Paganini, Niccolo

Paganini was tall and very thin, with a hawk nose, penetrating eyes, and a protruding chin, and around all was a mass of long black hair which intensified the livid color of his face. His strange looks and bearing added to his almost superhuman genius had given rise to all sorts of fanciful tales. He was said to have murdered his wife, or rival, accounts varied, and to have been imprisoned for eight years when his only comfort was an old violin with but one string, on which   he learned to play so excruciatingly that his jailers had to release him. Another story made him out to be the child of Satan, whom one man said he saw directing his bow at a concert, and at night the people near an old Florentine castle which Paganini frequently visited declared that he held intercourse with the devil, for  they heard all manner of queer noises   coming from the place. Such stories as these circulated far and wide and found many to believe them, and so annoying had they become that at Vienna and later in Paris, Paganini took official steps to silence them. But in vain. They preceded him on his tour of Germany, where he was received with wild applause. He played in Berlin in 1829, visited Dresden, Munich, Frankfort and many other cities, and in March, 1831, arrived at Paris. After two months at the French capjtal, in which time he changed the attitude towards him from doubt to admiration, he made his first appearance in   London, where throngs followed him in the streets, even pinching him at times to see if he were real. After touring England, Ireland and Scotland, creating the usual furore everywhere, he returned to the Continent in 1832; toured Holland and Belgium, and during the winter of 1833 was at Paris. The receipts from Paganini's travels amounted to a large fortune, most of which he invested in real estate, and on returning to Italy in 1834 he retired to his newly acquired Villa Gajona, near Parma. In 1839 his health was so poor that he was ordered to Marseilles, where he recovered sufficiently to play in a Beethoven mass at church. Believing himself cured he returned to Genoa but was forced to seek the milder climate of Nice for the winter. He did not think that death was near and was so busy planning a new tour that he sent away the priest who had come to give him the final rites of the church. So, unabsolved, death overtook him one beautiful May night in 1840, as he lay clasping his favorite violin and gazing out of the window at the moonlit scene. The Bishop of Nice refused to give him Christian burial, and while the matter was referred to the Spiritual Council the body was embalmed and removed to a sealed room in the lazaretto at Villa Franca. The fact that so many came from near and far to do honor to the poor remains made the priests very angry and when the Council returned a favorable verdict it was overruled by the Archbishop. After five years' delay, Achilles Paganini gained permission from the Pope to bury his father in the churchyard at the Villa, near Parma. The son inherited the title of Baron, which had been conferred on Paganini in Germany, and the fortune of about four hundred thousand dollars, with the exception of small legacies left to Paganini's sisters, and an annuity to the singer, Antonia Bianchi, the mother of Achilles. Paganini is accused of being avaricious, but he was always generous with his mother, and also played frequently for charity. Despite his eccentricities, Paganini's patience with and love for his little son, whom he legitimized by a process of law, and his tenderness toward his mother command respect.