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William Rounseville Alger.

The solitudes of nature and of man; or, The loneliness of human life online

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262 SKETCHES OF LONELY CHARACTERS.

an over-heated brain. He was his own Pygmalion. But
this was a morbid reaction from an unworthy society, and
rather deserves a sigh than a curse. It is the grand, un-
spotted Fichte who says : " Rousseau would have been as
modest and happy as his critics, had he been tormented
with as few noble aspirations."

The reader who is swift to blame the faults of Rous-
seau should remember his merits, pity his woe, and learn
to avoid his mistakes. For our own part we like best to
leave him with the words of his grateful friend, the author
of " Paul and Virginia." Bernardin St. Pierre says : " I
derived inexpressible satisfaction from his society. What
I prized still more than his genius was his probity. He
was one of the few literary characters tried in the furnace
of affliction, to whom you could, with perfect security,
confide your most secret thoughts. Even when he de-
viated, and became the victim of himself or of others, he
could forget his own misery in devotion to the welfare of
mankind. He was uniformly the advocate of the miser-
able. There might be inscribed on his tomb these affect-
ing words from that Book of which, during the last years
of his life, he carried always about him some select pas-
sages : ' His sins, which are many, are forgiven ; for he
loved much.' "

ZIMMERMANN.

THE fame of his treatise on the " Influence of Soli-
tude " has echoed the name of Zimmermann through the
world. Born at Brugg, a little town on the banks of the
Aar, near Zurich, he received an elaborate education
covering the various provinces of history, science, philos-
ophy, and poetry. His masculine understanding made
him a good proficient in mathematics, politics, and statis-
tics, while his uncommon sensibilities and taste gave him
delighted range in the richer field of romantic literature.
He was familiar with the Greek and Latin poets, the best
German and French authors, and the English Shake-
speare, Pope, Thomson, and Young. He must have
had by nature not only a clear and powerful intelligence,
but also an unusually tender and noble heart.



ZIMMERMANN. 263

He was greatly capable of enthusiastic admirations.
When still a mere youth, studying his profession at Got-
tingen under the celebrated Haller, he felt the warmest
love and reverence for this great physician, formed rela-
tions of charming intimacy with him, and afterwards
wrote a glowing life of him. In his old age, the last
flame of his hero-worship broke out with tenacious heat
and brilliancy in connection with the king of Prussia,
Frederick the Great. His soul was fitted to enjoy friend-
ship in its most sacred delicacies. His writings and his
life abound with the proofs. What a gracious charm of
sincerity and fervor breathes in his numerous allusions to
his friends in his literary works ! This is especially the
case when he refers, as over and over he does in his
" Solitude," to Lavater, Hotze, Hirtzel, Tissot He was
highly esteemed by his friends, on whom his many noble
qualities made their proper impression. We have a life
of him written by Tissot, who does full justice to his
renowned and lamented associate.

He was exceedingly fortunate, too, in his wife. A
.niece of Haller, she was lovely in person and mind, with
the mildest temper, the softest voice, extreme cultivation
and brightness, and fascinating manners. While she
lived, she was his sweet and sure asylum from every care.
When dying, she said, " O my poor Zimmermann ! who
will understand thee now ? " The first shock of tangible
affliction he had known was her death : the second, fol-
lowing a few years later, was the death, by consumption,
of his only daughter, whose worth he has affectingly cel-
ebrated in his literary masterpiece. Some time later, he
married, again, a beautiful and estimable lady, whose as-
siduous fondness alleviated as far as possible the miseries
of his remaining years. For, gifted as Zimmermann was
with talents and accomplishments, true and kind as his
friends were, widely as his celebrity as author and phy-
sician extended, he was still, a great deal of the time, a
wretchedly unhappy man.

Goethe, who had considerable intercourse with him,
has left an incisive sketch of this vehemently impulsive
nature, outwardly polished and self-controlled, inwardly



264 SKETCHES OF LONELY CHARACTERS.

untamed and exacting. Zimmermann was the precise
opposite, he says, of those persons who dance about in
frivolous delight over the vacant nothings which they
are ; he had great deserts with no inward satisfaction.
His severity towards his children, even towards the
favorite daughter whom he so eloquently mourned, was
" a partial insanity, a continuous moral homicide, which,
affer having sacrificed them, he at last directed against
himself." Yet Goethe generously says he was himself
deeply indebted to this brave, rich-souled, most instruct-
ed and public-spirited man ; and adds that all who un-
derstand the sad life he led will not condemn him, but
pity him.

The unsocial side of Zimmermann was based in two-
fold disease : first, the mental disease of an excessively
sharp and constant desire to be appreciated, to be noticed
and admired ; second, the bodily disease of hypochon-
dria, that sickly irritability which results from an over-
tasking of the nervous system. Carlyle says : " He had
an immense conceit of himself, and generally too thin a
skin for this world. A person of fine, graceful intellect,
high, proud feelings, and tender sensibilities, hypo-
chondria was the main company he had." He suffered
dreadfully from what may be called social hyperesthesia,
a morbid over-feeling of the relations between himself
and others. At twenty, while yet a student in the Uni-
versity, he wrote to his friend Tissot, " I pass every hour
of my life here like a man who is determined not to be
forgotten by posterity." Later, when established as a
physician in his native village, the feeling of his own su-
periority to the rude people around him destroyed all
comfort in intercourse with them. Still later, when pro-
moted to a more courtly sphere, as physician to the king
of Hanover, a keen perception of the neglect he received
from some, of the envy and gall of others, of the innu-
merable foibles and vices of most, incessantly nettled and
depressed him, and kept him in a ferment of misery.
Had he possessed a stable self-complacency, contempt-
uous of foreign opinion, or calmly superior to it ; could
he have been content with the approval of his own con-



ZIMMERMANN. 265

science, trying himself by the fixed standard of duty,
his distress and melancholy would have been unknown.
But the idea and desire of being thought highly of by all
were nailed to his imagination and heart, and they fast-
ened him in misery.

His impartial biographer says, " Many parts of his
work betray the feebleness of his nerves, and the peevish-
ness of his temper. But there was a striking difference
between his manners and his writings. When with
others, he was always generous, gentle and polite, in-
capable of saying an offensive word. He always made
his patients his friends, by the unwearied complaisance
of his attentions. But the moment he was alone, and at
his desk, his urbanity left him, and he grew satirical : his
natural energy, his vehement love of virtue and hatred of
vice, carried him away, and he painted the worse charac-
teristics of men in the liveliest colors." His very words
seem to tingle with indignation, when he speaks of hear-
ing dolts praised for their learning, and atrocious villains
complimented on their well-known humanity. He is mis-
anthropic because the glowing height of his ideal of
humanity ironically condemns the base deviations from it
which are so common. If he said, " Who lives with
wolves must join in their howls," he also said, " He alone
is fit for solitude who is like nobody, liked by nobody,
and likes nobody."

The chief and chronic happiness of man ought to arise
from himself and his own conduct. Feeling that his wit-
ness is on high, he ought to be satisfied with the approval
of his own conscience, and not rise and fall in soul, like
a barometer, with the favors and frowns of other men.
The misery of Zimmermann originated in his inability to
secure this self-sufficing independence. It is astonishing
to see how clearly he knew the truth he so grossly failed
to practise. " It is not," he says, " my doctrine, that men
should reside in deserts, or sleep like owls in the hollow
trunks of trees ; but I am anxious to expel from their
minds the excessive fear which they too frequently enter-
tain of the opinion of the world. I would, as far as is
consistent with their respective stations in life, render



266 SKETCHES OF LONELY CHARACTERS

them independent. I wish them to break the fetters of
prejudice, to imbibe a just contempt for the vices of so-
ciety, and to seek occasionally a rational solitude, where
they may so far enlarge their sphere of thought and action
as to be able to say, at least for a few hours every day,
' We are free.' " Yet the writer of this fine paragraph
was never free from the bondage against which he so well
inveighs. Vanity was his colossal foible. His elation at
the attentions of Frederick, the pomp of happiness with
which he proclaims the flattering gift and letter sent him
by the Russian Empress Catherine, are ludicrous. And
the cleaving agony he suffered from every mark of oppo-
sition or undervaluation tends to provoke laughter in one
class of spectators as much as pity in another. If the
poetic side of his susceptibilities challenges admiration,
their personal side is obnoxious to contempt. When he
had been blamed for an article which he had published in
some medical review, he says : " There arose against me
a universal shrieking-combination, a woman-epidemic."
It is obvious that much of his pain originated in the soje
imagination that he occupied a greater space in the
thoughts of others than he really did, and that he was
less favorably judged by them than he desired to be and
believed he deserved to be.

Zimmermann has been a prominent member of the
Apostolate of Solitude. He experienced it so thoroughly,
meditated on it so patiently, in its wretchedness and in
its happiness, in its inspiring influence and in its blighting
influence ; he saw the truths on both sides of the subject
so sharply, that, on the whole, he has handled the theme
with remarkable fairness. He has not been frightened
by the appearance of inconsistency, but has stated the
facts of the case in its opposite aspects with energetic
boldness. Here are some of his scattered aphorisms :
" In the crowd we are impudent ; in the closet, modest."
" Genius stagnates in solitude : where merit shines, merit
is kindled." " Those who are good alone should not be
left alone." " We are most of us, even in our maturest
age, infants : we cannot go alone." " Great characters
are their own heralds, though they have thousands to an-
nounce them."



BLETHOVEN. 267

A few hours before expiring, Zimmermann uttered these
words, the last that he spoke : " I am dying : leave me
alone." He died. They left him alone in his coffin, un-
derground, at least, seemed to leave there such part of
him as may be left in any material enclosure ; for the pow-
er of God reclaims at once his returning child, the bosom
of Nature soon her sundered elements.

Two generations had passed, when, at sunset, after a
day of calm beauty, in the summer of eighteen hundred
and sixty-five, the writer of this sketch, a pilgrim from
America, stood in the burial-ground of the quiet and
quaint old city of Hanover beside that deserted tomb.
He pondered the lessons written and lived for the benefit
of others by the silent slumberer beneath his feet. He
meditated on the different forms of human loneliness,
their causes, their accompaniments, and results. His
musing ended in a peaceful thought, which blended the
memory of the once popular author with the loneliness
of death and oblivion, and with a fame glimmering swiftly
over the nations of the earth to subside in the dark silence
of the grave. Kneeling then, half-unconscious of what
he did, he wrote with traceless finger on the stone, Here
Zimmermann drinks his fill of solitude !



BEETHOVEN.

THE personality and life of Beethoven were profoundly
lonesome. His immense native power of mind and sen-
sibility, early set askew with the world of men, made him
peculiarly sensitive to exactions, slights, and irritations.
The death or the fickleness of the maiden he loved in his
youth apparently made a dark and sinister stamp on his
social character, and left a permanent bitterness in his
blood. His averseness to common intercourse was aggra-
vated by his poverty, his devouring absorption in the sci-
ence and art of music, and a singular combination in him
of av/kwardness and scorn, tender diffidence and titanic
pride. The lack of popular favor, the incompetent con-
demnation his wonderful compositions long suffered, must



268 SKETCHES OF LONELY CHARACTERS.

also have been a trial tending to sour him. Furthermore,
as in the case of every man of primal genius, his tran-
scendent originality doomed him to a determined struggle
with the past, an uncompromising insurrection against
conventional authority and usage. He defied the pre-
scriptions of his predecessors, broke pedantic fetters, re-
futed his teachers, made new rules for himself, upheaved
a world dead in professional routine and tradition that he
might inspire it with fresh freedom and fresh triumphs ;
and thus, perforce, he stood alone, battling with obscurity,
contempt, and hate, until he slowly conquered the recog-
nition he deserved. Finally, in addition to these previous
causes, the sternness of his isolation was made complete
by the dreadful calamity of a dense and incurable deaf-
ness.

Dark indeed was his melancholy, bitter the revulsion
of his capacious soul upon itself. He says, " I was nigh
taking my life with my own hands. But Art held me
back. I could not leave the world until I had revealed
what lay within me." Resolved at any cost to be him-
self, and express himself, and leave the record to pos-
terity, he left behind opponents and patrons alike, and
consecrated all to his genius and its ideal objects. Occu-
pying for a long time a room in a remote house on a hill,
he was called the Solitary of the Mountain. " His life
was that of a martyr of the old legends or an iron-bound
hero of the antique." Poor, deaf, solitary, restless, proud,
and sad, sometimes almost cursing his existence, some-
'imes ineffably glad and grateful, subject now to the soft-
est yearnings of melancholy and sympathy, now to tern
pestuous outbreaks of wrath and woe, shut up in himself,
he lived alone, rambled alone, created alone, sorrowed
and aspired and enjoyed alone.

The character of Beethoven has many times been
wronged by uncharitable misinterpretations. He has
been drawn as a misanthrope, a selfish savage. His
nature had attributes as glorious as the music born out
of them. He was a democrat, who earnestly desired that
the rights of all men should be secured to them in the
enjojment of freedom. Asked, in a law-suit before a



BEETHOVEN. 269

German court, to produce the proof of his nobility, he
pointed to his head and his heart, and said, " My nobility
is here, and here." He was a fond reader of Plato and
of Plutarch. One of his biographers says, " The repub-
lic of Plato was transfused into his flesh and blood." He
always stood by his republican principles stanchly. It
was in the firm belief that Napoleon meant to republican-
ize France that he composed and inscribed to him his
Heroic Symphony. On learning that the First Consul
had usurped the rank of Emperor, he tore off the dedi-
cation and threw it down with explosive execrations.
He sympathized intensely with that whole of humanity
which to a genius like his ever reveals itself as a great
mysterious being, distinct from individuals, yet giving the
individual his sacredness and grandeur. His uncertain
and furious temper was an accident of his physical con-
dition, the unequal distribution of force in his nervous
centres. He once suddenly quitted a summer retreat,
where he was supremely happy, because his host per-
sisted in making profound bows whenever he met him
in his walks. Such an incident makes his nervous state
clear enough. An idea which to a man of stolid health
and complacency would be nothing, entering the imagi-
nation of the rich and febrile Beethoven, was a terrific
stimulus. To judge such an one justly, discriminating
insight and charity are needed.

In his lofty loneliness his mislikers considered him as
" a growling old bear." Those who appreciated his genius
thought of him as the mysterious " cloud-compeller of the
world of music." Nearly all regarded him as an incom-
prehensible unique into whose sympathetic interior it was
impossible to penetrate. Carl Maria von Weber once paid
him a visit, of which his son, Max Weber, has given a
graphic description full of interesting lights. Himself kept
scrupulously clean by an oriental frequency of bathing, he
sat in the disorderly desolate room, amidst the slovenly
signs of poverty, his mass of lion-like face glowing with
the halo of immortality, his head crowned with a wild
forest of hair. He was all kindness and affection to
Weber, " embracing him again and again, as though he
could not part with him."



270 SKETCHES OF LONELY CHARACTERS.

"When he produced his mighty opera, Fidelio, it failed.
In vain he again modelled and remodelled it. He went
himself into the orchestra and attempted to lead it ; and
the pitiless public of Vienna laughed. To think now of
the Austrian groundlings cackling at the sublimesf genius
who has ever lifted his sceptre in the empire of sound,
making him writhe under the torturing irony of so mon-
strous a reversal of their relative superiorities ! After
suffering 'his cruel outrage, he fled more deeply than
ever into his cold solitude. As Weber says, " He crept
into his lair alone, like a wounded beast of the forest, to
hide himself from humanity." Nothing can be sadder in
one aspect, grander in another, than the expression this
unapproachable creator, this deaf Zeus of music, has
given of his isolation. " I have no friend ; I must live
with myself alone ; but I well know that God is nearer
to me than to my brothers in the art."

Of course this is no entire picture either of the soul or
the experience of Beethoven. He had his happy pre-
rogatives and hours. Life to him too was often sweet
and dear. He knew the joy of a fame which before he
died had slowly grown to be stupendous. Almost every
one of the musical celebrities who arose in his time, from
f he author of Der Freischiitz to the author of Der Erl-
konig, with pilgrim steps brought a tributary wreath to
him as the greatest master. Above all, he had a sublime
consciousness and fruition of his own genius. At one
time he says, " Music is like wine, inflaming men to new
achievements, and I am the Bacchus who serves it out
to them." At another time he says, "Tell Goethe to
hear my symphonies, and he will agree with me that
music alone ushers man within the portals of an intellect-
ual world ready to encompass him, but which he can
never encompass." If he suffered hunger, loneliness,
the misunderstanding of the vulgar and conventional, he
kept himself free, and felt himself supreme in his sphere.
An anonymous critic has well written of him, " He gained
what he sought, but gained it with that strain of discord
in his finer nature which is to the soul of the artist what
the shadow of a cloud is to a landscape. The desire to



BEETHOVEN. 271

make the world different from what it was in kind as well
as degree was the error which ruined his earthly peace ;
for he persisted in judging all relations of life by the un-
attainable ideals which drew him on in music. Yet it
was out of this opposition to the reality, which was to
him a sorrow and bitterness known to but few beside,
that there came the final victory of his later creations."
He also knew that his strains would sound his name and
worth down the vista of future ages with growing glory.
" I have no fear for my works. No harm can betide
them. Whoever understands them shall be delivered
from the burdens that afflict mankind."

But despite all these alleviations Beethoven was pre-
eminently a lonely nature. He was extremely fond of
taking long walks by himself through beautiful scenery
as Petrarch, Rousseau, and Zimmermann were. One hardly
knows where to look for a more pathetic outbreak of a
loving and disappointed heart than is given in the follow
ing expressions in the will he left for his two brothers.
The thoughts in that passage of his Heroic Symphony
wherein, as he said, he prophesied the melancholy exile
and death of Napoleon, are not charged with a more
penetrative sadness or immense grief than is in the strain
of these pleading, parting words : " O ye who consider
me hostile, obstinate, or misanthropic, what injustice ye
do me ! Ye know not the secret causes of what to you
wears this appearance." ".My deafness forces me to live
as in an exile." " O God ! who lookest down on my
misery, thou knowest that it is accompanied with love of
my fellow creatures, and a disposition to do good. O
men ! when ye shall read this, think that ye have wronged
me. And let the child of affliction take comfort on rind-
ing one like himself, who, in spite of all obstacles, did
everything in his power to gain admittance within the
rank of worthy artists and men." " I go to meet death
jvith joy. Farewell, and do not quite forget me after I
am dead."



272 SKETCHES OF LONELY CHARACTERS.



SHELLEY.

THE cruel injustice with which Shelley was hunted, m
the abused names of morality and religion, by persons
immeasurably beneath him in every attribute of noble-
ness, is one of the bitter tragedies of our century. Few
men have existed so brave, thoughtful, disinterested and
affectionate as he. Hundreds of passages in his poems,
and in his letters, make the heart of the sensitive reader
bleed. He writes to his wife, " My greatest content
would be utterly to desert all human society. I would
retire with you and our child to a solitary island in the
sea, would build a boat, and shut upon my retreat the
flood-gates of the world." At another time this exquisite
child of intellect and sensibility says, " I feel myself al-
most irresistibly impelled to seek out some obscure hid-
ing-place, where the face of man may never meet me
more." The sorrow of the case is that he so passionately
loved his kind all the while, and passionately longed for
love in return. He made a transcript from his own heart
when he wrote, " In solitude, or in that deserted state
when we are surrounded by human beings, and yet they
sympathize not with us, we love the flowers, and the
grass, and the waters, and the sky." The poor people in
Florence who saw him wandering through the neighbor-
hood and in the galleries there, called him " the melan-
choly Englishman."

In his "Stanzas written in dejection. near Naples,"
occur the lines :

I sit upon the sands alone ;
The lightning of the noontide ocean

Is flashing round me, and a tone
Arises from its measured motion,
How sweet did any heart now share in my emotion I

One can hardly help recognizing in the following pas-
sage of his Julian and Maddolo, a description partly
copied from his own experience.

There are some by nature proud,
Who, patient in all else, demand but this,



SHELLEY. 273

To love and be beloved with gentleness ;
And being scorned, what wonder if they die
Some living death ?

Shelley comforted himself with high studies and works,
with the deep love of a few chosen intimates, with doing
good to every poor sufferer who came within his reach,
with the loftiest ideal philanthropy, and with as intense
a communion with nature as ever blessed the soul of
a poet. But, with his transcendent capacities of imagin-
ative feeling, he walked ensphered in a mystic loneliness.

His words are :

I love all waste

And solitary places, where we taste
The pleasure of believing what we see
Is boundless, as we wish our souls to be.

During his stay in Rome, himself almost as lonely as
the glorious Titan he describes, he wrote his Prometheus
Unbound. He composed it, in his own language, "on
the mountainous ruins of the baths of Caracalla, among
the flowery glades and thickets of odoriferous blossoming
trees which are extended in ever-winding labyrinths upon



Online LibraryWilliam Rounseville AlgerThe solitudes of nature and of man; or, The loneliness of human life → online text (page 22 of 35)