From 1801 till 1804 Paganini lived in absolute retirement at the chateau of a lady of high rank, devoting much time to the study of the guitar, the lady's favourite instrument. He there composed two sets of Sonatas for guitar and violin (op. 2 and 3). In 1804 he returned to Genoa, and for a year re-applied himself in an almost furious manner to the study of the violin. At this period he first learnt to know the extravagant studies of Locatelli (see that name), especially his 'Arte di nuova modulazione,' and endeavoured to emulate and outdo Locatelli's tours de force. He also composed three quartets for violin, viola, guitar and cello (op. 4), a second set of the same (op. 5), and a set of Variations di bravura with guitar accompaniment.
In 1805 he began again to travel. Wherever he played he excited unbounded enthusiasm. At Lucca he accepted an engagement as soloplayer to the court, and as teacher to Prince Bacciochi, the husband of Napoleon's sister Elisa. It was there that he began his famous performances on the G-string alone. He resided at Lucca till 1808, and during the next nineteen years gave hundreds of concerts in all parts of Italy—his fame and the enthusiasm for his art ever and ever increasing. At the same time he was not unfrequently attacked by jealous rivals, and altogether his life was not free from strange adventures. 'One day at Leghorn'—so he himself relates—'a nail had run into my heel and I came on limping, at which the audience laughed. At the moment I was about to commence my concerto, the candles of my desk fell out. Another laugh. After the first few bars of my solo my first string broke, which increased the hilarity; but I played the piece on three strings, and the sneers quickly changed into general applause.' At Ferrara he had a narrow escape from being lynched. Enraged by a hiss from the pit, Paganini resolved to avenge the outrage, and at the end of the concert proposed to the audience to imitate the voices of various animals. After having rendered the notes of different birds, the mewing of a cat, and the barking of a dog, he finally advanced to the footlights, and calling out, 'Questo è per quelli die ban fischiato' (this is for those who hissed), imitated in an unmistakeable manner the braying of a donkey. At this the pit rose to a man, rushed through the orchestra, climbed the stage, and would probably have killed Paganini if he had not taken to instantaneous flight. The explanation of this strange occurrence is, that the people of Ferrara had a special reputation for stupidity, and that the appearance of a Ferrarese outside the town was the signal for a significant 'hee-haw.' We may well believe that this was Paganini's last public appearance there.
At Milan his success was greater than anywhere. He gave there in 1813 no less than thirty-seven concerts. In 1814, at Bologna, he first made the acquaintance of Rossini. In 1816 he met the French violinist Lafont (see that name) at Milan, and had with him—quite against his wish a public contest. Both played solos, and they joined in a concertante duet by Kreutzer. It does much honour to Paganini's character that in relating the event he writes: 'Lafont probably surpassed me in tone.' That the victory after all rested with Paganini need hardly be added. A similar contest took place in 1817 at Placentia between Paganini and Lipinski (see that name). In 1827 Pope Leo XII conferred on him the order of the Golden Spur.
Hitherto Paganini had never played outside Italy. Encouraged to visit Vienna by Prince Metternich, who had heard and admired him at Rome in 1817, he repeatedly made plans for visiting Germany, but the wretched state of his health always prevented their execution. A sojourn in the delicious climate of Sicily at last restored him to comparative health, and he started for Vienna, where his first concert, March 29, 1828, created an unparalleled sensation. A perfect fever appears to have seized all classes of society: the shop windows exhibited hats, gloves, and boots à la Paganini; dishes of all sorts were named after him; his portrait was to be seen on snuff-boxes, and his bust on the walking-sticks of the Viennese dandies. He himself obtained the Grand Gold Medal of St. Salvator from the town, and the title of Virtuoso to the Court from the Emperor.
During the following years Paganini travelled in Germany, repeating his Vienna triumphs in all the principal towns of the country, especially in Berlin, where he played first in March 1829. On March 9, 1831, he made his first appearance at Paris in a concert at the Opera. His success was quite equal to any that he had had elsewhere. In the following May he came to England, and gave his first concert at the Opera House on June 3. Here he excited perhaps more curiosity than enthusiasm. He himself, in a MS. letter, dated London, Aug. 16, 1831, complains of the 'excessive and noisy admiration' to which he was a victim in London, which left him no rest, and actually blocked his passage from the theatre every time he played. 'Although the public curiosity to see me,' says he, 'is long since satisfied, though I have played in public at least thirty times, and my likeness has been reproduced in all possible styles and forms, yet I can never leave my home without being mobbed by people who are not content with following and jostling me, but actually get in front of me, and prevent my going either way, address me in English of which I do not know a word, and even feel me, as if to find out if I am flesh and blood. And this not only the common people, but even the upper classes.' The financial results of his concerts in London, the Provinces, Scotland and Ireland, were very large. He repeated his visits in the following two years, played at a farewell concert at the Victoria Theatre, London, June 17, 1832, and then returned to the Continent in possession of a large fortune, which he invested chiefly in landed estates. The winter of 1833 he passed in Paris, and it was early in January 1834 that he proposed to Berlioz to write a concerto