Niccolò Paganini always boasted that he never did anything for nothing, but on one occasion he contrived to overreach himself by trying to be too sharp.
While travelling he chanced to be caught in a great storm, and to have his carriage break down outside a country house. The owner of the house, a wealthy baronet, expressed himself proud to entertain the great artist, and sent out invitations for a big dinner-party to meet him.
After dinner a little girl, one of the host’s daughters, took up a violin which ‘chanced’ to be in the room, and requested Paganini to play upon it. She accompanied the request with such a tender look of supplication that he could not refuse her.
Next day Paganini sent his secretary to the baronet to thank him for his hospitality, and at the same time, to present a little bill of £50 for his performance of the night before. The baronet paid without a word, and a little while afterwards Paganini’s carriage started off.
Hardly had it passed the principal gate when two sturdy grooms advanced and seized the horses by the bridle. Paganini put his head out the window and asked what it all meant. ‘It is from Sir So-and-So,’ was the reply, ‘a little bill of £50 for board and lodging received’. Paganini’s face darkened over. Very slowly, without saying a word, the artiste took out his purse and gave back the cheque which he had just received.
This article was first published in The Strad’s May 1893 issue.