Lead in Beethoven’s Hair Offers New Clues to Mystery of His Deafness – Generic English

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As he lay on his deathbed, his publisher gave him a gift of 12 bottles of wine. By then Beethoven knew he could never drink them. He whispered his last recorded words: “Pity, pity — too late!”

For a composer, deafness had been perhaps the worst affliction.

At age 30, 26 years before his death, Beethoven wrote: “For almost 2 years I have ceased to attend any social functions, just because I find it impossible to say to people: I am deaf. If I had any other profession, I might be able to cope with my infirmity, but in my profession it is a terrible handicap. And if my enemies, of whom I have a fair number, were to hear about it, what would they say?”

When he was 32, Beethoven mourned that he could not hear a flute, or a shepherd singing, which, he wrote, “brought me almost to despair. A little more and I would have committed suicide — only Art held me back. Ah it seemed unthinkable to leave the world until I had brought forth all that I feel lies within me.”

Over the years, Beethoven consulted many doctors, trying treatment after treatment for his ailments and his deafness, but found no relief. At one point, he was using ointments and taking 75 medicines, many of which most likely contained lead.

In 1823, he wrote to an acquaintance, also deaf, about his own inability to hear, calling it a “grievous misfortune,” and noting: “doctors know little; one finally tires of them.”

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