'Nobody', wrote Samuel Johnson, 'can write the life of a man, but those who have eat and drunk and lived in social intercourse with him'. Here is a life of Wagner told by those who rubbed shoulders with him in the course of his turbulent lifetime. Few composers have led such eventful lives or excited such violent views, and his contemporaries were not slow to record their impressions of a man they either idolised or demonised. This is the story of how they remembered Wagner and how they wanted posterity to remember him. But it is also the story of his life told with immediacy, wit, affection and awe, all qualities that have largely been lost from later accounts of Wagner. Although the choice of reminiscences is necessarily selective, no attempt has been made to impose a unified picture. What we have instead is a kaleidoscope of images presented by sixty or more contemporaries, from Queen Victoria to one of the Wagners' servants, some never before published, many hitherto unavailable in English and all scrupulously annotated in the light of the latest research on the subject.