It is a Thursday afternoon in Rome. In a house on the Via del Babuino, Princess Carolyne von Sayn-Wittgenstein is sitting at her escritoire, scribbling furiously. A tonsured abbé enters the room. But not just any tonsured abbé. It is Princess Carolyne’s lover, the famous composer Franz Liszt!
“Darling!” she cries.
“Yes, sweetie, it is I!” shouts Liszt, impassioned, “As you can see, I have crumpled in the face of your energetic persuasions. This very day Cardinal Hohenloe has shaved my scalp and admitted me into Holy Orders!”
“That is wonderful news!” cries the Princess, her bosom heaving.
“Indeed it is,” replies Liszt, “We must go out and celebrate!”
Suddenly the Princess’s countenance takes on a look of deep religious solemnity, and she pouts.
“I am afraid that will not be possible, darling,” she murmurs, “For I have decided to retreat into a state of seclusion, such that if I live for another twenty-seven years I shall leave this house only once, for a period of twenty-four hours.”
“Really?” asks Liszt, nonplussed.
“Really,” replies the Princess.
“And what on earth are you going to do with yourself, sweetie, cooped up in here for the best part of three decades until you are felled by a case of the dropsy?”
The Princess gestures towards the pages and pages of scribblings on her escritoire.
“You know how Gregorius says I fairly sputter spirituality. I will devote my time to my book Interior Causes of the Exterior Weakness of the Church, which, by the time I finish it, probably just a few days before I die, will run I expect to twenty-four ponderous volumes.”
“Well, you know best, sweetie,” says Liszt, “In that case I may pop back to Weimar for a bit. I’m a bit worried that my grand-daughter may one day become engaged to a man with the ominous-sounding name Thode.”
“Cheerio then, darling,” says the Princess, “And don’t forget to write me an enormous number of letters!”
“Oh I shall, sweetie, and they shall often be hysterical in tone!”
Alas, to attempt a quotation from those letters would be like proffering a spoonful of brine, and saying, “Here is an idea of the ocean.”
Mr Key is indebted to The Love Affairs Of Great Musicians, Volume II, Chapter 1 by Rupert Hughes (1903).