When, in the year 1787, I entered, at the age of nineteen, the university of the kingly city of Wenigstaat, I was, no doubt, a very foolish young man, but I am perfectly certain that I was not a fool. I suffered not only from that necessary disease which from the very nature of existence it is impossible for a young man to escape, the regarding of life from his own standpoint, as a man on first coming into a brilliantly lighted and crowded room must of necessity, for a few moments, be conscious of the varied scene only as it strikes himself; but I was also to some extent subject to that fatuity which haunts some young men, the forming of opinions and the giving audible expression to them. Notwithstanding all this, I was at the same time conscious of such a crowd of ideas, actuated by such ideas, and stirred to the depths of my being by the emotions and results which these ideas wrought upon me, that looking back with the impartiality which the lapse of thirty years gives even to the review of one's self, I feel perfectly confident that I was not a fool. I shall, I fear, have to describe at some length how I came to be what I was, but I will be as short as I can. My history would be worth nothing in itself, but it is interwoven closely with that of some others whose personality seems to me well worthy of record.
I was the eldest son of the pastor of the little village of Waldreich in the wooded mountains of Bavaria. Though my father had a large family, and his cure was only a village one, he was not so poor as most of his order, for he had a little private income derived from houses in Bayreuth: my mother had also some little money of her own. My father was a man of a singular patience and quietude of conduct. He divided his time between cultivating his little garden and orchard, and preparing his sermons with elaborate care. When, in after years, I became possessed of many of these beautifully written discourses, I was amazed at the patience, care, and scholarship expended upon these addresses to a few peasants, most of whom fell asleep during the time of hearing. I believe that my father's sole relaxation and indulgence consisted in poring over an old folio Terence which he possessed, and which, shielded amidst the mysteries of a dead language, he could read in perfect security, without fear of scandalising his flock. Indeed it is possible that they regarded it as a work of deep theology, and perhaps they were right.
The little village of Waldreich lies immediately at the foot of the wooded hills. We ascended from the garden and croft of the pastor's house straight into the fir-woods and the oak-dingles that led up into the mysterious and wild heights above--into the mists and cloud-shadows--into a land of green mountain-woods rising against blue skies--a land of mist and rain-showers, of the tints of rainbows spanning the village, and of coloured prisms of light stealing down crag and forest-dingle--a land of rushing streams and still, solemn, dark lakes--a land of castles upon distant peaks and of the faint smoke of charcoal-burners on the hillsides. Through all the varied changes of the day in this romantic land, from the cheerful dawn, loud with the song of birds and the lowing of cattle, to the solemn evening stillness, I passed the first few years of my life. The scenes around him penetrated into the boy's being and formed his nature. However, I have no wish to become wearisome in describing all these influences and these results minutely. There is one influence, however, which must be dwelt upon if the story is to be told at all, for it was the leading influence of my life--the influence of sound. From a very little child I was profoundly impressed by the sounds of nature: the rushing water, the rustling oaks, the sighing and moaning wind down the mountain-valleys spoke to me with distinct utterance, and with a sense of meaning and even of speech. These sounds were more even than this: they became a passion, a fascination, a haunting presence, even a dread.
I can give one instance of this. Below the village and parsonage house, where we lived, was a beautiful meadow on the banks of the swift winding river. This meadow was my greatest delight as a little child. At the lower end was a mill, and a mill-pool and race; and around the edges of the pool beds of flags had planted themselves for ages, forming a thick phalanx of waving pointed leaves. Nothing could exceed the fascination this sight had for me, not only when the yellow flowers mingled with the green stately leaves, but at other times of the year when I listened hour after hour to the whispering murmur through the innumerable lances of the reeds. But to reach this meadow it was necessary to pass a row of vast, lofty, straggling trees (I suppose some species of poplar), and no words can describe the terror which the same wind, which delighted me so much in the gentle murmur of its reed-music, inspired me with when heard through these lofty swaying branches. I often, even in those early days, wondered why the music of the wind through the green rushes on the water's edge should have thrilled me with cheerfulness and joy, while the same wind wailing through the branches of the great trees high above my head crushed me with an unspeakable horror and dread. Doubtless in this latter was the sense of vastness and unapproachable height, infinite as it seemed to a little child--the touch, even, of the infinite must ever, it would seem, be appalling to man.
It was in this way and by these experimental methods that I began so early to recognise the mysterious connection that exists between sound and human feeling.
Down the long winding oak-dingles, between the high cliffs and the wooded slopes of the hills, there came to me as a little child whispers and murmurs of dreams and stories of which at that time I knew nothing, and to which I could give in those early days no intelligent voice or meaning. But, as I grew in years and listened to the talk of nurse and peasant, and of village lads and children, and heard from them the legends of elf-kings and maidens and wild hunters of the forest, weird and fantastic indeed, yet still strangely instinct with human wants and hopes, I began to connect such sympathy, felt then, as it seemed, for the first time, with human life in all its varied aspects, and stories of human loves and joys and terrors, with these sounds of nature, the sweeping wind through wood.
I use these last words advisedly because, even in those earliest days, it seemed to me that all sound that was of spiritual import was in some hidden sense the product of the wind and of wood. There was a wailing of the wind at night through the crevices of the high-pitched roof and the panelled walls of the old parsonage that thrilled me as with a message from on high, but this was still wind and wood. Butt where the wind had no part, where it was not sound so much as noise, in the clanging of metal upon metal, in the inarticulate screaming of senseless creatures, the terror that I had felt in the wailing wood,--that terror that had still something in it of the higher life and hope,--was turned into the mere panic of despair.
I distinctly remember that I had these feelings as a child; but, since those days, I have pleased myself in finding that the great Goethe shared with me my dislike to the continuous barking of a dog. 'Annihilation,' he said one day, in conversation with the Legationsrath Falk, 'is utterly out of the question; but the possibility of being caught on the way by some more powerful, and yet baser monas, and subordinated to it--that is unquestionably a very serious consideration; and I, for my part, have never been able entirely to divest myself of the fear of it. At this moment a dog was heard repeatedly barking in the street. Goethe sprang hastily to the window and called out to it: 'Take what form you will, vile larva, you shall not subjugate me.' A gallant boast but an ineffectual one! Noise, especially if continued on one note, deadens and destroys the soul, the life of the mind within the brain. The constant reiteration of one note will drive a man mad, just as the continual fall of a drop of water upon the same spot of the head will cause madness and death. You may prove this on the violin. Whereas if you laid your head down in the meadow by the river on the long grass, there came to you in the whispering wind something like the sea-murmurs that live within the shell--tidings of a delicate life, news of a world beyond the thought of those who merely haunt the palaces of earth.
These two, the murmur of the wind through grass and the whisper within the shell, are perhaps the most delicate sounds that Nature can produce: was it possible that I should find in art something more perfect still? In this passion for sound, in which I lived as in a paradise, it may be asked, Where did music find a place? The music that I heard in my childhood was not of the best class; and perhaps this might be the reason that musical sound rather than music seemed to haunt those hours of childhood, for among the untutored sounds of Nature there are, now and again, musical notes of surpassing beauty. Among the railing sounds of the wind that haunted the high-pitched roof above the boarded ceiling of our bedroom, there was one perfect and regular note. It never varied, except in loudness according to the force of the wind. This note, in its monotony, had an enthralling upon my imagination. I had once associated certain thoughts with its message: no doubt the continued association (of ideas of recollected imagery would explain the rest.
The wandering musicians that played in the court-yard on summer evenings upon hautboys and fiddles no doubt reached me with a strange message from afar, especially in the shrill high notes; and on Sunday, in the village church, the organist thundered out fugues and fantasias, but it was the final cadences only that touched me: somehow the organ seemed wanting in that supreme searching power of wind and wood.
But one day, it was a summer evening, there came into the court-yard four zither players from the South. I say zither players, but their instruments were more like the old Italian lutes for size and the number of strings. They were regulated each at a certain interval, including only the notes of the middle octaves.
They played a singular rapid music with little tune. It was like a rippling maenad dance: apparently reckless and untrained, yet in reality perfectly regulated in step and figure, every note true to its corresponding note in the higher or lower octave, and now and again all united in one sudden consonant harmony, by which the wild lawless music vindicated its perception of unison and the moral perfection of pure sound; but even in this there seemed to me nothing that spoke in just the same voice as did the gentle whisper of that teaching wind through grass and wood.
On the organ in the parish church, written in faded gold letters, were the words from Luther's Bible: 'The wind bloweth where it will, and thou hearest the sound of it well, so is every one that is of the spirit born.'
When, as a child, I sat during long sermons the little grated seat of the pastor s children, I pondered over these words, and for a long time could find no reason or congruity in them. What had the wind blowing where it listeth to do with the birth of the spirit? But on one hot summer afternoon, when I had fallen asleep during my father's discourse, I was suddenly aroused by the cessation of the preacher's voice and by the murmuring fall of harmony, for the organist probably had been asleep too, and was playing unconsciously such simple notes as came first to hand. I say I awoke suddenly into life and sense, and saw the rich mellow tints of the organ-wood, and these mystic letters all lighted up with the gilding rays; and an inward consciousness came like a flash of lightning from heaven into the child's mind that the wandering, seeking wind through reed or organ-pipe or flute, or over strings of violin or grassy hill, spoke to the spirit and to the spirit-born, and to such only, with a sufficient and adequate voice. This conception came to me like a message from above. It raised my thoughts of Nature and harmonised her voices with the needs and desires of my own soul. I pondered over it day and night; but before long an event occurred which was in the end the means of leading me beyond this half truth, and of more fully opening to me the gates of the mystical city of sound, of which this organ-text had already given me some fairy glimpses, and of revealing to me at last the true music which is not only heard by the spirit-born but is born of the spirit itself. My father went once every month on a kind of supernatural mission, as it seemed to us children, to an unknown and dimly conceived mansion or mountain-palace in the hills. That is, he was chaplain to the old Gräfin von Wetstein, and once a month he preached before her on Sundays. Sometimes, on special occasions, an ornamental or state-coach was sent for the pastor, who thus seemed rapt as in a celestial chariot from his family and the ordinary village folk.
One surprising day, when the lad was between fourteen and fifteen, the father said to him: 'Put on thy best clothes, for tomorrow thou shalt go with me to the Gräfin.'
It may well be imagined that there was not much sleep for the boy that night.
It would take too long to tell of the wonders of that journey in the state-coach, of the foolish, but perhaps natural pride of sitting there above the common folk, and observing through the windows the respect paid by all to the magnificent and symbolic vehicle, if not to those who sat therein.
When we reached the schloss, which stood high up on the hills amid woodland meadows and cow-pastures, then indeed the boy's expectation and excitement grew too painful almost to be borne. He passed through the gardens, with terraces and urns and statues, and the cascades of water that came down from great ponds, formed in the summits of the hills by building high stone walls and dams across the ravines. Later on he was even presented to the Gräfin, who, herself a wizened, faded old woman, stood beneath the portraits of her ancestors, by a great window in the gallery of the schloss, overlooking the valleys and the champaign country beyond.
For some unknown reason this old woman, who scarcely spoke to any one and seemed to take no interest in the present world, looking, as it were, constantly out of the high windows into the driving cloudland, as though she saw there all her past life and the figures of all those who had alone made it dear to her, and who were themselves all gone into the cloudland of the Infinite Unseen,--this old woman, not at the first interview, but at the second or third, in the fresh mornings over the early coffee, took a strange liking for the little village lad. As this ill-assorted pair sat at the open window on the quiet summer evenings, far above the distant woodland and the forest meadows, face to face with the long streaks of solemn light along the horizon, an almost imperceptible murmur, so soft and gentle was it, passed up through the branches of the sycamore and chestnut trees and of the lower growing pines, and, mingling with the distant Ranz des Vaches, brought up as it seemed the life and struggles and sorrows of the plain and of the people into the ears of this worn-out, old, feeble aristocrat of the hills. She would say to the boy: 'And what do you do, you children, in the winter nights, when you steal back in your night-dresses to the great fire, and the father is reading Terence? Tell it to me all again.'
Finally, she insisted upon my staying with her for weeks at a time, and she bound herself to the pastor, by a written paper, to provide for my future career. The boy led mostly a wild life, for his interviews with his patroness took place at odd times and hours, but he had some lessons from a resident cleric who superintended the household, and had other teachers more than perhaps any one knew.
My father had often told his listening family of the great nobles who would from time to time stay at the schloss, and how he would be invited, being of a witty and conversational habit, derived probably from his reading in Terence, to dine with them.
Some of these great noblemen I also saw at a distance in the garden or elsewhere; but on one occasion a young Graf came to stay some days with his great-aunt, having returned quite lately from the Italian tour with his tutor. This tutor, an Italian, performed wonderfully, it was said, on the violin. He was invited to play before the Gräfin, and the boy was admitted among the domestics of the schloss.
Then, on a sudden, was revealed to him the secret which had escaped him so long, the consciousness of the existence of which had haunted him in the wind-swept meadow and amid the awful, swaying branches of the lofty trees.
I am not going to describe this playing. Attempts have been sometimes made to describe violin-playing in words, but rarely, I think, with much success. I shall only say that almost as soon as he began to play what seemed to me then a singularly strange idea occurred to me. This man, I thought, is not playing on his instrument: he is playing on my brain. His violin is only as it were the bow, or rather, every note of his violin vibrates with the according note of the brain-fibre. I do not say that I put the thought exactly into these words; but these are the words into which, at the present time, I put the recollection of my thought. I need not point out how my ignorance erred in detail, how the brain has no extended strings corresponding to the strings of a violin; but I have since thought that there was more truth in this wild idea of a child's ignorance than would at first appear, and it seemed to lead the way to a second thought, which crossed my mind in the transport of ecstasy produced by this, the first violin playing worthy of the name, which I had ever heard.
I knew the secret now, both of the entrancing whisper of the wind-music and also why, at a certain point, it had failed. The blind, senseless wind, blowing merely where it listed, had aroused the human spirit through the medium of grass and reed and rock and forest, and called it through the fairy gate into cloud and dreamland; but when, instead of the blind, senseless wind the instructed human spirit itself touched the strings, music, born of cultured harmony, through all the long scale of accordant sound, won for the listening, rapt, ecstatic spirit an insight and an entrance into realms which the outward eye had not seen, the secrets of which it is not lawful or possible to utter to any save to the spirit-born.
'You seem absorbed in the music, my boy,' said this gentleman to me: 'do you play the violin, perchance?'
I said that I had played on no instrument save picking out harmonious thirds on an old harpsichord at the parsonage house. My father was perfectly an amateur: he loved music so much that he refused to play himself, or to allow any one else to play in his hearing save those who could play well: 'playing a little' was his dread.
The gentleman shut up his precious violin in its case and produced another, on which he showed me the possibility of varying the note through every shade of pitch by the position of the finger on the vibrating string. It is impossible to describe the delight I felt when I was able to feel out a chord of three notes.
'I am violating your father's instructions perhaps,' said the gentleman, smiling; 'but every one must have a beginning. Nevertheless he has much on his side. It has been said, rather cynically, "The moment a man touches an instrument he ceases to be a musician."'
I did not understand this then, but I understood it well afterwards.
The gentleman left one of his less cherished instruments behind him, with some simple exercises which he enjoined me to practise only, and to attempt nothing else, but I blush to say that I did not follow his advice. I played the chords he left me now and again, but I was absorbed in the one idea that his playing had left with me--the thought of the human spirit informing the senseless wind. I delighted only in the fancy that I was a mere automaton, and that the pervading spirit--the spirit that inspires man and breathes in Nature--was playing through my spirit upon the obedient vibrating strings. In this way I played fantasias of the most striking and original character, and at the same time destroyed all my chances, or ran a serious risk of doing so, of ever becoming a violinist.
Three quiet years passed in this manner, during which I lived almost constantly at Geiselwind with the Gräfin, who, in fact, treated me as her own son. At the end of that time she informed me that she intended to send me to the university of Wenigstaat. She chose this university for me, she told me, because it was near, but above all because it was not famous, but was, in fact, a mere appanage to a kingly city, and was therefore less likely to pervert from the correct and decorous habits in which they had been brought up, the ideas and habits of young men. She would provide me with a sufficient income, and would take care that my wardrobe and appointments were those of a gentleman, a station which she wished me to occupy and to maintain without disgrace.
The habits of society in the universities and elsewhere were very different in those days from what they have since become. The old society of the days before the revolution existed in its full strength. French taste in costume and amusements was universal; and the fashion of philosophic inquiry which was copied from the French was a mere intellectual toy, and had no effect upon the practical conclusions of those who amused themselves with it. The merits of republican institutions and the inviolability of the rights of man were discussed as abstract questions, without a thought that the conclusions would ever be applied to modern life, or to the daily relationships of nobles and peasants and townspeople. Before the bursting of the torrent which was to sweep it out of existence, the old world slumbered in a rainbow-tinted evening light of delicately fancied culture and repose.
The habits and appearance of university students have changed more completely than those of any other class. In the most advanced cities even in those days they dressed completely in the French manner, in embroidered suits and powdered hair, fluttering from toilette to toilette, and caring little for lectures or professors. In the old stately city of Wenigstaat, it may be easily understood, the ideas and habits of the past existed with a peculiar unchangeableness.
I regretted leaving the life of hill and forest and dreamy phantasy in which I had found so much to delight me, but the natural love of youth for change and adventure consoled me. One great advantage I derived from the choice the Gräfin had made for me was, that I did not change the character of my outward surroundings. I was nearly nineteen when I left Geiselwind and arrived one evening in a postchaise at Wenigstaat.
The city lay in a wooded valley surrounded by hills covered to their summits with woods of beech and oak and fir: through these woods running streams and cascades forced their way now through the green mountain meadows, now over rocky steeps and dingles: a soft blue sky brooded over this green world of leaf and grass and song birds, and sunlit showers swept over the woodland and deepened the verdure into fresher green. In the centre of this plain, almost encircled by a winding river, the city was built upon a hill which divided itself into two summits, upon one of which stood the cathedral and upon the other the King's palace. Between these summits the old town wound its way up, past gates and towers and market-place and rathhaus and the buildings of the university, with masses of old gabled houses of an oppressive height and of immemorial antiquity, with huge overhanging stories and tiers of rooms wandering on, apparently without plan or guide, from house to house and street to street--a human hive of intricate workmanship, of carpentry-work and stonework and brickwork, all crowded together in the little space of the rising hill-street above the rushing stream, a space small in itself but infinite in its thronged stories of centuries of life--a vast grave, not only of generations of the dead, themselves lying not far from the foundations of their homes, but of buried hopes, of faded beauty, of beaten courage and stricken faith and patience crushed and lost at last in the unequal fight with fate. The dim cathedral, full of storied windows of deep bloodstained glass and of colossal figures of mailed heroes guarding emblazoned tombs, faced the King's palace, a massive ivy-covered fortress relieved here and there with façades of carved work of the later Renaissance.
The tired horses of my postchaise struggled up over the stone pavement of this steep street amid the crowd of loiterers and traffickers and gay pleasure-seekers that thronged it and drew up before the Three Roses in the Peterstrasse, where a room had been provided for me. Here I slept, and here I dined every day at an ordinary frequented by many of the principal citizens, by some of the wealthier students, and by some officials and courtiers, when it was not the turn of the latter in waiting at the palace. This table was one at least of the centres of life and interest in the little kingly city.
To a boy reared in a country parsonage and an old half-deserted manor-house, all this, it may be conceived, was strange enough; but somehow it did not seem to me wholly strange. I had been trained at the table of the Gräfin to the usages of polite life, and the whispering wind and the solemn forests of my childhood had seemed to lift me above a sense of embarrassment, as though the passing scenes before me were but the shadows and visions of a dream. I looked down the long table at the varied faces, at the talkers and showy ones, at the grave citizens, at the quiet humorous students, who now and then said a few words that turned the laugh against the talkers, at the courtiers affecting some special knowledge of affairs of state about which the King probably troubled himself little; and I remember that it all seemed to me like turning the pages of a story-book, or like the shifting scenes of a play, about which latter, though I had never seen one, I had read and heard much.
On the second and third day I found myself seated by a little elderly man, very elaborately dressed, with powdered hair and a beautifully embroidered coat. I have always felt an attraction towards old men: they are so polite, and their conversation, when they do talk, is always worth listening to. Something of this feeling, perhaps, showed itself in my manner. On the third day he said to me on rising from dinner: 'I perceive, sir, that you are a stranger here; you seem to me to be a quiet well-bred young man, and I shall be glad if I can be of any use to you. You are doubtless come to the university, and are evidently well connected. I am a professor--a professor of belles lettres and music, and I have been tutor to the Crown Prince. I may possibly be of some service to you: some of the great professors are rather difficult of access.'
'I am the adopted son of the Gräfin von Wetstein, sir,' I answered. ' I have letters to several of the professors of the university, but I find them much occupied in their duties, and not very easy of approach.
'We will soon remedy all that,' he said, smiling. 'To what course of study are you most inclined, and what is the future to which your friends design you?'
I fear, sir,' I returned, 'that my future is very undefined. I am--as you say you are a professor of music--very fond of the violin; but I am a very poor performer, and I fear I shall never be a proficient.'
'I profess music,' said the old gentleman, with his quaint smile, 'but do not teach it: I only talk about it. I will introduce you, however, to a great teacher of the violin, and, indeed, if you would like it, we can go to him now. This is about the time that we shall find him disengaged.'
We went out together into the crowded market-place and turned to the left hand, up a street of marvellous height, narrowness, and steepness which led round the eastern end of the cathedral, and indeed nearly concealed it from sight. At the top of this street, on the side farthest from the cathedral, the vast west window of which could just be seen over the gables, chimneys, and stork-nests of the opposite houses, we stopped before the common door of one of the lofty old houses, against the posts of which were attached several affiches or notices of differing forms and material. Among these my companion pointed out one larger and more imposing than the rest: 'Veitch, teacher of the violin.'
'I ought to tell you,' said the old gentleman, 'that my daughter is reader to the Princess, and that she comes to Herr Veitch for lessons on the violin, that she may assist her Highness. If the Graf von Wetstein should take lessons here also, he may possibly meet her.'
'I beg your pardon,' I said: 'I must correct an important mistake. I am only the adopted son of the Gräfin von Wetstein. I am not the Graf: my name is Saale.'
The old gentleman seemed rather disappointed at this, but he rallied sufficiently to say: 'You may nevertheless meet my daughter, Herr von Saale.'
It sounded so pleasantly that I had not the hardihood to correct him again.
I was accordingly introduced to every one in Wenigstaat as Herr von Saale, and I may as well say, once for all, that I did not suffer for this presumption as I deserved. Some weeks later on I received a letter from the Gräfin, in which she said: 'I have noticed that you have been mentioned to me in letters as Otto von Saale. As I have chosen to adopt you, and as Saale is the name of a river, and therefore is to a certain extent territorial, I think perhaps that this may not be amiss; and I flatter myself that I have sufficient influence at the Imperial Court to procure for you a faculty which will enable you to add the prefix von to your patronymic.' Accordingly, some months afterwards, I did receive a most important and wordy document; but I had by that time become so accustomed to my aristocratic title that I thought little of it, though its possession, no doubt, may have saved me from some serious consequences.
We have been standing too long on the staircase which led up to Herr Veitch's room on the second floor of the great rambling house. The room which the old gentleman led me into was one of great size, occupying the entire depth of the house. It had long deep-latticed windows at either end raised by several steps above the level of the room: the window towards the front of the house looked down the steep winding street; from the other I saw, over the roofs of the city, piled in strange confusion beneath the high-pitched windows of the upper town, a wide prospect of sky and river and valley, and the distant blue mountains and forests of the Fichtelgebirge, where my home had been.
The room was somewhat crowded with furniture, chiefly large old oaken presses or cabinets apparently full of books, a harpsichord, clavichord, and several violins. In the centre of this apartment, as he rose to receive us, stood an elderly man, rather shabbily dressed, with an absent expression in his face
'Herr Veitch,' said my guide, 'permit me to present to you Herr von Saale, a young gentleman of distinguished family and connections, who has come to reside in our university He is anxious to perfect himself in the violin, upon which he is already no mean performer.'
I was amazed at the glibness with which this surprising old gentleman discoursed upon that of which he knew so little.
The old violinist looked at me with a dazed and even melancholy expression, his eyes seemed to me to say as clearly as words could have spoken: 'Here is another frivolous impostor intruded upon me.'
'Is this one of my daughter's days?' said my friend, the old gentleman.
'No; I expect her to-morrow about this time.'
'The Princess,' said my friend, 'is very shy: she dislikes taking lessons from men, and prefers to gain her knowledge of music from my daughter.'
The old master took up a violin that lay upon the table and handed it to me. I played a simple lesson that had been left me by the Italian, the only one that had taken my fancy, for it had in its few notes, as it seemed to me, something of the pleading of the whispering wind.
The old man took the violin from me without a word: then he drew the bow across the strings himself and played some bars, from, I imagine, some old forgotten Italian master. As he played the solemn chords of the sonata, in the magnetic resonance of its full smooth rich notes, there was something that seemed to fill all space, to lead and draw the nerves and brain, as over gorgeous sun-coloured pavements and broad stately terraces, with alluring sound and speech.
He laid down the violin after he had played for a few minutes, and went to the harpsichord, which stood near to the window looking down into the street.
'You know something of music,' he said to me: 'do you understand this?
He struck a single clear note upon the harpsichord and turned towards the window, a casement of which was open towards the crowded street.
'Down there,' he said,--'where I know not, but somewhere down there,--is a heart and brain that beats with that beat, that vibrates with the vibration of that note, that hears and recognises and is consoled. To every note struck anywhere there is an accordant note in some human brain, toiling, dying, suffering, here below.'
He looked at me, and I said: 'I have understood something of this also.'
'This is why,' he went on, 'in music all hearts are revealed to us: we sympathise with all hearts, not only with those near to us but with those afar off. It is not strange that in the notes of the higher octaves that speak of children and lark singing and heaven, you, who are young, should hear of such things; but, in the sudden drop into the solemn lower notes, why should you, who know nothing of such feelings, see and feel with the old man who returns to the streets and fields of his youth? He lives, his heart vibrates in such notes: his life, his heart, his tears exist in them, and through them in you. Just as one looks from a lofty precipitous height down into the teeming streets of a great city, full of pigmy forms, so in the majestic march of sound we get away from life and its littleness, and see the whole of life spread out before us, and feel the pathos of it with the pity of an archangel, as we could never have done in the bustle of the streets there below.'
'You are cutting the ground from under my feet, my friend,' said the old Professor, rather testily. 'It is your business to teach music, mine to talk about it.'
The old master smiled at this sally, but he went on all the same. I thought that he perceived in me a sympathetic listener.
'Have you never felt that in the shrill, clear, surging chords of the higher notes you were climbing into a loftier existence, and do you not feel that for the race itself something like this is also possible? It will be in and through music that human thought will be carried beyond the point it has hitherto reached.'
He paused a moment and then went on in a lower, less confident voice. 'This is my faith, and I shall die in it. There is one thing only which saddens me. There are men, ay, great performers, real masters of the bow--who know nothing of these things, who have no such faith. There is none whom I would sooner regard as a devil than such a one. Sometimes when I hear them they almost destroy the faith that is in me--the faith in my art.'
'Pooh! pooh! my friend,' said the Professor. 'They are not so bad as that! They have simply the divine gift of the perception of harmony--the instinctive harmonic touch. They know not why or how.
They are not devils. Herr von Saale,' he went on, with, for him, considerable earnestness, 'do not believe it. I fancy that you are in danger of falling into the fatal error of supposing that you can play on the violin in the same way that you can whistle an air, by the mere force of the mental faculty. You cannot form a more mistaken notion. The variation of the thirty-secondth of an inch in the sudden movement of the finger on the string will cause the note to be out of tune; and the man who puts his finger on the right spot at the right second of time, though he may have no more mental instinct than a pig, will produce in the utmost perfection the chords of the most angelic composer.'
'I deny it!' cried the master, in a kind of fury, walking up and down the long room, 'I deny it! There is true sympathy and cooperation in the nerves and tissues of this faithful despised servant, the material human frame, even to the finger-tips, with the informing, teaching spirit. There is a tremor, a shading, a trill of meaning, given by the spirit to the nerves and tissues that no instinctive touch of harmony will ever give. The ancient Greeks (as you ought to know, Herr Professor, for you speak of them often enough) had no music worthy of the name, for they had no instruments; but had they had our instruments they would have produced the most ravishing music, for the spirit taught them what music was apart from outward sound, and they talked as beautifully as you talk in your lecture-room of the divine laws of motion and of number, and of the harmonies of sound and of the mind.'
The Professor seemed rather taken aback by this onslaught, and turning to me, said:
'Well, Herr von Saale, you had better come with me: I will show you some of the sights of our kingly city. You shall come to Herr Veitch to-morrow, when perhaps you will see my daughter.'
He seemed to me strangely willing that I should see his daughter.
He took me into the great cathedral and showed me the gigantic mailed figures that guarded the tombs of the kings, talking very learnedly upon heraldry, about which he seemed to know a great deal. The next morning I went to Herr Veitch at the appointed time and found him alone, playing over a set of old Italian sonatas. He seemed to have been much put out by the Professor's remarks of the day before, and to regard me with kindliness as having been apparently on the opposite side; but when he came to talk to me I did not see much difference between his advice and that of the Professor.
'The Professor is so far right,' he said, 'in that of all instruments the violin needs the most careful study, the most practised fingering, the most instinctive aptitude of ear and touch. It is all very well to talk of expression, but expression with faulty execution is fatal on the violin. It is true that some of the most entrancing players have been self-taught amateurs, but they were such because they had musical genius by birth, and it was therefore possible to them to be amateurs and to be self-taught. In concerted music no amount of expression will enable a performer to take his part or to be tolerated. What pleases me in your playing is that you are able to produce smooth and sweet notes: the scrapy, scratchy period with you has apparently been short. What you want is greater certainty of touch and ear. This can only be obtained by patient labour and study.'
I set to work to play lessons, and while we were thus engaged the door opened and a young lady entered, accompanied by a tall and imposing domestic in the royal livery. I did not need to be told that this was the Professor's daughter, the Fräulein Adelheid, the reader to the Princess. She appeared to me on this, the first time that my eyes rested upon her, a handsome, stately girl, with a steady fixed look, and grave solemn eyes and mouth, which seldom changed their expression or smiled. She was rather above the common height, with fair brown hair and eyes, and was richly dressed in white, with a lace kerchief across her shoulders, and a broad white hat with a crimson feather. She seemed to me a true German girl, with earnest, steadfast truth and feeling; but I did not fall in love with her at first sight.
'This is Otto von Saale, Fräulein,' said the master, 'whom your father introduced to me yesterday, and of whom he may have spoken to you. He is very fond of music and the violin, and your father seemed much taken with him. His forte is expression.'
The Fräulein regarded me without embarrassment, with her steady brown eyes. 'Do you play in concert, Herr von Saale?' she said.
'He is not quite equal to that yet,' said Herr Veitch. 'The prospect of playing with you, will, I am confident, inspire him with resolve to practise with the necessary patience.'
'That will be very well timed,' she said serenely, 'as we want to perform a trio before the Princess.'
'He must work some time before he can do that,' observed Herr Veitch decisively.
They set to work to play, and I confess that I felt indescribable mortification in being unable to take a part. All my beautiful fantasias and wind-music seemed at the moment nothing to the power of joining in a concerted piece. The beauty of the playing, however, soon soothed my ruffled vanity and banished every thought save that of delight. The master and pupil were playing in perfect accord both in feeling and sympathetic touch--the old man and the stately beautifully dressed girl--it was a delicious banquet of sight and sound.
After they had played some time, Herr Veitch said, to my great delight: 'Otto will play you a lesson of his which the whispering woodlands of his mountains have taught him. You will like it.'
I took the bow with a tremor of delight and excitement. I played my very best. I endeavoured only to listen to--to think only of the woodland voices that had spoken to the child; and after a few moments I seemed, indeed, once again to be a child beside the dance-like waving rushes with their sunny dance-music, by the pool, or beneath the solemn poplars with the weird and awful notes that sounded amid their distant branches high above me in the sky. When I stopped I fancied that the brown eyes looked at me with a softer and more kindly gaze.
'He will do,' said the master; 'he will play the trio before the Princess anon, if he will be good.'
For several days I was very good: I practised continually scales and passages and shades of accent, both with the master and in my chamber at the 'Three Roses,' where, had I not been in Germany, I should no doubt have been thought a nuisance. I saw the Fräulein Adelheid almost every day, and was allowed once or twice to play in a simple piece. So everything seemed to prosper, when one fatal day I broke waywardly loose from this virtuous and regular course. It was after this manner that it came about.
One morning in the late summer I woke up with a sudden surprising sense of a crisp freshness, of a sudden strain of livelier colour shot through sky and woodland, of a change beginning to work through masses of brown foliage and cloudless summer sky. The touch was that of the angel of decay: but the first signs of his coming were gentle and gracious, with a sense even of life-giving in that new feeling of a change. The first day of autumn had dawned. As I rose, intending to go to the master, the city lay in a wonderful golden mist, through which the old streets and gables and spires seemed strange to the sight, with the romantic vision, almost, of a dream. An intense longing possessed me for the woods and hills. It seemed to me as if a far-off voice from the long past hours of childhood was calling me to the distant rocks and forests: a faint, low voice, like that strange whisper through the short grass, to hear which at all you must lay your ear very close indeed to the ground: a note untuned, uncertain, untrammelled, but with a strange alluring power, making itself felt amid the smooth, cultured, artistic sounds to which I had given myself up, and saying, as in the old harmonic thirds which as a child I had delighted to pick out, 'Come back to me.' I was engaged to Herr Veitch, but it was uncertain whether the Fräulein would be able to come. There was some talk that the Princess would make an excursion with a guest of distinction into the mountains, and her reader might possibly be required to accompany her. The Princess was understood to be very shy, and to surround herself as much as possible with her ladies and women.
The irresistible impulse was too strong for me. I sent a message to Herr Veitch, and hastened out of the confining streets, past the crumbling gates and towers, into the valley and the fields. I wandered down the banks of the stream, by which the road ran, for some hours, until the sun was high in the heavens, and every sound and leaf was hushed in the noontide stillness and heat. Then crossing the river at a ferry, where a little village and some mills stayed its current for a time, I ascended a steep path into the wooded meadows, whence the seductive voice seemed still to come. In a broad upland valley that sloped downwards to the plain and to the river I came upon a wide open meadow skirting the wild pathless wood. Here, at a corner of the outstanding copse, I saw to my surprise a number of horses picketed and apparently deserted by their grooms, and turning the corner of the wood I saw in the centre of the meadow an unexpected and most beautiful sight.
In the midst of the meadow, only, as it seemed, a few paces from me, was a group of gentlemen in hunting costume, some with long curved horns slung at their backs. Some servants and grooms were collected a few paces behind them, but a little to the side nearest to me, close to two men of distinguished appearance some paces in advance of the rest, stood the most beautiful creature that I had ever seen. She was dressed as a huntress of romance, in green trimmed with white, and a hat fringed with white feathers, and a small silver bugle hung by her side. But it was not her dress, or her figure, that gave her the indescribable charm that made her so lovely: it was the bewitching expression of her face. Her features might possibly have been described as large, but this, as her complexion was of perfect delicacy and freshness, only increased the subduing charm of the shy, fleeting, coy expression about her eyes and mouth. Two ladies stood close behind her, neither of whom was the Fräulein, but I knew at once that this could be none other than the Princess. No family of pure German origin could have produced such a face: she sprang, doubtless, as is becoming to a daughter of kings, from a mixed race.
A perfect stillness and hush, as of expectation, pervaded the scene: even the well-trained horses made no movement as I passed by them. One of the grooms caught a glimpse of me and made a slight sign: then, just as the group had settled itself on my sight, a slight, scarcely perceptible rustle was heard in the wood, and a stag of full age and noble bearing came out into the meadow and stood at gaze, startled but not alarmed. One of the gentlemen in front raised a short hunting-piece, and the Princess, in a soft sweet undertone that penetrated all the listening air and left an imperishable memory upon the heart, exclaimed: 'Oh, do not kill it! How beautiful it is!'
A short, sharp crack, a puff of smoke, and the stag leaped suddenly into the air and fell lifeless, shot between the eyes.
There was a sudden outbreak of exclamation and talk, a rush of the hunters towards the fallen beast. Two or three of the gentlemen drew around the Princess and her ladies, as if to protect her, and in the excitement no one noticed me. I stood for a moment or two, my eyes fixed on this changing, sensitive, inexpressibly beautiful face. Then the beaters and foresters came out of the wood: some remained with the fallen stag, and the rest of the party moved on farther up into the forest followed by the grooms and horses. I returned at once, silent and fancy-struck, to the city, and passed the rest of the day and the entire night in a dream.
The next morning I made my best excuses to Herr Veitch, and tried to settle to my work, but I found that this was impossible until I had made a full confession. He took it very quietly and as a matter of course: not so, however, did the Fräulein, a day or two afterwards, when he revealed the whole story to her. She looked at me strangely with her great brown eyes as one who foresaw some great danger awaiting me; and I wondered, in vain, from what quarter it would come.
I made great progress under her tuition. In playing with her in unison I learned more in a few minutes than in any other way. The instinct of fingering seemed to come naturally by her means, by her gentle guidance, by her placid rule. Here again outward harmonies of nature and of art corresponded in its contrast with the life of the spirit; with the rapt, enthralling passion of love which had come upon me by the vision in the forest, and with the calm sympathy which was growing up in my heart with the Fräulein, smooth, broad, tranquil, as the full harmonious chords which she taught me to play. But with all this I confess that the prevailing thought of my mind was that I should some day, and that soon, take my part in this music before the lovely Princess; that I should see again that indescribable, enchanting face.
'We are getting on,' said Herr Veitch: 'we shall be ready soon.'
'Let us have a rehearsal,' said Adelheid, with her grave, gentle smile: 'let us have a rehearsal to-morrow in Das Vergnugen, in the garden-valley of the palace.'
Below the palace, on the side farthest from the city, the wooded valley formed a fairy garden of terraces and of streams flowing down from the hills. In the bottom of the valley were buildings, somewhat on a small scale, after the fashion of the French garden-palaces of Trianon and Marly, and in these little houses some of the court-officials had rooms. The Professor and his daughter occupied one of the most charming suites of apartments opening upon a wide lawn beneath the terraced garden leading up to the palace, broken up by clipped hedges and rows of statues. I had never seen this garden of romance until the afternoon of the rehearsal. In the excitement and nervousness of the hour I was dimly conscious of a solemn blue sky overhead, of the dark foliage of the dying summer rising on the steep hillsides on every hand, of a still afternoon full of sombre tints and sleeping sunlight, of the late-flowering china-roses and the tall asters, of massive wreaths of clematis, of a sense of finished effort and growth, and of a hush and pause before decay set in and brought the end of life and of the year: the little stone palace with its carved pilasters and wreaths of fruit and flowers, the weather-stained, moss-tinted statues and urns,--of all this I was dimly conscious as in a dream.
The Herr Professor was more than usually spruce in his apparel. I had purchased, boylike, a new dress for the occasion. It was the period of frizzled, powdered hair, and lace and embroidery. A man who wore plain clothes and his hair au naturel was considered eccentric and of doubtful character. We formed a group on the little in-closed grass-plot outside the windows of the Professor's sitting-room, separated from the great lawns by the low clipped hedges and the wreathed urns. I noticed that the Fräulein seemed anxious and almost expectant, and was continually turning her head in the direction of the palace-gardens. At last she said to her father: 'I fear that I have committed a blunder. I begged to be excused from attending the Princess, and I told her that I was going to practise with the master here, but I said nothing of Otto, or that he would be here. It is quite possible that the Princess may come down through the gardens to hear the master play.'
The Professor shrugged his shoulders 'It is too late now,' he said, 'the sight of Otto will not kill her.'
'No,' said his daughter doubtfully; but she shook her head as though a catastrophe was very imminent.
A tremor of excitement and of suppressed delight passed through my frame. If the mere thought of the rehearsal had excited me, what must I have felt at such a possibility as this?
We began to practise the trio with the violoncello and two violins. The violin parts were very lively and quick; but the great charm of the piece lay in some perfectly modulated chords of great beauty distributed through the parts in a sustained, broad, searching tone on the fourth string. Herr Veitch played the violoncello with consummate skill. We had played the piece nearly through when Adelheid suddenly ceased, and turned in the direction of the wider lawns to which was access between the urns; and the next moment the same lovely creature I had seen some days before, but now very differently dressed, came through the opening in the low hedge, accompanied by a beautiful young lady, evidently of high rank, whom I also recognised as one of the ladies I had seen in the wood. The Princess looked for a moment serenely at the group, who drew backward a step or two and bowed very low; but the next moment, as her eyes fell upon me, she flushed suddenly, and her face assumed an expression of embarrassment, and even reproof.
'I did not understand that you had strangers here, Fräulein,' she said, and stopped.
'This, Royal Highness,' said Adelheid, bowing very low, 'is a young gentleman, Otto von Saale, who is to play in the trio. It did not occur to me to mention him to the Royal Highness.'
The Princess looked very disconcerted and mortified, but her embarrassment only made the unique expression of her face more exquisitely piquant and enchanting. I would willingly have risked untold penalties to secure such a sight. The young lady who accompanied her regarded me with an expression of loathing animosity and contempt, as much as to say, 'What do you mean by using your miserable existence to get us into this scrape?'
The Professor came to the rescue with great aplomb. Herr Veitch evidently regarded the whole matter with lofty contempt.
'If the Royal Highness will deign to take a seat,' said the Professor, 'she may still hear the trio rehearsed. We will regard Otto as second violin merely. One violin is much like another.'
'Oh, sit down, my Princess!' said the young lady coaxingly; 'I should so like to hear the violins.'
The Princess hesitated, and looked still more enchantingly confused and shy, but she sat down at last. It was reported that, as a boy, her brother, the Crown Prince, had been mortally in dread of the Professor. It is possible that his sister may have conceived something of a similar feeling. In spite of my excitement I had the sense to take the greatest pains. I kept my attention perfectly fixed upon my playing, and the clear notes of the great chords came in perfectly true and in time. When we had finished there was a short embarrassed pause. Then Adelheid whispered to me, 'Play that lesson of yours of the woodland breeze.'
Scarcely knowing what I did I began to play; but I had not finished the opening bars before a slight change in the attitude of the Princess attracted my eyes, and suddenly, as if by inspiration, I conceived the fancy that I was playing to a creature of the forest and of the wind. She was sitting slightly forward, her eyes fixed upon the woodland slope before her, her slight, lithe figure and prominent speaking features like no offspring of common clay, but innate in that primeval god-sprung race of the golden hours, before the iron horny-handed sons of men had filled the earth with toil and sorrow and grime: the race from which had sprung the creatures that had filled romance with elf-legends and stories of elf-kings and ladies and beings of gentle and fairy birth; for, as the untrammelled wood-notes that stole across the strings now sunk into a whisper, now swelled into full rich chords and harmonies, I could almost fancy that I saw this glorious creature, while the mystic notes lasted, grow into a more serene and genial life, as though she breathed an air to which she was native, and heard once again the wild notes of the hills and of the winds in the sere antique forest-country that was hers by right of royal ancient birth.
As I played the concluding notes the Princess rose and stood before us once again, as I had seen her stand in the forest-meadow when she had pleaded unavailingly, in those marvellous tones which would never pass from my memory, for the beautiful stag. Then she bowed very courteously to the others, and, taking no notice whatever of me, moved away, attended by her companion.
There is a gap in Otto von Saale's autobiography which it may be well to fill up from other sources, as we shall by this means obtain a knowledge of some incidents of which he could not possibly have been cognisant.
Two or three days after the rehearsal in the palace-garden the Princess was seated in her own room in the palace, accompanied only by her reader. The relationship between the two was evidently, in private, of the most intimate character.
The room was high in the palace, and a surpassing view lay before the windows. Immediately in front, over a terrace or glacis planted with sycamore-trees, the roofs and gables and chimneys of the old city lay like a great snake, or rather like several great snakes, climbing the ridges of its steep streets, and crowned with the spires and towers of its cathedral and churches and rathhaus and university halls. Over and beyond this stretched a vast extent of wooded valleys and hills, of forest and mountain and glancing river, of distant blue stretches of country indistinguishable and unknown, and in the remote distance along the sky-line a faint range of snow-clad peaks. A vast expanse of cloudland, strange and varied as the earth itself, and almost as tangible and real, filled the upper regions of this landscape with motion and life and varied form. It was evening, and the night-clouds had piled themselves in threatening and lurid forms above the dark wind-tossed forest-land. The white smoke-wreaths from the city curled up before the cathedral towers, and the storks and kites in long trailing flocks wended their way home from the distant fields. The Princess sat, still and silent, looking out over the wide prospect, with searching, questioning eyes, that seemed to penetrate beyond its farthest bound.
I am still listening,' she said at last, 'to that violin lesson that the young man--Otto von Saale, did you call him?--played the other day. Is he considered to be a great performer? In its echoing repeats I seemed to hear voices that I had never heard before, and yet which seemed as though they were the voices of my kin, that told me whence I came, and who I was, and what I might become.'
'He plays with surpassing feeling,' replied Adelheid, 'and with delicacy of shading and of touch, most surprising as he is only a novice at the violin. You may judge of this when you remember how simple the piece was that he played--a few chords constantly repeated--yet he made them, as you say, speak to the heart, a different utterance for every chord. His forte is expression.'
'Is he in love with you?' said the Princess, with the calmest, most unmoved manner and tone.
'You are in love with him?'
'Yes, I love him, for he is in every way worthy to be loved. But it is of little importance what I think of him. He is hopelessly, desperately, passionately in love with you.'
'In love with me?' The Princess did not move, and not the faintest shade of deeper colour flushed her cheek; but the faint, shy, kindly smile deepened, and the questioning eyes softened to an expression which was certainly that of supreme, amused beneficence--possibly of something else. 'In love with me! When did he ever see me before?'
'He saw you some days ago in the forest: the day that the Prince von Schöngau shot the stag.'
The Princess sat quite still, looking out upon the southern sky, which was all aglow with a red reflected light. Long dark lines of cloud, like bars of some Titanic prison-house, drew themselves out across the sky; and the masses of cloud, tinged with a sudden glow of crimson, formed a wild contrast with the faint blue of the dying sky, and the green of the waving woodlands below. The deepening glow spread higher over the whole heaven, till the world below became suffused with its sober brilliance, and tower and gable and the climbing ridges of the street and the white smoke-wreaths shone in the mellow light. The distant stretch of country flushed with this mystic light, which certainly was not of earth, seemed instinct with a quivering life--the life of forest and farm-people--the life of hidden townships too distant to be discerned--of rivers bordered with wharves and shipping--the life of a kingdom of earth--and, in her mountain eyrie, with set, wistful eyes, over the regions of her father's rule, the Princess sat at gaze, a creature slight, shy, delicate, yet born of eagle-race.
Her companion waited for some words, but they did not come: then she spoke herself.
'He was born among the forests of the Fichtelgebirge and has listened to the spirits of the wood and mountain from a child; that is why he plays so well.'
'Yes,' said the Princess, 'that is why, in his playing, I heard a talk that I had long wished to hear--a speech which seemed familiar and yet which I had never heard here--the speech of a people from which my race is sprung. And you say that he is in love with me?'
'Yes,' said Adelheid, somewhat sadly; 'at this moment he would give worlds to see you again.'
'Oh, he shall see me again!' said the Princess, with her quaint, shy smile: 'he shall see me again; he shall play before the King. More than that,--he shall marry you!'
The King was a strikingly handsome, tall, distinguished man, of between fifty and sixty years of age. His father had died when he was a boy, and he had been brought up by his mother as regent of the kingdom. She was a very clever woman, and surrounded her son with the most able men she could attract to her court. She trained him in the most exalted ideas of his position and responsibility, and when she died, after having with much difficulty found a wife whom she considered to be suitable for him, she left him, at the age of five and twenty, profoundly impressed with the conviction that something wonderful was expected of him in every action and word. As he was a man of very moderate capacities, though perfectly good-natured and conscientious, this impression might possibly have placed him in very painful predicaments; but the King very wisely fell back early in life on the obvious alternative of doing absolutely nothing and saying very little. It may surprise some persons to be told how wonderfully the country prospered under this imposing, but silent and inactive monarch. He had been as a boy impressed with the misery of some classes of his people, and he had been known as a young man to absent himself from court for days together, and to wander, attended only by one companion, among the poor and struggling classes; and the only occasions on which he spoke at the privy-council were when he advocated the passing of some measure which his plain common sense told him would be beneficial to his people. He was therefore immensely popular, and was thought, even by many of his familiar courtiers, to be a man of remarkable ability. He had a habit of repeating the last words of any one who spoke to him with an air by which he seemed to appropriate all the wisdom which might be contained in them to himself. 'I have been attending the privy-council, sire.' 'Ah! you have been attending the privy-council, yes.' And it really was difficult not to fancy that you had been listening to a long and exhaustive treatise upon privy-councils generally and their influence on the government of states; so perfect was the manner of the King.
'Sire,' said the Princess to her father, the same evening on which she had had the talk with Adelheid, 'I wish you to hear a young performer on the violin, Otto von Saale, who is a pupil of Herr Veitch. I heard him once by accident in Das Vergnugen. I wish him,' continued the Princess, with serene candour, after a slight pause, I wish him to marry the Fräulein.'
'Yes?' said the King, 'you wish him to marry the Fräulein? I have observed, on more than one occasion, that efforts of this character may be abortive.'
The King paused, as though on the point of saying more, but apparently doubting whether he could safely venture upon further assertion, he remained silent. After a pause he went on: 'You consider this young man to be a promising performer?'
'His forte,' replied the Princess, 'as the Fräulein says, is expression. His playing has a strange fascination for me.'
'Ah!' replied the King, 'his forte is expression. Good! When do you wish me to hear this young man?' he continued after a pause.
'I thought we might have a chamber-concert of music after supper, on one of the evenings that the Prince von Schongau is here. Herr Veitch and the Fräulein will play.'
Except on occasions of great state the King and his family supped in private, a second table being provided for the courtiers. A strict etiquette was observed in the palace, similar to, and founded upon, that of Versailles.
On the evening upon which the Princess had finally decided, a somewhat larger company than usual assembled in the great salle. The doors were thrown open shortly after supper, and the chamberlain with his white wand announced, after the manner of the French Court: 'Gentlemen! The King!'
The great salle was floored with marble, and surrounded with marble pillars on every side. A thousand lights flickered on the countless jewels that decked the assembly. Great vases of flowers filled the corners, and graced the tables of the room.
The King came forward with long accustomed composure to the seat provided for him, near to a harpsichord in the centre of the salle: a step behind him followed the Princess. She was en pleine toilette, sparkling with jewels, and if Otto von Saale had had any worlds to give, he might almost have been pardoned had he given them for such a sight; for a creature more delicately beautiful--so absolutely set apart and pure from aught that is frivolous and vain, and yet so winning in the unconscious piquancy of her loveliness--he would scarcely find elsewhere. She was followed by several ladies, and three or four gentlemen, preceded by a prince of a royal house, who had formed part of the King's supper-party, brought up the rear of the procession.
The King sat in his chair a little in advance of the rest: on either side of him were seated the Princess and the Crown Prince, and the ladies and gentlemen who had had the honour of supping with the royal party were seated behind them. Herr Veitch played the violoncello, and the Professor was prepared to accompany on the harpsichord.
The attitude and expression of the King were delightful to watch. He sat back in his chair, his fingers meeting before his chest, a faint smile of serene beneficence on his beautifully-cut features--a gracious, presiding power of another and a loftier sphere.
One or two pieces were played first, then came a trio of Corelli's, in which the harpsichord took no part.
Did it sound in the Princess's ear alone, or did there run through all the wealth of pure harmonies a strange new quality of tone? Wild, glancing, in tune yet untuned and untunable, like the silver thread of the brooklet through the grass, or the single changeless woodnote of the breeze wailing through the organ-harmonies of the midnight mass in a mountain-chapel. It spoke to the Princess's heart, as she sat some little space backward from her father's chair, her delicate steadfast face fixed upon the scene before her, which, doubtless, she did not see. It seemed to speak of an alluring lawlessness, of that life of unconventional freedom, of that lofty rule and dominion over their own fate and circumstance, of that free gratification of every instinct and faculty, which has such an attraction to the highly-born. It seemed to call her with a resistless power back into a pristine life of freedom which was hers by right of ancient ancestral birth, a world of freedom and love and unquestioned prerogative which belonged to the nobles of the golden age. Almost she was persuaded by the searching power of its magic note to believe that all things belonged to the élite of earth's children--the favourites of life, those delicately nurtured and born to the purple of the world's prismatic rays. Should she listen to this siren chord it might even happen to her to lose that stainless insight which its wild tone had itself evoked; but, in the perfection of a concerted piece, its wild uniqueness was kept, by grace of finished art, invariably true to the dominant concord of pure harmony, an existence and creation as it were in harmonious sound, of which it formed a part. To the Princess as she listened to the vibrating strings it seemed that, with a vision beyond her years, so potent in suggestion is music, she looked into another world, as one looks down from a lofty precipitous height into the teeming streets of a great city, and the pigmy crowds are instinct with a strange interest--a world of human suffering and doubt and terror, of love unrequited, of righteousness unrecognised, of toil and sorrow and despair unrelieved, until, in the thronged theatres and market-places, where life stands waiting its abiding doom--the times and seasons of the world's harvest being fully ripe--the riddle of righteousness and of wrong is answered, and in the sad gray dawn of the eternal day the dividing sickle is put in.
There was a pause in the wave of sound, and the Princess was dimly conscious that Otto von Saale was playing alone. So magnetic was the searching tone that there seemed nothing in the wide universe save herself and his strange impalpable personality that approached her in mystic sound; but happily beyond and above its sorcery was once more felt the sense of restraining, abiding, cultured harmony--the full, true, settled chords, and the according regular law and sequence of time and pitch.
Then she knew that all were standing up, and she rose in her seat beside the King. A peculiar lustre of gracious courtesy shone in the monarch's attitude and manner.
'Herr Veitch,' he was saying, 'we thank you: the Princess thanks you. Herr von Saale, the Princess thanks you. I perceive--' here his Majesty paused for a moment to give importance to what was to come, 'I perceive, sir, that your forte is expression.'
The most wearied cynic must have felt a glow of genuine pleasure as the King said these words, so contagious was the regal, benevolent satisfaction that the exigencies of the occasion had been fitly met.
Otto bowed low before the King, then he turned to salute the Princess; but, as he looked up, his eyes met her marvellous eyes and were fixed by a magic spell, so intense, searching, personal and yet abstracted was the look they met. His entire being was caught up and rapt into hers in an ecstasy of ravishment. Had the gaze lasted another second he must have fainted away.
I did not go to Herr Veitch until some days after the concert at the palace. Indeed, I did not care to go. I felt as though I had broken with all continent and decorous life, and was entering upon a delirious course of adventure such as I had read of in some fatal romance of ill-repute, whose course was unnatural and ghastly even in its delights, and whose end was tragic and disastrous. I was appalled even at the splendour of my dream.
But when I did muster courage to go to the master, I was astonished to find that nothing seemed to have happened at all.
Herr Veitch did not even appear to have noticed my absence. He was in a very propitious humour, and complimented me very much on my playing at the palace.
'I never knew you,' he said, 'play with so much certainty and correctness. There is always in your playing a certain originality which might become, as I have often told you, a great snare, indeed fatal in its results. So long, however, as you play as conscientiously as you did the other night, though there will always be a singularity in your style to which some might object, yet you will stand, to my mind, among the great performers on the violin.'
I had never heard the old man utter such praise before.
Nor did I at first notice anything in the manner of the Fräulein towards me which would show that she was conscious of the necessity for any change. But there soon came a change, which was entirely of my own bringing about. I neglected the master and the violin. I hardened my heart against the Fräulein, and especially avoided the hours when I thought she would be with Herr Veitch. Her wistful eyes had no effect upon me, so foolish and delirious had I become.
One day Herr Veitch said to me, 'Yesterday the Fräulein brought us great news. The Princess is betrothed to the Prince von Schongau, who has been staying so long at the palace. He was present, you remember, on the evening of the concert.'
I was conscious that my face wore a contemptuous, unbelieving sneer. In my madness I thought to myself that I knew much better than to believe such foolish gossip.
At last Herr Veitch took me seriously to task. 'Something has happened to you,' he said. 'You are bewitched, some evil eye has fascinated you. You are no longer the same sensible pleasant lad that you were. The Fräulein notices it also. She says she does not know what is come over you. I tell her that all young men are fools.'
I did not deign to answer the good old man, but left him with my nose in the air. Indeed, I seemed to tread on air. I thought of nothing but palace-gardens and Hyrcanian woods full of terrible delights and secret pleasures. I believed myself to be altogether separate from my fellows, and to be reserved for some supreme exceptional fate. I am not willing to dwell longer than I can help upon this period, the remembrance of which is most distasteful to me. I shall have to describe at some length the supreme and crowning act of folly, and this must suffice the reader.
But in simple honesty, and to relieve my own conscience by public confession, I must relate one incident, so fatuous and unworthy was it, so nobly and graciously forgiven and condoned. I had not been to Herr Veitch for many days; but one morning an unconquerable impulse forced me to visit him. I believe that I was impelled, with all my assumed scepticism, to seek more tidings of the Prince von Schongau and his reported espousals. I had quite lost count of the Fräulein's mornings, and, indeed, I am ashamed to say, that I had ceased to think of her. I was therefore somewhat chagrined when, on entering the room, I found myself in her presence, as well as in that of Herr Veitch. My manner must have been singularly constrained and boorish, and I could see that the master regarded me with disapproval, not to say contempt. In spite of my affected indifference, I could see that Adleheid was watching me with wistful and pitiful eyes. Some evil demon made my heart harder and more scornful than ever; and I conceived the most hateful and injurious thoughts against one whose sweetness and devotion ought, on the contrary, to have filled me with affectionate devotion. I played badly, and this only increased my spiteful and angry mood. So violent did my passion and an evil conscience at last make me, that I threw down my violin in a fit of ungovernable temper and rushed out of the room. I wandered restlessly about the streets for some time, in a kind of frenzy against mankind in general, my mind filled with the image of the Princess, and with a sense of intolerable wrong that my exceptional fortune was not recognised by all the world,--so confident was I in my infatuation. At last it suddenly occurred to me to go to the theatre, where the Fräulein had said the royal family were expected to be present. Lost in the crowded and enthusiastic audience, which would doubtless fill the place--the report of the betrothal being spread throughout the city--I might see the Princess and indulge a secret sense of my exclusive fate.
When I entered the theatre at the bottom of the Peterstrasse, however, I found a rumour already current that the King was not well and could not be present, and that the Princess refused to come without him. Whether the strange Crown Prince would visit the theatre alone, no one seemed to pretend to know.
I shall remember that evening as long as I live. The little old-fashioned theatre, as I know now it must have been, so different from the great theatres I have since seen at Dresden and Berlin, seemed to me, then, to be the most gorgeous of pleasure-places, blazing with lights and crowded with what was to me a gay and brilliant throng of superbly dressed and ornamented people. I found a vacant place in the pit near the orchestra. When I entered the curtain had not risen, but the orchestra were playing. The band consisted mostly of violins, and would, no doubt, be considered poor and thin at the present day, but such music has, to my mind, a subtle, delicate tone which is missed now. I did not know what the overture was, and curiously enough I have never heard it again: probably it was some local composition ; but there is sounding in my ears, as I write, the simple, thrilling air, the recurring chords. The music ceased and the curtain rose.
Up to this time the royal box opposite the stage had remained empty, and the audience had manifested a restless impatience which paid no attention to anything, either in the orchestra or upon the stage; but the actors had hardly begun their parts when the attention, which was now being attracted towards them, was suddenly diverted in another direction, and a young distinguished-looking man entered the royal box. His breast was a mass of stars and orders, and the rest of his apparel was covered with embroidery and lace; but his tall, slight figure, and the careless self-respect of his manner, enabled him to support so much finery with success. He came down without pause to the front of the box and remained standing, while the actors, dropping their parts, sang a verse of the National Folk-song, accompanied by the audience and supported by the band. The Prince bowed once slightly, then stood quite still, facing the enthusiastic house. From his point of view, doubtless, he saw a waving sea of faces, tumultuous, indistinguishable, indistinct; but in my eyes, and to my thought, as I stood lost in the tossing, excitable crowd about me, there was no one in the whole theatre but myself and him. As I looked at him a wild antagonism, an insane confidence and desire to pit myself against him, took possession of me. My folly even went so far as to picture to my mind a lovely, broken-hearted creature, bound to a betrothal odious to her, stretching out her hand towards another fate. The Prince had sat down in his box, slightly wearied in his daily round of life, not expecting very much entertainment from the play; more pleased, perhaps, at the gay scene the crowded theatre itself presented to his eyes, perfectly unaware, certainly, of the ferocious glances one of the audience in a remote corner was directing towards his unconscious person.
I spent the ensuing night and day in a fever of passionate excitement; but on the next afternoon an event occurred which reduced every other consideration to worthlessness, and exaggerated the delirium from which I suffered to the highest pitch. On my return to the 'Three Roses' from attending a lecture of the university--for I did attend lectures sometimes--I found a royal footman waiting for me with a note from the Princess. The world seemed to swim before my eyes as I took the billet from the man. It had been given him by the Princess herself, he said, who had charged him to deliver it to no one but myself.
I opened the billet and read: 'The Princess Cynthia will be in Das Vergnügen, on the terrace above the cascades, this evening at eleven o'clock. She wishes to see Herr von Saale there without fail.
Even in the state of exaltation in which I had lived for some days, I could scarcely believe my senses. Yet there could be no possible doubt that the message was a genuine one. The billet was distinguished from ordinary letters by its paper, and was closed with a massive seal bearing the royal arms.
To this moment it is a mystery to me how I passed the intervening hours from the time the man left me till eleven o'clock. I know that at the time the thought of this necessity overwhelmed me with despair. I have some misty recollection of wandering down the valley by the river, of gibbering passing forms which with intolerable intrusion seemed to force themselves between me and the only conceivable event towards which all human history had been tending since the world began.
The garden of Das Vergnugen was defended against intrusion by natural boundaries, very slightly assisted by art. The valley on the palace-side was impregnable, and the steep, rocky, wooded slopes on the farther side of the river were so inclosed at the top as to render intrusion difficult or impossible. The right of entrée was given me through my connection with the Professor and the Fräulein, and I had no difficulty in obtaining it on this momentous night.
Mysterious shadows, dark and vast under the pale moonlight, the great trees and banks of leaves, rose in strange distinct outline on every side, as I made my way through the lawns and garden-walks. The nightingales were singing all around me: the festoons of roses, robbed of all colour by the pallid light, hung like the ruined garlands of a dead festival, and sheets of clematis fell like cascades from the tall hedges and forest trees, and filled the air with a stifling perfume that presaged decay. Every now and again a strange whispering music stole through the valley and along the wooded slopes, the echo of wind-harps and harmonica-wires concealed among the terraces and groves. As the night advanced and the moon sank lower in the sky, the starlight grew more intense, with a clear distinct light, in which the sharp dark outlines of the shadows stood out in weird contrast with the beauty which, even in the moment of startled terror, the heart felt to be around. The wayward music that strayed through the leaves, and the fine clear notes of the nightingales, that harmonised with the cold silver light in which valley and river and stone terrace lay in mystic unreality, seemed like a fatal spell to enslave my spirit, a ghost-melody, a pale, beckoning hand to entice me on. And it was not only that these sights and sounds of a pallid and even terrifying beauty lured me on, but my infatuation was so perfect that I traversed the lawns and terraces in the full expectation of finding at the trysting-place the most lovely, the most unique of creatures, a creature born to be the possession and the delight of her own race and kind, and of such only, to whom it would seem presumption and treason for any other even to look. Long years afterwards, writing in the cool blood of middle life, the remembrance of this folly makes me shiver with an intolerable shame; but at the moment, so potent was the wizard spell that untamed, unquestioning youth and the wild, romantic wood-teaching, and the autumnal music of the winds, and the well-spring of fresh hope and love and trust, bursting out like a clear fountain amid the flowering grass and woodland singers, had cast about my path that, as I passed the terraces and the arcades of roses and clematis, I believed confidently that in another moment I should have the Princess, blushing, shy, palpitating, in my arms.
I turned a terraced corner bordered with statues and urns, and shaded with tall yew and holly hedges that grew high up in the woods. I came upon a broad and long terrace, shining in the clear light. On the left hand, far above me, from the mountain summit a single broad cascade fell, like a wall of flashing molten silver, sudden and straight into a deep pool, from which by several outlets, formed by the piers of the terrace-bridge upon which I stepped, it fell again, in four or five cascades of far greater depth, into the valley beneath.
The moon, which was setting a little behind me, cast a full and strong light upon the broad terrace--a light as bright as day. As I turned the corner my heart almost ceased to beat, for I saw, not a dozen yards from me, the Princess herself coming forward to meet me, as it seemed with outstretched hands. The bright light revealed in perfect distinctness the soft, gracious outline of her slight figure and the shy expression of her face. I made a step forward, my heart leaping to my mouth, when suddenly it sank again with a sickening chill, for behind the Princess, only a few steps apart, was the strange Crown Prince, and close to him stood another figure, which I also recognised at once.
The Princess came forward with her faint, bewitching smile.
'You are here, Herr von Saale,' she said: 'I knew you would not fail. We are an awkward number for a moonlight stroll, and I wanted a companion for the Fräulein.'
A sickening sense of self-recognised, self-detected folly--folly too gross and palpable, it might be feared, to escape even the detection of others--crushed me to the earth.
What would have happened, what inconceivably fatal folly I might have committed, I cannot tell--a mad whirl of insane thought rushed through my mind; but the Princess kept her steady eyes fixed full upon mine. 'Herr von Saale,' they said, as plainly as, ay, plainer than, words could speak,--'Otto von Saale, I believe in you. You have taught me something that I never knew before. You have taught me what I am, and you have shown me what I may become. You yourself surely will not fail.'
The steady, speaking eyes, calm in the pale white light--the intense, overmastering power and thought--drew me out of myself, as at the evening concert at the palace; but now, thanks to the purpose and command that spoke in them, with a fortifying help and strength. The boyish nature, fascinated and uplifted even in the depths of its folly and shame, rose--thanks to her--in some sense equal to the pressing need. Surely she must be right. Behind Otto von Saale, the fool, there must be another Otto von Saale who would not fail.
Something of what was passing in my mind rose, I suppose, into my eyes, for the expression of the Princess's face changed, and an inexpressibly beautiful look came into her eyes, amid the quaint reserve which her rank and disposition gave to her habitual look. It seemed to speak, with a start of grateful joy at the sudden gift, of certain abiding faith--faith in herself and in me--faith in the full, pure notes of life's music, which they who are born of the spirit, in the turmoil of the world's passion and desire, alone can hear.
The Princess turned away very quietly towards the Crown Prince. 'You remember Herr von Saale the other evening?' she said; and his Royal Highness bowed.
They moved together towards the other end of the terrace, and I approached Adelheid.
It may be thought that I must have found some difficulty and confusion in speaking to her; but, strange as it may appear, it was not so. It seemed to me as though the demon of vanity and folly had been completely exorcised, as though the courage and faith that shone upon me from the Princess's eyes had blotted out and effaced the miserable, infatuated past as though it had never been. It is given to some natures, at some propitious moments at the turning-points of life, by a happy acquiescence in right doing to obliterate the evil past. The intolerable sense of disgrace and shame had, as it were, stung the lower, vain reptile-self through its vital cord, and it lay dead and withered in the way. The flattering mask was torn from its features, and nothing was left but a shudder at the memory of a creature so contemptible and vile.
I told Adelheid that I did not know how to excuse my conduct of the last few days, that some demon seemed to have possessed me, that Herr Veitch had said truly that this was the case, and that I had been fascinated--by some evil eye, I was about to say; but I stopped suddenly, remembering that the eyes that had fascinated me had been those of the Princess, those eyes that had restored me to the dominion of the higher self. Escaping from this pitfall as best I could, I promised that I would return to my practising, and this brought us to the end of the terrace, where was a flight of stone steps that led down into the valley. Here the Princess turned to us and said that she wished to show the Prince the cascades from the steps, some little way down: they would return to us immediately on the terrace. They went down the steps and we turned back along the terrace-walk.
The moon by this time had set, and a countless host of stars lit the arched sky above us; and over the leafy walls on every side, darkened and deepened in shade, a delicate, faint, clear light seemed to chasten and subdue the heart--the starlight of the soul. There was no sound but that of the rush of water, for the nightingales and the wind-harps were too far below. There seemed to arise around us, and to enwrap us in its emboldening folds, a protecting mist and garment of solemn, faded light and measured sound. Enshrouded in this mystic veil fear and embarrassment were taken away, and in clear, true vision we saw each other for the first time.
'You have taught me the violin,' I said; 'but there is another instrument, the strings of which vibrate to even higher tones: will you teach these strings also to vibrate in unison to your touch? It has been neglected, and is out of tune: it wants the leading of a master-hand.'
'I fear the instrument is accustomed to another hand,' Adelheid said.
'A violin,' I said, 'is played on by many a one, and they fail; but it is not cast aside. At last he comes for whom it was predestined long ago, while the wood was growing in the tree, while the mellowing sunshine and the wind were forming it--were teaching it secrets that would fit it to teach mankind in sound. He to whom it was predestined comes. He takes it in his hand, and we know that once, at least, in this life, supreme music has been heard. Will you try this instrument of mine? It may, perchance, be worth the trying, for it is a human heart.'
'I will try it,' she said.
There is not much more to tell. He that is happy has no history; and the life that is in tune with the melodies of heaven, in tune because it is guided by a purer life, inspired by a loftier impulse than its own, cannot fail of being happy. In the sustained and perfect harmonies that result from the concord of full, pure, true notes, there is rest and peace for the wearied and troubled brain; and the harmonies of life, that absorb and hush the discords of the world, are heard only in the private walks and daily seclusions in which love and Christian purity delight. Both harmonies came to me through a teacher of the violin.
And the Princess?
One summer afternoon in the year 1806 a gay city lay smiling in the afternoon sun. It lay in a fair plain watered by shining streams, and surrounded in the blue distance by wooded hills. The newly-built esplanades stretched away into the meadows, and from among the avenues of linden-trees the birds were singing merrily. But a fatal spell seemed to hang over this lovely scene, and the city might have been a city of the dead. Not a chance figure could be seen in its streets and boulevards: the windows of its houses were all fastened, and the blinds and jalousies drawn down and closed.
And more than this: every few moments a deathly terror tore the serene, calm air, and, alighting like a shrieking fiend, crashed into house and grove. The Prussian army was in full retreat across the fords of the river lower down, and the city was being bombarded by a battery of the French.
The blinds in the long streets were all drawn and the shutters closed; but there was one house in which not a blind was down nor a window closed. This was the palace, which stood in the centre of the city, looking upon the Grand Platz, and surrounded by chestnut and sycamore trees. The King was with the army on the distant Thuringian slopes; but it was known through all the city that the Queen was still in the palace and had refused to leave; and in the hearts of the citizens, wherever a few met together, or in the homes where they spoke of this, despair and anguish were soothed into gratitude and trust.
But gradually as the evening drew on matters became worse. The terrible cannonade, it is true, ceased; but a party of French chasseurs, followed by infantry, occupied the market-place, and the work of plunder was systematically begun. The crash of doors burst in and the shrieks of the inhabitants were heard on every side. At seven o'clock in the summer evening houses were in flames in front of the palace, and the light was so intense that people could read handwriting, both in the palace-court and in the market-place.
Then, suddenly, a most wonderful thing occurred. The great iron gates of the court-yard, which had remained closed, were thrown open, and a state carriage, gorgeously caparisoned and drawn by six white horses, accompanied by servants in full liveries, issued forth in the evening light, amid the added glare of the flaming houses. It passed on its stately way through the crowded, agitated Platz, the lawless soldiers standing back astonished and abashed, till it reached the great hotel of the 'Three Kings,' where a marshal of France, a brother-in-law of the Emperor, had taken up his quarters for the night an hour before. It did not remain long; but in a few moments it was known throughout the city that the Queen's intercession had prevailed, that orders had been given to extinguish the conflagration, and that the pillage would immediately cease.
The people, young and old, swarmed into the streets. From by-lane and causeway and boulevard, rich and poor, without distinction, child and old man and grandam, crowded around the stately carriage with the white horses, wherein sat a beautiful woman of middle age, serene and stately, but very pale with long watching and with grief. Sobs, and words of blessing, and cries of love and joy, resounded on every side; but amid that countless throng there was no heart so full of a strange pride and gratitude to God as was that of an unknown stranger, by chance in the city, standing unnoticed in the dark shadows of the palace groves. I knew her--had known her longer than they all; for it was the Princess Cynthia of the old, unforgotten, boyish days.