Part 4 out of 4
a sacrilege to the laws of precedence naturally was unpardonable.
The Polish woman whom Sand refers to may have been the one woman with
whom Chopin is definitely known to have planned marriage. This was Maria
Wodzinska. Her two brothers had boarded years before at the pension
which Chopin's father kept at Warsaw. The acquaintance with the brothers
was renewed in Paris, and when, in 1835, Chopin visited Dresden after a
long journey to see his parents, he met the sister, Maria, then nineteen
years old, and fell deeply and seriously in love with her. According to
her brother, who wrote a biographical romance on "Chopin's Three Love
Affairs," Maria, while not classically a beauty, had an indefinable
"Her black eyes were full of sweetness, reverie, and restrained fire; a
smile of ineffable voluptuousness played around her lips, and her
magnificent hair was as dark as ebony and long enough to serve her as a
They flirted at the piano and behind a fan, and he dedicated her a
little waltz, and she drew his portrait. As usual, the different
biographers tell different stories, but from them the chief biographer
of all, Frederick Neicks, decides that Chopin proposed and Maria
deposed. And here endeth the second of Chopin's three romances. So this
brings us back to Paris and George Sand, and the year 1837, when Chopin
was twenty-eight and George Sand thirty-three.
Thus far we have followed the standard authorities, but the year 1903
has done much in the way of unveiling Chopin's life. His letters to his
family, and their letters to him, were believed to have perished. They
were in the possession of his sister Isabella Barcinska, and she was
living in the palace of Count Zamoyski at Warsaw, in 1863, when a bomb
was thrown from a window as the Russian lieutenant-general was passing.
In revenge the soldiers sacked the palace, and burned what they did not
carry off. Chopin's portrait by Ary Scheffer, his piano, and his Paris
furniture perished, and his papers were believed to be among the lost.
But all the while the family was keeping their very existence secret
until, after forty years, it was thought proper to give them to the
M. Karlovicz was entrusted with this honour, and _La Revue Musicale_ of
Paris chosen as the medium. The letters are said to make a large bulk,
but I have been able to see only the first three instalments, of which
two are family letters to him. They are exuberant with tenderness,
admiration, and of hope for his great fame; the father constantly
pleading with the son to lay up his sous against a rainy day,--advice
which met the usual fate of good advice.
Karlovicz says, with some exaggeration: "In his letters to his family,
Chopin, as if he wished to avoid pronouncing the name of George Sand,
always calls her 'My hostess,' sometimes even employing, strange to say,
the plural, for instance, 'Elles si cheres, elles rirent pour tous,' or,
'Here the vigil is sad, because _les malades_ do not wish a doctor.'"
The first letter, signed "Fritz," is a most cordial welcome to a man
about to marry his sister. The third is a double letter from George Sand
and Chopin to Louise, who had just visited the two lovers at Nohant in
1844. Sand tells her that her visit has been the best tonic he has ever
had, and writes to the whole family: "Tell them all that I love them,
too, and would give my life to unite them with him one day under my
roof." Chopin refers to Sand as "My hostess," and signs himself "Ton
vieux." In his next he details with much amusement a scandalous escapade
of Victor Hugo's, a husband's discovery, and Madame Hugo's forgiving
manner. He announces (July 20, 1845) that "le telegraphe
electro-magnetique entre Baltimore et Washington, donne des resultats
extraordinaires." He revels in puns and gossip.
Karlovicz mentions the existence of a despairing letter in which Chopin
called his sister Louise to Paris where he was dying; she came in 1849,
with her husband and daughter, and remained till the end, giving him the
last tendernesses in her power.
This is all I have gleaned from Karlovicz. More immediate help has come
from a new biography published in Warsaw in 1903 by Ferdinand Hoesick,
and, according to Alfred Nossig, destined to upset the supremacy of
Nieck's biography. This latest work is really the carrying out of the
plans of Chopin's friend and fellow student, Julian Fontana, who shared
joy and sorrow with him in Paris, and collected letters and data for a
biography. On Chopin's death Liszt sprang into print with a rhapsody
which led Fontana to defer his work. At his death in 1869 he left it
unfinished, bequeathing his documents to his son, who permitted Hoesick
the use of them.
Hoesick blames Chopin's notable melancholy to early experiences of love
requited, indeed, but not united in marriage. His love was as rathe as
Alfred Nossig, reviewing the biography, says of Chopin: "As his talent,
so did his heart mature early." It was at Warsaw, in his early youth,
that he found his first ideal. Although his father, a Frenchman who had
married a Polish woman, did not occupy a foremost position in society,
Frederic moved in the highest circles. In addition to his genius he had
always the princely way with him.
One of his admirers was the Duchess Ludvika Czetvertynska, whose
majestic figure and aureole of hair reminded one of the pictures of
Giorgione. Her friend, the Governor of Poland, the Grand Duke
Konstantin, through her introduction accepted Chopin as one of his most
welcome guests; he was musical, and greatly admired Chopin's music.
Whenever his violent temper carried him away, the grand duchess would
send secretly for Chopin, who would seat himself at the piano, and at
the first notes the grand duke would appear in the drawing-room with his
temper cured. Thus was Chopin another David to a latter-day Saul. Chopin
was an intimate friend of the grand duke's son, Paul, whose instructor
was a Count Moriolles. It was his daughter, the Comtesse Alexandra, in
whose eyes Chopin found inspiration; he improvised never so beautifully
as when she sat next to him at the piano. His adoration was no secret.
He was often teased on account of the beautiful "Mariolka," as he called
her. In his letters to his friends, we find many allusions that prove
that the young comtesse loved him in turn. But both knew that this love
was hopeless, and therefore Chopin's musical expressions of his dreams
for her are melancholy. One remembrance of this attachment is the Rondo
_a la Mazur_, Op. 5, which he dedicated to the Comtesse de Moriolles.
In 1830 Chopin toured the continent. As in his later relation to George
Sand, the passion of a poet, Alfred Musset, rivalled his, so at this
time he found a rival in the Polish poet, Julius Slovaki. The pretty,
vivacious, and perhaps somewhat flirtatious girl, Comtesse Maria
Wodzinska, was the bone of contention, or, rather, the "rag and the bone
and the hank of hair" of contention.
It chanced that Chopin and Slovaki, whose works showed most startling
similarity, were also much alike in looks, in slenderness, dreaminess of
feature, and even in expression of countenance. Their very fates were
like: both left their country never to return. In their wandering
through Europe, they stopped in the same capitals; both at last took up
their residence in Paris, where both died of consumption. It was these
twins of fate whom fate put in love with the same teasing girl.
The "black-eyed demoiselle," as she was called by the poet and the
musician, managed so well, that her two admirers never met at the same
time. She travelled through Europe with her mother and brothers, and
found an opportunity to meet Chopin in one, and Slovaki in another town,
and to pass several weeks with each.
It was Slovaki's turn to meet her in Geneva. Here she inspired him to
much verse, especially his "In der Schweiz." But all this while the
little vixen corresponded with Chopin. He improvised in Paris on themes
she composed, and then she repeated his inspirations to keep Slovaki
hovering at her piano.
When Chopin met the Wodzinskis in Dresden, he composed for Maria his
F-minor Etude which he called "the soul-portrait" of the comtesse. A
year later he passed a month with the family at Marienbad, where he
proposed for her hand and was accepted. In his bridegroom mood he
composed the graceful F-minor Waltz, and later the C-sharp minor
In the meantime, Slovaki travelled on in blissful ignorance, glorifying
Chopin's fiancee in poetic songs full of passionate admiration. The
distant Slovaki finally learned that Chopin had won his muse, and he
wrote to his mother:
"They say that Chopin and 'my Maria' are to be a pair. How sentimental
to marry a person who is the image of one's first love. Swedenborg says
that in a case of this kind, after death, not out of two of the souls
but out of all three only one angel can be created."
But this tripartite angel died unborn, for in 1837 Chopin found himself
deserted by her. So much we learn from Hoesick. And now we may return to
Chopin's immortal, if immoral, affair with George Sand.
George Sand will be remembered for the famous love affairs she has
contributed to history long after her books have lost their last reader.
It has been my habit in these papers to take the woman's side, and even
for George Sand there is much to be said in praise and in palliation.
For her peculiar views of life her peculiar husband may be largely
blamed, along with the peculiar ideals of the literary circle into which
her unhappy married life drove her. That she showed good taste in either
the management or the publication of her amorous entanglements one could
hardly maintain, and yet the men in the case seem to have been at least
as caddish as she was unwomanly. But it would take volumes to recount
what volumes have already recounted, and bewilderment and contradiction
would still be the chief result. Since so much of the story is familiar,
I can be brief with it here.
George Sand's relations with Chopin have been accepted in almost every
conceivable manner. There have even been writers of such intelligence as
Hadow who have maintained that she was entirely and solely a mother to
him. Before a trust in humanity as bland as this, before a credulity
that can deny itself to certain records and stretch itself to certain
others, there is nothing to say except to express gratitude that in some
hearts, at least, the belief in fairy stories is not left behind in the
On the other hand, it is not necessary to fly to the opposite extreme,
and condemn the years that Chopin and Sand spent together as years
devoid of very earnest sympathy, intellectual and artistic communion,
and of mutual advantage. The relations were irregular, and were harrowed
by the temperaments of each. Sand was masculine, energetic, restless,
and by nature--for which she was surely not thoroughly to blame--a
voluptuary. Chopin, while not the whining mooncalf some have painted
him, was never of truly virile character. He was a man whose genius was
as limited in scope as a diamond's lustre, even while it had the
brilliance, the firmness, and the solitariness of that jewel. And, most
of all, he was that most pathetic of wretches, a sick man. He was
drifting down the current of that stream which had carried off his
gifted and adored sister when she was half his present age.
Sand was the former of the two to fall in love, and the earlier to fall
out. After the first meeting, there was little delay in beginning that
form of unchurched marriage so fashionable in the art world of that day.
In 1838 they went to Majorca with Sand's two children, a son and
daughter, who had been born to her husband. The weather was atrocious,
the accommodations primitive, and Chopin's health wretched. He was beset
by presentiments and fierce anxieties, and tormented by a hatred of the
place and the clime. In June of the next year they went back to Nohant,
her chateau. We owe to Sand herself the account of Chopin's manner of
life, his petulance, his self-inflicted torments, and the agonies of his
art and his disease. We owe to her, also, the picture of her devotion
both to his health and to his music.
The tendency, of course, is to take her praises of herself with a
liberal sprinkling of salt, and to feel that Chopin was not the
"detestable invalid" she painted him. But need we withdraw charity from
one, to give to the other? Need we rob Pauline to pay Peter? There
should be easily a plenty of sympathy for both, for the woman
infatuated with a strange, exotic genius, gathering him into her heart
and home, only to find that she had taken upon herself the role of nurse
as well as mistress; and to find her time and her vitality devoted to an
invalid, while her own life-work as a famous writer was making demands
on her as wild as those of a sick musician her junior in years as in
After granting her this justice, there should still be no stint of
sympathy for the poor Chopin, wrought to a frenzy with the revolutions
he was so gorgeously effecting, not only in the music of the piano, but
in all harmony; racked with pain and unmanned with the weakening effects
of his disease; struggling vainly against the chill and clammy Wrestler
who was to drag him to his grave before his life was half complete.
Our feeling, again, should not be wrath at George Sand because she did
not eternally resist the centrifugal forces of such a life, but rather a
deep sense of gratitude that she gave Chopin some sort of home and
mental support for ten long years.
George Sand's books are full of allusions to Chopin, and from the many
that are quoteworthy, the following may be cited from her "Histoire de
ma Vie," as throwing a few flecks of light on the woman's attitude in
"He was the same in friendship (as in love), becoming enthusiastic at
first sight, getting disgusted and correcting himself (_se reprenant_)
incessantly, living on infatuations full of charm for those who were the
object of them and on secret discontents which poisoned his dearest
"Chopin accorded to me, I may say, honoured me with, a kind of
friendship which was an exception in his life. He was always the same to
"The friendship of Chopin was never a refuge for me in sadness. He had
enough of his own ills to bear."
"We never addressed a reproach to each other, except once, which, alas,
was the first and the final time."
"But if Chopin was with me devotion, kind attention, grace,
obligingness, and deference in person, he had not for all that abjured
the asperities of character towards those who were about me. With them
the inequality of his soul, in turn generous and fantastic, gave itself
full course, passing always from infatuation to aversion, and vice
"Chopin when angry was alarming, and, as, with me, he always restrained
himself, he seemed almost to choke and die."
It is generally believed that in the character of _Prince Karol_ in her
novel, "Lucrezia Floriani," published in 1847, Sand used that lethal
weapon of revenge novelists possess, and portrayed or caricatured
Chopin. It is only fair to give her disclaimer, though Liszt repeated
the charge in his "Life of Chopin," and though Karasovski says that
Sand's own children told Chopin that he was pictured as Prince Karol.
None the less, hearken to the novelist's own defence:
"It has been pretended that in one of my romances I have painted his
(Chopin's) character with a great exactness of analysis. People were
mistaken, because they thought they recognised some of his traits; and,
proceeding by this system, too convenient to be sure, Liszt himself, in
a life of Chopin, a little exuberant as regards style, but nevertheless
full of very good things and very beautiful pages, has gone astray in
good faith. I have traced in _Prince Karol_ the character of a man
determined in his nature, exclusive in his sentiments, exclusive in his
exigencies. Chopin was not such. Nature does not design like art,
however realistic it may be. She has caprices, inconsequences, probably
not real, but very mysterious. Art only rectifies these inconsequences,
because it is too limited to reproduce them.
"Chopin was a resume of these magnificent inconsequences which God alone
can allow himself to create, and which have their particular logic. He
was modest on principle, gentle by habit, but he was imperious by
instinct and full of unlegitimate pride, which was unconscious of
itself. Hence sufferings which he did not reason out and which did not
fix themselves on a determined object.
"However, _Prince Karol_ is not an artist. He is a dreamer and nothing
more; having no genius, he has not the right of genius. He is therefore
a personage more true than amiable, and the portrait is so little that
of a great artist that Chopin, in reading the manuscript every day on my
desk, had not the slightest inclination to deceive himself,--he who,
nevertheless, was so suspicious.
"And yet, afterwards, by reaction, he imagined, I am told, than this was
the case. Enemies (he had such about him who call themselves his
friends; as if embittering a suffering heart was not murder), enemies
made him believe that this romance was a revelation of his character. At
that time his memory was no doubt enfeebled; he had forgotten the book,
why did he not re-read it?
"This history is so little ours--It was the very reverse of it. There
were between us neither the same raptures _(envirements)_, nor the same
sufferings. Our history had nothing of a romance; its foundation was too
simple and too serious for us ever to have had occasion for a quarrel
with each other _a propos_ of each other."
As to the final separation, following my principle of letting the people
tell their own stories so far as possible, I may turn again to George
Sand's own version:
"After the last relapse of the invalid, his mind had become extremely
gloomy, and Maurice [her son], who had hitherto tenderly loved him, was
suddenly wounded by him in an unexpected manner about a trifling
subject. They embraced each other the next moment, but the grain of sand
had fallen into the tranquil lake, and little by little the pebbles fell
there, one after another--all this was borne; but at last, one day,
Maurice, tired of the pin-pricks, spoke of giving up the game. That
could not be, and should not be. Chopin would not stand my legitimate
and necessary intervention. He bowed his head and said that I no longer
"What blasphemy after these eight years of maternal devotion! But the
poor bruised heart was not conscious of its delirium. I thought that
some months passed at a distance and in silence would heal the wound,
and make his friendship again calm and his memory equitable. But the
revolution of February came, and Paris became momentarily hateful to
this mind incapable of yielding to any commotion in the social form.
Free to return to Poland, or certain to be tolerated there, he had
preferred languishing ten (and some more) years far from his family,
whom he adored, to the pain of seeing his country transformed and
deformed (_denature_). He had fled from tyranny, as now he fled from
"I saw him again for an instant in March, 1848. I pressed his trembling
and icy hand. I wished to speak to him, he slipped away. Now it was my
turn to say that he no longer loved me. I spared him this infliction,
and entrusted all to the hands of Providence and the future.
"I was not to see him again. There were bad hearts between us. There
were good ones, too, who were at a loss what to do. There were frivolous
ones who preferred not to meddle with such delicate matters.
"I have been told that he had asked for me, regretted me, and loved me
filially up to the very end. It was thought fit to conceal from him that
I was ready to hasten to him. It was thought fit to conceal this from me
This, then, is George Sand's story, which has not been granted very much
The cause of their--"divorce," one might call it--is blurred by the
usual discrepancies of gossip. The most probable account seems to be
that according to which Chopin mortally wounded Sand by receiving her
daughter and her son-in-law when they were out of Sand's favour. All
accounts agree that this was to her only a pretext for breaking shackles
that had begun to be irksome. All are agreed that it was Sand and not
Chopin who ended the relationship, and that she, as Niecks bluntly puts
it, "had recourse to the heroic means of kicking him, metaphorically
The woman seems easily to have forgotten the man who had proved, at
best, of little joy to her, for, as she says, she could never go to him
with her troubles, since he had always a plenty of his own. It was a
relief, then, to her, being a far busier woman than he a man, to find
But Chopin was robbed of his last support. The strong woman he had
leaned upon was gone, and he was alone with the consumption that was
eating his life away. He started forth upon a concert tour, but the
chill climates of England and Scotland were not refuges from his
haunting disease. He died slowly and in poverty, though he was
unconscious of want, thanks to the generosity of a Russian countess and
a Scotch woman. Dependent upon women to the last! In his dying hours it
is said that George Sand called at his house, but was not admitted to
see him, though, as he wailed two days before his death, "She said I
should die in no other arms than hers" (_Que je ne mourrais que dans ses
But even the story of her visit is denied. Turgeniev said that fifty
countesses had claimed that he died in their arms. Among the number was
the Countess Potocka, who is cherished traditionally as one of Chopin's
loves, and who was much with him during his last days, and sang for him,
at his request, as he lay dying. Poor genius! he must even have a woman
sing his swan-song for him! Potocka is best known by a familiar portrait
that you will find in a thousand homes. But how the higher criticism
undermines the gospel of tradition! The truth is that Chopin denied ever
having been in love with her or she with him, and Huneker even claims
that the famous portrait of her is not of her at all.
But however attended, visited, caressed, Chopin died at the threshold of
his prime, his life, lighted at most with a little feverish twinkling of
stars, one nocturne.
END OF VOLUME I.