The Evidence

Family Background and Personality 

    Robert Schumann was the youngest of six children, of whom four brothers and one sister survived childhood. There was mental illness in the family. In his biography of Schumann, Young (1957) says that his father August had a nervous breakdown from which he never entirely recovered. He is said to have had attacks of giddiness, and to have had a melancholic tendency; but there is no evidence known to us that he had a mental illness. Juda classified him as normal. He was a publisher and successful in business, but also a writer on his own account and with an interest in romantic literature though no talent for music. He died when Robert was sixteen, so that Robert was for a number of years under the guardianship of his mother. She was a dominant personality, who resisted his attraction to music as a profession, but was psychiatrically normal. The eldest child, Robert's sister Emilie, became mentally ill at the age of 17 and drowned herself at 29. She was regarded as a ease of dementia praecox by Mobius, and this diagnosis was accepted by Juda, although it is by no means certain. Robert's three brothers, who all died before him, of brain fever, cancer and tuberculosis, were all mentally normal.

    Robert and Clara Schumann had eight children, one of whom, Ludwig, began to show signs of mental illness by the age of 20, and two years later was regarded as incurable. He died in a mental hospital at the age of 51. Juda considers that this case, too, was most probably one of schizophrenia. All of the other children were mentally normal, though one son took morphine in the course of a chronic physical ailment. From the family history alone, therefore, a suggestion of schizophrenia in Robert's ease arises.

    Schumann seems to have changed in personality during the course of his lifetime. As a young man he was sociable, fond of a gay life, interested in girls, champagne, cigars and billiards, and he had a number of minor love affairs. He was somewhat irresponsible and unsteady in his intentions and even after giving up the law for music, he varied from time to time in the application he brought to his studies.

    With all this, however, and underneath his romanticism, his idealism, his vague optimism, his unpractical ways, he had a funda­mental seriousness. He pursued Clara through all difficulties until he won her; and the devotion of the two to one another only in­creased with the years.

    Wasielewski (1906) gives a portrait of Robert in middle life as a man of more than average height, with slow and deliberate gait. His expression was mild and kindly, but with a good deal of reserve. He had little conversation, none on ordinary matters; but in an intimate circle would become quite eloquent on subjects which moved him. In the course of time he became more and more taciturn, and even to questions would not reply, or would answer in a murmur, in fragments of sentences, as if lie were thinking the answer out for himself. Apart from his eyes, the most attractive feature was his mouth, finely cut, with lips thrust a little forward as if to whistle. Mobius says that this was a mannerism, and did not appear till after 1833. He was very fond of his children, but somewhat distant and passive as a father; he was a most tender and loving husband. The life he preferred to lead was an exceedingly quiet one; and one of great regularity, the same routine being followed every day. Throughout his life he had strong interests in romantic literature and poetry. He edited the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, and, in the numerous essays and reviews which he wrote for this journal, he showed amply his remarkable generosity of spirit, full of warm appreciation of the merits of younger composers, without envy or reserve. The same warmth and natural feeling (Innigkeit) pervade his compositions, particularly his short piano pieces and songs. Perhaps the natural expression of his personality in his music is not quite as direct as, for instance, that of Schubert. This may have been due, partly as Abraham (1954) suggests to strong literary interests which somewhat deflected his musical inspiration, partly to the strong influence of the phantastic romanticism of Jean Paul and others.

    In a self‑description, made by choice of adjectives, which Möbius quotes, Schumann chose as appropriate: quiet, shy, hypo­chondriacal, good‑humoured, genial, sociable, highminded, sensitive, emotional, enthusiastic, tenderhearted. One might add that, he himself characterised the main contrasts of his personality by the pseudonyms of Florestan, the gay, energetic iconoclast, and Eu­sebius, the gentle, pious and melancholy.

    Schumann was, socially, never very competent. In Dresden the Schumanns found themselves in a provincial society entirely do­minated by a philistine Court. It is not surprising that they shut themselves away in a circle of their own. When they came to Düsseldorf, though they were received with the greatest friendliness and enthusiasm, they never fitted in with the gay light‑hearted Rhine­landers. The collapse of Robert's career there must be partly at­tributed to mutual lack of understanding. Young says that he appeared at committee meetings as seldom as possible, and never stayed more than a few minutes; he generally delivered his instruc­tions to the choral society in writing, though a committee member.

    However, one cannot speak of a pathological withdrawal. Throughout his life he continued to make intimate and devoted friends, such as Mendelssohn, Jenny Lind, Hiller, Joachim, Brahms. He first met Brahms when he was a very sick man, and on the point of his final breakdown.

    Schumann was something of a hypochondriac, and throughout his life was afraid of death and of madness. He was extremely shocked and upset by all the deaths of near and dear ones, of his sister‑in‑law Rosalie, his brothers, and of Mendelssohn. After Mendelssohn's death he feared that he would die in the same way, i.e. after a succession of strokes. More than once in his life he ex­pressed the fear that he would lose his reason; and at other times he had a fear of heights and of metal objects.

    On the sexual side, we must regard him as normal in every way. A normal sexual life with his wife must have continued throughout their time together. She bore him eight children, in 1841, 1843, 1845, 1847, 1848, 1849, 1850 and 1854, and in 1852 she had a miscarriage.