Through his brother pupils he was introduced to the highest Polish society, for his fellows bore some of the proudest names in Poland. Chopin seems to have absorbed the peculiarly romantic spirit of his race, the wild, imaginative melancholy, which, almost gloomy in the Polish peasant, when united to grace and culture in the Polish noble, offered an indescribable social charm. Balzac sketches the Polish woman in these picturesque antitheses: “Angel through love, demon through fantasy; child through faith, sage through experience; man through the brain, woman through the heart; giant through hope, mother through sorrow; and poet through dreams.” The Polish gentleman was chivalrous, daring, and passionate; the heir of the most gifted and brilliant of the Slavic races, with a proud heritage of memory which gave his bearing an indescribable dignity, though the son of a fallen nation. Ardently devoted to pleasure, the Poles embodied in their national dances wild and inspiring rhythms, a glowing poetry of sentiment as well as motion, which mingled with their Bacchanal fire a chaste and lofty meaning that became at times funereal. Polish society at this epoch pulsated with an originality, an imagination, and a romance, which transfigured even the common things of life.
It was amid such an atmosphere that Chopin’s early musical career was spent, and his genius received its lasting impress. One afternoon in after-years he was playing to one of the most distinguished women in Paris, and she said that his music suggested to her those gardens in Turkey where bright parterres of flowers and shady bowers were strewed with gravestones and burial mounds.
This underlying depth of melancholy Chopin’s music expresses most eloquently, and it may be called the perfect artistic outcome of his people; for in his sweetest tissues of sound the imagination can detect agitation, rancor, revolt, and menace, sometimes despair. Chateaubriand dreamed of an Eve innocent, yet fallen; ignorant of all, yet knowing all; mistress, yet virgin. He found this in a Polish girl of seventeen, whom he paints as a “mixture of Odalisque and Valkyr.” The romantic and fanciful passion of the Poles, bold, yet unworldly, is shown in the habit of drinking the health of a sweetheart from her own shoe.
Chopin, intensely spiritual by temperament and fragile in health, born an enthusiast, was colored through and through with the rich dyes of Oriental passion; but with these were mingled the fantastic and ideal elements which,
“Wrapped in sense, yet dreamed of heavenlier joys.”
And so he went to Paris, the city of his fate, ripe for the tragedy of his life. After the revolution of 1830, he started to go to London, and, as he said, “passed through Paris.” Yet Paris he did not leave till he left it with Mme. Sand to live a brief dream of joy in the beautiful isle of Majorca.