Lytton’s tribute to Ernst

Here’s a great find: a short tribute written by Bulwer Lytton and published four years after Ernst’s death:

Heinrich Ernst, Composer and Violinist

By the author of “Richelieu,” “The Lady of Lyons,” etc

I leave it to others to speak of Heinrich Ernst as an Artist. Of the merit of his musical compositions I do not pretend to be a judge. Of his skills on his instrument I know little except by hearsay. At the time when I made his first acquaintance he was stricken down by the painful disease which so mournfully terminated a career so brilliantly commenced. I never heard him perform in public, and it was only a little time before we parted for ever, that one evening, when he felt himself unusually well, he volunteered to play to me his favourite compositions, “The Elegy” and “The Carnival of Venice,” I thought then it was impossible for human art to put more of soul into the strings of an instrument, but he himself was dissatisfied, and said sorrowfully, “Ah! had you heard me ten years ago.” It was not, then, his professional art which attracted me towards him, – it was not that which made the bond of friendship. I speak of him not as artist but as man. As man none ever knew him well without loving him; and none ever loved him without as much reverence for his noble nature as pity for his terrible affliction. Yet his art was not a thing separate and distinct from his positive material being, it seemed to permeate and harmonize his whole existence. If ever man had music in his soul it was Heinrich Ernst. It flowed unceasingly from his lips, investing all he said, whether in earnest or in sport, with the peculiar charm of an organization in which there were many varieties of tone, and no discord. A certain dignified sweetness was his prevailing moral characteristic. The utterance of an ignoble thought jarred as much upon his mind as a false note would have jarred upon his ear.

It was touching to see the musician’s jealous affection for the instrument associated with the studies and triumphs of the past. His violin was to him a living thing; he looked on it as the sculptor of old might have looked to which he had given a human voice for the utterance of human emotions. Whenever he moved from place to place his wife undertook the parental charge of that violin, – an anxious responsibility, – and considering the case in which the instrument reposed, not without its weight. But never had suffering artist a wife more pleased and proud to take upon herself every burden she could shift from him. We travelled together by slow stages from Nice to London, and, at each railway station where we halted for a day, and Ernst had to be borne in the arms of others to the hotel or the carriage secured for him, still his eyes wandered wistfully round in quest of the violin to see it close behind him in the arms of its faithful guardian. It must, indeed, have been a very tried friend to whom she would have consented to transfer that charge. Then it was borne to his room and placed as heedfully within reach as if at any moment he might recover, and tune its strings afresh for the ears of some breathless audience.

Ernst was not a literary student; he had read neither extensively nor deeply – but his conversation attracted men of letters. The arts are not without the connexion which exists between the sciences; and to judge by my own experience, the cultivator of imaginative literature may learn much from the painter, the sculptor, the musician, as they in turn may learn something from him. Certainly, at least, I have rarely known a critic whom an author could more profitably consult than Heinrich Ernst as to the conception and treatment of any design necessitating the harmony of method. His taste was exquisite and comprehensive, and his opinion expressed with the frankness which belonged to the honesty of his character. Like most men of strong imagination he had very solid good sense; and an intuitive quickness of observation had secured him no inconsiderable knowledge of mankind. With that knowledge was mixed none of the asperity and none of the cynicism which so often distort the vision and narrow the intellect of professed men of the world. He retained undiminished and undimmed his own bright and lofty standard of excellence, moral or intellectual; but, in preserving such standard, he made that practical allowance for the shortcomings of others which constitute the justice of a tender and generous nature.

In the intervals of reprieve from pain the cheerfulness of a temperament constitutionally joyous, as temperaments truly artistic mostly are (for nature is joyous and art is its image), made him a delightful companion. His very laugh was musical, and no one had a happier choice of anecdotes or narrated them with more effect. With one such anecdote let me close this brief tribute to his honoured memory. In his younger days he had been intimate with his marvellous countryman Heinrich Heine, doomed later to sufferings not dissimilar to his own. Heine had taken a special dislike to the work of a certain musical composer in Paris. One day, walking with Ernst, he saw a singularly illfavoured and misshapen person on the other side of the street, and asked Ernst, “Who is that ugly fellow?” “The brother of your friend —— (the said musical composer.)” “Ah!” said Heine, “he looks as if his brother had composed him.”

 The Era Dramatic and Musical Almanack 1869, (ed) Edward Ledger, pp.81-2

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)