The manager scanned the raw-boned starveling with a look of wonder. “Where’s your music?” quoth the tyrant of a third-class theatre. “I don’t want any, I can sing anything you can give me at sight,” was the answer. “The devil!” rejoined the manager; “but we haven’t any music here.” “Well, what do you want?” said Berlioz. “I sing every note of all the operas of Gluck, Piccini, Salieri, Rameau, Spontini, Gretry, Mozart, and Cimarosa, from memory.” At hearing this amazing declaration, the rest of the competitors slunk away abashed, and Berlioz, after singing an aria from Spontini, was accorded the place, which guaranteed him fifty francs per month—a pittance, indeed, and yet a substantial addition to his resources. This pot-boiling connection of Berlioz was never known to the public till after he became a distinguished man, though he was accustomed to speak in vague terms of his early dramatic career as if it were a matter of romantic importance.
At last, however, he was relieved of the necessity of singing on the stage to amuse the Paris bourgeoisie, and in a singular fashion. He had been put to great straits to get his first work, which had won him his way into the Conservatoire, performed. An application to the great Chateaubriand, who was noted for benevolence, had failed, for the author of “La Genie de Christianisme” was then almost as poor as Berlioz. At last a young friend, De Pons, advanced him twelve hundred francs. Part of this Berlioz had repaid, but the creditor, put to it for money, wrote to Berlioz pere, demanding a full settlement of the debt. The father was thus brought again into communication with his son, whom he found nearly sick unto death with a fever. His heart relented, and the old allowance was resumed again, enabling the young musician to give his whole time to his beloved art, instantly he convalesced from his illness.
The eccentric ways and heretical notions of Berlioz made him no favorite with the dons of the Conservatoire, and by the irritable and autocratic Cherubini he was positively hated. The young man took no pains to placate this resentment, but on the other hand elaborated methods of making himself doubly offensive. His power of stinging repartee stood him in good stead, and he never put a button on his foil. Had it been in old Cherubini’s power to expel this bold pupil from the Conservatoire, no scruple would have held him back. But the genius and industry of Berlioz were undeniable, and there was no excuse for such extreme measures. Prejudiced as were his judges, he successively took several important prizes.