The Ensouled Violin
In the year 1828, an old German, a music teacher, came to Paris with his pupil
and settled unostentatiously in one of the quiet faubourgs of the metropolis.
The first rejoiced in the name of Samuel Klaus; the second answered to the more
poetical appellation of Franz Stenio. The younger man was a violinist, gifted,
as rumor went, with extraordinary, almost miraculous talent. Yet as he was poor
and had not hitherto made a name for himself in Europe, he remained for several
years in the capital of France--the heart and pulse of capricious continental
fashion--unknown and unappreciated. Franz was a Styrian by birth, and, at the
time of the event to be presently described, he was a young man considerably
under thirty. A philosopher and a dreamer by nature, imbued with all the mystic
oddities of true genius, he reminded one of some of the heroes in Hoffmann's
Contes Fantastiques. His earlier existence had been a very unusual, in fact,
quite an eccentric one, and its history must be briefly told--for the better
understanding of the present story.
Born of very pious country people, in a quiet burg among the Styrian Alps;
nursed "by the native gnomes who watched over his cradle"; growing up in the
weird atmosphere of the ghouls and vampires who play such a prominent part in
the household of every Styrian and Slavonian in Southern Austria; educated
later, as a student, in the shadow of the old Rhenish castles of Germany; Franz
from his childhood had passed through every emotional stage on the plane of the
so-called "supernatural." He had also studied at one time the "occult arts" with
an enthusiastic disciple of Paracelsus and Khunrath; alchemy had few theoretical
secrets for him; and he had dabbled in "ceremonial magic" and "sorcery" with
some Hungarian Tziganes. Yet he loved above all else music, and above music--his
At the age of twenty-two he suddenly gave up his practical studies in the
occult, and from that day, though as devoted as ever in thought to the beautiful
Grecian Gods, he surrendered himself entirely to his art. Of his classic studies
he had retained only that which related to the muses--Euterpe especially, at
whose altar he worshipped--and Orpheus whose magic lyre he tried to emulate with
his violin. Except his dreamy belief in the nymphs and the sirens, on account
probably of the double relationship of the latter to the muses through Calliope
and Orpheus, he was interested but little in the matters of this sublunary
world. All his aspirations mounted, like incense, with the wave of the heavenly
harmony that he drew from his instrument, to a higher and nobler sphere. He
dreamed awake, and lived a real though an enchanted life only during those hours
when his magic bow carried him along the wave of sound to the Pagan Olympus, to
the feet of Euterpe. A strange child he had ever been in his own home, where
tales of magic and witchcraft grow out of every inch of the soil; a still
stranger boy he had become, until finally he had blossomed into manhood, without
one single characteristic of youth. Never had a fair face attracted his
attention; not for one moment had his thoughts turned from his solitary studies
to a life beyond that of a mystic Bohemian. Content with his own company, he had
thus passed the best years of his youth and manhood with his violin for his
chief idol, and with the Gods and Goddesses of old Greece for his audience, in
perfect ignorance of practical life. His whole existence had been one long day
of dreams, of melody and sunlight, and he had never felt any other aspirations.
How useless, but oh, how glorious those dreams! how vivid! and why should he
desire any better fate? Was he not all that he wanted to be, transformed in a
second of thought into one or another hero; from Orpheus, who held all nature
breathless, to the urchin who piped away under the plane tree to the naiads of
CallirrhoÔ's crystal fountain? Did not the swift-footed nymphs frolic at his
beck and call to the sound of the magic flute of the Arcadian shepherd--who was
himself? Behold, the Goddess of Love and Beauty herself descending from on high,
attracted by the sweet-voiced notes of his violin! . . . Yet there came a time
when he preferred Syrinx to Aphrodite--not as the fair nymph pursued by Pan, but
after her transformation by the merciful Gods into the reed out of which the
frustrated God of the Shepherds had made his magic pipe. For also, with time,
ambition grows and is rarely satisfied. When he tried to emulate on his violin
the enchanting sounds that resounded in his mind, the whole of Parnassus kept
silent under the spell, or joined in heavenly chorus; but the audience he
finally craved was composed of more than the Gods sung by Hesiod, verily of the
most appreciative m*lomanes of European capitals. He felt jealous of the magic
pipe, and would fain have had it at his command.
"Oh! that I could allure a nymph into my beloved violin!"--he often cried, after
awakening from one of his day-dreams. "Oh, that I could only span in
spirit-flight the abyss of Time! Oh, that I could find myself for one short day
a partaker of the secret arts of the Gods, a God myself, in the sight and
hearing of enraptured humanity; and, having learned the mystery of the lyre of
Orpheus, or secured within my violin a siren, thereby benefit mortals to my own
Thus, having for long years dreamed in the company of the Gods of his fancy, he
now took to dreaming of the transitory glories of fame upon this earth. But at
this time he was suddenly called home by his widowed mother from one of the
German universities where he had lived for the last year or two. This was an
event which brought his plans to an end, at least so far as the immediate future
was concerned, for he had hitherto drawn upon her alone for his meagre pittance,
and his means were not sufficient for an independent life outside his native
His return had a very unexpected result. His mother, whose only love he was on
earth, died soon after she had welcomed her Benjamin back; and the good wives of
the burg exercised their swift tongues for many a month after as to the real
causes of that death.
Frau Stenio, before Franz's return, was a healthy, buxom, middle-aged body,
strong and hearty. She was a pious and a God-fearing soul too, who had never
failed in saying her prayers, nor had missed an early mass for years during his
absence. On the first Sunday after her son had settled at home--a day that she
had been longing for and had anticipated for months in joyous visions, in which
she saw him kneeling by her side in the little church on the hill--she called
him from the foot of the stairs. The hour had come when her pious dream was to
be realized, and she was waiting for him, carefully wiping the dust from the
prayer-book he had used in his boyhood. But instead of Franz, it was his violin
that responded to her call, mixing its sonorous voice with the rather cracked
tones of the peal of the merry Sunday bells. The fond mother was somewhat
shocked at hearing the prayer-inspiring sounds drowned by the weird, fantastic
notes of the "Dance of the Witches"; they seemed to her so unearthly and
mocking. But she almost fainted upon hearing the definite refusal of her
well-beloved son to go to church. He never went to church, he coolly remarked.
It was loss of time; besides which, the loud peals of the old church organ
jarred on his nerves. Nothing should induce him to submit to the torture of
listening to that cracked organ. He was firm, and nothing could move him. To her
supplications and remonstrances he put an end by offering to play for her a
"Hymn to the Sun" he had just composed.
From that memorable Sunday morning, Frau Stenio lost her usual serenity of mind.
She hastened to lay her sorrows and seek for consolation at the foot of the
confessional; but that which she heard in response from the stern priest filled
her gentle and unsophisticated soul with dismay and almost with despair. A
feeling of fear, a sense of profound terror which soon became a chronic state
with her, pursued her from that moment; her nights became disturbed and
sleepless, her days passed in prayer and lamentations. In her maternal anxiety
for the salvation of her beloved son's soul, and for his post-mortem welfare,
she made a series of rash vows. Finding that neither the Latin petition to the
Mother of God written for her by her spiritual adviser, nor yet the humble
supplications in German, addressed by herself to every saint she had reason to
believe was residing in Paradise, worked the desired effect, she took to
pilgrimages to distant shrines. During one of these journeys to a holy chapel
situated high up in the mountains, she caught cold, amidst the glaciers of the
Tyro, and redescended only to take to a sick bed, from which she arose no more.
Frau Stenio's vow had led her, in one sense, to the desired result. The poor
woman was now given an opportunity of seeking out in propria persona the saints
she had believed in so well, and of pleading face to face for the recreant son,
who refused adherence to them and to the Church, scoffed at monk and
confessional, and held the organ in such horror.
Franz sincerely lamented his mother's death. Unaware of being the indirect cause
of it, he felt no remorse; but selling the modest household goods and chattels,
light in purse and heart, he resolved to travel on foot for a year or two,
before settling down to any definite profession.
A hazy desire to see the great cities of Europe, and to try his luck in France,
lurked at the bottom of this travelling project, but his Bohemian habits of life
were too strong to be abruptly abandoned. He placed his small capital with a
banker for a rainy day, and started on his pedestrian journey via Germany and
Austria. His violin paid for his board and lodging in the inns and farms on his
way, and he passed his days in the green fields and in the solemn silent woods,
face to face with Nature, dreaming all the time as usual with his eyes open.
During the three months of his pleasant travels to and fro, he never descended
for one moment from Parnassus; but, as an alchemist transmutes lead into gold,
so he transformed everything on his way into a song of Hesiod or Anacreon. Every
evening, while fiddling for his supper and bed, whether on a green lawn or in
the hall of a rustic inn, his fancy changed the whole scene for him. Village
swains and maidens became transfigured into Arcadian shepherds and nymphs. The
sand-covered floor was now a green sward; the uncouth couples spinning round in
a measured waltz with the wild grace of tamed bears became priests and
priestesses of Terpsichore; the bulky, cherry-cheeked and blue-eyed daughters of
rural Germany were the Hesperides circling around the trees laden with the
golden apples. Nor did the melodious strains of the Arcadian demi-gods piping on
their syrinxes, and audible but to his own enchanted ear, vanish with the dawn.
For no sooner was the curtain of sleep raised from his eyes than he would sally
forth into a new magic realm of day-dreams. On his way to some dark and solemn
pine forest, he played incessantly, to himself and to everything else. He
fiddled to the green hill, and forthwith the mountain and the moss-covered rocks
moved forward to hear him the better, as they had done at the sound of the
Orphean lyre. He fiddled to the merry-voiced brook, to the hurrying river, and
both slackened their speed and stopped their waves, and, becoming silent, seemed
to listen to him in an entranced rapture. Even the long-legged stork who stood
meditatively on one leg on the thatched top of the rustic mill, gravely
resolving unto himself the problem of his too-long existence, sent out after him
a long and strident cry, screeching, "Art thou Orpheus himself, O Stenio?" It
was a period of full bliss, of a daily and almost hourly exaltation. The last
words of his dying mother, whispering to him of the horrors of eternal
condemnation, had left him unaffected, and the only vision her warning evoked in
him was that of Pluto. By a ready association of ideas, he saw the lord of the
dark nether kingdom greeting him as he had greeted the husband of Eurydice
before him. Charmed with the magic sounds of his violin, the wheel of Ixion was
at a standstill once more, thus affording relief to the wretched seducer of
Juno, and giving the lie to those who claim eternity for the duration of the
punishment of condemned sinners. He perceived Tantalus forgetting his
never-ceasing thirst, and smacking his lips as he drank in the heaven-born
melody; the stone of Sisyphus becoming motionless, the Furies themselves smiling
on him, and the sovereign of the gloomy regions delighted, and awarding
preference to his violin over the lyre of Orpheus. Taken au s*rieux, mythology
thus seems a decided antidote to fear, in the face of theological threats,
especially when strengthened with an insane and passionate love of music; with
Franz, Euterpe proved always victorious in every contest, aye, even with Hell
But there is an end to everything, and very soon Franz had to give up
uninterrupted dreaming. He had reached the university town where dwelt his old
violin teacher, Samuel Klaus. When this antiquated musician found that his
beloved and favourite pupil, Franz, had been left poor in purse and still poorer
in earthly affections, he felt his strong attachment to the boy awaken with
tenfold force. He took Franz to his heart, and forthwith adopted him as his son.
The old teacher reminded people of one of those grotesque figures which look as
if they had just stepped out of some medi*val panel. And yet Klaus, with his
fantastic allures of a night-goblin, had the most loving heart, as tender as
that of a woman, and the self-sacrificing nature of an old Christian martyr.
When Franz had briefly narrated to him the history of his last few years, the
professor took him by the hand, and leading him into his study simply said:
"Stop with me, and put an end to your Bohemian life Make yourself famous. I am
old and childless and will be your father. Let us live together and forget all
And forthwith he offered to proceed with Franz to Paris, via several large
German cities, where they would stop to give concerts.
In a few days Klaus succeeded in making Franz forget his vagrant life and its
artistic independence, and reawakened in his pupil his now dormant ambition and
desire for worldly fame. Hitherto, since his mother's death, he had been content
to receive applause only from the Gods and Goddesses who inhabited his vivid
fancy; now he began to crave once more for the admiration of mortals. Under the
clever and careful training of old Klaus his remarkable talent gained in
strength and powerful charm with every day, and his reputation grew and expanded
with every city and town wherein he made himself heard. His ambition was being
rapidly realized; the presiding genii of various musical centres to whose
patronage his talent was submitted soon proclaimed him the one violinist of the
day, and the public declared loudly that he stood unrivalled by any one whom
they had ever heard. These laudations very soon made both master and pupil
completely lose their heads. But Paris was less ready with such appreciation.
Paris makes reputations for itself, and will take none on faith. They had been
living in it for almost three years, and were still climbing with difficulty the
artist's Calvary, when an event occurred which put an end even to their most
modest expectations. The first arrival of Nicolo Paganini was suddenly heralded,
and threw Lutetia into a convulsion of expectation. The unparallelled artist
arrived, and--all Paris fell at once at his feet.
Now it is a well-known fact that a superstition born in the dark days of
medi*val superstition, and surviving almost to the middle of the present
century, attributed all such abnormal, out-of-the-way talent as that of Paganini
to "supernatural" agency. Every great and marvellous artist had been accused in
his day of dealings with the devil. A few instances will suffice to refresh the
Tartini, the great composer and violinist of the XVIIth century, was denounced
as one who got his best inspirations from the Evil One, with whom he was, it was
said, in regular league. This accusation was, of course, due to the almost
magical impression he produced upon his audiences. His inspired performance on
the violin secured for him in his native country the title of "Master of
Nations." The Sonate du Diable, also called "Tartini's Dream"--as every one who
has heard it will be ready to testify--is the most weird melody ever heard or
invented: hence, the marvellous composition has become the source of endless
legends Nor were they entirely baseless, since it was he, himself; who was shown
to have originated them. Tartini confessed to having written it on awakening
from a dream, in which he had heard his sonata performed by Satan, for his
benefit, and in consequence of a bargain made with his infernal majesty.
Several famous singers, even, whose exceptional voices struck the hearers with
superstitious admiration, have not escaped a like accusation. Pasta's splendid
voice was attributed in her day to the fact that three months before her birth,
the diva's mother was carried during a trance to heaven, and there treated to a
vocal concert of seraphs. Malibran was indebted for her voice to St. Cecilia,
while others said she owed it to a demon who watched over her cradle and sang
the baby to sleep. Finally, Paganini--the unrivalled performer, the mean
Italian, who like Dryden's Jubal striking on the "chorded shell" forced the
throngs that followed him to worship the divine sounds produced, and made people
say that "less than a God could not dwell within the hollow of his
violin"--Paganini left a legend too.
The almost supernatural art of the greatest violin-player that the world has
ever known was often speculated upon, never understood. The effect produced by
him on his audience was literally marvellous, overpowering. The great Rossini is
said to have wept like a sentimental German maiden on hearing him play for the
first time. The Princess Elisa of Lucca, a sister of the great Napoleon, in
whose service Paganini was, as director of her private orchestra, for a long
time was unable to hear him play without fainting. In women he produced nervous
fits and hysterics at his will; stout-hearted men he drove to frenzy. He changed
cowards into heroes and made the bravest soldiers feel like so many nervous
schoolgirls. Is it to be wondered at, then, that hundreds of weird tales
circulated for long years about and around the mysterious Genoese, that modern
Orpheus of Europe? One of these was especially ghastly. It was rumoured, and was
believed by more people than would probably like to confess it, that the strings
of his violin were made of human intestines, according to all the rules and
requirements of the Black Art.
Exaggerated as this idea may seem to some, it has nothing impossible in it; and
it is more than probable that it was this legend that led to the extraordinary
events which we are about to narrate. Human organs are often used by the Eastern
Black Magician, so-called, and it is an averred fact that some BengälÓ Täntrikas
(reciters of tantras, or "invocations to the demon," as a reverend writer has
described them) use human corpses, and certain internal and external organs
pertaining to them, as powerful magical agents for bad purposes.
However this may be, now that the magnetic and mesmeric potencies of hypnotism
are recognized as facts by most physicians, it may be suggested with less danger
than heretofore that the extraordinary effects of Paganini's violin-playing were
not, perhaps, entirely due to his talent and genius. The wonder and awe he so
easily excited were as much caused by his external appearance, "which had
something weird and demoniacal in it," according to certain of his biographers,
as by the inexpressible charm of his execution and his remarkable mechanical
skill. The latter is demonstrated by his perfect imitation of the flageolet, and
his performance of long and magnificent melodies on the G string alone. In this
performance, which many an artist has tried to copy without success, he remains
unrivalled to this day.
It is owing to this remarkable appearance of his--termed by his friends
eccentric, and by his too nervous victims, diabolical--that he experienced great
difficulties in refuting certain ugly rumours. These were credited far more
easily in his day than they would be now. It was whispered throughout Italy, and
even in his own native town, that Paganini had murdered his wife, and, later on,
a mistress, both of whom he had loved passionately, and both of whom he had not
hesitated to sacrifice to his fiendish ambition. He had made himself proficient
in magic arts, it was asserted, and had succeeded thereby in imprisoning the
souls of his two victims in his violin--his famous Cremona.
It is maintained by the immediate friends of Ernest T.W. Hoffmann, the
celebrated author of Die Elixire des Teufels, Meister Martin, and other charming
and mystical tales, that Councillor Crespel, in the Violin of Cremona, was taken
from the legend about Paganini. It is, as all who have read it know, the history
of a celebrated violin, into which the voice and the soul of a famous diva, a
woman whom Crespel had loved and killed, had passed, and to which was added the
voice of his beloved daughter, Antonia.
Nor was this superstition utterly ungrounded, nor was Hoffmann to be blamed for
adopting it, after he had heard Paganini's playing. The extraordinary facility
with which the artist drew out of his instrument, not only the most unearthly
sounds, but positively human voices, justified the suspicion. Such effects might
well have startled an audience and thrown terror into many a nervous heart. Add
to this the impenetrable mystery connected with a certain period of Paganini's
youth, and the most wild tales about him must be found in a measure justifiable,
and even excusable; especially among a nation whose ancestors knew the Borgias
and the Medicis of Black Art fame.
In those pre-telegraphic days, newspapers were limited, and the wings of fame
had a heavier flight than they have now.
Franz had hardly heard of Paganini; and when he did, he swore he would rival, if
not eclipse, the Genoese magician. Yes, he would either become the most famous
of all living violinists, or he would break his instrument and put an end to his
life at the same time.
Old Klaus rejoiced at such a determination. He rubbed his hands in glee, and
jumping about on his lame leg like a crippled satyr, he flattered and incensed
his pupil, believing himself all the while to be performing a sacred duty to the
holy and majestic cause of art.
Upon first setting foot in Paris, three years before, Franz had all but failed.
Musical critics pronounced him a rising star, but had all agreed that he
required a few more years' practice, before he could hope to carry his audiences
by storm. Therefore, after a desperate study of over two years and uninterrupted
preparations, the Styrian artist had finally made himself ready for his first
serious appearance in the great Opera House where a public concert before the
most exacting critics of the old world was to be held; at this critical moment
Paganini's arrival in the European metropolis placed an obstacle in the way of
the realization of his hopes, and the old German professor wisely postponed his
pupil's d*but. At first he had simply smiled at the wild enthusiasm, the
laudatory hymns sung about the Genoese violinist, and the almost superstitious
awe with which his name was pronounced. But very soon Paganini's name became a
burning iron in the hearts of both the artists. and a threatening phantom in the
mind of Klaus. A few days more, and they shuddered at the very mention of their
great rival, whose success became with every night more unprecedented.
The first series of concerts was over, but neither Klaus nor Franz had as yet
had an opportunity of hearing him and of judging for themselves. So great and so
beyond their means was the charge for admission, and so small the hope of
getting a free pass from a brother artist justly regarded as the meanest of men
in monetary transactions, that they had to wait for a chance, as did so many
others. But the day came when neither master nor pupil could control their
impatience any longer; so they pawned their watches, and with the proceeds
bought two modest seats.
Who can describe the enthusiasm, the triumphs, of this famous and at the same
time fatal night! The audience was frantic; men wept and women screamed and
fainted; while both Klaus and Stenio sat looking paler than two ghosts. At the
first touch of Paganini's magic bow, both Franz and Samuel felt as if the icy
hand of death had touched them. Carried away by an irresistible enthusiasm,
which turned into a violent, unearthly mental torture, they dared neither look
into each other's faces, nor exchange one word during the whole performance.
At midnight, while the chosen delegates of the Musical Societies and the
Conservatory of Paris unhitched the horses, and dragged the carriage of the
grand artist home in triumph, the two Germans returned to their modest lodging
and it was a pitiful sight to see them. Mournful and desperate, they placed
themselves in their usual seats at the fire corner, and neither for a while
opened his mouth
"Samuel!" at last exclaimed Franz, pale as death itself. "Samuel--it remains for
us now but to die! . . . Do you hear me? . . . We are worthless! We were two
madmen to have ever hoped that any one in this world would ever rival . . .
The name of Paganini stuck in his throat, as in utter despair he fell into his
The old professor's wrinkles suddenly became purple. His little greenish eyes
gleamed phosphorescently as, bending toward his pupil, he whispered to him in
hoarse and broken tones:
"Nein, nein! Thou art wrong, my Franz! I have taught thee, and thou hast learned
all of the great art that a simple mortal, and a Christian by baptism, can learn
from another simple mortal. Am I to blame because these accursed Italians, in
order to reign unequalled in the domain of art, have recourse to Satan and the
diabolical effects of Black Magic?"
Franz turned his eyes upon his old master. There was a sinister light burning in
those glittering orbs; a light telling plainly, that, to secure such a power,
he, too, would not scruple to sell himself, body and soul, to the Evil One.
But he said not a word, and, turning his eyes from his old master s face, he
gazed dreamily at the dying embers.
The same long-forgotten incoherent dreams, which, after seeming such realities
to him in his younger days, had been given up entirely, and had gradually faded
from his mind, now crowded back into it with the same force and vividness as of
old. The grimacing shades of Ixion, Sisyphus and Tantalus resurrected and stood
before him, saying:
"What matters hell--in which thou believest not. And even if hell there be, it
is the hell described by the old Greeks, not that of the modern bigots--a
locality full of conscious shadows, to whom thou canst be a second Orpheus."
Franz felt that he was going mad, and, turning instinctively, he looked his old
master once more right in the face. Then his bloodshot eye evaded the gaze of
Whether Samuel understood the terrible state of mind of his pupil, or whether he
wanted to draw him out, to make him speak, and thus to divert his thoughts, must
remain as hypothetical to the reader as it is to the writer. Whatever may have
been in his mind, the German enthusiast went on, speaking with a feigned
"Franz, my dear boy, I tell you that the art of the accursed Italian is not
natural; that it is due neither to study nor to genius. It never was acquired in
the usual, natural way. You need not stare at me in that wild manner, for what I
say is in the mouth of millions of people. Listen to what I now tell you, and
try to understand. You have heard the strange tale whispered about the famous
Tartini? He died one fine Sabbath night, strangled by his familiar demon, who
had taught him how to endow his violin with a human voice, by shutting up in it,
by means of incantations, the soul of a young virgin. Paganini did more. In
order to endow his instrument with the faculty of emitting human sounds, such as
sobs, despairing cries, supplications, moans of love and fury--in short, the
most heart-rending notes of the human voice--Paganini became the murderer not
only of his wife and his mistress, but also of a friend, who was more tenderly
attached to him than any other being on this earth. He then made the four chords
of his magic violin out of the intestines of his last victim. This is the secret
of his enchanting talent, of that overpowering melody, that combination of
sounds, which you will never be able to master, unless . . ."
The old man could not finish the sentence. He staggered back before the fiendish
look of his pupil, and covered his face with his hands.
Franz was breathing heavily, and his eyes had an expression which reminded Klaus
of those of a hyena. His pallor was cadaverous. For some time he could not
speak, but only gasped for breath. At last he slowly muttered:
"Are you in earnest?"
"I am, as I hope to help you.'`
"And . . . and do you really believe that had I only the means of obtaining
human intestines for strings, I could rival Paganini?" asked Franz, after a
moment's pause, and casting down his eyes.
The old German unveiled his face, and, with a strange look of determination upon
it, softly answered:
"Human intestines alone are not sufficient for our purpose; they must have
belonged to some one who had loved us well, with an unselfish holy love. Tartini
endowed his violin with the life of a virgin; but that virgin had died of
unrequited love for him. The fiendish artist had prepared beforehand a tube, in
which he managed to catch her last breath as she expired, pronouncing his
beloved name, and he then transferred this breath to his violin. As to Paganini
I have just told you his tale. It was with the consent of his victim, though,
that he murdered him to get possession of his intestines.
"Oh, for the power of the human voice!" Samuel went on, after a brief pause.
"What can equal the eloquence, the magic spell of the human voice? Do you think,
my poor boy, I would not have taught you this great, this final secret, were it
not that it throws one right into the clutches of him . . . who must remain
unnamed at night?" he added, with a sudden return to the superstitions of his
Franz did not answer; but with a calmness awful to behold, he left his place,
took down his violin from the wall where it was hanging, and, with one powerful
grasp of the chords, he tore them out and flung them into the fire.
Samuel suppressed a cry of horror. The chords were hissing upon the coals,
where, among the blazing logs, they wriggled and curled like so many living
"By the witches of Thessaly and the dark arts of Circe!" he exclaimed, with
foaming mouth and his eyes burning like coals; "by the Furies of Hell and Pluto
himself, I now swear, in thy presence, O Samuel, my master, never to touch a
violin again until I can string it with four human chords. May I be accursed for
ever and ever if I do!"
He fell senseless on the floor, with a deep sob, that ended like a funeral wail;
old Samuel lifted him up as he would have lifted a child, and carried him to his
bed. Then he sallied forth in search of a physician.
For several days after this painful scene Franz was very ill, ill almost beyond
recovery. The physician declared him to be suffering from brain fever and said
that the worst was to be feared. For nine long days the patient remained
delirious; and Klaus, who was nursing him night and day with the solicitude of
the tenderest mother, was horrified at the work of his own hands. For the first
time since their acquaintance began, the old teacher, owing to the wild ravings
of his pupil, was able to penetrate into the darkest corners of that weird,
superstitious, cold, and, at the same time, passionate nature; and--he trembled
at what he discovered. For he saw that which he had failed to perceive
before--Franz as he was in reality, and not as he seemed to superficial
observers. Music was the life of the young man, and adulation was the air he
breathed, without which that life became a burden; from the chords of his violin
alone, Stenio drew his life and being, but the applause of men and even of Gods
was necessary to its support. He saw unveiled before his eves a genuine,
artistic, earthly soul, with its divine counterpart totally absent, a son of the
Muses, all fancy and brain poetry, but without a heart. While listening to the
ravings of that delirious and unhinged fancy Klaus felt as if he were for the
first time in his long life exploring a marvellous and untravelled region, a
human nature not of this world but of some incomplete planet. He saw all this,
and shuddered. More than once he asked himself whether it would not be doing a
kindness to his "boy" to let him die before he returned to consciousness.
But he loved his pupil too well to dwell for long on such an idea. Franz had
bewitched his truly artistic nature, and now old Klaus felt as though their two
lives were inseparably linked together. That he could thus feel was a revelation
to the old man; so he decided to save Franz, even at the expense of his own old,
and, as he thought, useless life.
The seventh day of the illness brought on a most terrible crisis. For
twenty-four hours the patient never closed his eyes, nor remained for a moment
silent; he raved continuously during the whole time. His visions were peculiar,
and he minutely described each. Fantastic, ghastly figures kept slowly swimming
out of the penumbra of his small, dark room, in regular and uninterrupted
procession, and he greeted each by name as he might greet old acquaintances. He
referred to himself as Prometheus, bound to the rock by four bands made of human
intestines. At the foot of the Caucasian Mount the black waters of the river
Styx were running . . . They had deserted Arcadia, and were now endeavouring to
encircle within a sevenfold embrace the rock upon which he was suffering . . .
"Wouldst thou know the name of the Promethean rock, old man?" he roared into his
adopted father's ear . . . "Listen then . . . its name is . . . called . . .
Samuel Klaus . . ."
"Yes, yes! . . ." the German murmured disconsolately. "It is I who killed him,
while seeking to console. The news of Paganini's magic arts struck his fancy too
vividly . . . Oh, my poor, poor boy!"
"Ha, ha, ha, ha!" The patient broke into a loud and discordant laugh. "Aye, poor
old man, sayest thou? . . . So, so, thou art of poor stuff, anyhow, and wouldst
look well only when stretched upon a fine Cremona violin! . . ."
Klaus shuddered, but said nothing. He only bent over the poor maniac, and with a
kiss upon his brow, a caress as tender and as gentle as that of a doting mother,
he left the sickroom for a few instants, to seek relief in his own garret. When
he returned, the ravings were following another channel. Franz was singing,
trying to imitate the sounds of a violin.
Toward the evening of that day, the delirium of the sick man became perfectly
ghastly. He saw spirits of fire clutching at his violin. Their skeleton hands,
from each finger of which grew a flaming claw, beckoned to old Samuel . . . They
approached and surrounded the old master, and were preparing to rip him open . .
. him, "the only man on this earth who loves me with an unselfish, holy love,
and . . . whose intestines can be of any good at all!" he went on whispering,
with glaring eyes and demon laugh . . .
By the next morning, however, the fever had disappeared, and by the end of the
ninth day Stenio had left his bed, having no recollection of his illness, and no
suspicion that he had allowed Klaus to read his inner thought. Nay; had he
himself any knowledge that such a horrible idea as the sacrifice of his old
master to his ambition had ever entered his mind? Hardly. The only immediate
result of his fatal illness was, that as, by reason of his vow, his artistic
passion could find no issue, another passion awoke, which might avail to feed
his ambition and his insatiable fancy. He plunged headlong into the study of the
Occult Arts, of Alchemy and of Magic. In the practice of Magic the young dreamer
sought to stifle the voice of his passionate longing for his, as he thought,
forever lost violin . . .
Weeks and months passed away, and the conversation about Paganini was never
resumed between the master and the pupil. But a profound melancholy had taken
possession of Franz, the two hardly exchanged a word, the violin hung mute,
chordless, full of dust, in its habitual place. It was as the presence of a
soulless corpse between them.
The young man had become gloomy and sarcastic, even avoiding the mention of
music. Once, as his old professor, after long hesitation, took out his own
violin from its dust-covered case and prepared to play, Franz gave a convulsive
shudder, but said nothing. At the first notes of the bow, however, he glared
like a madman, and rushing out of the house, remained for hours, wandering in
the streets. Then old Samuel in his turn threw his instrument down, and locked
himself up in his room till the following morning.
One night as Franz sat, looking particularly pale and gloomy, old Samuel
suddenly jumped from his seat, and after hopping about the room in a magpie
fashion, approached his pupil, imprinted a fond kiss upon the young man's brow,
and squeaked at the top of his shrill voice:
"Is it not time to put an end to all this?" . . .
Whereupon, starting from his usual lethargy, Franz echoed, as in a dream:
"Yes, it is time to put an end to this."
Upon which the two separated, and went to bed.
On the following morning, when Franz awoke, he was astonished not to see his old
teacher in his usual place to greet him. But he had greatly altered during the
last few months, and he at first paid no attention to his absence, unusual as it
was. He dressed and went into the adjoining room, a little parlour where they
had their meals, and which separated their two bedrooms. The fire had not been
lighted since the embers had died out on the previous night, and no sign was
anywhere visible of the professor's busy hand in his usual housekeeping duties.
Greatly puzzled, but in no way dismayed, Franz took his usual place at the
corner of the now cold fire-place, and fell into an aimless reverie. As he
stretched himself in his old arm-chair, raising both his hands to clasp them
behind his head in a favourite posture of his, his hand came into contact with
something on a shelf at his back; he knocked against a case, and brought it
violently on the ground.
It was old Klaus' violin-case that came down to the floor with such a sudden
crash that the case opened and the violin fell out of it, rolling to the feet of
Franz. And then the chords, striking against the brass fender emitted a sound,
prolonged, sad and mournful as the sigh of an unrestful soul; it seemed to fill
the whole room, and reverberated in the head and the very heart of the young
man. The effect of that broken violin-string was magical.
"Samuel!" cried Stenio, with his eyes starting from their sockets, and an
unknown terror suddenly taking possession of his whole being. "Samuel! what has
happened? . . . My good, my dear old master!" he called out, hastening to the
professor's little room, and throwing the door violently open. No one answered,
all was silent within.
He staggered back, frightened at the sound of his own voice, so changed and
hoarse it seemed to him at this moment. No reply came in response to his call.
Naught followed but a dead silence . . . that stillness which, in the domain of
sounds, usually denotes death. In the presence of a corpse, as in the lugubrious
stillness of a tomb, such silence acquires a mysterious power, which strikes the
sensitive soul with a nameless terror . . . The little room was dark, and Franz
hastened to open the shutters.
Samuel was lying on his bed, cold, stiff, and lifeless . . . At the sight of the
corpse of him who had loved him so well, and had been to him more than a father,
Franz experienced a dreadful revulsion of feeling, a terrible shock. But the
ambition of the fanatical artist got the better of the despair of the man, and
smothered the feelings of the latter in a few seconds.
A note bearing his own name was conspicuously placed upon a table near the
corpse. With trembling hand, the violinist tore open the envelope, and read the
MY BELOVED SON, FRANZ,
When you read this, I shall have made the greatest sacrifice, that your best and
only friend and teacher could have accomplished for your fame. He, who loved you
most, is now but an inanimate lump of clay. Of your old teacher there now
remains but a clod of cold organic matter. I need not prompt you as to what you
have to do with it. Fear not stupid prejudices. It is for your future fame that
I have made an offering of my body, and you would be guilty of the blackest
ingratitude were you now to render useless this sacrifice. When you shall have
replaced the chords upon your violin, and these chords a portion of my own self,
under your touch it will acquire the power of that accursed sorcerer, all the
magic voices of Paganini's instrument. You will find therein my voice, my sighs
and groans, my song of welcome, the prayerful sobs of my infinite and sorrowful
sympathy, my love for you. And now, my Franz, fear nobody! Take your instrument
with you, and dog the steps of him who filled our lives with bitterness and
despair! . . . Appear in every arena, where, hitherto, he has reigned without a
rival, and bravely throw the gauntlet of defiance in his face. O Franz! then
only wilt thou hear with what a magic power the full notes of unselfish love
will issue forth from thy violin. Perchance, with a last caressing touch of its
chords, thou wilt remember that they once formed a portion of thine old teacher,
who now embraces and blesses thee for the last time.
Two burning tears sparkled in the eyes of Franz, but they dried up instantly.
Under the fiery rush of passionate hope and pride, the two orbs of the future
magician-artist, riveted to the ghastly face of the dead man, shone like the
eyes of a demon.
Our pen refuses to describe that which took place on that day, after the legal
inquiry was over. As another note, written with the view of satisfying the
authorities, had been prudently provided by the loving care of the old teacher,
the verdict was, "Suicide from causes unknown"; after this the coroner and the
police retired, leaving the bereaved heir alone in the death room, with the
remains of that which had once been a living man.
Scarcely a fortnight had elapsed from that day, ere the violin had been dusted,
and four new, stout strings had been stretched upon it. Franz dared not look at
them. He tried to play, but the bow trembled in his hand like a dagger in the
grasp of a novice-brigand. He then determined not to try again, until the
portentous night should arrive, when he should have a chance of rivalling, nay,
of surpassing, Paganini.
The famous violinist had meanwhile left Paris, and was giving a series of
triumphant concerts at an old Flemish town in Belgium.
One night, as Paganini, surrounded by a crowd of admirers, was sitting in the
dining-room of the hotel at which he was staying, a visiting card, with a few
words written on it in pencil, was handed to him by a young man with wild and
Fixing upon the intruder a look which few persons could bear, but receiving back
a glance as calm and determined as his own, Paganini slightly bowed, and then
"Sir, it shall be as you desire. Name the night. I am at your service."
On the following morning the whole town was startled by the appearance of bills
posted at the corner of every street, and bearing the strange notice:
On the night of . . ., at the Grand Theatre of . . ., and for the first time,
will appear before the public, Franz Stenio, a German violinist, arrived
purposely to throw down the gauntlet to the world. famous Paganini and to
challenge him to a duel--upon their violins. He purposes to compete with the
great "virtuoso" in the execution of the most difficult of his compositions. The
famous Paganini has accepted the challenge. Franz Stenio will play, in
competition with the unrivalled violinist, the celebrated "Fantaisie Caprice" of
the latter, known as "The Witches."
The effect of the notice was magical. Paganini, who, amid his greatest triumphs,
never lost sight of a profitable speculation, doubled the usual price of
admission, but still the theatre could not hold the crowds that flocked to
secure tickets for that memorable performance.
At last the morning of the concert day dawned, and the "duel" was in everyone's
mouth. Franz Stenio, who, instead of sleeping, had passed the whole long hours
of the preceding midnight in walking up and down his room like an encaged
panther, had, toward morning, fallen on his bed from mere physical exhaustion.
Gradually he passed into a deathlike and dreamless slumber. At the gloomy winter
dawn he awoke, but finding it too early to rise he fell asleep again. And then
he had a vivid dream--so vivid indeed, so lifelike, that from its terrible
realism he felt sure that it was a vision rather than a dream.
He had left his violin on a table by his bedside, locked in its case, the key of
which never left him. Since he had strung it with those terrible chords he never
let it out of his sight for a moment. In accordance with his resolution he had
not touched it since his first trial, and his bow had never but once touched the
human strings, for he had since always practised on another instrument. But now
in his sleep he saw himself looking at the locked case. Something in it was
attracting his attention, and he found himself incapable of detaching his eyes
from it. Suddenly he saw the upper part of the case slowly rising, and, within
the chink thus produced, he perceived two small, phosphorescent green eyes--eyes
but too familiar to him--fixing themselves on his, lovingly, almost
beseechingly. Then a thin, shrill voice, as if issuing from these ghastly
orbs--the voice and orbs of Samuel Klaus himself--resounded in Stenio's
horrified ear, and he heard it say:
"Franz, my beloved boy . . . Franz, I cannot, no I cannot separate myself from .
. . them!"
And "they" twanged piteously inside the case.
Franz stood speechless, horror-bound. He felt his blood actually freezing, and
his hair moving and standing erect on his head . . .
"It's but a dream, an empty dream!" he attempted to formulate in his mind.
"I have tried my best, Franzchen . . . I have tried my best to sever myself from
these accursed strings, without pulling them to pieces . . ." pleaded the same
shrill, familiar voice. "Wilt thou help me to do so? . . ."
Another twang, still more prolonged and dismal, resounded within the case, now
dragged about the table in every direction, by some interior power, like some
living, wriggling thing, the twangs becoming sharper and more Jerky with every
It was not for the first time that Stenio heard those sounds. He had often
remarked them before--indeed, ever since he had used his master's viscera as a
footstool for his own ambition. But on every occasion a feeling of creeping
horror had prevented him from investigating their cause, and he had tried to
assure himself that the sounds were only a hallucination.
But now he stood face to face with the terrible fact whether in dream or in
reality he knew not, nor did he care, since the hallucination--if hallucination
it were--was far more real and vivid than any reality. He tried to speak, to
take a step forward; but, as often happens in nightmares, he could neither utter
a word nor move a finger . . . He felt hopelessly paralyzed.
The pulls and jerks were becoming more desperate with each moment, and at last
something inside the case snapped violently. The vision of his Stradivarius,
devoid of its magical strings, flashed before his eyes throwing him into a cold
sweat of mute and unspeakable terror.
He made a superhuman effort to rid himself of the incubus that held him
spell-bound. But as the last supplicating whisper of the invisible Presence
"Do, oh, do . . . help me to cut myself off--"
Franz sprang to the case with one bound, like an enraged tiger defending its
prey, and with one frantic effort breaking the spell.
"Leave the violin alone, you old fiend from hell!" he cried, in hoarse and
He violently shut down the self-raising lid, and while firmly pressing his left
hand on it, he seized with the right a piece of rosin from the table and drew on
the leather-covered top the sign of the six-pointed star--the seal used by King
Solomon to bottle up the rebellious djins inside their prisons.
A wail, like the howl of a she-wolf moaning over her dead little ones, came out
of the violin-case:
"Thou art ungrateful . . . very ungrateful, my Franz!" sobbed the blubbering
"spirit-voice." "But I forgive . . . for I still love thee well. Yet thou canst
not shut me in . . . boy. Behold!"
And instantly a grayish mist spread over and covered case and table, and rising
upward formed itself first into an indistinct shape. Then it began growing, and
as it grew, Franz felt himself gradually enfolded in cold and damp coils, slimy
as those of a huge snake. He gave a terrible cry and--awoke; but,.strangely
enough, not on his bed, but near the table, just as he had dreamed, pressing the
violin case desperately with both his hands.
"It was but a dream . . . after all," he muttered, still terrified, but relieved
of the load on his heaving breast.
With a tremendous effort he composed himself, and unlocked the case to inspect
the violin. He found it covered with dust, but otherwise sound and in order, and
he suddenly felt himself as cool and as determined as ever. Having dusted the
instrument he carefully rosined the bow, tightened the strings and tuned them.
He even went so far as to try upon it the first notes of the "Witches"; first
cautiously and timidly, then using his bow boldly and with full force.
The sound of that loud, solitary note--defiant as the war trumpet of a
conqueror, sweet and majestic as the touch of a seraph on his golden harp in the
fancy of the faithful--thrilled through the very soul of Franz. It revealed to
him a hitherto unsuspected potency in his bow, which ran on in strains that
filled the room with the richest swell of melody, unheard by the artist until
that night. Commencing in uninterrupted legato tones, his bow sang to him of
sun-bright hope and beauty, of moonlit nights, when the soft and balmy stillness
endowed every blade of grass and all things animate and inanimate with a voice
and a song of love. For a few brief moments it was a torrent of melody, the
harmony of which, "tuned to soft woe," was calculated to make mountains weep,
had there been any in the room, and to soothe
. . . even th' inexorable powers of hell,
the presence of which was undeniably felt in this modest hotel room. Suddenly,
the solemn legato chant, contrary to all laws of harmony, quivered, became
arpeggios, and ended in shrill staccatos, like the notes of a hyena laugh. The
same creeping sensation of terror, as he had before felt, came over him, and
Franz threw the bow away. He had recognized the familiar laugh, and would have
no more of it. Dressing, he locked the bedevilled violin securely in its case,
and, taking it with him to the dining-room, determined to await quietly the hour
The terrible hour of the struggle had come, and Stenio was at his post--calm,
resolute, almost smiling.
The theatre was crowded to suffocation, and there was not even standing room to
be got for any amount of hard cash or favouritism. The singular challenge had
reached every quarter to which the post could carry it, and gold flowed freely
into Paganini's unfathomable pockets, to an extent almost satisfying even to his
insatiate and venal soul.
It was arranged that Paganini should begin. When he appeared upon the stage, the
thick walls of the theatre shook to their foundations with the applause that
greeted him. He began and ended his famous composition "The Witches" amid a
storm of cheers. The shouts of public enthusiasm lasted so long that Franz began
to think his turn would never come. When, at last, Paganini, amid the roaring
applause of a frantic public, was allowed to retire behind the scenes, his eye
fell upon Stenio, who was tuning his violin, and he felt amazed at the serene
calmness, the air of assurance, of the unknown German artist.
When Franz approached the footlights, he was received with icy coldness. But for
all that, he did not feel in the least disconcerted. He looked very pale, but
his thin white lips wore a scornful smile as response to this dumb unwelcome. He
was sure of his triumph.
At the first notes of the prelude of "The Witches" a thrill of astonishment
passed over the audience. It was Paganini's touch, and--it was something more.
Some--and they were the majority--thought that never, in his best moments of
inspiration, had the Italian artist himself, in executing that diabolical
composition of his, exhibited such an extraordinary diabolical power. Under the
pressure of the long muscular fingers of Franz, the chords shivered like the
palpitating intestines of a disembowelled victim under the vivisector's knife.
They moaned melodiously, like a dying child. The large blue eye of the artist,
fixed with a satanic expression upon the sounding-board, seemed to summon forth
Orpheus himself from the infernal regions, rather than the musical notes
supposed to be generated in the depths of the violin. Sounds seemed to transform
themselves into objective shapes, thickly and precipitately gathering as at the
evocation of a mighty magician, and to be whirling around him, like a host of
fantastic, infernal figures, dancing the witches' "goat dance." In the empty
depths of the shadowy background of the stage, behind the artist, a nameless
phantasmagoria, produced by the concussion of unearthly vibrations, seemed to
form pictures of shameless orgies, of the voluptuous hymens of a real witches'
Sabbat . . . A collective hallucination took hold of the public. Panting for
breath, ghastly, and trickling with the icy perspiration of an inexpressible
horror, they sat spellbound, and unable to break the spell of the music by the
slightest motion. They experienced all the illicit enervating delights of the
paradise of Mahommed, that come into the disordered fancy of an opium-eating
Mussulman, and felt at the same time the abject terror, the agony of one who
struggles against an attack of delirium tremens . . . Many ladies shrieked aloud
others fainted, and strong men gnashed their teeth in a state of utter
helplessness . . .
Then came the finale. Thundering uninterrupted applause delayed its beginning,
expanding the momentary pause to a duration of almost a quarter of an hour. The
bravos were furious, almost hysterical. At last, when after a profound and last
bow, Stenio, whose smile was as sardonic as it was triumphant, lifted his bow to
attack the famous finale his eye fell upon Paganini, who, calmly seated in the
manager's box, had been behind none in zealous applause. The small and piercing
black eyes of the Genoese artist were riveted to the Stradivarius in the hands
of Franz, but otherwise he seemed quite cool and unconcerned. His rival's face
troubled him for one short instant, but he regained his self-possession and,
lifting once more his bow, drew the first note.
Then the public enthusiasm reached its acme, and soon knew no bounds. The
listeners heard and saw indeed. The witches' voices resounded in the air, and
beyond all the other voices, one voice was heard--
Discordant, and unlike to human sounds; It seem'd of dogs the bark, of wolves
the howl; The doleful screechings of the midnight owl; The hiss of snakes, the
hungry lion's roar; The sounds of billows beating on the shore; The groan of
winds among the leafy wood, And burst of thunder from the rending cloud,-- 'Twas
these, all these in one . . .
The magic bow was drawing forth its last quivering sounds--famous among
prodigious musical feats--imitating the precipitate flight of the witches before
bright dawn; of the unholy women saturated with the fumes of their nocturnal
Saturnalia, when--a strange thing came to pass on the stage. Without the
slightest transition, the notes suddenly changed. In their *rial flight of
ascension and descent, their melody was unexpectedly altered in character. The
sounds became confused, scattered, disconnected . . . and then--it seemed from
the sounding-board of the violin--came out squeaking jarring tones, like those
of a street Punch, screaming at the top of a senile voice:
"Art thou satisfied, Franz, my boy? . . . Have not I gloriously kept my promise,
The spell was broken. Though still unable to realize the whole situation, those
who heard the voice and the Punchinello-like tones, were freed, as by
enchantment, from the terrible charm under which they had been held. Loud roars
of laughter, mocking exclamations of half-anger and half-irritation were now
heard from every corner of the vast theatre. The musicians in the orchestra,
with faces still blanched from weird emotion, were now seen shaking with
laughter, and the whole audience rose, like one man, from their seats, unable
yet to solve the enigma; they felt, nevertheless, too disgusted, too disposed to
laugh to remain one moment longer in the building.
But suddenly the sea of moving heads in the stalls and the pit became once more
motionless, and stood petrified as though struck by lightning. What all saw was
terrible enough--the handsome though wild face of the young artist suddenly
aged, and his graceful, erect figure bent down, as though under the weight of
years; but this was nothing to that which some of the most sensitive clearly
perceived. Franz Stenio's person was now entirely enveloped in a
semi-transparent mist, cloudlike, creeping with serpentine motion, and gradually
tightening round the living form, as though ready to engulf him. And there were
those also who discerned in this tall and ominous pillar of smoke a
clearly-defined figure, a form showing the unmistakable outlines of a grotesque
and grinning, but terribly awful-looking old man, whose viscera were protruding
and the ends of the intestines stretched on the violin.
Within this hazy, quivering veil, the violinist was then seen, driving his bow
furiously across the human chords, with the contortions of a demoniac, as we see
them represented on medi*val cathedral paintings!
An indescribable panic swept over the audience, and breaking now, for the last
time, through the spell which had again bound them motionless, every living
creature in the theatre made one mad rush towards the door. It was like the
sudden outburst of a dam, a human torrent, roaring amid a shower of discordant
notes, idiotic squeakings, prolonged and whining moans, cacophonous cries of
frenzy, above which, like the detonations of pistol shots, was heard the
consecutive bursting of the four strings stretched upon the sound-board of that
When the theatre was emptied of the last man of the audience, the terrified
manager rushed on the stage in search of the unfortunate performer. He was found
dead and already stiff, behind the footlights, twisted up into the most
unnatural of postures, with the "catguts" wound curiously around his neck, and
his violin shattered into a thousand fragments . . .
When it became publicly known that the unfortunate would-be rival of Nicolo
Paganini had not left a cent to pay for his funeral or his hotel bill, the
Genoese, his proverbial meanness notwithstanding, settled the hotel-bill and had
poor Stenio buried at his own expense.
He claimed, however, in exchange, the fragments of the Stradivarius--as a
memento of the strange event.