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SELDOM has the proverb “The child is father to the man” been more completely verified in the life of any prominent brain-worker than in that of Richard Wagner. The serious thinker of threescore, with his soul deep in his work, is the developed school-boy of thirteen lauded by his masters for unusual application and earnestness. All his defects and virtues, his affections and antipathies, can be traced to their original sources in his childhood. No great individuality was ever less influenced by misfortune or success in after-life than Wagner. The mission he felt within him and which he resolutely set himself to accomplish, he unswervingly pursued throughout the varied phases of his eventful career. Beyond contention, Richard Wagner is, I think, the greatest art personality of this century,—unequalled as a musician, great as a poet as regards the matter, moral, and mode of expression, whilst in dramatic construction a very Shakespeare.
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CHAPTER III.1822-1827. Continued.
CHAPTER IV.LEIPZIC, 1827-1831.
CHAPTER VII.EIGHT DAYS IN LONDON.1839.
CHAPTER VIII.BOULOGNE, 1839.
CHAPTER IX.PARIS, 1839-1842.
CHAPTER X.PARIS, 1839-1842. Continued.
CHAPTER XI.DRESDEN, 1842-1843.
CHAPTER XVII.“JUDAISM IN MUSIC.”
CHAPTER XIX.1855. Continued.
CHAPTER XXI.ZURICH, 1856.
CHAPTER XXIII.LETTERS FROM 1861-1865.
HIS first visit to Eisleben—the going among strange people, new scenery, and for the first time sleeping away from his mother’s home—was the first great event of his life, and left an indelible impression on him. The details he remembered in connection with this early visit, at a time when he was not nine years old, point to the vividness of the picture of the whole journey in his mind and his strong retentive memory.
The story I had from Wagner in one of our rambles at Zurich in 1856.
HIS VISIT TO EISLEBEN.
“My first journey to Eisleben,” said Wagner to me, “was in the beginning of 1822. Can one ever forget a first impression? And my first long journey was such an event! Why, I seem even to remember the physiognomy of the poor lean horses that drew the jolting ‘postkarre.’ They were being changed at some intermediate station, the name of which I have now forgotten, when all the passengers had to alight. I stood outside the inn eating the ‘butterbrod,’ with which my dear little mother (‘mein liebes Mütterchen’ was the term of endearment invariably used by Wagner, when referring to his mother) had provided me, and as the horses were about to be led away, I caressed them affectionately for having brought me so far. How every cloud seemed to me different from those of the Dresden sky! How I scrutinized every tree to find some new characteristic! How I looked around in all directions to discover something I had not yet seen in my short life! How grand I felt when the heavy car rolled into the town of Eisleben! Even then Eisleben had a halo of something great for my boyish imagination, since I knew it to be the birthplace of Luther, one of the heroes of my youth, and one that has not grown less with my increasing years. Nor was it without a reason that, at so early a period, religion should occupy the attention of a boy of my age. It was forced upon my family when we came to Dresden. The court was Roman Catholic, and in consequence, no inconsiderable pressure was brought to bear upon all families who were connected in any manner with the government to compel them to embrace the court-religion. My family had been among the staunchest of Lutherans for generations. What attracted me most in the great reformer’s character, was his dauntless energy and fearlessness. Since then I have often ruminated on the true instinct of children, for I, had I not also to preach a new Gospel of Art? Have I not also had to bear every insult in its defence, and have I not too said, ‘Here I stand, God help me, I cannot be otherwise!’
“My good uncle tried his best to put me through some regular educational training. It was intended that he should prepare me as far as he could for school, as the famous Kreuzschule was talked of for me. Yet, I must confess I did not profit much by his instruction. I preferred rambling about the little country town and its environs to learning the rules of grammar. That I profited little was, I fear, my own fault. Legends and fables then had an immense fascination over me, and I often beguiled my uncle into reading me a story that I might avoid working. But what always drew me towards him was his strong affection for my own loved step-father. Whenever he spoke of him, and he did so very often, he always referred to his loving good-nature, his amiability, and his gifts as an artist, and then would murmur with a tearful sigh ‘that he had to die so young!’
“It was arranged that I should enter the Dresden school in December, 1822, just at a time when my sisters were busy with the exciting preparations for the family Christmas-tree. How good it was of my mother then to let us have a tree, poor as we were! I was not pleased to go to school just three days before Christmas Day, and probably would have revolted had not my mother talked me over and made me see the advantages of entering so celebrated an academy as the Kreuzschule, pacifying my disappointment by allowing me to rise at early dawn to do my part to the tree. Now I cannot see a lighted Christmas-tree without thinking of the kind woman, nor prevent the tears starting to my eyes, when I think of the unceasing activity of that little creature for the comfort and welfare of her children.”
Wagner was deeply moved when, on Christmas Day, he found amongst the usual gifts, such as “Pfefferkuchen” (ginger-bread) and “Stolle” (butter cake), a new suit of clothes for himself, a present from his thoughtful mother for him to go to school with. Throughout his life Wagner was always remarkably prim and neatly dressed, caring much for his personal appearance. The low state of the widow’s exchequer was well known to Richard, and he could appreciate the effort made for him. He was no sooner at school than he attracted to himself a few of the cleverest boys by his early developed gift of ready speech and sarcasm. “Die Dummer haben mich immer gehasst” (the stupid have ever hated me) was a favourite saying of his in after-life. The study of the dead languages, his principal subject, was a delight to him. He had a facility for languages. It was one of his gifts. History and geography also attracted him. He was an omnivorous reader, and his precise knowledge on any subject was always a matter of surprise to the most intimate. It could never be said what he had read or what he had not read, and here perhaps is the place to note a remarkable feature in Wagner’s disposition, viz. his modesty. Did he require information on any subject, his manner of asking was childlike in its simplicity. He was patient in learning and in mastering the point. But it should be observed that nothing short of the most complete and satisfactory explanation would satisfy him. And then would the thinking-power of the man declare itself. The information he had newly acquired would be thoroughly assimilated and then given forth under a new light with a force truly remarkable.
In stature Wagner was below the middle size, and like most undersized men always held himself strictly erect. He had an unusually wiry, muscular frame, small feet, an aristocratic feature which did not extend to his hands. It was his head, however, that could not fail to strike even the least inquiring that there he had to do with no ordinary mortal. The development of the frontal part, which a phrenologist would class at a glance amongst those belonging only to the master-minds, impressed every one. His eyes had a piercing power, but were kindly withal, and were ready to smile at a witty remark. Richard Wagner lacked eyebrows, but nature, as if to make up for this deficiency, bestowed on him a most abundant crop of bushy hair, which he carefully kept brushed back, thereby exposing the whole of his really Jupiter-like brow. His mouth was very small. He had thin lips and small teeth, signs of a determined character. The nose was large and in after-life somewhat disfigured by the early-acquired habit of snuff-taking. The back of his head was fully developed. These were according to phrenological principles power and energy. Its shape was very similar to that of Luther, with whom, indeed, he had more than one point of character in common.
In answer to my inquiries about his school period at Dresden, he told me that he was remarkably small, a circumstance not unattended with good fortune, since it served to increase the favour of his school professors, who looked upon his unusual mental energy in comparison with his pigmy frame as nothing short of wonderful.
As a boy he was passionate and strong-headed. His violent temper and obstinate determination were not to be thwarted in anything he had set his mind to. Among boys such wilfulness of character was the cause of frequent dissensions. He rarely, however, came to blows, for he had a shrewd wit and was winningly entreating in speech, and with much adroitness would bend them to his whims.
HIS YOUTHFUL ESCAPADES.
Erysipelas sorely tried the boy during his school life. Every change in the weather was a trouble to him. As regards the loss of his eyebrows, an affliction which ever caused him some regret, Wagner attributed it to a violent attack of St. Anthony’s fire, as this painful malady is also called. An attack would be preceded by depression of spirits and irritability of temper. Conscious of his growing peevishness, he sought refuge in solitude. As soon as the attack was subdued, his bright animal spirits returned and none would recognize in the daring little fellow the previous taciturn misanthrope.
Practical joking was a favourite sport with him, but only indulged in when harm could befall no one, and incident offered some funny situation. To hurt one willingly was, I think, impossible in Wagner. He was ever kind and would never have attempted anything that might result in real pain.
His superabundance of animal spirits, well-seconded by his active frame, led him often into hairbrained escapades which threatened to terminate fatally. But his fearless intrepidity was tempered and dominated by a strong self-reliance, which always came to the rescue at the critical moment.
On one occasion when the boys of the Kreuzschule were assembled in class for daily work, an unexpected holiday was announced for that day. A chance like that was a rare thing at schools on the continent. The boys, wild with excitement, rushed pell mell from the building, and showed their delight in the usual tumultuous manner of school-boys freed from restraint. Caps were thrown in the air, when Wagner, seizing that of one of his companions, threw it with an unusual effort on to the roof of the school-house, a feat loudly applauded by the rest of the scholars. But there was one dissentient, the unlucky boy whose cap had been thus ruthlessly snatched. He burst into tears. Wagner could never bear to see any one cry, and with that prompt decision so characteristic of him at all periods of his life, decided at once to mount the roof for the cap. He re-entered the school-house, rushed up the stairs to the cock-loft, climbed out on the roof through a ventilator, and gazed down on the applauding boys. He then set himself to crawl along the steep incline towards the cap. The boys ceased cheering at the sight and drew back in fear and terror. Some hurriedly ran to the “custodes.” A ladder was brought and carried up stairs to the loft, the boys eagerly crowding behind. Meanwhile Wagner had secured the cap, safely returned to the opening, and slid back into the dark loft just in time to hear excited talking on the stairs. He hid himself in a corner behind some boxes, waited for the placing of the ladder, and “custodes” ascending it, when he came from his hiding-place, and in an innocent tone inquired what they were looking for, a bird, perhaps? “Ja, ein Galenvogel” (yes, a gallows bird), was the angry answer of the infuriated “custodes,” who, after all, were glad to see the boy safe, their general favourite. He did not go unrebuked by the masters this time, and was threatened with severe chastisement the next time he ventured on such a foolhardy expedition.
HIS ACROBATIC FEATS.
Wagner told me that whilst on the roof, which, like all roofs of old houses in Germany, was extremely steep, he felt giddy, and was seized with a dread of falling. Bathed in a fever of perspiration, he uttered aloud, “liebe mütterchen,” upon which he felt transformed. It acted on his frame with the power of magic, and helped him to retrace his steps from a position which would appall a practised gymnast. Many years after this, Wagner’s eldest brother, Albert, when referring to Richard having taken part in the rising of the people of Saxony in 1849, which he personally strongly deprecated, told me the above story in illustration of Richard’s extreme foolhardiness. The episode was fully confirmed by Wagner, who then told me of his fears on the roof.
It was not in climbing only that Richard excelled. He was known as the best tumbler and somersault-turner of the large Dresden school. Indeed, he was an adept in every form of bodily exercise; and as his animal spirits never left him, he still performed boyish tricks even when nearing threescore and ten. The roof of the Kreuzschule was not infrequently referred to by me, and when Wagner proposed some venturesome undertaking, I would say, “You are on the roof again.”
“Ah, but I shall get safely down again, too,” was the answer, accompanied with his pleasant boyish laugh.
Richard early began to exhibit his love of acrobatic feats. When as young as seven, he would frighten his mother by sliding down the banisters with daring rapidity and jumping down stairs. As he always succeeded in his feats, his mother and the other children took it for granted that he would not come to grief, and sometimes he would be asked to exhibit his unwonted skill to visitors. This no doubt increased the boy’s confidence in himself—a self-reliance which never left him to the time of his death.
Wagner’s affection for his mother was of the tenderest. It was the love of a poet infused with all his noblest ideality. The dear name, whenever uttered by Richard Wagner, was spoken in tones so soft and tender as to bespeak at once the sympathy and affection existing between the two. A halo of glory ever encircled “mein leibe mütterchen.” Nothing can give a better idea of this gentle love than the passages in “Seigfried,” the child of the forest, where the hero demands of the ugly dwarf, Mime, who had brought him up, “Who was my mother?” an inquiry he repeated after he had killed the hideous dragon, Fafner, and thereby became able to understand the song of the birds. If ever music could give an idea of love, here in these passages we have it. In what touching accents comes, “How may my mother have looked? Surely her eyes must have shone with the radiant sparkle of the hind, but much more beautiful!” Every allusion to his mother in this scene is expressed in the orchestra with an ethereal refinement and originality of conception to which one finds no parallel in the whole range of music of the past. I verily believe that Richard Wagner never loved any one so deeply as his “liebe mütterchen.” All his references to her of his childhood period were of affection, amounting almost to idolatry. With that instinctive power of unreasoned yet unerring perception possessed by women, she from his childhood felt the gigantic brain-power of the boy, and his love for her was not unmixed with gratitude for her tacit acknowledgment of his genius.
HIS LOVE FOR ANIMALS.
One of his early developed affections was a strong love for animals. On this point, and what I know of its strong sway with him in his dramas, I shall have something to say hereafter. Now I shall confine myself to the recital of an incident of his boyhood. To see a helpless beast ill-treated was to rouse all the strong passion within him. Anger would overcome all reason, and he would as a child fly at the offender.
One of his first impressions was a chance visit he paid with some of his school-fellows to a slaughter yard. An ox was about to be killed. The butcher, stripped, stood with uplifted axe. The horrible implement descended on the head of the stately animal, who gave a low, deep moan. The blows and moans were repeated. The boy grew wild, and would have rushed at the butcher had not his companions forcibly held him back and taken him away from the scene. For some time after he could not touch meat, and it was only when other impressions effaced this scene that he became reconciled by his mother reasoning that animals must be killed, and that it was perhaps preferable to dying slowly by sickness and old age. When a man, he could not refer to this incident without a shudder.
In after-life he rarely missed an opportunity of pleading for better treatment of animals, drawing the attention of the municipal authorities to the prevention of wanton cruelty, and arguing that animals, to be killed for human food, should be despatched with the minimum of pain.
FROM the record of the Kreuzschule it appears that Wagner entered that famous training college on the 22d December, 1822, as Richard Wilhelm Geyer, son of the late court actor of that name. He would then be nearly ten years old.
AT THE KREUZSCHULE, DRESDEN.
He told me that he well remembered the eager delight with which he looked forward to the prospect of enjoying systematic instruction. He hoped to be placed high in the school, yet dreaded the entrance examination, conscious how very patched was then his store of information. During his first seven years’ residence in Dresden, from 1815-1822, the Kreuzschule, had been an every-day object to him, and yet on entering the building for the first time as an intending student, a feeling of awe took possession of him. The unsuspected majesty of the building, the echo of his footfall on the stone steps, made his young heart beat with expectant wonder. The result of the examination was to place him in the first form, his bright, quick, intelligent replies proving more valuable than his disconnected knowledge. For the masters of the Kreuzschule he ever retained an affection, their genial bearing and friendly tuition comparing favourably with the pedantic overbearing demeanour of the masters of the St. Nicholas school in Leipzic, where he went later on, men who represented a past and effete dogmatic German pedantry.
The direction of his school studies was almost entirely classic. For Greek he evinced a strong affection. Many a time has he told me that he was drawn towards the history of the Greeks by their refined sense of beauty, and the didactic nature of their drama, embodying as it did their religion, politics, and social existence.
Wagner never lost an opportunity of dilating upon, by speech and pen, what might accurately be described as the basis of all his art work. The drama of a nation, he persistently contended, was a faithful mirror of its people. Where the tone of the drama was base the people would be found degraded either through their own acts or the superior force of others. Where the mission of the national drama was the inculcation of high moral lessons, patriotism, and love, there the people were thrice blessed. This idea of a national drama for his fatherland possessed him. He longed to lift the German drama from its “miserable” condition, and his model was “the noble, perfect, grand, and heroic tragedy of the Hellenes.” These words I have quoted from a pamphlet, “The Work and Mission of my Life,” written less than ten years ago by Wagner. Their meaning is so clear and they summarize so accurately what Wagner in his younger days oft discussed with me that I am glad to add my testimony to what I know was the ambition of his life.
In his ardent struggles to found a national drama we clearly trace the young Dresden student. Here, indeed, is a plain incontestable instance of the boy as the father of the man. His school studies were pre-eminently Greek language and literature, and it was this which dominated almost the whole of his future career. Hellenic history permeated his entire being, and he gave it forth in the form and model of his immortal music-dramas, in the mode of their development, and in their close union between the stage story and the life of the people.
At school, translations of Æschylus by Apel, a German writer of mediocrity, constituted his chief textbooks. The tragedies suited so well the boy’s nature that he soon became possessed with a longing to read them in the original. So real and fruitful was his earnestness, that by the time he was thirteen he had translated at home, and entirely for his own gratification, several books of the “Odyssey.” This private home work was, he remembered, greatly encouraged by his mother, who, although untutored herself, revered, with a divination characteristic of women of the people, his efforts after a knowledge which she felt would surely be productive of future greatness. This piece of diligent extra school work is another of the many examples of the boy Wagner, “father to the man.” Hard worker he always was. Persistency of application characterized him throughout his life, and when it is stated that during this very period of the “Odyssey” translation, he was also privately studying English to read Shakespeare, who is not amazed at the extraordinary energy of the boy? No wonder that the school professors spoke flatteringly of him, and looked for great things from him, and no wonder that the fond mother felt confirmed in her belief that Richard “would become something,” and that Geyer’s dying utterance would not be falsified.
EARLY POETICAL EFFORTS.
Wagner’s nature was that of a poet. The metrical skill of the Hellenes fascinated him and fostered his strongly marked sense of rhythm.
As regards mathematics, I never remember him in all our discussions to have uttered anything which might lead me to suppose he had ever any special liking for that branch of education, but at the same time I should add that his power of reasoning was at all times strong and lucid, as if based upon the precision acquired by close mathematical study. In all he did he was eminently logical.
His effort as a poet dates from a very early period. The incident, the death of a fellow-scholar, was just that which would touch a sensitive nature like Richard’s. A school prize was offered for an elegy, and Wagner, eleven years old, competed. The presence of death to him was at all times terrible in its awful annihilation of all consciousness. Whether in man or beast, it was sure to set him pondering on the “whither?” a question to which at a later period of his life he devoted much labour to satisfactorily answer. Although not twelve years old, death had robbed him of his father and step-father, and their dark shadows flitted before him, reviving sad memories which time had paled. It was under this spell that the elegy was written, and it is not astonishing that the prize was adjudged to him. The poem was printed, but, unhappily, not preserved. In telling me of this early creative effort, and in reply to a naturally expressed desire to hear his own opinion about it, he said that beyond the incident he had not the faintest remembrance of the style or wording of the poem, jocularly adding that he would himself much like to see his “Opus I.”
There was a halo of poetry about the Dresden school. Theodore Körner, the poet of freedom, was a pupil at the Kreuzschule up to 1808. His inspiriting songs were sung by old and young. Loved by all, his death, at the early age of twenty-two on the battle-field fighting for German freedom, made him the idol of his countrymen. The boys of his own school were intensely proud of him. To emulate Körner was the eager wish of every one of them, and into Wagner’s poetic nature the poetry of the man and the cause he sung sank deeper than with the rest. The battle-songs of the fiery young patriot received an immortal setting by Wagner’s idol, Weber.
FIRST LESSONS ON THE PIANO.
The admiration of the future poet of “Tristan” for the genius of Shakespeare impelled him, as soon as he had sufficiently mastered English, to produce a metrical translation of Romeo’s famous soliloquy. This was done when he had hardly completed his fourteenth year. Up to this period, poetry unquestionably dominated him. All his essays had been literary. Nothing had been done in music. It was now, however, that his latent music forced itself out of him. Up to the time that he entered the Dresden school, in his ninth year, he had received absolutely no instruction in music, and during his five years of school life a few desultory piano lessons from a young tutor, who used to help him at home with his school exercises, embraced the whole of his musical tuition up to the age of fourteen. For the technical part of his music lessons he had a decided dislike. The dry study of fingering he greatly objected to, and to the last never acquired any rational finger method. When joked about his ridiculous clumsy fingering, he would reply with characteristic waggishness, “I play a great deal better than Berlioz,” who, it should be stated, could not play at all.
FOR some time Rosalie and Louisa, Richard’s two sisters, had been engaged at the Leipzic theatre, where they were very popular. Madame Geyer, desirous of being near her daughters and within easy reach of assistance, returned to Leipzic with the younger children and Richard with them. For ten years, from about 1818 to 1828, my father held the post of Kapellmeister at the Stadttheater, under the management of Küstner, a celebrated director. The period of Küstner’s management is famous in the annals of the German stage for the high intellectual tone that pervaded the performances under his direction. The names of some of the artists who appeared there are now historic. So high was the standard of excellence reached in these truly model performances, that the whole character of German stage representations was influenced and elevated by it. This was the theatre at which Rosalie and Louisa were engaged. These were the high artistic performances which the youthful poet Richard witnessed, and which deeply affected the impressionable embryo dramatist.
ROSALIE AND LOUISA WAGNER.
Of this period, actors, plays, and incidents, I had the most vivid remembrance from the close connection of my father with the theatre and the friendly intercourse of my family with the actors. Wagner would take great delight in discussing the performances and actors. He was fond, too, of hearing what I, in my boyhood, thought of the acting of his sisters, and from our frequent and intimate conversations, bearing on his youthful impressions of the stage, he uttered many striking and original remarks which will appear later on. A popular piece then was Weber’s “Sylvana,” in which Louisa performed the part of the forest child. This part apparently won the youthful admiration of both of us. Wagner’s remembrance of certain incidents connected with it was marvellous to me.
On his return to Leipzic, his first impulse drove him to visit the house in the Brühl in which he was born. Is it not possible that even at that early stage of his life his extraordinary ambition of “becoming something great” might have foreshadowed to him that the humble habitation of his childhood would later on bear the proud inscription, “Richard Wagner was born here”? What struck him at once as very strange was the foreign aspect of that part of the town where the Jews congregated. It was continually recruited by an increasing immigration of the nomadic Polish Jews, who seemed to have consecrated the Brühl their “Jerusalem,” as Wagner christened it and ever referred to it when speaking to me. The Polish Jews of that quarter traded principally in furs, from the cheapest fur-lined “Schlafrock” to the finest and most costly furs used by royalty. Their strange appearance with their all-covering gabardine, high boots, and large fur caps, worn over long curls, their enormous beards, struck Wagner as it did every one, and does still, as something very unpleasant and disagreeable. Their peculiarly strange pronunciation of the German language, their extravagantly wild gesticulations when speaking, seemed to his aesthetic mind like the repulsive movements of a galvanized corpse.
HIS FIRST ATTACHMENT.
I was sorry to find that Wagner, although generally averse to acts of violence and oppression, was but little shocked at the unreasoned hatred and contempt of the Leipzic populace (especially the lower classes) for the Jews. Their innate thrift, frugality, and skill in trading, were regarded as avarice and dishonesty. Tales of unmitigated cruelty and horror perpetrated by the Jews floated in the brains of the lower Christian (?) populace. The murder of Christian infants for the sake of their blood, to be used in sacrifice of Jewish rites, was a commonplace rejoinder in justification of the suspicion and hatred against this unfortunate race. Crying babes were speedily silenced by the threat, “The Polish Jew is coming.” What wonder, then, to see what was almost a daily occurrence,—a number of Christian boys rush upon an unprotected, inoffensive Jew boy and mercilessly beat him to revenge the imaginary wrongs which the Jews were said to have done to Christian infants. Nor, I am sorry to add, did the fully grown Christian burgher interfere in such brutal scenes; the poor wretched victim, beaten by overwhelming numbers and rolled howling in the mud, was but a Jew boy! Strange to say, Wagner had imbibed some intuitive dislike to the Egyptian type of Hebrew, and never entirely overcame that feeling. No amount of reasoning could obliterate it at any period of his life, although he counted among his most devoted friends and admirers a great many of the oppressed race. Still considerably more odd is it that Wagner’s first attachment was for one of the black-eyed daughters of Judah. When passing in review our earliest impressions of school life, we naturally came to that never-to-be-forgotten period of the earliest blossoms of first love, which then revealed to me this remarkably strange episode. Events of everyday occurrence, which in the lives of ordinary mortals scarcely deserve mentioning, are invested with a significance in the lives of men whose destiny points to immortality. When Wagner came to this curious incident of his school life, amazed, I ejaculated, “a Jewess?” in a tone of “impossible!”
It was after a discussion of Jew-hating, and my pointing to the many friends and adherents he had among the Jews, he with his joyous outbreak of humor said, “After all, it was the dog’s fault,” referring to “Faust,” where Mephisto, as a large dog, lies “unter dem Ofen.” Then followed the story.
He had called at his sister Louisa’s house (by the way, he had an affection for this sister which, in our intimate converse, he likened to that which Goethe in his case speaks of as having for its basis the frontier where love of kin ends and love of sex commences), went to her room, where he found an enormous dog which attracted his attention. Any one acquainted with Wagner knew of his devoted attachment to dogs, of which I shall have more to say hereafter. Not many could understand an affection which included every dog in creation. Wagner would engage in long conversations with dogs, and in supplying their answers would infuse into them much of that caustic wit which philosophers of all ages and countries have so often and powerfully put into the mouth of animals. Richard Wagner delighted to make dumb pets speak scornfully of the boasted superiority of man, thinking that after all the animal’s quiet obedience to the prescribed laws of instinct was a surer guide than man’s vaunted free will and reasoning power. He was fond, too, of quoting Weber on such occasions, who, when his dog became disobedient, used to remark, “If you go on like that, you will at last become as silly and bad as a human being.”
The dog so wholly engrossed Richard’s attention that he failed to notice a visitor, Fräulein Leah David, who had come to fetch her dog, left at her friend’s house whilst paying visits in the neighbourhood. The young Jewess was of the same age as Richard, tall, and possessed that superior type of Oriental beauty more frequently found among the Portuguese Jews. She was on intimate terms with Louisa Wagner, who shortly after married one of the celebrated book publishers of Germany. Leah David made an immediate conquest of Richard. “I had never before been so close to so richly attired and beautiful a girl, nor addressed with such an animated eastern profusion of polite verbiage. It took me by surprise, and for the first time in my life I felt that indescribable bursting forth of first love.”
FRÄULEIN LEAH DAVID.
Wagner was invited to the house of her father, who, like most wealthy Jews, surrounded himself with artists of every kind. Indeed, it was there that Richard made many acquaintances which subsequently proved useful to him. There was an extravagant luxury in the ostentatious house of Herr David, which made the ambitious young student poignantly feel the frugal economy practised in his own home. Wagner’s imaginative brain always made him yearn for all the enjoyments that life could supply. Unlimited means was the roseate cloud that incessantly hovered before his longing fancy. In this respect he differs largely from most other creative great minds, who, by force of inventive genius, have conjured up worlds of power and riches, and yet have lived contentedly on the most modest fare and in the lowliest of habitations.
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