Felix Moscheles.

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her answer was inaudible, but I know she left her
hand where he wanted it to remain, and the good
old moon did the rest. They soon received the
paternal and maternal blessings, and now they were
happy in the knowledge that in six or eight years
nothing would stand between them and their fondest
hopes, when he probably would have passed his ex-
aminations and have secured his first appointment.

I must have caught the loving mood from Oscar,
or else some wood-nymphs or sprites must have been
trying their hands on me, or perhaps I was only
tired and lagged behind. Certain it is that a new
sort of feeling came over me, a semi-conscious yearn-
ing for an unknown quantity that was waiting for



48 FRAGMENTS OF AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY

me somewhere ; and as I lay on my back under the
trees, my imagination shot upwards, starting from
the gnarled roots by my side, along the mast-like
perpendiculars the pines, past jolly little squirrels,
patches of moss and garlands of creepers, right to
the top where the sky's blue eyes were winking at
me. Nature was whispering some secret and I was
dreaming my first Midsummer-Day's Dream.

All around there was humming and buzzing,
piping and singing ; mysterious sounds, joyous notes,
and pensive ditties. Some bird with a flute-like
voice sang a pretty little musical phrase, just a bar
of five or six notes, and kept on repeating it at
intervals. Another little bird, deep down in the
forest, answered it- -birds of a feather flirt together
-only there were so many chirping chatterboxes
about, enjoying themselves in their way, that the
warbling flirtation was carried on under difficulties.
For all that, the flute-like voice never tired of say-
ing its say, and putting its question, pleased as it
evidently was with its mate's reply. I dare say it
knew a good deal better than I did at the time
what it was all about, and what was the grand and
glorious answer inexhaustible Nature held in store
for it.

For my part, I gazed upward at the patches of
ultramarine, and longed for them, but it was not till
years afterwards that they vouchsafed to come down.
Then, when they took the shape of a pair of real
blue eyes, it all dawned upon me, and I knew what
Nature had been whispering, and understood that
stately pine-forests, jolly little squirrels, and loving



EARLY IMPRESSIONS 49

little birds, were only created to guide and direct
good little boys to realms of joy and happiness.



Whilst I was sitting on school-forms puzzling
over nouns and verbs, or lying on the grass com-
muning with the birds, things were happening in
my London home that were once more to lead to a
change in my surroundings.

Another pleasant day-dream, one that my father
and his friend Mendelssohn had for some time past
been indulging in, was about to be realised. The
frequent correspondence between them, delightful as
it was, the exchange of views, musical and personal,
and the occasional meetings in England or Germany,
had only more saliently brought out the points in
favour of a long -cherished scheme which should
enable them to live and work together in the same
town.

Mendelssohn had for some time been planning
the formation of a School of Music in Leipsic, and
his letters of this period are full of the warmest and
most eloquent appeals to my father to give up his
position in England, and to take up his residence
in Leipsic. The outcome of it was, that the Con-
servatorio in that city was founded, and that my
father was offered a professorship. In answer to his
assumption that Mendelssohn would act as director,
the latter answers : "I am not, and never shall be
the director of the school. I stand in precisely the
same kind of position that it is hoped you may
occupy. The duties of my department are the read-
ing of compositions, &c., and as I was one of the

D



50 FRAGMENTS OF AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY

founders of the school, and am acquainted with its
weak points, I lend a hand here and there until we
are more firmly established."

In the summer of 1846 my father migrated to
Leipsic. He gave up his brilliant position in
London, and, actuated by the love of his art and his
desire to be in daily touch with Mendelssohn, he
had no hesitation in accepting a salary of 800 thalers
(^"120) per annum. In a letter to a relative he
speaks of the dear and kind friends he leaves behind.
"Parting from them individually," he says, "and
indeed from the English nation generally, will cost
us a bitter pang, for twenty-four years of unswerving
kindness have laid upon us obligations which we
can only pay with life-long gratitude."

And Mendelssohn wrote : "How could I tell you
what it is to me, when 1 think you are really
coming, that you are going to live here for good,
you and yours, and that what seemed a castle in the
air is about to become a tangible reality ; that we
shall be together, not merely to run through the
dissipations of a season, but to enjoy an intimate
and uninterrupted intercourse ! I shall have a few
houses painted rose-colour as soon as you really are
within our walls. But it needs not that ; your
arrival alone will give the whole place a new com-
plexion."

Not by such words only, but most practically did
Mendelssohn show his friendship. With the pre-
cision of a courier and the foresight of a brother, he
goes into the minutest details of the cost of living
in the German city : "A flat, consisting of seven or



EARLY IMPRESSIONS 51

eight rooms, with kitchen and appurtenances, varies
from 300 to 350 thalers (^45 to ^50). For that
sum it should be cheerful ; and, as regards the situa-
tion, should leave nothing to be desired. Servants
would cost i oo to 1 1 o thalers per annum (^15 to
,16, i os.), all depending, to be sure, on what you
would require. Male servants are not much in
demand here, their wages varying from 3 to 12
thalers per month (93. to i, i6s.). A good cook
gets 40 thalers a year (^6), a housemaid 32
(,5). If you add to these a lady's-maid who could
sew and make dresses, you would reach about the
above-mentioned figure. Wood- -that is fuel for
kitchen, stoves, &c. is dear, and may amount to
150 or 200 thalers (^22, ics. to 18) for a family
of five with servants. Rates and taxes are next to
nothing ; eight or ten thalers a year would cover all."

Those were indeed the good old times, when the
Fatherland was not yet weighed down by blood-and-
iron taxes. The most gifted member of the Inter-
national Arbitration and Peace Association could not
speak more eloquently than do those figures. A
family of five with servants ; 248. to 303. a year
would cover all rates and taxes !

Soon, then, the suitable flat was found and my
father migrated to Leipsic, entered on his new duties
at the Conservatorio, and became a good citizen and
ratepayer. The " intimate and uninterrupted inter-
course' became a reality, and there was scarcely a
day when the Mendelssohns and Moscheles did not
meet. They could not do without me, however
(remember I was an only son, and a well-beloved



52 FRAGMENTS OF AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY

godson), so I was recalled and soon left Carlsruhe,
I am afraid, with a wicked sense of ingratitude for
all the care bestowed on me by Professor Schummelig
and my other teachers.

It was terribly cold that winter, and travelling
was fraught with difficulties, if not with dangers.
Our diligence was a heavy one, and when it got
stuck fast in the drifting snow, as it did more than
once, the passengers had to get out, whether it was
by day or by night, and literally put their shoulders
to the wheel. It was only thanks to a very kind
and provident " conducteur," that my much-tried
little spark of vitality was preserved. He kept a
never-to-be-forgotten straw-plaited brandy flask sus-
pended from his neck by a green cord, and when my
spirits flagged, his did good office.

It was midnight a day or two before Christmas
when we arrived at the " Post' in Leipsic. My lug-
gage was put on a diminutive sledge and dragged
along the snow-bound street, I running by its side
to keep body and soul together. Nobody knows till
he has tried it how hot a run in the bitter cold can
make one, particularly when one's heart beats at the
thought of a welcome, and one's mind is all ablaze
with the brilliant images of those one loves. There
I was at last in the new home and folded in the old
embrace. ^

Once settled, the question soon arose what was
to be done with me next, and a decision was come
to, to send me for a short time to the Bau Schule
(School of Architecture). Those wooden bricks of
my early boyhood, and the table with the many com-



EARLY IMPRESSIONS 53

partments, had gone the way of all good bricks and
tables, but my love for architecture remained, and I
now sometimes regret that I was not to continue my
studies in that direction till I had had the regular
classical education ; but so it was. By the time I
had learnt how to stretch a sheet of paper on a
drawing-board, and how to handle the compasses
and T-square, and just when I was getting to know
something about the price of tiles and the mixing of
mortar, I left the Bau Schule, and was entered at
the Thomas Schule. That was a famous old insti-
tution. The whole upper storey of the school was
occupied by a number of free pupils, the " Thomaner '
choir-boys. They were celebrated throughout Ger-
many as the best singers of sacred music, trained as
they had originally been by no less a master than
Johann Sebastian Bach, the famous " Cantor." His
rooms in that building were now occupied by his
successor, Hauptmann, who knew how to maintain
the highest standard of excellence in his pupils. He
was a man of learning and an erudite musician, and
as such, one of the pillars of strength on which rested
Leipsic's reputation, that city standing quite un-
rivalled as the centre towards which all musical
aspirants gravitated.

He spoke little ; but when he did, it was to say
much, His criticisms could be severe, as when a
new orchestral piece was being rehearsed, he said,
"That sounds quite Mendelssohnian, it must be by
Sterndale Bennett."

His boys sang on many occasions at church,
at weddings, funerals, or birthdays. I made great



54 FRAGMENTS OF AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY

friends with some of them, and formed a regular
class to teach them English ; but although they were
very willing pupils, 1 did not obtain as brilliant
results in my line, as my predecessor, Johann
Sebastian Bach, had achieved in his.

Herr Magister Hohlfeld, the Professor of Mathe-
matics, was a wonderful old man- -how old no one
knew. He was a figure that belonged to the middle
of the last century. Clad in a long grey cloth coat,
which reached to his feet, he looked a curious relic of
bygone times ; cares and calculations, worldly and
scientific, had worked deep furrows all over his lofty
forehead, and had left their impress on every feature.
A rich crop of white hair fell over his shoulders ; his
hands on his back, and his head slightly bent down,
he would solemnly address the boards he was tread-
ing, as he paced up and down between the two lines
of school-benches ; it was given to few of us to catch
the words of mathematical wisdom that fell from
his lips.

" The Frenchman ' was another figure I look
back to with interest. Not that there was anything
remarkable in his appearance, but that, when judi-
ciously roused to anger, he would never fail to make
a fool of himself. He was not a Frenchman, but a
German born and bred, who taught French, and
happily for us he was so constituted, that it was a
real pleasure, unchecked by any fear of possible con-
sequences, to take advantage of his weaknesses. We
did so, exercising our indiscretion whenever we had
a chance. A good opportunity presented itself dur-
ing the cherry season. We paved the particular part



EARLY IMPRESSIONS 55

of the class-room he was in the habit of promenading,
with bad intentions in the shape of cherry-stones.
After the first few steps he had taken, he stopped
short, indignantly apostrophising us. "I tell you,
boys, it's just a piece of impudence when the master
treads on cherry-stones." We thought so, too, and
howled with delight. At that time I had a beautiful
big dog named Hector, and one afternoon I thought
it might prove effective if I entered the class-room
with him when the French lesson had begun. I did
so, to the terror of " the Frenchman," on whom Hector
had at once made a friendly rush. The dog was
expelled, and then I was severely taken to task.
" Ah," said the Professor, " you think you can take
liberties with me, but I tell you, sir, you can't take
liberties with such a big dog."

But it must not be thought that I was always
worrying poor innocent Magisters. and rejoicing in
their discomfiture ; some of my teachers I think of
with gratitude. There was Stallbaum, the rector
himself a great man of learning : he took great pains
to cram us with our full share of Latin and Greek,
and to make us periodically contribute to the wealth of
the classical literature handed down to us, by writing
essays and composing verses in the dead languages.

The love of fighting was early instilled into us by
the works of Homer, Herodotus, Julius Caesar, and
other historians ; and if, as some think, my pugna-
cious instincts have not been satisfactorily developed,
it was not the fault of the Rector. But he taught
me to revere that grandest and most powerful of
tragedians, Sophocles.



56 FRAGMENTS OF AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY

Nor must I forget to mention the lasting impres-
sion that Ovid's " Metamorphoses " made on me. The
gods of mythology have ever remained dear to me ;
they are so accessible, so free and easy as they come
down from Olympus quite unceremoniously, to roam
about and make love ; you meet them in the woods
and on the waters, above ground and below ground,
sometimes enjoying themselves at your expense, but
mostly showing you, by their example, how you
should enjoy life. To be sure the methods of a
Jupiter or a Venus are quite inapplicable to the social
restrictions, and generally to the changed conditions
of the present day, but they were dear old gods
and goddesses all the same, who condescended to
be human, and sanctified our frailties. I, for one,
am grateful to them, for they taught me the love of
poetry and the poetry of love.

My first drawing-master, Herr Brauer, was a good
old soul too : I owe him one of the foremost pleasures
of my life, the exercise of my profession as a painter.
His own work, although very clever in its way, was
niggling and minute, but his ideas and teachings
were broad, and whilst encouraging a taste for form
which had made the study of architecture so
attractive to me, he knew how to awaken a love
of colour, that was eventually to lead me to the
sister art.

The old masters, too, had their full share in
making me long to paint. There was a certain
picture by Murillo, a Madonna and Child, in the
Schletter Collection which afterwards formed the
nucleus of the Leipsic Picture Gallery ; that picture



EARLY IMPRESSIONS 57

so filled my imagination that I was fired by the
desire to go forth and do likewise.

I have since frequently found that that kind of
auctiio feeling is by no means confined to those in
whom it would be justifiable. In a masterpiece the
artist betrays no effort ; all looks so easy that one
fancies it is easy. The lines of the composition flow
so naturally, the colours strike so complete a chord,
that one is deluded into the belief that it could not
be otherwise, and that it is just what one would have
done oneself had one been in the painter's place. So
I was gradually settling in my mind that, as soon as
I had passed my Abiturienten Examen (equivalent
to our matriculation), I would, without much delay,
begin to paint like the old masters.

Of Mendelssohn and the many friends, musical
and otherwise, who made my stay, and later on my
visits to Leipsic, interesting, I must speak afterwards.
But an incident which has left a lasting impression
on my mind, finds its place here, as being connected
partly with my school-days and partly with my art
studies.




CHAPTER II

WILL YOU SIT FOR ME, FRIDA ?




well iremembeir, and I shall

ever remember with gratitude, the man
who in my German school-days helped
me along the thorny paths of the Latin
and Greek grammar, Herr Magister Dr.
Traumann. I suppose I got into trouble, as much as
any boy of sixteen, with the so-called regular, and
those disgracefully irregular, verbs the old Greeks
tolerated. But Dr. Traumann was always kind and
helpful ; in fact, he was not only a first-rate teacher
but a lovable man. I had, soon after my arrival in
Leipsic, been put under his care, and thanks to his
coaching, I got so well ahead of myself, that although
my scholastic antecedents would really have fitted
me more for the "Tertia' class, I could be pitch-
forked into " Secunda." / __

During a temporary absence of my parents from
Leipsic I was for some months staying in the Magis-
ter's house ; three flights of stairs brought one to his
door. I usually bounded up those stairs with the
elastic step that leads to a happy home, but to-day
-a certain to-day that seems but yesterday my
tread was slow and diffident. How could I face the
Magister, the man above all others whom I had



WILL YOU SIT FOR ME, FRIDA? 59

treated with disrespect I had libelled ! What
reception awaited me? Whether I took two steps
at a time or one at half-time, the result was much
the same ; I got upstairs, rang the bell, and
went in.

This is what had happened during the morning's
lesson at the Thomas-Schule. The learned doctor
was expounding the subtle meaning of some lines
in Virgil's "^Eneid." I found that the top layer of
the poet's meaning would do for me, but, as is the
way with the erudite, Dr. Traumann went down
very deep, backed by an army of commentators ;
in fact so deep that I did not care to follow. So
I took to a more congenial occupation, and, under
the cover of a friendly desk, I began to compose
what seemed to me an interesting subject. How
long I was about it, I do not know. The Doctor
had walked up and down dozens of times between
the forms, when suddenly a hand reached behind
the desk and quietly annexed and pocketed the com-
position. The hand was the Doctor's. He walked
on quite unconcernedly, prodding and probing old
Virgil's defunct thoughts as before. And all the

o o

while he had that wicked caricature of himself in
his breast-pocket, and presently he would see it
and read the legend that relegated him and the
commentators to the Dantesque depths of their
own seeking.

I was eating a green apple, to give myself cour-
age, when the Magister came in. What would he
say ? How would he take it ? Well he took it
just as if nothing had happened, and smiling plea-



60 FRAGMENTS OF AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY

santly, he said, " Look here, Felix, I have got a
splendid specimen to show you," and with that,
he fumbled in his pocket and produced a small
piece of quartz. " I have got another piece, so you
can have this for your collection.",

"Oh, thank you, Herr Magister," I said; "I am
sure you are too kind. I- -I don't deserve it."

He cut me short with : " Not at all, my boy ;
we are just on a footing of exchange. 'Sine Hand
wascht die andere,' as the proverb says."

What has become of my minerals I don't know,
but to this day I often think, soap in hand, of the
proverb that says, " One hand washes the other."
As for the caricature, he never said anything about
it, but I know now he treasured it and loved me all
the more for being a bad one.

If he was kind, she was still kinder ; she, the
Frau Magisterin. I had by this time got initiated
into the mysteries of German usage as regards the
participation of the wife in her husband's titular ad-
vantages. Without an effort I could address Frau
Schmidt as Mrs. Lettercarrieress, or Frau Miiller
as Madame Chimneys weeperess. So the " Frau
Magisterin ; came quite naturally to me. She
called me " Mem Lixchen," a tender variation on
my name. In fact, tenderness prevailed between
her and me from first to last, maternal on her
side, filial on mine. She was under middle size
and of slight build ; her bright little eyes, beam-
ing with benevolence, attracted you so much that
you saw but little else in her face. Everything
was small about her. A tight-fitting cap hid the



WILL YOU SIT FOR ME, FRIDA ? 61

best part of her hair, and the plain dress without
puffs or ruffles, or any of the other digressions
dictated by the fashions of the day, seemed to make
everything else subordinate to the love - beaming
eyes. She was then in the prime of life. When
I last saw her she was an old lady of fourscore
years, and her dear little face had become so very
small, that, although I am sure I did not mean to
be irreverent in my thoughts, I could not help
being reminded of the immortal Cheshire cat, that
vanished leaving naught behind but a smile. Time,
I felt, might deal with her as is its wont, con-

' O

tract here and pinch there, lay out in folds and
wrinkles what were round and smooth surfaces ;
but that particular twinkle that goes straight to
the heart, the smile of the eye, would ever remain
intact.

The Magister and his wife were a truly happy
and devoted couple, and closely wound around their
hearts were Bella and Frida, their two daughters ;
one was about sixteen, the other fourteen, at the
time I was staying with them, good girls and pretty,
with brown hair inclined to curl on Bella's head,
very smooth and Priscilla-like on Frida's. With a
view to securing for them the best possible education
under the maternal eye, classes had been formed at
their home, and consequently a bevy of young girls
came up and went down those three flights of stairs
on certain days and at given hours. I was always
interested in curious coincidences, and so, to bring
them about, I frequently found myself in the way
at the given hours. On such occasions I tried to



62 FRAGMENTS OF AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY

look unconcerned, or surprised at the meeting, but
unfortunately I was yet too honest and truthful,
so I signally failed and blushed like a girl. Not
like those girls though ; they didn't seem to blush,
the little fiends. With the exception of just one,
they tittered right over the banisters, whispered,
and shook locks and dandled satchels until I was

o

quite discomfited. I suppose they thought it rich
fan, for they knew, long before I was aware of it
myself, that I was desperately in love with Helene.
It was the tittering, I am sure, that finally put me
on the track, and the whispering that opened my
eyes to the blindness I was stricken with. That was
one day when those rosy, mischievous, young amo-
rettes must have said something particularly unkind
to their sister, for she bounded past me and her
tormentors, like a deer, to get rid of the lot of us.
After this I felt an ever-growing desire to see Helene,
but took a dislike to the staircase as a meeting-
place.

About this time, as luck would have it, I came
across her two brothers, fair chubby boys about my
age. We struck up a sort of friendship, and I took
care the sort should be improved upon, interested as
I was in securing their good- will. It was, above all,
important to get reliable information as to where
and when she could be met out skating, and my new
friends, I found, were particularly sympathetic and
communicative when under the influence of a certain
kind of " apfelkuchen," an open apple tart, dispensed
on most advantageous terms in the Barfussgasschen.
There the Frau Bakermistress often had to open for



WILL YOU SIT FOR ME, FRIDA? 63

me a little shutter in a shutter and hand out, on
a piece of newspaper, large segments of the Kuchen,
bidding it God-speed with a parting jerk of the per-
forated tin sugar-box. Perhaps to show that there
was no bribery or corruption in my standing treat, and,
perhaps too, as one's appetite at the age of sixteen
is rather stimulated than blunted by love, I took my
fair share of the segments. These symposia led, in
the most natural of ways, to our making appoint-
ments to meet on this or that frozen pond or river,
and I was sure to be punctual, knowing as 1 did,
from information received, that Helene would be
there. More than once I skated along that narrow
river, the Pleisse, for miles, pushing before me the
" Stuhlschlitten," with its precious many - locked
burden. Helene was comfortably ensconced in that
elementary specimen of a sledge, a sort of easy-chair
on skates, and was wrapped up in furs and covers,


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Online LibraryFelix MoschelesFragments of an autobiography → online text (page 4 of 23)