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   Chapter 7 No.7

Life of Chopin By Franz Liszt Characters: 29844

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05


Madame Sand-Lelia-Visit to Majorca-Exclusive Ideals.

In 1836 Madame Sand had not only published INDIANA, VALENTINE, and JACQUES, but also LELIA, that prose poem of which she afterwards said: "If I regret having written it, it is because I could not now write it. Were I in the same state of mind now as when it was written, it would indeed be a great consolation to me to be able to commence it." The mere painting of romances in cold water colors must have seemed, without doubt, dull to Madame Sand, after having handled the hammer and chisel of the sculptor so boldly, in modeling the grand lines of that semi-colossal statue, in cutting those sinewy muscles, which even in their statuesque immobility, are full of bewildering and seductive charm. Should we continue long to gaze upon it, it excites the most painful emotion. In strong contrast to the miracle of Pygmalion, Lelia seems a living Galatea, rich in feeling, full of love, whom the deeply enamored artist has tried to bury alive in his exquisitely sculptured marble, stifling the palpitating breath, and congealing the warm blood in the vain hope of elevating and immortalizing the beauty he adores. In the presence of this vivid nature petrified by art, we cannot feel that admiration is kindled into love, but, saddened and chilled, we are forced to acknowledge that love may be frozen into mere admiration.

Brown and olive-hued Lelia! Dark as Lara, despairing as Manfred, rebellious as Cain, thou hast ranged through the depths of solitude! But thou art more ferocious, more savage, more inconsolable than they, because thou hast never found a man's heart sufficiently feminine to love thee as they were loved, to pay the homage of a confiding and blind submission to thy virile charms, to offer thee a mute yet ardent devotion, to suffer its obedience to be protected by thy Amazonian force! Woman-hero! Like the Amazons, thou hast been valiant and eager for combats; like them thou hast not feared to expose the exquisite loveliness of thy face to the fierceness of the summer's sun, or the sharp blasts of winter! Thou hast hardened thy fragile limbs by the endurance of fatigue, thus robbing them of the subtle power of their weakness! Thou hast covered thy palpitating breast with a heavy cuirass, which has pressed and torn it, dyeing its snow in blood;-that gentle woman's bosom, charming as life, discreet as the grave, which is always adored by man when his heart is permitted to form its sole, its impenetrable buckler!

After having blunted her chisel in polishing this statue, which, by its majesty, its haughty disdain, its look of hopeless anguish, shadowed by the frowning of the pure brows and by the long loose locks shivering with electric life, reminds us of those antique cameos on which we still admire the perfect features, the beautiful yet fatal brow, the haughty smile of the Medusa, whose gaze paralyzed and stopped the pulses of the human heart;-Madame Sand in vain sought another form for the expression of the emotions which tortured her insatiate soul. After having draped this figure with the highest art, accumulating every species of masculine greatness upon it in order to compensate for the highest of all qualities which she repudiated for it, the grandeur of, "utter self-abnegation for love," which the many-sided poet has placed in the empyrean and called "the Eternal Feminine," (DAS EWIGWEIBLICHE,)-a greatness which is love existing before any of its joys, surviving all its sorrows;-after having caused Don Juan to be cursed, and a divine hymn to be chanted to Desire by Lelia, who, as well as Don Juan, had repulsed the only delight which crowns desire, the luxury of self-abnegation,-after having fully revenged Elvira by the creation of Stenio,-after having scorned man more than Don Juan had degraded woman,-Madame Sand, in her LETTRES D'UN VOYAGEUR, depicts the shivering palsy, the painful lethargy which seizes the artist, when, having incorporated the emotion which inspired him in his work, his imagination still remains under the domination of the insatiate idea without being able to find another form in which to incarnate it. Such poetic sufferings were well understood by Byron, when he makes Tasso shed his most bitter tears, not for his chains, not for his physical sufferings, not for the ignominy heaped upon him, but for his finished Epic, for the ideal world created by his thought and now about to close its doors upon him, and by thus expelling him from its enchanted realm, rendering him at last sensible of the gloomy realities around him:-

"But this is o'er-my pleasant task is done:-

My long-sustaining friend of many years:

If I do blot thy final page with tears,

Know that my sorrows have wrung from me none.

But thou, my young creation! my soul's child!

Which ever playing round me came and smiled,

And woo'd me from myself with thy sweet sight,

Thou too art gone-and so is my delight."

LAMENT OF TASSO.-BYRON.

At this epoch, Madame Sand often heard a musician, one of the friends who had greeted Chopin with the most enthusiastic joy upon his arrival at Paris, speak of him. She heard him praise his poetic genius even more than his artistic talent. She was acquainted with his compositions, and admired their graceful tenderness. She was struck by the amount of emotion displayed in his poems, with the effusions of a heart so noble and dignified. Some of the countrymen of Chopin spoke to her of the women of their country, with the enthusiasm natural to them upon that subject, an enthusiasm then very much increased by a remembrance of the sublime sacrifices made by them during the last war. Through their recitals and the poetic inspiration of the Polish artist, she perceived an ideal of love which took the form of worship for woman. She thought that guaranteed from dependence, preserved from inferiority, her role might be like the fairy power of the Peri, that ethereal intelligence and friend of man. Perhaps she did not fully understand what innumerable links of suffering, of silence, of patience, of gentleness, of indulgence, of courageous perseverance, had been necessary for the formation of the worship for this imperious but resigned ideal, beautiful indeed, but sad to behold, like those plants with the rose-colored corollas, whose stems, intertwining and interlacing in a network of long and numerous branches, give life to ruins; destined ever to embellish decay, growing upon old walls and hiding only tottering stones! Beautiful veils woven by beneficent Nature, in her ingenious and inexhaustible richness, to cover the constant decay of human things!

As Madame Sand perceived that this artist, in place of giving body to his phantasy in porphyry and marble, or defining his thoughts by the creation of massive caryatides, rather effaced the contour of his works, and, had it been necessary, could have elevated his architecture itself from the soil, to suspend it, like the floating palaces of the Fata Morgana, in the fleecy clouds, through his aerial forms of almost impalpable buoyancy, she was more and more attracted by that mystic ideal which she perceived glowing within them. Though her arm was powerful enough to have sculptured the round shield, her hand was delicate enough to have traced those light relievos where the shadows of ineffaceable profiles have been thrown upon and trusted to a stone scarcely raised from its level plane. She was no stranger in the supernatural world, she to whom Nature, as to a favored child, had unloosed her girdle and unveiled all the caprices, the attractions, the delights, which she can lend to beauty. She was not ignorant of the lightest graces; she whose eye could embrace such vast proportions, had stooped to study the glowing illuminations painted upon the wings of the fragile butterfly. She had traced the symmetrical and marvellous network which the fern extends as a canopy over the wood strawberry; she had listened to the murmuring of streams through the long reeds and stems of the water-grass, where the hissing of the "amorous viper" may be heard; she had followed the wild leaps of the Will-with-a-wisp as it bounds over the surface of the meadows and marshes; she had pictured to herself the chimerical dwelling-places toward which it perfidiously attracts the benighted traveller; she had listened to the concerts given by the Cicada and their friends in the stubble of the fields; she had learned the names of the inhabitants of the winged republics of the woods which she could distinguish as well by their plumaged robes, as by their jeering roulades or plaintive cries. She knew the secret tenderness of the lily in the splendor of its tints; she had listened to the sighs of Genevieve, [Footnote: ANDRE] the maiden enamored of flowers.

She was visited in her dreams by those "unknown friends" who came to rejoin her "when she was seized with distress upon a desolate shore," brought by a "rapid stream... in large and full bark"... upon which she mounted to leave the unknown shores, "the country of chimeras which make real life appear like a dream half effaced to those, who enamored from their infancy of large shells of pearl, mount them to land in those isles where all are young and beautiful... where the men and women are crowned with flowers, with their long locks floating upon their shoulders... holding vases and harps of a strange form... having songs and voices not of this world... all loving each other equally with a divine love... where crystal fountains of perfumed waters play in basins of silver... where blue roses bloom in vases of alabaster... where the perspectives are all enchanted... where they walk with naked feet upon the thick green moss, soft as carpets of velvet... where all sing as they wander among the fragrant groves." [Footnote: LETTRES D'UN VOYAGEUR]

She knew these unknown friends so well that after having again seen them, "she could not dream of them without palpitations of the heart during the whole day." She was initiated into the Hoffmannic world-"she who had surprised such ineffable smiles upon the portraits of the dead;" [Footnote: SPIRIDSON] who had seen the rays of the sun falling through the stained glass of a Gothic window form a halo round loved heads, like the arm of God, luminous and impalpable, surrounded by a vortex of atoms;-she who had known such glorious apparitions, clothed with the purple and golden glories of the setting sun. The realm of fantasy had no myth with whose secret she was not familiar!

Thus she was naturally anxious to become acquainted with one who had with rapid wing flown "to those scenes which it is impossible to describe, but which must exist somewhere, either upon the earth, or in some of the planets, whose light we love to gaze upon in the forests when the moon has set." [Footnote: LETTRES D'UN VOYAGEUR] Such scenes she had prayed never to be forced to desert-never desiring to bring her heart and imagination back to this dreary world, too like the gloomy coasts of Finland, where the slime and miry slough can only be escaped by scaling the naked granite of the solitary rocks. Fatigued with the massive statue she had sculptured, the Amazonian Lelia; wearied with the grandeur of an Ideal which it is impossible to mould from the gross materials of this earth; she was desirous to form an acquaintance with the artist "the lover of an impossible so shadowy"-so near the starry regions. Alas! if these regions are exempt from the poisonous miasmas of our atmosphere, they are not free from its desolating melancholy! Perhaps those who are transported there may adore the shining of new suns-but there are others not less dear whose light they must see extinguished! Will not the most glorious among the beloved constellation of the Pleiades there disappear? Like drops of luminous dew the stars fall one by one into the nothingness of a yawning abyss, whose bottomless depths no plummet has ever sounded, while the soul, contemplating these fields of ether, this blue Sahara with its wandering and perishing oases,-is stricken by a grief so hopeless, so profound, that neither enthusiasm nor love can ever soothe it more. It ingulfs and absorbs all emotions, being no more agitated by them than the sleeping waters of some tranquil lake, reflecting the moving images thronging its banks from its polished surface, are by the varied motions and eager life of the many objects mirrored upon its glassy bosom. The drowsy waters cannot thus be wakened from their icy lethargy. This melancholy saddens even the highest joy. "Through the exhaustion always accompanying such tension, when the soul is strained above the region which it naturally inhabits... the insufficiency of speech is felt for the first time by those who have studied it so much, and used it so well-we are borne from all active, from all militant instincts-to travel through boundless space-to be lost in the immensity of adventurous courses far, far above the clouds... where we no longer see that the earth is beautiful, because our gaze is riveted upon the skies... where reality is no longer poetically draped, as has been so skilfully done by the author of Waverley, but where, in idealizing poetry itself, the infinite is peopled with the spirits belonging only to its mystic realm, as has been done by Byron in his Manfred."

Could Madame Sand have divined the incurable melancholy, the will which cannot blend with that of others, the imperious exclusiveness, which invariably seize upon imaginations delighting in the pursuit of dreams whose realities are nowhere to be found, or at least never in the matter-of-fact world in which the dreamers are constrained to dwell? Had she foreseen the form which devoted attachment assumes for such dreamers; had she measured the entire and absolute absorption which they will alone accept as the synonyme of tenderness? It is necessary to be in some degree shy, shrinking, and secretive as they themselves are, to be able to understand the hidden depths of characters so concentrated. Like those susceptible flowers which close their sensitive petals before the first breath of the North wind, they too veil their exacting souls in the shrouds of self concentration, unfolding themselves only under the warming rays of a propitious sun. Such natures have been called "rich by exclusiveness;" in opposition to those which are "rich by expansiveness." "If these differing temperaments should meet and approach each other, they can never mingle or melt the one into the other," (says the writer whom we have so often quoted) "but the one must consume the other, leaving nothing but ashes behind." Alas! it is the natures like that of the fragile musician whose days we commemorate, which, consuming themselves, perish; not wishing, not indeed being able, to live any life but one in conformity with their own excl

usive Ideal.

Chopin seemed to dread Madame Sand more than any other woman, the modern Sibyl, who, like the Pythoness of old, had said so many things that others of her sex neither knew nor dared to say. He avoided and put off all introduction to her. Madame Sand was ignorant of this. In consequence of that captivating simplicity, which is one of her noblest charms, she did not divine his fear of the Delphic priestess. At last she was presented to him, and an acquaintance with her soon dissipated the prejudices which he had obstinately nourished against female authors.

In the fall of 1837, Chopin was attacked by an alarming illness, which left him almost without force to support life. Dangerous symptoms forced him to go South to avoid the rigor of winter. Madame Sand, always so watchful over those whom she loved, so full of compassion for their sufferings, would not permit him, when his health required so much care, to set out alone, and determined to accompany him. They selected the island of Majorca for their residence because the air of the sea, joined to the mild climate which prevails there, is especially salubrious for those who are suffering from affections of the lungs. Though he was so weak when he left Paris that we had no hope of his ever returning; though after his arrival in Majorca he was long and dangerously ill; yet so much was he benefited by the change that big health was improved during several years.

Was it the effect of the balmy climate alone which recalled him to health? Was it not rather because his life was full of bliss that he found strength to live? Did he not regain strength only because he now wished to live? Who can tell how far the influence of the will extends over the body? Who knows what internal subtle aroma it has the power of disengaging to preserve the sinking frame from decay; what vital force it can breathe into the debilitated organs? Who can say where the dominion of mind over matter ceases? Who knows how far our senses are under the dominion of the imagination, to what extent their powers may be increased, or their extinction accelerated, by its influence? It matters not how the imagination gains its strange extension of power, whether through long and bitter exercise, or, whether spontaneously collecting its forgotten strength, it concentrates its force in some new and decisive moment of destiny: as when the rays of the sun are able to kindle a flame of celestial origin when concentrated in the focus of the burning glass, brittle and fragile though the medium be.

All the long scattered rays of happiness were collected within this epoch of the life of Chopin; is it then surprising that they should have rekindled the flame of life, and that it should have burned at this time with the most vivid lustre? The solitude surrounded by the blue waves of the Mediterranean and shaded by groves of orange, seemed fitted in its exceeding loveliness for the ardent vows of youthful lovers, still believing in their naive and sweet illusions, sighing for happiness in "some desert isle." He breathed there that air for which natures unsuited for the world, and never feeling themselves happy in it, long with such a painful home-sickness; that air which may be found everywhere if we can find the sympathetic souls to breathe it with us, and which is to be met nowhere without them; that air of the land of our dreams; and which in spite of all obstacles, of the bitter real, is easily discovered when sought by two! It is the air of the country of the ideal to which we gladly entice the being we cherish, repeating with poor Mignon: DAHIN! DAHIN!... LASST UNS ZIEHN!

As long as his sickness lasted, Madame Sand never left the pillow of him who loved her even to death, with an attachment which in losing all its joys, did not lose its intensity, which remained faithful to her even after all its memories had turned to pain: "for it seemed as if this fragile being was absorbed and consumed by the strength of his affection.... Others seek happiness in their attachments; when they no longer find it, the attachment gently vanishes. In this they resemble the rest of the world. But he loved for the sake of loving. No amount of suffering was sufficient to discourage him. He could enter upon a new phase, that of woe; but the phase of coldness he could never arrive at. It would have been indeed a phase of physical agony-for his love was his life-and delicious or bitter, he had not the power of withdrawing himself a single moment from its domination." [Footnote: LUCRESIA FLORIANA] Madame Sand never ceased to be for Chopin that being of magic spells who had snatched him from the valley of the shadow of death, whose power had changed his physical agony into the delicious languor of love. To save him from death, to bring him back to life, she struggled courageously with his disease. She surrounded him with those divining and instinctive cares which are a thousand times more efficacious than the material remedies known to science. While engaged in nursing him, she felt no fatigue, no weariness, no discouragement. Neither her strength, nor her patience, yielded before the task. Like the mothers in robust health, who appear to communicate a part of their own strength to the sickly infant who, constantly requiring their care, have also their preference, she nursed the precious charge into new life. The disease yielded: "the funereal oppression which secretly undermined the spirit of Chopin, destroying and corroding all contentment, gradually vanished. He permitted the amiable character, the cheerful serenity of his friend to chase sad thoughts and mournful presentiments away, and to breathe new force into his intellectual being."

Happiness succeeded to gloomy fears, like the gradual progression of a beautiful day after a night full of obscurity and terror, when so dense and heavy is the vault of darkness which weighs upon us from above, that we are prepared for a sudden and fatal catastrophe, we do not even dare to dream of deliverance, when the despairing eye suddenly catches a bright spot where the mists clear, and the clouds open like flocks of heavy wool yielding, even while the edges thicken under the pressure of the hand which rends them. At this moment, the first ray of hope penetrates the soul. We breathe more freely like those who lost in the windings of a dark cavern at last think they see a light, though indeed its existence is still doubtful. This faint light is the day dawn, though so colorless are its rays, that it is more like the extinction of the dying twilight,-the fall of the night-shroud upon the earth. But it is indeed the dawn; we know it by the vivid and pure breath of the young zephyrs which it sends forth, like avant-coureurs, to bear us the assurance of morn and safety. The balm of flowers fills the air, like the thrilling of an encouraged hope. A stray bird accidentally commences his song earlier than usual, it soothes the heart like a distant consolation, and is accepted as a promise for the future. As the imperceptibly progressive but sure indications multiply, we are convinced that in this struggle of light and darkness it is the shadows of night which are to yield. Raising our eyes to the Dome of lead above us, we feel that it weighs less heavily upon us, that it has already lost its fatal stability.

Little by little the long gray lines of light increase, they stretch themselves along the horizon like fissures into a brighter world. They suddenly enlarge, they gain upon their dark boundaries, now they break through them, as the waters bounding the edge of a lake inundate in irregular pools the arid banks. Then a fierce opposition begins, banks and long dikes accumulate to arrest the progress. The clouds are oiled like ridges of sand, tossing and surging to present obstructions, but like the impetuous raging of irresistible waters, the light breaks through them, demolishes them, devours them, and as the rays ascend, the rolling waves of purple mist glow into crimson. At this moment the young dawn shines with a timid yet victorious grace, while the knee bends in admiration and gratitude before it, for the last terror has vanished, and we feel as if new born.

Fresh objects strike upon the view, as if just called from chaos. A veil of uniform rose-color covers them all, but as the light augments in intensity, the thin gauze drapes and folds in shades of pale carnation, while the advancing plains grow clear in white and dazzling splendor.

The brilliant sun delays no longer to invade the firmament, gaining new glory as he rises. The vapors surge and crowd together, rolling themselves from right to left, like the heavy drapery of a curtain moved by the wind. Then all breathes, moves, lives, hums, sings; the sounds mingle, cross, meet, and melt into each other. Inertia gives place to motion, it spreads, accelerates and circulates. The waves of the lake undulate and swell like a bosom touched by love. The tears of the dew, motionless as those of tenderness, grow more and more perceptible, one after another they are seen glittering on the humid herbs, diamonds waiting for the sun to paint with rainbow-tints their vivid scintillations. The gigantic fan of light in the East is ever opening larger and wider. Spangles of silver, borders of scarlet, violet fringes, bars of gold, cover it with fantastic broidery. Light bands of reddish brown feather its branches. The brightest scarlet at its centre has the glowing transparency of the ruby; shading into orange like a burning coal, it widens like a torch, spreads like a bouquet of flames, which glows and glows from fervor to fervor, ever more incandescent.

At last the god of day appears! His blazing front is adorned with luminous locks of long floating hair. Slowly he seems to rise-but scarcely has he fully unveiled himself, than he starts forward, disengages himself from all around him, and, leaving the earth far below him, takes instantaneous possession of the vaulted heavens....

The memory of the days passed in the lovely isle of Majorca, like the remembrance of an entrancing ecstasy, which fate grants but once in life even to the most favored of her children, remained always dear to the heart of Chopin. "He [Footnote: Lucrezia Fioriani] was no longer upon this earth, he was in an empyrean of golden clouds and perfumes, his imagination, so full of exquisite beauty, seemed engaged in a monologue with God himself; and if upon the radiant prism in whose contemplation he forgot all else, the magic-lantern of the outer world would even cast its disturbing shadow, he felt deeply pained, as if in the midst of a sublime concert, a shrieking old woman should blend her shrill yet broken tones, her vulgar musical motivo, with the divine thoughts of the great masters." He always spoke of this period with deep emotion, profound gratitude, as if its happiness had been sufficient for a life-time, without hoping that it would ever be possible again to find a felicity in which the fight of time was only marked by the tenderness of woman's love, and the brilliant flashes of true genius. Thus did the clock of Linnaeus mark the course of time, indicating the hours by the successive waking and sleeping of the flowers, marking each by a different perfume, and a display of ever varying beauties, as each variegated calyx opened in ever changing yet ever lovely form!

The beauties of the countries through which the Poet and Musician travelled together, struck with more distinctness the imagination of the former. The loveliness of nature impressed Chopin in a manner less definite, though not less strong. His soul was touched, and immediately harmonized with the external enchantment, yet his intellect did not feel the necessity of analyzing or classifying it. His heart vibrated in unison with the exquisite scenery around him, although he was not able at the moment to assign the precise source of his blissful tranquillity. Like a true musician, he was satisfied to seize the sentiment of the scenes he visited, while he seemed to give but little attention to the plastic material, the picturesque frame, which did not assimilate with the form of his art, nor belong to his more spiritualized sphere. However, (a fact that has been often remarked in organizations such as his,) as he was removed in time and distance from the scenes in which emotion had obscured his senses, as the clouds from the burning incense envelope the censer, the more vividly the forms and beauties of such scenes stood out in his memory. In the succeeding years, he frequently spoke of them, as though the remembrance was full of pleasure to him. But when so entirely happy, he made no inventory of his bliss. He enjoyed it simply, as we all do in the sweet years of childhood, when we are deeply impressed by the scenery surrounding us without ever thinking of its details, yet finding, long after, the exact image of each object in our memory, though we are only able to describe its forms when we have ceased to behold them.

Besides, why should he have tasked himself to scrutinize the beautiful sites in Spain which formed the appropriate setting of his poetic happiness? Could he not always find them again through the descriptions of his inspired companion? As all objects, even the atmosphere itself, become flame-colored when seen through a glass dyed in crimson, so he might contemplate these delicious sites in the glowing hues cast around them by the impassioned genius of the woman he loved. The nurse of his sick-room-was she not also a great artist? Rare and beautiful union! If to the depths of tenderness and devotion, in which the true and irresistible empire of woman must commence, and deprived of which she is only an enigma without a possible solution, nature should unite the most brilliant gifts of genius,-the miraculous spectacle of the Greek firs would be renewed,-the glittering flames would again sport over the abysses of the ocean without being extinguished or submerged in the chilling depths, adding, as the living hues were thrown upon the surging waves, the glowing dyes of the purple fire to the celestial blue of the heaven-reflecting sea!

Has genius ever attained that utter self-abnegation, that sublime humility of heart which gives the power to make those strange sacrifices of the entire Past, of the whole Future; those immolations, as courageous as mysterious; those mystic and utter holocausts of self, not temporary and changing, but monotonous and constant,-through whose might alone tenderness may justly claim the higher name, devotion? Has not the force of genius its own exclusive and legitimate exactions, and does not the force of woman consist in the abdication of all exactions? Can the royal purple and burning flames of genius ever float upon the immaculate azure of woman's destiny?...

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