A MORE striking and more touching autobiography than the new instalment of letters of Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy has not been given to the world for a long time. The collection is not by any means complete ; the letters, picked evidently from a vast mass of correspondence accessible to the editors, leave wide gaps in time and space, passing over many important events in the life of the writer; nevertheless, the whole gives such a beautiful and affecting picture of the career of the great composer, and emphatically, the great man, that all the imperfections and defi- ciencies of the material disappear before it. Felix Mendelssohn stands before us in his letters so natural, so good and true, and, above all, so wonderfully life-like, as no other biographer would have been able to pourtray him. His style is graphic in the extreme ; a few words not unfrequently form the outlines of a full luminous sketch, all the figures of which seem ready to descend from their pedestal into the living world. And in the centre of every picture is Mendelssohn himself, struggling for knowledge, for wisdom, for perfection in his art ; soaring high in his thoughts, yet simple in manners like a clild ; loving every living creature, doing good by stealth, and trembling lest the world should know it; now merry and frolicsome as a schoolboy, and then again borne down by deep, overwhelming sadness, discontent with the world, and yearning after the infinite. None other but Felix Mendelssobn himself could thus have painted the grandson of Moses Mendelssohn.
The letters commence in the spring of 1833—Mendelssohn only-twenty-four years old, but already on the pinnacle of fame, or nearly so, through eleven years' activity as a composer, in- cluding the production of three operas and a large number of overtures, among them that of the " Midsummer Night's Dream." The years 1833 and 1834 Mendelssohn spent at Dlisseldorf, as director of the Singverein, and for some time manager of the theatre. His letters daring thhi period are, as he himself calls them, "lang und lustig," long and merry ; full of sketches of Rhenish scenery, Rhenish men and women, and Rhenish wine. Although treated invariably as a man of fame, and, what de- tracted nothing from it, the son of a rich banker, the great composer tumbled about the world like a schoolboy playing the truant—the school being England, which he liked much, yet could not endure for many days together. In a dozen letters to his mother and his sister, Mendelssohn gives the drollest descriptions of the kind of life he led at Dfisseldorf. Here is a scene :—" It was beautiful when, after the concert, we sat down to table, and somebody began the introduction to what he clearly meant to be • Felix Mendelssohn. Briefs atm den Jahren 1833 Si. 184 7 von Felix Mendelasohn- Bartholdy. Herausgegeben von Paul Mendelsaohn-Bartboldy in Berlin, und Dr. Carl 8tendelesohn•Bartholdy in Heidelberg. Leipzig, Herman Mendelssohn, 1863. a long oration, but suddenly got entangled in his own rhetoric, and, with great presence of mind, finished up by proposing my healt'r. Then all the drummers and trumpeters jumped up like rr,..dima, making a most infernal noise. After that, I delivered a masculine speech, worthy of Robert Peel, recommending them to be united and to love each other like Christians, and always to play in tune, if passible. And then all took a solemn oath that tb's was the happiest day of their life. It was beautiful!"
Beeatital it was, also, when the Queen of Bavaria arrived at Dusseldorf in a steamer, to see and hear Mendelssohn, and Men-
delssohn, with two friends, was bathing in the Rhine, close to the landing-place—without Schirimmhosen. Ghost of Lord Haddo, imagine the scene ! " But we had a splendid view of the whole of the proceedings ; saw how Count 5— introduced the whole of the parsons, as well as the generals, to her Majesty ; and saw bow the senatus populusque Ditoseldotfiensis lined the shore, and the musicians behind." Impossible to imagine any- thing cooler.
In the summer of 1835, Mendelssohn accepted the post of director of the celebrated Gewandhaus concerts at Leipzig, where he remained, with some interruptions caused by temporary en- gagements at Berlin, Frankfort, London, and other places, to the end of his days, that is, for more than twelve years. In the first year of this period fell the death of his father, which seems to have affected Mendelssohn beyond any other event of his life. For many months after there is a wail of unspeakable sorrow in every one of his letters—a grief so keen and so touching as to be almost superhuman. " My whole existence is uprooted," he writes three weeks after to his friend Schubring, at Dessau, " I must either
succumb under my trial, or begin an entirely new life Father died just like my grandfather Moses ; at the same age, without illness, quite happy, and with serene countenance." It was a rare father, indeed, this banker of Berlin, the eldest born of the philosopher, Moses Mendelssohn. It was he who made Felix what he was : composer, thinker, artist, and, above all, a good and truly noble human being. There is, unfortunately, but one short letter, or rather fragment of a letter, written by Mendelssohn's father, in the collection ; but it gives the very highest idea of the man, and it is a key to the deep and fiery= love of his son.
The next great event in Mendelssohn's life was his marriage, which took place in the summer of 1837. About this interesting epoch there is a singular want of information in the corres- pondence ; it looks as if all letters relating thereto have been intent'onally suppressed by the editors. In two or three inci- dental allusions to betrothal and nuptials is all that we learn for a year, or more, about the great change of the roving bachelor into a settled paterfamilias ; and were it not that in later letters the composer distinctly mentions his great domestic happiness, one might be tempted to the belief that the match had been un- fortunate. Some of his earliest months of married life Mendelssohn spent here in England, superintending the first performance of his oratorio, St. Paul, at the Birmingham musical festival. He liked our country very much ; but was glad to get away at the end of a few weeks. "You have no idea ," he exclaims, in describing this period, " what an Atlas of music I was forced to be. And, besides all these musical monstrosities alfusikungeheuer) there came such a flood of acquaintances as fairly to knock me up. One requires some fish-blood not to burst." And, falling into his favourite philosophizing tone :—" There is really so very little that remains in the mind after all these gala performances, musical festivals, and the like. People make a great noise, clap their hands, and applaud frantically ; but the whole passes without leaving a trace behind. Yet, for all that, our life and our energy are as much taxed, if not more, by these doings, as if employed on better things Never yet in my life did I produce so great an effect with my music as at this Birmingham festival, and never yet did I see the public so entirely 000upicd with my own person; and in spite of all this, nay, because of it, the feel- ing of the whole created in me something—bow shall I call it ?— of a fleeting, perishing sensation (Fltichtiges, Verschwindesdes), which was far more depressing and saddening than pleasing." In similar passages, and they are numerous, it is as if Felix Mendelssohn disappears from view, to give way to the stern figure of Moses Mendelssohn.
Of three more visits to England, in the summers of 1842, 1844, and 1846, there are short but interesting sketches in Mendelssohn's letters. "I saw," he writes, under June 21, 1842, to his mother, " the pretty and most charming (hiibsche und allerliebste) Queen Victoria, who is so girlish shy, yet so friendly and polite, and talks German so fluently, and, what is more,
knows all my music, the Songs without Words,' and the Songs with Words,' and the Symphonies,' and all the rest. I must tell you I was yesterday evening invited to the Queen, who was almost alone with Prince Albert, and sat close to me on the piano where I played to her. Curious things I played.: seven songs without words ; a serenade ; two improvized pieces on Bule.Britannia ' and the Wild Hunter ;' and, finally, 'Gaudeamus igitur.' The last thing gave trouble ; but as it would have been rude to protest, I played on, the melody being given. Tea was taken in a magnificent saloon of :Buckingham Palace ; a most beautiful place, with two pigs of Paul Potter on the wall, and various other pictures equally charming to me."
The next visit to the British Isles, in June, 1844, when Mendel- ssohn says, " They invited me to Dublin, to make me a doctor at that University, and were excessively kind altogether," was even more fatiguing to the composer than former journeys, and he celebrated his return to Germany in a song of praise from a village near Frankfort. "Oh 1 didst thou but know, dear sister, how .unspeakably comfortable I feel at present, after my return from the land of the Britons. I am lying the whole day under big oak trees, and, it' the pigs court my neighbourhood too much, I move to the apple trees. I eat strawberries for breakfast, strawberries. for dinndr, and strawberries for supper. I sleep
eight hours and a half; sometimes more The contrast of my present existence with my recent English life is one which I shall never forget. There, during_ three whole weeks, I had actually not a single hour to myself; here, the long beautiful days are entirely my own, with no other occupation attached than the voluntary exertion of the moment. And this, after all, is the only real effective and beneficent labour in this poor world."
Mendelssohn's last musical pilgrimage to England, in 1848, was disturbed by illness—mental suffering as much as physical. The loss of his mother was a stroke which bowed him to the ground, and for which even the possession of a loving wife and several children formed no compensation. To change the current of his thoughtsshe- made a lengthened tour through Switzerland, but with little effect. Another affliction, almost as heavy, awaited him on his return. In the spring of 1847 the most beloved and most genial of his sisters, Fanny—a woman of rare gifts of mind and heart, and to whom the composer was attached with bound- less affection—died suddenly, which event completely overwhelmed him with grief. "I cannot measure," he exclaims, "the depth of my sorrow ; think every moment it cannot be that she is really . dead, it must be a mistake, an awful, terrible dream." And further, "I have lost all my love for music ; the mere thought.•-of: it makes ma feel weary and • miserable." This was written ..on the 24th. of May, 1847, a .few weeks after the death of his sister. Once more he tried to divert his mind by an excursion to the Alps, but with no better result, thou before. Weary and worn and sad unto death, Felix Mendelssohn returned to Leipzig in the autumn • of 184S. ..He thought of directing a musical festival at Vienna, and another at Berlin.. "-I feel- I am getting gradually stronger," he -wrote to his brother on the 25th of.October, "and I have written to Vienna to ask for a week's postponement of the festival." Before even the answer reached him, Felix IYIeudelssohn was -dead. He closed his eyes, like his father and grandfather, quietly, with a
smile overspreading his.features. •
. It isithe man- Mendelssohn, far more than the composer, whose picture shines forth in these letters. But among them there is one note which is singularly .characteristic of the great musician, and which, in fact, forms the key to all his.works. The letter, dated October 15, 1842,. is written in reply to -the question of a gentleman at Isfibeck, who had asked Mendelssohn the meaning of some of his songs withautwords. "People talk much about music," was Mendelssohne reply, "but really say very little. I fully believe that words are insufficient to express thoughts ; and, if they were sufficient, I Oh* I should leave off composing music. But there are, again, people -who complain that:mush:Anemia too much and too many things at a time ; that- it is so doubtful what precise thdughts it expresses at a moment ; and that words, after all, are for better interpreters of our feelings. With me it is just thereVerse. I think that not only whole speeches, but even single words; are unmeaning, or havetdo many meanings (vieldeutig); and that speech .altdgether canna be compared in expression to a right good music, which fills the soul with far higher things than words. I must say that such music as I love expresses to ine, not too indistinct thoughts, but too distinct ideas. Thus, it happens to me that when I want to explain my thoughts, all my attempts to that effect contain something precise, but yet I do
not say enough. . . . Resignation, melancholy, the praise of God, foxhunting—there are not two people in the world who think the same ideas when they say these words. To the one it is resignation what the other holds to be melancholy ; while the third thinks nothing at all by either of these words. I am sure that if nature has made a man a right good foxhunter, foxhunting and the praise of God must be the same thing to him, and the sound of the horns the sweetest hymn of Jehovah. We might dispute the meaning of terms as much as we liked with such a man, and should never come further than to the idea of hunting. Believe me, my friend, words have many meanings, and it is in music alone that we understand each other,"