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The Love Affairs of Great Musicians, Volume 2 by Rupert Hughes

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Author of "Contemporary American Composers," "The Musical Guide", etc.














MISS SMITHSON _Frontispiece_





























"Liszt, or the Art of Running after Women."--NIETSCHE.

Liszt's life was so lengthy and so industriously amorous, that it is
possible only to float along over the peaks, to touch only the high
points. Why, his letters to the last of his loves alone make up four
volumes! And yet, for a life so proverbially given over to flirtations
as his, the beginnings were strangely unprophetic. He had reached the
mature age of six before he began to study the piano; compared with
Mozart, he was an old man before he gave his first concert--namely,
nine years. Then the poverty of his parents and the ambition of his
father found assistance in a stipend from Hungarian noblemen, and he
was sent to Vienna to study. When he was eleven years old, after one of
his concerts, Beethoven kissed him. He survived. Then on to Paris and
duchesses and princesses galore. Here he became a proverb of popularity
as "Le petit Litz"--the French inevitably gave some twist to a foreign
name, then as to-day, when two of their favourite painters are
"Wisthler" and "Seargent."

Liszt's childhood was therefore largely fed upon the embraces and
kisses of rapturous women, even as was the young Mozart's, the
difference being that it became a habit in Liszt's case. Even then he
used to throw money among the gamins, as later he scattered it in how
many directions, with what liberality, and with what princeliness, and
from what a slender purse!

The father and mother had gone to Paris with him; but soon the mother
went back to Austria--she was a German, the father alone being
Hungarian. With his father the lad remained, and found him a severe and
domineering master. But in 1827 he died, leaving his sixteen-year-old
son alone in Paris. That stalwart self-reliance and sense of honour,
which gave nobility to so much of Liszt's character, now showed itself;
he sold his grand piano to pay the debts his father had left him, and
sent for his mother to come to Paris, where he supported her by giving
piano lessons. Then, as later, he found plenty of pupils, the
difference being that then, as not later, he took pay for his lessons,
though not even then from all.

Here he was at sixteen, tall and handsome, and with a face
of winsomeness that never lost its spell over womankind.
Sixteen-year-older that he was, he was a man of great fame, and the
grind of acquiring technic was all passed. Moscheles had already said
of him in print: "Franz Liszt's playing surpasses everything yet heard,
in power and the vanquishing of difficulties." Here he was, then,
young, beautiful, famous, a dazzling musician, and Hungarian. What do
you expect?

It makes small difference what you expect, for the reality was that his
heart was eager for the seclusion of a monastery; his soul pined for
religious excitement only! At fourteen he had begun to rebel against
his nickname, "Le petit Litz." It was with the utmost difficulty that
his father had been able to keep him from making religion his career,
and giving up his already glittering fame. Never in his life did he
cease to thrill with an almost hysterical passion for churchly affairs
and ceremonies.

At fourteen he had dedicated his first composition to the other sex. It
was a set of "exercises," and the compliment was paid to Lydia Garella,
a quaint little hunchback, whom he used afterward to refer to as his
first love. But it was later, when he was giving lessons to support his
mother, and just turned seventeen, that he drifted into what was really
his first love. The Comte de Saint Criq, then Minister of the Interior,
had an only daughter, the seventeen-year-old Caroline. The young
comtesse' mother gave her into Liszt's charge for musical education.
The young comtesse was, they say, of slender frame and angelic beauty,
and deeply imbued with that religious ardour which, as in Liszt's case,
often modulates as imperceptibly into love, as an organist can
gradually turn a hymn into a jig, or an Italian aria into a hymn.

The mother was fond of presiding at the music lessons, and of leading
the young teacher to air his views about religion and life, and she
watched with pleasure the gradual development of what was inevitable, a
more than musical sympathy between the daughter and the teacher. But
the romance seemed to win her approval, and when suddenly she saw that
she was soon to die, she made a last request of her husband, that he
should not refuse the young lovers their happiness. He allowed his wife
to die in confidence that the affair met his approval, but without the
faintest intention of permitting so insane a thing as a marriage of his
daughter with an untitled musician. His business affairs, however, kept
him away from home, and from thought upon the subject. After the death
of the mother, the comtesse and the pianist met and wept together; then
resumed their music lessons, reading much between the lines, and far
preferring dreamy duets to difficult solos.

Liszt had read little but music and religion; the slim, fair comtesse
had read much verse and romance. So she was his teacher in that
literature which would most interest a brace of young lovers. There was
no one at home to note how late he stayed of evenings, and one night he
returned to his own house to find it locked and his mother asleep.
Rather than disturb her, he spent the night on the steps. Another
evening, Franz and Caroline found parting such sweet sorrow, that when
he reached her outer door, he found it locked for the night. He was
compelled to call the porter from those slumbers which only doorkeepers
know, and this man was doorkeeperishly wrathful at having his
beauty-sleep broken; he growled his rage. This is the only time
recorded when Franz Liszt failed to respond to a hint for money. His
head was too high in the clouds, no doubt. The servant, thus suddenly
awakened to the impropriety of affairs, hastened the next morning to
inform the comte that his daughter was studying the music of the
spheres as well as that of the piano, and that her lessons were
prolonged till midnight.

The next time Franz came to teach, the ghoulish porter gleefully
informed him that his master wished to speak to him. The comte was most
politely firm, and murdered the young love with most suave apologies
for the painful amputation. The difference in rank, it went without
saying, put marriage out of the question, and, therefore, all things
considered, he could not derange monsieur to the giving of more music
lessons,--for the present, at least.

The young musician took the _coup de grace_ bravely; without a word he
gave the comte his hand in mute acceptance of his fate, and bowed
himself out. The true bitterness of his loss he sought to hide by
fleeing to the Church. His love had been pure and ardent. It had been
found impossible. His hopes had been put to death; therefore an end to
the world. He bent his burning head low upon the cold steps of Saint
Vincent de Paul, and resolved to renounce the world. He wrote ten years
later, and still with suffering: "A female form chaste and pure as the
alabaster of holy vessels, was the sacrifice I offered with tears to
the God of Christians. Renunciation of all things earthly was the only
theme, the only word of that day."

Caroline, too, sank under the bitterness of the loss. She fell
dangerously ill, and when she recovered she thought only of the
convent; but her father, who had so easily exiled her lover, knew how
to persuade her to marriage. A few months later she became Madame
d'Artigou; they say she gave her husband no affection, and that her
heart was still, and always, Liszt's; while in his heart she was for
ever niched as the young Madonna of his life.

For the present the shock of sacrifice threatened his whole career, and
his life and mind as well. Again the monastery beckoned him, and now it
was his mother's turn to oppose the Church in its effort to engulf this
brilliant artist. After a long struggle he yielded to her, but for a
time he was a recluse, and his melancholy gradually wore out his
health; until at length he was given up for a dying man, and obituary
eulogies actually were published. But as Mark Twain wrote of himself:
"The reports of his death were greatly exaggerated."

When Liszt gave up all hope of entering the Church, he began a restless
orgy of effort for mental diversion; all manner of theories and foibles
allured him.

As Heine said of him, his mind was "impelled to concern itself with all
the needs of mankind, impelled to poke its nose into every pot where
the good God cooks the future." The theatre offered for a time another
form of dissipation than his religious hysteria. He hated concerts, and
compared himself to a conjurer or a clever trick poodle; he took up
with the Revolution of 1830; Saint-Simonianism enmeshed him; later he
fell under the spell of the Abbe Lamennais. Then Paganini came to Paris
and fascinated and frightened Liszt, as he frightened the world with
his unheard-of fiddling. It was his privilege to drive Liszt back to
the piano with an ambition to rival Paganini; as rival him he did. Next
Berlioz and romanticism fevered his brain, and then in 1831, the
twenty-year-old Liszt and the twenty-one-year-old Chopin struck up
their historic friendship, and the two men glittered and flashed in the
most artistic salons of Paris. It was about this time that the Polish
Countess Plater said, speaking of the genial Ferdinand Hiller and the
two cronies:

"I would choose Hiller for my friend, Chopin for my husband, Liszt for
my lover."

There seems to have been a snow-storm of love affairs at this period.
It is impossible even to name the flakes. Gossip of course gathered
into the catalogue every woman whom Liszt saw more than once; but we
need not pay this tribute to malice by mentioning the names of all of
Liszt's hostesses. Among those who may be more definitely suspected of
being made victims by, or victimising, him is the Comtesse Adele
Laprunarede, afterward Duchess de Fleury. She, of course, was, as De
Beaufort says, "sparkling, witty, young, beautiful." Her home was
lonely and rural; her husband was very old; Liszt, to repeat, was a
musician and Hungarian. The old comte was blind enough to invite him to
spend the winter months at his chateau. For a whole winter Liszt was
kept there in her castle a prisoner, with fetters of silk. The old
comte seems never to have suspected. When Liszt eventually, like
Tannhaeuser, mutineered against the charms of the Venusberg and returned
to Paris, he wrote many letters to the comtesse, in which, as he
himself said, he gained his "first practice in the lofty French style."

But this intrigue was followed by his appearance in the procession of
George Sand's lovers. Ramann, in his biography, writes of the curious
state of society of the Paris of this Revolutionary period: "Women were
beginning to demand freedom and to experiment with the writing of
perfervid romances, which questioned the very foundation principles of
marriage and made a religion of Affinity."

George Sand was a chief crusader against the curse of monogamy. She
practiced this anarchy in the guise of religion, as the old crusaders
out-heathened the barbarians, and raided civilisation in the name of
the Cross. George Sand's gospel, summed up briefly by Ramann, is as

"'Love,' says the authoress, 'is Christian compassion concentrated on a
single being. It belongs to the sinner, and not to the just; only for
the former it moves restlessly, passionately, and vehemently. When
thou, O noble and upright man,' she continues, with deceitfully
fantastic warmth, 'when thou feelest a violent passion for a miserable
fallen creature, be reassured that is genuine love; blush not
therefore! so has Christ loved who crucified him.' According to this
view, the love that sins from love must be virtue. One can scarcely be
alarmed then when she says: 'The greater the crime, so much the more
genuine the love which it accomplishes;' or, when Leone Leoni, steeped
in passion and crime, but talented and adorned with manly beauty,
exclaims to his beloved, 'As long as you hope for my amendment you have
never loved my personal self.' It also appears to correspond with this
casuistry of erotic fancy, when the heroes of her tragedies, of
sky-storming earnestness, but adorned with all unnatural qualities,
give themselves up to the latter as to an intoxicating spell, and in
the delirium of self-delusion hold sin for virtue, and the unnatural
for higher truth and beauty. With this creed, experimental love was a
logical sequence, and great constancy was already to be unprogressive
stubbornness. 'All love exhausts itself,' said Sand in 'Lelia';
'disgust and sadness follow; the union of the woman with the man should
therefore be transitory.'"

If the putting of preachment into practice is virtue, George Sand was
the most virtuous of all novelists, for the hotel of her large and
roomy heart was for the entertainment of transients only. It was in
1834, when Liszt was twenty-three and Sand thirty, that he was caught
in the vortex swirling around "the fire-eyed child of Berry." Alfred de
Musset introduced Liszt to her, as later Liszt passed her on to
Chopin--or should we say she discarded the poet for the Hungarian, as
later the Hungarian for the Pole? it would be more gallant and quite as
true. Like Chopin, Liszt was at first repelled at the sight of George
Sand. But soon he was entangled in that "cameraderie" which was the
fashionable name for liaison in that time.

From her the Comtesse de Laprunarede had borrowed him for her
snow-begirt castle, and when he returned to Paris there was another
woman there, awaiting her turn to carry him off. This was the Comtesse
Marie Catherine Sophie d'Agoult, who was born on Christmas night, in
1805, and therefore was six years older than Liszt, whom she met in
1834. It was not till six years later that the comtesse took up
literature as a diversion, and made herself some little name as an art
critic and writer, choosing, as did George Sand, a masculine and
English pen-name, "Daniel Stern."

The comtesse had been married in 1827; her marriage settlement was
signed by King Charles the Tenth, the Dauphin, and others of almost
equal rank. The comte was forty-five, she only half his age. He seems
to have been a by no means ideal character, and she found her diversion
in the brilliant society she gathered into her salon. For some time she
seems to have been fascinated by Liszt before she could reach him with
her own fascinations.

Indeed she was always the pursuer, and he the pursued. This is the more
strange, since, at least at first, she was extremely handsome. Ramann
has thus pictured her:

"The Countess d'Agoult was beautiful, very beautiful, a Lorelei:
slender, of lofty bearing, enchantingly graceful and yet dignified in
her movements, her head proudly raised, with an abundance of fair
tresses, which waved over her shoulders like molten gold, a regular,
classic profile, which stood in strange and interesting contrast with
the modern breath of dreaminess and melancholy that was spread over her
countenance; these were the general features which rendered it
impossible to overlook the countess in the salon, the concert-room, or
the opera-house, and these were enhanced by the choicest toilets, the
elegance of which was surpassed by few, even in the salons of the
Faubourg St. Germain. That fantastic dreams were hidden behind the
purity of her profile, and passion, burning passion, under the soft
melancholy of her expression, was known to but a few, at the time that
her connection with the young artist began."

Her "Souvenirs" justify the accusation of unusual vanity as the
mainspring in her motives, but if it were only her passion for conquest
that made her seek Liszt, she was punished bitterly. In 1834 she
captured him, and the preliminary formalities of flirtation were
hastily overpassed. But once they were embarked on the maelstrom of
passion, they seem to have been of exquisite torment and terror to each
other. Liszt fell into a period of atheism which, to his
constitutionally religious soul, was agony. As for the comtesse, death
entered upon the romance and took away one of her three children. For
awhile she was only a broken-hearted mother, and the intrigue seems to
have had a moment's pause, but only to return.

Now, however, it had for Liszt something of unfreshness and monotony.
He determined to break loose, and in the spring of 1835 told the
comtesse that he was going to leave her. She, however, would not
consent. He yielding as gracefully as he could, took a lodging in a
quiet part of the city, where his life consisted of music, literature,
and the comtesse, who visited him incessantly. Her love had quite
infatuated her, to take the tone of the time; nowadays we might say
that she found it so serious that she desired to make it honest. The
means she hit upon were such as might strike a foolish woman as an
inspiration. Believing that the long way round was the short way home,
she thought to atone for her past foibles by casting them into sudden
insignificance--to clear the sultry air by a thunder crash.

When Liszt heard that the comtesse planned to leave her husband, and
even her children, and go into foreign exile with him, he felt that the
comtesse was taking the bit into her teeth with a vengeance, but saw as
he would on the lines, and cry "whoa" as he would, the runaway
comtesse still insisted on running away.

Liszt called on her mother to interfere; she was run over. He appealed
to her former confessor; his staying hand was shaken loose. He called
on the venerable family notary; the old man was upset by the
roadside--as I shall be also if I do not release this runaway metaphor.

The comtesse's mother persuaded the daughter to leave Paris for Basle,
hoping that a change of scene would bring a change of mind; Liszt
followed. It seems to me, however, more probable that the mother,
learning that her daughter was determined to leave Paris with Liszt,
went with her in the desperate effort to save appearances. But, however
that may be, we find the comtesse and the mother at one hotel, and
Liszt at another. A few days later, Liszt returned to his hotel to find
his room choked with the comtesse' trunks, and to learn that the mother
had gone back to Paris in despair. The comtesse had, as they say,
"brought her knitting" and come to stay.

Paris is not easily excited over an intrigue conducted according to the
established codes by which the intriguers bury their heads in the sand,
as a form of pretence that nobody knows that they are billing and
cooing beneath the sand, though of course everybody knows it, and they
know that everybody knows it, except possibly the one other person most
interested. But Paris was dumbfounded that a very prominent and
beautiful comtesse should leave her husband and her children in broad
daylight, and go visiting the most famous pianist in the world. The
pianist was to blame, of course, in the public eye, and the whole
affair was branded as a flagrant case of abduction. But, as we know
now, it was the pianist who was the victim of this Sabine procedure.

Liszt's actions in this affair seemed, as usual, to be an outrage upon
the ordinary laws of decency, but when the truth was learned, we find,
as the world found--as usual, too late to change its opinion of
him--that he did everything in his power to undo the evil into which
his passion had hurried him, and to set himself right with the usual
standards of society. And, as usual, he failed absolutely, because of
the curious and insane stubbornness of the woman.

Some years later, even the Comte d'Agoult, as well as the comtesse'
brother, the Comte Flavigny, confessed that Liszt had acted as a man of
honour. The comte had obtained a legal separation from his wife,
retaining their daughter. Liszt now proposed marriage. Both being
Catholics, it was necessary to experience a change of heart and become
Protestants. He exclaimed one day: "_Si nous etions Protestants"_ but
the comtesse crushed this hope with a sharp "_La Comtesse d'Agoult ne
sera jamais Madame Liszt_."

Liszt bowed to the inevitable, and kept together his many patches of
honour as well as he was permitted. The comtesse had a personal income
of four thousand dollars a year, which was as nothing. According to
Liszt's secretary, during the time of her stay with Liszt, she spent
sixty thousand dollars, the most of which Liszt earned himself by his
concerts. The pianist and the comtesse soon left Basle for Geneva,
where they remained till 1836, with the exception of one journey to
Paris, which Liszt made for a concert. But he returned rather to
literature than to music, as on another occasion did Wagner.

For five years Liszt and the comtesse travelled about Switzerland and
Italy, he occasionally being convinced that he was seriously in love
with the woman who had been so imperious and unreasonable. A few
conservatives outlawed him, but there were people enough who forgave
him, or approved him, to give him an abundance of society of the
highest and most aristocratic sort.

In 1836 his old flame, George Sand, visited Liszt and the comtesse.
They toured Switzerland on mules. George Sand has described the
wanderings in her "Lettres d'un Voyageur," where _Franz_ represents
Liszt, _Arabella_, the comtesse, and where one may read a poetic
description of the comtesse' beauty even after being drenched with
rain. Beauty that is water-proof is beauty indeed!

It is in this book of hers that Sand prints such illuminating epigrams
as these:

"There are great errors which are nearer the truth than little truths."

"The most beautiful creations of genius are those which succeed to the
epoch of the passions. The experience of life ought to precede art; art
requires repose, and does not suit with the storms of the heart. The
finest mountains of our globe are extinguished volcanoes."

"If you wish to arrive at truth, be reconciled to what is contrary; the
white light only results from the union of the coloured rays of the

"The oyster boasts and says: 'I have never gone astray,' Alas, poor
oyster! thou hast never walked."

When Liszt had made his concert trip to Paris, the comtesse had awaited
him at Sand's home. Then, after his famous duel with Thalberg--the
weapons being pianos--he joined the group at Nohant, where Chopin and
Sand, and Liszt and D'Agoult, and such guests as they gathered there,
led a life of elaborate entertainment which made Nohant as famous as
another Trianon. Meanwhile, there was going on a duel, the weapons of
which were not pianos, but those invisible stilettos with which two
women conduct a deadly feud, and politely tear each other's eyes out.
George Sand was famous then beyond her present-day esteem, and she was
a woman of vigour almost masculine and of a straightforwardness which
was almost an affectation. She loved to go about in boots and blouse,
and to ride bareback; she smoked cigars, and wrote at night. The
Comtesse d'Agoult was eminently feminine. She would rather have spent
one thousand francs on a gown than on anything else under heaven,
except another gown. She had in her certain literary capabilities, not
very marvellous, to be sure, but strong enough to provoke jealousy of
the overpraised Sand, who had also, incidentally, been on very intimate
terms with the present lover of the comtesse.

Unhappy is the lover who tries to play peacemaker between two of his
mistresses. This is enough to bring lava from any "extinguished
volcano." Liszt, after almost vain efforts to avoid downright
hair-pulling, decided to take the comtesse away from Nohant. He seems
to have sided with her against Sand, and said afterward: "I did not
care to expose myself to her insolence" (_sottise_). Chopin, however,
took sides with Sand, and it is said that his heart chilled toward
Liszt, who spoke bitterly of this estrangement, but on Chopin's death
wrote a biographical sketch full of affection, and of an admiration
better balanced than the over-flowery style which marks all of Liszt's

When the comtesse left Nohant, which Liszt never saw again, they went
to Lyons, where he gave a concert for the benefit of the poor and
working people. For what purposes of benevolence indeed did Liszt not
give concerts! So great and so discriminating and so self-sacrificing
was his charity, that it would almost plead atonement for a million
such unconventionalities as his. He was not content to devote the
proceeds of a single concert to some object of charity, but even gave
money, and whole tours. Besides this concert at Lyons, and various
others, one might mention the concert given for the flood sufferers at
Pesth, and for the poor of his native town, and the concert tour by
which he made Beethoven's monument possible at Bonn. Add to this the
other sums he scattered to poor artists like Wagner from his meagre
purse, and you will see one reason why women, who are more susceptible
and perceptive of such qualities of character, were almost as helpless
to resist Liszt's personality as he theirs. Even when he was "la petit
Litz," he was found holding a street-cleaner's broom while he went to
change a gold piece. And in his later years, his servant always filled
two of his pockets with coin, one with copper, and one with silver; and
the man used to say that when his master came home at night, the copper
mine was usually untouched, but the silver deposit exhausted.

It was in Lyons that the comtesse began her literary career, by a
French translation of Schubert's "Erl-Koenig." She later obtained a
considerable fame, as I have said, under the name of Daniel Stern. In
the fall of 1837 Liszt and the comtesse went to Italy, where,
especially at Bellaggio, they appear to have been genuinely happy. He
seems to be describing himself when he writes:

"Yes, my friend, when the ideal form of a woman floats before your
dreaming soul, a woman whose heaven-born charms bear no allurement for
the senses, but only wing the soul to devotion, and if you saw at her
side a youth of sincere and faithful heart, weave these forms into a
moving story of love, and give it the title, 'On the Shores of the Lake
of Como.'"

To us, who think of Liszt always by his last pictures, presenting him
in his venerable age, it is hard to remember that at this time he was
only twenty-seven. It was at this time, too, that he wrote the only
composition he ever dedicated to the comtesse. In later years, it was
almost the only composition of his that she would praise; it was a
fantasia on the "Huguenots." The two lovers continued their wanderings
through Italy and Austria, he giving concerts for the flood sufferers
and the Beethoven monument and she travelling with him. While in Rome
in 1839, the comtesse had borne him a son, Daniel, having previously
given him two daughters,--Blandine, who married the French statesman,
Emile Olivier, and died in 1862; and Cosinia, the famous wife of
Wagner. All three children had been legitimised immediately upon their

Meanwhile, he and the comtesse were drifting apart, in spite of these
three hostages to fortune. It is difficult to justify Liszt's desertion
of the woman, except by slandering her memory, and it is difficult to
save her memory without slandering his. The cause, as explained by
Ramann, is, that she cherished an ambition to be Liszt's Muse, and made
strong demands for the acceptance of her opinions upon his works. We
can easily imagine the situation: A sensitive, fiery composer, who is
incidentally the chief virtuoso of the world, dashes off a gorgeous
composition, and in the first warmth of enthusiasm plays it to his
companion. She, desirous of asserting her importance, listens to it
with that frame of mind which makes it easy to criticise any work of
art ever created--the desire to find fault. Benevolent and sincere as
her intentions may have been, the criticisms of this shallow and
musically untrained woman must have driven Liszt to desperation.

It is a rare musician that can tolerate the faintest disapproval of
even his poorest work, and frequently a critic lauds to the skies all
of the composer's works except one or two, and then, in order to give
his eulogy an appearance of discrimination and remove the taste of
unadulterated gush, inserts a mild implication that this one or these
two compositions are not the greatest works in existence--that unhappy
critic is practically sure to find that his eulogy has been accepted as
a mere matter of course, and his criticism bitterly resented as a
gratuitous and unwarranted assault upon beautiful creations which his
small skull and hickory-nut heart are unable to grasp.

Liszt was never especially philosophical under fault-finding, and to
have a fireside critic after him, nagging him day and night, must have
soured all the milk of human kindness in his heart. The comtesse was
stubborn in her views, and her artistic conferences with Liszt
degenerated into violent brawls. The young French poet, De Rocheaud,
"assisted," as the French say, at one of these combats between an
hysterical woman and a thin-skinned musician. The poet believed in
Muses and such things, using as an argument that beautiful fable which
Dante built on the most slender foundations.

"Think of Dante and Beatrice," exclaimed De Rocheaud. "Think how the
divine poet listened to her words as to revelations. Be thou Dante, and
she Beatrice." "Bah, Dante! bah, Beatrice!" cried Liszt, "the Dantes
create the Beatrices. The genuine die when they are eighteen years

At length the gipsy spirit moved Liszt to make a long continental tour
to complete the depletions in his purse. He did not care to take the
comtesse and the children with him. With much difficulty he persuaded
her to go to Paris and live with his mother, since she was on bad terms
with her own family. Later he succeeded in reconciling the comtesse
with these, also. After the death of her mother, the comtesse inherited
a fortune, but Liszt continued to support the children.

The comtesse died of pleurisy in 1876, at the age of seventy-one. How
long these sweethearts of musicians last!

Thus closes the chapter of Liszt's affairs with the Comtesse d'Agoult.
It had lasted, all things considered, surprisingly long--five years.

A pleasant note of character was sounded by Liszt, which rings him to
the difficult love affair of Robert Schumann. In one of his letters,
Liszt tells how fond he had been of Schumann and Wieck and his daughter
Clara. Then came the famous struggle between father and suitor for the
possession of the girl. Liszt took Schumann's side, because he thought
he was in the right; he even went so far as to break off all
intercourse with Wieck--who took his revenge by publishing ferocious
criticisms on Liszt's playing.

In 1845 Liszt wrote a letter of calm, cool friendship to George Sand,
his "Dear George." For years he roved Europe, flitting from ovation to
ovation, from flirtation to flirtation. But he was drifting unwittingly
toward the grand affair of his life. A woman--the woman--was waiting
for him in Russia. Mr. Huneker says of Liszt and the Comtesse d'Agoult:
"Every one knows that he was as so much dough in her hands." So, in a
more than different way, we shall find him--who had slain his hecatomb
of hearts--helpless in the power of his one great love. Again he is
first compelling, then compelled.

February 8, 1819, in Monasterzyka in Kiev, Carolyne von Ivanovska was
born. She was the only daughter of a rich Polish nobleman. The parents
soon separated, and the child's life was divided between them. The
father brought her up, as La Mara tells, as if she were a boy. He made
her the companion of his conversations late into the night; and, in
order to make her the more congenial a comrade, he taught her to ride
wild horses and smoke strong cigars. Then the other half of the year,
she was the ward of her "beautiful, lovely, elegant" mother, who doted
on society, and introduced her daughter to the capitals and the salons
of Europe.

So, says La Mara, "under constantly changing surroundings, now in the
midst of the world, now in the deep solitude, Carolyne von Ivanovska
lived her first years."

When she was seventeen, her father bought her a husband, the son of the
Field Marshal Fuerst Wittgenstein, and on May 7, 1836, she gave her hand
to the Prince Nicolaus von Sayn-Wittgenstein, seven years her senior.
He was at the time a cavalry captain in the Russian army, a handsome,
but intellectually unimpressive man. To quote La Mara again: "From this
marriage the Princess Carolyne gained only one happiness: the birth of
a daughter, the Princess Marie, on whom she centred the glowing love of
her heart."

While the two fathers-in-law lived, the children-in-law were kept
together; but the old men soon went their way. Then the young wife gave
up attempting to endure the unhappiness of her home, and sought solace
from her loneliness in the full blaze of literary and artistic society.
In February, 1847, Franz Liszt floated in across her horizon, "_auf
Fluegeln des Gesanges_." Of course, he gave a concert in Kiev for
charity. Among the contributions, he received a one-hundred-rouble
note--about $75. Liszt desired to thank the good-hearted one in

Even if the princess had not been beautiful, La Mara thinks she would
have overwhelmed Liszt with "her wonderful eloquence and her
unbelievable intellectuality." It was a case of congeniality at
first sight. There were many meetings. The concert affected the
princess deeply (when she died she bequeathed that programme to her
daughter). The day after the concert, she heard a Pater Noster of his
sung in the church. Liszt talked of his plans for compositions. He said
he wished to express in music his impressions of Dante's "Divina
Commedia," with a diorama of scenic effects. To fit out the diorama, it
needed about $15,000.

The princess, carried away with the idea, offered him the money from
her own purse. The diorama was never built, but it required a great
many conferences, and it seemed appropriate that Liszt should visit her
at her estate, Woronince. He arrived on the tenth birthday of her
little daughter, Marie. This was in February, the same month of their
first meeting. But he could not stay many days, as his concert tour
took him to Constantinople and elsewhere. But in the summer and again
in the autumn they met, and they celebrated together his birthday and
her saint's day.

She there and then resolved to give up her life to him, and to marry
him as soon as might be. She believed in the autocracy of genius, and
felt that she recognised her mission in the world--to follow and aid
this maker of music. Separation from her husband was tame, but this was
a horrifying breach of conventionality, such another as the Comtesse
d'Agoult had smitten Paris with thirteen years before. But none the
less, in April, 1848, she took her daughter and left Russia, after she
had provided herself, by the sale of a portion of her dowry, with a
sum, as La Mara says, of a million roubles--equal to about $750,000--a
tidy little parcel for an eloping couple.

For her husband and mother-in-law she left letters--it would seem that
there must have been little else to leave--explaining that she would
never return. At the same time she instituted divorce proceedings, and
announced that she was asking the Church to grant her freedom. Being a
Catholic, it was necessary for her to persuade the Pope himself to
permit her to wed Liszt. In the meanwhile, her husband went to the Czar
and loudly bewailed the loss of his daughter and all his money. The old
story--"My daughter! Oh, my ducats! Oh, my daughter! Oh, my Christian
ducats! Justice! the law! My ducats and my daughter!"

The princess fled across the Russian border, just at the time of the
Revolution of 1848. At the Austrian boundary Liszt's faithful valet met
her; in Ratibor she found Liszt's friend, the Prince Lichnovski, who
some months after fell a martyr to the revolution. He conducted her to
Liszt. A few days later they visited the prince for two weeks at one of
his castles. The troubles of the revolution and the barricaded streets
drove them from the country to Weimar, where Liszt had been given the
post of Kapellmeister.

It was this third-rate town that became the birthplace of a new school
of German opera, for years the hub of the musical universe. Here in
Weimar the princess lived thirteen years. She placed herself under the
protection of the Grand Duchess of Weimar, Maria Polovna, the sister of
the Czar and a friend of her childhood. She chose the Altenburg chateau
for her home. A year later, Liszt, who had found a neighbouring hotel
too remote, took up his home in one of the wings of the chateau. Here
he spent the most profitable years of his artistic life. His twelve
Symphonic Poems, his Faust and Dante Symphonies, his Hungarian
Rhapsodies, and many other important works, including also literary
compositions, he achieved here. The irritation he had felt at the
superficial meddling, and domineering criticism of his would-be Muse,
the Comtesse d'Agoult, was changed to such a communion as the old Roman
king Numa enjoyed with his inspiring nymph, Egeria.

During the princess' stay in Weimar, constant pressure was brought upon
her to return to Russia to arrange a settlement of affairs. She feared
returning to that great prison-land, which cannot be easily entered or
left, lest they should forbid her return to Liszt. Even threats to
declare her an exile and confiscate her goods, would not move her.
Eventually the property she had inherited from her father was put in
her daughter's name, by the Czar's order--an arrangement Liszt had long
pleaded for in vain. The husband's feelings were mollified by the
appropriation to him of the seventh part of her property, and the
arrangement of a guardianship for the daughter.

The prince, being a Protestant, now proceeded to get a divorce, which
he obtained without difficulty. He speedily married a governess in the
household of Prince Souvaroff. None the less, the struggles went on for
the freedom of Princess Carolyne. In 1859 her daughter, Marie, was
married to Prince Constantin zu Hohenlohe-Schillingsfuerst, aid-de-camp
and later grand steward of the Austrian emperor. Now that the daughter
was safely disposed of, the princess took active steps for her own
freedom. She chose, as a pretext for the dissolution of her marriage,
the statement that she had entered into it unwillingly at her father's
behest. Her Polish relatives were shocked at the idea of divorce, and
brought witnesses to prove that the first years of her marriage were
peaceful and content. But in spite of this the divorce was granted in
Russia, and the Pope gave it his sanction.

The princess, however, was not satisfied with a merely technical
success. She would consummate her marriage with Liszt in a blaze of
glory and with all the blessings of religion upon it. In the spring of
1860, she had gone to Rome to further her divorce proceedings. Liszt
was to arrive and be married on his fiftieth birthday, the princess
then being forty-two. All went merrily as a marriage bell. It is
generally believed that Liszt's "Festklaenge" was written for this
occasion as a splendid orchestral wedding festival of triumph.

Accordingly, at the proper time, Liszt went to Rome--as he thought.
Really, he was going to Canossa. The priest was bespoken, and the altar
of the church of San Carlo al Corso decorated. On the very eve of the
wedding, when Liszt was with the princess, they were startled to
receive a messenger from the Pope, demanding a postponement of the
marriage, and the delivery for review of the documents upon which the
divorce had been granted. The papers were surrendered, and the
disconsolate princess gave way to a superstitious resignation to fate.

It seems that the amiable relatives of the princess, chancing to be in
Rome and hearing of the wedding, determined to prevent it at all cost.
Before the Pope they charged her with securing the divorce by perjury.
The princess had friends at court, who could have procured the
satisfactory conclusion of the matter. The Cardinal Hohenlohe offered
his own chapel for the marriage. But the princess was as immovable in
her new determination as she had been in her old.

She had resisted for thirteen years the efforts of the Russian court to
decoy her back to Russia. For the next fifteen years she resisted
Liszt's ardent wooing to marriage. Even when, on the 10th of March,
1864, her former husband died and gave her that divorce which even Rome
considers sufficient, she would not wed. Her stay of one year in the
Holy City had brought her into the whirlpool of Church society and
Church politics. She turned her voracious intellect toward theology;
and the interests of the Church, as La Mara says, grew in her eyes far
more important than the petty ambitions of art.

The woman with a mission had changed her mission. Knowing how powerful
was her influence over Liszt, she thought to begin her new work at
home, and it was on Liszt that she practised her first churchly

In his youth it had taken all the power of his father and mother to
keep him out of the Church; small wonder, then, that when, in the
evening fatigue of his life, the woman of his heart beckoned him to the
candle-lighted peace of vespers, he should yield.

Religion had always been as much an art to him, as art had been a
religion. By papal dispensation Liszt was admitted into Holy Orders on
the 25th of April, 1865, and the Cardinal Hohenlohe, who had not been
granted the privilege of marrying Liszt, was given the privilege of
shaving his head and turning him into a tonsured abbe.

There was a great sensation in 1868, when Liszt, who had thirty years
before run away from Paris with a comtesse, returned as a saint, and in
full regalia conducted a mass of his own, at Saint Eustache. The critic
and dictionary-maker, Fetis, declared that the whole affair was simply
an advertising scheme of Liszt's. But Liszt was taking himself
seriously. The Pope had called him "My dear Palestrina," and he desired
to reform church music as Palestrina had done.

The fact that this ecclesiastical passion was brief, does not prove
that it was not sincere; in Liszt's case it would rather prove its
sincerity. And by corollary the fact that it was sincere, rather proved
that it would be brief.

The artistico-ecclesiastical life, or, as the German puts it so much
more patly, "_das kloesterlich-kuenstlerische Leben_," began to wear upon
him. For a time Liszt remained in Rome, taking a dwelling in the Via
Felice; later, in June of the year 1863, he moved to the Oratorio of
the Madonna del Rosario, where the Pope, Pius IX., visited him to hear
his miraculous music. He saw the princess often, usually dining with
her, and letters fluttered thickly between his home and hers in the
Piazza di Spagna, and later in the Via del Babuino.

Liszt was never a man for one of your gray existences. He was homesick
for Weimar, and was a constant truant from Rome. But he had duties
enough with his ambition as a composer and conductor, and his cloud of
pupils whom he taught without price. To his excursions we owe four
volumes of letters to the princess. The volumes average over four
hundred pages each of smallish type. They are in French, and have been
all published, the last volume appearing in 1902, under the editorship
of La Mara. Also a publication of the princess' letters has been
announced by her daughter, who wisely believes that in a matter which
has become the gossip of the world, the best defence is the fullest
possible presentation.

In Liszt's letters there is not much of the grand style he had affected
after his first elopement with De Laprunarede, though there is much
that is hysterical:

"How it is written above that you should be my Providence and my good
angel here below! I incessantly have recourse to you with prayers,
supplications, and benedictions."

"My words flow always to you as my prayer mounts to God."

"Since I must not have the bliss of seeing you again this evening, let
me at least tell you that I will pray with you before I sleep. Our
prayers are united as our souls." (Nov. 4, 1864)

"Next to my hours in the church the sweetest and dearest are those I
spend with you." (Feb. 18, 1869.)

"My ancient errors have left me a residue of chagrin that preserves me
from temptation. Be well assured that I tell you the truth and all the
truth." (Nov. 10, 1870.)

But to attempt a quotation from these letters would be like proffering
a spoonful of brine, and saying, "Here is an idea of the ocean." The
letters are full of minute details of their busy lives and of other
notable people. There is much, of course, about music and travel, and a
vast amount of religious ardour. There is also much expression of the
utmost devotion and loneliness. Years of this life of reunion and
separation went on.

Writing to the princess on the 21st of June, 1872, he mentions Wagner,
whose marriage to Cosima von Buelow (_nee_ Liszt) scandalised the world
and alienated even Liszt. There are biographers who deny this, but in
this letter to the princess, Liszt encloses Wagner's letter of most
affectionate appeal for reconciliation, and with it his answer, giving
his long-withheld blessing. Describing this reunion with Wagner, Liszt
is moved to say to the princess:

"God will pardon me for leaning to the side of mercy, imploring his and
abandoning myself entirely to it. As for the world, I am not uneasy as
to its interpretation of that page of what you call 'my biography.' The
only chapter that I have ardently desired to add to it, is missing. May
the good angels keep you, and bring me to you in September."

Through many others of his letters rings this vain "_leit-motif_" like
the wail of Tristan. But nothing could remove the spell the Church had
cast upon the princess.

She sank deeper and deeper into seclusion, and during the twenty-seven
years she lived in Rome she left her home in the Via del Babuino only
once for twenty-four hours. She grew more and more immersed in the
Church and its affairs. Gregororius said she fairly "sputtered
spirituality." She began to write, and certain of her essays were
revised by Henri Lasserre, under the name, "Christian Life in Public,"
and were widely read, being translated into English and Spanish. Her
chief work was a twenty-four-volume study bearing the thrilling title,
"Interior Causes of the Exterior Weakness of the Church." This
ponderous affair she finished a few days before her death, with hand
already swollen almost beyond the power of holding the pen.

Here in Rome, as in Russia and at Weimar, where she was, there was a
salon. But she grew wearier and wearier of life, and weaker and weaker,
until she spent months and months in bed, and would rarely cross her
door-sill. To the last she and Liszt were lovers, however remote. And
his letters are rarely more than a few days apart. He continues to sign
himself, even in the final year of his life, "Umilissimo sclavissimo."
His last letter concerned the marriage of his granddaughter Daniela von
Buelow to a man with the ominous sounding name of "Thode." Daniela was
the daughter of Liszt's daughter, Cosima, by her first husband. The
marriage took place at Wagner's home, "Wahnfried," in Bayreuth.

It was appropriate that Liszt should spend his last years in the
company of this Wagner, for whose success he had been the chief
crusader, as for the success of how many another famous musician, and
for the charitable comfort of how numberless a throng, and in what
countless ways! It was doubly appropriate that his last appearance in
public should be at the performance of "Tristan and Isolde"--that
utmost expression of love that was fiery and lawless and yet worthy of
the peace it yearned for and never found.

Liszt died on the 31st of July, 1886. His will declared the princess to
be his sole heir and executrix. She outlived him no long time. On the
8th of March, 1887, she died of dropsy of the heart. She was buried in
the German cemetery next to St. Peter's, in Rome. Her grave bore the

"Yonder is my hope." At her funeral they played the Requiem, Liszt had
written for the death of the Emperor Maximilian. She had wished that
this music should "sing her soul to rest."



Surely, one would say, if love were ever to be the woof of any life, it
must interweave the life of this man Wagner; for he gave to every whim
and fervour of the passion an expression so nearly absolute that we are
driven almost to say: Old as music is, and ancient as love songs are,
music never truly gave full voice to desire in all its throbs until
Richard Wagner created a new orchestra, a new libretto, a new music, a
new harmony, and a new fabric of melody.

"Tristan and Isolde" seems to be so nearly the last word in dramatised
love that it seems also to be nearly the first word. From the
Vorspiel's opening measures, gaunt and hungry with despair and longing,
to the last measures of the Liebestod, sublime with resignation and
divinely sad with the apotheosis of adoration, this opera sounds every
note of the emotion of man for woman, and woman for man.

Surely, you would say, the creator of this masterwork must have had a
heart thrilled with mighty passion for womankind; surely he must have
lived a life of strange devotion.

But how often, how often we must warn ourselves against judging the
creator from his creations, the artist from his art. In his letter to
Liszt, announcing his intention to write this very opera, Wagner said:

"As I have never in life felt the real bliss of love, I must erect a
monument to the most beautiful of my dreams, in which, from beginning
to end that love shall be thoroughly satiated. I have in my head
'Tristan and Isolde,' the simplest, but fullest, musical conception.
With 'the black flag,' which waves at the end, I shall then cover
myself--to die."

The truth was that Wagner, as so many another creative genius, spent
his love chiefly upon the beings that he begot within his own heart.
Every genius is more or less a Pygmalion, and his own imagination is
the Aphrodite that gives life to the Galateas that he carves. I have
shown by this time that certain musicians have been most excellent
lovers, and there would be documents enough to prove Wagner another,
but we know it for a fact that his one great passion was for his art.
There is not recorded anywhere, I think, another such idolater of
ideals as Richard Wagner. To his theory of the perfect marriage of
music and poetry, he sacrificed everything,--his heart's blood, his
sensitiveness to criticisms, his extraordinary fondness for luxuries,
his sense of pride, and to these he added human sacrifice,--his wife,
his friends, and any one who stood in his way. He made himself a
pauper, and begged and borrowed every penny he could scrape from every
friend who could be hypnotised into supporting his creeds. As a result,
after years of humiliation such as few men ever did, or ever cared to,
endure, after a battle against the highest and the lowest intellects,
he attained a point of glory which hardly another artist in the world's
history ever reached. He reached such a pinnacle that critics were not
lacking who said that he often threatened to give Art a more important
place in the State than Religion.

Nothing but the most complete success, and nothing but the most
beneficial revolution could justify such a creed or such a life as
Wagner's. Both were eminently justified. He reaped a superb reward, but
he earned every mite of it. When his days of power and of glory came,
however, he spent them with another woman than the one who had gone
through all his struggles with him; had suffered all that he suffered,
without any aid from hope, without any belief in his personality or his
creeds, supported only on the courage and the dog-like fidelity of a
German _Hausfrau_ to her _Mann_.

Wagner was as plainly destined for war as any Richard the Third, born
with hair and teeth. For he was born in the midst of the Napoleonic
wars at Leipzig, in 1813, and the dead bodies on the battle-field were
so many that they raised a pestilence, which carried off Wagner's
father when the child was six months old; and also threatened the life
of his elder brother and of the babe himself. His life was one long
truceless war. He once said to Edouard Schure: "The only time I ever
went to sea, I barely escaped shipwreck. Should I go to America, I am
sure the Atlantic would receive me with a cyclone."

Wagner's first love was his mother. In fact, Praeger, his Boswell,
said: "I verily believe that he never loved any one else so deeply as
his _liebes Muetterchen_." She must have been a woman of winning
manners, for, though she had seven children, the oldest fourteen, she
got another husband before her first one was a year in his grave; the
second was an actor. Wagner was so fond of his mother that through his
life he never could see a Christmas tree alight without tears.

There were other loves that busied his heart. He was remarkably fond of
animals, particularly of dogs. He suffered keenly when his parrot Papo
died; he wrote his friend Uhlig: "Ah, if I could say to you what has
died for me in this devoted creature! It matters nothing to me whether
I am laughed at for this." His dog Peps died in his arms, and he wrote
Praeger: "I cried incessantly, and since then have felt bitter pain and
sorrow for the dear friend of the past thirteen years, who has walked
and worked with me." One of Wagner's last plans was to write a book to
be called "A History of My Dogs." Anecdotes galore there are of his
humanity to dogs and cats and other members of our larger family.

Wagner had also a famous passion for gorgeous colours; his music shows
this. He liked fine stuffs peculiarly, and even in his pauperdom wore
silk next to his skin. When fortune found him, he made a veritable
rainbow of himself with his dressing-gowns, and even with many-coloured
trousers. His stomach was not so fond of luxury, and he was not
addicted to wine or beer, and for long periods drank neither at all. He
injured his health by eating too fast, though this was not, as in
Haendel's case, from gluttony, but from absent-minded interest in his
work. Yet there is something strangely human and captivating in the
story that, when he was eight years old, he traded off a volume of
Schiller's poems for a cream puff.

Wagner's career shows a curious growth away from his early ideas. He
was at first an artistic disciple of Meyerbeer, and not only drew
operatic inspirations from him, but was saved from starving by
Meyerbeer's money and by his letters of introduction; later he came to
abhor Meyerbeer's operas, and to despise the man himself and his ways.
Wagner earned himself numberless powerful enemies by his fierce hatred
for the Jewish race, and by his ferocious attack in an article called
"Judaism in Music." Yet his first flirtation was with a Jewess, and it
was not his fault that he did not marry her. She lived in Leipzig, and
was a friend of his sister. She had the highly racial name of Leah
David, and was a personification of Jewish beauty, with her eyes and
hair of jet and her Oriental features. It has been remarked that all of
Wagner's heroes and heroines fall in love at first sight.

He began it. His first view of Leah plunged him into a frenzy. "Love
me, love my dog," was an easy task for Wagner, and he was glad of the
privilege of caressing Leah's poodle, and of mauling her piano. He
never could fondle a piano without making it howl. Now Leah had a
cousin, a Dutchman and a pianist. Wagner criticised his execution, and
was invited to do better. The man hardly lived who played the piano
worse than Wagner, and the result of the duel was a foregone defeat.
The last chapter of this romance may be quoted from Praeger:

"Wagner lost his temper. Stung in his tenderest feelings before the
Hebrew maiden, with the headlong impetuosity of an unthinking youth, he
replied in such violent, rude language, that a dead silence fell upon
the guests. Then Wagner rushed out of the room, sought his cap, took
leave of Iago, and vowed vengeance. He waited two days, upon which,
having received no communication, he returned to the scene of the
quarrel. To his indignation, he was refused admittance. The next
morning he received a note in the handwriting of the young Jewess. He
opened it feverishly. It was a death-blow. Fraulein Leah was shortly
going to be married to the hated young Dutchman, Herr Meyers, and
henceforth she and Richard were to be strangers. 'It was my first love
sorrow, and I thought I should never forget it, but after all,' said
Wagner, with his wonted audacity, 'I think I cared more for the dog
than for the Jewess.'"

Wagner entered the university at Leipzig and for a time went the pace of
student dissipations; he has described them in his "Lebenserinnerungen."
He took an early disgust, however, for these forms of amusement and was
thereafter a man, whose chief vices were working and dreaming.

One of his early creeds was free love; and though he gave up this
theory, his works as a whole are by no means an argument for
domesticity. In fact they are so devout a pleading for the superiority
of passion over all other inspirations, that it is astounding to hear
Wagnerians occasionally complain of modern Italian operas as
immoral--as if any librettos could be immoral in comparison with the
Nibelungen Cycle.

Wagner's first libretto, "The Wedding" (Die Hochzeit), horrified his
sister so, that he destroyed it at her request. His third, "Das
Liebesverbot," was based on Shakespeare's "Measure for Measure," with
the slight distinction that where Shakespeare's play is a preachment
for virtue, Wagner himself said that his libretto was "the bold
glorification of unchecked sensuality." Years afterward, admirers of
his put the work in rehearsal, but gave it up as too licentious. This
apostle of unrestrained amours found himself most prosaically married
and involved in the most commonplace struggle for daily bread, when he
was only twenty-three.

In 1833, at the age of twenty, Wagner had taken up music
professionally, and got a position as chorus-master. In 1834, he became
musical director at the theatre in Magdeburg. The company, made up
principally of young enthusiasts, who worked day and night, rehearsed
Wagner's opera, "Das Liebesverbot." The first night there was a crowded
house, but the troupe went all to pieces. The next night was to be
Wagner's benefit. Fifteen minutes before the curtain rose, he found the
audience consisted of his landlady, her husband, and one Polish Jew. A
free fight broke out behind the scenes; the prima donna's husband smote
the second tenor, her lover, and every one joined in; even that small
audience was dismissed. In this company _die erste Liebhaberin_ was
Wilhelmine Planer, one of twelve children of a poor spindle-maker. When
the Magdeburg company went to pieces, Wagner went to Leipzig and
offered the opera to a manager, whose daughter was the chief singer.
The manager said that he could not permit his daughter to appear in
such a work. Eventually, Wagner drifted to Koenigsberg, where he became
director of the theatre, and where Wilhelmine had found a position. The
two had become engaged in Magdeburg, and they were married at
Koenigsberg, on November 24, 1836.

The theatre soon followed the example of that at Magdeburg and went
into bankruptcy. During the honeymoon year, Wagner had composed only
one work, an overture, based on "Rule Britannia." At that time "The Old
Oaken Bucket" had not been written. He then drifted to Riga, where he
became music-director and his wife a singer. Now his relentless
ambition seized him and he determined to consecrate the rest of his
life to glory. His wife found herself consecrated to poverty and the
fanatic ideals of a husband, to whom starvation was only a detail in
the scheme of his life,--a scheme and a life for which she had neither
inclination nor understanding.

Wilhelmine, or Minna, as she was called, is described as pretty by some
and as of a "pleasing appearance," by others. The painter Pecht called
her very pretty, but blamed her for a sober, unimaginative soul.
Richard Pohl calls her a prosaic domestic woman, who never understood
her husband, and who might have been an impediment to his far-reaching
ideas, if Richard Wagner could have been impeded in his career by
anything. Wagner himself seems to have been genuinely fond of her,
though never, perhaps, deeply in love with her. He called her an
"excellent housewife," who lovingly and faithfully shared much sorrow
and little joy with him.

The young couple lived at Riga in an expensive suburb, whence it was
said they could reach the theatre only by means of a cab, though
Glasenapp denies this story. Minna brought to her husband not a penny
of dowry, and he brought to her a number of debts, and a hopeless lack
of economy. The first year he tried to get an advance of salary, and
offered to do anything, "except bootblacking and water-carrying, which
latter my chest could not endure at present." Then he decided that fame
and fortune awaited him, as they usually do, just over the horizon. The
only trouble with the horizon, as with to-morrow and the
will-o'-the-wisp, is that it is always just ahead.

When the Wagners applied for a passport, to leave Riga, they did so in
the face of certain suits for debt. They were told that they could have
the passport as soon as they showed receipts for their bills. That was
too ridiculous a condition to consider, so Minna disguised as a peasant
woman, and a friendly lumberman took her across the border as his wife.
The friends of Wagner took up a purse for him, and by elaborate
manoeuvres got him across the Russian border in disguise. He reached
the seaport of Pillau, found his wife and his dog there, and set sail
in a small boat.

Thus he embarked for the future, "with a wife, an opera and a half, a
small purse, and a terribly large and terribly voracious Newfoundland
dog." The composer, his wife, and the dog were all three outrageously
seasick. They arrived finally after violent storms in London, where the
chief event was the loss of the dog. When he came back, the three
decided that Paris offered a better chance, so thither they went.
Meyerbeer befriended them with letters of introduction and much
encouragement, on the receipt of which the cautious couple diluted
their few remaining pence in champagne.

Wagner began to write songs, which he offered to sell for prices
ranging from $2.50 to $4.00; he asked the publisher obligingly to grant
him the latter sum, "as life in Paris is enormously expensive"!

Wagner was so poor that about the only thing he could afford to keep
was a diary. Here he wrote down alternate accounts of his abject
poverty and of his abnormal hopes. In Villon's time, the wolves used to
come into the streets of Paris at night. They were not all dead by
1840, it would seem, for one of them made his home on Wagner's
door-step. He wrote in his diary that he had invited a sick and
starving German workman to breakfast, and his wife informed him that
there was to be no breakfast, as the last pennies were gone.

In one of his moments of desperation, he brought himself to the depth
of asking Minna to pawn some of her jewelry. She told him that she had
long ago pawned it all. She faced their distress like a heroine. Wagner
used to weep when he told of her self-denial, and the cheerfulness with
which she, the pretty actress of former days, cooked what meals there
were to cook, and scrubbed what clothes there were to scrub. For
diversion, when they had no money for theatres and the opera, the
genius and his wife and the dog could always take a walk on the

Wagner could not play any instrument, not even a piano, and so he tried
for a position in the chorus of a cheap theatre; but his voice was not
found good enough for even that. His long sea voyage had given him an
idea for an opera, "The Flying Dutchman." He was driven to sell his
libretto for a hundred dollars to another composer.

It would not do to follow Wagner's artistic progress in this place;
that is an epic in itself. Finally, however, he managed to get his
"Rienzi" written and accepted in Dresden. He scraped up money enough to
go back to his Fatherland, and to take his wife to the baths at
Teplitz, her health having broken under the strain of poverty. It is at
this period that he closed an autobiographic sketch, with these words:
"In Paris I had no prospects for years to come, so in the spring of
1842 I left there. For the first time, with tears in my eyes, I saw the
Rhine; poor artist that I was, I swore eternal allegiance to my German

But his German Fatherland seems to have sworn everything except
allegiance at him. From this moment he emerged into fame, or rather
into notoriety; he thrust his head through the curtain of obscurity, as
if he were a negro at a country fair, and with remarkable enthusiasm
the whole critical fraternity proceeded to hurl every conceivable
missile at him. It was well for him that his skull was hard.

"Rienzi" made an immediate success. But he was in his thirtieth year
before even this unwelcome success was achieved. It is typical of the
indomitable greatness of the man that even thus late in life, and after
all his trials, he could put away from him success of such a sort, and
turn back into the wilderness of exile and ignominy for years, until he
could find the milk and honey land of art, which only his own
magnificent fanaticism and the unsurpassed friendship of one man,
Liszt, inspired him with the hope of reaching.

To the woman, Minna Planer, who had cooked his meals, washed his
clothes, and darned his socks, this refusal of prosperity was a final
blow of disenchantment. She had understood him little enough before,
but now she lost track of him altogether. Her feelings were those of
Psyche, when she found that her lover was a god with wings and a mania
for flight. So far as concerned the further marriage of their minds, he
now disappeared for her into the blue empyrean; when she sought to
embrace his soul, she clasped thin air.

As for Wagner's heroism for his art, has there ever been anything like
it? Some of his operas he did not see performed for years and years. He
saw hardly the hope of winning his crusade this side the grave of
martyrdom. That he believed in presentiments will be understood in his
powerful feeling throughout the composition of "Tannhauser," that
sudden death would prevent his finishing it. The world knows the value
of these presentiments. Mendelssohn, too, in his letters tells of
receiving on one occasion a letter which he feared to open, so strong
was his feeling that it contained disastrous news. When at length he
found courage to rip the envelope, the news was of the best. If, by
chance, either of these presentiments had proved true, who would have
been satisfied with the explanation of mere coincidence? The value,
however, of Wagner's presentiment lies in the fact that, in spite of
his despairful misgivings, he persevered in his ideals, and, if there
has been never so great a triumph granted a musician, it is perhaps
largely because no other musician so relentlessly worshipped his
artistic ideals or sacrificed to them with such Druidic ruthlessness.

Carl Maria von Weber paid great heed to his wife's artistic advice, and
called her his "gallery." But there are wives and wives, and however
deeply our humanity may sympathise with poor Minna Planer, our love for
evolution can only rejoice that she was not permitted to tie her
husband down to the narrow-souled ideals of the good-hearted, stupid
little housewife she was. Wagner understood her far better than she
understood him. He sympathised with her even in her resistance to his
career. To the last it made him indignant to hear her spoken of

Wagner's appeals for money to his friends, who supported him in his
moneyless art, are constantly mingled with tender allusions to Minna.
When he would borrow Liszt's last penny, he usually wanted a large part
of it for Minna. I do not find him convicted of ever using rough
language to her. She was not so patient. Wagner's friend, Roeckel,
wrote to Praeger in reference to the agony Wagner suffered from the
gibes of criticism:

"I keep it always from him; Minna is not capable of withholding either
praise or blame from him, although I have tried hard to prove to her
that it deeply affects her husband, whose health is none of the

When he was implicated in the revolution of 1849, and was forced to
flee for his life, he escaped in the disguise of a coachman, and
finally, with Liszt's ever-ready aid, reached Zurich. As soon as he
found himself there, he borrowed further money from Liszt, to send for
Minna, who had remained behind and "suffered a thousand disagreeable

Wagner had been supporting her parents, and he borrowed sixty-two
thalers more to help them. When Minna did not come immediately, Wagner
wrote an anxious letter of inquiry to a friend.

Surely, there can be nothing tenderer than his allusion to her in
another letter to Liszt:

"As soon as I have my wife I shall go to work again joyfully. Restore
me to my art! You shall see that I am attached to no home, but I cling
to this poor, good, faithful woman, for whom I have provided little but
grief, who is serious, solicitous, and without expectation, and who
nevertheless feels eternally chained to this unruly devil that I am.
Restore her to me! Thus will you do me all the good that you could ever
wish me; and see, for this I shall be grateful to you! yes,
grateful!... See that she is made happy and can soon return to me!
which, alas! in our sweet nineteenth-century language, means, send her
as much money as you possibly can! Yes, that is the kind of a man I am!
I can beg, I could steal, to make my wife happy, if only for a short
time. You dear, good Liszt! do see what you can do! Help me! Help me,
dear Liszt!"

At last she came, and he wrote Heine a letter of rejoicing. But once
with him, she began again her opposition to his high-flying theories.
She wanted him to write a popular French opera for Paris. She was
humiliated at his borrowing for his self-support, and could not see
much glory in his creed: "He who helps me only helps my art through me,
and the sacred cause for which I am fighting." He seemed more than
afraid of her opinion, and wrote to Uhlig:

"She is really somewhat hectoring in this matter, and I shall no doubt
have a hard tussle with her practical sense if I tell her bluntly that
I do not wish to write an opera for Paris. True, she would shake her
head and accept that decision, too, were it not so closely related to
our means of subsistence; there lies the critical knot, which it will
be painful to cut. Already my wife is ashamed of our presence in
Zurich, and thinks we ought to make everybody believe that we are in

At last, she nagged him into her theory, although he fairly loathed
writing a pot-boiler, and considered it the purest dishonesty. He went
to Paris, but returned, having been able to accomplish nothing. On his
return, he wrote in his "A Communication to My Friends," that a new
hope sprung up within him. His friend Liszt was then directing the
opera at Weimar.

"At the close of my last Paris sojourn, when I was ill, unhappy, and in
despair, my eye fell on the score of my 'Lohengrin,' which I had almost
forgotten. A pitiful feeling overcame me that these tones would never
resound from the deathly pale paper; two words I wrote to Liszt, the
answer to which was nothing else than the information that, as far as
the resources of the Weimar Opera permitted, the most elaborate
preparations were being made for the production of 'Lohengrin.'"

It was in "Lohengrin" that he first put in play his theory of the
marriage of poetry and music, his idea being their complete devotion,
with poetry as the master of the situation. He believed in independent
melodies no more than in strong-minded wives. He lived this artistic
theory in his own domestic relations, and it was not his fault that
Minna, his melody, found it impossible to live in the light upper air
of his poetry. He was so discouraged, however, by this time, by finding
no encouragement at home, and a frenzy of hostility from the
critics,--a frenzy almost incredible at this late day, in spite of the
monumental evidences of it,--that for six years, after the completion
of "Lohengrin," he wrote no music at all.

He felt that he must first prepare the soil of battle with the critics
in their own element--ink-slinging. On this fact Mr. Finck comments as

"Five years,--nay, six years, six of the best years of his life,
immediately following the completion of 'Lohengrin,'--the greatest
dramatic composer the world has ever seen did not write a note! Do you
realise what that means? It means that the world lost two or three
immortal operas, which he might have, and probably would have, written
in these six years had not an unsympathetic world forced him into the
role of an aggressive reformer and revolutionist."

He received some money, and more fame, and still more enemies as a
result of his powerful literary tilts against Philistinism. Then he
took up the Nibelungen idea, planning to devote three years to the
work; "little dreaming that it would keep him with interruptions for
the next twenty-three years." For the accomplishment of this vast
monument he asked only a humble place to work. He wrote Uhlig:

"I want a small house, with meadow and a little garden! To work with
zest and joy,--but not for the present generation.... Rest! rest! rest!
Country! country! a cow, a goat, etc. Then--health--happiness--hope!
Else, everything lost. I care no more."

He found all in Zuerich, where he and his wife rowed about the lake, and
accumulated friends. He found special sympathy in the friendship of
Frau Elise Wille, a novelist. Perhaps she was more than a friend, for
one of his letters to her is superscribed "Precious."

But all the while he suffered much from erysipelas and dyspepsia, and
was occasionally moved with violent despair to the edge of suicide, for
he was exiled from his Fatherland, and he was an outlaw from the world
of music, which he longed to enlarge and beautify. He compared himself
to Beethoven:

"Strange that my fate should be like Beethoven's! he could not hear his
music because he was deaf.... I cannot hear mine because I am more than
deaf, because I do not live in my time at all, because I move among you
as one who is dead.... Oh, that I should not arise from my bed
to-morrow, awake no more to this loathsome life!"

Financial troubles and the discouragement of his wife were still among
the most faithful torments. His letters to Liszt are abundant with
alternations of artistic ecstasy and material misery. It is worth
recording that, "my wife has not scolded me once, although yesterday I
had the spleen badly enough." To add to his misery, Minna became
addicted to opium. In 1858 he wrote Liszt:

"My wife will return in a fortnight, after having finished her cure,
which will have lasted three months. My anxiety about her was terrible,
and for two months I had to expect the news of her death from day to
day. Her health was ruined, especially by the immoderate use of opium,
taken nominally as a remedy for sleeplessness. Latterly the cure she
uses has proved highly beneficial; the great weakness and want of
appetite have disappeared, and the recovery of the chief functions (she
used to perspire continually) and a certain abatement of her incessant
excitement, have become noticeable. The great enlargement of her heart
will be bearable to her if only she keeps perfectly calm and avoids all
excitement to her dying day. A thing of this kind can never be got rid
of entirely. Thus I have to undertake new duties, over which I must try
to forget my own sufferings."

The young pianist, Tausig, visits him, and he thinks of him as his son,
saying, "My childless marriage is suddenly blest with an interesting
phenomenon." But the young Tausig gives him unlimited cares, and
"devours my biscuits, which my wife doles out grudgingly even to me."
His allusions to Minna are always full of tender solicitude, though it
is evident that she wears upon him. His temper, peculiarly violent at
the slightest opposition, must have been a serious problem under her
open disbelief in his genius and his creeds; and yet he thought he
could not prosper without her.

In 1860 he is again borrowing money for her, and writing to Liszt:

"According to a letter; just received, D. thinks it necessary to refuse
me the thousand francs I had asked for, and offers me thirty louis d'or
instead. This puts me in an awkward position. On the one hand I am, as
usual, greatly in want of money, and shall decidedly not be able to
send my wife to Loden for a cure, unless I receive the subvention I had
hoped for."

These letters to Liszt make a remarkable literature. The two men were
bound together by such artistic sympathy, and Liszt was so much a
soldier for Wagner's crusade, and so ready with financial help, that he
was more than friend or brother. It was, in Wagner's own phrase, "the
gigantic perseverance of his friendship," that endeared him beyond
words to the struggler. Even Minna seems to have been extremely fond of
Liszt--what woman was not? It was to Liszt that she was indebted for
rescue from downright starvation. More than this, Minna's parents were
supported _via_ Liszt, and it somewhat beautifies the otherwise
unbeautiful spectacle of Wagner's splendid mendicancy that, when he
borrowed, it was as much for his wife and her parents as for himself.

Liszt was not the only friend in need. There was Frau Julie Ritter, who
sent him money from Dresden for several years.

This brings us to a time of stress when Minna began to suffer from the
fickleness of some one nearer to her than fortune. Wagner began to cast
meaning glances over the garden wall. As Mr. Henderson says: "He was as
inconstant as the wind, a rover, and a faithless husband. His misdoings
amounted to more than peccadilloes."

It was in Zuerich that Wagner gave Minna some other causes for
uneasiness than his habit of being late at meals. Hans Belart, in his
"Wagner in Zuerich," refers to Wagner's flirtation with Emilie Heim, the
wife of a conductor, who lived so near the Wagners that their
kitchen-gardens adjoined. Emilie was a beautiful blonde with a
beautiful voice, and she and Wagner were wont to sing duets together,
as he wrote them; and she was the soloist in a concert he gave. How
much cause Minna may have had for jealousy, we can hardly know, but it
seems certain that she felt she had a sufficiency, and that she made so
much ado about it that Wagner found it advisable to move. In later
years he and Emilie met again. Wagner gave her the pet name of
"Sieglinde," and told her that she should illumine his Walhalla as
Freia, the eternal, blue-eyed, gold-haired goddess of spring. According
to Belart, Minna was the inspiration for Wotan's virtuous but nagging
wife Fricka!

Frau Wille was another torment to Minna, but Frau Wesendonck was more.
Belart even implies that Minna grew so jealous of the Wesendonck that
she poured out her woes to a dancing-master named Riese, who revered
Meyerbeer. When Minna, who was at least, says Mr. Finck, as well
advanced as the eminent critics of the time, failed to understand the
music of "The Walkuere," when indeed she called it "immoral amorous
asininity,"--an opinion for which perhaps the duets with Frau Heim were
partly responsible,--Wagner used to slam on his hat and go for a walk,
while Minna would seek Herr Riese.

The affair with the Frau Wesendonck is something of mystery, that is,
if Wagner's word is good for anything. She died in 1902, and at her
death Mr. Huneker summed up her affair with Wagner as follows:

"Mathilde Wesendonck is dead. Who was she? Well, she was Isolde when
Wagner was Tristan down on the beautiful shores of Zurich in the years
of 1858 and 1859. When he was in sore straits and had not where to lay
his head, he went to Zuerich, and Mr. Wesendonck rented to him for next
to nothing a little chalet. There he dreamed out the second and third
acts of 'Tristan und Isolde,' and succeeded in deeply interesting Mrs.
Wesendonck in them. There had already been trouble between him and his
patient first wife, Minna, because of his attentions to this woman, and
in 1856 the Wagners were on the point of a separation. Richard wrote to
his friend Praeger in London: 'The devil is loose. I shall leave Zuerich
at once and come to you in Paris,' But this time the trouble was
smoothed over.

"In the summer of 1859 the attachment of Wagner and Mrs. Wesendonck had
reached such a stage that Wesendonck practically kicked the great
composer out of his paradise. In later years, when questioned about it,
Wesendonck admitted that he had forced Wagner to go. In 1865 Wagner
wrote to the injured husband:

"'The incident that separated me from you about six years ago should be
evaded; it has upset me and my life enough that you recognise me no
longer and that I esteem myself less and less. All this suffering
should have earned your forgiveness, and it would have been beautiful
and noble to have forgiven me; but it is useless to demand the
impossible, and I was in the wrong.'

"It is thoroughly characteristic of Wagner to regard his sufferings as
so much more important than those of the husband whom he wronged.
Wagner always thought well of himself. But poor Isolde is dead at last.
She must have been very old and very sorry for the past. Let the
orchestra play the 'Liebestod.'"

Judging from external evidences, there is reason enough to accept such
a theory of the relations of Wagner and this sympathetic, beautiful
woman. In fact, it stretches credulity to the bursting point to accept
any other opinion. And yet, it is only fair to say that Wagner put a
very different construction upon the friendship, and to confess that
stranger things have happened in real life than the purely artistic
wedlock, which Wagner claimed for the intimacy of the two. Mathilde was
a poet, and Wagner set to music some of her verses, notably his
beautiful "Traume." Besides, she was the inspiration of his Isolde, and
she gave him the sympathy Minna denied.

According to a recently published article in a German review, Wagner
wrote a long letter to his sister Clara, explaining why Minna had left
him, and making himself out to be as thoroughly misunderstood
domestically as he had always been musically. It is a long letter, but
quoteworthy, the italics being mine:

"MY DEAR CLARA:--I promised you further information regarding the
causes of the decisive step which you now see me taking. I communicate,
therefore, what is necessary to enable you to contradict various pieces
of gossip, to which indeed I am indifferent.

"What for six years has kept and comforted me, and especially has
strengthened me in remaining by Minna's side, in spite of the enormous
differences in our characters and natures, is the love of that young
lady who, at first and for a long time, timid, doubting, hesitating,
and bashful, finally more determinately and surely grew closer to me.
As there never could be any talk of a union between us, our profound
affection took the sadly melancholy character which keeps aloof all
that is common and base, and recognises its fount of happiness only in
the welfare of the other. From the period of our first acquaintance she
had displayed the most unwearied and most delicate care for me, and in
the most courageous way had obtained from her husband everything that
could lighten my life.

"He could not, in presence of the undisguised frankness of his wife, do
anything but soon fall into increasing jealousy. Her nobleness now
consisted in this, that she kept her husband informed of the state of
her heart and gradually led him to perfect renunciation of her. By what
sacrifices and struggles this was attained can be easily guessed; what
rendered her success possible, could only be the depth and sublimity of
her affection, devoid of every selfish thought, which gave her the
power to show it to her husband in such a light that he, when she
finally threatened him with her death, had to abstain from her and had
to prove his unshakable love for her only by supporting her in her
cares for me. Finally, he had to retain the mother of his children, and
for their sake--who invincibly separated us--he assumed his position of
renunciation. Thus, while he was devoured by jealousy she again
interested him for me so far that--as you know--_he often supported
me_. Lastly, when it came to providing me with what I wanted--a house
and garden--it was she who by the most unheard-of struggles induced him
to buy a pretty little property near his own.

"The most wonderful thing is, that I never had a suspicion of these
struggles; her husband, out of love for her, had always to show himself
friendly and unconcerned toward me. Not a dark look must he cast on me,
not a hair ruffled; the heavens must arch over me, clear and cloudless,
soft and smooth must be the path I trod. Such was the unheard-of result
of the glorious love of the purest, noblest woman, and _this love,
which always remained unspoken between us_, was compelled finally to
reveal itself when I composed and gave her 'Tristan,' Then, for the
first time her self-control failed, and she declared to me that now she
must die.

"Think, dear sister, what this love must have been to me after a life
of toil and suffering, of excitement and sacrifice, such as mine had
been. Yet we at once recognised that a union between us must never be
thought of, so we resigned ourselves, renounced every selfish wish,
suffered and endured--but loved each other.

"My wife with true woman's instinct seemed to understand what was going
on. She behaved indeed often in a jealous, scornful, contemptuous
manner, yet she tolerated _our mode of life, which otherwise was no
injury to morality_, but looked only to the possibility of knowing each
other at the present moment. Consequently I assumed that Minna would be
sensible and understand that she had nothing to fear really, that a
union between us could not even be thought of, and that therefore
forbearance on her side was the most desirable and the best. Now,
however, I learn that I have perhaps deceived myself on this point;
bits of gossip came to my ear; and she at last so far lost her senses
that _she intercepted a letter from me_ and--opened it. This letter, if
she had been in a position to understand it, would really have soothed
her in the most desirable way, for our resignation was its theme.

"She dwelt only on the confidential expressions and lost the sense. In
a rage she came to me and compelled me therefore to declare quietly and
decisively how matters stood; namely, that she had brought trouble on
herself by opening such a letter, and that if she could not restrain
herself, we must part. On this point we agreed; I calm, she passionate.
Another day I was sorry for her. I went to her and said: 'Minna, you
are very sick. Compose yourself and let us once more talk about the
matter.' We concluded with the idea of a Cure for her; she seemed to
quiet herself, and the day of her departure for the Cure was
approaching; previously, however, she would speak to Frau Wesendonck I
firmly forbade her to do so. All my efforts were to make Minna
gradually acquainted with the character of my relations to Frau
Wesendonck, in order to convince her that she had no need to fear about
the continuance of our marriage, and that, therefore, she should behave
herself sensibly, thoughtfully, and generously; reject any foolish
revenge and every kind of spying. Ultimately she promised this. Yet she
could not be quiet. She went behind my back and--without comprehending
it herself--insulted the gentle lady most grossly. She said to her:
'Were I like ordinary women, I would go with this letter to your
husband!' And thus _Frau Wesendonck, who was conscious of never having
any secrets from her husband_--a thing which a woman like Minna could
not understand--had nothing to do but at once to inform her husband of
this scene and its cause.

"Here, then, was an attack, in a rough and vulgar manner, an attack on
_the delicacy and purity of our relations_, and in many ways a change
was necessary. I succeeded only after some time in making it clear to
Frau Wesendonck that, for a nature like that of my wife, relations of
such elevation and unselfishness as those existing between us could
never be made intelligible, for I was struck by _her serious, deep
reproach that I had omitted this, while she had always made her husband
her confidant_. Whoever can comprehend what I have suffered since (it
was then the middle of April) must also comprehend in what state of
mind I am at last, since I must acknowledge that the uninterrupted
endeavours to continue our disturbed relations were absolutely
fruitless. I tended Minna at the Cure for three months with the utmost
care, and in order to quiet her, I, during this period, broke off all
intercourse with our neighbours; in my anxiety for her health I tried
everything in my power to bring her to reason and to hold views
befitting herself and her age. All in vain! She persisted in the most
trivial remarks, she said she was an injured woman, and she had
scarcely been quieted, before the old rage broke out again. Since Minna
returned a month ago, some conclusion had finally to be reached. The
close proximity of the two women was for the future impossible, for
Frau Wesendonck could not forget that her highest sacrifices and
tenderest consideration for me had been met on my side, through my
wife, so rudely and insultingly. _People, too, had begun to talk_.
Enough; the most unheard-of scenes and tormentings of me never ceased,
and out of regard for the one and the other, I was forced finally to
decide to give up the charming asylum which such tender love had
prepared for me.

"Now I needed quiet and perfect composure, for what I have to surmount
is great. Minna is unable to understand what an unhappy married life we
have led; she imagines the past to have been quite different from what
it was, and if I found consolation, distraction, and forgetfulness in
my art, she verily believes I had no need of them. Enough. I have come
to this resolution with myself: I can no longer bear this everlasting
squabbling and distrustful temper if I have to fulfil my life's task
courageously. Whoever has observed me sufficiently must wonder at my
patience, kindness, even weakness, and if I am condemned by superficial
judges I am quite indifferent to them. But never had Minna such an
opportunity to show herself more worthy of _the dignity (wuerde) of
being my wife_, than now, when it is necessary for me to keep what is
highest and dearest. It lay in her hands to show whether she really
loved me. But what such genuine love is, she never once conceived, and
her temper carried her away beyond everything.

"Yet I excused her on account of her sickness, although this sickness
would have taken another and milder character if she herself were other
and milder. The many disagreeable blows of fortune which she
experienced with me--which my inner genius (which unfortunately I could
not impart) easily raised me above, rendered me full of regard for her;
I wished to give her as little pain as possible, for I am very sorry
for her. Only I feel myself constantly incapable of enduring it by her
side; moreover, I can do her no good thereby. I shall become always
unintelligible to her and an object of her suspicion. So--separation!
But in all kindness and love, I do not desire _her disgrace_. I only
wished that she herself in time would see that it is better if we do
not see so much of each other. For the present I hold out to her the
prospect of returning to Germany as soon as the amnesty is proclaimed;
for this reason she will take with her all the furniture and things. I
purpose to make no slips of the tongue and to let everything depend on
my future resolutions. Do you therefore stick to it that _it is only a
temporary separation_. What ever you can do to make her quiet and
reasonable I beg you not to omit. For--as said above--she is
unfortunate; _with a smaller man she would have been happier_. Join
with me in pitying her. I will thank you from my heart for so doing,
dear sister!

"I shall wait here a bit in Geneva till I can go to Italy, where I
think of passing the winter, presumably in Venice. Already I feel
quickened by being alone and removed from all tormenting surroundings.
It was no use talking of work. As soon as I feel myself in a temper to
go on composing 'Tristan,' I shall regard myself as saved. In fact, I
must do the best for myself; I ask nothing from the world but that it
leave me in quiet for the works which one day will belong to it. So let
it judge me gently! The contents of this letter, dear Clara, you can
confidently use to give any explanations where they may be necessary.
On the whole, however, naturally I would not like to have much said of
the matter. Only very few people will understand what this is about, so
one must know well the persons introduced here.

"Now, farewell, dear sister. I thank you again from my heart for the
secret question which, as you can see, I answer confidentially. Treat
Minna with forbearance, but make her gradually understand how she now
stands with me.

"Your brother,


This is Wagner's side of the affair, only recently made public. The
translation is from the _Musical Courier._ Whatever is discarded, there
remains enough to disprove Belart's statement that Otto Wesendonck only
learned of the affair from informants outside, and, finding Wagner and
Mathilde together, compelled Wagner to leave Zurich immediately.
Besides, even Belart admits that Wesendonck and his wife continued to
live together for the sake of the children, and that years after, when
he had learned to understand, he renewed his acquaintance with Wagner.

Amazing as this story is, both with regard to the strange things it
asks us to believe of the man and the woman and the husband, it is
certain that there was a pretty how-d'ye-do in Zurich. Minna became so
jealous that she drove Wagner, usually so tender in his allusions to
her, to use the expression of the ungallant Haydn, saying that, "she
was making a hell out of the home." Her outbursts of temper were so
violent, and her addiction to opium had become so great, that he began
to fear for her death by heart disease, and finally for her sanity. He
wrote of her to his friend Frau Ritter:

"Her condition of mind became such a torment to herself and her
surroundings, that a radical change of the situation had to be made,
unless we were all willing to wear ourselves out unreasonably.... The
state of her education, and her intellectual capacities, make it
impossible for her to find in me and my endowments the consolation
which she needed so much by way of compensation for the
disagreeableness of our material situation. If this is the source of
great anguish to me, it nevertheless makes me pity her with all my
heart, and it is my most cordial wish that I may some day be able to
afford her lasting consolation in her own way."

In 1856 she had left him for a time, ostensibly to take a cure. In 1859
there had been a short reunion, of which Wagner wrote again to Frau

"This period I have also chosen for a reunion with my poor wife. May
Heaven grant that I shall always feel able to carry out patiently my
firm and cordial determination of treating her in the most considerate
manner. I confess that my relation to this poor woman, who had so many
trials, and is now suffering so much, has always spurred me on to
preserve and develop my moral powers. In all my relations to her I am
guided only by the deepest pity with her condition, and I hope
confidently that it will always arm me with the persistent patience
with which I feel called upon not only to endure the consequences of
her illness, but personally to allay them."

Then he had gone to Venice to continue work on "Tristan," dreaming
there in loneliness of his Isolde, the Wesendonck, whose husband has
been well likened to King Mark. But Venice being within the sphere of
Saxon influence, he was afraid to remain long, for fear of arrest. In
1860 he was granted a partial amnesty, and went to Frankfort to meet
his wife, who had been taking treatment near Wiesbaden. Minna went with
him to Paris, and was there at the time of the violent riots, which put
an end to "Tannhaeuser," and doubtless to Minna's hopes of settling in
the Paris she was so fond of. She began again to vent her indignation
that he would not write for the gallery, and the storm grew fiercer and
fiercer. Wagner had written Liszt in 1861 with renewed hope and renewed

"For the present I spend all the good humour I can command on my wife.
I flatter her and take care of her as if she were a bride in her
honeymoon. My reward is that I see her thrive; her bad illness is
visibly getting better. She is recovering and will, I hope, become a
little rational in her old age. Just after I had received your 'Dante,'
I wrote to her that we had now got out of Hell; I hope Purgatory will
agree with her; in which case, we shall perhaps, after all, enjoy a
little Paradise."

But the hope was vain, and a friend of the family who wrote under the
name of the "Idealistin" describes the--

"almost daily trouble in the intercourse, increased by the fact that
the absence of children deprived them of the last element of
reconciliation. Nevertheless, Frau Wagner was a good woman, and in the
eyes of the world decidedly the better half and the chief sufferer. I
judged otherwise, and felt the deepest pity for Wagner, for whom love
should have built the bridge by which he might have reached others,
whereas now it was only making the bitter cup of his life bitterer. I
was on good terms with Frau Wagner, who often poured her complaints
into my ears, and I tried to console her, but of course in vain."

And now Minna, whose housewifely meekness had endured the Wesendonck
tempest and all the other multitudes of trials Wagner went through,
found herself unable to endure his fidelity to his artistic ideals. The
quarrels grew fiercer and fiercer, until finally she left Wagner for
ever, and went back to her people in Dresden, where she spent the rest
of her life.

Wagner's immortal hope was not even yet dead; as late as 1863 he wrote
to Praeger from St. Petersburg:

"I would Minna were here with me; we might, in the excitement that now
moves fast around me, grow again the quiescent pair of yore. The whole
thing is annoying. I am not in good spirits: I move about freely, and
see a number of people, but my misery is bitter."

Minna herself seems to have toyed with the idea of reconciliation, for
she wrote to Praeger, who told Wagner, and received the following
bitter complaint:

"And so she has written to you? Whose fault was it? How could she have
expected I was to be shackled and fettered as any ordinary cold common
mortal? My inspirations carried me into a sphere where she could not
follow, and then the exuberance of my heated enthusiasm was met by a
cold douche. But still there was no reason for the extreme step;
everything might have been arranged between us, and it would have been
better had it been so. Now there is a dark void, and my misery is

A year later, Wagner's regret is not yet dead, and he writes to Frau

"Between me and my wife all might have turned out well! I had simply
spoiled her dreadfully, and yielded to her in everything. She did not
feel that I am a man who cannot live with wings tied down. What did she
know of the divine right of passion, which I announce in the
flame-death of the Walkuere who has fallen from the grace of the gods?
With the death-sacrifice of love the Dusk of the Gods (Gotterdammerung)
sets in."

And again he bewails his loneliness to Praeger:

"The commonest domestic details must now be done by me; the purchasing
of kitchen utensils and such kindred matters am I driven to. Ah! poor
Beethoven! now is it forcibly brought home to me what his discomforts
were with his washing-book and engaging of housekeepers, etc., etc. I
who have praised woman more than Frauenlob, have not one for my
companion. The truth is, I have spoiled Minna; too much did I indulge
her, too much did I yield to her; but it were better not to talk upon a
subject which never ceases to vex me."

Yet he was destined to know wedded happiness some years later. And he
showed that he could make happy a woman who could understand him. As
Mr. Finck comments:

"The world is apt to side with the woman in a case like this,
especially if her partner is of the _irritabile genus_, a man of
genius. No doubt, Minna had much to endure, and deserves all our pity;
but that her husband is not to blame in this matter, is shown by the
extremely happy and contented life he led with his second wife, Cosima,
the daughter of Liszt, who _did love_ and understand him."

It is a proverb that the woman who marries a genius marries misery, but
I think there are instances enough in this book to show that genius has
nothing to do with the case. Wedded happiness is a result of the lucky
meeting of two natures, one or both of which may be accidentally so
constituted as to be happy in the other's society without undue
restlessness. It would be just as easy to prove, by a multitude of
instances, that plumbers or bookkeepers, doctors, lawyers, merchants,
or thieves make poor husbands as to prove the same of musicians,
artists, poets, architects, or geniuses of any kind.

The truth of the matter is always overlooked: the geniuses are revealed
to the public in an intimacy non-historical characters are not
subjected to. But if you will turn from reading the pages of history,
biography, or memoirs, and take up any newspaper of the day, you will
doubtless be astounded to find how small a percentage of the divorces,
the murders, and other domestic scandals are to be blamed to the
possession of genius, unless, as one might well, you recognise a
special and separate genius for trouble.

Patience conquers all things, if one lives long enough, and at length
even Wagner's innumerable woes were solved by the appearance of a
veritable _deus ex machina_ let down from heaven. But Wagner was over
fifty when the tardy god arrived. It was in 1864 that he became the
idol and the pet of the young king, Ludwig II. of Bavaria, who sent a
courier ransacking Europe almost in vain for the fugitive, and, at last
finding him, dumbfounded him with fairy promises, presented him with a
villa, and treated him to a splendour few musicians have ever known,
except perhaps Lully, and Farinelli, who became the vocal prime
minister of the truly good king Ferdinand VI. of Spain. Wagner's
relations with Ludwig were of a sort which Mr. Finck euphemises as
"Grecian." This was seemingly not the only instance in his career; but
it brought him furious enmity as soon as he had found friendship.

Poor Minna never shared with Wagner his period of luxury. But it was of
such magnificence that his envious foes accused him of aiming to
dethrone religion from its throne, and substitute art as the Pope!
Among the attacks made on Wagner at this time was the charge that,
while he was lolling on a silken couch which had cost him $12,000, his
neglected wife was starving to death in Dresden. Minna was honourable
enough to answer this attack with an open letter to those German
newspapers which, in 1866, outjaundiced that yellow journalism for the
invention of which New America has been blamed.

Minna wrote as follows:

"The malicious rumours concerning my husband, which have been for some
time published by Vienna and Munich newspapers, oblige me to declare
that I have received from him up to this day an income amply sufficient
for my maintenance. I take this opportunity with the more pleasure as
it enables me to put an end to at least one of the numerous calumnies
launched against my husband."

A few weeks later, on January 25, 1866, she died at Dresden of heart
disease. She had suffered all the miseries that earn success, without
ever tasting their sweets. To say whether or not she deserved to taste
the sweets would demand a more ruthless and unforgiving verdict upon
one of the two unfortunates than I have the heart to render. The
marriage had been the wedding of a near-sighted woman and a man who
could see hardly anything nearer than the Pleiades. Neither was more to
blame than the other for the fault of eyesight. It was simply a case of
connubial astigmatism.

While Wagner was living on terms of strange intimacy with the young
king, he was accused of Oriental luxury. The selection of the rainbow
furnishings of his house and of his own dressing-gowns, which made
Joseph's coat mere negligee, was not altogether his own, but showed the
unmistakable guiding hand of a woman. Frau Cosima von Buelow acted as a
sort of secretary to Wagner. She was the daughter of Liszt; her mother
was the Comtesse d'Agoult, who wrote under the name of "Daniel Stern,"
and with whom Liszt had lived for a few years. Cosima had married Hans
von Buelow in 1857.

Von Buelow had in his earlier years been greatly befriended by Liszt and
by Wagner. In 1850, when Von Buelow was about twenty years old, Wagner
and Liszt both had written to his mother, who was then divorced,
begging her to let her son take up music. Like Schumann's mother, she
opposed music as a career, but Von Buelow persisted, and became Liszt's
pupil. Wagner was to Von Buelow a god. It was a pitiful practical joke
that Fate should have directed the god's favour toward the worshipper's
wife. But those ugly old maids, the Fates, have never had a sense of
good form.

As early as 1864 Wagner had written to Frau Wille, complaining of Von
Buelow's misfortunes, and saying: "Add to this a tragic marriage; a
young woman of extraordinary, quite unprecedented endowment, Liszt's
wonderful image, but of superior intellect." Wagner persuaded the king
to make Von Buelow court pianist, and later court conductor. There are
very pretty accounts of the musical at-homes of the Von Buelows and

Then Wagner's popularity with the king eventually raised such hostility
that, at the king's request, he left the country to save his life. He
was again an exile. Cosima, with her two children, went with him, and
later Von Buelow came, but he soon had to go to Basle to earn his living
as a piano teacher, and left his family at Lucerne. There exists a
letter from Wagner's cook, telling a friend of how the king came
incognito to visit Wagner, and how the house was upset by the descent
of Cosima and her children. They had come to stay. At Triebschen, near
Lucerne, Wagner lived with the Von Buelow family, and began to know

The relations of Wagner and Cosima rapidly grew intimate enough to

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