I'm Greek, leaving in Athens, electrical engineer, specialist in Fire Detection Systems. My hobbies are: 1. The 19t century Russian Literature, Russian painters and every form of art of that period. 2. I collect German mechanical cameras (1948 to 1965)
Read my posts of the Russian literature. Short story or excerpt can change your mind about life.
In this blog you will find some of the most sparkling diamonds of the Russian literature of the 19th century. Take some time to read it. The last is…Enemies…by Anton Chekhov…you can hear the revolution coming.
- The Husband by Che
- Excerpt from Crime and Punishment by Dosto
- An Upheaval (Short story by Anton Chekhov)
- A BLUNDER (Short story by Anton Chekhov
- The Little Orphan (Short story by Dostoevsky 1887)
- Brother Karamazov by DostoevskyChapter 4: The Confession of a Passionate Heart (excerpt)
- The Overcoat (1842) by N. Gogol (excerpt)
- Champagne (Short story by Anton Chekhov)
- The First-Class Passenger (Short story by Anton Chekhov)
- The Grand Inquisitor by Feodor Dostoevsky (excerpt) from Brother Karamazov
- The Cossacks by Tolstoy (excerpt from the beginning)
- How the Two Ivan’s Quarreled – Gogol (excerpt)
- Volodya (Short story by Anton Chekhov)
- The Lottery Ticket by Anton Chekhov
- The beginning of the “Village Headman” from “Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka ” by N. Gogol
- Anyuta (Short story by Anton Chekhov)
- BOOTS (Short story by Anton Chekhov)
BETWEEN nine and ten on a dark September evening the only son of the district doctor, Kirilov, a child of six, called Andrey, died of diphtheria. Just as the doctor’s wife sank on her knees by the dead child’s bedside and was overwhelmed by the first rush of despair there came a sharp ring at the bell in the entry.
All the servants had been sent out of the house that morning on account of the diphtheria. Kirilov went to open the door just as he was, without his coat on, with his waistcoat unbuttoned, without wiping his wet face or his hands which were scalded with carbolic. It was dark in the entry and nothing could be distinguished in the man who came in but medium height, a white scarf, and a large, extremely pale face, so pale that its entrance seemed to make the passage lighter.
“Is the doctor at home?” the newcomer asked quickly.
“I am at home,” answered Kirilov. “What do you want?”
“Oh, it’s you? I am very glad,” said the stranger in a tone of relief, and he began feeling in the dark for the doctor’s hand, found it and squeezed it tightly in his own. “I am very … very glad! We are acquainted. My name is Abogin, and I had the honour of meeting you in the summer at Gnutchev’s. I am very glad I have found you at home. For God’s sake don’t refuse to come back with me at once… . My wife has been taken dangerously ill… . And the carriage is waiting… . ”
From the voice and gestures of the speaker it could be seen that he was in a state of great excitement. Like a man terrified by a house on fire or a mad dog, he could hardly restrain his rapid breathing and spoke quickly in a shaking voice, and there was a note of unaffected sincerity and childish alarm in his voice. As people always do who are frightened and overwhelmed, he spoke in brief, jerky sentences and uttered a great many unnecessary, irrelevant words.
“I was afraid I might not find you in,” he went on. “I was in a perfect agony as I drove here. Put on your things and let us go, for God’s sake… . This is how it happened. Alexandr Semyonovitch Paptchinsky, whom you know, came to see me… . We talked a little and then we sat down to tea; suddenly my wife cried out, clutched at her heart, and fell back on her chair. We carried her to bed and … and I rubbed her forehead with ammonia and sprinkled her with water … she lay as though she were dead… . I am afraid it is aneurism… . Come along … her father died of aneurism.”
Kirilov listened and said nothing, as though he did not understand Russian.
When Abogin mentioned again Paptchinsky and his wife’s father and once more began feeling in the dark for his hand the doctor shook his head and said apathetically, dragging out each word:
“Excuse me, I cannot come … my son died … five minutes ago!”
“Is it possible!” whispered Abogin, stepping back a pace. “My God, at what an unlucky moment I have come! A wonderfully unhappy day … wonderfully. What a coincidence… . It’s as though it were on purpose!”
Abogin took hold of the door-handle and bowed his head. He was evidently hesitating and did not know what to do —whether to go away or to continue entreating the doctor.
“Listen,” he said fervently, catching hold of Kirilov’s sleeve. “I well understand your position! God is my witness that I am ashamed of attempting at such a moment to intrude on your attention, but what am I to do? Only think, to whom can I go? There is no other doctor here, you know. For God’s sake come! I am not asking you for myself… . I am not the patient!”
A silence followed. Kirilov turned his back on Abogin, stood still a moment, and slowly walked into the drawing-room. Judging from his unsteady, mechanical step, from the attention with which he set straight the fluffy shade on the unlighted lamp in the drawing-room and glanced into a thick book lying on the table, at that instant he had no intention, no desire, was thinking of nothing and most likely did not remember that there was a stranger in the entry. The twilight and stillness of the drawing-room seemed to increase his numbness. Going out of the drawing-room into his study he raised his right foot higher than was necessary, and felt for the doorposts with his hands, and as he did so there was an air of perplexity about his whole figure as though he were in somebody else’s house, or were drunk for the first time in his life and were now abandoning himself with surprise to the new sensation. A broad streak of light stretched across the bookcase on one wall of the study; this light came together with the close, heavy smell of carbolic and ether from the door into the bedroom, which stood a little way open… . The doctor sank into a low chair in front of the table; for a minute he stared drowsily at his books, which lay with the light on them, then got up and went into the bedroom.
Here in the bedroom reigned a dead silence. Everything to the smallest detail was eloquent of the storm that had been passed through, of exhaustion, and everything was at rest. A candle standing among a crowd of bottles, boxes, and pots on a stool and a big lamp on the chest of drawers threw a brilliant light over all the room. On the bed under the window lay a boy with open eyes and a look of wonder on his face. He did not move, but his open eyes seemed every moment growing darker and sinking further into his head. The mother was kneeling by the bed with her arms on his body and her head hidden in the bedclothes. Like the child, she did not stir; but what throbbing life was suggested in the curves of her body and in her arms! She leaned against the bed with all her being, pressing against it greedily with all her might, as though she were afraid of disturbing the peaceful and comfortable attitude she had found at last for her exhausted body. The bedclothes, the rags and bowls, the splashes of water on the floor, the little paint-brushes and spoons thrown down here and there, the white bottle of lime water, the very air, heavy and stifling — were all hushed and seemed plunged in repose.
The doctor stopped close to his wife, thrust his hands in his trouser pockets, and slanting his head on one side fixed his eyes on his son. His face bore an expression of indifference, and only from the drops that glittered on his beard it could be seen that he had just been crying.
That repellent horror which is thought of when we speak of death was absent from the room. In the numbness of everything, in the mother’s attitude, in the indifference on the doctor’s face there was something that attracted and touched the heart, that subtle, almost elusive beauty of human sorrow which men will not for a long time learn to understand and describe, and which it seems only music can convey. There was a feeling of beauty, too, in the austere stillness. Kirilov and his wife were silent and not weeping, as though besides the bitterness of their loss they were conscious, too, of all the tragedy of their position; just as once their youth had passed away, so now together with this boy their right to have children had gone for ever to all eternity! The doctor was forty-four, his hair was grey and he looked like an old man; his faded and invalid wife was thirty-five. Andrey was not merely the only child, but also the last child.
In contrast to his wife the doctor belonged to the class of people who at times of spiritual suffering feel a craving for movement. After standing for five minutes by his wife, he walked, raising his right foot high, from the bedroom into a little room which was half filled up by a big sofa; from there he went into the kitchen. After wandering by the stove and the cook’s bed he bent down and went by a little door into the passage.
There he saw again the white scarf and the white face.
“At last,” sighed Abogin, reaching towards the door-handle. “Let us go, please.”
The doctor started, glanced at him, and remembered… .
“Why, I have told you already that I can’t go!” he said, growing more animated. “How strange!”
“Doctor, I am not a stone, I fully understand your position … I feel for you,” Abogin said in an imploring voice, laying his hand on his scarf. “But I am not asking you for myself. My wife is dying. If you had heard that cry, if you had seen her face, you would understand my pertinacity. My God, I thought you had gone to get ready! Doctor, time is precious. Let us go, I entreat you.”
“I cannot go,” said Kirilov emphatically and he took a step into the drawing-room.
Abogin followed him and caught hold of his sleeve.
“You are in sorrow, I understand. But I’m not asking you to a case of toothache, or to a consultation, but to save a human life!” he went on entreating like a beggar. “Life comes before any personal sorrow! Come, I ask for courage, for heroism! For the love of humanity!”
“Humanity — that cuts both ways,” Kirilov said irritably. “In the name of humanity I beg you not to take me. And how queer it is, really! I can hardly stand and you talk to me about humanity! I am fit for nothing just now… . Nothing will induce me to go, and I can’t leave my wife alone. No, no … ”
Kirilov waved his hands and staggered back.
“And … and don’t ask me,” he went on in a tone of alarm. “Excuse me. By No. XIII of the regulations I am obliged to go and you have the right to drag me by my collar … drag me if you like, but … I am not fit … I can’t even speak … excuse me.”
“There is no need to take that tone to me, doctor!” said Abogin, again taking the doctor by his sleeve. “What do I care about No. XIII! To force you against your will I have no right whatever. If you will, come; if you will not — God forgive you; but I am not appealing to your will, but to your feelings. A young woman is dying. You were just speaking of the death of your son. Who should understand my horror if not you?”
Abogin’s voice quivered with emotion; that quiver and his tone were far more persuasive than his words. Abogin was sincere, but it was remarkable that whatever he said his words sounded stilted, soulless, and inappropriately flowery, and even seemed an outrage on the atmosphere of the doctor’s home and on the woman who was somewhere dying. He felt this himself, and so, afraid of not being understood, did his utmost to put softness and tenderness into his voice so that the sincerity of his tone might prevail if his words did not. As a rule, however fine and deep a phrase may be, it only affects the indifferent, and cannot fully satisfy those who are happy or unhappy; that is why dumbness is most often the highest expression of happiness or unhappiness; lovers understand each other better when they are silent, and a fervent, passionate speech delivered by the grave only touches outsiders, while to the widow and children of the dead man it seems cold and trivial.
Kirilov stood in silence. When Abogin uttered a few more phrases concerning the noble calling of a doctor, self-sacrifice, and so on, the doctor asked sullenly: “Is it far?”
“Something like eight or nine miles. I have capital horses, doctor! I give you my word of honour that I will get you there and back in an hour. Only one hour.”
These words had more effect on Kirilov than the appeals to humanity or the noble calling of the doctor. He thought a moment and said with a sigh: “Very well, let us go!”
He went rapidly with a more certain step to his study, and afterwards came back in a long frock-coat. Abogin, greatly relieved, fidgeted round him and scraped with his feet as he helped him on with his overcoat, and went out of the house with him.
It was dark out of doors, though lighter than in the entry. The tall, stooping figure of the doctor, with his long, narrow beard and aquiline nose, stood out distinctly in the darkness. Abogin’s big head and the little student’s cap that barely covered it could be seen now as well as his pale face. The scarf showed white only in front, behind it was hidden by his long hair.
“Believe me, I know how to appreciate your generosity,” Abogin muttered as he helped the doctor into the carriage. “We shall get there quickly. Drive as fast as you can, Luka, there’s a good fellow! Please!”
The coachman drove rapidly. At first there was a row of indistinct buildings that stretched alongside the hospital yard; it was dark everywhere except for a bright light from a window that gleamed through the fence into the furthest part of the yard while three windows of the upper storey of the hospital looked paler than the surrounding air. Then the carriage drove into dense shadow; here there was the smell of dampness and mushrooms, and the sound of rustling trees; the crows, awakened by the noise of the wheels, stirred among the foliage and uttered prolonged plaintive cries as though they knew the doctor’s son was dead and that Abogin’s wife was ill. Then came glimpses of separate trees, of bushes; a pond, on which great black shadows were slumbering, gleamed with a sullen light — and the carriage rolled over a smooth level ground. The clamour of the crows sounded dimly far away and soon ceased altogether.
Kirilov and Abogin were silent almost all the way. Only once Abogin heaved a deep sigh and muttered:
“It’s an agonizing state! One never loves those who are near one so much as when one is in danger of losing them.”
And when the carriage slowly drove over the river, Kirilov started all at once as though the splash of the water had frightened him, and made a movement.
“Listen — let me go,” he said miserably. “I’ll come to you later. I must just send my assistant to my wife. She is alone, you know!”
Abogin did not speak. The carriage swaying from side to side and crunching over the stones drove up the sandy bank and rolled on its way. Kirilov moved restlessly and looked about him in misery. Behind them in the dim light of the stars the road could be seen and the riverside willows vanishing into the darkness. On the right lay a plain as uniform and as boundless as the sky; here and there in the distance, probably on the peat marshes, dim lights were glimmering. On the left, parallel with the road, ran a hill tufted with small bushes, and above the hill stood motionless a big, red half-moon, slightly veiled with mist and encircled by tiny clouds, which seemed to be looking round at it from all sides and watching that it did not go away.
In all nature there seemed to be a feeling of hopelessness and pain. The earth, like a ruined woman sitting alone in a dark room and trying not to think of the past, was brooding over memories of spring and summer and apathetically waiting for the inevitable winter. Wherever one looked, on all sides, nature seemed like a dark, infinitely deep, cold pit from which neither Kirilov nor Abogin nor the red half-moon could escape… .
The nearer the carriage got to its goal the more impatient Abogin became. He kept moving, leaping up, looking over the coachman’s shoulder. And when at last the carriage stopped before the entrance, which was elegantly curtained with striped linen, and when he looked at the lighted windows of the second storey there was an audible catch in his breath.
“If anything happens … I shall not survive it,” he said, going into the hall with the doctor, and rubbing his hands in agitation. “But there is no commotion, so everything must be going well so far,” he added, listening in the stillness.
There was no sound in the hall of steps or voices and all the house seemed asleep in spite of the lighted windows. Now the doctor and Abogin, who till then had been in darkness, could see each other clearly. The doctor was tall and stooped, was untidily dressed and not good-looking. There was an unpleasantly harsh, morose, and unfriendly look about his lips, thick as a negro’s, his aquiline nose, and listless, apathetic eyes. His unkempt head and sunken temples, the premature greyness of his long, narrow beard through which his chin was visible, the pale grey hue of his skin and his careless, uncouth manners — the harshness of all this was suggestive of years of poverty, of ill fortune, of weariness with life and with men. Looking at his frigid figure one could hardly believe that this man had a wife, that he was capable of weeping over his child. Abogin presented a very different appearance. He was a thick-set, sturdy-looking, fair man with a big head and large, soft features; he was elegantly dressed in the very latest fashion. In his carriage, his closely buttoned coat, his long hair, and his face there was a suggestion of something generous, leonine; he walked with his head erect and his chest squared, he spoke in an agreeable baritone, and there was a shade of refined almost feminine elegance in the manner in which he took off his scarf and smoothed his hair. Even his paleness and the childlike terror with which he looked up at the stairs as he took off his coat did not detract from his dignity nor diminish the air of sleekness, health, and aplomb which characterized his whole figure.
“There is nobody and no sound,” he said going up the stairs. “There is no commotion. God grant all is well.”
He led the doctor through the hall into a big drawing-room where there was a black piano and a chandelier in a white cover; from there they both went into a very snug, pretty little drawing-room full of an agreeable, rosy twilight.
“Well, sit down here, doctor, and I … will be back directly. I will go and have a look and prepare them.”
Kirilov was left alone. The luxury of the drawing-room, the agreeably subdued light and his own presence in the stranger’s unfamiliar house, which had something of the character of an adventure, did not apparently affect him. He sat in a low chair and scrutinized his hands, which were burnt with carbolic. He only caught a passing glimpse of the bright red lamp-shade and the violoncello case, and glancing in the direction where the clock was ticking he noticed a stuffed wolf as substantial and sleek-looking as Abogin himself.
It was quiet… . Somewhere far away in the adjoining rooms someone uttered a loud exclamation:
“Ah!” There was a clang of a glass door, probably of a cupboard, and again all was still. After waiting five minutes Kirilov left off scrutinizing his hands and raised his eyes to the door by which Abogin had vanished.
In the doorway stood Abogin, but he was not the same as when he had gone out. The look of sleekness and refined elegance had disappeared — his face, his hands, his attitude were contorted by a revolting expression of something between horror and agonizing physical pain. His nose, his lips, his moustache, all his features were moving and seemed trying to tear themselves from his face, his eyes looked as though they were laughing with agony… .
Abogin took a heavy stride into the drawing-room, bent forward, moaned, and shook his fists.
“She has deceived me,” he cried, with a strong emphasis on the second syllable of the verb. “Deceived me, gone away. She fell ill and sent me for the doctor only to run away with that clown Paptchinsky! My God!”
Abogin took a heavy step towards the doctor, held out his soft white fists in his face, and shaking them went on yelling:
“Gone away! Deceived me! But why this deception? My God! My God! What need of this dirty, scoundrelly trick, this diabolical, snakish farce? What have I done to her? Gone away!”
Tears gushed from his eyes. He turned on one foot and began pacing up and down the drawing-room. Now in his short coat, his fashionable narrow trousers which made his legs look disproportionately slim, with his big head and long mane he was extremely like a lion. A gleam of curiosity came into the apathetic face of the doctor. He got up and looked at Abogin.
“Excuse me, where is the patient?” he said.
“The patient! The patient!” cried Abogin, laughing, crying, and still brandishing his fists. “She is not ill, but accursed! The baseness! The vileness! The devil himself could not have imagined anything more loathsome! She sent me off that she might run away with a buffoon, a dull-witted clown, an Alphonse! Oh God, better she had died! I cannot bear it! I cannot bear it!”
The doctor drew himself up. His eyes blinked and filled with tears, his narrow beard began moving to right and to left together with his jaw.
“Allow me to ask what’s the meaning of this?” he asked, looking round him with curiosity. “My child is dead, my wife is in grief alone in the whole house… . I myself can scarcely stand up, I have not slept for three nights… . And here I am forced to play a part in some vulgar farce, to play the part of a stage property! I don’t … don’t understand it!”
Abogin unclenched one fist, flung a crumpled note on the floor, and stamped on it as though it were an insect he wanted to crush.
“And I didn’t see, didn’t understand,” he said through his clenched teeth, brandishing one fist before his face with an expression as though some one had trodden on his corns. “I did not notice that he came every day! I did not notice that he came today in a closed carriage! What did he come in a closed carriage for? And I did not see it! Noodle!”
“I don’t understand … ” muttered the doctor. “Why, what’s the meaning of it? Why, it’s an outrage on personal dignity, a mockery of human suffering! It’s incredible… . It’s the first time in my life I have had such an experience!”
With the dull surprise of a man who has only just realized that he has been bitterly insulted the doctor shrugged his shoulders, flung wide his arms, and not knowing what to do or to say sank helplessly into a chair.
“If you have ceased to love me and love another — so be it; but why this deceit, why this vulgar, treacherous trick?”Abogin said in a tearful voice. “What is the object of it? And what is there to justify it? And what have I done to you? Listen, doctor,” he said hotly, going up to Kirilov. “You have been the involuntary witness of my misfortune and I am not going to conceal the truth from you. I swear that I loved the woman, loved her devotedly, like a slave! I have sacrificed everything for her; I have quarrelled with my own people, I have given up the service and music, I have forgiven her what I could not have forgiven my own mother or sister … I have never looked askance at her… . I have never gainsaid her in anything. Why this deception? I do not demand love, but why this loathsome duplicity? If she did not love me, why did she not say so openly, honestly, especially as she knows my views on the subject? … ”
With tears in his eyes, trembling all over, Abogin opened his heart to the doctor with perfect sincerity. He spoke warmly, pressing both hands on his heart, exposing the secrets of his private life without the faintest hesitation, and even seemed to be glad that at last these secrets were no longer pent up in his breast. If he had talked in this way for an hour or two, and opened his heart, he would undoubtedly have felt better. Who knows, if the doctor had listened to him and had sympathized with him like a friend, he might perhaps, as often happens, have reconciled himself to his trouble without protest, without doing anything needless and absurd… . But what happened was quite different. While Abogin was speaking the outraged doctor perceptibly changed. The indifference and wonder on his face gradually gave way to an expression of bitter resentment, indignation, and anger. The features of his face became even harsher, coarser, and more unpleasant. When Abogin held out before his eyes the photograph of a young woman with a handsome face as cold and expressionless as a nun’s and asked him whether, looking at that face, one could conceive that it was capable of duplicity, the doctor suddenly flew out, and with flashing eyes said, rudely rapping out each word:
“What are you telling me all this for? I have no desire to hear it! I have no desire to!” he shouted and brought his fist down on the table. “I don’t want your vulgar secrets! Damnation take them! Don’t dare to tell me of such vulgar doings! Do you consider that I have not been insulted enough already? That I am a flunkey whom you can insult without restraint? Is that it?”
Abogin staggered back from Kirilov and stared at him in amazement.
“Why did you bring me here?” the doctor went on, his beard quivering. “If you are so puffed up with good living that you go and get married and then act a farce like this, how do I come in? What have I to do with your love affairs? Leave me in peace! Go on squeezing money out of the poor in your gentlemanly way. Make a display of humane ideas, play (the doctor looked sideways at the violoncello case) play the bassoon and the trombone, grow as fat as capons, but don’t dare to insult personal dignity! If you cannot respect it, you might at least spare it your attention!”
“Excuse me, what does all this mean?” Abogin asked, flushing red.
“It means that it’s base and low to play with people like this! I am a doctor; you look upon doctors and people generally who work and don’t stink of perfume and prostitution as your menials and mauvais ton; well, you may look upon them so, but no one has given you the right to treat a man who is suffering as a stage property!”
“How dare you say that to me!” Abogin said quietly, and his face began working again, and this time unmistakably from anger.
“No, how dared you, knowing of my sorrow, bring me here to listen to these vulgarities!” shouted the doctor, and he again banged on the table with his fist. “Who has given you the right to make a mockery of another man’s sorrow?”
“You have taken leave of your senses,” shouted Abogin. “It is ungenerous. I am intensely unhappy myself and … and … ”
“Unhappy!” said the doctor, with a smile of contempt. “Don’t utter that word, it does not concern you. The spendthrift who cannot raise a loan calls himself unhappy, too. The capon, sluggish from over-feeding, is unhappy, too. Worthless people!”
“Sir, you forget yourself,” shrieked Abogin. “For saying things like that … people are thrashed! Do you understand?”
Abogin hurriedly felt in his side pocket, pulled out a pocket-book, and extracting two notes flung them on the table.
“Here is the fee for your visit,” he said, his nostrils dilating. “You are paid.”
“How dare you offer me money?” shouted the doctor and he brushed the notes off the table on to the floor. “An insult cannot be paid for in money!”
Abogin and the doctor stood face to face, and in their wrath continued flinging undeserved insults at each other. I believe that never in their lives, even in delirium, had they uttered so much that was unjust, cruel, and absurd. The egoism of the unhappy was conspicuous in both. The unhappy are egoistic, spiteful, unjust, cruel, and less capable of understanding each other than fools. Unhappiness does not bring people together but draws them apart, and even where one would fancy people should be united by the similarity of their sorrow, far more injustice and cruelty is generated than in comparatively placid surroundings.
“Kindly let me go home!” shouted the doctor, breathing hard.
Abogin rang the bell sharply. When no one came to answer the bell he rang again and angrily flung the bell on the floor; it fell on the carpet with a muffled sound, and uttered a plaintive note as though at the point of death. A footman came in.
“Where have you been hiding yourself, the devil take you?” His master flew at him, clenching his fists. “Where were you just now? Go and tell them to bring the victoria round for this gentleman, and order the closed carriage to be got ready for me. Stay,” he cried as the footman turned to go out. “I won’t have a single traitor in the house by tomorrow! Away with you all! I will engage fresh servants! Reptiles!”
Abogin and the doctor remained in silence waiting for the carriage. The first regained his expression of sleekness and his refined elegance. He paced up and down the room, tossed his head elegantly, and was evidently meditating on something. His anger had not cooled, but he tried to appear not to notice his enemy… . The doctor stood, leaning with one hand on the edge of the table, and looked at Abogin with that profound and somewhat cynical, ugly contempt only to be found in the eyes of sorrow and indigence when they are confronted with well-nourished comfort and elegance.
When a little later the doctor got into the victoria and drove off there was still a look of contempt in his eyes. It was dark, much darker than it had been an hour before. The red half-moon had sunk behind the hill and the clouds that had been guarding it lay in dark patches near the stars. The carriage with red lamps rattled along the road and soon overtook the doctor. It was Abogin driving off to protest, to do absurd things… .
All the way home the doctor thought not of his wife, nor of his Andrey, but of Abogin and the people in the house he had just left. His thoughts were unjust and inhumanly cruel. He condemned Abogin and his wife and Paptchinsky and all who lived in rosy, subdued light among sweet perfumes, and all the way home he hated and despised them till his head ached. And a firm conviction concerning those people took shape in his mind.
Time will pass and Kirilov’s sorrow will pass, but that conviction, unjust and unworthy of the human heart, will not pass, but will remain in the doctor’s mind to the grave.
View of Odessa by moonlight - Aivazovsky
Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky was born in the family of a merchant of Armenian origin in the town of Feodosia, Crimea. His parents were under strained circumstances and he spent his childhood in poverty. With the help of people who had noticed the talented youth, he entered the Simpheropol gymnasium, and then the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts, where he took the landscape painting course and was especially interested in marine landscapes. In the autumn of 1836 Aivazovsky presented 5 marine pictures to the Academic exhibition, which were highly appreciated. In 1837, Aivazovsky received the Major Gold Medal for Calm in the Gulf of Finland (1836) and The Great Roads at Kronstadt (1836), which allowed him to go on a long study trip abroad. However the artist first went to the Crimea to perfect himself in his chosen genre by painting the sea and views of Crimean coastal towns.
During the period of 1840-1844 Aivazovsky, as a pensioner of the Academy of Arts, spent time in Italy, traveled to Germany, France, Spain, and Holland. He worked much and had many exhibitions, meeting everywhere with success. He painted a lot of marine landscapes, which became very popular in Italy: The Bay of Naples by Moonlight (1842), Seashore. Calm (1843), Malta. Valetto Harbour (1844). His works were highly appreciated by J.W.M. Turner, a prominent English landscape and marine painter. In the course of his work, Aivazovsky evolved his own method of depicting the motion of the sea – from memory, without preliminary sketches, limiting himself to rough pencil outlines. Aivazovsky’s phenomenal memory and romantic imagination allowed him to do all this with incomparable brilliance. The development of this new method reflected the spirit of the age, when the ever-increasing romantic tendencies put an artist’s imagination to the front.
When in 1844 the artist returned to St. Petersburg, he was awarded the title of Academician, and became attached to the General Naval Headquarters. This allowed him to travel much with Russian fleet expeditions on different missions; he visited Turkey, Greece, Egypt, America. From 1846 to 1848 he painted several canvases with naval warfare as the subject; the pictures portrayed historical battles of the Russian Fleet The Battle of Chesme (1848), The Battle in the Chios Channel (1848), Meeting of the Brig Mercury with the Russian Squadron… (1848).
Towards the 1850s the romantic features in Aivazovsky’s work became increasingly pronounced. This can be seen quite clearly in one of his best and most famous paintings The Tenth Wave (1850) and also in Moonlit Night (1849), The Sea. Koktebel. (1853), Storm (1854) and others.
The process, which determined the development of Russian art in the second half of the 19th century, also affected Aivazovsky. A new and consistently realistic tendency appeared in his work, although the romantic features still remained.
The artist’s greatest achievement of this period is The Black Sea (1881), a picture showing the nature of the sea, eternally alive, always in motion. Other important pictures of the late years are The Rainbow (1873), Shipwreck (1876), The Billow (1889), The Mary Caught in a Storm (1892).
Aivazovsky left more than 6000 pictures, which are of very different value. There are masterpieces and there are very timid works. He failed to draw landscapes, could not draw a man. Aivazovsky got good commissions and became rich. He spent much money for charity, especially for his native town, he opened in Feodosia the first School of Arts (in 1865), then the Art Gallery (in 1889). He was a member of Academies of Stuttgart, Florence, Rome and Amsterdam.
Will zu Hause nicht versauern,
Führe mich doch aus dem Haus,
In die Welt, wo Lärm und Braus,
Wo die Mädchen Lieder singen,
Wo die Burschen lustig springen.
(Aus einer alten Legende)
Wie erquickend, wie herrlich ist so ein Sommertag in Kleinrußland. Wie ermattend heiß sind die Stunden, wenn der Mittag in Stille und Glut strahlt und der blaue, unermeßliche Ozean, der wie eine Kuppel von Wollust über der Erde schwebt, ganz versunken in Wonne, zu schlafen scheint, die Schöne mit seinen luftigen Armen umfangend und erdrückend! Keine Wolke steht auf ihm; kein Wort erschallt im Felde. Alles ist wie gestorben; nur oben in der Himmelstiefe zittert der Lerchensang, und die silbernen Lieder fliegen die luftigen Stufen zur verliebten Erde herab; nur ab und zu hört man den Schrei einer Möwe oder die helle Stimme einer Wachtel, die in der Steppe widerhallt. Träge und gedankenlos, wie Wandelnde ohne Ziel, stehen die in die Wolken ragenden Eichen, und die blendenden Blitze der Sonnenstrahlen entzünden auf einmal ganze Massen des malerischen Laubes und werfen auf andere einen Schatten so schwarz wie die Nacht, in dem nur bei starkem Winde goldene Funken aufleuchten. Smaragde, Topase und Saphire der ätherischen Insekten schwirren über den bunten, von stolzen Sonnenblumen überragten Gemüsegärten. Graue Heuschober und goldene Korngarben lagern wie ein Kriegsheer auf dem Felde, wie Nomaden auf seinem unermeßlichen Räume. Die unter der Last der Früchte sich beugenden breiten Äste der Kirsch-, Pflaumen-, Apfel- und Birnbäume, der Himmel und sein klarer Spiegel, der Fluß in seinem grünen, stolz erhobenen Rahmen … wie voll Wollust und Wonne ist der kleinrussische Sommer!
In solchem Prunk glänzte einer der heißen Augusttage des Jahres achtzehnhundert … achtzehnhundert … ja, es werden wohl dreißig Jahre her sein, als die Straße schon zehn Werst vor dem Flecken Ssorotschinzy vom Volke wimmelte, das von allen nahen und fernen Vorwerken zum Jahrmarkt eilte. Schon seit dem frühen Morgen zogen sich in endloser Reihe die Ochsenkarren mit Salz und Fischen hin. Ganze Berge von in Heu verpackten Töpfen bewegten sich langsam und schienen sich in ihrem dunklen Kerker zu langweilen; nur hie und da guckte eine grellbemalte Schüssel oder ein Mohntopf prahlerisch aus dem hoch über den Wagen gespannten Flechtwerk hervor und zog die gerührten Blicke der Freunde von Luxus auf sich. Viele der Vorübergehenden blickten neidisch den hochgewachsenen Töpfer an, den Besitzer dieser Schätze, der seinen Waren mit langsamen Schritten folgte und seine tönernen Gecken und Koketten sorgfältig in das ihnen so verhaßte Heu einwickelte.
Abseits schleppte sich ein einsamer, von müden Ochsen gezogener, mit Säcken, Hanf, Leinwand und allerlei Hausrat beladener Wagen, dem sein Besitzer in reinem Leinenhemd und schmutziger Leinenhose folgte. Mit träger Hand wischte er sich den Schweiß ab, der in Strömen von seinem braunen Gesicht lief und sogar von seinem langen Schnurrbart tropfte, der von jenem unerbittlichen Friseur gepudert war, der ungerufen zu jeder Schönen und zu jedem Krüppel kommt und schon seit einigen Jahrtausenden das ganze menschliche Geschlecht gewaltsam pudert. Neben ihm schritt eine an den Wagen gebundene Stute, deren demütiges Aussehen von ihrem hohen Alter zeugte. Viele von den Leuten, besonders die jungen Burschen, griffen nach den Mützen, wenn sie diesen Mann einholten. Es war aber weder sein Schnurrbart noch sein würdiger Gang, was sie dazu trieb; man brauchte nur die Augen ein wenig zu heben, um den Grund dieser Hochachtung zu sehen: oben auf dem Wagen saß die hübsche Tochter mit dem runden Gesichtchen, den schwarzen Brauen, die sich wie runde Bogen über ihren heiteren braunen Augen wölbten, mit den sorglos lächelnden rosa Lippchen, mit den roten und blauen Bändern auf dem Kopfe, die zusammen mit den langen Zöpfen und einem Strauß von Feldblumen als eine reiche Krone auf ihrem entzückenden Köpfchen ruhten. Alles schien sie zu beschäftigen; alles war ihr neu und wunderbar … und die hübschen Äuglein liefen fortwährend von einem Ding zum anderen. Wie sollte sie sich auch nicht zerstreuen! Zum ersten Male auf dem Jahrmarkte! Ein achtzehnjähriges Mädchen zum ersten Male auf dem Jahrmarkte! … Aber keiner von all den Leuten, die zu Fuß und zu Wagen vorbeizogen, wußte, welche Mühe es sie gekostet hatte, beim Vater durchzusetzen, daß er sie mitnehme; er hätte es auch herzlich gern getan, wenn die böse Stiefmutter nicht wäre, die sich angewöhnt hatte, ihn ebenso geschickt zu lenken, wie er seine alte Stute, die jetzt zum Lohne für ihren langen Dienst verkauft werden sollte. Die energische Gattin … Aber wir haben vergessen, daß auch sie hoch oben auf dem Wagen thronte in einer schmucken grünwollenen Jacke, die wie Hermelin mit kleinen Schwänzchen besetzt war, nur daß diese Schwänzchen von roter Farbe waren; sie trug auch noch einen Rock, so bunt wie ein Schachbrett, und ein farbiges Häubchen aus Kattun, das ihrem roten vollen Gesicht eine besondere Würde verlieh, dem Gesicht, das zuweilen einen so unangenehmen, so wilden Ausdruck zeigte, daß jeder sich sofort beeilte, den entsetzten Blick auf das lustige Gesichtchen der Tochter zu richten.
Vor den Augen unserer Reisenden lag bereits der Psjol; schon wehte aus der Ferne eine Kühle, die nach der ermattenden, versengenden Hitze um so fühlbarer war. Durch die dunkel- und hellgrünen Blätter der auf der Wiese verstreuten Weiden, Birken und Pappeln leuchteten feurige, doch kalte Funken, und der schöne Fluß entblößte strahlend seine silberne Brust, auf die die grünen Locken der Bäume üppig herabfielen. So launisch, wie eine Schöne in den herrlichen Stunden, wenn der treue, so beneidenswerte Spiegel ihr stolzes und blendendes, strahlendes Haupt, ihre lilienweißen Schultern und den marmornen, von einer dunklen, vom blonden Kopf herabfallenden Haarflut beschatteten Hals einschließt, wenn sie verächtlich ihre Schmucksachen von sich wirft, um sie durch andere zu ersetzen, und ihre Launen kein Ende nehmen wollen, – so wechselt auch der Strom jedes Jahr seine Umgebung, wählt einen neuen Weg und umgibt sich mit neuen, abwechslungsreichen Landschaften. Die Reihen der Mühlen hoben die breiten Wellen auf ihre schweren Räder, warfen sie mächtig zurück, zerschlugen sie zu Wasserstaub und erfüllten mit diesem Staube und dem Lärm die ganze Umgebung. Der Wagen mit unseren Bekannten fuhr um diese Zeit über die Brücke, und der Fluß bot sich ihren Blicken in seiner ganzen Pracht und Größe wie ein einziges Stück Glas. Der Himmel, die grünen und blauen Wälder, die Menschen, die Wagen mit den Töpfen, die Brücken – alles stand auf einmal auf dem Kopfe und bewegte sich mit den Füßen nach oben, ohne in den blauen herrlichen Abgrund zu stürzen. Unsere Schöne wurde beim herrlichen Anblick nachdenklich und vergaß sogar, ihre Sonnenblumenkerne zu knacken, mit denen sie sich während der ganzen Fahrt mit großem Eifer beschäftigt hatte, als plötzlich die Worte: »Ei, was für ein Mädel!« an ihr Ohr schlugen. Sie wandte sich um und sah einen Haufen Burschen auf der Brücke stehen, von denen der eine, der etwas feiner gekleidet war als die anderen, einen weißen Kittel trug und eine graue Lammfellmütze aufhatte, die Hände in die Hüften gestemmt, kühn die Vorüberfahrenden ansah. Die Schöne konnte nicht umhin, sein sonnverbranntes, doch anmutiges Gesicht und seine feurigen Augen zu bemerken, die sie durchbohren wollten, und schlug die Augen nieder beim Gedanken, daß er vielleicht die Worte gesprochen, die sie gehört hatte. »Ein feines Mädel!« fuhr der Bursche im weißen Kittel fort, ohne ein Auge von ihr zu wenden. »Ich würde meine ganze Wirtschaft darum geben, wenn ich sie nur einmal küssen könnte!« Von allen Seiten erhob sich Gelächter; aber diese Begrüßung gefiel der aufgeputzten Lebensgefährtin des langsam dahinschreitenden Gemahls recht wenig; ihre roten Wangen wurden zu feuerroten, und ein Geprassel auserlesener Worte regnete auf den Kopf des lustigen Burschen herab.
»Ersticken sollst du, nichtsnutziger Barkenschlepper! Ein Topf möge deinem Vater auf den Schädel fallen! Auf dem Eise möge er ausgleiten! der verdammte Antichrist! Der Teufel möge ihm in jener Welt den Bart anbrennen!«
»Hört nur, wie die schimpft!« sagte der Bursche, sie anstarrend, gleichsam verblüfft durch eine so starke Salve unerwarteter Begrüßungen. »Wie tut bloß der hundertjährigen Hexe bei solchen Worten die Zunge nicht weh!«
»Der hundertjährigen…!« fiel die bejahrte Schöne ein. »Ruchloser, geh und wasch dich zuerst! Du unnützer Lump! Ich habe deine Mutter nie gesehen, aber ich weiß, daß auch sie nichts taugt. Auch dein Vater und deine Tante sind ein Gesindel! Der hundertjährigen!… er ist hinter den Ohren noch nicht trocken…«
In diesem Augenblick fing der Wagen an, von der Brücke herunterzufahren, und die letzten Worte waren nicht mehr zu verstehen; aber der Bursche wollte offenbar noch nicht aufhören: ohne sich lange zu besinnen, packte er einen Klumpen Schmutz und warf ihn ihr nach. Der Wurf war gelungener, als man hätte erwarten können: die ganze neue Kattunhaube wurde mit dem Schmutz bespritzt, und das Lachen der ausgelassenen Nichtstuer tönte mit doppelter Kraft. Die wohlbeleibte Kokette entbrannte vor Zorn; aber der Wagen war indessen schon ziemlich weit weggefahren, und ihre Rache wandte sich gegen die unschuldige Stieftochter und den langsamen Gatten, der, da er an solche Erscheinungen längst gewöhnt war, hartnäckiges Schweigen bewahrte und die aufrührerischen Reden der erzürnten Gattin kaltblütig hinnahm. Trotzdem knatterte und arbeitete ihre unermüdliche Zunge so lange, bis sie endlich in der Vorstadt bei ihrem alten Bekannten und Gevatter Zybulja anlangten. Die Begegnung mit dem Gevatter, den sie lange nicht mehr gesehen hatten, vertrieb für eine Zeitlang das unangenehme Erlebnis aus ihrem Sinn, indem sie unsere Reisenden veranlaßte, von dem Jahrmarkt zu sprechen und nach der langen Reise auszuruhen.
Mein Gott, du lieber Gott! Was gibt
es nicht alles auf so einem Jahrmarkt!
Räder, Glas, Teer, Tabak, Riemen,
Zwiebeln, Waren aller Art … und
wenn ich auch dreißig Rubel in der
Tasche hätte, könnte ich den ganzen
Jahrmarkt doch nicht aufkaufen.
(Aus einem kleinrussischen Lustspiele)
Ihr habt wohl sicher einmal gehört, wie irgendwo in der Ferne ein Wasserfall herabstürzt, die ganze aufgestörte Umgebung mit Dröhnen erfüllend, so daß ein Chaos wunderlicher, unbestimmter Töne vor euch wirbelt. Nicht wahr, die gleichen Empfindungen erfassen euch plötzlich im Strudel eines ländlichen Jahrmarkts, wenn das ganze Volk zu einem einzigen Ungeheuer verschmilzt, das sich mit seinem ganzen Leibe über den Platz und die engen Gassen bewegt, schreit, tobt und johlt. Lärmen, Fluchen, Brüllen, Meckern, Blöken – alles fließt zu einem einzigen unharmonischen Geräusch zusammen. Ochsen, Säcke, Heu, Zigeuner, Töpfe, Weiber, Pfefferkuchen, Mützen – alles wirbelt in grellen, bunten unordentlichen Haufen und flimmert vor den Augen. Verschiedenstimmige Reden ertränken einander, und kein einziges Wort kann dieser Sintflut entgehen; kein einziger Schrei kann deutlich vernommen werden. Man hört nur an allen Enden und Ecken des Jahrmarkts den den Kauf besiegelnden Handschlag der Händler. Ein Wagen zerbricht, Eisen klirrt…..(excerpt)
Poprischin. Painting by Ilya Repin in 1882
This is the madman of Gogol
This 19th-century author created “some of the most colorful and haunting fiction of his century” (Kirkus Reviews). And with his special blend of comedy, social commentary, and fantasy, he paved the way for Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky.
October 3rd. — A strange occurrence has taken place today. I got up fairly late, and when Mawra brought me my clean boots, I asked her how late it was. When I heard it had long struck ten, I dressed as quickly as possible.
To tell the truth, I would rather not have gone to the office at all today, for I know beforehand that our department-chief will look as sour as vinegar. For some time past he has been in the habit of saying to me, “Look here, my friend; there is something wrong with your head. You often rush about as though you were possessed. Then you make such confused abstracts of the documents that the devil himself cannot make them out; you write the title without any capital letters, and add neither the date nor the docket-number.” The long-legged scoundrel! He is certainly envious of me, because I sit in the director’s work-room, and mend His Excellency’s pens. In a word, I should not have gone to the office if I had not hoped to meet the accountant, and perhaps squeeze a little advance out of this skinflint.
A terrible man, this accountant! As for his advancing one’s salary once in a way — you might sooner expect the skies to fall. You may beg and beseech him, and be on the very verge of ruin — this grey devil won’t budge an inch. At the same time, his own cook at home, as all the world knows, boxes his ears.
I really don’t see what good one gets by serving in our department. There are no plums there. In the fiscal and judicial offices it is quite different. There some ungainly fellow sits in a corner and writes and writes; he has such a shabby coat and such an ugly mug that one would like to spit on both of them. But you should see what a splendid country-house he has rented. He would not condescend to accept a gilt porcelain cup as a present. “You can give that to your family doctor,” he would say. Nothing less than a pair of chestnut horses, a fine carriage, or a beaver-fur coat worth three hundred roubles would be good enough for him. And yet he seems so mild and quiet, and asks so amiably, “Please lend me your penknife; I wish to mend my pen.” Nevertheless, he knows how to scarify a petitioner till he has hardly a whole stitch left on his body.
In our office it must be admitted everything is done in a proper and gentlemanly way; there is more cleanness and elegance than one will ever find in Government offices. The tables are mahogany, and everyone is addressed as “sir.” And truly, were it not for this official propriety, I should long ago have sent in my resignation.
I put on my old cloak, and took my umbrella, as a light rain was falling. No one was to be seen on the streets except some women, who had flung their skirts over their heads. Here and there one saw a cabman or a shopman with his umbrella up. Of the higher classes one only saw an official here and there. One I saw at the street-crossing, and thought to myself, “Ah! my friend, you are not going to the office, but after that young lady who walks in front of you. You are just like the officers who run after every petticoat they see.”
As I was thus following the train of my thoughts, I saw a carriage stop before a shop just as I was passing it. I recognised it at once; it was our director’s carriage. “He has nothing to do in the shop,” I said to myself; “it must be his daughter.”
I pressed myself close against the wall. A lackey opened the carriage door, and, as I had expected, she fluttered like a bird out of it. How proudly she looked right and left; how she drew her eyebrows together, and shot lightnings from her eyes— good heavens! I am lost, hopelessly lost!
But why must she come out in such abominable weather? And yet they say women are so mad on their finery!
She did not recognise me. I had wrapped myself as closely as possible in my cloak. It was dirty and old-fashioned, and I would not have liked to have been seen by her wearing it. Now they wear cloaks with long collars, but mine has only a short double collar, and the cloth is of inferior quality.
Her little dog could not get into the shop, and remained outside. I know this dog; its name is “Meggy.”
Before I had been standing there a minute, I heard a voice call, “Good day, Meggy!”
Who the deuce was that? I looked round and saw two ladies hurrying by under an umbrella — one old, the other fairly young. They had already passed me when I heard the same voice say again, “For shame, Meggy!”
What was that? I saw Meggy sniffing at a dog which ran behind the ladies. The deuce! I thought to myself, “I am not drunk? That happens pretty seldom.”
“No, Fidel, you are wrong,” I heard Meggy say quite distinctly. “I was — bow — wow! — I was — bow! wow! wow! — very ill.”
What an extraordinary dog! I was, to tell the truth, quite amazed to hear it talk human language. But when I considered the matter well, I ceased to be astonished. In fact, such things have already happened in the world. It is said that in England a fish put its head out of water and said a word or two in such an extraordinary language that learned men have been puzzling over them for three years, and have not succeeded in interpreting them yet. I also read in the paper of two cows who entered a shop and asked for a pound of tea.
Meanwhile what Meggy went on to say seemed to me still more remarkable. She added, “I wrote to you lately, Fidel; perhaps Polkan did not bring you the letter.”
Now I am willing to forfeit a whole month’s salary if I ever heard of dogs writing before. This has certainly astonished me. For some little time past I hear and see things which no other man has heard and seen.
“I will,” I thought, “follow that dog in order to get to the bottom of the matter, Accordingly, I opened my umbrella and went after the two ladies. They went down Bean Street, turned through Citizen Street and Carpenter Street, and finally halted on the Cuckoo Bridge before a large house. I know this house; it is Sverkoff’s. What a monster he is! What sort of people live there! How many cooks, how many bagmen! There are brother officials of mine also there packed on each other like herrings. And I have a friend there, a fine player on the cornet.”
The ladies mounted to the fifth story. “Very good,” thought I; “I will make a note of the number, in order to follow up the matter at the first opportunity.”
October 11h. — To-day is Wednesday, and I was as usual in the office. I came early on purpose, sat down, and mended all the pens.
Our director must be a very clever man. The whole room is full of bookcases. I read the titles of some of the books; they were very learned, beyond the comprehension of people of my class, and all in French and German. I look at his face; see! how much dignity there is in his eyes. I never hear a single superfluous word from his mouth, except that when he hands over the documents, he asks “What sort of weather is it?”
No, he is not a man of our class; he is a real statesman. I have already noticed that I am a special favourite of his. If now his daughter also — ah! what folly — let me say no more about it!
I have read the Northern Bee. What foolish people the French are! By heavens! I should like to tackle them all, and give them a thrashing. I have also read a fine description of a ball given by a landowner of Kursk. The land-owners of Kursk write a fine style.
Then I noticed that it was already half-past twelve, and the director had not yet left his bedroom. But about half-past one something happened which no pen can describe.
The door opened. I thought it was the director; I jumped up with my documents from the seat, and — then — she — herself —came into the room. Ye saints! how beautifully she was dressed. Her garments were whiter than a swan’s plumage — oh how splendid! A sun, indeed, a real sun!
She greeted me and asked, “Has not my father come yet?”
Ah! what a voice. A canary bird! A real canary bird!
“Your Excellency,” I wanted to exclaim, “don’t have me executed, but if it must be done, then kill me rather with your own angelic hand.” But, God knows why, I could not bring it out, so I only said, “No, he has not come yet.”
She glanced at me, looked at the books, and let her handkerchief fall. Instantly I started up, but slipped on the infernal polished floor, and nearly broke my nose. Still I succeeded in picking up the handkerchief. Ye heavenly choirs, what a handkerchief! So tender and soft, of the finest cambric. It had the scent of a general’s rank!
She thanked me, and smiled so amiably that her sugar lips nearly melted. Then she left the room.
After I had sat there about an hour, a flunkey came in and said, “You can go home, Mr Ivanovitch; the director has already gone out!”
I cannot stand these lackeys! They hang about the vestibules, and scarcely vouchsafe to greet one with a nod. Yes, sometimes it is even worse; once one of these rascals offered me his snuff-box without even getting up from his chair.“Don’t you know then, you country-bumpkin, that I am an official and of aristocratic birth?”
This time, however, I took my hat and over-coat quietly; these people naturally never think of helping one on with it. I went home, lay a good while on the bed, and wrote some verses in my note :
“’Tis an hour since I saw thee,
And it seems a whole long year;
If I loathe my own existence,
How can I live on, my dear?”
I think they are by Pushkin.
In the evening I wrapped myself in my cloak, hastened to the director’s house, and waited there a long time to see if she would come out and get into the carriage. I only wanted to see her once, but she did not come.
November 6th. — Our chief clerk has gone mad. When I came to the office today he called me to his room and began as follows : “Look here, my friend, what wild ideas have got into your head?”
“How! What? None at all,” I answered.
“Consider well. You are already past forty; it is quite time to be reasonable. What do you imagine? Do you think I don’t know all your tricks? Are you trying to pay court to the director’s daughter? Look at yourself and realise what you are! A nonentity, nothing else. I would not give a kopeck for you. Look well in the glass. How can you have such thoughts with such a caricature of a face?”
May the devil take him! Because his own face has a certain resemblance to a medicine-bottle, because he has a curly bush of hair on his head, and sometimes combs it upwards, and sometimes plasters it down in all kinds of queer ways, he thinks that he can do everything. I know well, I know why he is angry with me. He is envious; perhaps he has noticed the tokens of favour which have been graciously shown me. But why should I bother about him? A councillor! What sort of important animal is that? He wears a gold chain with his watch, buys himself boots at thirty roubles a pair; may the deuce take him! Am I a tailor’s son or some other obscure cabbage? I am a nobleman! I can also work my way up. I am just forty-two — an age when a man’s real career generally begins. Wait a bit, my friend! I too may get to a superior’s rank; or perhaps, if God is gracious, even to a higher one, I shall make a name which will far outstrip yours. You think there are no able men except yourself? I only need to order a fashionable coat and wear a tie like yours, and you would be quite eclipsed.
But I have no money — that is the worst part of it!
November 8th. — I was at the theatre. “The Russian House–Fool” was performed. I laughed heartily. There was also a kind of musical comedy which contained amusing hits at barristers. The language was very broad; I wonder the censor passed it. In the comedy lines occur which accuse the merchants of cheating; their sons are said to lead immoral lives, and to behave very disrespectfully towards the nobility.
The critics also are criticised; they are said only to be able to find fault, so that authors have to beg the public for protection.
Our modern dramatists certainly write amusing things. I am very fond of the theatre. If I have only a kopeck in my pocket, I always go there. Most of my fellow-officials are uneducated boors, and never enter a theatre unless one throws free tickets at their head.
One actress sang divinely. I thought also of — but silence!
November 9th. — About eight o’clock I went to the office. The chief clerk pretended not to notice my arrival. I for my part also behaved as though he were not in existence. I read through and collated documents. About four o’clock I left. I passed by the director’s house, but no one was to be seen. After dinner I lay for a good while on the bed.
November 11th. — To-day I sat in the director’s room, mended twenty-three pens for him, and for Her — for Her Excellence, his daughter, four more.
The director likes to see many pens lying on his table. What a head he must have! He continually wraps himself in silence, but I don’t think the smallest trifle escapes his eye. I should like to know what he is generally thinking of, what is really going on in this brain; I should like to get acquainted with the whole manner of life of these gentlemen, and get a closer view of their cunning courtiers’ arts, and all the activities of these circles. I have often thought of asking His Excellence about them; but — the deuce knows why! — every time my tongue failed me and I could get nothing out but my meteorological report.
I wish I could get a look into the spare room whose door I so often see open. And a second small room behind the spare room excites my curiosity. How splendidly it is fitted up; what a quantity of mirrors and choice china it contains! I should also like to cast a glance into those regions where Her Excellency, the daughter, wields the sceptre. I should like to see how all the scent-bottles and boxes are arranged in her boudoir, and the flowers which exhale so delicious a scent that one is half afraid to breathe. And her clothes lying about which are too ethereal to be called clothes — but silence!
To-day there came to me what seemed a heavenly inspiration. I remembered the conversation between the two dogs which I had over — heard on the Nevski Prospect. “Very good,” I thought; “now I see my way clear. I must get hold of the correspondence which these two silly dogs have carried on with each other. In it I shall probably find many things explained.”
I had already once called Meggy to me and said to her, “Listen, Meggy! Now we are alone together; if you like, I will also. shut the door so that no one can see us. Tell me now all that you know about your mistress. I swear to you that I will tell no one.”
But the cunning dog drew in its tail, ruffled up its hair, and went quite quietly out of the door, as though it had heard nothing.
I had long been of the opinion that dogs are much cleverer than men. I also believed that they could talk, and that only a certain obstinacy kept them from doing so. They are especially watchful animals, and nothing escapes their observation. Now, cost what it may, I will go tomorrow to Sverkoff’s house in order to ask after Fidel, and if I have luck, to get hold of all the letters which Meggy has written to her.
November 12th. — To-day about two o’clock in the afternoon I started in order, by some means or other, to see Fidel and question her.
I cannot stand this smell of Sauerkraut which assails one’s olfactory nerves from all the shops in Citizen Street. There also exhales such an odour from under each house door, that one must hold one’s nose and pass by quickly. There ascends also so much smoke and soot from the artisans’ shops that it is almost impossible to get through it.
When I had climbed up to the sixth story, and had rung the bell, a rather pretty girl with a freckled face came out. I recognised her as the companion of the old lady. She blushed a little and asked “What do you want?”
“I want to have a little conversation with your dog.”
She was a simple-minded girl, as I saw at once. The dog came running and barking loudly. I wanted to take hold of it, but the abominable beast nearly caught hold of my nose with its teeth. But in a corner of the room I saw its sleeping-basket. Ah! that was what I wanted. I went to it, rummaged in the straw, and to my great satisfaction drew out a little packet of small pieces of paper. When the hideous little dog saw this, it first bit me in the calf of the leg, and then, as soon as it had become aware of my theft, it began to whimper and to fawn on me; but I said, “No, you little beast; good-bye!” and hastened away.
I believe the girl thought me mad; at any rate she was thoroughly alarmed.
When I reached my room I wished to get to work at once, and read through the letters by daylight, since I do not see well by candle-light; but the wretched Mawra had got the idea of sweeping the floor. These blockheads of Finnish women are always clean where there is no need to be.
I then went for a little walk and began to think over what had happened. Now at last I could get to the bottom of all facts, ideas and motives! These letters would explain everything. Dogs are clever fellows; they know all about politics, and I will certainly find in the letters all I want, especially the character of the director and all his relationships. And through these letters I will get information about her who — but silence!
Towards evening I came home and lay for a good while on the bed.
November 13th. — Now let us see! The letter is fairly legible but the handwriting is somewhat doggish.
“Dear Fidel!— I cannot get accustomed to your ordinary name, as if they could not have found a better one for you! Fidel! How tasteless! How ordinary! But this is sot the time to discuss it. I am very glad that we thought of corresponding with each other.”
(The letter is quite correctly written. The punctuation and spelling are perfectly right. Even our head clerk does not write so simply and clearly, though he declares he has been at the University. Let us go on.)
“I think that it is one of the most refined joys of this world to interchange thoughts, feelings, and impressions.”
(H’m! This idea comes from some book which has been translated from German. I can’t remember the title.)
“I speak from experience, although I have not gone farther into the world than just before our front door. Does not my life pass happily and comfortably? My mistress, whom her father calls Sophie, is quite in love with me.”
(Ah! Ah!— but better be silent!)
“Her father also often strokes me. I drink tea and coffee with cream. Yes, my dear, I must confess to you that I find no satisfaction in those large, gnawed-at bones which Polkan devours in the kitchen. Only the bones of wild fowl are good, and that only when the marrow has not been sucked out of them. They taste very nice with a little sauce, but there should be no green stuff in it. But I know nothing worse than the habit of giving dogs balls of bread kneaded up. Someone sits at table, kneads a bread-ball with dirty fingers, calls you and sticks it in your mouth. Good manners forbid your refusing it, and you eat it — with disgust it is true, but you eat it.”
(The deuce! What is this? What rubbish! As if she could find nothing more suitable to write about! I will see if there is anything more reasonable on the second page.)
“I am quite willing to inform you of everything that goes on here. I have already men — tioned the most important person in the house, whom Sophie calls ‘Papa.’ He is a very strange man.”
(Ah! Here we are at last! Yes, I knew it; they have a politician’s penetrating eye for all things. Let us see what she says about “Papa.”)
“… a strange man. Generally he is silent; he only speaks seldom, but about a week ago he kept on repeating to himself, ‘Shall I get it or not?’ In one hand he took a sheet of paper; the other he stretched out as though to receive something, and repeated, ‘Shall I get it or not?’ Once he turned to me with the question, ‘What do you think, Meggy?’ I did not understand in the least what he meant, sniffed at his boots, and went away. A week later he came home with his face beaming. That morning he was visited by several officers in uniform who congratulated him. At the dinner-table he was in a better humour than I have ever seen him before.”
(Ah! he is ambitious then! I must make a note of that.)
“Pardon, my dear, I hasten to conclude, etc., etc. To-morrow I will finish the letter.”
“Now, good morning; here I am again at your service. To-day my mistress Sophie …”
(Ah! we will see what she says about Sophie. Let us go on!)
“… was in an unusually excited state. She went to a ball, and I was glad that I could write to you in her absence. She likes going to balls, although she gets dreadfully irritated while dressing. I cannot understand, my dear, what is the pleasure in going to a ball. She comes home from the ball at six o’clock in the early morning, and to judge by her pale and emaciated face, she has had nothing to eat. I could, frankly speaking, not endure such an existence. If I could not get partridge with sauce, or the wing of a roast chicken, I don’t know what I should do. Porridge with sauce is also tolerable, but I can get up no enthusiasm for carrots, turnips, and artichokes.”
The style is very unequal! One sees at once that it has not been written by a man. The beginning is quite intelligent, but at the end the canine nature breaks out. I will read another letter; it is rather long and there is no date.
“Ah, my dear, how delightful is the arrival of spring! My heart beats as though it expected something. There is a perpetual ringing in my ears, so that I often stand with my foot raised, for several minutes at a time, and listen towards the door. In confidence I will tell you that I have many admirers. I often sit on the window-sill and let them pass in review. Ah! if you knew what miscreations there are among them; one, a clumsy house-dog, with stupidity written on his face, walks the street with an important air and imagines that he is an extremely important person, and that the eyes of all the world are fastened on him. I don’t pay him the least attention, and pretend not to see him at all.
“And what a hideous bulldog has taken up his post opposite my window! If he stood on his hind-legs, as the monster probably cannot, he would be taller by a head than my mistress’s papa, who himself has a stately figure. This lout seems, moreover, to be very impudent. I growl at him, but he does not seem to mind that at all. If he at least would only wrinkle his forehead! Instead of that, he stretches out his tongue, droops his big ears, and stares in at the window — this rustic boor! But do you think, my dear, that my heart remains proof against all temptations? Alas no! If you had only seen that gentlemanly dog who crept through the fence of the neighbouring house. Treasure is his name. Ah, my dear, what a delightful snout he has!”
(To the deuce with the stuff! What rubbish it is! How can one blacken paper with such absurdities. Give me a man. I want to see a man! I need some food to nourish and refresh my mind, and get this silliness instead. I will turn the page to see if there is anything better on the other side.)
“Sophie sat at the table and sewed something. I looked out of the window and amused myself by watching the passers-by. Suddenly a flunkey entered and announced a visitor — ‘Mr Teploft.’
“‘Show him in!’ said Sophie, and began to embrace me. ‘Ah! Meggy, Meggy, do you know who that is? He is dark, and belongs to the Royal Household; and what eyes he has! Dark and brilliant as fire.’
“Sophie hastened into her room. A minute later a young gentleman with black whiskers entered. He went to the mirror, smoothed his hair, and looked round the room. I turned away and sat down in my place,
“Sophie entered and returned his bow in a friendly manner.
“I pretended to observe nothing, and continued to look out of the window. But I leant my head a little on one side to hear what they were talking about. Ah, my dear! what silly things they discussed — how a lady executed the wrong figure in dancing; how a certain Boboff, with his expansive shirt-frill, had looked like a stork and nearly fallen down; how a certain Lidina imagined she had blue eyes when they were really green, etc.
“I do not know, my dear, what special charm she finds in her Mr Teploff, and why she is so delighted with him.”
(It seems to me myself that there is something wrong here. It is impossible that this Teploff should bewitch her. We will see further.)
“If this gentleman of the Household pleases her, then she must also be pleased, according to my view, with that official who sits in her papa’s writing-room. Ah, my dear, if you know what a figure he is! A regular tortoise!”
(What official does she mean?)
“He has an extraordinary name. He always sits there and mends the pens. His hair looks like a truss of hay. Her papa always employs him instead of a servant.”
(I believe this abominable little beast is referring to me. But what has my hair got to do with hay?)
“Sophie can never keep from laughing when she sees him.”
You lie, cursed dog! What a scandalous tongue! As if I did not know that it is envy which prompts you, and that here there is” treachery at work — yes, the treachery of the chief clerk. This man hates me implacably; he has plotted against me, he is always seeking to injure me. I’ll look through one more letter; perhaps it will make the matter clearer.
“Fidel, my dear, pardon me that I have not written for so long. I was floating in a dream of delight. In truth, some author remarks, ‘Love is a second life.’ Besides, great changes are going on in the house. The young chamberlain is always here. Sophie is wildly in love with him. Her papa is quite contented. I heard from Gregor, who sweeps the floor, and is in the habit of talking to himself, that the marriage will soon be celebrated. Her papa will at any rate get his daughter married to a general, a colonel, or a chamberlain.”
Deuce take it! I can read no more. It is all about chamberlains and generals. I should like myself to be a general — not in order to sue for her hand and all that — no, not at all; I should like to be a general merely in order to see people wriggling, squirming, and hatching plots before me.
And then I should like to tell them that they are both of them not worth spitting on. But it is vexatious! I tear the foolish dog’s letters up in a thousand pieces.
December 3rd. — It is not possible that the marriage should take place; it is only idle gossip. What does it signify if he is a chamberlain! That is only a dignity, not a substantial thing which one can see or handle. His chamberlain’s office will not procure him a third eye in his forehead. Neither is his nose made of gold; it is just like mine or anyone else’s nose. He does not eat and cough, but smells and sneezes with it. I should like to get to the bottom of the mystery — whence do all these distinctions come? Why am I only a titular councillor?
Perhaps I am really a count or a general, and only appear to be a titular councillor. Perhaps I don’t even know who and what I am. How many cases there are in history of a simple gentleman, or even a burgher or peasant, suddenly turning out to be a great lord or baron? Well, suppose that I appear suddenly in a general’s uniform, on the right shoulder an epaulette, on the left an epaulette, and a blue sash across my breast, what sort of a tune would my beloved sing then? What would her papa, our director, say? Oh, he is ambitious! He is a freemason, certainly a freemason; however much he may conceal it, I have found it out. When he gives anyone his hand, he only reaches out two fingers. Well, could not I this minute be nominated a general or a superintendent? I should like to know why I am a titular councillor — why just that, and nothing more?
December 6th. — To-day I have been reading papers the whole morning. Very strange things are happening in Spain. I have not understood them all. It is said that the throne is vacant, the representatives of the people are in difficulties about finding an occupant, and riots are taking place.
All this appears to me very strange. How can the throne be vacant? It is said that it will be occupied by a woman. A woman cannot sit on a throne. That is impossible. Only a king can sit on a throne. They say that there is no king there, but that is not possible. There cannot be a kingdom without a king. There must be a king, but he is hidden away somewhere. Perhaps he is actually on the spot, and only some domestic complications, or fears of the neighbouring Powers, France and other countries, compel him to remain in concealment; there might also be other reasons.
December 8th. — I was nearly going to the office, but various considerations kept me from doing so. I keep on thinking about these Spanish affairs. How is it possible that a woman should reign? It would not be allowed, especially by England. In the rest of Europe the political situation is also critical; the Emperor of Austria
These events, to tell the truth, have so shaken and shattered me, that I could really do nothing all day. Mawra told me that I was very absent-minded at table. In fact, in my absent-mindedness I threw two plates on the ground so that they broke in pieces.
After dinner I felt weak, and did not feel up to making abstracts of reports. I lay most of the time on my bed, and thought of the Spanish affairs.
The year 2000 : April 43rd. — To-day is a day of splendid triumph. Spain has a king; he has been found, and I am he. I discovered it today; all of a sudden it came upon me like a flash of lightning.
I do not understand how I could imagine, that I am a titular councillor. How could such a foolish idea enter my head? It was fortunate that it occurred to no one to shut me up in an asylum. Now it is all clear, and as plain as a pikestaff. Formerly — I don’t know why — everything seemed veiled in a kind of mist. That is, I believe, because people think that the human brain is in the head. Nothing of the sort; it is carried by the wind from the Caspian Sea.
For the first time I told Mawra who I am. When she learned that the king of Spain stood before her, she struck her hands together over her head, and nearly died of alarm. The stupid thing had never seen the king of Spain before!
I comforted her, however, at once by assuring her that I was not angry with her for having hitherto cleaned my boots badly. Women are stupid things; one cannot interest them in lofty subjects. She was frightened because she thought all kings of Spain were like Philip II. But I explained to her that there was a great difference between me and him. I did not go to the office. Why the deuce should I? No, my dear friends, you won’t get me there again! I am not going to worry myself with your infernal documents any more.
Marchember 86. Between day and night. — To-day the office-messenger came and summoned me, as I had not been there for three weeks. I went just for the fun of the thing. The chief clerk thought I would bow humbly before him, and make excuses; but I looked at him quite indifferently, neither angrily nor mildly, and sat down quietly at my place as though I noticed no one. I looked at all this rabble of scribblers, and thought, “If you only knew who is sitting among you! Good heavens! what a to-do you would make. Even the chief clerk would bow himself to the earth before me as he does now before the director.’
A pile of reports was laid before me, of which to make abstracts, but I did not touch them with one finger.
After a little time there was a commotion in the office, and there a report went round that the director was coming. Many of the clerks vied with each other to attract his notice; but I did not stir. As he came through our room, each one hastily buttoned up his coat; but I had no idea of doing anything of the sort. What is the director to me? Should I stand up before him? Never. What sort of a director is he? He is a bottle-stopper, and no director. A quite ordinary, simple bottle-stopper— nothing more. I felt quite amused as they gave me a document to sign.
They thought I would simply put down my name — “So-and-so, Clerk.” Why not? But at the top of the sheet, where the director generally writes his name, I inscribed “Ferdinand Yin.” in bold characters. You should have seen what a reverential silence ensued. But I made a gesture with my hand, and said, “Gentlemen, no ceremony please!” Then I went out, and took my way straight to the director’s house.
He was not at home. The flunkey wanted not to let me in, but I talked to him in such a way that he soon dropped his arms.
I went straight to Sophie’s dressing-room. She sat before the mirror. When she saw me, she sprang up and took a step backwards; but I did not tell her that I was the king of Spain.
But I told her that a happiness awaited her, beyond her power to imagine; and that in spite of all our enemies’ devices we should be united. That was all which I wished to say to her, and I went out. Oh, what cunning creatures these women are! Now I have found out what woman really is. Hitherto no one knew whom a woman really loves; I am the first to discover it —she loves the devil. Yes, joking apart, learned men write nonsense when they pronounce that she is this and that; she loves the devil — that is all. You see a woman looking through her lorgnette from a box in the front row. One thinks she is watching that stout gentleman who wears an order. Not a bit of it! She is watching the devil who stands behind his back. He has hidden himself there, and beckons to her with his finger. And she marries him — actually — she marries him!
That is all ambition, and the reason is that there is under the tongue a little blister in which there is a little worm of the size of a pin’s head. And this is constructed by a barber in Bean Street; I don’t remember his name at the moment, but so much is certain that, in conjunction with a midwife, he wants to spread Mohammedanism all over the world, and that in consequence of this a large number of people in France have already adopted the faith of Islam.
No date. The day had no date. — I went for a walk incognito on the Nevski Prospect. I avoided every appearance of being the king of Spain. I felt it below my dignity to let myself be recognised by the whole world, since I must first present myself at court. And I was also restrained by the fact that I have at present no Spanish national costume. If I could only get a cloak! I tried to have a consultation with a tailor, but these people are real asses! Moreover, they neglect their business, dabble in speculation, and have become loafers. I will have a cloak made out of my new official uniform which I have only worn twice. But to prevent this botcher of a tailor spoiling it, I will make it myself with closed doors, so that no one sees me. Since the cut must be altogether altered, I have used the scissors myself.
I don’t remember the date. The devil knows what month it was. The cloak is quite ready. Mawra exclaimed aloud when I put it on. I will, however, not present myself at court yet; the Spanish deputation has not yet arrived. It would not be befitting if I appeared without them. My appearance would be less imposing. From hour to hour I expect them.
The 1st. — The extraordinary long delay of the deputies in coming astonishes me. What can possibly keep them? Perhaps France has a hand in the matter; it is certainly hostilely inclined. I went to the post office to inquire whether the Spanish deputation had come. The postmaster is an extraordinary blockhead who knows nothing. “No,” he said to me, “there is no Spanish deputation here; but if you want to send them a letter, we will forward it at the fixed rate.” The deuce! What do I want with a letter? Letters are. nonsense. Letters are written by apothecaries… .
Madrid, February 30th. — So I am in Spain after all! It has happened so quickly that I could hardly take it in. The Spanish deputies came early this morning, and I got with them into the carriage. This unexpected promptness seemed to me strange. We drove so quickly that in half an hour we were at the Spanish frontier. Over all Europe now there are cast-iron roads, and the steamers go very fast. A wonderful country, this Spain!
As we entered the first room, I saw numerous persons with shorn heads. I guessed at once that they must be either grandees or soldiers, at least to judge by their shorn heads.
The Chancellor of the State, who led me by the hand, seemed to me to behave in a very strange way; he pushed me into a little room and said, “Stay here, and if you call yourself “King Ferdinand” again, I will drive the wish to do so out of you.”
I knew, however, that that was only a test, and I reasserted my conviction; on which the Chancellor gave me two such severe blows with a stick on the back, that I could have cried out with the pain. But I restrained myself, remembering that this was a usual ceremony of old — time chivalry when one was inducted into a high position, and in Spain the laws of chivalry prevail up to the present day. When I was alone, I determined to study State affairs; I discovered that Spain and China are one and the same country, and it is only through ignorance that people regard them as separate kingdoms. I advice everyone urgently to write down the word “Spain” on a sheet of paper; he will see that it is quite the same as China.
But I feel much annoyed by an event which is about to take place tomorrow; at seven o’clock the earth is going to sit on the moon. This is foretold by the famous English chemist, Wellington. To tell the truth, I often felt uneasy when I thought of the excessive brittleness and fragility of the moon. The moon is generally repaired in Hamburg, and very imperfectly. It is done by a lame cooper, an obvious blockhead who has no idea how to do it. He took waxed thread and olive-oil — hence that pungent smell over all the earth which compels people to hold their noses. And this makes the moon so fragile that no men can live on it, but only noses. Therefore we cannot see our noses, because they are on the moon.
When I now pictured to myself how the earth, that massive body, would crush our noses to dust, if it sat on the moon, I became so uneasy, that I immediately put on my shoes and stockings and hastened into the council-hall to give the police orders to prevent the moon sitting on the earth.
The grandees with the shorn heads, whom I met in great numbers in the hall, were very intelligent people, and when I exclaimed, “Gentlemen! let us save the moon, for the earth is going to sit on it,” they all set to work to fulfil my imperial wish, and many of them clambered up the wall in order to take the moon down. At that moment the Imperial Chancellor came in. As soon as he appeared, they all scattered, but I alone, as king, remained. To my astonishment, however, the Chancellor beat me with the stick and drove me to my room. So powerful are ancient customs in Spain!
January in the same year, following after February.— I can never understand what kind of a country this Spain really is. The popular customs and rules of court etiquette are quite extraordinary. I do not understand them at all, at all. To-day my head was shorn, although I exclaimed as loudly as I could, that I did not want to be a monk. What happened afterwards, when they began to let cold water trickle on my head, I do not know. I have never experienced such hellish torments. I nearly went mad, and they had difficulty in holding me. The significance of this strange custom is entirely hidden from me. It is a very foolish and unreasonable one.
Nor can I understand the stupidity of the kings who have not done away with it before now. Judging by all the circumstances, it seems to me as though I had fallen into the hands of the Inquisition, and as though the man whom I took to be the Chancellor was the Grand Inquisitor. But yet I cannot understand how the king could fall into the hands of the Inquisition. The affair may have been arranged by France — especially Polignac — he is a hound, that Polignac! He has sworn to compass my death, and now he is hunting me down. But I know, my friend, that you are only a tool of the English. They are clever fellows, and have a finger in every pie. All the world knows that France sneezes when England takes a pinch of snuff.
The 25th. — To-day the Grand Inquisitor came into my room; when I heard his steps in the distance, I hid myself under a chair. When he did not see me, he began to call. At first he called “Poprishchin!” I made no answer. Then he called “Axanti Ivanovitch! Titular Councillor! Nobleman!” I still kept silence. “Ferdinand the Eighth, King of Spain!” I was on the point of putting out my head, but I thought, “No, brother, you shall not deceive me! You shall not pour water on my head again!”
But he had already seen me and drove me from under the chair with his stick. The cursed stick really hurts one. But the following discovery compensated me for all the pain, i.e. that every cock has his Spain under his feathers. The Grand Inquisitor went angrily away, and threatened me with some punishment or other. I felt only contempt for his powerless spite, for I know that he only works like a machine, like a tool of the English.
34 March. February, 349. — No, I have no longer power to endure. God! what are they going to do with me? They pour cold water on my head. They take no notice of me, and seem neither to see nor hear. Why do they torture me? What do they want from one so wretched as myself? What can I give them? I possess nothing. I cannot bear all their tortures; my head aches as though everything were turning round in a circle. Save me! Carry me away! Give me three steeds swift as the wind! Mount your seat, coachman, ring bells, gallop horses, and carry me straight out of this world. Farther, ever farther, till nothing more is to be seen!
Ah! the heaven bends over me already; a star glimmers in the distance; the forest with its dark trees in the moonlight rushes past; a bluish mist floats under my feet; music sounds in the cloud; on the one side is the sea, on the other, Italy; beyond I also see Russian peasants’ houses. Is not my parents’ house there in the distance? Does not my mother sit by the window? mother, mother, save your unhappy son! Let a tear fall on his aching head! See how they torture him! Press the poor orphan to your bosom! He has no rest in this world; they hunt him from place to place.
Mother, mother, have pity on your sick child! And do you know that the Bey of Algiers has a wart under his nose?
Thomas Mann on Chekhov
When Anton Chekhov died in Badenweiler in July 1904 of tuberculosis of the lungs, I was a young man who had embarked upon literature with some short stories and a novel which owed a great deal to the art of fiction in nineteenth-century Russia. Yet I seek in vain today to recall the impression made upon me then by the death of the Russian writer only fifteen years my senior. My mind is a blank. For, like the rest of my countrymen, I was little familiar with Chekhov’s work.
What were the causes of this ignorance? Speaking for myself, it was probably because I was under the spell of the magnum opus, fascinated by those monumental epics, which are the fruit of sustained inspiration for I worshipped the great achievers like Balzac, Tolstoy, and Wagner, and it was my dream to emulate them if I could. Whereas Chekhov (like Maupassant, whom by the way I knew much better) confined himself to the modest dimensions of the short story; and this did not call for heroic endurance throughout the years and decades but could be tossed off by some happy-go-lucky artist in a day or two or a week or two, at most. I felt a certain disdain for this, hardly realizing then that genius can be bounded in a nutshell and yet embrace the whole fullness of life by virtue of a brevity and terseness deserving the highest admiration. Such works attain to full epic stature and can even surpass in intensity the great towering novels which inevitably flag at times and subside into noble boredom. If I understood that better in later life than in my youth, this was largely owing to my growing intimacy with Chekhov’s art; for his short stories rank with all that is greatest and best in European literature.