Wagner, Richard Wilhelm

After failure to dispose of his opera at both Leipsic and Berlin Wagner, penniless, moved on to Konigsberg. Here he entered into the bonds of matrimony at the age 9f twenty-three, with no money in his purse, debts behind him and little in the way of prospects. The lady who became his wife, Wilhelmina Planer, had been a member of the Magdeburg Company, and it was her presence at Konigsberg that drew Wagner thither. "Minna," one of twelve children of a poor spindle-maker, brought to the union no dowry; but when in time a period of bitter poverty fell to their lot she met those years with a brave front and with helpfulness. She was pretty and good and devoted, with a taste for domesticity left quite unspoiled by her professional experience. Soon after his marriage Wagner received an appointment as conductor of the Konigsberg Opera, a position that entailed much labor and left little time for composition, the only production of this period being the overture, Rule Britannia. But the Konigsberg days were cut short by the bankruptcy of the theatre-director, and again Wagner moved on; this time to Riga, Russia, where he dwelt from August, 1837, till the close of June, 1839. In the Russian city he found good material for an opera company and performed his duties as music-director with much zeal and energy. In addition to his work as director he wrote arias for interpolation in the operas; the text to a two-act comic opera, the Happy Bear Family; and, coming across Bulwer Lytton's Rienzi, set to  work on an opera much more ambitious than previously attempted, dreaming of no lesser stage for its presentation than the famous Academic de Musique in Paris. The libretto to Rienzi and the music of the first two acts were completed by the spring of 1839, and his contract with the theatre-director at Riga now ending, he was eager to set out for Paris. The leaving Riga was complicated by the difficulty of getting away from their creditors. The story goes that the Wagners were forced to escape in disguise, Minna crossing the border by passing herself off as wife of a lumberman, and that Wagner's friends of the theatre made up a purse for him and smuggled him out of the country. On his way to Paris he traveled by sailing vessel bound for London from the port of Pillau, East Prussia, taking with him "a wife, an opera and a half, a small purse and a terribly large and terribly voracious Newfoundland dog." He was ever passionately fond of animals, especially dogs. A rest of a few days in London, and then the party went on to Boulogne, where Wagner halted to make acquaintance with Meyerbeer. The latter received him affably, gave him letters of introduction to the directors of the Opera and the Theatre de la Renaissance and one to Schlessinger, the 'musicpublisher. He entered Paris September, 1839; procured modest lodgings, then set out to present the letters. Over-encouraged by the cordiality with which they were received and by the acceptance of his opera, Das Liebesverbot, from the Theatre de la Renaissance, Wagner changed his residence to a more pretentious quarter. But the day that he made this change came word of the failure of the theatre where the opera was to appear. There were no funds, there were no prospects; the Wagners moved back to an humble shelter, and now only by severest struggle were able to maintain even a mean home. The two years and a half spent in Paris were marked by disappointment succeeding disappointment. The composer sought to earn his bread by singing in the chorus, wrote songs that could find no buyer, obtained a pittance by scoring dance-music and setting airs from operas of Donizetti and Halevy for various instruments. Impatient for work, he in time turned to the unfinished Rienzi; completed the opera, and sent it back to Germany to the Intendant at Dresden. Shortly after this he derived some encouragment from hearing his Columbus Overture played at a private concert given by Schlessinger February, 1841; but disappointment continued to dog his footsteps, for, when he sent the manuscript to Jullien in London and it was returned, he did not have money with which to get it back from the transportation company, and the Columbus score was only recovered recently.