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Chopin's Last Tragic Moments

While the general facts regarding the death of Chopin are well known and thor­oughly authenticated, accounts do not all agree as to the details—even when these accounts have been given by those present. Lawyers know how untrustworthy are the reports of even the most reliable wit­nesses, especially when, some time has elapsed between the event and its descrip­tion, so strangely does the human imagi­nation play with fact. The following ac­count is by the Abbé Jelowcki (sic - should be Abbé Jelowicki), who had known Chopin as a child in Poland and came to his bedside when the end ap­proached. Liszt in his work on Chopin refers to some conversations he had with the abbé respecting Chopin's death. Niecks quotes letters of the abbé in his biography. Since that time the letters, written in French, have appeared in a German translation in the Allgemeine Music Zeitung. Mr. Huneker gives an English translation (made by Hugh Craig) in his work on Chopin, commenting "The worthy abbé must have had a phenomenal memory. I hope that it was an exact one… The only thing that makes me feel in the least skeptical is that La Mara—the pen name of a writer on musical subjects—translated these letters into Ger­man. But every one agrees that Chopin's end was serene; indeed it is one of the musical death-beds of history."
Out of space considerations we are obliged to prune the good priest's ver­biage a little, but this only makes the es­sential facts stand out more prominently.
"I availed myself of his softened mood to speak to him (Chopin) about his soul. I recalled his thoughts to the piety of his childhood and of his beloved mother. 'Yes,' he said, 'in order not to offend my mother I would not die without the sacra­ments, but for my part I do not regard them in the sense that you desire. I un­derstand the blessing of confession in so far as it is the unburdening of a heavy heart into a friendly hand, but not as a sacrament. I am ready to confess to you if you wish it, because I love you, not be­cause I hold it necessary.' Enough: a crowd of anti-religious speeches filled me with terror and care for this elect soul, and I feared nothing more than to be called to be his confessor… . Yet I clung to the conviction that the grace of God would obtain the victory over this rebellious soul, even if I knew not how. After all my exertions, prayer remained my only refuge.
"On the evening of October 12 I had with my brethren retired to pray for a change of Chopin's mind, when I was summoned by orders of the physician, in fear that he would not live through the night. I hastened to him. He pressed my hand but bade me at once to depart, while he assured me that he loved me much, but did not wish to speak to me.
"Imagine, if you can, what a night I passed. Next day was the thirteenth, the day of St. Edward, the patron of my poor brother. I said mass for the repose of his soul and prayed for Chopin's soul. 'My God,' I cried, 'if the soul of my brother Edward is pleasing to thee, give me, this day, the soul of Frédéric.'
"In double distress I then went to the melancholy abode of our poor sick man. I found him at breakfast which was served as carefully as ever, and after he had asked me to partake I said: 'My friend, to-day is the name-day of my poor brother.' 'Oh, do not let us speak of it,' he cried. 'Dearest friend,' I went on, 'you must give me something for my brother's name-day.' 'What shall I give you?' 'Your soul.' 'Ah, I understand. Here it is; take it!' … .
Without saying a word I held out to our dear invalid the crucifix. Rays of divine light, flames of divine fire streamed, I may say, visibly from the fig­ure of the crucified Saviour and at once illumined the soul and kindled the heart of Chopin. Burning tears streamed from his eyes. His faith was once more re­vived, and with unspeakable fervor he made his confession and received the Holy Supper… . From this hour he was a saint. The death struggle began and lasted four days. Patience, trust in God, even joyful confidence, never left him, in spite of all his sufferings till the last breath…. He blessed his friends, and when, after an apparently last crisis, he saw himself surrounded by the crowd that day and night filled his chamber, he asked me, 'Why do they not pray?' At these words all fell on their knees, and even the Protestants joined in the litanies and prayers for the dying."
The good priest goes on to give some of Chopin's dying speeches, which are full of the utmost tenderness and piety. Doubtless they represent much of what was in the mind of the dying man. It must be confessed, however, that they are a little lengthy for one fighting for breath as Chopin must have been so near the end. Still more so in view of the fact that Chopin was ever very reticent so far as his own feelings were concerned. Among these utterances, however, is one that, by reason of its very slanginess, seems to ring true. "His usual language," the abbé goes on, "was always elegant, with well chosen words, but at last, to express all his thankfulness and, at the same time, all the misery of those who die unreconciled to God, he cried, 'Without you I should have croaked (krepiren) like a pig.'
'While dying he still called on the names of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, kissed the crucifix and pressed it to his heart with the cry, 'Now I am at the source of blessedness!' Thus died Chopin, and in truth his death was the most beautiful concerto of all his life."

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