The Death of Chopin

The great nineteenth-century composer, Frédéric François Chopin (1810-1849), was born in the wake of that horrid reign of “enlight­ened” barbarity, the French Revolu­tion — the age when Masonic phil­osophers boasted that Reason had finally triumphed over “the Gali­lean,” Jesus Christ — and he lived through two more successive out­bursts of that same hellish Revolu­tion. Chopin was very much a prod­uct of that age. Though never an advocate of its contrived rage as was the radical Richard Wagner, he nonetheless absorbed enough of its underlying corrupting spirit, particularly from the writings of Voltaire, to lose his Catholic Faith. But for the persevering prayers of a simple yet determined priest, the Abbé Jalowicki, who was the composer’s longtime friend, Chopin would surely have lost his soul.

What follows is a personal and indisputably reliable account by that holy priest of the miraculous deathbed conversion of the es­tranged soul, Frédéric Chopin. It beautifully exemplifies the gener­ous, unfailing love and forgiveness that our Divine Redeemer holds out to all sinners. But even more, it dramatically illustrates the power and force of prayer in the face of hopelessness, as well as points up the enormous flood of graces that Our Lord in His particular provi­dence pours out to each one of us, especially at the hour of death. And, finally, it demonstrates the inevi­table triumph of faith and of “the Galilean” over the blindness of false “reason.” We think its read­ing will be a grace in itself to many souls. — Editor.

FOR MANY years the life of Chopin was but a breath. His frail, weak body was visibly un­fitted for the strength and force of his genius. It was a wonder how in such a weak state he could live at all, and occasionally act with the greatest energy. His body was almost diaphanous; his eyes were almost shadowed by a cloud from which, from time to time, the lightnings of his glance flashed. Gentle, kind, bubbling with humor, and every way charming, he seemed no longer to belong to earth, while, unfortu­nately, he had not yet thought of heaven.

He had good friends, but many bad friends. These bad friends were his flatterers that is, his enemies — men and women without principles, or ra­ther with bad principles. Even his unrivalled success, so much more subtle and thus so much more stimulating than that of all other artists, carried the war into his soul and checked the expres­sion of faith and prayer.

The teaching of his fondest, most pious mother became to him a recollection of his childhood’s love. In the place of faith, doubt had stepped in, and only that decency innate in every generous heart hindered him from indul­ging in sarcasm and mockery over holy things and the consolations of religion.

While he was in this spiritual condition, he was attacked by the pulmonary disease that was soon to carry him away from us. The knowledge of this cruel sickness reached me on my return from Rome. With beating heart I hur­ried to him, to see once more the friend of my youth, whose soul was infinitely dearer to me than all his talent. I found him not thinner, for that was impossible, but weaker. His strength sank, his life faded visibly. He em­braced me with affection and with tears in his eyes, thinking not of his own pain but of mine; he spoke of my poor friend, Ed­uard Worte, whom I had just lost.

I availed myself of his soft­ened mood to speak to him 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 insofar 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.

Several months passed with similar conversations, so painful to me, the priest and the sincere friend. 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 12th, I had with my brethren re­tired to pray for a change in 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 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 Feast of Saint 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, to­day is the name day of my poor brother.”

“Oh, do not let us speak of if!” he cried.

“Dearest friend,” I continued, ‘‘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!”

At these words unspeakable joy and anguish seized me. What should I say to him? What should I do to restore his Faith, how not to lose instead of saving this be­loved soul? How should I begin to bring it back to God? I flung myself on my knees, and after a moment of collecting my thoughts I cried in the depths of my heart, “Draw it to Thee, Thy­self, my God!”

Without saying a word, I held out to our dear invalid the crucifix. Rays of divine light, flames of divine fire, streamed, I might say, visibly from the figure of the crucified Savior, 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. After the blessed Viaticum, penetrated by the heavenly consecration, which the sacraments pour forth on pious souls, he asked for Ex­treme Unction. He wished to pay lavishly the sacristan who accompanied me, and when I remarked that the sum pre­sented by him was twenty times too much he replied, “Oh, no, for what I have received is be­yond price.”

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 was truly happy, and outwardly expressed it. In the midst of the sharpest sufferings he expressed only ecstatic joy, a touching love of God, thankful­ness that I had led him back to God, contempt of the world and its goods, and a wish for a speedy death.

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.

Day and night he held my hand, and would not let me leave him. “No, you will not leave me at the last moment,” he said, and leaned on my breast as a little child, who, in a moment of danger, hides himself in his mother’s breast.

Soon he called upon Jesus and Mary, with a fervor that reached to heaven; soon he kissed the cru­cifix in an excess of faith, hope, and love. He made the most touching utterances. “I love God and man,” he said. “I am hap­py so to die; do not weep, my sister. My friends, do not weep. I am happy. I feel that I am dying. Farewell, pray for me!”

Exhausted by deathly convul­sions, he said to the physicians, “Let me die. Do not keep me longer in this world of exile. Let me die; why do you prolong my life when I have renounced all things and God has enlightened my soul? God calls me; why do you keep me back?”

Another time he said, and with mild irony, “O lovely science, that only lets one suffer longer! Could it give me back my strength, qualify me to do any good, to make any sacrifice — but a life of fainting, of grief, of pain to all who love me, to prolong such a life — O lovely science!”

Then he said again: “You [physicians] let me suffer cruel­ly. Perhaps you have erred about by sickness. But God errs not. He punishes me, and I bless Him for this. Oh, how good is God to punish me here below! Oh, how good God is!”

His usual language was always elegant, with well-chosen words, but at last to express all this 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, and 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.