Posted by Richard on  UTC 2018-08-23 15:17

Between January and September of 1822 Franz Schubert, then 25 years old, had been living as a guest of Franz Schober and his family in their apartment in the Gottweigerhof. In October of 1822 he moved back to his parents' apartment in the Roßau school. He stayed with them only a short while, presumably helping out with some teaching.

Then we are surprised to find that sometime in January 1823 he moved back in with the Schobers. Schubert was always a nomad – the musicologist Otto Deutsch counted 17 addresses in Schubert's 31 years – but this sudden change of residence strikes us as odd. It marked the start of the worst period of Schubert's life. [Dok 591]

Hints and whispers

In a letter from Schubert to Ignaz Franz Mosel dated 28 February 1823 we detect the first rumble of the problem:

Please forgive me that I have to bother you yet again with a letter. The circumstances of my health do not permit my leaving the house.

Verzeihen, daß ich schon wieder mit einem Schreiben lästig fallen muß, da meine Gesundheitsumstände mir noch immer nicht erlauben, außer Haus zu gehen. [Dok 186]

This is no everyday illness: we might have expected Krankheit, 'illness' or some such, but Schubert instead wrote of his Gesundheitsumstände, 'the circumstances of his health' which prevented him 'leaving the house'.

If you don't mention a specific illness, then you don't have to name it. Let's deconstruct the rest of this careful phrasing: he is not bedridden, but is not fit to be 'outside the house'. Further, his condition 'still does not permit' this, meaning that he has already been suffering whatever this is for some time.

For Schubert scholars, 1823 is a relatively meagre year in the documentary record. This makes it even more remarkable that among these scarce remnants there are many allusions to ill health. The conclusion: 1823 was a year of serious illness.

On 8 May Schubert wrote a four stanza poem entitled Mein Gebet, 'My Prayer'. It is a poem of the darkest depression, a cry to the Almighty to release him from the 'suffering of his life'. [Dok 192f]

Steyr: in search of lost time

Schubert left his rooms in the Schober family apartment in the Gottweigerhof sometime in June or early July 1823. Between then and September he was travelling in Upper Austria with Michael Vogl, so his most obvious external symptoms must have largely receded by then. On that tour he first went to Linz and then travelled onto Steyr, arriving there at the beginning of August.

The ailing Schubert's stay in Steyr that year was obviously a much quieter affair than his previous visit there in 1819. The happy times of his first visit in 1819 (which led to the Forellenquintett) were no longer to be found: Schubert spent the time much more quietly. He himself hinted to his brother Ferdinand from Zseliz in mid-July of the following year that the visit to Steyr in the darkest days of 1823 may have been an attempt to rediscover some of that earlier, convivial happiness. In that respect, it failed. [Dok 250]

We have some small scraps of information about Schubert's illness during this period. On 26 July Leopold Kupelwieser, writing to Franz Schober, mentioned that he had heard that Schubert was ill.

Writing from Steyr to Schober on 14 August, Schubert confided the news of the state of his health to his closest friend:

Despite being late writing, I still hope that you will receive this letter whilst you are still in Vienna. I am in an intensive correspondence with Schäffer and feel relatively well. I almost doubt whether I will ever be fully well again. I am living here [in Steyr] very simply in every respect, take regular walks, write a lot on my opera and am reading Walter Scott.

Obwohl ich etwas spät schreibe, so hoffe ich doch, dß Dich dieß Schreiben noch in Wien trifft. Ich correspondire fleißig mit Schäffer u. befinde mich ziemlich wohl. Ob ich je wieder ganz gesund werde, bezweifle ich fast. Ich lebe hier in jeder Hinsicht sehr einfach, gehe fleißig spazieren, schreibe viel an meiner Oper u. lese Walter Scott. [Dok 197]

The fact that he is in 'frequent correspondence' with his doctor makes it clear that he is not over the hill yet. Schober was clearly already well informed about Schubert's illness. Even so, Schubert once more avoided calling the illness by its name. He didn't need to: Schober must have known the facts already, because it was to Schober's apartment that Schubert had returned when the symptoms had first appeared.

'Schäffer' refers to August von Schaeffer, Schubert's doctor at the time. Schubert's remark that he was in regular written consultation with his doctor even when he was in Steyr tells us how serious and persistent the illness was.

We also learn that Schober is about to leave Vienna for St. Pölten, then for far-away Breslau, where – to the astonishment of the entire circle of friends – he intended to take up an acting career.

In the middle of his illness Schubert had therefore just lost his most intimate confidant – one half of the 'Schobert' that had come into existence in 1818 around the time that Schubert went to Zseliz for the first time. The yolk and the white of the one egg have been separated at this most critical moment in Schubert's life. Schober would be away from Vienna for nearly three years.

For us there is one great advantage in this situation: Schubert and his friends were driven to write to Schober with all the news from Vienna. Schober, the obsessive (though selective) document hoarder, kept these letters, thus creating our major documentary source for Schubert's illness. Had Schober not gone to Breslau, we would have known very little about Schubert's via dolorosa of this time.

The moment when Schubert returned to Vienna in September seems to have been the moment he undertook a course of treatment in the Vienna General Hospital, but we have neither dates nor definitive documentation for this treatment.

The illness

What was this illness that plagued him during 1823? The general opinion is that it was syphilis, (although Deutsch believed there was small possibility that it could have been gonorrhea). The anonymity of the 'illness' when it is mentioned leads us to believe that it was certainly some kind of venereal disease, but its seriousness, the symptoms that we know about and their duration all point to syphilis.

The social shame of the time that was attached to venereal disease meant that a syphilis infection was not a matter of polite discourse – certainly not something that was written down; the sensibilities of Schubert's early biographers were too delicate to acknowledge the disease, whereas those of Schubert's later biographers were so prurient that they make the syphilis responsible for all the woes of his life thereafter and, ultimately, his death.

What we know now, that was not known in the 1820s, is that a syphilis infection characteristically goes through four stages: 1) typically a 'chancre', a usually painless ulceration at the site of the infection; 2) typically a widespread skin eruption, with a wide range of other maladies; 3) typically a latent stage and finally, 4) a nasty tertiary stage that destroys… well, whatever it chooses to destroy – it is not a good death.

The reader will have realised from our frequent use of 'typically' and 'characteristically' that in fact the disease is protean: we cannot know what stages and what combinations of symptoms affected Schubert in particular. Commentators on Schubert's illness often take the four-stage paradigm as an iron rule of the progress of the disease, a fixed grid that can be laid over the course of the disease for any particular sufferer. It isn't.

The protean nature of syphilis means that not only can the symptoms appear (or not) in bewildering combinations, but that a stage may not even be identifiable with certainty. In effect, the stage paradigm is the statistical result of overlaying the medical histories of many thousands of syphilis sufferers – the individual sufferer may have little in common with the statistical generality. A clear and authoritative summary of the modern knowledge of syphilis is to be found in [Radolf passim].

Speaking of statistics: of the greatest importance is the fact that on average a lucky 75 percent of those infected are spared: the disease becomes latent and causes no more trouble. Only a minority of the infected pass through all four stages. In other words, neither now nor at that time was a syphilis infection an automatic death sentence, but it was the first throw of a die in a life or death game.

What symptoms alerted Schubert to his illness?

We have no idea. Many patients notice the infection only at the second stage – stage one goes by for them seemingly without visible symptoms. It may very well be that Schubert's first serious symptom was the very visible rash associated with stage two. Unlike a painless chancre on his penis, the disfigurement of pustular or wart-like rash would definitely be a good reason for staying inside at home.

The acute symptoms of this stage usually resolve after three to six weeks, although Schubert, of course, was not to know this. We now know also that the pustules of this rash are infectious, so that he was well advised to stay indoors and shun the rest of the human race.

In turn, we cannot assume that it was definitely sexual contact that was the source of Schubert's infection, but other sources are rare.

The writing of his despairing poem Mein Gebet would fall within the typical period towards the end of the stage two symptoms. Perhaps he felt his prayer was answered when the rash retreated somewhat and he could leave with Vogl for Steyr, though still ill with some of the other symptoms such as fever, sore throat, malaise, weight loss and headache.

Schubert seems to have been treated by his own doctor at first and then come under the additional treatment of a certain Dr Jakob Bernhard. Michael Lorenz has gone to no little trouble to establish the identity of this Dr Bernhard, who turns out to be a medical doctor who was an admirer of Schubert. [Lorenz passim]

In Schubert's case both doctors seem to have advised him simultaneously. They were both from the circle of Schubert's friends and may have both offered their services for moderate fees or indeed waived them altogether.

In hospital

The consensus opinion is that Schubert spent some time, perhaps a week or two, on the ward of the General Hospital in Vienna dedicated to the treatment of syphilitics. I have never heard of the existence of any documentary evidence about Schubert's hospital stay at all – but then, in these matters, discretion triumphs, even in the Austrian Empire of Paperwork. We therefore have no idea exactly when this treatment took place or how long it lasted or in what it consisted.

On the syphilis ward Schubert would have had the opportunity to see around him the other syphilitics in the stages of their own dice games. Since his head was shaved after his return from his tour to Steyr, we can assume that the shaving was the preliminary to the hospital treatment. We presume that he received the treatment of the day: not only having mercury ointment rubbed into the affected parts, but there would usually have been much bloodletting and purging at both ends.

We can state with great confidence that the application of mercury and the use of bloodletting and purging were useless as treatments for syphilis, the only question in dispute is how much damage they did to the patient.

It is one more remarkable testament of Schubert's stupendous work ethic that he continued composing even under these awful circumstances. It is astonishing to us normal humans that at least some substantial part of Die schöne Müllerin song cycle appears to have been composed in hospital. The work appeared early the following year.


Recent opinion in the German-speaking world, reflecting the environmental terror of our times, is that mercury will probably do far more immediate damage than syphilis on its own would. One German author, Hans D. Kiemle, after listing the long charge sheet against mercury, states baldly that by 1828, when Schubert died, the syphilis was already in the latent stage and that Schubert died from mercury poisoning. [Kiemle 49]

It is true that the list of side-effects is long and horrible, but your author can remember jolly times at school playing blow-football with globules of mercury (not for nothing known as 'quicksilver') on ancient, cracked benches in the lab. True, we never knowingly ingested the liquid, never licked it to see what it tasted like and the side affects appeared promptly in our cases ('I must not waste expensive chemicals', one hundred times), but nowadays the reaction to this schoolboy prank might well involve helicopters and people in hazmat suits.

The evidence for Kiemle's assertion is that not only was mercury a common ingredient of all sorts of potions, ointments and tinctures, but some mercury-based products were administered to Schubert as part of the medical treatments he received towards the end of his life. Kiemle's arguments rebound on himself: Schubert's medication was nothing unusual for the time, meaning that if it killed Schubert it must have killed a lot of other people, too.

That said, according to one of the authorities of his time, the Irish doctor Abraham Colles, writing in 1837, the side effects of mercury treatments – and particularly the high dose treatments of which Colles so disapproved – were so marked that their use only served for a long time to confuse the identification of the various stages in the progress of the disease.

Mercury didn't cause Schubert's hair to fall out (it was shaved off) nor his teeth to fall out – indeed, his exhumed skull contained a remarkably fine set of teeth for his time. Most of his subsequent medical miseries can be fully explained by recurrent outbreaks of stage two syphilis, particularly the headaches of which he often complained.

The secondary stage is characterised by repeated phases with and without symptoms and can last three to five years. It may be Schubert's great good fortune that, as a poor patient, he received the relatively mildly toxic application of cheap mercury ointment to the affected parts of his skin and was spared the expensive mercury vapour baths and inhalations – the vapour being the most toxic form of the element, we are told. In this respect the Grim Reaper was being a communist leveller of the worst kind.

We also have a duty to remind readers of the sad fact that, in the same way that the liquid in a Viennese wine bottle did not always bear any relationship to its description on the label, the contents of a pot of ointment were anyone's guess – 'all that glisters is not gold', indeed. Fans of the film The Third Man will grasp this point immediately. Kiemle's assumption that the 'mercury medicines' that were administered to Schubert contained the stated dose or even any of the expensive mercury at all testifies only to his own touchingly credulous heart.

In sum, therefore, 1823 was Schubert's annus horribilis, bringing him stage one syphilis (possibly) and then stage two with some combination of the many possible symptoms that the disease produced. During the years after there would be ebb and flow – which we shall see in the letters of that period.

The dice-rolling game went against him: the disease stayed with him – he was not one of the fortunate majority for whom syphilis becomes latent; the mercury treatment cured nothing – that would have been a medical miracle – and may have damaged something, but we know not what; the bleedings and purgings did nothing other than weaken him; the dietary regime he followed after his release from hospital would have had no effect on the disease itself, although moderating Schubert's meat and alcohol consumption might have done something for his waistline and his liver.

This is the moment that the reader and I should throw ourselves down on our creaking knees and give thanks to be living in a time of modern medicine.

Living with syphilis

Immediately following the presumed hospital stay Schubert moved in with his friend Josef Huber (1794-1870) in his apartment in the Innere Stadt no. 1187. He stayed there from October 1823 until around May 1824.

The choice of Huber, a close friend of Mayrhofer and a steady presence in the Schubert circles, is interesting. Most of the usual apartment sharers were unavailable or unwilling: Schober and Spaun were away, Mayrhofer's hypochondria left him out of the running as a syphilitic's flatmate, a return to the school in the Roßau was still unthinkable.

Huber was the right man at the right time, an unspectacular, uncensorious friend. He was renowned and mocked amongst the circle of friends for his height, and he and Schubert, five-foot two inches, must have made an odd couple – just as odd as the pairing of Schubert with that other tall man, Michael Vogl.

In various letters written by his friends – rarely by Schubert himself – we get glimpses of the course of the disease from the time he left hospital.

Moritz Schwind, writing to Schober on 9 November, told him of a 'sort of bacchanal' that had been held at the Gasthof zur ungarischen Krone three days previously. Schubert had not been present, he had stayed in bed on that day:

Schaeffer and Bernard, who visited him, assure us that he is on a good road to recovery. They talk of a period of four weeks until he is completely recovered.

Schaeffer und Bernard, der ihn besuchte, versichern, er sei auf dem besten Weg der Genesung und reden schon von dem Zeitraum von 4 Wochen, wo er vielleicht ganz hergestellt sein wird. [Dok 203f]

This is the passage that tells us that the two doctors were working on their patient in tandem – Schubert's normal doctor, Schaeffer, had not been dismissed. The two doctors were unduly optimistic in their forecasts – which is, when you think about it, what doctors are expected to be, even in our day.

A little later we hear from Franz Bruchmann that Schubert had been present at a Schubertiade at the Bruchmanns' house on 11 November, only five days after the 'bacchanal' which Schubert had so wisely avoided. Bruchmann made no mention of Schubert's health in this letter, only telling us how jolly everyone at the event had been. [Dok 208]

In a letter to Schober dated 12 November Anton Doblehoff wrote about his meeting with Schubert and Vogl in Steyr sometime previously, saying he found Schubert to be 'worryingly ill', concluding, however, presumably referring to a later moment, that Schubert seemed to be 'seriously progressing towards his recovery.' [Dok 204]

Another albeit very laconic health report comes from a letter written by Joanna Lutz to her fiancé Leopold Kupelwieser on 18 November: 'Schubert is in good health again'. [Dok 205]

A few days later, on 24 November, we receive another hint in a letter from Moritz Schwind to Schober, telling us that the day before, Schober's mother had organized a small Schubertiade and a dinner at which Schubert himself was present.

On 30 November Schubert wrote what can be fairly characterised as a platonic love letter to Schober in far-away Breslau, which he concluded with a mention of his health:

Furthermore I hope to attain health once more and this rediscovered property will help me to forget a number of other miseries, but only you, dear Schober, you, I shall never forget, the place of what you once were to me can be taken by no other person.

Übrigens hoffe ich meine Gesundheit wieder zu erringen, und dieses wiedergefundene Gut wird mich so manches Leiden vergessen machen, nur Dich, lieber Schober, Dich werd ich nie vergessen, denn was Du mir warst, kann mir leider niemand anderer seyn. [Dok 207]

We deduce from this embarrassing paragraph that Schubert, reflecting the ignorance of medical science of the time, hopes that one day he will once more return to full health. We now know that the course of the disease in his case would give him some remissions but until his death it would always sooner or later return to torture him further.

The degree of Schubert's longing for Schober is to some extent explicable through Schober's refusal to write from Breslau to his admirers in Vienna. Was this a case of Schober the indolent wastrel not applying himself to his letter-writing duties or was it more manipulative: Schober the vain butterfly, always in need of recognition and acclamation, enjoying the arrival of the dutiful letters of his disciples back in Vienna, disciples who were filled with longing despite (or because of) his ignoring them so callously. Who knows?

A further snippet of information about Schubert's condition comes in another letter from Johanna Lutz to Leopold Kupelwieser on 9 December:

Schubert is already fairly healthy and is showing his intention of giving up the strict regime soon. Just so long as he doesn't go downhill.

Der Schubert ist schon recht gesund und zeigt auch schon wieder Lust, die strenge Ordnung nicht lange mehr zu halten. Wenn er sich nur nicht verdirbt. [Dok 209]

We learn from this that even at the end of 1823 Schubert is being held to a strict regime by his doctors, which the normally bacchantic Schubert is longing to break. We have to say that at this point the doctors' prediction in early November of a period of four weeks to recovery, which we mocked as 'optimistic', seems to have come to pass. Seems.

Concluding the annus horribilis with a positive report, Moritz Schwind wrote to Schober on 24 December:

Schubert is better, it won't be much longer before he can emerge with his own hair, which had to be shaved off because of the skin eruption. He is wearing a very comfortable wig. He spends a lot of time with Vogl and Leidesdorf. The complicated doctor takes a lot of walks with him.

Schubert ist besser, es wird nicht lange dauern, so wird er wieder in seinen eignen Haaren gehen, die wegen des Ausschlages geschoren werden mußten. Er trägt eine sehr gemütliche Perücke. Er ist sehr viel bei Vogl und Leidesdorf. Der verzwickte Doktor geht auch viel mit ihm. [Dok 219]

Thanks to heroically extensive research by Michael Lorenz we know that the expression 'the complicated doctor' refers to the second doctor involved in Schubert's treatment and convalescence, Jakob Bernhard. [Lorenz 148]


Whatever temptations the New Year festivities brought to his health regime, Schubert seems to have survived them. As we might have expected from the positive end to the previous year, at the beginning of 1824 the remission of the syphilis symptoms seems now to have arrived fully. On 22 February Schwind told Schober:

Schubert is very well, he has stopped wearing his wig and is starting to display charming mat of curls. He has written a lot of fine German Dances.

Schubert ist sehr wohl, er hat seine Perücke abgelegt und zeigt einen niedlichen Schneckerlanflug. Er hat wieder die schönsten Deutschen eine Menge. [Dok 228]

The reappearance of Schubert's hair seems to be following the timescale we would expect from someone who had had their hair shaved sometime in the early autumn. If Schubert's hair had fallen out as a result of the syphilis infection or the application of mercury one would expect regrowth to be delayed by several months at least.

Normal life beckoned. A few days later we read that Schubert's mental condition seems to have been fully restored, as Johanna Lutz wrote in a letter to Leopold Kupelwieser on 24 February:

Schubert was also there [at the party]. He was very friendly and really funny, which made me very happy.

Der Schubert war auch da. Der war aber sehr lieb. Er war recht lustig, was mich freute. [Dok 228]

Well, not quite normal life, since Schubert was still on his health regime. Schwind wrote to Schober on 6 March of a ball at the home of Schober's mother at which neither Schubert or his doctor Jakob Bernhard were present. We learn something of what Schubert was still going through:

Schubert is already quite well. He said that within a few days of beginning the new treatment he felt the illness break and everything was now different. He still survives on bread soup on one day and schnitzel on the other and he enjoys drinking tea. He often goes bathing and is inhumanly productive.

When you visit him during the day he says 'Good day, how are you doing?', 'Good.' and carries on writing, at which point you remove yourself.

Schubert ist schon recht wohl. Er sagt, in einigen Tagen der neuen Behandlung hatte er gefühlt, wie sich die Krankheit gebrochen habe und alles anders sei. Er lebt noch immer einen Tag von Banaderl, den andern von einem Schnitzel und trinkt schwelgerisch Thee, dazu geht er öfters baden und ist unmenschlich fleißig.

Wenn man unter Tags zu ihm kommt, sagt er grüß dich Gott, wie geht’s?, 'gut', und schreibt weiter, worauf man sich entfernt. [Dok 229]

De profundis … or not, as the case may be

We may have been encouraged by the positive tone of these accounts from the early part of 1824 into thinking that Schubert had shaken off the disease and was experiencing a solid remission. It would soon turn out that he was not.

Furthermore, at the end of this series of positive accounts of Schubert's improving condition a letter Schubert wrote to Kupelwieser in Rome on 31 March 1824 strikes us with the force of a blow. It is one of those rare things among the Schubert artefacts, a letter in which the introverted composer wrote about himself, a letter in which he opened his heart to his old friend:

I have been wanting to write to you for a long time, but never really found a starting point. However, now Smirsch [is going to write to you] I shall take this opportunity. At last I can unburden my soul to someone. You are so good and understanding, you will certainly forgive me some of the things that others would take very badly.

Schon längst drängt’ es mich Dir zu schreiben, doch niemahls wußte ich wo aus wo ein. Doch nun beut sich mir die Gelegenheit durch Smirsch, u. ich kann endlich wieder einmahl jemandem meine Seele ganz ausschütten. Du bist ja so gut u. bieder, Du wirst mir gewiß manches verzeihen, was mir andere sehr übel nehmen würden. [Dok 234f]

The attentive reader pauses in puzzlement: who are these 'others' who would be so critical of Schubert if they knew what he was about to say? His parents? We deduced in another context that Schubert desired the respect and recognition of his father. Schubert had left the family home abruptly at the start of his illness – we imagine in some sort of disgrace – and would only return in October of the present year, 1824.

The psychiatrist would find more than a hint of paranoia in Schubert's statement; those who have escaped an upbringing in an intensely religious environment will know the feeling well. But let's continue – that was only the beginning:

In a word, I feel that I am the unhappiest, most miserable person in the world.

– Mit einem Wort, ich fühle mich als den unglücklichsten, elendsten Menschen auf der Welt.

The 'most miserable person in the world': the psychiatrist pauses once more – this is going to be a long consultation – and thinks of 'reference groups'. What is this 'world' to which Schubert is referring?

The circles of friends: the reference group

The concept of reference group refers to the important role played in establishing our happiness by our choice of the people with whom we compare ourselves. They become our 'world'.

Reference groups are actually subtle constructs, but a modern, broadbrush example would be that of a factory worker who identifies with all the other factory workers on the shop floor. He or she might talk of 'we workers'. Should the factory close down and all the workers lose their jobs, that would be an economic blow, but not a psychologically severe one – after all, they are all in that comfortable place 'the same boat'.

How different from the psychological stress of a worker left behind when the others in that boat seem to be doing appreciably better than him or her. We can all cope with the billionaires and beautiful people whom we encounter in the media – they are not in our boat; workers can also cope with the well-manicured lives of their bosses – the psychological torture of reference group stress is much worse than simple envy.

Between 1816 and 1822 Schubert was surrounded with a group of clever, like-minded and interesting people. That was fun. Nearly all of them were academically trained in some way and obtained qualifications, but the presence of oddballs such as Senn and Schober kept the group from being a bourgeois friends' club. Among this group there were societies, shared outings, meetings and parties – even the conspiratorial samizdat of the Nonsense Society.

But nearly all of the friends were making their careers in the Empire of Paperwork; by 1824 almost all had obtained jobs and salaries and girlfriends, wives and fiancées. Senn was in Tyrolean exile and Schober had gone to Breslau. Schubert's brothers had careers and wives – even brother Karl, the landscape painter, whom, as a fellow artist, Franz had called a 'twice-over brother' in 1818, even he had married (in 1823) and was now making a respectable career.

They are 'the world' that Schubert mentions here, a world and a reference group in which Schubert no longer belonged. In effect, all the other factory workers apart from him have been promoted and moved on with their lives.

The clinical depression

Just imagine a person whose health will never be properly restored and who out of desperation always makes things worse rather than better. Just imagine a person, I say, whose most glittering hopes have turned into nothing, for whom the happiness of love and friendship offer nothing but pain at most, whose enthusiasm for the sublime threatens to vanish and ask yourself, whether that is not a miserable, unhappy person.

Denk Dir einen Menschen, dessen Gesundheit nie mehr richtig werden will, u. der aus Verzweiflung darüber die Sache immer schlechter statt besser macht, denke Dir einen Menschen, sage ich, dessen glänzendste Hoffnungen zu Nichte geworden sind, dem das Glück der Liebe u. Freundschaft nichts biethen als höchstens Schmerz, dem Begeisterung (wenigstens anregende) für das Schöne zu schwinden droht, und frage Dich, ob das nicht ein elender, unglücklicher Mensch ist?

Whatever the reports about Schubert's recovery have told us, it is now clear that Schubert himself believes that he will never fully recover.

Those who have been seriously ill will remember the importance of the belief that one day they will recover, that it is really only a matter of time and patience. The Grim Reaper, standing at the bedside paring his fingernails, waiting for the flatline that is to to come, has heard them all before, all these convictions of survival – from his point of view it really is only a matter of time and patience. He rarely goes away empty handed, as he knows full well.

We may take Schubert's gloom on this point to be an expression of his general depression, but, from a medical point of view, he was being a realist. He had been wounded, if not fatally yet, and the moralist in him will have realised that it was all his own fault. He even blames himself for doing something – we know not what, but drink, probably – that has been making his illness worse, not better – 'out of desperation'.

In this letter he presented himself to Kupelwieser as a human being whose most glittering hopes have come to nothing. All the wonderful things that people said to the composer of dances and songs at the evening entertainments named after him; the flatteries of the piano-playing entertainer by the bright things of Vienna have now turned to dust in his mouth – none of this had helped him one jot in any concrete fashion apart from providing an invitation to the next ball or Schubertiade, a theme of exploitation that we have already covered on this website.

The 'happiness of love and friendship' had collapsed into bitter loneliness. Even his enthusiasm for 'the beautiful' – in other words the 'sublime' – was threatening to evaporate. Schober, its chief propagandist, was no longer there, the young idealists of the early circles of friends – the pupils of boarding schools and the students of universities – had been scattered into day jobs in the Empire of Paperwork and – let's face it – all this sublimity had done nothing to improve the composer's lot, his life or his bank balance. It does not surprise us that his enthusiasm was evaporating.

'My tranquillity has gone, my heart is heavy, I'll never find them ever again'. I can sing that every day, for every night I go to bed hoping that I will not wake again and every new morning only brings me the troubles of the previous day.

— 'Meine Ruh ist hin, mein Herz ist schwer, ich finde sie nimmer u. nimmermehr', so kann ich wohl jetzt alle Tage singen, denn jede Nacht, wenn ich schlafen geh, hoff ich nicht mehr zu erwachen, u. jeder Morgen kündet mir nur den gestrigen Gram.

In Goethe's Faust Gretchen sang at her spinning wheel of the turmoil that love and passion had brought her; Schubert's depressive turmoil was actually the opposite, it was a lack of passion that was just as inescapable as her surfeit of passion, but without the excitement. It is telling – possibly – that in this moment of failure he quoted from one of his earliest and greatest hits, one of those moments of the 'greatest hopes' that he had felt at one time. He had had other great achievements, but this had been the first and probably the sweetest.

He was not (yet) suicidal, but was filled with that terrible apathy that so affects the clinically depressed. His mind is focused exclusively on the bad things in his life, the Gram, the 'troubles'.

So, I spend my days joyless and friendless, apart from occasionally when Schwind calls and a ray from those sweet bygone days shines on me.

So Freude- u. Freundelos verbringe ich meine Tage, wenn nicht manchmahl Schwind mich besuchte u. mir einen Strahl jener vergangenen süßen Tage zuwendete.

In sum, then, from the evidence of what he has written so far, Schubert's view of his personal situation was bleak: he was lonely, without social recognition, without musical recognition, without money, with low self-esteem, with little hope of longterm health and without any hope that this situation will improve. Heaven knows what his father must think of him.

A psychiatrist would read the first part of this letter and without hesitation diagnose a clinical depression verging on the suicidal. Such depressions are frequently triggered by a period of ill health: it would be no comfort to Schubert the patient, but in the first part of this letter he presents with an almost textbook case of depression.

Anomie and detachment

While his friends were busy getting on with their lives, Schubert from his point of view was left isolated and alone, apart from Schwind's visits. The depressive's view of loneliness is subjective and does not necessary correspond to objective reality. That said, in these situations it is subjective reality that counts. We realise now – as though we had ever doubted it – what a social creature Schubert was.

Our reading club has died, as you will know, on account of the rough ranks of beer drinkers and sausage eaters. It will finally be dissolved in two days, although I have not been there almost since the date of your departure.

— Unsere Gesellschaft (Lesegesellschaft) hat sich, wie Du wohl schon wissen wirst, wegen Verstärkung des rohen Chors im Biertrinken u. Würstelessen den Tod gegeben, denn ihre Auflösung erfolgt in 2 Tagen, obwohl ich schon beynahe seit Deiner Abreise sie nicht mehr besuchte.

In addition to the psychological strains on Schubert caused by the developments in his reference group, our psychiatrist pauses once more and thinks of the single word 'anomie'.

Anomie is at its core a disconnection from surrounding society – to make yet one more splat with our broad brush. It is not surprising that the concept was posited on the basis of differences in suicide statistics.

The sufferer seems to be detached from the people around him or her. Now the core members of Schober's reading club were busy doing other things or had simply left, finding it no longer congenial to the search for the 'sublime'. Schubert's situation was classically anomic: he was out of place in the company of his social fellows.

Leidesdorf, whom I have got to know very well is a really deep and good person, but he is so melancholic that I nearly fear that I have profited from him too much in this respect; things are not going well with my or his affairs and therefore we never have any money.

Leidesdorf, mit dem ich recht genau bekannt geworden bin, ist zwar ein wirklich tiefer u. guter Mensch, doch von so großer Melancholie, dß ich beynahe fürchte, von ihm mehr als zuviel in dieser Hinsicht profitirt zu haben; auch geht es mit meinen u. seinen Sachen schlecht, daher wir nie Geld haben.

And, finally, we come to a mention of the root of all evil, money. In Schubert's case, money really was the root of nearly all of his problems. There are people who might argue that if Schubert had had plenty of money he might have drunk himself to death at twenty – that is, before the syphilis could get him.

Down and out in Vienna

Nearly all his friends, with the particular and notable exception of Johann Senn, who disdained such trivial stuff, had some amount of money behind them. They had good educations paid for by their families – Bauernfeld and Schwind, for example, had attended the renowned Schottengymnasium, the well-connected alumni of which would go on to occupy many of the leading positions in the feudal empire. Schubert's friends could afford the university studies that brought them the indispensable paper qualifications needed to flourish in the Austrian empire.

The feudal system of that structure was ever present. Bauernfeld, despite all his protestations of poverty, occupied posts in the Austrian bureaucracy for over twenty years after leaving university and finally became a fulltime writer only in 1848.

Most of Schubert's close friends were minor nobility of some sort and were comfortable at the interface to higher nobility. In their academic lives they had befriended academics and had become tightly integrated into the intellectual life of Vienna. In contrast, Schubert had no position in this structure whatever. His visiting card said 'Compositeur'.

It is possible to make the argument that Schubert's earnings were not bad, particularly when compared to some low-level musical position, but his general situation is one of being strapped for cash and driven to unending labour just to keep his economic ship afloat. Then, if we take the members of Schubert's reference group into account, he was the one now left scratching for cash. It is not the absolute amount of his income that is important for him, but the relative deprivation that he feels in relation to his reference group.

There were many consequences of this perpetual near-breadline existence: he spent much of his life in cramped, shared accommodation (although at the Schobers' apartments he generally had more space), he did not travel outside Austria, his deals with his publishers, who could not keep up with the output of this musical tornado and so could always affect disinterest, were not far from acts of desperation.


The opera from your brother, who didn't do himself any good by leaving the theatre, was declared to be unusable and along with it my music was not used. The opera with Castelli's text, Die Verschworenen was set to music in Berlin from a composer there and was received with applause. In this way I have once again composed two operas for nothing.

Die Oper von Deinem Bruder (der nicht sehr wohl that, dß er vom Theater wegging) wurde für unbrauchbar erklärt, u. mithin meine Musik nicht in Ansprache genommen. Die Oper von Castelli, Die Verschwornen, ist in Berlin von einem dortigen Compositeur componiert, mit Beyfall aufgenommen worden. Auf diese Art hätte ich also wieder zwey Opern umsonst komponirt.

The subject of opera is one of the most painful aspects of the Schubert biography. From what we read here it was as painful for him as it is for us. He wasted his time and energy setting indescribably bad texts written by friends to music. Here he mentions Fierrabras and Die Verschworenen, but Rosamunde only managed a couple of performances, Schober's turkey Alfonso und Estrella was never performed and Bauernfeld's Graf von Gleichen, a happy-ever-after tale of bigamy, had never the slightest chance of getting past the censors.

It must have been professionally very bitter for Schubert to learn that while Die Verschworenen with his music got nowhere in Vienna, Georg Abraham Schneider's setting had been a relative success in Berlin.

Back to business

As for songs I have done little new, but rather I made some attempts at instrumental works. I composed two quartets for violins, viola and cello and I want to write a quartet. In this way I hope to prepare the ground for the path to the great symphony. – The news from Vienna is that Beethoven is giving a concert in which he will present his new symphony, three pieces from the new Mass and a new overture. – God permitting, I would really like to give a similar concert in the coming year.

In Liedern habe ich wenig Neues gemacht, dagegen versuchte ich mich in mehreren Instrumental-Sachen, denn ich componirte 2 Quartetten für Violinen, Viola u. Violoncelle u. ein Octett, u. will noch ein Quartetto schreiben, überhaupt will ich mir auf diese Art den Weg zur großen Sinfonie bahnen. — Das Neueste in Wien ist, dß Beethoven ein Concert gibt, in welchem er seine neue Sinfonie, 3 Stücke aus der neuen Messe, u. eine neue Ouvertüre produciren läßt. — Wenn Gott will, so bin auch ich gesonnen, künftiges Jahr ein ähnliches Concert zu geben.

It is typical of Schubert that, despite all the gloom of his letter, that cry from the heart, he still had his musical aims: the 'great' symphony – that dream of all composers of the time – and his own concert.

Out of the pit

Taking a broader view of the letter, once Schubert starts talking about music – real music, not just German Dances for the parties and the music publishers – he gradually climbs out of the dark pit of his personal life. In the ascent we have gone from 'not wanting to wake up again' to planning his 'great symphony' and giving a public concert. It seems that Schubert the musician – the concert giver, the symphony writer – was quite a different creature from Schubert the man – the party entertainer.

The contradictory accounts in the letters reflect this two-component Schubert: Schwind told us on 6 March of the contented composer, busy at his music – an observation that was clearly not made up; now Schubert has written to Kupelwieser scarcely twenty days later with his almost suicidal cry from the heart, concluded with some everyday professional chit-chat about his musical goals.

We note his immense capacity for focus and compartmentalisation, a life-saver possibly learned growing up in the family school, among the streets of the turbulent suburb and in the noise of the Stadtkonvikt. Focus. Compartmentalisation. He could always do that.

Careful scholars, the ones who stick close to the facts of the documentary record, dislike this kind of fantasising – for that is what is ultimately is. But there are times when, with all due caution, we have to look at these tantalising scraps from Schubert's life and at least make some attempt to answer the non-specialist's question, the Gretchen-Frage: 'What was Schubert like?'

Our surprise at Schubert's cry from the heart to Kupelwieser is a reminder to us, us readers of the tea leaves in other people's letters, that nearly everything we scrape up in this way will always remain guesswork. Our simple-minded faith in the letters from the beginning of March, which led us to believe that the old workaholic Schubert is back with us and would certainly work his way through this setback as he had done through all the other setbacks that had befallen him was mistaken.

Schubert would reveal some more of his soul in a letter written to his brother Ferdinand from Zseliz in July, but we shall deal with that in a separate piece.

The road to recovery

Folding up Schubert's letter to Kupelwieser and moving on, we now read that the remission of the syphilis was not complete, either. Around a month later, on 2 April, Doblhoff wrote to Schober saying that Schubert was complaining of 'pains in his bones'. [Dok 237]

A few days later, on 10 April, Moritz Schwind wrote to Leopold Kupelwieser that Schubert is 'almost completely well' [Dok 237], the phrase 'almost completely' was qualified four days later (14 April) by Schwind in a letter to Schober:

Schubert is not completely well. He has pains in his left arm, so much so that he cannot play the piano. Apart from that he is cheerful and optimistic.

Schubert ist nicht ganz wohl. Er hat Schmerzen im linken Arm, daß er gar nicht Klavier spielen kann. Übrigens ist er guter Dinge. [Dok 237]

On 25 May 1824 Schubert travelled from Vienna to Zseliz to stay on the country estate of Count János Károly (Johann-Karl) Esterházy de Galántha, where he had also lived during the summer of 1818. He travelled back to Vienna on 17 October, earlier than planned. Schubert's stay at Zseliz was an interesting event in his life that was accompanied by some interesting and informative letters. We shall deal with this episode of his life in a separate piece.

The stay in Zseliz seems to have done him good, however, for on 8 November, after his return to Vienna, Schwind wrote to Schober that:

Schubert is here, healthy and wonderfully carefree, rejuvenated by pleasure and pains and happy life.

Schubert ist hier, gesund und himmlisch leichtsinnig, neu verjüngt durch Wonne und Schmerzen und heiteres Leben. [Dok 264]

The word Schmerzen, 'pains', is not to be taken in the medical sense; here it means the romantic, soulful pains in which one can wallow with true Germanic enjoyment.

A letter on 15 November from Johanna Lutz to Leopold Kupelwieser confirms that Schubert 'is apparently very healthy'. [Dok 264 'Er soll sehr gesund sein']

In other words, by the end of 1824, as far as we can tell, the old Schubert was back – at least for the moment. The syphilis seemed to be in remission and for the moment Schubert's overworked antibodies were holding the fort.

It had taken him two years from the first appearance of the symptoms to reach this point. In the first of those two years he produced the music for which there are approximately 130 entries in the Deutsch catalogue, many of them major pieces. In the second of those years he managed 'merely' 23 entries. Focus. Compartmentalisation.

Chasing peacocks

Nearly two years later we hear of more illness. In August 1826 Eduard Bauernfeld notes in his diary that 'Schubert is fairly ill'; the solution, according to Bauernfeld, would be 'young peacocks, as with Benvenuto Cellini'. Otto Deutsch, in decrypting this allusion for us, tells us not to interpret it as a return of the syphilis. [Dok 372]

This advice is a sign of the sure scholarship that made Otto Deutsch such an outstanding figure in Schubert studies.

Although Cellini did 'cure' himself of a dose of syphilis, at this moment in Cellini's memoirs he was curing himself and his housemates of the malaise of the torrid, unhealthy air of a Roman apartment in summer. Exactly the same could be said of the Viennese summer, the dusty and smelly evils of which every year drove those who could afford it out into the surrounding countryside. We repeat: Cellini's account has nothing at all to do with syphilis.

Bauernfeld would have used Goethe's translation of Cellini's memoirs [Book III, Chapter 3]. Through misinterpretation, this passage in Bauernfeld's diary became one of the most vexed texts of modern Schubert scholarship. Its meaning was thoroughly deciphered by the careful work of Rita Steblin. [Steblin 25-27]

If we take Deutsch's advice and ignore Schubert's illness in mid-1826 we find that the syphilis appears to have remained in remission for around two and a half years.

As far as we can tell it came back, though, in 1827, with its most characteristic symptom, splitting headaches, as Schubert confided to Frau Pachler on 12 October 1827:

I hope that your Graciousness is in better health than I, since my usual headaches have started up yet again.

Ich hoffe, daß sich Euer Gnaden besser befinden als ich, da mir meine gewöhnlichen Kopfschmerzen schon wieder zusetzen. [Dok 457]

Some have blamed Schubert's headaches on his shortsightedness compounded by the inadequacies of contemporary spectacles and minutious labour in dim light. Although this may be a contributory factor, it does not account for the ebb and flow of the symptoms of the disease. Headaches from eyesight problems would occur with much more regularity through time and be a relatively permanent feature of his life.

The disease then seems to have retreated again for a time, as far as we can tell. But it is reasonable to assume that the feelings of general malaise in the autumn of 1828 that led him on his doctor's advice to seek the healthier atmosphere of his brother Ferdinand's house were a recurrence of the old enemy.

Let us also not forget that Schubert was a passionate pipe smoker, a passionate drinker and eater with a body-mass index that would worry a modern doctor. At least his death at the end of 1828 from typhoid fever spared him from what may have come to pass as the disease progressed. We only need to recall Robert Schumann's years of madness and consider that in Schumann's case an early death would have been a blessing.

When was Schubert infected?

We can discount the disgraceful assertion that Schubert picked up syphilis from intercourse with the chambermaid Pepi Pöcklhofer on his first visit to Zseliz in 1818.

The disease has a very variable incubation period – the experts tell us that the stage one symptoms such as the characteristic chancre appear on average 21 days after infection, with three months given as the longest incubation period. The symptoms of stage two – rashes etc. – are expected to appear no later than ten weeks after the moment of infection.

It is thus medically impossible that Schubert was infected in the summer of 1818 only to complain about symptoms at the beginning of 1823, nearly five years later. A particular sinner in this respect is Kiemle, who goes to some length to cite chapter and verse about poor traduced Pepi, an extremely respectable young woman, finding her 'possibly' the source of the infection. Nonsense: a thoughtless prejudice against women in service. [Kiemle 41]

We can rule out the Fastnachtstreiben, the 'carneval doings' at the beginning in February of 1823 as being too late, but since love knows no season we could reasonably expect the infection to have occurred in December or perhaps even November of 1822.

For the guilty party who led poor little Schwammerl astray we only need to mention one name: Franz Schober.

Leaving Schober's general unsavoury reputation to one side, some dates come to our assistance: Schubert had been living with the Schober family in their apartment (Innere Stadt 1155, known as the Gottweigerhof from the name of its owner) from 22 January 1822 until he moved into the Roßau school in October of that year, the start of the school term.

Schubert left Roßau after only around three months, in early January 1823 (or perhaps late December 1822), a departure we can probably call 'abrupt', since it corresponded to no school full term. He returned to stay with the Schobers, with whom he remained until June 1823.

As we have seen, we hear of the disease for the first time on 28 February 1823, when Schubert's condition 'still does not permit him to leave the house'. It seems reasonable to believe that the (stage two?) symptoms appeared some time earlier and that it may have been the first symptoms that caused Schubert to leave the family home and school so promptly in January. He would certainly find more understanding with the 'colourful' Schobers than he would with his Jesuit-raised father, who said of himself that he 'moralised happily'.

There can be no doubt that a syphilitic staying in the school would have raised clerical and parental eyebrows just as much as brother Ignaz's outspoken mockery of the church had threatened to do. We can therefore date the first appearance of the symptoms as the sometime between the end of December and the beginning of January, when Schubert sought refuge by the reprobate Schobers. It was in their apartment that he hid away from the world while his unsightly symptoms raged.

It is therefore not unreasonable that on an outing with Schober that took place sometime between, let us say, the end of September (when Schubert was still living with the Schobers) or sometime in October or November (when Schubert was living with his parents) the composer made his acquaintance with a raiding party of some Treponema pallidum pallidum).

If this is so then we have to confront the bitter irony that, after at least accompanying or enabling his friend Schubert to his bacterial doom, Schober takes the opportunity of removing himself from the scene for nearly three years. Whether Schober's sudden decision to tread the boards in Breslau was seized as an opportunity to remove himself from the unpleasantness or to free himself from this clingy invalid – Well, who knows that?

It has been suggested that Schober also contracted syphilis about the same time, but I have never seen any credible evidence, such as a signed receipt from a prostitute, to prove this. The idea is not completely impossible, though. [Lexikon 251]

It may not have been a prostitute, although Schober could clearly afford such delights for both of them – we don't have to think of the two of them passing some poor girl between them. There were plenty of prostitutes and plenty of simple girls in Vienna. Emperor Joseph II, too fastidious to bother with a third wife, had been a regular patron, much to the distress of his pious mother Maria Theresia. His nephew Emperor Franz II/I famously remarked, when some well-meaning soul proposed regulating prostitution in Vienna by building a bordello, that they might as well just put a roof over the whole city.

Enough – in this twilight world, your author, who even thinks twice about shaking hands with anyone, is an incapable guide, whereas the Schubert-was-homosexual gang are already thinking 'How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.' We must also consider that the act of darkness that led to the infection was probably not the first: Schubert was not a lucky person, but even so it would have been remarkably unlucky even for him to experience love's first sweet thrill and come away with a dose of syphilis.

The two Schuberts

And there was indeed a twilight world that the 'Schobert' moved in. Josef Kenner, a schoolfriend of Schubert's, told the proto-biographer Luib of this in a letter on 10 May 1858:

Anyone who knew Schubert knows that he was put together from two dichotomous natures, knows how powerfully hedonism dragged his psyche down to its muddy pond, knows how energetically he rejected the judgements of respected friends. They will thus find his devotion to the false prophet who uttered the euphemistic words of sensuality so flatteringly, even more comprehensible.

Resoluter characters were also sooner or later seduced into idolatry through the demonic lure of the association with that superficially warm but internally merely vain being.

Wer Schubert kannte, weiß, wie er aus zwei einander fremden Naturen zusammengesetzt war, wie gewaltig ohnehin die Genußsucht seine Psyche zu ihrem Schlammpfuhl niederzog, und wie hoch er die Aussprüche geachteter Freunde anschlug, und wird sohin seine Hingebung an den falschen Propheten, der der Sinnlichkeit das beschönigende Wort so schmeichelnd führte, um so begreiflicher finden. Wurden doch gestähltere Charaktere von der dämonischen Lockung des Umganges jenes scheinwarmen, innen aber bloß eitlen Wesens zum Götzendienste verführt, auf kürzere oder längere Frist.[Erinn 100]

The 'false prophet' is in the singular, so there can be hardly any doubt that Kenner is referring to Franz von Schober, the half of the mythical beast the 'Schobert'. He was the 'vain being' whose power of 'demonic luring' brought Schubert and some others (Schwind would be at least one possibility here) to idolise him.

These hints seem to me to be essential for the biographer's understanding, because they apply to a period of Schubert's life which only too probably caused his early death, but certainly accelerated it.

Of course they have to remain as mere hints and no name must be mentioned, for Schubert's fame should not be misused as a pillory in order to immortalise the memory of reprobates.

Diese Andeutung schien mir für das Verständnis des Biographen unerläßlich, denn sie betrifft eine Lebensepisode Schuberts, welche nur zu wahrscheinlich seinen verfrühten Hintritt veranlaßte, gewiß aber beschleunigte.
Sie muß aber selbstverständlich bloße Andeutung bleiben und darf keine Namen nennen, denn Schuberts Ruhm soll nicht zum Schandpfahl mißbraucht werden, um daran das Andenken an schlechte Menschen zu verewigen.

Kenner's final paragraph may seem puzzling at first, but it becomes clearer when we remember that it is a message to the biographer himself, not a remark for the biography. Kenner is trying to ensure that Luib blocks anything Schober contributes or at least edits it vigorously. Kenner was not to know that Schober's laziness would always get the better of him in supplying contributions to Schubert's biography. In fact, we have triflingly little from Schubert's closest friend, apart from a few teasing asides to others reminding them how close he was to Schubert and what stories he could tell.

Schober's indolent silence was an outcome that would have pleased Kenner. An account from Schober, Kenner implies probably correctly, would be written to the greater glory of Schober, not Schubert; the adventures they shared should not become public.

Kenner's summary seems quite fair – we have no reason to doubt the sincerity of his viewpoint, though his sanctimonious language may not be to the modern taste. But he was a close friend of Schubert's during and after their schooling in the Vienna Stadtkonvikt, he was a particular friend of Moritz von Schwind's, too. Schubert set a number of Kenner's verses to music; he had an excellent, upright career and we find no grounds for any particular animus against his early friends in his 1858 account.

Kenner seems to be as honest and judicious in his recollections as the ever-reliable Joseph von Spaun, with the difference that Spaun set himself a higher barrier for the protection of Schubert's memory. Spaun criticised some parts of Kreißle's first biography of Schubert as being too intrusive. In contrast, Kenner is more open – in effect more truthful – whilst at the same time pleading with Luib to be discrete. In the end his fear that Schober would drag Schubert's name through the mud was unnecessary: Schober's indolence was sufficient to protect Schubert, although we are by far the poorer for it – what tales that man could have told!

Those who want an example of the way Schober's followers threw themselves down before their 'false prophet', the 'demonic lure' he exerted over them and the 'idolatry' they displayed towards him only need to read the conclusion of Schubert's letter to him on 30 November 1823, repeated here, in which the abandoned one pathetically assures him that he will never forget him.

Furthermore I hope to attain health once more and this rediscovered property will help me to forget an number of other miseries, only you, dear Schober, you, I shall never forget, the place of what you once were to me can be taken by no other person.

Schwind was another disciple and stuck to Schober doggedly for decades, even after Schubert's death, until he finally saw the light and the pair fell out. On 6 March 1824 he wrote to Schober of the pain Schober caused to those longing for a letter from him. Schwind's letter would not be out of place in a modern chick-lit novel:

I have been with him [Schubert] almost every evening. He intends to write to you, but I secretly hope that he doesn't do it, so you get a taste of how unpleasant waiting for someone's letter is, but no, don't write to me, I don't want it.

Ich bin fast alle Abend bei ihm, er hat den Vorsatz, Dir zu schreiben, ich wünsche aber heimlich, daß er es nicht tut, damit Du doch auch einsiehst, daß einem das Brief erwarten etwas zuwider ist, aber nein, schreib mir nicht, ich will nicht. [Dok 229]

It may well be that Schober really did pick up a dose of syphilis and sat out his symptoms alongside Schubert in the privacy of the Schober apartment in the Gottweigerhof. It seems unlikely, though, since we hear of no further symptoms in Schober.

Around July 1823 Schober travelled to St. Pölten and thence to a Breslau, where he would stay with a theatre troupe for around two years. He went on to live a long and – as far as we know – medically untroubled life. 'As far as we know' – because Schober went to extraordinary lengths to shape his archive in the image he wanted. It is doubtful that documentary evidence of a dose of syphilis would get through his censorship process.

We must also remember once again that of those with primary syphilis '[a]pproximately 25 percent of these patients developed secondary syphilis and 13 percent developed tertiary syphilis' – that is, '75 percent of the patients did not progress beyond primary syphilis.' [Radolf: Host Defenses]

In this respect, Schober may have been one of the lucky ones and Schubert – as so often in his life – drew the short straw. Who knows?


Most sources are in German. All translations ©FoS.

Dok Deutsch, Otto Erich, ed. Schubert: Die Dokumente Seines Lebens. Erw. Nachdruck der 2. Aufl. Wiesbaden: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1996. [DE]
Erinn —, ed. Schubert: Die Erinnerungen Seiner Freunde. Wiesbaden: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1997. [DE]
Kiemle Kiemle, Hans D. 'Woran starb Schubert eigentlich? Ein Beitrag aus toxikologischer Sicht', Schubert durch die Brille 16/17, Jan 1996, p. 41-51. [DE]
Lexikon Hilmar, Ernst und Margaret Jestremski. Schubert-Lexikon. Graz: Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt, 1997. [DE]
Lorenz Lorenz, Michael. 'Mehrere Bernhards. Die Lösung des Dr. J. Bernhard-Rätsels', Schubert durch die Brille 28, (Tutzing: Schneider, 2002), 101-50. [DE]
Steblin Steblin, Rita. 'The Peacock's Tale: Schubert's Sexuality Reconsidered', 19th-Century Music 17/1 (Summer 1993), pp. 5–33. [EN]
Radolf Radolf JD. 'Treponema' in Baron S, editor. Medical Microbiology. 4th edition. Galveston (TX): University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston; 1996. Chapter 36. Online. [EN]

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