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A non-fiction by Elbert Hubbard

Robert Schumann

Title:     Robert Schumann
Author: Elbert Hubbard [More Titles by Hubbard]

Beneath these flowers I dream, a silent chord. I can not wake my own strings to music; but under the hands of those who comprehend me, I become an eloquent friend. Wanderer, ere thou goest, try me! The more trouble thou takest with me, the more lovely will be the tones with which I shall reward thee.

---Robert Schumann

That any man should ever write his thoughts for other men to read, seems the very height of egoism.

Literature never dies, and so the person who writes constitutes himself a rival of Shakespeare and seeks to lure us from Montaigne, Milton, Emerson and Carlyle. To write nothing better than grammatical English, to punctuate properly, and repeat thoughts in the same sequence that have been repeated a thousand times, is to do something icily regular, splendidly null.

To down the demons of syntax and epithet is not enough. To compose blameless sonatas and produce symphonies in the accepted style, is not adding an iota to the world's worth.

The individual who tries to compose either ideas or harmonious sounds, and hopes for success, must compose because he can not help it. He must place the thing in a way it has never before been placed; on the subject he must throw a new light; he must carry the standard forward, and plant it one degree nearer the uncaptured citadel of the Ideal. And he must remember this: the very prominence of his position will cause him to be the target of contumely, abuse and much stupid misunderstanding. If he complains of these things (as he probably will), he reveals a rift in the lute and proves that he is only a half-god, after all.

Men of the highest type of culture--those of masterly talent--are not gregarious in their nature. The "jiner" instinct goes with a man who is a little doubtful, and so he attaches himself to this society, club or church.

The very tendency to "jine" is an admission of weakness--it is a getting under cover, a combining against the supposed enemy. The "jiner" is an ameba that clings to flotsam, instead of floating free in the great ocean of life. The lion loves his mate, but prefers to flock by himself.

The pioneer in art, as in any other field, must be willing to face deprivations and loneliness and heart-hunger. He must find companionship with birds and animals, and be brother to the trees and swift-flying clouds. When men meet on the desert or in the forest wilds, how grateful and how gracious is their hand-clasp! When love and understanding come to those who live on the border-land of two worlds, how precious and priceless the boon!

* * * * *

Robert Schumann was the son of a book-publisher of Zwickau. He was a handsome lad with the flash of genius in his luminous eyes, and an independence like that of an Alpine goat. When very young they say he used to have tantrums. If your child has a tantrum, it is bad policy for you to imitate him and have one, too.

A tantrum is only one of the little whirlwinds of God--it is misdirected energy, power not yet controlled. When Robert had a tantrum, his father would shake him violently to improve his temper, or fall upon him with a strap that hung handy behind the kitchen-door. Then the mother, when the father was out of the way, would take the lad and cry over him, and coddle him, and undo the discipline.

The best treatment for tantrums is--nothing. The more you let a nervous, impressionable child alone, the better.

When the lad was fourteen years old, we find him setting type in his father's printery. He was working on a book called, "The World's Celebrities," and his share of the work dealt with Jean Paul Richter. He grew interested in the copy and stopped setting type and read ahead, as printers sometimes will. The more he read, the more he was fascinated. He fell under the spell of Jean Paul the Only.

Jean Paul, inspired by Jean Jacques, was the inspirer of the whole brood of young writers of his time. To him they looked as to a Deliverer. Jean Paul the Only! The largest, gentlest, most generous heart in all literature! The peculiar mark of Richter's style is analogy and comparison; everything he saw reminded him of something else, and then he tells you of things of which both remind him. He leads and lures you on, and takes you far from home, but always brings you safely back. Yet comparison proves us false when we deal with Richter himself. He stands alone, like Adam's recollection of his fall, which according to Jean Paul was the one sweet, unforgetable thing in all the life of the First Citizen of his time.

Jean Paul seems to have combined in that mighty brain all feminine as well as masculine attributes. The soul in which the feminine does not mingle is ripe for wrong, strife and unreason. "It was mother-love, carried one step further, that enabled the Savior to embrace a world," says Carlyle.

The sweep of tender emotion that murmurs and rustles through the writing of Jean Paul is like the echo of a lullaby heard in a dream. Perhaps it came from that long partnership when mother and son held the siege against poverty, and the kitchen-table served them as a writing-desk, and the patient old mother was his sole reviewer, critic, reader and public.

For shams, hypocrisy and pretense Jean Paul had a cyclone of sarcasm, and the blows he struck were such as only a son of Anak could give; but in his heart there was no hate. He could despise a man's bad habits and still love the man behind the veneer of folly. So his arms seem ever extended, welcoming the wanderer home.

Dear Jean Paul, big and homely, what an insight you had into the heart of things, and what a flying-machine your imagination was! Room for many passengers? Yes, and children especially, for these you loved most of all, because you were ever only just a big overgrown boy yourself. You cried your eyes out before your hair grew white, and then a child or a woman led you about; and thus did you supply Victor Hugo a saying that can not die: "To be blind and to be loved--what happier fate!"

Yes, Jean Paul used to cry at his work when he wrote well, and I do, too. I always know when I write particularly well, for at such times I mop furiously. However, I seldom mop.

Robert Schumann began to write little essays, and the essays were as near like Jean Paul's as he could make them. He read them to his mother, just as Jean Paul used to write for his mother and call her "my Gentle Reader"--he had but one.

Robert's mother believed in her boy--what mother does not? But her love was not tempered by reason, and in it there was a sentimental flavor akin to the maudlin.

The father wanted the lad to take up his own business, as German fathers do, but the mother filled the lad's head with the thought that he was fit for something higher and better. She was not willing to let the seed ripen in Nature's way--she thought hothouse methods were an improvement.

Such a mother's ambition centers in her son. She wants him to do the thing she has never been able to do. She thirsts for honors, applause, publicity, and all those things that bring trouble and distress and make men old before their time.

So we find the boy at eighteen packed off to Heidelberg to study law, with no special preparation in knowledge of the world, of men or books. But old father antic, the law, was not to his taste. Robert liked music and poetry better. His fine, sensitive, emotional spirit found its best exercise in music; and at the house of Professor Carus he used to sing with the professor's wife. This Professor Carus, by the way, is, I believe, directly related to our own Doctor Paul Carus, of whom all thinking people in America have reason to be proud. I am told that when a boy of eighteen or nineteen mingles his voice several evenings a week with that of a married lady aged, say, thirty-five, and they also play "four hands" an hour or so a day, that the boy is apt to surprise the married lady by falling very much in love with her. Boys are quite given to this thing, anyway, of falling in love with women old enough to be their mothers--I don't know why it is. Sometimes I am rather inclined to commend the scheme, since it often brings good results. The fact that the woman's emotions are well tempered with a sort of maternal regard for her charge holds folly in check, dispels that tired feeling, promotes digestion, and stimulates the action of the ganglionic cells.

It was surely so in this instance, for Madame Carus taught the youth how to compose, and fired his mind to excel as a pianist. He wrote and dedicated small songs to her, and their relationship added cubits to the boy's stature.

From a boy he became a man at a bound. Just as one single April day, with its showers and sunshine, will transform the seemingly lifeless twigs into leafy branches, so did this young man's intellect ripen in the sunshine of love.

As for Professor Carus, he was too busy with his theorems and biological experiments to trouble himself about so trivial a matter as a youngster falling in love with his accomplished wife--here the Professor's good sense was shown.

Jean Paul Richter lighted his torch at the flame of Jean Jacques Rousseau. In a letter to Agnes Carus, Schumann has acknowledged his obligation to Richter, in a style that is truly Richteresque.

Says Robert:

Dear Lady:--I read from Jean Paul last night until I fell asleep and then I dreamed of you. It was at the torch of Jean Paul that I lighted my tallow dip, and now he is dead and these eyes shall never look into his, nor will his voice fall upon my ears. I cry salt tears to think that Jean Paul never knew you. If I could only have brought you two together and then looked upon you, realizing, as I would, that you had both come from High Olympus! Blissful are the days since I knew you, for you have brought within my range of vision new constellations, and into my soul has come the clear, white light of peace and truth. With you I am purified, freed from sin, and harmony fills my tired heart. Without you--why, really I have never dared think about it, for fear that reason would topple, and my mind forget its 'customed way--let's talk of music. * * *

Professor Carus kept his ear close to the ground for a higher call, and when the call came from Leipzig, he moved there with his family.

It was not many weeks before Robert was writing home, explaining that lawyers were men who get good people into trouble, and bad folks out; and as for himself he had decided to cut the business and fling himself into the arms of the Muse.

This letter brought his mother down upon him with tears and pleadings that he would not fail to redeem the Schumanns by becoming a Great Man. Poetry was foolishness and all musicians were poor--there were a hundred of them in Zwickau who lived on rye-bread and wienerwurst.

The boy promised and the mother went home pacified. But not many weeks had passed before Robert set out on a pilgrimage to Bayreuth, to visit the scene of Jean Paul's romances. On this same tour he went to Munich, and there met Heinrich Heine, who was from that day to enter into his heart and jostle Jean Paul for first place. He was accompanied on this memorable trip by Gisbert Rosen, who proved his lifelong friend and confidant. Very naturally Leipzig was the ardently desired goal of his wanderings. At once on arriving there, he sought out the home of Professor and Madame Carus. That his greeting (and mayhap hers) did not contain all the warmth the boy lover had anticipated is shown in a letter to Rosen, wherein he says: "This world is only a huge graveyard of buried dreams, a garden of cypress and weeping willows, a silent peep-show with tearful puppets. Alas for our high faith--I wonder if Jean Paul wasn't right when he said that love lessens woman's delicacy, and time and distance dissipate it like morning dew?"

Yet Madame Carus was kind, for Robert played at little informal concerts at her house, and she urged him to abandon law for music; and he refers the matter to Rosen, asking Rosen's advice and explaining how he wants to be advised, just as we usually do. Rosen tells him that no man can succeed at an undertaking unless his heart is in the work, and so he shifts the responsibility of deciding on Professor Carus, whom Robert "respects," but does not exactly admire enough to follow his advice.

Robert does not consider the Professor a practical man, and so leaves the matter to his wife. In the meantime songs are written similar to Heine's, and essays turned off, pinned with the precise synonym, the phrase exquisite, just like Jean Paul's. Progress in piano-playing goes steadily forward, with practise on the violin, all under the tutelage of Madame Carus, who one fine day takes the young man to play for Frederick Wieck, the best music-teacher in Leipzig.

* * * * *

"Musicians?" said Wieck, "I raise them!"

And so he did. He proved the value of his theories by making great performers of Maria and Clara, his daughters--two sisters more gifted in a musical way have never been born. Germany excels in philosophy and music--a seeming paradox. Music is supposed to be a compound of the stuff that dreams are made of--hazy, misty, dim, intangible feelings set to sounds--we close our eyes and they take us captive and carry us away on the wings of melody. And so it may be true that music is born of moonshine, and fragrant memories, and hopes too great for earth, and loves unrealized; yet its expression is the most exacting of sciences. A Great Musician has not only to be a poet and a dreamer, but he must also be a mathematician, cold as chilled steel, and a philosopher who can follow a reason to its lair and grapple it to the death. And that is why Great Musicians are so rare, and that is also why, perhaps, there are no great women composers. "Women of genius are men," said the De Goncourts. A Great Musician is a paradox, a miracle, a multiple-sided man--stern, firm, selfish, proud and unyielding; yet sensuous as the ether, tender as a woman, innocent as a child, and as plastic as potters' clay. And with most of them, let us frankly admit it, the hand of the Potter shook. When people write about musicians, they seldom write moderately. The man is either a selfish rogue or an angel of light--it all depends upon your point of view. And the curious part is, both sides are right.

Wieck was very fond of his daughters, and like good housewives who are proud of their biscuit, he apologized for them. "He never quite forgave our mother because we were girls," said Clara once, to Kalkbrenner. Wieck, the good man, was a philosopher, and he had a notion that the blood of woman is thinner than that of man--that it contains more white serum and fewer red corpuscles, and that Nature has designed the body of a woman to nourish her offspring, but that man's energy goes to feed his brain. Yet his girls were so much beyond average mortals that they would set men a pace in spite of the handicap.

Fortunate it is for me that I do not have to act as the court of last appeal on this genius business. The man who decides against woman will forfeit his popularity, have his reputation ripped into carpet-rags, and his good name worked up into crazy-quilts by a thousand Woman's Clubs.

But certain it is that women are the inspirers of music. As critics they are more judicial and more appreciative. Without women there would be no Symphony Concerts, any more than there would be churches.

Women take men to the Grand Opera and to Musical Festivals--and I am glad.

* * * * *

Clara Wieck was only ten years old, with dresses that came to her knees, when Robert Schumann first began to take lessons of her father. She was tall for her age, and had a habit of brushing her hair from her eyes as she played, that impressed the young man as very funny. She could not remember a time when she did not play: and she showed such ease and abandon that her father used to call her in and have her illustrate his ideas on the keyboard.

Robert didn't like the child--she was needlessly talented. She could do, just as a matter of course, the things that he could scarcely accomplish with great effort. He didn't like her.

Already Clara had played in various concerts, and was a great favorite with the local public. Soon her father planned little tours, when he gave performances assisted by his two daughters, who could play both violin and piano. Their fame grew and fortune smiled. Wieck took a larger house and raised his prices for pupils.

Robert Schumann wandered over to Zwickau to visit his folks, then went on down the Rhine to Heidelberg to see Rosen. It was nearly a year before he got back to Leipzig, resolved to continue his music studies. Wieck had a front room vacant, and so the young man took lodgings with his teacher.

It was not so very long before Clara was wearing her dresses a little longer. She now dressed her hair in two braids instead of one, and these braids were tied with ribbons instead of a shoe-string. More concerts were being arranged, and the attendance was larger--people were saying that Clara Wieck was an Infant Phenomenon.

Robert was progressing, but not so rapidly as he wished. To aid matters a bit, he invented a brace and extension to his middle finger. It gave him a farther reach and a stronger stroke, he thought. In secret he practised for hours with this "corset" on his finger; he didn't know that a corset means weakness, not strength. After three straight hours of practise one day, he took the machine from his hand and was astonished to see the finger curl up like a pretzel. He hurried to a physician and was told that the member was paralyzed. Various forms of treatment were tried, but the tendons were injured, and at last the doctors told him his brain could never again telegraph to that hand so it would perfectly obey orders. He begged that they would cut the finger off, but this they refused to do, claiming that, even though the finger was in the way, piano-playing in any event was not the chief end of man--he might try a pick and shovel.

Clara, who now wore her dress to her shoe-tops, sympathized with the young man in his distress. She said, "Never mind, I will play for you--you write the music and I will play it!"

Gradually he became resigned to this, and spent much of his time composing music for Heine's songs and his own. Wieck didn't much like these songs, and forbade his daughter playing such trashy things--only a paraphrase of Schubert's work, anyway, goodness me!

The girl pouted and rebelled, and erelong Robert Schumann was requested to take lodgings elsewhere. Moodily he obeyed, but he managed to keep up a secret correspondence with Clara, through the help of her sister. Whenever Clara played in public, Robert was sure to be there, even though the distance were a hundred miles. He had given up playing, and now swung between composing and literature, having assumed the editorship of a musical magazine.

When Clara now played in concert, she wore a train, and her hair was done up on the top of her head.

Schumann's musical magazine was winning its way--the young man had a literary style. Mendelssohn commended the magazine, and its editor in turn commended Mendelssohn. A new star had been discovered on the horizon--a Pole, Chopin by name. And whenever Clara Wieck appeared, there were extended notices, lavish in praise, profuse in prophecy.

Herz had written an article for a rival journal about Clara Wieck, wherein the statement was made that no woman trained on, that her playing was intuitive, and the limit quickly reached--marriage was death to a woman's art, etc.

To this Schumann replied with needless heat, and his friends began to joke him about his "disinterestedness." He was getting moody, and there were times when he was silent for days. His passion for Clara Wieck was consuming his life. He resolved to go direct to Frederick Wieck and have it out.

* * * * *

They are always called "the Schumanns"--Robert and Clara. You can not separate them, any more than you can separate the great Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett. "Whomsoever God hath joined together, let no man put asunder," seems rather a needless injunction, since we know that man's efforts in the line of separation have ever but one result: opposition fans the flame.

Just as Elizabeth Barrett's father forcibly opposed the mating of his daughter, so did Frederick Wieck oppose the love of his daughter Clara for Robert Schumann.

And one can not blame the man so very much--he knew the young man and he knew the girl; and deducting fifty per cent for paternal pride, he saw that the girl was much the stronger character of the two. Clara had already a recognized reputation as a performer; her playing had made her father rich, and he was sure that greater things were to come. Beside that, she was only seventeen years old--a mere child.

Robert was twenty-six, with most of his future before him--he was advised to win a name and place for himself before aspiring to the hand of a great artist: and so he was bowed out.

He took the matter into the courts, and the decision was that, as she was now eighteen years old, she had the right to wed, if she were so minded.

And so they were married; but Frederick Wieck was not present at the ceremony to give the bride away.

* * * * *

Schumann was essentially feminine in many ways, as the best men always are. In spite of his mental independence, he did his best work when shielded in the shadow of a stronger personality. Without Clara, Robert would probably be unknown to us. She gave him the courage and the confidence that he lacked; and she it was who interpreted his work to the world.

Heine characterized Meyerbeer's "Les Huguenots" as "like a Gothic cathedral whose heaven-soaring spire and colossal cupolas seem to have been planted there by the sure hand of a giant; whereas the innumerable features, the rosettes and arabesques that are spread over it everywhere like a lacework of stone, witness to the indefatigable patience of a dwarf."

Very different is the work of Robert Schumann, who, like his master Schubert, knew little of the architectonics of the Art Divine. But Schubert seems to have been the first to give us the "lyric cry"--the prayer of a heart bowed down, or the ecstasy of a soul enrapt.

Schumann built on Schubert. Music was to Schumann the expression of an emotion. He saw in pictures, then he told in tones, what his inward eye beheld. He even went so far as to give the names of persons, their peculiarities and experiences on the keyboard. It is needless to say that the tension of mind in such experiments is apt to reach the breaking strain. We are under bonds for the moderate use of every faculty, and he who misuses any of God's gifts may not hope to go unscathed.

The exquisite quality of Robert Schumann's imagination served to make him shun the society of vulgar people. The inability to grasp things intuitively harassed him, and he acquired a habit of keeping silence, except with the elect. He lived within himself, unless Clara were by, and then he leaned on her.

And what a strong, brave and beautiful soul she was! In a sense she sacrificed her own career for the man she loved. And by giving all, she won all.

Most descriptions of women begin by telling how the individual looked and what she wore. No pen-portraits of Clara Schumann have come down to us, for the reason that she was too great, too elusive in spirit, for any snapshot artist to attempt her. She never looked twice the same. In feature she was commonplace, her form lacked the classic touch, and her raiment was as plain as the plumage of a brown thrush in an autumn hedgerow. She was as homely as George Eliot, Mary Wollstonecraft, Rosa Bonheur, George Sand, or Madame De Stael. No two of the women named looked alike, but I once saw a composite photograph of their portraits and the picture sent no thrills along my keel. Their splendor was a matter of spirit. Have you ever seen the Duse?--there is but one. In repose this woman's face is absolute nullity. She starts with a blank--you would never take a second glance at her at a pink tea. Her dress is bargain day, her form so-so, her features clay.

But mayhap she will lift her hand and resting her chin upon it will look at you out of half-closed eyes that never are twice alike. If you are speaking you will suddenly become aware that she is listening, and then you will become uncomfortable and try to stop, but can not; for you will realize that you have been talking at random, and you want to redeem yourself.

The presence of this plain woman is a challenge--she knows! Yet she never contradicts, and when she wills it, she will lead you out of the maze and make you at peace with yourself; for our quarrel with the world is only a quarrel with self. When we are at peace with self we are at peace with God.

The Duse is a surprise, in that her homeliness of face masks an intellect that is a revelation. Her body is an exasperation to the tribe of Worth, but it houses a soul that has lived every life, died every death, known every sorrow, tasted every joy, and been one with the outcast, the despised, the forsaken; and has stood, too, clothed in shining raiment by the side of the great, the noble, the powerful. Knowing all, she forgives all. And across the face and out of the eyes, and even from her silence, come messages of sympathy--messages of strength, messages of a faith that is dauntless. Great people are simply those who have sympathy plus. Clara Schumann knew the excellence of her chosen mate, and through her sympathy made it possible for him to express himself at his highest and best. She also guessed his limitations and sought to hold him 'gainst the calamity she saw looming on the horizon, no bigger than a man's hand.

When he was moody and there came times of melancholy, she invited young people to the house; and so Robert mingled his life with theirs, and in their aspirations he shook off the demons of doubt.

It was in this way that he became interested in various rising stars, and although in some instances we are aware that his prophecies went astray, we know that he hailed Chopin and Brahms long before they had come within the ken of the musical world, that so often looks through the large end of the telescope. And this kindly encouragement, this fostering welcome that the Schumanns gave to all aspiring young artists, is not the least of their virtues. We love them because they were kind.

* * * * *

Clara Schumann was wise beyond the lot of woman. She knew this fact which very few mortals ever realize: The triumphs of yesterday belong to yesterday, with all of yesterday's defeats and sorrows--the day is Here, the time is Now. She did not drag her troubles behind her with a rope, nor wax vain over achievements done. When the light of her husband's intellect went out in darkness and he lived for a space a lingering death, she faced the dawn each morning, resolved to do her work and do it the best she could.

When death came to Robert's relief, her one ambition, like that of Mary Shelley, was to write her husband's name indelibly on history's page.

The professedly and professionally cheerful person is very depressing. The pessimist always has wit, for wit reveals itself in the knowledge of values. And the individual who accepts what Fate sends, and undoes Calamity by drinking all of it, is sure to have a place in our calendar of saints.

Clara Schumann, a widow at thirty-seven, with a goodly brood of babies, and no income to speak of, lived one day at a time, did her work as well as she could, and always had a little time and energy over to use for others less fortunate.

Such fortitude is sure to bear fruit, and friends flocked to her as never before. The way to secure friends is to be one.

Madame Schumann made concert tours throughout the Continent and England, meeting on absolute equality the music-loving people, as well as the Kings of Art. She played her husband's pieces with such a wealth of expression that folks wondered why they had never heard of them. And so today, wherever hearts are sad, or glad, and songs are sung, and strings vibrate, and keys respond to love's caress, there is in hearts that know and feel, a shrine; and on this shrine in letters of gold two words are carved, and they are these: THE SCHUMANNS.

[The end]
Elbert Hubbard's Writings: Robert Schumann