Edinburgh, February, 1902.
POLAND AND THE POLES.
The works of no composer of equal importance bear so striking a national impress as those of Chopin. It would, however, be an error to attribute this simply and solely to the superior force of the Polish musician’s patriotism. The same force of patriotism in an Italian, Frenchman, German, or Englishman would not have produced a similar result. Characteristics such as distinguish Chopin’s music presuppose a nation as peculiarly endowed, constituted, situated, and conditioned, as the Polish—a nation with a history as brilliant and dark, as fair and hideous, as romantic and tragic. The peculiarities of the peoples of western Europe have been considerably modified, if not entirely levelled, by centuries of international intercourse; the peoples of the eastern part of the Continent, on the other hand, have, until recent times, kept theirs almost intact, foreign influences penetrating to no depth, affecting indeed no more than the aristocratic few, and them only superficially. At any rate, the Slavonic races have not been moulded by the Germanic and Romanic races as these latter have moulded each other: east and west remain still apart—strangers, if not enemies. Seeing how deeply rooted Chopin’s music is in the national soil, and considering how little is generally known about Poland and the Poles, the necessity of paying in this case more attention to the land of the artist’s birth and the people to which he belongs than is usually done in biographies of artists, will be admitted by all who wish to understand fully and appreciate rightly the poet-musician and his works. But while taking note of what is of national origin in Chopin’s music, we must be careful not to ascribe to this origin too much. Indeed, the fact that the personal individuality of Chopin is as markedly differentiated, as exclusively self-contained, as the national individuality of Poland, is oftener overlooked than the master’s national descent and its significance with regard to his artistic production. And now, having made the reader acquainted with the raison d’etre of this proem, I shall plunge without further preliminaries in medias res.
The palmy days of Poland came to an end soon after the extinction of the dynasty of the Jagellons in 1572. So early as 1661 King John Casimir warned the nobles, whose insubordination and want of solidity, whose love of outside glitter and tumult, he deplored, that, unless they remedied the existing evils, reformed their pretended free elections, and renounced their personal privileges, the noble kingdom would become the prey of other nations. Nor was this the first warning. The Jesuit Peter Skarga (1536—1612), an indefatigable denunciator of the vices of the ruling classes, told them in 1605 that their dissensions would bring them under the yoke of those who hated them,