Letter to Wegeler

The German doctor Franz Wegeler was Beethoven’s friend since childhood and published in 1838, together with the composer Ferdinand Ries, a biography of the genius from Bonn considered one of the most reliable and complete sources of his life and work.

250th anniversary

Ludwig van Beethoven


Vienna, June 29, 1800


How much I thank you for your remembrance of me, little as I deserve it, or have sought to deserve it; and yet you are so kind that you allow nothing, not even my unpardonable neglect, to discourage you, always remaining the same true, good, and faithful friend. That I can ever forget you or yours, once so dear and precious to me, do not for a moment believe. There are times when I find myself longing to see you again, and wishing that I could go to stay with you. My father-land, that lovely region where I first saw the light, is still as distinct and beauteous in my eyes as when I quitted you; in short, I shall esteem the time when I once more see you, and again greet Father Rhine, as one of the happiest periods of my life. When this may be I cannot yet tell; but at all events I may say that you shall not see me again till I have become eminent, not only as an artist, but better and more perfect as a man; and if the condition of our father-land be then more prosperous, my art shall be entirely devoted to the benefit of the poor. Oh, blissful moment! How happy do I esteem myself that I can expedite it and bring it to pass!

You desire to know something of my position; well! it is by no means bad. However incredible it may appear, I must tell you that Lichnowsky has been, and still is, my warmest friend (slight dissensions occurred occasionally between us, and yet they only served to strengthen our friendship). He settled on me last year the sum of 600 florins, for which I am to draw on him till I can procure some suitable situation. My compositions are very profitable, and I may really say that I have almost more commissions than it is possible for me to execute. I can have six or seven publishers or more for every piece, if I choose; they no longer bargain with me -I demand, and they pay- so you see this is a very good thing. For instance, I have a friend in distress, and my purse does not admit of my assisting him at once; but I have only to sit down and write, and in a short time he is relieved. I am also become more economical than formerly. If I finally settle here, I don't doubt I shall be able to secure a particular day every year for a concert, of which I have already given several. That malicious demon, however, bad health, has been a stumbling-block in my path; my hearing during the last three years has become gradually worse. The chief cause of this infirmity proceeds from the state of my digestive organs, which, as you know, were formerly bad enough, but have latterly become much worse, and being constantly afflicted with diarrhoea, has brought on extreme weakness. Frank [Director of the General Hospital] strove to restore the tone of my digestion by tonics, and my hearing by oil of almonds; but alas! these did me no good whatever; my hearing became worse, and my digestion continued in its former plight. This went on till the autumn of last year, when I was often reduced to utter despair. Then some medical asinus recommended me cold baths, but a more judicious doctor the tepid ones of the Danube, which did wonders for me; my digestion improved, but my hearing remained the same, or in fact rather got worse. I did indeed pass a miserable winter; I suffered from most dreadful spasms, and sank back into my former condition. Thus it went on till about a month ago, when I consulted Vering [an army surgeon], under the belief that my maladies required surgical advice; besides, I had every confidence in him. He succeeded in almost entirely checking the violent diarrhoea, and ordered me the tepid baths of the Danube, into which I pour some strengthening mixture. He gave me no medicine, except some digestive pills four days ago, and a lotion for my ears. I certainly do feel better and stronger, but my ears are buzzing and ringing perpetually, day and night. I can with truth say that my life is very wretched; for nearly two years past I have avoided all society, because I find it impossible to say to people, I am deaf! In any other profession this might be more tolerable, but in mine such a condition is truly frightful. Besides, what would my enemies say to this? -and they are not few in number-.

To give you some idea of my extraordinary deafness, I must tell you that in the theatre I am obliged to lean close up against the orchestra in order to understand the actors, and when a little way off I hear none of the high notes of instruments or singers. It is most astonishing that in conversation some people never seem to observe this; being subject to fits of absence, they attribute it to that cause. I often can scarcely hear a person if speaking low; I can distinguish the tones, but not the words, and yet I feel it intolerable if any one shouts to me. Heaven alone knows how it is to end! Vering declares that I shall certainly improve, even if I be not entirely restored. How often have I cursed my existence! Plutarch led me to resignation. I shall strive if possible to set Fate at defiance, although there must be moments in my life when I cannot fail to be the most unhappy of God's creatures. I entreat you to say nothing of my affliction to any one, not even to Lorchen. I confide the secret to you alone, and entreat you some day to correspond with Vering on the subject. If I continue in the same state, I shall come to you in the ensuing spring, when you must engage a house for me somewhere in the country, amid beautiful scenery, and I shall then become a rustic for a year, which may perhaps effect a change. Resignation! -what a miserable refuge!- and yet it is my sole remaining one. You will forgive my thus appealing to your kindly sympathies at a time when your own position is sad enough. Stephan Breuning is here, and we are together almost every day; it does me so much good to revive old feelings! He has really become a capital good fellow, not devoid of talent, and his heart, like that of us all, pretty much in the right place.

(…) Only say how it is to be done, and I will send you all my works, which now amount to a considerable number, and are daily increasing. I beg you will let me have my grandfather's portrait as soon as possible by the post, in return for which I send you that of his grandson, your loving and attached Beethoven. It has been brought out here by Artaria, who, as well as many other publishers, has often urged this on me. I intend soon to write to Stoffeln [Christoph von Breuning], and plainly admonish him about his surly humor. I mean to sound in his ears our old friendship, and to insist on his promising me not to annoy you further in your sad circumstances. I will also write to the amiable Lorchen. Never have I forgotten one of you, my kind friends, though you did not hear from me; but you know well that writing never was my forte, even my best friends having received no letters from me for years. I live wholly in my music, and scarcely is one work finished when another is begun; indeed, I am now often at work on three or four things at the same time. Do write to me frequently, and I will strive to find time to write to you also. Give my remembrances to all, especially to the kind Frau Hofräthin [von Breuning], and say to her that I am still subject to an occasional raptus. As for K----, I am not at all surprised at the change in her: Fortune rolls like a ball, and does not always stop before the best and noblest. As to Ries [Court musician in Bonn], to whom pray cordially remember me, I must say one word. I will write to you more particularly about his son [Ferdinand], although I believe that he would be more likely to succeed in Paris than in Vienna, which is already overstocked, and where even those of the highest merit find it a hard matter to maintain themselves. By next autumn or winter, I shall be able to see what can be done for him, because then all the world returns to town. Farewell, my kind, faithful Wegeler! Rest assured of the love and friendship of your