Richard Wagner.

Richard to Minna Wagner. Letters to his first wife (Volume 2) online

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Richard to Minna


By William Ashton Ellis




153-157 Fifth Avenue ^ * * * 1909

All rights reserved.

Richard to Minna Wap-ner


Venice, 27. November 1858.


Only to-day have I received your portrait from
the Custom-house, as it had to be laid before the Censor
first. You may easily imagine how it touched me ! It
was quite an excellent inspiration of yours, for which I
thank you from my heart. Moreover with all respect
for Herr Klepperbein I must confess that this photo-
graph has turned out far more successfully than that
product of his art you once sent me to London ; though
I have preserved the latter also, particularly since at
least that good fat rascal, our lamented Peps, came out
so well on it. The only thing I do not like about your
portrait is the addition of those red lips ; otherwise it is
quite capital and has made a most moving impression on
me. It lies on my writing-table now beside the portrait
of my father Geyer ; so I'm quite well supplied with
portraits. Once more, accept my hearty thanks for the
wholly excellent and kind idea ! A decent photograph
of myself will never come off, and I'm waiting till some
first-rate painter shall try his hand on me !

VOL. 11 1


I have been confined to my room again the last 4
days ; what a deal of trouble I keep on having ! I had
come by a sore on my leg, didn't think much of it,
applied cold compresses, and bound them rather tightly
to prevent their slipping, as I didn't want to miss the
chance of good promenades in such fine weather. But
the pain became fiercer and fiercer, the inflammation
and swelling increased, till at last I grew alarmed and
called in the doctor. At once I was ordered not to do
any more walking, but to apply certain resolvent
poultices ; which I continued for three days on end, with
such an aggravation of the pain that I couldn't rise from
my chair at last without screaming aloud. Now it has
begun to suppurate, and I'm horrified at all the bad
matter that is coming to light. I still have to take
great care of myself, as the indurations still are there.
In all my life I've never had anything so horrible on
my body, yet it seems connected with my good nose,
which is white as snow just now : a divertent, then.
The only pity is the constant hindrance to my work ;
may God improve it !

It's very shabby of me to be narrating you my little
illnesses, when you have such great ailments to surmount
vourself, but I think it may divert your thoughts a little
also. Thank Heaven for your last letters ! Remain like
that, dear Minna ! Ward off your dismal fancies ; they
are the deadliest foes to your health. Troger and
Pusinelli (with every physician who knows your com-
plaint) agree on that in their reports to me. Your
malady is painful and will give you trouble for long,
and to the end of your life you will have to exercise
the greatest care never to overtax yourself in any way,
but always to spare yourself ; when true tranquillity of


mind sets in, however, yon soon will feel quite different
and many of the distressing symptoms will disappear,
so that at last you'll accustom yourself to certain, perhaps
chronic, inconveniences in your condition, always be
able to control them, and so lead quite a tolerable
existence for long to come for as long as your lease of
life itself. But am I much better off? My nervous
and circulatory troubles (Blut- Leiden) don't ever altogether
cease disturbing me : how is it, then, that I still retain
sufficient freshness and vigour of mind for creation, and
have made my general condition so much more support-
able than of yore ? Do you believe that if I had still
been kapellmeistering, with that inner repugnance,
that eternal annoyance, and the constant repetition of
intense excitement at rehearsals and performances, things
would go so endurably with me? Eh, I should like you
to see it : I should no longer be alive, take my word !
But each has a rift he retains for his life ; it is no good
shutting one's eyes to it : we ought to learn wisdom
with onr riper years, instead, and cease sapping our vitals.
On the contrary, if one orders one's life accordingly, and
wins that fine repose I spoke of, despite that rift one can
then enjoy one's life quite sensibly at last. That's what
/ have resolved to, and that's what you should do as
well ! Man mustn't dwell too much upon the past ;
whoever would keep himself on end, has enough to do
with the present. In that respect remembrance is our
greatest foe. As regards yourself, my dear Minna, I now
have made it my most sacred duty to do everything that
can possibly give you ease of mind about me, and there-
fore also to avoid whatever might excite yon needlessly.
I have written thus to Pusinelli also, and assured him
that in his cure [of yon] he will have a support in


me on which he may rely. So rest ! repose ! trust !
reconcilement ! no more brooding !

After my wedding-day presents I am expecting
another letter from you in a day or two, in reply to
which I'll tell you sundry things that I omit to-day
(since writing now is somewhat difficult to me as well).
I hope you then will also tell me you've at once put up
your mantle bought in Dresden for re-sale ? Mathilde
will soon attend to that for you, even if you lose a
little by it. Yes, I half expected I should have bad
luck with my present ; you who always feel it too
hot, couldn't you have waited just a wee bit longer?
O you naughty Madame !

You will also have the new pianoforte score of the
iphigenia sent you ; I shall keep on getting sent to you
whatever things of mine come out. But I forgot Tichat-
scheck this time, and am writing Hartels to send you
yet another copy ; so give him either this or that in my
name. And now God bless you for to-day ! Ow ! Ow !
soon more, and always good, from


dear Man.


Venice, 30. November 1!

My good Minna,

Only fancy ! it will be a whole week tomorrow
that I have been caged up again. Since I wrote you
last about my trouble, I have had to accept a new doctor,
as the body-physician has fallen ill himself and can't go
out. I passed three days without having my sore in-
spected, till at last I became really alarmed, as the hard-
ness absolutely refused to yield, and the inflammation


grew more and more painful. Now I'm in good hands,
praise God, and the sore has been discharging for the last
3 days. It is by no means what we took it for at first,
but a regular carbuncle of the largest kind ; the opening
is at least as big as a two-franc piece, and I still daren't
think of standing up, it hurts so. As in the last long
period of my life I have committed no errors of diet what-
ever, but always chosen my food most carefully as you
know this sore must certainly be regarded as the long
desired and awaited crisis that is to free me from the secret
mischief forever brewing in my blood ; in any case I have
to thank the London diet for it, the first consequence of
which was my Face-rose. So I mean to hope the best for
my health, and together with this matter that my body
will get rid of much upsetting it. Really I could do very
well with that, to be able to keep to my work without a
break at last ! Scarcely having resumed it after my last
illness, of course I have had to give it up again for the
present, and for the last 6 days I have been in a reclining-
chair with pillows thrust under my leg to maintain it in a
horizontal position ; thus am I lifted into bed by Pietro,
and out of bed again next morning. A trial of patience !
And it's to last at least half another week ! Luckily I
am well nursed ; my pock-marked but very intelligent
and obliging Donna serventc\ Luisa by name, has the
unpleasant office of putting fresh poultices on the dis-
charging abscess 4 times a day, and always fulfils it
with great cleanliness. Naturally she also reckons on a
tidy tip.

See, that's how it fares with poor me, true Lazarus
with the sore ! -Yet whatever I can write you in a very
inconvenient attitude shall come to pass, so long as it will.
I received your last letter the evening before last. In the


first place I saw to my great regret that Karl had not
arrived in Dresden punctually, to deliver you the [wedding-
day] presents as early as the 24th. But it was an agree-
able reassurance to me that at least the mantle pleased
you, and you are going to sell the other one. Now wear
all that for my sake, and think of me calmly and kindly
when you do ! Karl will soon be bringing me the
presents I begged of you, I hope ? *

I also hope you have seen his mother ! If not, rest
assured it is really through nothing but ill-health that she
hasn't received you.' You will be able to inform yourself
more exactly on that, and her present condition, upon the
spot. I had commended you heartily to her, and not
breathed a word you may be sure ! about the unhappy
complications of recent date. Do give me credit for a
little sense !

Apropos, why ever do you enquire of me whether you
ought to notify the Brockhaus's of your residence in
Dresden ? Please act in that entirely according to your
inclination. If you believe that silly rumours may have
reached their ears, however, I should advise you the
rather to do so, on purpose to refute them. Adduce as
the quite natural ground of our passing separation my
own wish to spend a winter in Italy, and your need to
recreate and distract yourself in your native country, since
you had a dislike of knocking about in foreign parts ;
whilst both of us hoped to settle down in Germany again
next year for good.

But that Julius has inspired me with great dismay ; I
cannot understand, particularly in your present state of
suffering, how you should allow yourself to be pestered

* Clearly a Wedding-day letter is missing between Nos. 151 and
152. Tr.


daily by that horrid blackguard ! Certainly I had my
fears of it before, and saw in it a point against your
choice of Dresden ; it is to be hoped, however, some
remedy may be devised. Don't vex yourself, but simply
beg Pusinelli to have a talk with the wretch and insist
on his not calling on you any more, if possible. He
might allege that you are in need of the completest
rest and freedom from excitement, whereas, upon en-
quiring the cause of a considerable agitation he had
observed in you, he had elicited that it was in con-
sequence of his [J.'s] disturbing visits ; but he, Pusinelli,
had been authorised by me to keep a sharp look-out
for anything that might be harmful to your health, and
therefore felt pledged me to forbid his further calls on
you, otherwise he must report the matter to myself and
leave me to proceed against Julius. Promise the man
half a thaler a week if he doesn't call on you again ; I
fancy that will do it. But no other tenderness towards
him ! I have reason most profoundly to despise that sort
of men, who live moreover on nothing but gossip and
scandal, and to deem them absolutely worth no pity.
I beg you most earnestly to turn this unsavoury visitor
for ever from your house without exciting yourself in any
way ; and forgive me also for my kinship having ever
placed you in the predicament of having to deal with
such a vagabond. I know your strength in instantaneous
mastery of your aversion, but you should save it for
something more imperative, not waste it on such scamps ;
for it really is a great strain on you, and the results are
not far to seek. Reassure me by an intimation that you
have leant ear to my wish.

Why on earth do you ask me, also, whether I mind
if you go on visiting the Devrieut ? By all means do so,


and above all give her my kindest regards : she still
stands for nothing in my memory except the great and
grand, just as she has remained the bean-ideal of dramatic
singing that looms before me ineffaceable with all my
works. Already I had promised myself to present her
through yon shortly with the poem " Tristan " (of which
you will receive 10 copies, the distribution whereof
you're to attend to for me), and to write her in addition
a letter reviving to her mind my recollection of her
splendid feats. This shall be done, and purely from a
certain gratitude for what she was as stimulating artist
to me even in my earliest days. For that matter, I anti-
cipate no abundant sympathy with my present works :
it would be another thing if she still could perform them
herself; but she moreover isn't very quick at grasping.

Your being satisfied with N. lifts a great weight from
my mind. God grant duration ! Salute her from me,
and tell her she must go on proving herself, when on my
side I will also faithfully observe my promise to her.

I might have expected you to bestir yourself for my
acquittal, and my thanks would almost be an insult to
you. Only thus much : don't build too much on it !
I enclose the answer to your questions, however ; make
what use you think fit of it. For my part, I believe
Prussia alone can assist me, and almost hope so too.
They could allow me to go there in King Johann's de-
spite ; and if he remains obdurate, I know already what
to do to compass that.

Now farewell for to-day, and rest assured you now
have given me, as well, my first true calm. Continue
thus, and trust



I occupy the room on the first etage with the projecting
oriel and the two windows to the left of it.


Venice, 10. December 1858, evening.

Dearest Mutz,

I have just received your letter in bed, in fact,
where I think of staying all day tomorrow also. As it's
so dark in my bedroom that I can neither write nor read
in it by daylight, I am falling to at once this evening to
answer you a little, since I have the lamp at my bedside
and can see to my heart's content. Luise has had to
construct me an impromptu desk and bring my writing
materials ; she speaks Italian and I French, which often
leads to confusions, as a moment back.

Yes -here I am, for the third week of it indoors ;
carried 14 days from chair to bed, and from bed to chair.
The abscess luckily has done discharging, and the wound,
which was exactly deep enough for one to place six four-
groschen pieces in it, is on the high road now to healing,
so that I feel no more pain from it worth mentioning.
The doctor therefore allowed me to walk a little in the
room a few days since, and as that answered and it was
such lovely weather, the day before yesterday he even
sent me in a gondola to the Piazetta, with permission to
walk from there to my restaurant. The air and splendour
of the day were a thorough treat to me, which made me
somewhat overweening, and tempted me to do more
walking than was good for me. The consequence was
that my leg took to swelling very much, and has given
me such increasing pain even with the smallest use of it,
that I decided patiently to keep my bed until the leg is
altogether sound again ; which in this way is certain not
to take much longer. That's how it is with me, you


see ; not dangerous, but very bothersome and demanding

It has fared strangely with me in this lonely interval,
when for almost 3 whole weeks I haven't seen a living soul
except the maid and doctor. Prince Dolgoruki called on
me just once, and once young Winterberger ; but I con-
fess, they each remained too long for me, and I was glad
when they took themselves off. In truth I can dispense
with all society, and above all I never need amusement ;
I need nothing but health and an untroubled frame of
mind for work, because nothing but my work really
uplifts and sustains me. Yet I'm by no means becoming
surly through my solitude ; on the contrary, the doctor
and maid have mostly been astonished at my cheerful
humour if they tried to comfort me. Yes, yes, that's
how it is, when one has his life behind him !

I foresaw Karl's remaining away longer than he told
me ; nevertheless, I believe he will come back to Venice :
moreover, he has retained his lodging and left his things
there ; but to think of the queer fellow never writing me
a word ! I am greatly looking forward to your presents,
only I'm sorry that the piano-mat should not be hoarded
for the new establishment when we are together again ; I
only say that for its saving, though, and am looking
forward to it much. My last supply of Paris snuff gave
out entirely a month ago, which is a true disaster, as one
can only get disgraceful Austrian here ; but it's an
incredible undertaking to get any through the post : one
hardly catches sight of it at all. The nicest present I've
already had, your photograph. The more I look at this
portrait, the better I find it, so that I really don't re-
member having ever seen such a successful one. The
eyes and their expression, in particular, are quite excep-


tionally speaking ; you have something in them that
becomes you very well, something tender, melancholy,
not unrestful. No doubt that comes in part from your
late sufferings, poor woman ; but otherwise, unless the
photographer has altered very much, you look consider-
ably better than when I left you. Once more, many
thanks for the portrait ; I only wish I could shew you a
similar one of myself, instead of the sickly physiognomies
they have reflected from me hitherto. But what pleases
me most, is the tone of your letter to-day ; I see you are
living again, have the present and future before you ! O
stay like that, turn your life to advantage, take incon-
veniences and hardships lightly ! Then a great allevia-
tion of your physical sufferings also will not be long
delayed, and the evening of your life may amply recom-
pense you for its sultry noon. That is what I hope for
myself too !

Greet our acquaintances ; your having so many callers
is really quite unheard of. If only it distracts, and
doesn't fatigue you ! So soon as you remark the latter,
be merciless and shut your eyes to all other regards.
Your answer as to Julius made me laugh ; if you are able
to help yourself so pat, by all means I have no advice to
give you. To be sure, it's the simplest plan to give such
tramps short shrift : " Close the door ! " that's best.

I can't say much more on the Lohengrin-Dresden
project, only the Ney must have incredibly changed to
her outward advantage if I'm to believe your description ;
in London she looked to me exactly like your poor
brother's wife, only a great deal commoner in face. She
is an excellent singer ; but dramatic expression, true soul,
she has not. I cannot possibly conceive her as Elsa ;
rather as Ortrud, But don't press this opera so in


Dresden : in the first place, it will bring me absolutely
nothing in there ; in the second, it revolts me still
to think that, where / intended to present it first, so
exquisitely mindless a conductor as Krebs should have its
getting np. Let us wait and see how things stand next
year. Already you are putting my Dresden affairs in the
best order, you know, and I begin to believe the thing
can be adjusted soonest that way. It would be your
masterpiece, and I gladly will follow your lead.

For the rest, I beg you to inform me precisely how
long you expect your supply of money to last you, and
when I ought to be holding some in readiness for you
again. I told you I would make you a New Year's
present of the one expected Berlin tantieme ; but a second
performance has since been added to it, and the hoped-for
little sum thus wins enough importance for me to wish
to have the whole of this receipt at my disposal. With
so many outstanding Zurich obligations now, I'm really
growing a little anxious ; for no less than everything
is hanging fire : if Hanover still pays up, it would be
a stroke of luck as I could send that money straight to
Zurich. Therefore the tantieme comes in very handy for
me to have something to live on myself, and unfortunately
my living isn't cheap here, as you may well imagine.
For instance, I'm looking with horror toward my doctor's
bill now. That prince's body-physician fell ill himself,
and I had to send for another ; when they despatched me
the chief visitors' -doctor in the place, who certainly has
treated me very carefully and well, but as a wealthy
foreigner. I tell you all this, so as to keep no secrets
from you ; but don't let it disturb you : you know how-
things come and go ; very possibly I shall have good
tidings in a few days, and everything will stand differently


again. So it's agreed that you shall deny yourself
nothing do you understand ? As much as you frugal
wife require, will always be at my command. Consider
that about the Berlin tantieme as nothing but a precaution
on my side, to prevent my being suddenly left dry ; but
any day may make it needless. So write me exactly by
when you'll want money again ; in any case I had
reckoned on sending you a fresh supply between New
Year and Easter.

And now about my diet. Each day that God creates,
I eat my veal-cutlet with spinach ; either before it some
fish or after it a little chicken or game. I haven't any
high opinion of those horrible sea-lampreys ; probably it
needs Herweghian epicurism for that. Every evening
before going to sleep, a glass of lemon ice, which Pietro
fetches me.

Here comes Luise with the tea, to accompany which
I have some cold chicken to-day. God only bless me
with sound sleep, which hasn't been the case since I have
lacked all movement. I must conclude, for my writing
seat is so inconvenient that one arm and leg have gone to
sleep already ; let's hope I soon may follow their example,
and fall asleep entirely.

Good night ! Soon renew me the pleasure of your
writing a thoroughly good, informal letter like to-day's.

Adieu, good Mutz !

II tuo cava sposo



Venice, 15. December 1858.

My very best thanks, dear Minna, for your tidings ;
your efforts, of course, do not require my thanks. "What


I have to say in reply, is not so easy to make clear as it
might seem. So much is certain, the time has arrived
for taking a definitive step with regard to the future ; from
various sides I see myself driven to active and decisive
intervention myself. From Devrient and Carlsruhe I
have received no answer at all ; the Frommann keeps
dinning into me that I mustn't expect the smallest thing
from princes, nor even build hopes upon Carlsruhe. True,
Liszt made out that they firmly hoped to get me into
Germany, for a moderate time at least, for the first
performance of a new work ; but beyond that I must
entertain no hope of amnesty as yet. On the other hand,
if Hartels are to engrave the Nibelungen (which is in
negotiation again), I must give them the firm assurance
of a first performance ; even in the case of Tristan a
definite engagement is now becoming indispensable.
Lastly, the pair of us must soon be coming to a stand,
know -where we may set up our domicile from next
year forward. Consequently you doubtless will perceive
the weight I attach to the negotiations initiated by
yourself, and so far as I'm concerned I wish nothing
more heartily than to see my repatriation finally arranged
on this path, which to me seems the only one open. It
is a calamity, however, that I haven't a single truly
influential acquaintance in Dresden ; a proof how isolated
they left me there in days gone by. If you knew, for
instance, the past career of this Herr M. (a fine name
indeed !), you would be able to judge what I am bound
to think of him. 1 made his acquaintance in Rockel's
company at Hempel's ; at that time he was a Red,
came from Frankfort, where he had belonged to Blum's
clique, and profited of the Democrat era in Dresden to
get himself made a democratic public-advocate {Staats-


Anwalt) by Oberlander. Thenceforth he became a
reactionary, and when the Oberlander ministry fell, to
retain his berth he offered the succeeding Reactionary
ministry not only to change sides himself, but to set
a sure trap for the Democrats, whom no one knew
better. Such a man was welcome, and exactly so did

Online LibraryRichard WagnerRichard to Minna Wagner. Letters to his first wife (Volume 2) → online text (page 1 of 30)