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Life of Chopin by Franz Liszt

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by Franz Liszt (Translated from the French by Martha Walker Cook)




The following is an e-text of "Life of Chopin," written by Franz
Liszt and translated from the french by Martha Walker Cook. The
original edition was published in 1863; a fourth, revised edition
(1880) was used in making this e-text. This e-text reproduces the
fourth edition essentially unabridged, with original spellings
intact, numerous typographical errors corrected, and words
italicized in the original text capitalized in this e-text. In
making this e-text, each page was cut out of the original book
with an x-acto knife to feed the pages into an Automatic Document
Feeder scanner for scanning. Hence, the book was disbinded in
order to save it. Thanks to Charles Franks and the Online
Distributed Proofreading team for help in proofreading this e-


"Without your consent or knowledge, I have ventured to dedicate
this translation to you!

As the countryman of Chopin, and filled with the same earnest
patriotism which distinguished him; as an impassioned and perfect
Pianist, capable, of reproducing his difficult compositions in
all the subtle tenderness, fire, energy, melancholy, despair,
caprice, hope, delicacy and startling vigor which they
imperiously exact; as thorough master of the complicated
instrument to which he devoted his best powers; as an erudite and
experienced possessor of that abstruse and difficult science,
music; as a composer of true, deep, and highly original genius,--
this dedication is justly made to you!

Even though I may have wounded your characteristically haughty,
shrinking, and Sclavic susceptibilities in rendering so public a
tribute to your artistic skill, forgive me! The high moral worth
and manly rectitude which distinguish you, and which alone render
even the most sublime genius truly illustrious in the eyes of
woman, almost force these inadequate and imperfect words from the
heart of the translator.



To a people, always prompt in its recognition of genius, and
ready to sympathize in the joys and woes of a truly great artist,
this work will be one of exceeding interest. It is a short,
glowing, and generous sketch, from the hand of Franz Liszt, (who,
considered in the double light of composer and performer, has no
living equal,) of the original and romantic Chopin; the most
ethereal, subtle, and delicate among our modern tone-poets. It is
a rare thing for a great artist to write on art, to leave the
passionate worlds of sounds or colors for the colder realm of
words; rarer still for him to abdicate, even temporarily, his own
throne, to stand patiently and hold aloft the blazing torch of
his own genius, to illume the gloomy grave of another: yet this
has Liszt done through love for Chopin.

It is a matter of considerable interest to note how the nervous
and agile fingers, accustomed to sovereign rule over the keys,
handle the pen; how the musician feels as a man; how he estimates
art and artists. Liszt is a man of extensive culture, vivid
imagination, and great knowledge of the world; and, in addition
to their high artistic value, his lines glow with poetic fervor,
with impassioned eloquence. His musical criticisms are refined
and acute, but without repulsive technicalities or scientific
terms, ever sparkling with the poetic ardor of the generous soul
through which the discriminating, yet appreciative awards were
poured. Ah! in these days of degenerate rivalries and bitter
jealousies, let us welcome a proof of affection so tender as his
"Life of Chopin"!

It would be impossible for the reader of this book to remain
ignorant of the exactions of art. While, through its eloquence
and subtle analysis of character, it appeals to the cultivated
literary tastes of our people, it opens for them a dazzling
perspective into that strange world of tones, of whose magical
realm they know, comparatively speaking, so little. It is
intelligible to all who think or feel; requiring no knowledge of
music for its comprehension.

The compositions of Chopin are now the mode, the rage. Every one
asks for them, every one tries to play them. We have, however,
but few remarks upon the peculiarities of his style, or the
proper manner of producing his works. His compositions, generally
perfect in form, are never abstract conceptions, but had their
birth in his soul, sprang from the events of his life, and are
full of individual and national idiosyncrasies, of psychological
interest. Liszt knew Chopin both as man and artist; Chopin loved
to hear him interpret his music, and himself taught the great
Pianist the mysteries of his undulating rhythm and original
motifs. The broad and noble criticisms contained in this book are
absolutely essential for the musical culture of the thousands now
laboriously but vainly struggling to perform his elaborate works,
and who, having no key to their multiplied complexities of
expression, frequently fail in rendering them aright.

And the masses in this country, full of vivid perception and
intelligent curiosity, who, not playing themselves, would yet
fain follow with the heart compositions which they are told are
of so much artistic value, will here find a key to guide them
through the tuneful labyrinth. Some of Chopin's best works are
analyzed herein. He wrote for the HEART OF HIS PEOPLE; their
joys, sorrows, and caprices are immortalized by the power of his
art. He was a strictly national tone-poet, and to understand him
fully, something must be known of the brave and haughty, but
unhappy country which he so loved. Liszt felt this, and has been
exceedingly happy in the short sketch given of Poland. We
actually know more of its picturesque and characteristic customs
after a perusal of his graphic pages, than after a long course of
dry historical details. His remarks on the Polonaise and Mazourka
are full of the philosophy and essence of history. These dances
grew directly from the heart of the Polish people; repeating the
martial valor and haughty love of noble exhibition of their men;
the tenderness, devotion, and subtle coquetry of their women--
they were of course favorite forms with Chopin; their national
character made them dear to the national poet. The remarks of
Liszt on these dances are given with a knowledge so acute of the
traits of the nation in which they originated, with such a
gorgeousness of description and correctness of detail, that they
rather resemble a highly finished picture, than a colder work of
words only. They have all the splendor of a brilliant painting.
He seizes the secrets of the nationality of these forms, traces
them through the heart of the Polish people, follows them through
their marvelous transfiguration in the pages of the Polish
artist, and reads by their light much of the sensitive and
exclusive character of Chopin, analyzing it with the skill of
love, while depicting it with romantic eloquence.

To those who can produce the compositions of Chopin in the spirit
of their author, no words are necessary. They follow with the
heart the poetic and palpitating emotions so exquisitely wrought
through the aerial tissue of the tones by this "subtle-souled
Psychologist," this bold and original explorer in the invisible
world of sound;--all honor to their genius:

"Oh, happy! and of many millions, they
The purest chosen, whom Art's service pure
Hallows and claims--whose hearts are made her throne,
Whose lips her oracle, ordained secure,
To lead a priestly life, and feed the ray
Of her eternal shrine, to them alone
Her glorious countenance unveiled is shown:
Ye, the high brotherhood she links, rejoice
In the great rank allotted by her choice!
The loftiest rank the spiritual world sublime,
Rich with its starry thrones, gives to the sons of Time!"


Short but glowing sketches of Heine, Meyerbeer, Adolphe Nourrit,
Hiller, Eugene Delacroix, Niemcevicz, Mickiewicz, and Madame
Sand, occur in the book. The description of the last days of poor
Chopin's melancholy life, with the untiring devotion of those
around him, including the beautiful countess, Delphine Potocka;
his cherished sister, Louise; his devoted friend and pupil, M.
Gutman, with the great Liszt himself, is full of tragic interest.

No pains have been spared by the translator to make the
translation acceptable, for the task was truly a labor of love.
No motives of interest induced the lingering over the careful
rendering of the charmed pages, but an intense desire that our
people should know more of musical art; that while acknowledging
the generosity and eloquence of Liszt, they should learn to
appreciate and love the more subtle fire, the more creative
genius of the unfortunate, but honorable and honored artist,

Perchance Liszt may yet visit us; we may yet hear the matchless
Pianist call from their graves in the white keys, the delicate
arabesques, the undulating and varied melodies, of Chopin. We
should be prepared to appreciate the great Artist in his
enthusiastic rendering of the master-pieces of the man he loved;
prepared to greet him when he electrifies us with his wonderful
Cyclopean harmonies, written for his own Herculean grasp,
sparkling with his own Promethean fire, which no meaner hand can
ever hope to master! "Hear Liszt and die," has been said by some
of his enthusiastic admirers--understand him and live, were the
wiser advice!

In gratitude then to Chopin for the multiplied sources of high
and pure pleasure which he has revealed to humanity in his
creations, that human woe and sorrow become pure beauty when his
magic spell is on them, the translator calls upon all lovers of
the beautiful "to contribute a stone to the pyramid now rapidly
erecting in honor of the great modern composer"--ay, the living
stone of appreciation, crystalized in the enlightened gratitude
of the heart.

"So works this music upon earth
God so admits it, sends it forth.
To add another worth to worth--

A new creation-bloom that rounds
The old creation, and expounds
His Beautiful in tuneful sounds."


Chopin--Style and Improvements--The Adagio of the Second
Concerto--Funeral March--Psychological Character of the
Compositions of Chopin, &c., &c.

Deeply regretted as he may be by the whole body of artists,
lamented by all who have ever known him, we must still be
permitted to doubt if the time has even yet arrived in which he,
whose loss is so peculiarly deplored by ourselves, can be
appreciated in accordance with his just value, or occupy that
high rank which in all probability will be assigned him in the

If it has been often proved that "no one is a prophet in his own
country;" is it not equally true that the prophets, the men of
the future, who feel its life in advance, and prefigure it in
their works, are never recognized as prophets in their own times?
It would be presumptuous to assert that it can ever be otherwise.
In vain may the young generations of artists protest against the
"Anti-progressives," whose invariable custom it is to assault and
beat down the living with the dead: time alone can test the real
value, or reveal the hidden beauties, either of musical
compositions, or of kindred efforts in the sister arts.

As the manifold forms of art are but different incantations,
charged with electricity from the soul of the artist, and
destined to evoke the latent emotions and passions in order to
render them sensible, intelligible, and, in some degree,
tangible; so genius may be manifested in the invention of new
forms, adapted, it may be, to the expression of feelings which
have not yet surged within the limits of common experience, and
are indeed first evoked within the magic circle by the creative
power of artistic intuition. In arts in which sensation is linked
to emotion, without the intermediate assistance of thought and
reflection, the mere introduction of unaccustomed forms, of
unused modes, must present an obstacle to the immediate
comprehension of any very original composition. The surprise,
nay, the fatigue, caused by the novelty of the singular
impressions which it awakens, will make it appear to many as if
written in a language of which they were ignorant, and which that
reason will in itself be sufficient to induce them to pronounce a
barbarous dialect. The trouble of accustoming the ear to it will
repel many who will, in consequence, refuse to make a study of
it. Through the more vivid and youthful organizations, less
enthralled by the chains of habit; through the more ardent
spirits, won first by curiosity, then filled with passion for the
new idiom, must it penetrate and win the resisting and opposing
public, which will finally catch the meaning, the aim, the
construction, and at last render justice to its qualities, and
acknowledge whatever beauty it may contain. Musicians who do not
restrict themselves within the limits of conventional routine,
have, consequently, more need than other artists of the aid of
time. They cannot hope that death will bring that instantaneous
plus-value to their works which it gives to those of the
painters. No musician could renew, to the profit of his
manuscripts, the deception practiced by one of the great Flemish
painters, who, wishing in his lifetime to benefit by his future
glory, directed his wife to spread abroad the news of his death,
in order that the pictures with which he had taken care to cover
the walls of his studio, might suddenly increase in value!

Whatever may be the present popularity of any part of the
productions of one, broken, by suffering long before taken by
death, it is nevertheless to be presumed that posterity will
award to his works an estimation of a far higher character, of a
much more earnest nature, than has hitherto been awarded them. A
high rank must be assigned by the future historians of music to
one who distinguished himself in art by a genius for melody so
rare, by such graceful and remarkable enlargements of the
harmonic tissue; and his triumph will be justly preferred to many
of far more extended surface, though the works of such victors
may be played and replayed by the greatest number of instruments,
and be sung and resung by passing crowds of Prime Donne.

In confining himself exclusively to the Piano, Chopin has, in our
opinion, given proof of one of the most essential qualities of a
composer--a just appreciation of the form in which he possessed
the power to excel; yet this very fact, to which we attach so
much importance, has been injurious to the extent of his fame. It
would have been most difficult for any other writer, gifted with
such high harmonic and melodic powers, to have resisted the
temptation of the SINGING of the bow, the liquid sweetness of the
flute, or the deafening swells of the trumpet, which we still
persist in believing the only fore-runner of the antique goddess
from whom we woo the sudden favors. What strong conviction, based
upon reflection, must have been requisite to have induced him to
restrict himself to a circle apparently so much more barren; what
warmth of creative genius must have been necessary to have forced
from its apparent aridity a fresh growth of luxuriant bloom,
unhoped for in such a soil! What intuitive penetration is
repealed by this exclusive choice, which, wresting the different
effects of the various instruments from their habitual domain,
where the whole foam of sound would have broken at their feet,
transported them into a sphere, more limited, indeed, but far
more idealized! What confident perception of the future powers of
his instrument must have presided over his voluntary renunciation
of an empiricism, so widely spread, that another would have
thought it a mistake, a folly, to have wrested such great
thoughts from their ordinary interpreters! How sincerely should
we revere him for this devotion to the Beautiful for its own
sake, which induced him not to yield to the general propensity to
scatter each light spray of melody over a hundred orchestral
desks, and enabled him to augment the resources of art, in
teaching how they may be concentrated in a more limited space,
elaborated at less expense of means, and condensed in time!

Far from being ambitious of the uproar of an orchestra, Chopin
was satisfied to see his thought integrally produced upon the
ivory of the key-board; succeeding in his aim of losing nothing
in power, without pretending to orchestral effects, or to the
brush of the scene-painter. Oh! we have not yet studied with
sufficient earnestness and attention the designs of his delicate
pencil, habituated as we are, in these days, to consider only
those composers worthy of a great name, who have written at least
half-a-dozen Operas, as many Oratorios, and various Symphonies:
vainly requiring every musician to do every thing, nay, a little
more than every thing. However widely diffused this idea may be,
its justice is, to say the least, highly problematical. We are
far from contesting the glory more difficult of attainment, or
the real superiority of the Epic poets, who display their
splendid creations upon so large a plan; but we desire that
material proportion in music should be estimated by the same
measure which is applied to dimension in other branches of the
fine arts; as, for example, in painting, where a canvas of twenty
inches square, as the Vision of Ezekiel, or Le Cimetiere by
Ruysdael, is placed among the chefs d'oeuvre, and is more highly
valued than pictures of a far larger size, even though they might
be from the hands of a Rubens or a Tintoret. In literature, is
Beranger less a great poet, because he has condensed his thoughts
within the narrow limits of his songs? Does not Petrarch owe his
fame to his Sonnets? and among those who most frequently repeat
their soothing rhymes, how many know any thing of the existence
of his long poem on Africa? We cannot doubt that the prejudice
which would deny the superiority of an artist--though he should
have produced nothing but such Sonatas as Franz Schubert has
given us--over one who has portioned out the insipid melodies of
many Operas, which it were useless to cite, will disappear; and
that in music, also, we will yet take into account the eloquence
and ability with which the thoughts and feelings are expressed,
whatever may be the size of the composition in which they are
developed, or the means employed to interpret them.

In making an analysis of the works of Chopin, we meet with
beauties of a high order, expressions entirely new, and a
harmonic tissue as original as erudite. In his compositions,
boldness is always justified; richness, even exuberance, never
interferes with clearness; singularity never degenerates into
uncouth fantasticalness; the sculpturing is never disorderly; the
luxury of ornament never overloads the chaste eloquence of the
principal lines. His best works abound in combinations which may
be said to form an epoch in the handling of musical style.
Daring, brilliant and attractive, they disguise their profundity
under so much grace, their science under so many charms, that it
is with difficulty we free ourselves sufficiently from their
magical enthrallment, to judge coldly of their theoretical value.
Their worth has, however, already been felt; but it will be more
highly estimated when the time arrives for a critical examination
of the services rendered by them to art during that period of its
course traversed by Chopin.

It is to him we owe the extension of chords, struck together in
arpeggio, or en batterie; the chromatic sinuosities of which his
pages offer such striking examples; the little groups of
superadded notes, falling like light drops of pearly dew upon the
melodic figure. This species of adornment had hitherto been
modeled only upon the Fioritures of the great Old School of
Italian song; the embellishments for the voice had been servilely
copied by the Piano, although become stereotyped and monotonous:
he imparted to them the charm of novelty, surprise and variety,
unsuited for the vocalist, but in perfect keeping with the
character of the instrument. He invented the admirable harmonic
progressions which have given a serious character to pages,
which, in consequence of the lightness of their subject, made no
pretension to any importance. But of what consequence is the
subject? Is it not the idea which is developed through it, the
emotion with which it vibrates, which expands, elevates and
ennobles it? What tender melancholy, what subtlety, what sagacity
in the master-pieces of La Fontaine, although the subjects are so
familiar, the titles so modest? Equally unassuming are the titles
and subjects of the Studies and Preludes; yet the compositions of
Chopin, so modestly named, are not the less types of perfection
in a mode created by himself, and stamped, like all his other
works, with the high impress of his poetic genius. Written in the
commencement of his career, they are characterized by a youthful
vigor not to be found in some of his subsequent works, even when
more elaborate, finished, and richer in combinations; a vigor,
which is entirely lost in his latest productions, marked by an
over-excited sensibility, a morbid irritability, and giving
painful intimations of his own state of suffering and exhaustion.

If it were our intention to discuss the development of Piano
music in the language of the Schools, we would dissect his
magnificent pages, which afford so rich a field for scientific
observation. We would, in the first place, analyze his Nocturnes,
Ballades, Impromptus, Scherzos, which are full of refinements of
harmony never heard before; bold, and of startling originality.
We would also examine his Polonaises, Mazourkas, Waltzes and
Boleros. But this is not the time or place for such a study,
which would be interesting only to the adepts in Counterpoint and

It is the feeling which overflows in all his works, which has
rendered them known and popular; feeling of a character eminently
romantic, subjective individual, peculiar to their author, yet
awakening immediate sympathy; appealing not alone to the heart of
that country indebted to him for yet one glory more, but to all
who can be touched by the misfortunes of exile, or moved by the
tenderness of love. Not content with success in the field in
which he was free to design, with such perfect grace, the
contours chosen by himself, Chopin also wished to fetter his
ideal thoughts with classic chains. His Concertos and Sonatas are
beautiful indeed, but we may discern in them more effort than
inspiration. His creative genius was imperious, fantastic and
impulsive. His beauties were only manifested fully in entire
freedom. We believe he offered violence to the character of his
genius whenever he sought to subject it to rules, to
classifications, to regulations not his own, and which he could
not force into harmony with the exactions of his own mind. He was
one of those original beings, whose graces are only fully
displayed when they have cut themselves adrift from all bondage,
and float on at their own wild will, swayed only by the ever
undulating impulses of their own mobile natures.

He was, perhaps, induced to desire this double success through
the example of his friend, Mickiewicz, who, having been the first
to gift his country with romantic poetry, forming a school in
Sclavic literature by the publication of his Dziady, and his
romantic Ballads, as early as 1818, proved afterwards, by the
publication at his Grazyna and Wallenrod, that he could triumph
over the difficulties that classic restrictions oppose to
inspiration, and that, when holding the classic lyre of the
ancient poets, he was still master. In making analogous attempts,
we do not think Chopin has been equally successful. He could not
retain, within the square of an angular and rigid mould, that
floating and indeterminate contour which so fascinates us in his
graceful conceptions. He could not introduce in its unyielding
lines that shadowy and sketchy indecision, which, disguising the
skeleton, the whole frame-work of form, drapes it in the mist of
floating vapors, such as surround the white-bosomed maids of
Ossian, when they permit mortals to catch some vague, yet lovely
outline, from their home in the changing, drifting, blinding

Some of these efforts, however, are resplendent with a rare
dignity of style; and passages of exceeding interest, of
surprising grandeur, may be found among them. As an example of
this, we cite the Adagio of the Second Concerto, for which he
evinced a decided preference, and which he liked to repeat
frequently. The accessory designs are in his best manner, while
the principal phrase is of an admirable breadth. It alternates
with a Recitative, which assumes a minor key, and which seems to
be its Antistrophe. The whole of this piece is of a perfection
almost ideal; its expression, now radiant with light, now full of
tender pathos. It seems as if one had chosen a happy vale of
Tempe, a magnificent landscape flooded with summer glow and
lustre, as a background for the rehearsal of some dire scene of
mortal anguish. A bitter and irreparable regret seizes the
wildly-throbbing human heart, even in the midst of the
incomparable splendor of external nature. This contrast is
sustained by a fusion of tones, a softening of gloomy hues, which
prevent the intrusion of aught rude or brusque that might awaken
a dissonance in the touching impression produced, which, while
saddening joy, soothes and softens the bitterness of sorrow.

It would be impossible to pass in silence the Funeral March
inserted in the first Sonata, which was arranged for the
orchestra, and performed, for the first time, at his own
obsequies. What other accents could have been found capable of
expressing, with the same heart-breaking effect, the emotions,
the tears, which should accompany to the last long sleep, one who
had taught in a manner so sublime, how great losses should be
mourned? We once heard it remarked by a native of his own
country: "these pages could only have been written by a Pole."
All that the funeral train of an entire nation weeping its own
ruin and death can be imagined to feel of desolating woe, of
majestic sorrow, wails in the musical ringing of this passing
bell, mourns in the tolling of this solemn knell, as it
accompanies the mighty escort on its way to the still city of the
Dead. The intensity of mystic hope; the devout appeal to
superhuman pity, to infinite mercy, to a dread justice, which
numbers every cradle and watches every tomb; the exalted
resignation which has wreathed so much grief with halos so
luminous; the noble endurance of so many disasters with the
inspired heroism of Christian martyrs who know not to despair;--
resound in this melancholy chant, whose voice of supplication
breaks the heart. All of most pure, of most holy, of most
believing, of most hopeful in the hearts of children, women, and
priests, resounds, quivers and trembles there with irresistible
vibrations. We feel it is not the death of a single warrior we
mourn, while other heroes live to avenge him, but that a whole
generation of warriors has forever fallen, leaving the death song
to be chanted but by wailing women, weeping children and helpless
priests. Yet this Melopee so funereal, so full of desolating woe,
is of such penetrating sweetness, that we can scarcely deem it of
this earth. These sounds, in which the wild passion of human
anguish seems chilled by awe and softened by distance, impose a
profound meditation, as if, chanted by angels, they floated
already in the heavens: the cry of a nation's anguish mounting to
the very throne of God! The appeal of human grief from the lyre
of seraphs! Neither cries, nor hoarse groans, nor impious
blasphemies, nor furious imprecations, trouble for a moment the
sublime sorrow of the plaint: it breathes upon the ear like the
rhythmed sighs of angels. The antique face of grief is entirely
excluded. Nothing recalls the fury of Cassandra, the prostration
of Priam, the frenzy of Hecuba, the despair of the Trojan
captives. A sublime faith destroying in the survivors of this
Christian Ilion the bitterness of anguish and the cowardice of
despair, their sorrow is no longer marked by earthly weakness.
Raising itself from the soil wet with blood and tears, it springs
forward to implore God; and, having nothing more to hope from
earth, it supplicates the Supreme Judge with prayers so poignant,
that our hearts, in listening, break under the weight of an
august compassion! It would be a mistake to suppose that all the
compositions of Chopin are deprived of the feelings which he has
deemed best to suppress in this great work. Not so. Perhaps human
nature is not capable of maintaining always this mood of
energetic abnegation, of courageous submission. We meet with
breathings of stifled rage, of suppressed anger, in many passages
of his writings: and many of his Studies, as well as his
Scherzos, depict a concentrated exasperation and despair, which
are sometimes manifested in bitter irony, sometimes in intolerant
hauteur. These dark apostrophes of his muse have attracted less
attention, have been less fully understood, than his poems of
more tender coloring. The personal character of Chopin had
something to do with this general misconception. Kind, courteous,
and affable, of tranquil and almost joyous manners, he would not
suffer the secret convulsions which agitated him to be even

His character was indeed not easily understood. A thousand subtle
shades, mingling, crossing, contradicting and disguising each
other, rendered it almost undecipherable at a first view. As is
usually the case with the Sclaves, it was difficult to read the
recesses of his mind. With them, loyalty and candor, familiarity
and the most captivating ease of manner, by no means imply
confidence, or impulsive frankness. Like the twisted folds of a
serpent rolled upon itself, their feelings are half hidden, half
revealed. It requires a most attentive examination to follow the
coiled linking of the glittering rings. It would be naive to
interpret literally their courtesy full of compliment, their
assumed humility. The forms of this politeness, this modesty,
have their solution in their manners, in which their ancient
connection with the East may be strangely traced. Without having
in the least degree acquired the taciturnity of the Mussulman,
they have yet learned from it a distrustful reserve upon all
subjects which touch upon the more delicate and personal chords
of the heart. When they speak of themselves, we may almost always
be certain that they keep some concealment in reserve, which
assures them the advantage in intellect, or feeling. They suffer
their interrogator to remain in ignorance of some circumstance,
some mobile secret, through the unveiling of which they would be
more admired, or less esteemed, and which they well know how to
hide under the subtle smile of an almost imperceptible mockery.
Delighting in the pleasure of mystification, from the most
spiritual or comic to the most bitter and melancholy, they may
perhaps find in this deceptive raillery an external formula of
disdain for the veiled expression of the superiority which they
internally claim, but which claim they veil with the caution and
astuteness natural to the oppressed.

The frail and sickly organization of Chopin, not permitting him
the energetic expression of his passions, he gave to his friends
only the gentle and affectionate phase of his nature. In the
busy, eager life of large cities, where no one has time to study
the destiny of another, where every one is judged by his external
activity, very few think it worth while to attempt to penetrate
the enigma of individual character. Those who enjoyed familiar
intercourse with Chopin, could not be blind to the impatience and
ennui he experienced in being, upon the calm character of his
manners, so promptly believed. And may not the artist revenge the
man? As his health was too frail to permit him to give vent to
his impatience through the vehemence of his execution, he sought
to compensate himself by pouring this bitterness over those pages
which he loved to hear performed with a vigor [Footnote: It was
his delight to hear them executed by the great Liszt himself.--
Translator.] which he could not himself always command: pages
which are indeed full of the impassioned feelings of a man
suffering deeply from wounds which he does not choose to avow.
Thus around a gaily flagged, yet sinking ship, float the fallen
spars and scattered fragments, torn by warring winds and surging
waves from its shattered sides.

Such emotions have been of so much the more importance in the
life of Chopin, because they have deeply influenced the character
of his compositions. Among the pages published under such
influences, may be traced much analogous to the wire-drawn
subtleties of Jean Paul, who found it necessary, in order to move
hearts macerated by passion, blazes through suffering, to make
use of the surprises caused by natural and physical phenomena; to
evoke the sensations of luxurious terrors arising from
occurrences not to be foreseen in the natural order of things; to
awaken the morbid excitements of a dreamy brain. Step by step the
tortured mind of Chopin arrived at a state of sickly
irritability; his emotions increased to a feverish tremor,
producing that involution, that tortuosity of thought, which mark
his latest works. Almost suffocating under the oppression of
repressed feelings, using art only to repeat and rehearse for
himself his own internal tragedy, after having wearied emotion,
he began to subtilize it. His melodies are actually tormented; a
nervous and restless sensibility leads to an obstinate
persistence in the handling and rehandling and a reiterated
pursuit of the tortured motifs, which impress us as painfully as
the sight of those physical or mental agonies which we know can
find relief only in death. Chopin was a victim to a disease
without hope, which growing more envenomed from year to year,
took him, while yet young, from those who loved him, and laid him
in his still grave. As in the fair form of some beautiful victim,
the marks of the grasping claws of the fierce bird of prey which
has destroyed it, may be found; so, in the productions of which
we have just spoken, the traces of the bitter sufferings which
devoured his heart, are painfully visible.


National Character of the Polonaise--Oginski--Meyseder--Weber--
Chopin--His Polonaise in F Sharp, Minor--Polonaise--Fantaisie.

It must not be supposed that the tortured aberrations of feeling
to which we have just alluded, ever injure the harmonic tissue in
the works of Chopin on the contrary, they only render it a more
curious subject for analysis. Such eccentricities rarely occur in
his more generally known and admired compositions. His
Polonaises, which are less studied than they merit, on account of
the difficulties presented by their perfect execution, are to be
classed among his highest inspirations. They never remind us of
the mincing and affected "Polonaises a la Pompadour," which our
orchestras have introduced into ball-rooms, our virtuosi in
concerts, or of those to be found in our "Parlor Repertories,"
filled, as they invariably are, with hackneyed collections of
music, marked by insipidity and mannerism.

His Polonaises, characterized by an energetic rhythm, galvanize
and electrify the torpor of indifference. The most noble
traditional feelings of ancient Poland are embodied in them. The
firm resolve and calm gravity of its men of other days, breathe
through these compositions. Generally of a martial character,
courage and daring are rendered with that simplicity of
expression, said to be a distinctive trait of this warlike
people. They bring vividly before the imagination, the ancient
Poles, as we find them described in their chronicles; gifted with
powerful organizations, subtle intellects, indomitable courage
and earnest piety, mingled with high-born courtesy and a
gallantry which never deserted them, whether on the eve of
battle, during its exciting course, in the triumph of victory, or
amidst the gloom of defeat. So inherent was this gallantry and
chivalric courtesy in their nature, that in spite of the
restraint which their customs (resembling those of their
neighbours and enemies, the infidels of Stamboul) induced them to
exercise upon their women, confining them in the limits of
domestic life and always holding them under legal wardship, they
still manifest themselves in their annals, in which they have
glorified and immortalized queens who were saints; vassals who
became queens, beautiful subjects for whose sake some periled,
while others lost, crowns: a terrible Sforza; an intriguing
d'Arquien; and a coquettish Gonzaga.

The Poles of olden times united a manly firmness with this
peculiar chivalric devotion to the objects of their love. A
characteristic example of this may be seen in the letters of Jean
Sobieski to his wife. They were dictated in face of the standards
of the Crescent, "numerous as the ears in a grain-field," tender
and devoted as is their character. Such traits caught a singular
and imposing hue from the grave deportment of these men, so
dignified that they might almost be accused of pomposity. It was
next to impossible that they should not contract a taste for this
stateliness, when we consider that they had almost always before
them the most exquisite type of gravity of manner in the
followers of Islam, whose qualities they appreciated and
appropriated, even while engaged in repelling their invasions.
Like the infidel, they knew how to preface their acts by an
intelligent deliberation, so that the device of Prince Boleslas
of Pomerania, was always present to them: "First weigh it; then
dare:" Erst wieg's: dann wag's! Such deliberation imparted a kind
of stately pride to their movements, while it left them in
possession of an ease and freedom of spirit accessible to the
lightest cares of tenderness, to the most trivial interests of
the passing hour, to the most transient feelings of the heart. As
it made part of their code of honor to make those who interfered
with them, in their more tender interests, pay dearly for it; so
they knew how to beautify life, and, better still, they knew how
to love those who embellished it; to revere those who rendered it
precious to them.

Their chivalric heroism was sanctioned by their grave and haughty
dignity; an intelligent and premeditated conviction added the
force of reason to the energy of impulsive virtue; thus they have
succeeded in winning the admiration of all ages, of all minds,
even that of their most determined adversaries. They were
characterized by qualities rarely found together, the description
of which would appear almost paradoxical: reckless wisdom, daring
prudence, and fanatic fatalism. The most marked and celebrated
historic manifestation of these properties is to be found in the
expedition of Sobieski when he saved Vienna, and gave a mortal
blow to the Ottoman Empire, which was at last conquered in the
long struggle, sustained on both sides with so much prowess and
glory, with so much mutual deference between opponents as
magnanimous in their truces as irreconcilable in their combats.

While listening to some of the POLONAISES of Chopin, we can
almost catch the firm, nay, the more than firm, the heavy,
resolute tread of men bravely facing all the bitter injustice
which the most cruel and relentless destiny can offer, with the
manly pride of unblenching courage. The progress of the music
suggests to our imagination such magnificent groups as were
designed by Paul Veronese, robed in the rich costume of days long
past: we see passing at intervals before us, brocades of gold,
velvets, damasked satins, silvery soft and flexile sables,
hanging sleeves gracefully thrown back upon the shoulders,
embossed sabres, boots yellow as gold or red with trampled blood,
sashes with long and undulating fringes, close chemisettes,
rustling trains, stomachers embroidered with pearls, head dresses
glittering with rubies or leafy with emeralds, light slippers
rich with amber, gloves perfumed with the luxurious attar from
the harems. Prom the faded background of times long passed these
vivid groups start forth; gorgeous carpets from Persia lie at
their feet, filigreed furniture from Constantinople stands
around; all is marked by the sumptuous prodigality of the
Magnates who drew, in ruby goblets embossed with medallions, wine
from the fountains of Tokay, and shoed their fleet Arabian steeds
with silver, who surmounted all their escutcheons with the same
crown which the fate of an election might render a royal one, and
which, causing them to despise all other titles, was alone worn
as INSIGNE of their glorious equality.

Those who have seen the Polonaise danced even as late as the
beginning of the present century, declare that its style has
changed so much, that it is now almost impossible to divine its
primitive character. As very few national dances have succeeded
in preserving their racy originality, we may imagine, when we
take into consideration the changes which have occurred, to what
a degree this has degenerated. The Polonaise is without rapid
movements, without any true steps in the artistic sense of the
word, intended rather for display than for the exhibition of
seductive grace; so we may readily conceive it must lose all its
haughty importance, its pompous self-sufficiency, when the
dancers are deprived of the accessories necessary to enable them
to animate its simple form by dignified, yet vivid gestures, by
appropriate and expressive pantomime, and when the costume
peculiarly fitted for it is no longer worn. It has indeed become
decidedly monotonous, a mere circulating promenade, exciting but
little interest. Unless we could see it danced by some of the old
regime who still wear the ancient costume, or listen to their
animated descriptions of it, we can form no conception of the
numerous incidents, the scenic pantomime, which once rendered it
so effective. By a rare exception this dance was designed to
exhibit the men, to display manly beauty, to set off noble and
dignified deportment, martial yet courtly bearing. "Martial yet
courtly:" do not these two epithets almost define the Polish
character? In the original the very name of the dance is
masculine; it is only in consequence of a misconception that it
has been translated in other tongues into the feminine gender.

Those who have never seen the KONTUSZ worn, (it is a kind of
Occidental kaftan, as it is the robe of the Orientals, modified
to suit the customs of an active life, unfettered by the stagnant
resignation taught by fatalism,) a sort of FEREDGI, often trimmed
with fur, forcing the wearer to make frequent movements
susceptible of grace and coquetry, by which the flowing sleeves
are thrown backward, can scarcely imagine the bearing, the slow
bending, the quick rising, the finesse of the delicate pantomime
displayed by the Ancients, as they defiled in a Polonaise, as
though in a military parade, not suffering their fingers to
remain idle, but sometimes occupying them in playing with the
long moustache, sometimes with the handle of the sword. Both
moustache and sword were essential parts of the costume, and were
indeed objects of vanity with all ages. Diamonds and sapphires
frequently sparkled upon the arms, worn suspended from belts of
cashmere, or from sashes of silk embroidered with gold,
displaying to advantage forms always slightly corpulent; the
moustache often veiled, without quite hiding, some scar, far more
effective than the most brilliant array of jewels. The dress of
the men rivaled that of the women in the luxury of the material
worn, in the value of the precious stones, and in the variety of
vivid colors. This love of adornment is also found among the
Hungarians, [Footnote: The Hungarian costume worn by Prince
Nicholas Esterhazy at the coronation of George the Fourth, is
still remembered in England. It was valued at several millions of
florins.] as may be seen in their buttons made of jewels, the
rings forming a necessary part of their dress, the wrought clasps
for the neck, the aigrettes and plumes adorning the cap made of
velvet of some brilliant hue. To know how to take off, to put on,
to manoeuvre the cap with all possible grace, constituted almost
an art. During the progress of a Polonaise, this became an object
of especial remark, because the cavalier of the leading pair, as
commandant of the file, gave the mute word of command, which was
immediately obeyed and imitated by the rest of the train.

The master of the house in which the ball was given, always
opened it himself by leading off in this dance. His partner was
selected neither for her beauty, nor youth; the most highly
honored lady present was always chosen. This phalanx, by whose
evolutions every fete was commenced, was not formed only of the
young: it was composed of the most distinguished, as well as of
the most beautiful. A grand review, a dazzling exhibition of all
the distinction present, was offered as the highest pleasure of
the festival. After the host, came next in order the guests of
the greatest consideration, who, choosing their partners, some
from friendship, some from policy or from desire of advancement,
some from love,--followed closely his steps. His task was a far
more complicated one than it is at present. He was expected to
conduct the files under his guidance through a thousand
capricious meanderings, through long suites of apartments lined
by guests, who were to take a later part in this brilliant
cortege. They liked to be conducted through distant galleries,
through the parterres of illuminated gardens, through the groves
of shrubbery, where distant echoes of the music alone reached the
ear, which, as if in revenge, greeted them with redoubled sound
and blowing of trumpets upon their return to the principal
saloon. As the spectators, ranged like rows of hedges along the
route, were continually changing, and never ceased for a moment
to observe all their movements, the dancers never forgot that
dignity of bearing and address which won for them the admiration
of women, and excited the jealousy of men. Vain and joyous, the
host would have deemed himself wanting in courtesy to his guests,
had he not evinced to them, which he did sometimes with a piquant
naivete, the pride he felt in seeing himself surrounded by
persons so illustrious, and partisans so noble, all striving
through the splendor of the attire chosen to visit him, to show
their high sense of the honor in which they held him.

Guided by him in their first circuit, they were led through long
windings, where unexpected turns, views, and openings had been
arranged beforehand to cause surprise; where architectural
deceptions, decorations and shifting scenes had been studiously
adapted to increase the pleasure of the festival. If any monument
or inscription, fitted for the occasion, lay upon the long line
of route, from which some complimentary homage might be drawn to
the "most valiant or the most beautiful," the honors were
gracefully done by the host. The more unexpected the surprises
arranged for these excursions, the more imagination evinced in
their invention, the louder were the applauses from the younger
part of the society, the more ardent the exclamations of delight;
and silvery sounds of merry laughter greeted pleasantly the ears
of the conductor-in-chief, who, having thus succeeded in
achieving his reputation, became a privileged Corypheus, a leader
par excellence. If he had already attained a certain age, he was
greeted on his return from such circuits by frequent deputations
of young ladies, who came, in the name of all present, to thank
and congratulate him. Through their vivid descriptions, these
pretty wanderers excited the curiosity of the guests, and
increased the eagerness for the formation of the succeeding
Polonaises among those who, though they did not make part of the
procession, still watched its passage in motionless attention, as
if gazing upon the flashing line of light of some brilliant

In this land of aristocratic democracy, the numerous dependents
of the great seigniorial houses, (too poor, indeed, to take part
in the fete, yet only excluded from it by their own volition,
all, however noble, some even more noble than their lords,) being
all present, it was considered highly desirable to dazzle them;
and this flowing chain of rainbow-hued and gorgeous light, like
an immense serpent with its glittering rings, sometimes wreathed
its linked folds, sometimes uncoiled its entire length, to
display its brilliancy through the whole line of its undulating
animated surface, in the most vivid scintillations; accompanying
the shifting hues with the silvery sounds of chains of gold,
ringing like muffled bells; with the rustling of the heavy sweep
of gorgeous damasks and with the dragging of jewelled swords upon
the floor. The murmuring sound of many voices announced the
approach of this animated, varied, and glittering life-stream.

But the genius of hospitality, never deficient in high-born
courtesy, and which, even while preserving the touching
simplicity of primitive manners, inspired in Poland all the
refinements of the most advanced state of civilization,--how
could it be exiled from the details of a dance so eminently
Polish? After the host had, by inaugurating the fete, rendered
due homage to all who were present, any one of his guests had the
right to claim his place with the lady whom he had honored by his
choice. The new claimant, clapping his hands, to arrest for a
moment the ever moving cortege, bowed before the partner of the
host, begging her graciously to accept the change; while the
host, from whom she had been taken, made the same appeal to the
lady next in course. This example was followed by the whole
train. Constantly changing partners, whenever a new cavalier
claimed the honor of leading the one first chosen by the host,
the ladies remained in the same succession during the whole
course; while, on the contrary, as the gentlemen continually
replaced each other, he who had commenced the dance, would, in
its progress, become the last, if not indeed entirely excluded
before its close.

Each cavalier who placed himself in turn at the head of the
column, tried to surpass his predecessors in the novelty of the
combinations of his opening, in the complications of the windings
through which he led the expectant cortege; and this course, even
when restricted to a single saloon, might be made remarkable by
the designing of graceful arabesques, or the involved tracing of
enigmatical ciphers. He made good his claim to the place he had
solicited, and displayed his skill, by inventing close,
complicated and inextricable figures; by describing them with so
much certainty and accuracy, that the living ribbon, turned and
twisted as it might be, was never broken in the loosing of its
wreathed knots; and by so leading, that no confusion or graceless
jostling should result from the complicated torsion. The
succeeding couples, who had only to follow the figures already
given, and thus continue the impulsion, were not permitted to
drag themselves lazily and listlessly along the parquet. The step
was rhythmic, cadenced, and undulating; the whole form swayed by
graceful wavings and harmonious balancings. They were careful
never to advance with too much haste, nor to replace each other
as if driven on by some urgent necessity. On they glided, like
swans descending a tranquil stream, their flexile forms swayed by
the ebb and swell of unseen and gentle waves. Sometimes, the
gentleman offered the right, sometimes, the left hand to his
partner; touching only the points of her fingers, or clasping the
slight hand within his own, he passed now to her right, now to
her left, without yielding the snowy treasure. These complicated
movements, being instantaneously imitated by every pair, ran,
like an electric shiver, through the whole length of this
gigantic serpent. Although apparently occupied and absorbed by
these multiplied manoeuvres, the cavalier yet found time to bend
to his lady and whisper sweet flatteries in her ear, if she were
young; if young no longer, to repose confidence, to urge
requests, or to repeat to her the news of the hour. Then,
haughtily raising himself, he would make the metal of his arms
ring, caress his thick moustache, giving to all his features an
expression so vivid, that the lady was forced to respond by the
animation of her own countenance.

Thus, it was no hackneyed and senseless promenade which they
executed; it was, rather, a parade in which the whole splendor of
the society was exhibited, gratified with its own admiration,
conscious of its own elegance, brilliancy, nobility and courtesy.
It was a constant display of its lustre, its glory, its renown.
Men grown gray in camps, or in the strife of courtly eloquence;
generals more often seen in the cuirass than in the robes of
peace; prelates and persons high in the Church; dignitaries of
State aged senators; warlike palatines; ambitious castellans;--
were the partners who were expected, welcomed, disputed and
sought for, by the youngest, gayest, and most brilliant women
present. Honor and glory rendered ages equal, and caused years to
be forgotten in this dance; nay, more, they gave an advantage
even over love. It was while listening to the animated
descriptions of the almost forgotten evolutions and dignified
capabilities of this truly national dance, from the lips of those
who would never abandon the ancient Zupan and Kontusz, and who
still wore their hair closely cut round their temples, as it had
been worn by their ancestors, that we first fully understood in
what a high degree this haughty nation possessed the innate
instinct of its own exhibition, and how entirely it had
succeeded, through its natural grace and genius, in poetizing its
love of ostentation by draping it in the charms of noble
emotions, and wrapping round it the glittering robes of martial

When we visited the country of Chopin, whose memory always
accompanied us like a faithful guide who constantly keeps our
interest excited, we were fortunate enough to meet with some of
the peculiar characters, daily growing more rare, because
European civilization, even where it does not modify the basis of
character, effaces asperities, and moulds exterior forms. We
there encountered some of those men gifted with superior
intellect, cultivated and strongly developed by a life of
incessant action, yet whose horizon does not extend beyond the
limits of their own country, their own society, their own
traditions. During our intercourse, facilitated by an
interpreter, with these men of past days, we were able to study
them and to understand the secret of their greatness. It was
really curious to observe the inimitable originality caused by
the utter exclusiveness of the view taken by them. This limited
cultivation, while it greatly diminishes the value of their ideas
upon many subjects, at the same time gifts the mind with a
peculiar force, almost resembling the keen scent and the acute
perceptions of the savage, for all the things near and dear to
it. Only from a mind of this peculiar training, marked by a
concentrative energy that nothing can distract from its course,
every thing beyond the circle of its own nationality remaining
alien to it, can we hope to obtain an exact picture of the past;
for it alone, like a faithful mirror, reflects it in its primal
coloring, preserves its proper lights and shades, and gives it
with its varied and picturesque accompaniments. From such minds
alone can we obtain, with the ritual of customs which are rapidly
becoming extinct, the spirit from which they emanated. Chopin was
born too late, and left the domestic hearth too early, to be
himself in possession of this spirit; but he had known many
examples of it, and, through the memories which surrounded his
childhood, even more fully than through the literature and
history of his country, he found by induction the secrets of its
ancient prestige, which he evoked from the dim and dark land of
forgetfulness, and, through the magic of his poetic art, endowed
with immortal youth. Poets are better comprehended and
appreciated by those who have made themselves familiar with the
countries which inspired their songs. Pindar is more fully
understood by those who have seen the Parthenon bathed in the
radiance of its limpid atmosphere; Ossian, by those familiar with
the mountains of Scotland, with their heavy veils and long
wreaths of mist. The feelings which inspired the creations of
Chopin can only be fully appreciated by those who have visited
his country. They must have seen the giant shadows of past
centuries gradually increasing, and veiling the ground as the
gloomy night of despair rolled on; they must have felt the
electric and mystic influence of that strange "phantom of glory"
forever haunting martyred Poland. Even in the gayest hours of
festival, it appalls and saddens all hearts. Whenever a tale of
past renown, a commemoration of slaughtered heroes is given, an
allusion to national prowess is made, its resurrection from the
grave is instantaneous; it takes its place in the banquet-hall,
spreading an electric terror mingled with intense admiration; a
shudder, wild and mystic as that which seizes upon the peasants
of Ukraine, when the "Beautiful Virgin," white as Death, with her
girdle of crimson, is suddenly seen gliding through their
tranquil village, while her shadowy hand marks with blood the
door of each cottage doomed to destruction.

During many centuries, the civilization of Poland was entirely
peculiar and aboriginal; it did not resemble that of any other
country; and, indeed, it seems destined to remain forever unique
in its kind. As different from the German feudalism which
neighboured it upon the West, as from the conquering spirit of
the Turks which disquieted it on the East, it resembled Europe in
its chivalric Christianity, in its eagerness to attack the
infidel, even while receiving instruction in sagacious policy, in
military tactics, and sententious reasoning, from the masters of
Byzantium. By the assumption, at the same time, of the heroic
qualities of Mussulman fanaticism and the sublime virtues of
Christian sanctity and humility, [Footnote: It is well known with
how many glorious names Poland has enriched the martyrology of
the Church. In memorial of the countless martyrs it had offered,
the Roman Church granted to the order of Trinitarians, or
Redemptorist Brothers, whose duty it was to redeem from slavery
the Christians who had fallen into the hands of the Infidels, the
distinction, only granted to this nation, of wearing a crimson
belt. These victims to benevolence were generally from the
establishments near the frontiers, such as those of Kamieniec-
Podolski.] it mingled the most heterogeneous elements, and thus
planted in its very bosom the seeds of ruin and decay.

The general culture of Latin letters, the knowledge of and love
for Italian and French literature gave a lustre and classical
polish to the startling contrasts we hare attempted to describe.
Such a civilization must necessarily impress all its
manifestations with its own seal. As was natural for a nation
always engaged in war, forced to reserve its deeds of prowess and
valor for its enemies upon the field of battle, it was not famed
for the romances of knight-errantry, for tournaments or jousts;
it replaced the excitement and splendor of the mimic war by
characteristic fetes, in which the gorgeousness of personal
display formed the principal feature.

There is certainly nothing new in the assertion, that national
character is, in some degree, revealed by national dances. We
believe, however, there are none in which the creative impulses
can be so readily deciphered, or the ensemble traced with so much
simplicity, as in the Polonaise. In consequence of the varied
episodes which each individual was expected to insert in the
general frame, the national intuitions were revealed with the
greatest diversity. When these distinctive marks disappeared,
when the original flame no longer burned, when no one invented
scenes for the intermediary pauses, when to accomplish
mechanically the obligatory circuit of a saloon, was all that was
requisite, nothing but the skeleton of departed glory remained.

We would certainly have hesitated to speak of the Polonaise,
after the exquisite verses which Mickiewicz has consecrated to
it, and the admirable description which he has given of it in the
last Canto of the "Pan Tadeusz," but that this description is to
be found only in a work not yet translated, and, consequently,
only known to the compatriots of the Poet. [Footnote: It has been
translated into German.--T.] It would have been presumptuous,
even under another form, to have ventured upon a subject already
sketched and colored by such a hand, in his romantic Epic, in
which beauties of the highest order are set in such a scene as
Ruysdael loved to paint; where a ray of sunshine, thrown through
heavy storm-clouds, falls upon one of those strange trees never
wanting in his pictures, a birch shattered by lightning, while
its snowy bark is deeply stained, as if dyed in the blood flowing
from its fresh and gaping wounds. The scenes of "Pan Tadeusz" are
laid at the beginning of the present century, when many still
lived who retained the profound feeling and grave deportment of
the ancient Poles, mingled with those who were even then under
the sway of the graceful or giddying passions of modern origin.
These striking and contrasting types existing together at that
period, are now rapidly disappearing before that universal
conventionalism which is at present seizing and moulding the
higher classes in all cities and in all countries. Without doubt,
Chopin frequently drew fresh inspiration from this noble poem,
whose scenes so forcibly depict the emotions he best loved to

The primitive music of the Polonaise, of which we have no example
of greater age than a century, possesses but little value for
art. Those Polonaises which do not bear the names of their
authors, but are frequently marked with the name of some hero,
thus indicating their date, are generally grave and sweet. The
Polonaise styled "de Kosciuszko," is the most universally known,
and is so closely linked with the memories of his epoch, that we
have known ladies who could not hear it without breaking into
sobs. The Princess F. L., who had been loved by Kosciuszko, in
her last days, when age had enfeebled all her faculties, was only
sensible to the chords of this piece, which her trembling hands
could still find upon the key-board, though the dim and aged eye
could no longer see the keys. Some contemporary Polonaises are of
a character so sad, that they might almost be supposed to
accompany a funeral train.

The Polonaises of Count Oginski [Footnote: Among the Polonaises
of Count Oginski, the one in F Major has especially retained its
celebrity. It was published with a vignette, representing the
author in the act of blowing his brains out with a pistol. This
was merely a romantic commentary, which was for a long time
mistaken for a fact.] which next appeared, soon attained great
popularity through the introduction of an air of seductive
languor into the melancholy strains. Full of gloom as they still
are, they soothe by their delicious tenderness, by their naive
and mournful grace. The martial rhythm grows more feeble; the
march of the stately train, no longer rustling in its pride of
state, is hushed in reverential silence, in solemn thought, as if
its course wound on through graves, whose sad swells extinguish
smiles and humiliate pride. Love alone survives, as the mourners
wander among the mounds of earth so freshly heaped that the grass
has not yet grown upon them, repeating the sad refrain which the
Bard of Erin caught from the wild breezes of the sea:

"Love born of sorrow, like sorrow is true!"

In the well known pages of Oginski may be found the sighing of
analogous thoughts: the very breath of love is sad, and only
revealed through the melancholy lustre of eyes bathed in tears.

At a somewhat later stage, the graves and grassy mounds were all
passed, they are seen only in the distance of the shadowy
background. The living cannot always weep; life and animation
again appear, mournful thoughts changed into soothing memories,
return on the ear, sweet as distant echoes. The saddened train of
the living no longer hush their breath as they glide on with
noiseless precaution, as if not to disturb the sleep of those who
have just departed, over whose graves the turf is not yet green;
the imagination no longer evokes only the gloomy shadows of the
past. In the Polonaises of Lipinski we hear the music of the
pleasure-loving heart once more beating joyously, giddily,
happily, as it had done before the days of disaster and defeat.
The melodies breathe more and more the perfume of happy youth;
love, young love, sighs around. Expanding into expressive songs
of vague and dreamy character, they speak but to youthful hearts,
cradling them in poetic fictions, in soft illusions. No longer
destined to cadence the steps of the high and grave personages
who ceased to bear their part in these dances, [Footnote: Bishops
and Primates formerly assisted in these dances; at a later date
the Church dignitaries took no part in them.] they are addressed
to romantic imaginations, dreaming rather of rapture than of
renown. Meyseder advanced upon this descending path; his dances,
full of lively coquetry, reflect only the magic charms of youth
and beauty. His numerous imitations have inundated us with pieces
of music, called Polonaises, out which have no characteristics to
justify the name.

The pristine and vigorous brilliancy of the Polonaise was again
suddenly given to it by a composer of true genius. Weber made of
it a Dithyrambic, in which the glittering display of vanished
magnificence again appeared in its ancient glory. He united all
the resources of his art to ennoble the formula which had been so
misrepresented and debased, to fill it with the spirit of the
past; not seeking to recall the character of ancient music, he
transported into music the characteristics of ancient Poland.
Using the melody as a recital, he accentuated the rhythm, he
colored his composition, through his modulations, with a
profusion of hues not only suitable to his subject, but
imperiously demanded by it. Life, warmth, and passion again
circulated in his Polonaises, yet he did not deprive them of the
haughty charm, the ceremonious and magisterial dignity, the
natural yet elaborate majesty, which are essential parts of their
character. The cadences are marked by chords, which fall upon the
ear like the rattling of swords drawn from their scabbards. The
soft, warm, effeminate pleadings of love give place to the
murmuring of deep, fall, bass voices, proceeding from manly
breasts used to command; we may almost hear, in reply, the wild
and distant neighings of the steeds of the desert, as they toss
the long manes around their haughty heads, impatiently pawing the
ground, with their lustrous eye beaming with intelligence and
full of fire, while they bear with stately grace the trailing
caparisons embroidered with turquoise and rubies, with which the
Polish Seigneurs loved to adorn them. [Footnote: Among the
treasures of Prince radziwill at Nieswirz were to be seen, in the
days of former splendor, twelve sets of horse trappings, each of
a different color, incrusted with precious stones. The twelve
Apostles, life size, in massive silver, were also to be seen
there. This luxury will cease to astonish us when we consider
that the family of Radziwill was descended from the last Grand
Pontiff of Lithuania, to whom, when he embraced Christianity,
were given all the forests and plains which had before been
consecrated to the worship of the heathen Deities; and that
toward the close of the last century, the family still possessed
eight hundred thousand serfs, although its riches had then
considerably diminished. Among the collection of treasures of
which we speak, was an exceedingly curious relic, which is still
in existence. It is a picture of St. John the Baptist, surrounded
by a Bannerol bearing the inscription: "In the name of the Lord,
John, thou shalt be Conqueror." It was found by Jean Sobieski
himself, after the victory which he had won, under the walls of
Vienna, in the tent of the Vizier Kara Mustapha. It was presented
after his death, by Marie d'Arquin, to a Prince Radziwill, with
an inscription in her own hand- writing which indicates its
origin, and the presentation which she makes of it. The
autograph, with the royal seal, is on the reverse side of the
canvas.] How did Weber divine the Poland of other days? Had he
indeed the power to call from the grave of the past, the scenes
which we have just contemplated, that he was thus able to clothe
them with life, to renew their earlier associations? Vain
questions! Genius is always endowed with its own sacred
intuitions! Poetry ever reveals to her chosen the secrets of her
wild domain!

All the poetry contained in the Polonaises had, like a rich sap,
been so fully expressed from them by the genius of Weber, they
had been handled with a mastery so absolute, that it was, indeed,
a dangerous and difficult thing to attempt them, with the
slightest hope of producing the same effect. He has, however,
been surpassed in this species of composition by Chopin, not only
in the number and variety of works in this style, but also in the
more touching character of the handling, and the new and varied
processes of harmony. Both in construction and spirit, Chopin's
Polonaise In A, with the one in A flat major, resembles very much
the one of Weber's in E Major. In others he relinquished this
broad style: Shall we say always with a more decided success? In
such a question, decision were a thorny thing. Who shall restrict
the rights of a poet over the various phases of his subject? Even
in the midst of joy, may he not be permitted to be gloomy and
oppressed? After having chanted the splendor of glory, may he not
sing of grief? After having rejoiced with the victorious, may he
not mourn with the vanquished? We may, without any fear of
contradiction, assert, that it is not one of the least merits of
Chopin, that he has, consecutively, embraced ALL the phases of
which the theme is susceptible, that he has succeeded in
eliciting from it all its brilliancy, in awakening from it all
its sadness. The variety of the moods of feeling to which he was
himself subject, aided him in the reproduction and comprehension
of such a multiplicity of views. It would be impossible to follow
the varied transformations occurring in these compositions, with
their pervading melancholy, without admiring the fecundity of his
creative force, even when not fully sustained by the higher
powers of his inspiration. He did not always confine himself to
the consideration of the pictures presented to him by his
imagination and memory, taken en masse, or as a united whole.
More than once, while contemplating the brilliant groups and
throngs flowing on before him, has he yielded to the strange
charm of some isolated figure, arresting it in its course by the
magic of his gaze, and, suffering the gay crowds to pass on, he
has given himself up with delight to the divination of its mystic
revelations, while he continued to weave his incantations and
spells only for the entranced Sibyl of his song.

His GRAND POLONAISE in F SHARP MINOR, must be ranked among his
most energetic compositions. He has inserted in it a MAZOURKA.
Had he not frightened the frivolous world of fashionable life, by
the gloomy grotesqueness with which he introduced it in an
incantation so fantastic, this mode might have become an
ingenious caprice for the ball-room. It is a most original
production, exciting us like the recital of some broken dream,
made, after a night of restlessness, by the first dull, gray,
cold, leaden rays of a winter's sunrise. It is a dream-poem, in
which the impressions and objects succeed each other with
startling incoherency and with the wildest transitions, reminding
us of what Byron says in his "DREAM:"

"...Dreams in their development have breath,
And tears, and tortures, and the touch of joy;
They leave a weight upon our waking thoughts,
* * * * * * * *
And look like heralds of Eternity."

The principal motive is a weird air, dark as the lurid hour which
precedes a hurricane, in which we catch the fierce exclamations
of exasperation, mingled with a bold defiance, recklessly hurled
at the stormy elements. The prolonged return of a tonic, at the
commencement of each measure, reminds us of the repeated roar of
artillery--as if we caught the sounds from some dread battle
waging in the distance. After the termination of this note, a
series of the most unusual chords are unrolled through measure
after measure. We know nothing analogous, to the striking effect
produced by this, in the compositions of the greatest masters.
This passage is suddenly interrupted by a SCENE CHAMPETRE, a
MAZOURKA in the style of an Idyl, full of the perfume of lavender
and sweet marjoram; but which, far from effacing the memory of
the profound sorrow which had before been awakened, only
augments, by its ironical and bitter contrast, our emotions of
pain to such a degree, that we feel almost solaced when the first
phrase returns; and, free from the disturbing contradiction of a
naive, simple, and inglorious happiness, we may again sympathize
with the noble and imposing woe of a high, yet fatal struggle.
This improvisation terminates like a dream, without other
conclusion than a convulsive shudder; leaving the soul under the
strangest, the wildest, the most subduing impressions.

The "POLONAISE-FANTAISIE" is to be classed among the works which
belong to the latest period of Chopin's compositions, which are
all more or less marked by a feverish and restless anxiety. No
bold and brilliant pictures are to be found in it; the loud tramp
of a cavalry accustomed to victory is no longer heard; no more
resound the heroic chants muffled by no visions of defeat--the
bold tones suited to the audacity of those who were always
victorious. A deep melancholy--ever broken by startled movements,
by sudden alarms, by disturbed rest, by stifled sighs--reigns
throughout. We are surrounded by such scenes and feelings as
might arise among those who had been surprised and encompassed on
all sides by an ambuscade, the vast sweep of whose horizon
reveals not a single ground for hope, and whose despair had
giddied the brain, like a draught of that wine of Cyprus which
gives a more instinctive rapidity to all our gestures, a keener
point to all our words, a more subtle flame to all our emotions,
and excites the mind to a pitch of irritability approaching

Such pictures possess but little real value for art. Like all
descriptions of moments of extremity, of agonies, of death
rattles, of contractions of the muscles where all elasticity is
lost, where the nerves, ceasing to be the organs of the human
will, reduce man to a passive victim of despair; they only serve
to torture the soul. Deplorable visions, which the artist should
admit with extreme circumspection within the graceful circle of
his charmed realm!


Chopin's Mazourkas--Polish Ladies--Mazourka in Poland--Tortured
Motives--Early life of Chopin--Zal.

In all that regards expression, the MAZOURKAS of Chopin differ
greatly from his POLONAISES. Indeed they are entirely unlike in
character. The bold and vigorous coloring of the Polonaises gives
place to the most delicate, tender, and evanescent shades in the
Mazourkas. A nation, considered as a whole, in its united,
characteristic, and single impetus, is no longer placed before
us; the character and impressions now become purely personal,
always individualized and divided. No longer is the feminine and
effeminate element driven back into shadowy recesses. On the
contrary, it is brought out in the boldest relief, nay, it is
brought into such prominent importance that all else disappears,
or, at most, serves only as its accompaniment. The days are now
past when to say that a woman was charming, they called her
GRATEFUL (WDZIECZNA); the very word charm being derived from
WDZIEKI: GRATITUDE. Woman no longer appears as a protegee, but as
a queen; she no longer forms only the better part of life, she
now entirely fills it. Man is still ardent, proud, and
presumptuous, but he yields himself up to a delirium of pleasure.
This very pleasure is, however, always stamped with melancholy.
Both the music of the national airs, and the words, which are
almost always joined with them, express mingled emotions of pain
and joy. This strange but attractive contrast was caused by the
necessity of "CONSOLING MISERY" (CIESZYC BIDE), which necessity
induced them to seek the magical distraction of the graceful
Mazourka, with its transient delusions. The words which were sung
to these melodies, gave them a capability of linking themselves
with the sacred associations of memory, in a far higher degree
than is usual with ordinary dance-music. They were sung and re-
sung a thousand times in the days of buoyant youth, by fresh and
sonorous voices, in the hours of solitude, or in those of happy
idleness. Linking the most varying associations with the melody,
they were again and again carelessly hummed when traveling
through forests, or ploughing the deep in ships; perhaps they
were listlessly upon the lips when some startling emotion has
suddenly surprised the singer; when an unexpected meeting, a
long-desired grouping, an unhoped-for word, has thrown an undying
light upon the heart, consecrating hours destined to live
forever, and ever to shine on in the memory, even through the
most distant and gloomy recesses of the constantly darkening

Such inspirations were used by Chopin in the most happy manner,
and greatly enriched with the treasures of his handling and
style. Cutting these diamonds so as to present a thousand facets,
he brought all their latent fire to light, and re-uniting even
their glittering dust, he mounted them in gorgeous caskets.
Indeed what settings could he have chosen better adapted to
enhance the value of his early recollections, or which would have
given him more efficient aid in creating poems, in arranging
scenes, in depicting episodes, in producing romances? Such
associations and national memories are indebted to him for a
reign far more extensive than the land which gave them birth.
Placing them among those idealized types which art has touched
and consecrated with her resplendent lustre, he has gifted them
with immortality.

In order fully to understand how perfectly this setting suited
the varying emotions which Chopin had succeeded in displaying in
all the magic of their rainbow hues, we must have seen the
Mazourka danced in Poland, because it is only there that it is
possible to catch the haughty, yet tender and alluring, character
of this dance. The cavalier, always chosen by the lady, seizes
her as a conquest of which he is proud, striving to exhibit her
loveliness to the admiration of his rivals, before he whirls her
off in an entrancing and ardent embrace, through the tenderness
of which the defiant expression of the victor still gleams,
mingling with the blushing yet gratified vanity of the prize,
whose beauty forms the glory of his triumph. There are few more
delightful scenes than a ball in Poland. After the Mazourka has
commenced, the attention, in place of being distracted by a
multitude of people jostling against each other without grace or
order, is fascinated by one couple of equal beauty, darting
forward, like twin stars, in free and unimpeded space. As if in
the pride of defiance, the cavalier accentuates his steps, quits
his partner for a moment, as if to contemplate her with renewed
delight, rejoins her with passionate eagerness, or whirls himself
rapidly round, as though overcome with the sudden joy and
yielding to the delicious giddiness of rapture. Sometimes, two
couples start at the same moment, after which a change of
partners may occur between them; or a third cavalier may present
himself, and, clapping his hands, claim one of the ladies as his
partner. The queens of the festival are in turn claimed by the
most brilliant gentlemen present, courting the honor of leading
them through the mazes of the dance.

While in the Waltz and Galop, the dancers are isolated, and only
confused tableaux are offered to the bystanders; while the
Quadrille is only a kind of pass at arms made with foils, where
attack and defence proceed with equal indifference, where the
most nonchalant display of grace is answered with the same
nonchalance; while the vivacity of the Polka, charming, we
confess, may easily become equivocal; while Fandangos, Tarantulas
and Minuets, are merely little love-dramas, only interesting to
those who execute them, in which the cavalier has nothing to do
but to display his partner, and the spectators have no share but
to follow, tediously enough, coquetries whose obligatory
movements are not addressed to them;--in the Mazourka, on the
contrary, they have also their part, and the role of the cavalier
yields neither in grace nor importance to that of his fair

The long intervals which separate the successive appearance of
the pairs being reserved for conversation among the dancers, when
their turn comes again, the scene passes no longer only among
themselves, but extends from them to the spectators. It is to
them that the cavalier exhibits the vanity he feels in having
been able to win the preference of the lady who has selected him;
it is in their presence she has deigned to show him this honor;
she strives to please them, because the triumph of charming them
is reflected upon her partner, and their applause may be made a
part of the most flattering and insinuating coquetry. Indeed, at
the close of the dance, she seems to make him a formal offering
of their suffrages in her favor. She bounds rapidly towards him
and rests upon his arm,--a movement susceptible of a thousand
varying shades which feminine tact and subtle feeling well know
how to modify, ringing every change, from the most impassioned
and impulsive warmth of manner to an air of the most complete

What varied movements succeed each other in the course round the
ball-room! Commencing at first with a kind of timid hesitation,
the lady sways about like a bird about to take flight; gliding
for some time on one foot only, like a skater, she skims the ice
of the polished floor; then, running forward like a sportive
child, she suddenly takes wing. Raising her veiling eyelids, with
head erect, with swelling bosom and elastic bounds, she cleaves
the air as the light bark cleaves the waves, and, like an agile
woodnymph, seems to sport with space. Again she recommences her
timid graceful gliding, looks round among the spectators, sends
sighs and words to the most, highly favored, then extending her
white arms to the partner who comes to rejoin her, again begins
her vigorous steps which transport her with magical rapidity from
one end to the other of the ball-room. She glides, she runs, she
flies; emotion colors her cheek, brightens her eye; fatigue bends
her flexile form, retards her winged feet, until, panting and
exhausted, she softly sinks and reclines in the arms of her
partner, who, seizing her with vigorous arm, raises her a moment
in the air, before finishing with her the last intoxicating

In this triumphal course, in which may be seen a thousand
Atalantas as beautiful as the dreams of Ovid, many changes occur
in the figures. The couples, in the first chain, commence by
giving each other the hand; then forming themselves into a
circle, whose rapid rotation dazzles the eye, they wreathe a
living crown, in which each lady is the only flower of its own
kind, while the glowing and varied colors are heightened by the
uniform costume of the men, the effect resembling that of the
dark-green foliage with which nature relieves her glowing buds
and fragrant bloom. They all then dart forward together with a
sparkling animation, a jealous emulation, defiling before the
spectators as in a review--an enumeration of which would scarcely
yield in interest to those given us, by Homer and Tasso, of the
armies about to range themselves in the front of battle! At the
close of an hour or two, the same circle again forms to end the
dance; and on those days when amusement and pleasure fill all
with an excited gayety, sparkling and glittering through those
impressible temperaments like an aurora in a midnight sky, a
general promenade is recommenced, and in its accelerated
movements, we cannot detect the least symptom of fatigue among
all these delicate yet enduring women; as if their light limbs
possessed the flexible tenacity and elasticity of steel!

As if by intuition, all the Polish women possess the magical
science of this dance. Even the least richly gifted among them
know how to draw from it new charms. If the graceful ease and
noble dignity of those conscious of their own power are full of
attraction in it, timidity and modesty are equally full of
interest. This is so because of all modern dances, it breathes
most of pure love. As the dancers are always conscious that the
gaze of the spectators is fastened upon them, addressing
themselves constantly to them, there reigns in its very essence a
mixture of innate tenderness and mutual vanity, as full of
delicacy and propriety as of allurement.

The latent and unknown poetry, which was only indicated in the
original Polish Mazourkas, was divined, developed, and brought to
light, by Chopin. Preserving their rhythm, he ennobled their
melody, enlarged their proportions; and--in order to paint more
fully in these productions, which he loved to hear us call
"pictures from the easel," the innumerable and widely-differing
emotions which agitate the heart during the progress of this
dance, above all, in the long intervals in which the cavalier has
a right to retain his place at the side of the lady, whom he
never leaves--he wrought into their tissues harmonic lights and
shadows, as new in themselves as were the subjects to which he
adapted them.

Coquetries, vanities, fantasies, inclinations, elegies, vague
emotions, passions, conquests, struggles upon which the safety or
favor of others depends, all--all, meet in this dance. How
difficult it is to form a complete idea of the infinite
gradations of passion--sometimes pausing, sometimes progressing,
sometimes suing, sometimes ruling! In the country where the
Mazourka reigns from the palace to the cottage, these gradations
are pursued, for a longer or shorter time, with as much ardor and
enthusiasm as malicious trifling. The good qualities and faults
of men are distributed among the Poles in a manner so fantastic,
that, although the essentials of character may remain nearly the
same in all, they vary and shade into each other in a manner so
extraordinary, that it becomes almost impossible to recognize or
distinguish them. In natures so capriciously amalgamated, a
wonderful diversity occurs, adding to the investigations of
curiosity, a spur unknown in other lands; making of every new
relation a stimulating study, and lending unwonted interest to
the lightest incident. Nothing is here indifferent, nothing
unheeded, nothing hackneyed! Striking contrasts are constantly
occurring among these natures so mobile and susceptible, endowed
with subtle, keen and vivid intellects, with acute sensibilities
increased by suffering and misfortune; contrasts throwing lurid
light upon hearts, like the blaze of a conflagration illumining
and revealing the gloom of midnight. Here chance may bring
together those who but a few hours before were strangers to each
other. The ordeal of a moment, a single word, may separate hearts
long united; sudden confidences are often forced by necessity,
and invincible suspicions frequently held in secret. As a witty
woman once remarked: "They often play a comedy, to avoid a
tragedy!" That which has never been uttered, is yet incessantly
divined and understood. Generalities are often used to sharpen
interrogation, while concealing its drift; the most evasive
replies are carefully listened to, like the ringing of metal, as
a test of the quality. Often, when in appearance pleading for
others, the suitor is urging his own cause; and the most graceful
flattery may be only the veil of disguised exactions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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