Persons related to Chopin Persons related to Chopin

Michał Skarbek

Michał Skarbek

Michal Skarbek, the youngest son of Kacper Skarbek and Ludwika Fenger (and brother of Fryderyk) was born on 25 September 1796 in Izbica. From 1802, when Mikołaj Chopin was taken on by the Skarbeks as tutor at Żelazowa Wola, Michał became his pupil. Childhood ties turned into adult friendship and Michał-as we learn from the Chopin family correspondence-became one of the closest friends of the family. We know little, however, of his childhood and youth. On 3 September 1825 he purchased Żelazowa Wola by notarial deed for 180,000 zloty from his brother Fryderyk, and he lived there to the end of his days. He is assumed to have occupied one of the annexes (possibly the same in which the Chopins had previously lived), since the main building's poor state of repair had made it uninhabitable. Here, he was visited quite often by the Chopins, who would also receive him in Warsaw. Before the outbreak of the November Rising, Michał deposited with the Chopins a chest containing his personal papers and documents.

We learn of his participation in the uprising from a brief reference to the post-insurrection period in the memoirs of his brother, Fryderyk: ‘[...] My brother serving in the army has survived and is currently in the ranks of Stryjeński's reserve'. The Żelazowa Wola estate was probably confiscated, but the sequestration was soon lifted, possibly through the intervention of his well-connected brother.

Inept management, among other things, led to the estate accruing heavy debts. The largest sum of all was a debt of more than 22,000 zloty owing to Mikołaj Chopin, representing seven-years' salary, which may have been built up by Ludwika Skarbek. Michał's financial problems and deepening mental instability led him to consider suicide. During this period, we find him in Warsaw, where, on 6 December 1833, he is present at the baptism of Mikołaj Chopin's grandson, Henryk Jędrzejewicz.

On 25 July 1834 Michał Skarbek hung himself from a horse-hair rope, which he had prepared two years earlier. He left a will and a farewell letter explaining his dramatic decision. One senses from the letter his embitterment over relations with his immediate family, his failures in love and a general conviction of the wretchedness of the world. As his heir, he chose a local young man not known to anyone, Franciszek Kwiatkowski, to whom-as he stated-he wished to offer disinterested help, such as he himself had not experienced during difficult times. These noble intentions stand in contrast to the failure in his will to settle the debt towards Mikołaj Chopin, who, lacking sufficient evidence, was unable to win repayment through the courts. This incident soured the Chopins‘ memory of their departed friend for quite some time.

Michał Skarbek never married and left no progeny, and Żelazowa Wola passed through the hands of a succession of owners.

Piotr Mysłakowski and Andrzej Sikorski (July 2006)

Bibliography
[Fryderyk Skarbek], Pamiętniki Fryderyka hrabiego Skarbka [Memoirs of Count Fryderyk Skarbek] (Poznań, 1878).
Piotr Mysłakowski and Andrzej Sikorski, Chopinowie. Krąg rodzinno-towarzyski [The Chopins. Their Family and Social Circle] (Warsaw, 2005).

 

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