WOMEN occupy themselves so much with
music, that it is surprising so few of them compose it. In some branches of the fine arts women have won the first rank; in others, high rank; but the sex has not yet
furnished one composer of music who can be named with the great masters, nor with any masters. The career of
Fanny Mendelssohn may throw some light upon the reason why this is so. She had the requisite genius; she was
nurtured in the atmosphere of music; she was trained in her art to a certain point; she gave more than promise
of original power. But she was a woman, and the traditions of all the past ages, speaking to her with the voice
of her father, said: Thus far, and no farther! Living when she did, and where she did, her cheerful obedience
She was the child of a gifted and noble race. Her grandfather, Moses Mendelssohn Bartholdy, once said:
"Formerly, I was the son of my father; now, I am the father of my son."
That father of whom he spoke, was the famous Jewish philosopher, Moses Mendelssohn; his son was the great
composer, Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy. The family of which these two men were the public representatives, was a
most remarkable one, for there was not a member of it who was not endowed in an unusual degree with
intelligence and talent. These hereditary powers, combined with a family affection beautiful to witness, reached their
highest development in the four children of Abraham Mendelssohn Bartholdy—Fanny, Felix, Rebecca, and
Paul—the most brilliant of whom were the eldest daughter Fanny, and her renowned brother Felix.
Fanny Mendelssohn was born at Hamburg, Nov. 14, 1805, in a pretty, irregular little cottage, called Martin's
Mill, the balcony of which commanded a view of the river Elbe. Her father, in writing to announce the birth
to old Madame Salomon, his mother-in-law, mentions a curiously prophetic remark of his wife's concerning her
first-born, then but a few days old:
" Leah says that the child has Bach-fugue fingers."
From her earliest years the little girl showed the same marvelous musical talent as her brother Felix, who was born in 1809. The two were educated together, receiving the best instruction obtainable, and displaying equal
aptitude and application. Both began to compose at a very early age, and both displayed extraordinary memory. Fanny, when only thirteen, learnt twenty-four of Bach's
preludes, and played them without notes as a surprise for her father. At fifteen, while she was away from home, she sent him in a letter a number of songs of her own
"They went over your Romances yesterday at Viry," he wrote to her, "and you will be glad to hear that Fanny
Sebastiani sang 'Les Soins de mon Troupeau,' very nicely and correctly, and likes them much. I confess that I
prefer that song to all the others—so far as I can judge of them, for they were only very imperfectly performed.
It is bright, and has an easy, natural flow, which most of the others have not; some of them are too ambitious for
the words. But that one song I like so much that since yesterday I have often sung it to myself,
whilst I remember nothing of the others, and I think facility one of the
most important qualities of a song. At the same time, it is far from trivial, and the passage'si j'ai trouve pour
eux une fontaine Claire' is even very felicitous; only appears to me to give too decided an end to the lines
immediately following the words 's'ils sont heureux.' strongly advise you to keep as much as possible to this
lightness and naturalness in your future compositions."
It is a curious fact that the author of this careful criticism (he was a man of business) had no technical
knowledge of music, yet his ear was so exquisite and his taste so perfect, that his children, including Felix when
at the height of his fame, always considered him as the highest authority upon their compositions.
Fanny's music, while she was yet a child, earned her two triumphs, of which she fully appreciated the value.
Felix, when eleven years of age, spent some time at Weimar, where he was constantly in the society of Goalie,
who became very fond of him, and Iistened every day to his playing. Sometimes he improvised, or played compositions of his own or Fanny's. In a letter to the
family he says, after relating various bits of news:
"Now something for you, my dear coughing Fanny!
Yesterday morning I took your songs to Frau von Goethe, who has a good voice and will sing them to the old gentleman. I told him that you had written them, and I asked
him whether he would like to hear them. He said, ' Yes, yes, with pleasure.' Frau von Goethe likes them very
much indeed, and that is a good omen. To-day or to-morrow he is to hear them."
Goethe was so pleased with the songs when he did hear them, that he at once composed a beautiful little poem for
Fanny, wrote it down himself, and gave it to Zelter (her music teacher and her brother's) with the words :
"Take that to the dear child."
Her second success, although it won her no such honor as this, was perhaps even more gratifying in its results.
Fanny's father and mother had been brought up in the Jewish faith, but were extremely liberal in their ideas,
regarding the spirit as all, the form as nothing, and they desired to have their children educated as Christians.
This was done, though at first secretly, in order not to wound the feelings of their grandparents, who were much
more strict in their adherence to the ancient belief. Madame Salomon, especially, was so orthodox a Jewess,
that she had cursed and cast off her own son for adopting Christianity. With this formidable old lady, however,
Fanny was a great favorite, and she used often to visit her and play to her. One day, after she had been playing
exquisitely well, Madame Salomon told her to choose what she would like best for her reward. To Madame's great surprise, the reply, given without a moment's hesitation, was:
"Forgive Uncle Bartholdy."
The request, so earnest and so unexpected, touched the
old lady's heart, and eventually brought about a reconciliation, " for Fanny's sake," as she wrote to her son.
Although Fanny Mendelssohn received a thorough
musical education, studying always with her brother, and as earnestly and aptly as he, and although her talent was
recognized by the family as being almost, if not quite, equal to his, yet none of them for a moment thought of
regarding music as her career. In the eyes of Abraham Mendelssohn, as in those of most men at that time, there
was but one worthy profession for a woman—that of housewife; and so Fanny, in spite of some irrepressible
longings for the distinction which she felt it within her power to attain, acquiesced in his views. In the very
letter in which he praised her Romances, her father wrote to her:
"What you said to me about your musical occupations
with reference to and in comparison with Felix, was both rightly thought and expressed. Music will perhaps
become his profession, whilst for you it can and must only be an ornament, never the root of your being and
doing. We may therefore pardon him some ambition and desire to be acknowledged in a pursuit which appears
very important to him, because he feels a vocation for it, whilst it does you credit that you have always shown
yourself good and sensible in these matters; and your very joy at the praise he earns proves that you might, in
his place, have merited equal applause. Remain true to these sentiments and to this line of conduct; they are
feminine, and only what is truly feminine is an ornament to your sex."
Between Felix and Fanny there was, from the first, a
beautifully intimate relation. They worked together daily, each fully appreciating and admiring the labors of
the other. Felix concealed nothing from his sister, and, as she afterwards declared, she was acquainted with his
compositions from their birth.
"Up to the present moment," she wrote after many years,
" I possess his unbounded confidence, I have watched the progress of his talent, step by step, and may even say, I
have contributed to his development. I have always been his only musical adviser, and he never writes down
a thought before submitting it to my judgment. For instance, I have known his operas by heart before a note
When she was seventeen, a plump, pleasing girl, with
a face spirited and refined rather than beautiful, and a pair of magnificent dark eyes, Fanny won the heart of
Wilhelm Hensel, a young artist of great promise, whose affection she reciprocated. The young man, however,
had as yet attained no recognized position; he was poor, and had relatives dependent upon him for support.
Marriage was as yet impossible, and Fanny's discreet parents would not permit her as yet to become formally
It was in 1821 that the young people made each other's acquaintance. In that year the Grand Puke Nicholas of
Russia and his wife visited Berlin, and court festivities of the most elaborate description were given in their honor.
The entertainment provided for one evening in particular was a representation, by means of tableaux and pantomime, of scenes from assumed by the ladies and gentlemen
the characters being of the court. The exhibition was characterized by artistically grouped figures, beautiful faces, and a lavish
display of costly draperies, gorgeous jewels, and rare articles of Eastern manufacture. When the performance was at last ended, Lalla Rookh (represented by the Grand
Duchess herself) exclaimed with a sigh:
"Is it really over now ? And are those who come after us to have no remembrance of this happy evening?"
These words reaching the ear of the King, he resolved to have the scenes painted in an album, the performers
all sitting for their portraits, and the work when complete to be presented to the Grand Duchess. This commission
was awarded to Wilhelm Hensel, who, before the book was sent away to St. Petersburg, exhibited it for a few
days in his studio, where it was viewed by many visitors, among whom came Fanny Mendelssohn and her parents.
The exquisite manner in which these drawings were executed brought the young artist at once into favorable
notice, and he soon received from the Prussian government a scholarship, which enabled him to study in Rome,
accompanied by an order for a copy of Raphael's Transfiguration, to be of the size of the original. Before
setting out he wished to become engaged to Fanny; but this, as we have seen, her parents would not permit.
Although they were not opposed to his suit, they could not feel convinced of the depth of a love founded upon so
short an acquaintance, and they were, besides, afraid of his becoming a Catholic, as his sister Louise had done.
Fanny, although she had perfect confidence in him, submitted without protest to the family decree, and the
two were not even allowed to correspond. Her mother, however, wrote to him frequently, so that he did not lack
news of his sweetheart; while she, in her turn, knew that she was not forgotten, for the Young lover, when the pen
was forbidden to him, turned to his old ally, the pencil. Beautiful drawings, from memory, of her four lovely
children were constantly received by Madam Mendelssohn, whose heart could not fail to be softened by such pleasing
homage. They were all addressed to her, none to her daughter, but in each picture Fanny held the post of
honor, and it was her face that was most carefully and delicately elaborated; her dark eyes that gazed with the
most lifelike expression from the paper. Wilhelm Hensel spent five years in Italy.
In 1825, Abraham Mendelssohn purchased the house and grounds known as No. 3 Leipsick Street. Here he
and his wife passed the remainder of their lives, and here, too, Fanny was married and lived until her death.
The house was spacious and beautiful, with lofty ceilings and large windows. One room, in particular, so constructed as to overlook the garden, and opening by a
series of three arches into an adjoining apartment, was of stately proportions, and peculiarly adapted to theatrical
purposes. Ordinarily, it was Madam Mendelssohn's sitting-room, but, upon Christmas,
birthdays, and other festive occasions, it was the scene of all kinds of joyous celebrations — songs, plays, tableaux, and operettas. The
garden was still more attractive, being, as Madam Mendelssohn wrote to Hensel, " quite a park, with splendid trees, a field, grass-plots, and a delightful summer
residence." This summer residence was a roomy, rambling, one-storied garden-house, freezing cold in winter,
but a paradise in summer, where Wilhelm Hensel and Fanny afterwards lived.
Leipziger Strasse, No. 3, soon became the scene of what
Fanny's son, Sebastian Hensel, described as a " singularly beautiful, poetic life." Indeed, there can be no lovelier
thing to contemplate than a gifted, affectionate, and united family, surrounded by a circle of faithful friends, passing
their time, after the performance of their daily duties, in the enjoyment of music, literature, and the natural
gayeties of youth. Their dearest and merriest friend was Klingemann, a diplomatist, and the author of the words
of Felix's opera, " Son and Stranger," whose correspondence with Fanny and Felix it is a delight to read. Rietz,
a violinist, was another member of the circle, and Marx, the editor of a musical paper, besides several more. In
the garden-house, too, lived an old lady with a bevy of nieces and granddaughters, all bright, pretty, and intelligent, who added their share to the general enjoyment.
During the summer of 1826, this gay party, favored
by beautiful weather, passed the greater part of their time out of doors, wandering at will in the old garden,
filling their hours with music, poetry, games, tricks, and dramatic representations. In one of the summer-houses
writing materials were kept constantly at hand, and whoever had any pretty fancy or odd conceit, hastened to put it
down on paper. From these jottings they formed a little journal called the Garden Times, which was afterwards
continued in winter under the name of Tea and Snow Times, and proved a great success. At this period, too,
they read much, the favorites being Jean Paul and Shakespeare. Shakespeare's comedies especially they
delighted in, and, above all, the Midsummer-Night's Dream. It was here, among the trees and flowers, in
the quiet walks and shady alleys of the old garden, in the company of congenial friends, surrounded by the spirit
of lightness, grace, and affection, that Felix Mendelssohn became acquainted with that airy fantasy and set it to
music worthy of it. It was in this year that he composed the overture to the Midsummer-Night's Dream, and
so fully did it express the spirit of the play that, when twenty years after he wished to continue the work, he
allowed the overture to remain untouched, not finding it necessary to alter a note in the work of his youth.
At this time, too, and evidently inspired by the same feeling, he set to music, as a birthday present for his
friend Rietz, the stanza from the Walpurgis-Night Dream in Faust:
"The flight of the clouds and the veil of the mist
Are lighted from above,
A breeze in the leaves, a wind in the reeds
And all has vanished."
"And he has been really successful," says Fanny,
proudly. " To me alone he told his idea : the whole piece is to be played staccato and pianissimo, the tremulandos
coming in now and then, the trills passing away with the quickness of lightning; everything new and strange, and,
at the same time, most insinuating and pleasing. One feels so near the world of spirits, carried away in the
air, and half inclined to snatch up a broomstick and follow the aerial procession. At the end, the first violin
takes a flight with feather-like lightness, and—all has vanished."
In the autumn of 1827, the merry Klingemann went
to London, and his friends of Leipziger Strasse, No. 3, missed him sadly, although an animated correspondence
was kept up between him and Fanny.
"I only wish I were less near-sighted," he writes in his
first letter, " especially for the sake of the English ladies. They do not know how to bake a pancake, and are mostly
occupied with useless things, but they look desperately pretty. A peripatetic girls' school, dozens of which you
see daily in Regent's Park, where they come for fresh air, appears to me like as many pathetic Peris, one more
beautiful than the other, marching two and two, the grown-up ones together and conscious enough of their
victorious gifts, the severe Ayah in the rear looking daggers at every male person. My idea of English
ladies formed long ago at Paris was quite erroneous. . . . By the way, they are ridiculously learned."
"If you were here," Fanny wrote in reply, "you would
find plenty of scope for your wit and fun in the taste for learning which the public exhibits this year. Of Alexander von Humboldt's lecture on physical geography at
the university, you must have heard. But do you know that at His Majesty's desire he has begun a second course
of lectures in the hall of the Singakademie attended by everybody who lays any claim to good breeding and
fashion, from the king and the whole court, ministers, generals, officers, artists, authors, beaux esprits (and ugly
ones, too), students, and ladies, down to your unworthy correspondent ? The crowd is fearful, the public is
imposing, and the lectures are very interesting indeed. Gentlemen may laugh as much as they like, but it is
delightful that we, too, have the opportunity given us of listening to clever men. We fully enjoy this happiness,
and must try to bear the scoffing. And now I will give up completely to your mockery, by confessing that we are
hearing another course of lectures, from a foreigner, about experimental physics."
These confessions sound oddly in our day of lady doctors and female colleges. Poor Fanny was evidently
in doubt as to how they would be received by the sarcastic Klingemann, but he was quite gracious in his reply.
"Now do not, for heaven's sake," he wrote, "believe
that I mean to become satirical as regards the progress of my young lady friends in the knowledge of the chemical elements of a collar or a cake; they are deeply
important and necessary things. And why should not a young lady know how and where her shawl has grown,
quite as well as the professor, who is behind her in the knowledge of its practical use ? And another great
advantage: suppose you were suddenly cast away in Mongolia, you would only have to submit some mountain
or river or earth to a trifling investigation to say for certain, here I am in Mongolia; consequently so and so
many post stages from Leipziger Strasse, No. 3, and quietly order your horses. . . One thing, however, I
have to reproach you with, which is, that you follow the false principle that prevails among women and do not
carry your knowledge into life and letters. I find (in your letter) no, comparison or metaphor from chemistry,
and yet they would be so ornamental ! If I did but know anything of the matter, I would make a better use of it!
In October, 1828, Wilhelm Hensel returned from Italy.
He found Fanny grown from a gay girl of seventeen to a brilliant young woman of twenty-two, surrounded by a
circle of intimate and admiring friends, whom she won alike by her personal charms and by her art. The circle,
which went by the name of " The Wheel," was so close, so complete in itself, it possessed so many jokes and
by-words that he could not understand, so many memories that he did not share, that at first he felt himself a
stranger, and was jealous. Fanny's friends in their turn regarded him somewhat in the light of an intruder, come
to carry away a prize which several secretly coveted for themselves, and few were willing to see bestowed upon
another. But these feelings were but transient and superficial, as Hensel himself soon recognized. It was, as
usual, his art to which he resorted to break down the barrier.
In a daintily executed drawing he depicted the Leipziger Strasse coterie as a real wheel, the hub formed by
Felix in a Scotch costume (an allusion to the journey he was about to undertake) and occupied with his music,
while the spokes were composed of the various members of the little society, two and two, with costumes and
attributes suggested by the nicknames which they had bestowed upon each other. Fanny and Rebecca, embracing, each holding a sheet of music, formed one spoke,
while upon the outside of the wheel appeared Hensel himself, bound like Ixion, one end of the chain which fettered
him being held in the hand of Fanny, who seemed about to draw him into the charmed circle. This bright little
plea had its due effect, and Hensel soon became one of the most animating members of the Order of The Wheel.
The formal betrothal took place in January, 1829, a month before Felix's journey to England, so that between
her brother's near departure and her own approaching marriage, Fanny's clays passed in unusual excitement.
We are going to send you Felix," she wrote to the
sympathetic Klingemann. " He has left himself a beautiful memorial here by two crowded representations of the
'Passion' for the benefit of the poor. What used to appear to us as a dream, to be realized in the far-off
future times, has now become real: the ' Passion' has been given to the public, and is everybody's property.
Before I can tell you more about it, there are other subjects—Felix's journey and my engagement; and I really
should not know in this throng of events how to begin,
if I made this at all a matter of reflection. So then. Your last letter, in which, not guessing what has happened
here, you gave us a minute description of all the misery and ridicule of the affianced state, has amused us excessively, and I assure you that your sarcasms did not touch
us in the least. You may believe my assurance, that we belong to the better class of our order, and are not a
nuisance to other people. Only ask my brother and sister. Nor do I think it difficult to appear merry when one is
inwardly happy, and to behave decently when one has been well brought up. I repeat it, I cannot comprehend
those couples who are intolerably sentimental. I must not forego the pleasure I have in telling you that your
letters have acquired you the affection of Hensel, who formerly, like all the rest of your far-off friends, did not
know you. And last, not least, let me thank you for offering to become one of my female friends, and accept
my assurance that our friendship will remain unchanged, as my speedy answer may show. My memory, such a
bad one for learning, is faithfully retentive for all experiences in life, nor shall new ties or any decree of
fate make me forget the friends and companions of my happy youth. Our correspondence, moreover, will gain a
new impulse by Felix's visit to England. . . Take good care of him, and let him find one warm heart for
the many he leaves behind!
In a later letter to the same faithful friend we get
another glimpse of her tender relation to her brother, and her anxiety to accommodate herself to his mood in spite
of time and distance.
"Here comes again a little request," she says; " Felix
will receive by the next courier a parcel containing love-tokens and sentimental keepsakes; be so kind and carry
it to him yourself, and take care that it finds him in good humor; and should a copyist or a fly just then have
vexed him, better keep it till some better day."
Felix and Klingemann both deserved all the affection
which Fanny bestowed upon them. They traveled through Scotland together and were untiring correspondents, sending her the most delightful letters, long, graphic, gossipy,
and gay, interspersed with rhymes by the one, and music by the other. Felix had of course intended to return in
time for Fanny's wedding, but while in London he was thrown from a carriage and his knee so severely injured
that it was impossible for him to leave in season. He was terribly disappointed, and so was Fanny. He could
but submit and console himself as best he might with the friendly nonsense of Klingemann, who promptly installed himself as nurse, and the devoted attentions of
the many friends he had in England.
"Live and prosper," be wrote to his sister; "get married and be happy; shape your household so that I shall
find you in a beautiful home when I come (that will not be long), and remain yourselves, you two, whatever
storms may rage outside. However, I know you both, and that is enough. Whether I address my sister hence-forward as Mademoiselle or Madame is of no consequence.
What is there in a name ? . . Much better things I
ought to have written, but it will not do. Say what you like, body and mind are too closely connected. I saw it
the other day with real vexation when they bled me, and all those free and fresh ideas which I had before, trickled
drop by drop into the basin, and I became weak and weary. Klingemann's epigram proves also how they rob me of
the little bit of poetry left; and this letter shows it—I am sure in every line it is written that I may not bend
Klingemann, too, wrote her a congratulatory letter,
half merry and half serious, wishing her joy and hoping the clergyman would keep his oration within due bounds.
The wedding took place upon the third of October, and
was a joyful and beautiful occasion. Fanny passed up the aisle of the church in her bridal array to the sound
of a wedding anthem of her own composition, in which her hopes and happiness found lovely musical expression.
She was a happy and confident bride, and it was her good fortune to become also a happy wife and a happy mother.
In the summer of 1830 her son Sebastian was born,
and she and her husband took possession of the gardenhouse at Leipziger Strasse, No. 3, which had received the
addition of a studio built to accommodate Hensel. Here the greater part of Fanny's future life was passed, and
here the young couple soon became the center of another and a wider " Wheel," frequented by authors, artists,
actors, singers, musicians, and scientists. Here Hensel began and carried to completion that marvelous collection of pencil and crayon portraits, which at the time of
his death filled forty-seven volumes, and contained upwards of a thousand drawings. These were likenesses
of relations, friends, and visitors, all made without formal sittings, being sketched in, frequently without the
knowledge of the subject, during the conversation or music which usually passed away the time of an evening.
The faces, probably for this reason, have a singularly animated look, and the value of the collection is enhanced
by the autograph signatures attached to the portraits by their originals.
Even more famous than her husband's portrait gallery
were Fanny Hensel's musical matinees, which took place every Sunday morning. These beautiful celebrations,
originating in the meeting of a few musical friends to play or sing together upon holidays and Sundays, gradually developed into regular concerts with choral and solo
singing, trios and quartets, participated in by the best musicians in Berlin, and listened to by an audience that
crowded the beautiful parlor which opened into Hensel's studio upon the one hand, and upon the other on the garden terrace.
In the spring of 1836, Fanny received from Felix a letter describing his first performance of one of her songs
"I must write you about your song yesterday," he said. How beautiful it was! you know what my opinion of it
always has been, but I was curious to see whether my old favorite, which I had only heard hitherto sung by Rebecca
to your accompaniment in the gray room with the engravings, would have the same effect here in the crowded
hall, with the glare of the lamps, and after I had been listening to noisy orchestral music. I felt so strange
when I began your soft, pretty symphony, imitating the waves, with all the people listening in perfect silence;
but never did the song please me better. The people understood it, too, for there was a hum of approbation
each time the refrain returned with the long E, and much applause when it was over. Mme. Grabow sang it
correctly, though not nearly as well as Rebecca, but she did the last bars very prettily. Bennett, who was in the
orchestra, sends his compliments, and begs me to tell you all that you already know about the song, and I thank
you in the name of the public of Leipzig and elsewhere for publishing it against my wish."
The last sentence refers to a song which Fanny had published and which had met with great success. Several
of her songs had appeared among her brother's works, but without her name, and with nothing to distinguish
them as the work of another, although Felix made no secret of their authorship, which was well known to the
friends of the family. An incident which took place during a later visit of Felix to England owed its origin to
this fact. He visited Prince Albert and Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace, and wrote home a glowing
account of the event. Prince Albert played and sang for him, and then, after some coaxing, the Queen consented
to sing also.
"After some consultation with her husband," wrote Felix," he said : 'She will sing you
something of Gluck's.' Meantime, the Princess of Gotha had come in, and we five proceeded through various corridors and rooms to
the Queen's sitting-room, where there stood by the piano a mighty rocking-horse and two great bird-cages. The
walls were decorated with pictures; beautifully bound books lay on the tables, and music on the piano. The
Duchess of Kent came in, too, and while they were all talking I rummaged about amongst the music, and soon
discovered my first set of songs. So, of course, I begged her rather to sing one of those than the Gluck, to which
she very kindly consented; and which did she choose ? — Schoner und schoner schmuckt sich'— sang it quite
charmingly, in strict time and tune, and with very good execution. . . . Then I was obliged to confess that
Fanny had written the song (which I found very hard, but pride must have a fall), and to beg her to sing one of
my own also."
The Queen complied, singing, as Felix declares, "really quite faultlessly, and with charming feeling and
expression; " and when she had concluded be sat down to play, introducing into a beautiful improvisation the
songs which she and the Prince had sung. A handsome ring, the gift of the Queen, remained to keep fresh the
memory of this pleasant visit when it was numbered among the things of the past.
Later in her life, in fact, only a year before she died, Fanny Hensel issued a volume of her own compositions
which met with the success it deserved. Felix, who never quite desired her to publish, generously conquered
his prejudice on this occasion, and wrote to wish her good fortune in her venture:
"My dearest Fance—Not till to-day, just as I am on the point of starting, do I, unnatural brother that I am,
find time to thank you for your charming letter, and send you my professional blessing on your becoming a member
of the craft. This I do now in full, Fance, and may you have much happiness in giving pleasure to others; may
you taste only the sweets, and none of the bitternesses of authorship; may the public pelt you with roses, and
never with sand; and may the printer's ink never draw black lines upon your soul—all of which I devoutly
believe will be the case; so what is the use of my wishing it ? But it is the custom of the guild, so take my
blessing under my hand and seal. The journeyman tailor, Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy."
The greatest joys of Fanny Hensel's life, apart from her music and her pride in the successes of her husband and brother, were probably her two journeys to Italy, of
which a full account is given in her delightful diary. Yet her home life was most beautiful and most happy,
and she seemed continually learning to appreciate it more. One of the last entries in her diary bears touching witness to this fact:
"Yesterday," she wrote, "the first breath of spring was in the air. It has been a long winter, with much
frost and snow, universal dearth and distress; indeed, a winter full of suffering. What have we done to deserve
being among the few happy ones in the world ? My inmost heart is at any rate full of thankfulness, and
when in the morning, after breakfasting with Wilhelm, we each go to our own work with a pleasant day to look
back upon and another to look forward to, I am quite overcome with my own happiness."
On the afternoon of May 14, 1847, while sitting at the piano playing the accompaniment for her little choir
which was rehearsing for the performance of the next Sunday, she was suddenly seized with mortal illness.
Her hands fell at her sides; she could neither speak nor move; and soon she became unconscious. Before midnight she was dead.
While she lay in her coffin, surrounded by flowers, her husband drew her likeness. It was one of the most perfect portraits be ever made, and it was his last. He
resigned all his commissions and never again painted anything worthy of himself. The happiness and inspiration of his life were gone, and during his fifteen
remaining years he was restless and unhappy, and devoted himself to politics, which he had formerly abhorred. He
died at length of injuries received in saving a child from being run over.
Upon Felix, although he was in the full enjoyment of a happy household of his own, the blow fell with yet more
crushing weight. He never recovered from it. He survived his sister only a year.
Fanny Hensel lies buried in the church-yard of the Holy Trinity at Berlin, between the brother and husband
to whom she was so devoted.
It is to her son, Sebastian Hensel, that we owe the precious volume upon the Mendelssohn Family in which
her story is given to the world. It is one of the most pleasing exhibitions of domestic happiness, ennobled by
high feeling and great talent, ever given to the world.*
*The Mendelssohn Family. From Letters and Journals. By Sebastian
Hensel. Translated by Carl Klingemann and an American Collaborator. 2 vols. Harper &
Brothers, N. Y., 1882.