It is ridiculous to dogmatise. It is absurd - indeed, it is impossible, to maintain that the reward of success is misery or social ostracism. There can be no such rule. The number of great men whose private lives also have been great is legion. And among this number there is no more splendid figure than that of Robert Schumann.
He was a musician. Clara Wieck was a musician. They were two beings whose minds were in perfect harmony, and from the day upon which they accepted each other's love they remained loyal and true till death; neither of them wavered once. And this was so, although Schumann was the most susceptible of mortals. He was an artist; he craved for the beautiful things of the world; he lived for love. This makes his constancy all the more to be admired.
Until Clara Wieck crossed his path, moreover, his life literally was a series of romantic attachments. They followed one another in bewildering succession. But each was delightful, each romantic. Schumann's art invariably made love a thing of beauty. It was in 1827 that he first fell the victim to a woman's charm. At the time he was only seventeen years of age, and all that is known of the lady is the impression which she made upon her youthful lover.
"Oh, friend," he wrote to a schoolfellow, "were I but a smile, how I would flit about her eyes ! . . were I but joy, how gently would I throb in all her pulses ! yea, might I be but a tear, I would weep with her, and then, if she smiled again, how gladly would I die upon her eyelids, and gladly, gladly, be no more."
Gradually, however, the attractions of the unknown waned before the charm of "Liddy." And then, when in due course her power of fascination yielded to that of "Nanni," he reconciled himself to the inevitable, and, with the mature wisdom of his years, declared : ' I think I loved her, but I knew only the outward form in which the roseate-tinted fancy of youth often embodies its inmost longings."
But his affection for "Nanni," too, was transient; before the end of the year it had subsided, and remained only as " a quietly burning sacred flame of pure, divine friendship and reverence." In the following year, 1828, while staying at Augsburg, he was enamoured of a chemist's daughter. She, however, already was engaged. Poor Schumann ! He was a broken-hearted student who proceeded thence to the University of Leipsic to study law.
His mother wished him to become a lawyer. She was unconscious of his real ability. This the father alone had realised, but the father was dead. The mother's will, therefore, prevailed, for Schumann was devoted to her; she was at once his mother, friend, and confidante. But legal studies he did not allow to interfere with his university career. Such time as he did not. devote to piano playing, he allotted to writing, dreaming, acquiring a taste for extravagant cigars, and, indeed, also to love-making.
"I found it frightfully hard to leave Leipsic at the last," he wrote to his mother in 1829. " A girl's soul - beautiful, happy, and pure - had enslaved mine." In Italy, however - he journeyed there from Leipsic-r-he soon found someone to console him, " a beautiful English girl, who," he wrote, ' seemed to have fallen in love not so much with myself as with my piano playing, for all English women love with the head." He followed her to Venice, but there, alas ! his inamorata left him. "My heart is heavy," he declared, " . she gave me a spray of cypress as we parted . . . She was very proud and kind, and loving and hating . . . hard, but so soft when I was playing - accursed reminiscences ! "
Soon after the boy's return from Italy Frau Schumann withdrew her opposition, and, acting upon the advice of the master himself, allowed her son to study music under Wieck.
Schumann threw himself heart and soul into the work, and his delight was inexpressible, if only because he had as his master one of the most famous piano teachers of the day. Friedrich Wieck, however, was interested in the career of his marvellous daughter even more than in his profession. She was the centre of his ambi-tons. Although, when Schumann joined the Wieck household in 1829, Clara was only nine years old, she had already made an appearance on the concert platform. And her debut had startled Europe. Not merely because the pianist was an infant prodigy, but because her playing was such as had never been heard before, even in Germany.
In the company of this youthful genius Schumann's life began. The years that had gone before had been wasted years. Now, for the first time, he became conscious of his own great power. And with that power there sprang into being a still greater force, the force of love. And to love and to his art Schumann was a slave; without them his life would have been as nothing.
Robert Schumann, the great composer, whose life story proves conclusively that it is possible at one and the same time to be a genius and a successful lover
At first he did not realise this truth. But who can wonder at that ? At the time, he was eighteen years of age; Clara was nine.. For the present her playing fascinated him. That was all. He was more interested in the person of a fellow pupil lodger, Ernestine von Fricken, the adopted daughter of a rich Bohemian baron.
"She has a delightfully pure, childlike mind," he told his mother," is delicate and thoughtful, deeply attached to me and everything artistic, and uncommonly musical; in short, just such a one as I might wish to have for a wife. I will whisper it in your ear, my good mother, if the Future were to ask me whom I should choose, I should answer unhesitatingly, 'this one.' "