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Haydn And The Ship Captain








When the immortal composer Haydn was on his visit to England, in 1794,
his chamber-door was opened one morning by the captain of an East
Indiaman, who said, "You are Mr. Haydn?" "Yes." "Can you make me a
'March,' to enliven my crew? You shall have thirty guineas; but I must
have it to-day, as to-morrow I sail for Calcutta." Haydn agreed, the
sailor quitted him, the composer opened his piano, and in a few minutes
the march was written. He appears, however, to have had a delicacy rare
among the musical birds of passage and of prey who come to feed on the
unwieldy wealth of England. Conceiving that the receipt of a sum so
large as thirty guineas for a labour so slight, would be a species of
plunder, he came home early in the evening, and composed other two
marches, in order to allow the liberal sea captain his choice, or make
him take all the three. Early next morning, the purchaser came back.
"Where is my march?" "Here it is." "Try it on the piano." Haydn played
it over. The captain counted down the thirty guineas on the piano, took
up the march, and went down stairs. Haydn ran after him, calling, "I
have made other two marches, both better; come up and hear them, and
take your choice." "I am content with the one I have," returned the
captain, without stopping. "I will make you a present of them," cried
the composer. The captain only ran down the more rapidly, and left Haydn
on the stairs. Haydn, opposing obstinacy to obstinacy, determined to
overcome this odd self-denial. He went at once to the Exchange, found
out the name of the ship, made his marches into a roll, and sent them,
with a polite note, to the captain on board. He was surprised at
receiving, not long after, his envelope unopened, from the captain, who
had guessed it to be Haydn's; and the composer tore the whole packet
into pieces upon the spot. The narrator of this incident adds the
remark, that "though the anecdote is of no great elevation, it expresses
peculiarity of character; and certainly neither the composer nor the
captain could have been easily classed among the common or the vulgar of
men."

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