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young Mendelssohn's last-composed symphony would be performed, together with the pianoforte sonatas and concertos, trios, &c. of the various great masters, from Bach to Hummel."* Mr. Benedict has given us a pleasing account of his first introduction to Mendelssohn, when the latter was twelve years old, a beautiful boy, with clustering auburn curls, thoroughly boyish and simple, "clearing high hedges with a leap, running, singing, or climbing up the trees like a squirrel, the very image of health and happiness;" and then again, “seated on a footstool before a small table, writing with great earnestness some music. On my asking what he was about, he replied gravely, 'I am finishing my new quartett for piano and stringed instruments.' It was his first Quartett in C minor, published afterwards as Opus I.” It was in this year (1821) that Zelter took Felix with him on a visit to Goethe, who quickly perceived the genius of his young guest, and continued to be his warm friend through life. Even on this first visit, Mendelssohn used to perform for Goethe's pleasure the fugal works of all the great composers. With all this precocity, there was no self-consciousness in him; he shrank from putting himself forward; and his reverence for the great masters of his art (whose works he retained in his memory with wonderful accuracy) was far too strong to allow him to over-estimate his own achievements. Yet those were so astonishing as to have been rivalled by no musician save Mozart. The Ottett for stringed instruments which Mendelssohn wrote at the age of fifteen is one of the master-pieces of chamber music; and the exquisite Overture to the Midsummer Night's Dream was written only two years later.
It is probably to this period of his life that Mendelssohn refers in a letter, written from Rome in November 1830, which gives us an interesting glimpse into the household of the worthy but irascible banker. When we remember that the latter's father, the celebrated Moses Mendelssohn, was subject to attacks of nervous disease, which he only overcame by resolute patience, and that Felix himself, as both his music and his letters abundantly testify, was of a keenly sensitive and impetuous disposition, we may be sure that the Mendelssohn temperament was a nervous one. Happily Felix seems to have been early alive to the duty of self-control, and the misery of domestic altercation, as the following extract will show :
“MY DEAR BROTHER AND SISTERS, - You know how much I dislike, at a distance of two hundred miles and fourteen days' journey from you, to offer good advice. I mean to do so, however, for once. Let me tell you, therefore, of a mistake in your conduct, and, in truth, the same that I once made myself. I do assure you that never in my
• Musical World, p. vii.
life have I known my father write in so irritable a strain as since I came to Rome; and so I wish to ask if you cannot devise some domestic recipe to cheer him a little. I mean by forbearance and yielding to his wishes, and in this manner,—by allowing my father's view of any subject to predominate over your own; then, not to speak at all on topics that irritate him ; and instead of saying shameful, say unpleasant, or instead of superb, very fair. This method has often a wonderfully good effect; and I put it, with all submission to yourselves, whether it might not be equally successful in this case. For, with the exception of the great events of the world, ill-humour often seems to me to proceed from the same cause that my father's did when I chose to pursue my own path in my musical studies. He was then in a constant state of irritation, incessantly abusing Beethoven and all visionaries; and this often vexed me very much, and made me sometimes very unamiable. At that very time something new came out, which put my father out of sorts, and made him, I believe, not a little uneasy. So long, therefore, as I persisted in extolling and exalting my Beethoven, the evil became daily worse ; and one day, if I remember rightly, I was even sent out of the room. At last, however, it occurred to me that I might speak a great deal of truth, and yet avoid the particular truth obnoxious to my father; so the aspect of affairs began to improve, and soon all went well. :. Try to draw
father into your circle, and be playful and kind to him. In short, try to smooth and equalise things ; and remember that I, who am now an experienced man of the world, never yet knew any family, taking into due consideration all defects and failings, who have hitherto lived so happily together as ours."*
Mendelssohn's youthful studies were not confined to his own special subject. He attended the Berlin university as a matriculated student for more than a year (1827-28), and it was apparently at this time that he wrote a metrical German version of Terence's Andria, which was printed privately for his friends.f “Goethe, in a letter to Zelter, acknowledging the receipt of his copy, charges him to thank the excellent and industrious Felix for the splendid specimen of his literary labours, which would serve as an instructive recreation to the Weimar circle during the winter evenings.' "I
In 1829, Mendelssohn paid his first visit to England, where he was speedily appreciated, both as a composer and a pianist, and where he had the pleasure of forming many valuable friendships with the most estimable and distinguished men in his profession. In the August of this year he made a tour in Scotland with his friend Klingemann. They went first to Edinburgh, then to Perth, Blair-Xthol, Loch Tay, the island of Staffa, and
* Letters, pp. 61-2.
† The Musical World says that it has been published by Professor Heise of Berlin, Mendelssohn's classical tutor.
$ Benedict's Sketch, p. 11.
Fingal's Cave; then southwards, by Glasgow and Loch Lomond, visiting the Cumberland Lakes, Liverpool, and North Wales. From this tour sprang his “ Overture to the Hebrides” (now called the “Overture to Fingal's Cave”), and his Scottish Symphony in A minor. On his return to London, he met with a serious accident, caused by the overturning of a gig. Hardly quite restored to health, he hurried back to Berlin for the “silver wedding” of his parents (which fell on Christmas Day), carrying with him, as the fruits of his seclusion, his operetta of Son and Stranger, the libretto being by his friend Klingemann. It was performed at his father's house; and has been brought out, since his death, at the Haymarket Theatre in London, with decided success. In the spring of the following year (1830) he left home for a longer tour, which extended over two years; and it was during this absence from home that the letters were written which his brother has now published. This period of his life was a sort of isthmus between the precocious blossoming of his early promise and the full maturity of his manhood. His brother says, what the letters certainly confirm, that this interval, to a certain degree, “ forms a separate section of his life,” and, “through the vivid impressions it made, assuredly exercised an important influence on Mendelssohn's development.” With the exception of a few valuable letters to musical friends, the letters are selected from his correspondence with his parents, brother, and sisters. They commence on a brilliant day in May 1830, at Weimar, where Mendelssohn passed a fortnight, spending his time chiefly with Goethe, who appears here in his most agreeable aspect. The letters recording the particulars of this visit are especially interesting, and the variety of moods and subjects over which the poet's conversation ranged is well indicated by Mendelssohn's remark: “I thought to myself, this was indeed the Goethe of whom people will one day say, that he was not one single individual, but consisted of several Goethiden.” Goethe had evidently a real affection for Felix, and said that the latter “had such clear ideas, that he hoped to learn much from me," and “ that there were many subjects he had at heart which I must explain to him.” It was probably this clearness of conception (which was always a characteristic of Mendelssohn's mind) that formed the intellectual attraction of his society to Goethe. This was the last time they met; the poet died before Mendelssohn's return to Germany. Passing through Presburg, Venice, and Florence, from each of which we have very interesting letters, the traveller reached Rome, where he settled down for the winter in a comfortable sunny apartment in the Piazza di Spagna, with “a good Viennese piano,” “ some portraits of Palestrina, Allegri, &c., along with the scores of their
works, and a Latin psalm-book.” Here he was very happy, drinking in all the artistic and natural beauty of Rome, and mixing in the most intellectual society which the city then contained, among whom were several persons of note, and a few of real eminence, such as Horace Vernet, Thorwaldsen, and Bunsen, then Prussian Minister at Rome. In the following spring he spent a few weeks at Naples; then returning northward, he passed through Rome, Florence, and Milan, on his way to Switzerland. Reëntering Germany, he spent a fortnight at Munich, and then went on to Paris for his second winter. In the spring of 1832 he came to London, where he remained but a short time, being recalled rather suddenly by his father, which brought his tour and his correspondence to a conclusion.
The first thing which strikes us in these letters is the bright, mobile, susceptible temperament of the writer. Every thing he sees or hears makes its full impression on him; no shade of meaning is lost. But this intellectual and spiritual vitality is accompanied by an equal intensity of the affections, which is not always found in artistic temperaments. These are thoroughly “home letters,” warmly alive to every household memory and feeling, recalling every family anniversary, and overflowing with playful tenderness. There is something very charming, too, in the perfect confidence with which Felix pours out all his intellectual and artistic enjoyment, secure that whoever else may fail to understand him, his own family will share and sympathise in all his mental life. The only exception to this harmonious state of things seems to have arisen in the occasional crotchets of the elder Mendelssohn, with whom Felix sometimes has to remonstrate. His sense of filial duty was unusually strong, and he cheerfully gave up his own pleasure at his father's desire; but when what he conceived to be his duty as an artist was concerned, he respectfully but firmly stood his ground, explaining in full his reasons for so doing. Of his mother we have a few very pleasing glimpses. To both his sisters he writes very affectionately; but the most prominent is his married sister Fanny, to whom he communicates most of his musical speculations. A graceful little pianoforte piece is inserted, which he sends her as a greeting on her birthday. To his father, on a similar occasion, he sends half a composition (of a wholly different character), saying that “Fanny may add the second part." With all this affectionateness, there is no morbid “subjectivity" or sentimentalism. It is worth remembering, that although Mendelssohn always regarded bimself as a German, and was thoroughly imbued with Christian culture, he came of Hebrew race; and there was undoubtedly a strong infusion of Hebrew tenacity and depth in his nature, which held his sus
ceptibility in check, and elevated the whole tone of his mind above the average German level.*
Among the great variety of subjects which are touched at more or less length in these letters, it is only possible to indicate a few. Perhaps those most illustrative of the writer's mind are the notions of Italian art, and the incidental remarks on music, poetry, men, and manners, which are scattered throughout the volume. Drawing and painting were favourite accomplishments with Mendelssohn, and though always subordinated to his chief occupation, he kept up their exercise through life. The impression made on him by the great master-pieces of Italian art, especially by Titian and Raphael, was very strong; and his descriptions of those pictures which moved him most are very interesting. He felt, too, with that realistic idealism which always characterised him, that the difference between the creative artist and the general public is not that the former produces something beautiful out of an exceptionally inventive mind, but simply that he sees and realises that which is already before the eyes of mankind, though unheeded by the
“If any one,” he says, “could come into the world with full consciousness, every object around him would smile on him with the same vivid life and animation as these pictures do upon us” (p. 55). His great difficulty was to gain clear ideas of the world of art around him, which threatened to bewilder him with a multitude of delightful sensations. At Venice he says, “I do not know where to find sufficient grasp of intellect to comprehend it all properly;" and at Rome he made a regular plan of occupation for himself, in order to secure due place both for the development of his own thronging thoughts, and for the reception of new ideas from the world around.
“After breakfast I begin my work, and play, and sing, and compose, till near noon. Then Rome, in all her vast dimensions, lies before me, like an interesting problem to enjoy. . . . It is so delightful
, to look round on every side, and to appreciate it all properly. There is much that must be thought over, in order to receive a due impression from it. I have also within myself so much work requiring quiet and industry, that I feel any thing like haste would be utter destruction; and though I adhere faithfully to my system, to receive each day only one fresh image into my mind, still I am sometimes compelled even then to give myself a day of rest, that I may not become confused” (pp. 51, 67).
* A curious illustration of the un-German side of his mind is afforded by the following remarks in a letter from Rome: "I may say to you confidentially, that I begin gradually to feel the most decided hatred of all that is cosmopolitan; I dislike it, just as I dislike many-sidedness, which moreover I rather think I do aot much believe in. Any thing that aspires to be distinguished, or beautiful, or really great, must be one-sided; but then this one side must be brought to a state of the most consummate perfection." Letters, p. 161.