Chopin in Scotland


In the fall of 1848 the Polish-born composer Frederic Chopin was in Scotland at the invitation of an admirer, Jane Stirling. Although he welcomed the retreat from the war raging in Europe, Chopin was ill at ease among his hosts. On October 1st he wrote to a friend:

“I’ll soon forget all my Polish. I’ll be speaking French with an English accent and learn to speak English like a Scot. I’ll end up like old Jawerski who spoke five languages all at once.

“As far as my future’s concerned, I’m going from bad to worse. I’m getting weaker and weaker and compose nothing at all, not because I don’t want to but because of practical problems. Each week I haul myself off to some new perch. What can I do? At least this way I’m saving a little money for the winter.

“I’ve received a sheaf of invitations but I can’t even go where I’d like – to the Duchess of Argyll’s or to Lady Belhaven’s for example – because it’s already too late in the year for my health. All morning and until two o’clock I’m useless. Later, when I’m dressed, everything bears down on me and I gasp until dinner, a after which I have to sit around the table with the men, observing what they say and listening while they drink.

“As I sit there my thoughts are far away from them despite their kindness and snatches of French. Soon—overcome by tedium – I go to the drawing room, where I have to stir myself a little because they’re eager to hear me. Then my good servant Daniel carries me up to my bedroom, undresses me, leaves me a candle, and there I am to gasp and dream until the same thing begins all over again.

“No sooner do I get a little accustomed to a place than I have to move on because my Scotswomen can’t leave me in peace. Either they come to fetch me or they take me around to see their families. In the end they’ll smother me with their friendliness and I – equally friendly – will let them do it.”

Frederic Chopin writing from Scotland on October 1st, 1848.

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