Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 84.djvu/271

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

contemplation of this affliction, he writes to his brothers, "brought me to the brink of despair, and had well nigh made me put an end to my life. . . . Recommend virtue to your children; that alone—not wealth— can give happiness. I speak from experience. It was this that upheld me even in affliction; it is owing to this and my art that I did not terminate my life by suicide."

From this time he seems to have become reconciled to the worst. There is in his letters little mention of illness for the next twelve years, and he was apparently in robust health. Nevertheless, disease was his constant companion and his deafness steadily progressed. In 1805 he was able to judge severely of the musical expression in the rehearsal of his opera. In 1814 he played his B flat trio. From 1816 to 1818 he used an ear trumpet. He continued to conduct his works, but in 1822 nearly brought the performance to ruin, although he was able to detect that the soprano was not singing in tune. Later in the same year he again attempted to conduct, but with such ill success that he did not try it again. This event meant so much to him that it marked another epoch in his life. From this time he was able to communicate with his friends only by writing.

The loss of his hearing undoubtedly had a most depressing effect upon his general health, and besides he was "constantly on bad terms with his digestive organs." His magnificent constitution was, however, as yet hardly touched by his continued ailments. In his collected letters there are from 1816 numerous notes to Archduke Eudolph begging ill health in apology for failure to keep his engagements as tutor to his highness. These are perhaps not to be taken so seriously as they sound, since he took little pleasure in his tutorship, though they indicate his continuous ailments.

In 1817 there are, however, letters to friends telling of his more serious illness. In June he wrote: "I caught a very severe cold which forced me to keep my bed for a long time and many months passed before I could venture out." After much drugging with powders and tinctures he is taking the baths at Heiligenstadt. He feels "that for several years [his] health has been steadily getting worse."

In 1818-1819 his health was much better and his devotion to the composition of his mass was extraordinary. Never had he been known to be so entirely abstracted from external things. It is to these years that the Ninth Symphony and the great Mass in D belong.

In 1821 he was laid up with a severe attack of rheumatism. He was at Baden for a part of the time and for some two years he was quite ill.

In February, 1822, he writes: "Last night I was again attacked by ear ache from which I generally suffer at this season of the year."

From 1823 on he was more or less continuously ill and under con-