To stem the tide of Haydn’s popularity, the Italian faction had recourse to Giardini; and they even imported a pet pupil of Haydn, Pleyel, to conduct the rival concerts. Our composer kept his temper, and wrote: “He [Pleyel] behaves himself with great modesty.” Later we read, “Pleyel’s presumption is a public laughingstock;” but he adds, “I go to all his concerts and applaud him.”
Far different were the amenities that passed between Haydn and Giardini. “I won’t know the German hound,” says the latter. Haydn wrote, “I attended his concert at Ranelagh, and he played the fiddle like a hog.”
Among the pleasant surprises Haydn had in England was his visit to Herschel, the great astronomer, in whom he recognized one of his old oboe-players. The big telescope amazed him, and so did the patient star-gazer, who often sat out-of-doors in the most intense cold for five or six hours at a time.
Our composer returned to Vienna in May, 1795. with the little fortune of 12,000 florins in his pocket.
In his charming little cottage near Vienna Haydn was the centre of a brilliant society. Princes and nobles were proud to do honor to him; and painters, poets, scholars, and musicians made a delightful coterie, which was not even disturbed by the political convulsions of the time. The baleful star of Napoleon shot its disturbing influences throughout Europe, and the roar of his cannon shook the established order of things with the echoes of what was to come. Haydn was passionately attached to his country and his emperor, and regarded anxiously the rumblings and quakings of the period; but he did not intermit his labor, or allow his consecration to his divine art to be in the least shaken. Like Archimedes of old, he toiled serenely at his appointed work, while the political order of things was crumbling before the genius and energy of the Corsican adventurer.
In 1798 he completed his great oratorio of “The Creation,” on which he had spent three years of toil, and which embodied his brightest genius. Haydn was usually a very rapid composer, but he seems to have labored at the “Creation” with a sort of reverential humility, which never permitted him to think his work worthy or complete. It soon went the round of Germany, and passed to England and France, everywhere awakening enthusiasm by its great symmetry and beauty. Without the sublimity of Handel’s “Messiah,” it is marked by a richness of melody, a serene elevation, a matchless variety in treatment, which make it the most characteristic of Haydn’s works. Napoleon, the first consul, was hastening to the opera-house to hear this, January 24, 1801, when he was stopped by an attempt at assassination.