The voyage itself bore noteworthy artistic fruit; for within three years the roar and scream of the tempest, the smashing of heavy seas upon the ship’s sides and deck, and (I dare say) the captain’s curses, were to be translated into tone and take artistic shape in The Flying Dutchman. London reached in safety, Wagner stayed first near the Tower and then in Soho. He lost his dog, found it, and crossed the Channel to Boulogne. Here he met Meyerbeer, who gave him an introduction to a bankrupt theatre, the Renaissance, in Paris. In Paris he met many well-known people, amongst them Heine, who clasped his hands and looked heavenwards when he heard of a penniless German coming to such a city to seek his fortune, with nothing save an unfinished opera and an introduction from Meyerbeer. The late Sir Charles Halle met him at this time, and left some amusing reminiscences in his Autobiography. Heine’s view of the situation was speedily justified. Not by any efforts could Rienzi be unloaded upon an opera director, and Wagner began to experience the bitterness of poverty. To earn a bare living, he thought himself lucky to be entrusted with the making of transcriptions of popular airs and the writing of articles for the press.
The three years’ stay in Paris did Wagner no particular harm that I have been able to trace beyond implanting in him that deadly fear of being hard up which haunted him all his life thenceforward, and is an offensive and yet pathetic feature of his letters to all his friends. On the other hand, he heard opera performances on a scale outside and beyond his past experience; he heard Habenek direct the Choral Symphony at the Conservatoire, and learnt much, not only about that mighty work—which he must already have known by heart—but also of the art of conducting; he finished Rienzi and sent it off to Dresden, where it was accepted; and he planned and completed The Flying Dutchman, which was accepted for production at Berlin. He had also written the Faust Overture in its first form. And probably also he had acquired that almost fatal fluency of the pen which was to make so many enemies for him afterwards, and yet to lead to the realization of his life’s dream in Bayreuth. A bare list of the names of the friends and opponents he gained at this time would take up more space than is available in so brief a study as this, and I must pass over many interesting incidents. The most important is that connected with The Flying Dutchman libretto. Wagner submitted his sketches to the opera, where they were placed at the disposal of another composer, and he was offered (I think) L20 or nothing for them. He took the L20, and then, his artistic conscience happily triumphing over his commercial conscience, he used the money to live upon until he had completed his own opera on the same subject. The French Dutchman (music by Dietsch) was produced. It failed and is forgotten. How Wagner’s fared all the world knows.