10 NOVEMBER 1883, Page 11


IT is difficult to say whether Ole Bull was more of a musician or a patriot. In most natures iu which the strange gift of music exists to the extent of unmistakable genius, there is no other love or passion that approaches its supremacy ; but Ole Bull, though few men have ever been more completely enthralled by the genius of Music, was all his life so fervent a patriot that one hesitates to say whether his deepest sympathies were touched more easily by his fiddle or by the Norse flag. To the older generation of musical Englishmen his name is still familiar, and it is not likely that any one who ever saw him would soon forget his personal appearance; but it is more than twenty years since his violin was heard here, and many of the younger generation have probably never heard even his name. Those twenty years, and indeed the twenty years before them, were years of uninterrupted success—of great audiences wrought to great enthusiasm, of tributes from fellow- workers and gifts from Kings and Emperors, and of the love of every peasant in Norway ; but although it is as a musician that his name lives, and that his extraordinary career was passed, the present struggles for constitutional liberty in Norway call him no less appropriately to mind.

Indeed, in the character of Ole Bull it is no more difficult than undesirable to attempt to distinguish between the musician and the patriot. He was born in 1810, four years before the union with Sweden laid the foundation of independent Norwegian life, and almost the first notes of his fiddle recalled the first of the lost sentiments of his native land. For in his youth, Norway was Denmark, and " Norwegian " meant " Dane," as was said by one of those who spoke at his grave; and when he was a mere child he used to seek refuge from unsympathising parents in a lonely spot among the hills of Valestrand, and fiddle away at the Norse folk-songs and dances till the peasants in the neighbourhood were convinced that the hobgoblins and trolls had come to life again, and that the Ifuldcr had returned to their haunts among the mountains. Years afterward, when Frederick VI. of Denmark asked him who had taught him to play, he answered,—" The mountains of Norway ;" and thus it is that his music and patriotism are properly inseparable ; his music was the path along which Norway was led back to its own. " He brought Norway home to the Norsemen," said Hendrik

Wergeland; and the same secret of the source and influence of his genius is sung by the national poet Welhavea, in the tribute to Ole Bull which Bjornson has called one of the most beautiful lyrics ever written :-

"A summer's eve he listening stood,

His strings all tuned together, While melody burst from field and wood And rolled o'er dewy heather.

And all his strings the gift repay,

In wondrous echo ringing

Of throstle's love, and elfin play, And sighs, and birches singing."

What he had learned from Norway and her traditions, that he gave back to her in the shape of a vitalising influence toward national independence and the creation of a national literature, a national music, and a national drama, drawing its life from the glorious achievements of the past. Ole Bull's voice was one of the loudest of those raised to wake the old Norse spirit from its long sleep.

The story of his long life has been told in its completeness, for the first time, in a delightful memoir just published by his widow, and it is doubtful if the century can point to a more re- markable career. He came of a musical family, but, as is almost always the case, his passion was sternly discouraged in favour of a sober bread-and-butter profession, and in his early days the discouragement sometimes took a very vigorous form. Once he had persuaded his father to buy him a bright red violin from a travelling Frenchman. It was laid away in its case, and the young Ole put to bed in his little cot in his parents' room.

Telling the story, years afterwards, he said :-

" I could not sleep for thinking of my new violin. When I heard father and mother breathing deep, I rose softly and lighted a candle, and in my night-clothes did go on tiptoe to open the case and take one little peep. The violin was so red, and the pretty pearl screws did smile at me so ! I pinched the pearl screws just a little with my fingers. It smiled at me ever more and more. I took up the bow and looked at it. It said to me that it would be pleasant to try it across the strings. So I did try it, just a very, very little ; and it did sing to me so sweetly ! Then I did creep further and further away from the bedroom. At first I did play very soft. I make very, very little noise. But presently I did begin a capriccio which I like very much, and it do go ever louder and louder, and I forgot that it was midnight, and that everybody was asleep. Presently, I hear something go crank ! and the next minute I feel my father's whip across my shoulders. My little red violin dropped on the floor, and was broken. I weep much for it, but it did no good."

But the whip did not prevail, and the little red violin had many successors, among them several of the most famous violins in the world. At the University, his tutor forbade him to play ; so he learned to whistle and sing, and by-and-by discovered that he could do both at once, and thus study the laws of harmony. But the University could not hold him, and at last he sailed away to Paris, and saw Norway no more till he was a famous musician. The struggle was a very bard one at first ; he was wretchedly poor, and his proud spirit accorded ill with the asking of favours. When he applied for a place in the orchestra of the Opera Comique, he was handed a piece of music to play. Finding it ridiculously below his powers, be asked ironically at which end he should begin, and was naturally enough dismissed on the spot. It was, too, the year of the cholera in Paris, 1831, and he fell severely ill ; but his illness was the means of revealing to him the character of the daughter of his landlady, and she afterwards became his wife. Slowly his genius gained a recognition, and he rose to the front rank. From that time his career is a record of success after success, and his travels became a triumphal progress. In turn he visited Switzerland, Italy, France, England, Belgium, Germany, Russia, Denmark, and Norway, and returned to most of them again and again. In England he began by playing for the Duke of Devonshire, and then in London, where he played in 1836 at a Philharmonic concert, with Malibrau and Thalberg, and afterwards with Rubini, Tamburini, and Lablache. "Much as Paganini has done," said the Times, in a highly eulogistic notice, "this artist has certainly opened up a new field on the instrument." "A more perfect performance can scarcely be imagined." After the sudden death of Malibran, he was invited to fill her place, and received £800 for a single night at the Liverpool festival. In sixteen months he gave two hundred and seventy-four concerts in the United Kingdom. In 1813 he went to America, which was destined to become his second home, for it was there that he married his second wife, the lady to whom we owe the present memoir, and there that many eventful years of his life were spent. He travelled through all the principal States, until his name became almost as well known and he himself almost as

much beloved in America as in Norway. And not the least of the memorials of him is the picture of the tall musician in the " Tales of a Wayside Inn," who,-

" Walked the roam, With folded arms and gleaming eyes, As if he saw the Vikings rise,

Gigantic shadows in the gloom; And much he talked of their emprise, And meteors seen in Northern skies, And Heimdal's horn and day of doom."

His memoir is full of strange adventures,—how he was rescued from poverty by Vidocq, the famous chief of the Paris police ; how, when stricken with yellow fever in Panama, be hid to crawl out of bed and lie upon the floor to escape the bullets of a passing revolution; his feat of strength, when he received the common Western invitation to "drink or fight," from a band of ruffians on a Mississippi steamboat, and chose the latter alter- native ; how he played his Sceterbesog on his sixty-first birthday on the top of the Pyramid of Cheops ; the enormous sums of money which he earned, and the child-like confidence through which he lost most of them ; the gifts he received, the friends he made, and the charities he bestowed; but of all these we have no room to speak.

One incident of his career, however, is too important andloo typical to be omitted, typical at once of his patriotism, his self-sacrificing courage, and his business capacities. In 1853 he purchased 125,000 acres of land in Pennsylvania, with the desire to "found a new Norway, consecrated to liberty, baptised with independence, and protected by the Union's mighty flag." Five villages were laid out, three hundred houses were built, colonists came flocking in, and he negotiated a contract to supply the Government with 10,000 cannon. All this was done at his own expense, his whole fortune being risked in it, and he himself working so hard at his concerts as often to be compelled to go without his dinner. So gigantic an enterprise, with no sterner conductor than this simple-minded and trustful musician, could have only one end, but the ruin of its supporter came in a sadder way than from his own Utopian confidence. When the land was bought and paid for, the forest cleared, and 800 settlers at home there, Ole Bull discovered that he had purchased a fraudulent title, and was defied, and narrowly escaped being poisoned, by the man who had sold it to him. By a series of protracted law-snits some thousands of dollars were saved from the wreck ; but his health broke down under the strain, and, so far as money was con- cerned, his life had to be begun again.

In his native land, Ole Bull strove to realise his patriotism in two ways. " My calling in this world is the Norse music," he said, and his calling was far too sure for him to be deceived into inaction by any such doctrine as that of Art for Art's sake; " the desire of my life," he added, " has been to give it strings,"—to give it strings that it might carry the Norse life into the hearts of his countrymen, to reissue thence in all native modes of expression, becoming a drama in the theatre, a literature in the books, a cause on the battle-field, a religion in the church, a love in the home. His first ideal was " a Norse theatre with a Norm orchestra," and after great efforts he succeeded in realising it. On January 2nd, 1850, a date which is now regarded as the birthday of the Norwegian drama, this theatre was opened at Bergen, under the directorship of Bjornsterne Bjornson. The Storthing, however, refused to support the enterprise by the yearly appropriation that was subsequently asked, and after two years the theatre passed into other hands. But the seed was BOW12, thirty years afterwards a wreath was laid on Ole Bull's grave in the name of the National Theatre. His second ideal was a Norwegian Academy of Music, but in this he succeeded only in sowing the seed, and the harvest is still waiting to be gathered.

In 1880 he died, and was buried with such a national mourn- ing as has seldom been seen, and never more deserved. But his influence is strong still, and the spirit of the " Norse Ole," whose little fiddle began by bringing back the Mader to the mountains of Valestrand, is working to-day in the hearts of those who are struggling in his steps to bring back fullest liberty to Norway.