
and let them carry him off; but they had to swear at first most solemnly
that they would not take him on to the platform again.
In the anteroom of the Grand Ducal box he was presented to a gentleman in a
dress-coat, with a face like a pug-dog, bristling mustaches, and a short,
pointed beard--a little red-faced man, inclined to stoutness, who addressed
him with bantering familiarity, and called him "Mozart _redivivus_!" This
was the Grand Duke. Then, he was presented in turn to the Grand Duchess and
her daughter, and their suite. But as he did not dare raise his eyes, the
only thing he could remember of this brilliant company was a series of
gowns and uniforms from, the waist down to the feet. He sat on the lap of
the young Princess, and dared not move or breathe. She asked him questions,
which Melchior answered in an obsequious voice with formal replies,
respectful and servile; but she did not listen to Melchior, and went on
teasing the child. He grew redder and redder, and, thinking that everybody
must have noticed it, he thought he must explain it away and said with a
"My face is red. I am hot."
That made the girl shout with laughter. But Jean-Christophe did not mind it
in her, as he had in his audience just before, for her laughter was
pleasant, and she kissed him, and he did not dislike that.
Then he saw his grandfather in the passage at the door of the box, beaming
and bashful. The old man was fain to show himself, and also to say a few
words, but he dared not, because no one had spoken to him. He was enjoying
his grandson's glory at a distance. Jean-Christophe became tender, and felt
an irresistible impulse to procure justice also for the old man, so that
they should know his worth. His tongue was loosed, and he reached up to the
ear of his new friend and whispered to her:
"I will tell you a secret."
She laughed, and said:
"You know," he went on--"you know the pretty _trio_ in my _minuetto_, the
_minuetto_ I played?... You know it?..." (He hummed it gently.) "... Well,
grandfather wrote it, not I. All the other airs are mine. But that is the
best. Grandfather wrote it. Grandfather did not want me to say anything.
You won't tell anybody?..." (He pointed out the old man.) "That is my
grandfather. I love him; he is very kind to me."
At that the young Princess laughed again, said that he was a darling,
covered him with kisses, and, to the consternation of Jean-Christophe and
his grandfather, told everybody. Everybody laughed then, and the Grand Duke
congratulated the old man, who was covered with confusion, tried in vain to
explain himself, and stammered like a guilty criminal. But Jean-Christophe
said not another word to the girl, and in spite of her wheedling he
remained dumb and stiff. He despised her for having broken her promise. His
idea of princes suffered considerably from this disloyalty. He was so angry
about it that he did not hear anything that was said, or that the Prince
had appointed him laughingly his pianist in ordinary, his _Hof Musicus_.
He went out with his relatives, and found himself surrounded in
the corridors of the theater, and even in the street, with people
congratulating him or kissing him. That displeased him greatly, for he did
not like being kissed, and did not like people meddling with him without
asking his permission.
At last they reached home, and then hardly was the door closed than
Melchior began to call him a "little idiot" because he had said that the
_trio_ was not his own. As the boy was under the impression that he had
done a fine thing, which deserved praise, and not blame, he rebelled, and
was impertinent. Melchior lost his temper, and said that he would box his
ears, although he had played his music well enough, because with his idiocy
he had spoiled the whole effect of the concert. Jean-Christophe had a
profound sense of justice. He went and sulked in a corner; he visited his
contempt upon his father, the Princess, and the whole world. He was hurt
also because the neighbors came and congratulated his parents and laughed
with them, as if it were they who had played, and as if it were their
At this moment a servant of the Court came with a beautiful gold watch from
the Grand Duke and a box of lovely sweets from the young Princess. Both
presents gave great pleasure to Jean-Christophe, and he did not know which
gave him the more; but he was in such a bad temper that he would not
admit it to himself, and he went on sulking, scowling at the sweets, and
wondering whether he could properly accept a gift from a person who had
betrayed his confidence. As he was on the point of giving in his father
wanted to set him down at once at the table, and make him write at his
dictation a letter of thanks. This was too much. Either from the nervous
strain of the day, or from instinctive shame at beginning the letter,
as Melchior wanted him to, with the words, "The little servant and
musician--_Knecht und Musicus_--of Your Highness ..." he burst into tears,
and was inconsolable. The servant waited and scoffed. Melchior had to
write the letter. That did not make him exactly kindly disposed towards
Jean-Christophe. As, a crowning misfortune, the boy let his watch fall and
broke it, A storm of reproaches broke upon him. Melchior shouted that he
would have to go without dessert. Jean-Christophe said angrily that that
was what he wanted. To punish him, Louisa, said that she would begin by
confiscating his sweets. Jean-Christophe was up in arms at that, and said
that the box was his, and no one else's, and that no one should take it
away from him! He was smacked, and in a fit of anger snatched the box
from his mother's hands, hurled it on the floor, and stamped on it He was
whipped, taken to his room, undressed, and put to bed.
In the evening he heard his parents dining with friends--a magnificent
repast, prepared a week before in honor of the concert. He was like to die
with wrath at such injustice. They laughed loudly, and touched glasses.
They had told the guests that the boy was tired, and no one bothered about
him. Only after dinner, when the party was breaking up, he heard a slow,
shuffling step come into his room, and old Jean Michel bent over his bed
and kissed him, and said: "Dear little Jean-Christophe!..." Then, as if he
were ashamed, he went away without another word. He had slipped into his
hand some sweetmeats which he had hidden in his pocket.
That softened Jean-Christophe; but he was so tired with all the day's
emotions that he had not the strength to think about what his grandfather
had done. He had not even the strength to reach out to the good things the
old man had given him. He was worn out, and went to sleep almost at once.
His sleep was light. He had acute nervous attacks, like electric shocks,
which shook his whole body. In his dreams he was haunted by wild music. He
awoke in the night. The Beethoven overture that he had heard at the concert
was roaring in his ears. It filled the room with its mighty beat. He sat,
up in his bed, rubbed his eyes and ears, and asked himself if he were
asleep. No; he was not asleep. He recognized the sound, he recognized
those roars of anger, those savage cries; he heard the throbbing of that
passionate heart leaping in his bosom, that tumult of the blood; he felt
on his face the frantic heating of the wind; lashing and destroying, then
stopping suddenly, cut off by an Herculean will. That Titanic soul entered
his body, blew out his limbs and his soul, and seemed to give them colossal