on any of the mountains, and all their summits glittering brightly in the morning air, every undulation and the face of every hill clear and distinct.… I remembered the mountains before only as huge peaks. It was their height that formerly took such possession of me. Now it was their boundless extent that I particularly felt, their huge broad masses, the close connexion of all these enormous fortresses, which seemed to be crowding together and stretching out their hands to each other. Then too recollect that every glacier, every snowy plateau, every rocky summit was dazzling with light and glory, and that the more distant summits of the further ranges seemed to stretch over and peer in upon us. I do believe that such are the thoughts of God Himself. Those who do not know Him may here find Him and the nature which He has created, brought strongly before their eyes.' Other expressions are very happy:—'The mountains are acknowledged to be finest after rain, and to-day looked as fresh as if they had just burst the shell.' Again, in approaching Naples—'To me the finest object in nature is and always will be the sea. I love it almost more than the sky. I always feel happy when I see before me the wide expanse of waters.'
In Rome he devoted all the time that he could spare from work to the methodical examination of the place and the people. But his music stood first, and surely no one before or since was ever so self-denying on a first visit to the Eternal City. Not even for the sirocco would he give up work in the prescribed hours. His plan was to compose or practise till noon, and then spend the whole of the rest of the daylight in the open air. He enters into everything with enthusiasm—it is 'a delightful existence.' 'Rome in all its vast dimensions lies before him like an interesting problem, and he goes deliberately to work, daily selecting some different object—the ruins of the ancient city, the Borghese Gallery, the Capitol, St. Peter's, or the Vatican.' 'Each day is thus made memorable, and, as I take my time, each object becomes indelibly impressed upon me.… When I have fairly imprinted an object on my mind, and each day a fresh one, twilight has usually arrived, and the day is over.' Into society he enters with keen zest, giving and receiving pleasure wherever he goes, and 'amusing himself thoroughly and divinely.' 'His looking-glass is stuck full of visiting-cards, and he spends every evening with a fresh acquaintance.' His visits to Horace Vernet and Thorwaldsen, Santini's visits to him; the ball at Torlonia's, where he first saw the young English beauty, and that at the Palazzo Albani, where he danced with her; the mad frolics of the Carnival, the monks in the street (on whom he 'will one day write a special treatise'), the peasants in the rain, the very air and sunshine—all delight him in the most simple, healthy, and natural manner. 'Oh! if I could but send you in this letter one quarter of an hour of all this pleasure, or tell you how life actually flies in Rome, every minute bringing its own memorable delights.' On the other hand, he has no mercy on anything like affectation or conceit. He lashes the German painters for their hats, their beards, their dogs, their discontent, and their incompetence, just as he does one or two German musicians for their empty pretension. The few words which he devotes to Berlioz (who although always his good friend is antagonistic to him on every point) and his companion Montfort, are strongly tinged with the same feeling. On the other hand, nothing can be more genuinely and good-naturedly comic than his account of the attempt to sing Marcello's psalms by a company of dilettanti assisted by a Papal singer.
This sound and healthy habit of mind it is, perhaps, which excludes the sentimental—we might almost say the devotional—feeling which is so markedly absent from his letters. Strange that an artist who so enjoyed the remains of ancient Italy should have had no love of antiquity as such. At sight of Nisida he recalls the fact that it was the refuge of Brutus, and that Cicero visited him there. 'The sea lay between the islands, and the rocks, covered with vegetation, bent over it then just as they do now. These are the antiquities that interest me, and are much more suggestive than crumbling mason-work.' 'The outlines of the Alban hills remain unchanged. There they can scribble no names and compose no inscriptions … and to these I cling.' In reference to music the same spirit shows itself still more strongly in his indignation at the ancient Gregorian music to the Passion in the Holy Week services. 'It does irritate me to hear such sacred and touching words sung to such insignificant dull music. They say it is canto fermo, Gregorian, etc. No matter. If at that period there was neither the feeling nor the capacity to write in a different style, at all events we have now the power to do so'; and he goes on to suggest two alternative plans for altering and reforming the service, suggestions almost reminding one of the proposition in which the Empress Eugenie endeavoured to enlist the other Empresses and Queens of Europe, to pull down the church of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem and rebuild it in conformity with modern taste and requirements. Religious he is, deeply and strongly religious; every letter shows it. It is the unconscious, healthy, happy confidence of a sound mind in a sound body, of a man to whom the sense of God and Duty are as natural as the air he breathes or the tunes which come into his head, and to whom a wrong action is an impossibility. But of devotional sentiment, of that yearning dependence, which dictated the 130th Psalm, or the feeling which animates Beethoven's passionate prayers and confessions, we find hardly a trace, in his letters or his music.
He was very fortunate in the time of his visit to
- L. Aug. 14.
- L. Aug. 24.
- Berlioz. Voy. mus. i. 78.
- L. Dec. 10, 1837.
- L. Feb. 8.
- L. March 29. It is curious to compare Berlioz's account (Voyage mus. i. 73) of Mendelssohn with the above.
- L. March 1.
- See vol. i. 194a.