VIEW THE MOBILE VERSION of Informational Site Network Informational
Home - Men - Women - All Biographies


Lived from 1400-1468 While Joan of Arc was bus...

James Watt
The history of inventors is generally the same old st...

Franz Peter Schubert
(1797-1828) God sent his singers upon earth ...

William Mitchell.
The answer showed that Miss Mitchell had indeed made a new...

Ferdinand Lassalle And Helene Von Donniges
The middle part of the nineteenth century is a period...

Honore De Balzac And Evelina Hanska
I remember once, when editing an elaborate work on li...

Charlotte Corday And Adam Lux
Perhaps some readers will consider this story inconsi...

The Nibelungs
The time came when the people of Western Europe...

Mary Queen Of Scots And Lord Bothwell
Mary Stuart and Cleopatra are the two women who have ...

Bertel Thorwaldsen
A few months ago we visited a plain old house in Cope...

Ole Bull

In the quaint old town of Bergen, Norway, so strange with its narrow
streets, peculiar costumes, and open-hearted people, that no traveller
can ever forget it, was born, Feb. 5, 1810, Ole Bull, the oldest in a
family of ten children. His father was an able chemist, and his mother a
woman of fine manners and much intelligence. All the relatives were
musical, and at the little gatherings for the purpose of cultivating
this talent, the child Ole would creep under table or sofa, and listen
enraptured for hours, often receiving a whipping when discovered.

He loved music intensely, fancying when he played alone in the meadows,
that he heard nature sing, as the bluebells were moved among the grasses
by the wind. When he was four years old, his uncle gave him a yellow
violin, which he kissed with great delight, learning the notes at the
same time as his primer. Although forbidden to play till study-hours
were over, he sometimes disobeyed, and was punished both at home and at

(From his Memoirs, by SARA C. BULL.)]

Finally, at eight, through the good sense of his mother, a
music-teacher was provided, and his father bought him a new red violin.
The child could not sleep for thinking of it; so the first night after
its purchase he stole into the room where it lay, in his night-clothes,
to take one peep at the precious thing. He said years after, with tears
in his eyes at the painful remembrance, "The violin was so red, and the
pretty pearl screws did smile at me so! I pinched the strings just a
little with my fingers. It smiled at me ever more and more. I took up
the bow and looked at it. It said to me it would be pleasant to try it
across the strings. So I did try it, just a very, very little, and it
did sing to me so sweetly. At first, I did play very soft. But presently
I did begin a capriccio, which I like very much, and it do go ever
louder and louder; and I forgot that it was midnight and that everybody
was asleep. Presently I hear something crack! and the next minute I feel
my father's whip across my shoulders. My little red violin dropped on
the floor, and was broken. I weep much for it, but it did no good. They
did have a doctor to it next day, but it never recovered its health."

Pitiful it is that sometimes parents are so lacking in judgment as to
stifle the best things in a child's nature! Guiding is wise; forcing
usually ends in disaster. In two years, Ole could play pieces which his
teacher found it impossible to perform. He began to compose melodies,
imitating nature in the song of birds, brooks, and the roar of
waterfalls; and would hide in caves or in clumps of bushes, where he
could play his own weird improvisations. When he could not make his
violin do as he wished, he would fling it away impetuously, and not
touch it again for a long time. Then he would perhaps get up in the
middle of the night, and play at his open window, forgetting that
anybody might be awakened by it. Sometimes he played incessantly for
days, scarcely eating or sleeping. He had no pleasure in fishing or
shooting, on account of the pain inflicted,--a feeling seemingly common
to noble and refined natures,--though he greatly enjoyed anything

At fourteen, having heard of Paganini, he went to his grandparent, of
whom he was very fond, and said, "Dear grandmother, can't I have some of
Paganini's music?"

"Don't tell any one," was the reply; "but I will try to buy a piece of
his for you if you are a good child."

Shortly after this an old miser, of whom the Bergen boys were afraid,
called Ole into his house one day as he was passing, and said, "Are you
the boy that plays the fiddle?"

"Yes, sir."

"Then come with me. I have a fiddle I bought in England, that I want to
show you."

The fiddle needed a bridge and sounding-post, and these the boy gladly
whittled out, and then played for the old man his favorite air, "God
save the King." He was treated to cakes and milk, and promised to come
again. The next afternoon, what was his surprise to receive four pairs
of doves, with a blue ribbon around the neck of one, and a card attached
bearing the name of "Ole Bull." This present was more precious than the
diamonds he received in later years from the hands of royalty.

Ole's father, with a practical turn of mind, urged his being a
clergyman, as he honored that profession, and well knew that music and
art usually furnish a small bank account. A private tutor, Musaeus by
name, was therefore engaged. This man had the unique habit of kneeling
down to pray before he whipped a boy, and asking that the punishment
might redound to the good of the lad. He soon made up his mind that
Ole's violin and theology were incompatible, and forbade his playing it.
Ole and his brothers bore his harsh methods as long as possible, when
one morning at half past four, as the teacher was dragging the youngest
boy out of bed, Ole sprang upon him and gave him a vigorous beating. The
smaller boys put their heads out from under the bed-clothes and cried
out, "Don't give up, Ole! Don't give up! Give it to him with all your
might!" The whole household soon appeared upon the scene, and though
little was said, the private feeling seemed to be that a salutary lesson
had been imparted.

At eighteen, Ole was sent to the University of Christiana, his father
beseeching him that he would not yield to his passion for music. On his
arrival, some Bergen students asked him to play for a charitable

"But," said Ole, "my father has forbidden me to play."

"Would your father prevent your doing an act of charity?"

"Well, this alters the case a little, and I can write to him, and claim
his pardon."

After this he played nearly all night at the home of one of the
professors, saying to himself that his father would be pleased if the
Faculty liked him, and the next morning failed in his Latin
examinations! In despair, he stated the case to the professor, who
replied, "My good fellow, this is the very best thing that could have
happened to you! Do you believe yourself fitted for a curacy in Finmark
or a mission among the Laps? Certainly not! It is the opinion of your
friends that you should travel abroad. Meanwhile, old Thrane having been
taken ill, you are appointed ad interim Musical Director of the
Philharmonic and Dramatic Societies." A month later, by the death of
Thrane, he came into this position, having gained the pardon of his
disappointed father.

But he was restless at Christiana. He desired to know whether he really
had genius or not, and determined to go to Cassell, to see Louis Spohr,
who was considered a master. The great man was not sufficiently great to
be interested in an unknown lad, and coolly said, when Ole remarked
politely, "I have come more than five hundred miles to hear you," "Very
well, you can now go to Nordhausen; I am to attend a musical festival

Ole went to the festival, and was so disappointed because the methods
and interpretation were different from his own, that he resolved to go
back to classic studies, feeling that he had no genius for music. Still
he was not satisfied. He would go to Paris, and hear Berlioz and other
great men. Giving three concerts at Trondhjeim and Bergen, by which he
made five hundred dollars, he found himself in possession of the needed
funds. When he arrived in this great city, everybody was eagerly looking
out for himself. Some were in pursuit of pleasure; but most, as is the
case everywhere, were in pursuit of bread and shelter. Nobody cared to
hear his violin. Nobody cared about his recommendations from far-off
Norway. In vain he tried to make engagements. He had no one to speak for
him, and the applicants were numberless.

Madam Malibran was singing nightly to crowded houses, and the poor
violinist would now and then purchase one of the topmost seats, and
listen to that marvellous voice. His money was gradually melting away.
Finally, an elderly gentleman who boarded at the same house, having
begged him to take what little money he possessed out of the bank, as it
was not a safe place, stole every cent, together with Ole's clothes, and
left him entirely destitute.

An acquaintance now told him of a boarding-place where there were
several music-teachers, and gave security for his board for one
month,--twelve dollars. Soon the friend and the boarding-mistress grew
cold and suspicious. Nothing tries friendship like asking the loan of
money. At last his condition becoming known to a person, whom he
afterward learned was Vidocq, the noted Chief of Police, he was shown by
him to a gaming-table, where he made one hundred and sixty dollars.
"What a hideous joy I felt," he said afterward; "what a horrid pleasure
to hold in the hand one's own soul saved by the spoil of others!" He
could not gamble again, though starvation actually stared him in the

Cholera was sweeping through the city, and had taken two persons from
the house where he lodged. He was again penniless and wellnigh
despairing. But he would not go back to Christiana. The river Seine
looked inviting, and he thought death would be a relief. He was nervous
and his brain throbbed. Finally he saw a placard in a window, "Furnished
rooms to let." He was exhausted, but would make one more effort.

An elderly lady answered his query by saying that they had no vacant
rooms, when her pretty granddaughter, Alexandrine Felicie, called out,
"Look at him, grandmamma!" Putting on her glasses, the tears filled her
eyes, as she saw a striking resemblance to her son who had died. The
next day found him at Madam Villeminot's house, very ill of brain fever.
When he regained consciousness, she assured him that he need not worry
about the means for payment. When, however, the Musical Lyceum of
Christiana learned of his struggles, they sent him eight hundred

Becoming acquainted about this time with Monsieur Lacour, a dealer in
violins, who thought he had discovered that a certain kind of varnish
would increase sweetness of tone, Ole Bull was requested to play on one
of his instruments at a soiree, given by a Duke of the Italian Legation.
An elegant company were present. The intense heat soon brought out the
odor of assafoetida in the varnish. The young man became embarrassed
and then excited, and played as though beside himself. The player was
advertised, whether Monsieur Lacour's instruments were or not; for
Marshal Ney's son, the Duke of Montebello, at once invited him to
breakfast, and presided over a concert for him, whereby the violinist
made three hundred dollars. The tide had turned at last, and little
Felicie Villeminot had done it with her "Look at him, grandmamma!"

As the Grand Opera was still closed to him, he made a concert tour
through Switzerland and Italy. In Milan, one of the musical journals
said, "He is not master of himself; he has no style; he is an untrained
musician. If he be a diamond, he is certainly in the rough and

Ole Bull went at once to the publisher and asked who had written the
article. "If you want the responsible person," said the editor, "I am

"No," said the artist, "I have not come to call the writer to account,
but to thank him. The man who wrote that article understands music; but
it is not enough to tell me my faults; he must tell me how to rid myself
of them."

"You have the spirit of the true artist," replied the journalist.

The same evening he took Ole Bull to the critic, a man over seventy,
from whom he learned much that was valuable. He at once gave six months
to study under able masters, before again appearing in public. He was,
however, an earnest student all through life, never being satisfied with
his attainments.

At Venice he was highly praised, but at Bologna he won the celebrity
which continued through life. Malibran was to sing in two concerts, but
feigned illness when she learned that the man she loved, De Beriot, was
to receive a smaller sum than herself, and would not appear. The manager
of the theatre was in despair. Meantime, in a poor hotel, in an upper
room, Ole Bull was composing his concerto in the daytime, and playing on
his violin at night by his open window. Rossini's first wife heard the
music, and said, "It must be a violin, but a divine one. That will be a
substitute for De Beriot and Malibran. I must go and tell Zampieri" (the

On the night of the concert, after Ole Bull had been two hours in bed
from weariness, Zampieri appeared, and asked him to improvise. He was
delighted, and exclaiming, "Malibran may now have her headaches,"
hurried the young artist off to the theatre. The audience was of course
cold and disappointed till Ole Bull began to play. Then the people
seemed to hold their breath. When the curtain fell, he almost swooned
with exhaustion, but the house shook with applause. Flowers were
showered upon him. He was immediately engaged for the next concert; a
large theatre was offered him free of expense, one man buying one
hundred tickets, and the admiring throng drew his carriage to the hotel,
while a procession with torchlights acted as guard of honor.

Ole Bull had stepped into the glory of fame in a single night.
Henceforth, while there was to be much of trial and disappointment, as
come to all, he was to be forever the idol of two continents, drawing
crowded houses, honored by the great, and universally mourned at his
death. He had come to fame as by accident, but he had made himself
worthy of fame.

Malibran at first seemed hurt at his wonderful success in her stead, but
she soon became one of his warmest friends, saying, "It is your own
fault that I did not treat you as you deserved. A man like you should
step forth with head erect in the full light of day, that we may
recognize his noble blood."

From here he played with great success at Florence and Rome, at the
latter city composing his celebrated "Polacca Guerriera" in a single
night, writing till four o'clock in the morning. It was first conceived
while he stood alone at Naples, at midnight, watching Mount Vesuvius

Returning to Paris, he found the Grand Opera open to him. Here, at his
first performance, his a-string snapped; he turned deathly pale, but he
transposed the remainder of the piece, and finished it on three strings.
Meyerbeer, who was present, could not believe it possible that the
string had really broken.

He was now twenty-six, famous and above want. What more fitting than
that he should marry pretty Felicie Villeminot, and share with her the
precious life she had saved? They were married in the summer of 1836,
and their love was a beautiful and enduring one until her death
twenty-six years afterward. Though absent from her much of the time
necessarily, his letters breathe a pure and ardent affection. Going to
England soon after, and being at the house of the Duke of Devonshire at
Chatsworth, he writes, "How long does the time seem that deprives me of
seeing you! I embrace you very tenderly. The word home has above all
others the greatest charm for me."

In London, from three to seven thousand persons crowded to hear him. The
"Times" said, "His command of the instrument, from the top to the
bottom of the scale--and he has a scale of his own of three complete
octaves on each string--is absolutely perfect." At Liverpool he received
four thousand dollars for a single night, taking the place of Malibran,
who had brought on a hemorrhage resulting in death, by forcing a tone,
and holding it so long that the audience were astonished. Ole Bull came
near sharing her fate. In playing "Polacca," the hall being large and
the orchestra too strong, he ruptured a blood vessel, and his coat had
to be cut from him.

In sixteen months he gave two hundred and seventy-four concerts in the
United Kingdom. Afterwards, at St. Petersburg, he played to five
thousand persons, the Emperor sending him an autograph letter of
affection, and the Empress an emerald ring set with one hundred and
forty diamonds. Shortly after this his father died, speaking with pride
of Ole, and thinking he heard divine music.

On his return to Norway, at the request of the King, he gave five
concerts at Stockholm, the last netting him five thousand dollars. So
moved was the King when Ole Bull played before him at the palace, that
he rose and stood till the "Polacca" was finished. He presented the
artist with the Order of Vasa, set in brilliants.

In Christiana, the students gave him a public dinner, and crowned him
with laurel. He often played for the peasants here and in Bergen, and
was beloved by the poor as by the rich. At Copenhagen he was presented
at Court, the King giving him a snuff-box set in diamonds. Hans Andersen
became his devoted friend, as did Thorwaldsen while he was in Rome. He
now went to Cassell, and Spohr hastened to show him every attention, as
though to make amends for the coldness when Ole Bull was poor and
unknown. At Salzburg he invited the wife of Mozart to his concerts. For
her husband he had surpassing admiration. He used to say that no mortal
could write Mozart's "Requiem" and live.

While in Hungary, his first child, Ole, died. He wrote his wife, "God
knows how much I have suffered! I still hope and work, not for
myself,--for you, my family, my country, my Norway, of which I am

All this time he was working very hard. He said, "I must correspond with
the directors of the theatres; must obtain information regarding the
people with whom I am to deal; I must make my appointments for concerts
and rehearsals; have my music copied, correct the scores, compose, play,
travel nights. I am always cheated, and in everlasting trouble. I
reproach myself when everything does not turn out for the best, and am
consumed with grief. I really believe I should succumb to all these
demands and fatigues if it were not for my drinking cold water, and
bathing in it every morning and evening."

In November, 1843, urged by Fanny Elssler, he visited America. At
first, in New York, some of the prominent violinists opposed him; but he
steadily made his way. When Mr. James Gordon Bennett offered him the
columns of the "Herald," that he might reply to those who were assailing
him, he said in his broken English, "I tink, Mr. Bennett, it is best tey
writes against me, and I plays against tem." Of his playing in New York,
Mrs. Lydia Maria Child wrote, "His bow touched the strings as if in
sport, and brought forth light leaps of sound, with electric rapidity,
yet clear in their distinctness. He played on four strings at once, and
produced the rich harmony of four instruments. While he was playing, the
rustling of a leaf might have been heard; and when he closed, the
tremendous bursts of applause told how the hearts of thousands leaped
like one. His first audience were beside themselves with delight, and
the orchestra threw down their instruments in ecstatic wonder."

From New York he took a successful trip South. That he was not
effeminate while deeply poetic, a single incident will show. After a
concert, a man came to him and said he wished the diamond in his violin
bow, given him by the Duke of Devonshire. Ole Bull replied that as it
was a gift, he could neither sell it nor give it away.

"But I am going to have that stone!" said the man as he drew a bowie
knife from his coat. In an instant Ole Bull had felled the man to the
floor with the edge of his hand across his throat. "The next time I
would kill you," said the musician, with his foot on the man's chest;
"but you may go now." So much did the ruffian admire the muscle and
skill of the artist, that he begged him to accept the knife which he had
intended to use upon him.

During this visit to America he gave two hundred concerts, netting him,
said the "New York Herald," fully eighty thousand dollars, besides
twenty thousand given to charitable associations, and fifteen thousand
paid to assistant artists. "No artist has ever visited our country and
received so many honors. Poems by the hundreds have been written to him;
gold vases, pencils, medals, have been presented to him by various
corporations. His whole remarkable appearance in this country is really
unexampled in glory and fame," said the same newspaper. Ole Bull was
kindness itself to the sick or afflicted. Now he played for Alice and
Phoebe Carey, when unable to leave their home, and now for insane and
blind asylums and at hospitals. He loved America, and called himself
"her adopted son."

On his return to Norway, after great success in Spain, the Queen
bestowing upon him the order of Charles III. and the Portuguese order of
Christus, he determined to build a National Theatre in Bergen, his
birthplace, for the advancement of his nation in the drama and in music.
By great energy, and the bestowal of a large sum of money, the place was
opened in 1850, Ole Bull leading the orchestra. But the Storthing, or
Parliament, declined to give it a yearly appropriation,--perhaps the
development of home talent tended too strongly toward republicanism. The
burden was too great for one man to carry, and the project did not prove
a success.

The next plan of the philanthropist-musician was to buy one hundred and
twenty-five thousand acres of land on the Susquehanna River, in
Pennsylvania, and "found a New Norway, consecrated to liberty, baptized
with independence, and protected by the Union's mighty flag." Soon three
hundred houses were built, a country inn, store, and church, erected by
the founder. To pay the thousands needed for this enterprise he worked
constantly at concert-giving, taking scarcely time to eat his meals. He
laid out five new villages, made arrangements with the government to
cast cannon for her fortresses, and took out patents for a new

While in California, where he was ill with yellow fever, a crushing blow
fell upon him. He learned that he had purchased the land through a
swindling company, his title was invalid, and his fortune was lost. He
could only buy enough land to protect those who had already come from
Norway, and had settled there, and soon became deeply involved in
lawsuits. Hon. E. W. Stoughton of New York, who had never met Ole Bull
personally, volunteered to assist him, and a few thousands were wrested
from the defrauding agent.

On his return to Norway he was accused of speculating with the funds of
his countrymen, which cut him to the heart. A little later, in 1862, his
wife died, worn with ill health, and with her husband's misfortunes, and
his son Thorvald fell from the mast of a sailing-vessel in the
Mediterranean, and was killed.

In the autumn of 1868 he returned to America, and nearly lost his life
in a steamboat collision on the Ohio. He swam to land, saving also his
precious violin. Two years afterward he was married to Miss Thorp of
Madison, Wis., an accomplished lady much his junior in years, who has
lived to write an admirable life of her illustrious husband. A daughter,
Olea, came to gladden his home two years later. When he was sixty-six
years old, he celebrated his birthday by playing his violin on the top
of the great pyramid, Cheops, at the suggestion of King Oscar of Norway
and Sweden.

In the Centennial year he returned to America, and made his home at
Cambridge, in the house of James Russell Lowell, while he was Minister
to England. Here he enjoyed the friendship of such as Longfellow, who
says of him in his "Tales of a Wayside Inn":--

"The angel with the violin,
Painted by Raphael, he seemed,

* * * * *

And when he played, the atmosphere
Was filled with magic, and the ear
Caught echoes of that Harp of Gold,
Whose music had so weird a sound,
The hunted stag forgot to bound,
The leaping rivulet backward rolled,
The birds came down from bush and tree,
The dead came from beneath the sea,
The maiden to the harper's knee!"

The friend of the highest, he never forgot the lowest. When a colored
barber in Hartford, a lad who was himself a good fiddler, heard Ole Bull
play, the latter having sent him a ticket to his concert, he said,
"Mister, can't you come down to the shop to-morrow to get shaved, and
show me those tricks? I feel powerful bad."

And Ole Bull went to the shop, and showed him how the wonderful playing
was accomplished.

In 1880 Ole Bull sailed, for the last time, to Europe, to his lovely
home at Lyso, an island in the sea, eighteen miles from Bergen. Ill on
the voyage, he was thankful to reach the cherished place. Here, planned
by his own hand, was his elegant home overlooking the ocean; here his
choice music-room upheld by delicate columns and curiously wrought
arches; here the shell-roads he had built; and here the flower-beds he
had planted. The end came soon, on a beautiful day full of sunshine.

The body lay in state in the great music-room till a larger steamer came
to bear it to Bergen. This was met by a convoy of sixteen steamers
ranged on either side; and as the fleet approached the city, all flags
were at half-mast, and guns were fired, which re-echoed through the
mountains. The quay was covered with juniper, and the whole front
festooned with green. As the boat touched the shore, one of Ole Bull's
inimitable melodies was played. Young girls dressed in black bore the
trophies of his success, and distinguished men carried his gold crown
and order, in the procession. The streets were strewn with flowers, and
showered upon the coffin. When the service had been read at the grave by
the pastor, Bjornson, the famous author, gave an address. After the
coffin had been lowered and the mourners had departed, hundreds of
peasants came, bringing a green bough, a sprig of fern, or a flower, and
quite filled the grave. Beautiful tribute to a beautiful life!

Add to Add to Reddit Add to Digg Add to Add to Google Add to Twitter Add to Stumble Upon
Add to Informational Site Network