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NOV 8 1887

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MACMILLAN'S MAGAZINE.

NOVEMBER, 1887.

A TEACHER OF THE VIOLIN.

45

I.

AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL.

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 No. 337.-VOL. LVII.

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 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

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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 hill-sides. 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; but 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 mountainvalleys 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, and 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 rushes 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 reedmusic, 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 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 the 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. But 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, 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.

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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 wailing 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 effect upon my imagination. 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 courtyard 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 courtyard four zither-players from the south. I

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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 of pitch, probably in a few octaves in the middle region of the scale.. They played a singular rapid music with little tune, but with a perfect relation of time and pitch. It was like a rippling mænad dance apparently reckless and trained, 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 note of uniform pitch, 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 in 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

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citement 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 Graffinn, 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, per formed wonderfully, it was said, on the violin. He was invited to play before the Graffinn, 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

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