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Title: Contemporary Russian Novelists
Author: Persky, Serge
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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  CONTEMPORARY
  RUSSIAN NOVELISTS


  Translated from the French of Serge Persky
  By FREDERICK EISEMANN


  JOHN W. LUCE AND COMPANY
  BOSTON 1913


  _Copyright, 1912_
  BY C. DELAGRAVE

  _Copyright, 1913_
  BY L. E. BASSETT


  To
  THE MEMORY OF
  F. N. S.

  BY
  THE TRANSLATOR



PREFACE


The principal aim of this book is to give the reader a good general
knowledge of Russian literature as it is to-day. The author, Serge
Persky, has subordinated purely critical material, because he wants
his readers to form their own judgments and criticize for
themselves. The element of literary criticism is not, however, by
any means entirely lacking.

In the original text, there is a thorough and exhaustive treatment
of the "great prophet" of Russian literature--Tolstoy--but the
translator has deemed it wise to omit this essay, because so much
has recently been written about this great man.

As the title of the book is "Contemporary Russian Novelists," the
essay on Anton Tchekoff, who is no longer living, does not rightly
belong here, but Tchekoff is such an important figure in modern
Russian literature and has attracted so little attention from
English writers that it seems advisable to retain the essay that
treats of his work.

Finally, let me express my sincerest thanks to Dr. G. H. Maynadier
of Harvard for his kind advice; to Miss Edna Wetzler for her
unfailing and valuable help, and to Miss Carrie Harper, who has gone
over this work with painstaking care.



CONTENTS


  CHAPTER                                               PAGE

      I. A Brief Survey of Russian Literature              1

     II. Anton Tchekoff                                   40

    III. Vladimir Korolenko                               76

     IV. Vikenty Veressayev                              108

      V. Maxim Gorky                                     142

     VI. Leonid Andreyev                                 199

    VII. Dmitry Merezhkovsky                             246

   VIII. Alexander Kuprin                                274

     IX. Writers in Vogue                                289



CONTEMPORARY RUSSIAN NOVELISTS



I

A BRIEF SURVEY OF RUSSIAN LITERATURE


In order to get a clear idea of modern Russian literature, a
knowledge of its past is indispensable. This knowledge will help us
in understanding that which distinguishes it from other European
literatures, not only from the viewpoint of the art which it
expresses, but also as the historical and sociological mirror of the
nation's life in the course of centuries.

The dominant trait of this literature is found in its very origins.
Unlike the literatures of other European countries, which followed,
in a more or less regular way, the development of life and
civilization during historic times, Russian literature passed
through none of these stages. Instead of being a product of the
past, it is a protestation against it; instead of retracing the old
successive stages, it appears, intermittently, like a light
suddenly struck in the darkness. Its whole history is a long
continual struggle against this darkness, which has gradually melted
away beneath these rays of light, but has never entirely ceased to
veil the general trend of Russian thought.

As a result of the unfortunate circumstances which characterize her
history, Russia was for a long time deprived of any relations with
civilized Europe. The necessity of concentrating all her strength on
fighting the Mongolians laid the corner-stone of a sort of
semi-Asiatic political autocracy. Besides, the influence of the
Byzantine clergy made the nation hostile to the ideas and science of
the Occident, which were represented as heresies incompatible with
the orthodox faith. However, when she finally threw off the
Mongolian yoke, and when she found herself face to face with Europe,
Russia was led to enter into diplomatic relations with the various
Western powers. She then realized that European art and science were
indispensable to her, if only to strengthen her in warfare against
these States. For this reason a number of European ideas began to
come into Russia during the reigns of the last Muscovite sovereigns.
But they assumed a somewhat sacerdotal character in passing through
the filter of Polish society, and took on, so to speak, a dogmatic
air. In general, European influence was not accepted in Russia
except with extreme repugnance and restless circumspection, until
the accession of Peter I. This great monarch, blessed with unusual
intelligence and a will of iron, decided to use all his autocratic
power in impressing, to use the words of Pushkin, "a new direction
upon the Russian vessel;"--Europe instead of Asia.

Peter the Great had to contend against the partisans of ancient
tradition, the "obscurists" and the adversaries of profane science;
and this inevitable struggle determined the first character of
Russian literature, where the satiric element, which in essence is
an attack on the enemies of reform, predominates. In organizing
grotesque processions, clownish masquerades, in which the
long-skirted clothes and the streaming beards of the honorable
champions of times gone by were ridiculed, Peter himself appeared as
a pitiless destroyer of the ancient costumes and superannuated
ideas.

The example set by the practical irony of this man was followed,
soon after the death of the Tsar, by Kantemir, the first Russian
author who wrote satirical verses. These verses were very much
appreciated in his time. In them, he mocks with considerable fervor
the ignorant contemners of science, who taste happiness only in the
gratification of their material appetites.

At the same time that the Russian authors pursued the enemies of
learning with sarcasm, they heaped up eulogies, which bordered on
idolatry, on Peter I, and, after him, on his successors. In these
praises, which were excessively hyperbolical, there was always some
sincerity. Peter had, in fact, in his reign, paved the way for
European civilization, and it seemed merely to be waiting for the
sovereigns, Peter's successors, to go on with the work started by
their illustrious ancestor. The most powerful leaders, and the first
representatives of the new literature, strode ahead, then, hand in
hand, but their paths before long diverged. Peter the Great wanted
to use European science for practical purposes only: it was only to
help the State, to make capable generals, to win wars, to help
savants find means to develop the national wealth by industry and
commerce; he--Peter--had no time to think of other things. But
science throws her light into the most hidden corners, and when it
brings social and political iniquities to light, then the government
hastens to persecute that which, up to this time, it has encouraged.

The protective, and later hostile, tendencies of the government in
regard to authors manifested themselves with a special violence
during the reign of Catherine II. This erudite woman, an admirer of
Voltaire and of the French "encyclopédistes," was personally
interested in writing. She wrote several plays in which she
ridiculed the coarse manners and the ignorance of the society of her
time. Under the influence of this new impulse, which had come from
one in such a high station in life, a legion of satirical journals
flooded the country. The talented and spiritual von Vizin wrote
comedies, the most famous of which exposes the ignorance and cruelty
of country gentlemen; in another, he shows the ridiculousness of
people who take only the brilliant outside shell from European
civilization. Shortly, Radishchev's "Voyage from Moscow to
St. Petersburg" appeared. Here the author, with the fury of
passionate resentment, and with sad bitterness, exposes the
miserable condition of the people under the yoke of the high and
mighty. It was then that the empress, Catherine the Great, so gentle
to the world at large and so authoritative at home, perceiving that
satire no longer spared the guardian principles necessary for the
security of the State, any more than they did popular superstitions,
manifested a strong displeasure against it. Consequently, the
satirical journals disappeared as quickly as they had appeared. Von
Vizin, who, in his pleasing "Questions to Catherine" had touched on
various subjects connected with court etiquette, and on the miseries
of political life, had to content himself with silence. Radishchev
was arrested, thrown into a fortress, and then sent to Siberia.
They went so far as to accuse Derzhavin, the greatest poet of this
time, the celebrated "chanter of Catherine," in his old age, of
Jacobinism for having translated into verse one of the psalms of
David; besides this, the energetic apostle of learning, Novikov, a
journalist, a writer, and the founder of a remarkable society which
devoted itself to the publication and circulation of useful books,
was accused of having had relations with foreign secret societies.
He was confined in the fortress at Schluesselburg after all his
belongings had been confiscated. The critic and the satirist had had
their wings clipped. But it was no longer possible to check this
tendency, for, by force of circumstances, it had been planted in the
very soul of every Russian who compared the conditions of life in
his country with what European civilization had done for the
neighboring countries.

Excluded from journalism, this satiric tendency took refuge in
literature, where the novel and the story trace the incidents of
daily life. Since the writers could not touch the evil at its
source, they showed its consequences for social life. They
represented with eloquence the empty and deplorable banality of the
existence forced upon most of them. By expressing in various ways
general aspirations towards something better, they let literature
continue its teaching, even in times particularly hostile to
freedom of thought, like the reign of Nicholas I, the most typical
and decided adversary of the freedom of the pen that Europe has ever
seen. Literature was, then, considered as an inevitable evil, but
one from which the world wanted to free itself; and every man of
letters seemed to be under suspicion. During this reign, not only
criticisms of the government, but also praises of it, were
considered offensive and out of place. Thus, the chief of the secret
police, when he found that a writer of that time, Bulgarine, whose
name was synonymous with accuser and like evils, had taken the
liberty to praise the government for some insignificant improvements
made on a certain street, told him with severity: "You are not asked
to praise the government, you must only praise men of letters."

Nothing went to print without the authorization of the general
censor, an authorization that had to be confirmed by the various
parts of the complex machine, and, finally, by a superior committee
which censored the censors. The latter were themselves so terrorized
that they scented subversive ideas even in cook-books, in technical
musical terms, and in punctuation marks. It would seem that under
such conditions no kind of literature, and certainly no satire,
could exist. Nevertheless, it was at this period that Gogol produced
his best works. The two most important are, his comedy "The
Revizor," where he stigmatizes the abuses of administration, and
"Dead Souls," that classic work which de Vogüé judges worthy of
being given a place in universal literature, between "Don Quixote"
and "Gil Blas," and which, in a series of immortal types,
flagellates the moral emptiness and the mediocrity of life in high
Russian society at that time.

At the same time, Griboyedov's famous comedy, "Intelligence Comes to
Grief," which the censorship forbade to be produced or even
published, was being circulated in manuscript form. This comedy, a
veritable masterpiece, has for its hero a man named Chatsky, who was
condemned as a madman by the aristocratic society of Moscow on
account of his independent spirit and patriotic sentiments. It is
true that in all of these works the authors hardly attack important
personages or the essential bases of political organization. The
functionaries and proprietors of Gogol's works are "petites gens,"
and the civic pathos of Chatsky aims at certain individuals and not
at the national institutions. But these attacks, cleverly veiling
the general conditions of Russian life, led the intelligent reader
to meditate on certain questions, and it also permitted satire to
live through the most painful periods. Later, with the coming of the
reforms of Alexander II, satire manifested itself more openly in
the works of Saltykov, who was not afraid to use all his talent in
scourging, with his biting sarcasm, violence and arbitrariness.

Another salient trait of Russian literature is its tendency toward
realism, the germ of which can be seen even in the most
old-fashioned works, when, following the precepts of the West, they
were taken up first with pseudo-classicism, and then with the
romantic spirit which followed.

Pseudo-classicism had but few worthy representatives in Russia, if
we omit the poet Derzhavin, whom Pushkin accused of having a poor
knowledge of his mother tongue, and whose monotonous work shows
signs of genius only here and there.

As to romanticism! Here we find excellent translations of the German
poets by Zhukovsky, and the poems of Lermontov and Pushkin, all
impregnated with the spirit of Byron. But these two movements came
quickly to an end. Soon realism, under the influence of Dickens and
Balzac, installed itself as master of this literature, and, in spite
of the repeated efforts of the symbolist schools, nothing has yet
been able to wipe it out. Thus, the triumph of realism was not, as
in the case of earlier tendencies, the simple result of the spirit
of imitation which urges authors to choose models that are in
vogue, but it was a response to a powerful instinct. The truth of
this statement is very evident in view of the fact that realism
appeared in Russian literature at a time when it was still a novelty
in Europe. The need of representing naked reality, without any
decorations, is, so to speak, innate in the Russian author, who
cannot, for any length of time, be led away from this practice. This
is the very reason why the Byronian influence, at the time of
Pushkin and Lermontov, lasted such a short time. After having
written several poems inspired by the English poet, Pushkin soon
disdained this model, which was the sole object of European
imitation. "Byron's characters," he says, "are not real people, but
rather incarnations of the various moods of the poet," and he ends
by saying that Byron is "great but monotonous." We find the same
thing in Lermontov, who was fond of Byron, not only in a transient
mood of snobbery, but because the very strong and sombre character
of his imagination naturally led him to choose this kind of intense
poetry. He was exerting himself to regard reality seriously and to
reproduce it with exactitude, at the very time when he was killed in
a duel at the youthful age of twenty-seven.

Pushkin's best work, his novel in verse, "Evgeny Onyegin," although
it came so early, was constructed according to realistic
principles; and although we still distinguish romantic tints, it is
a striking picture of Russian society at the beginning of the 19th
century. We find the same tendency in Lermontov's prose novel, "A
Hero of Our Times," in which the hero, Pechorin, has many traits in
common with Evgeny Onyegin. This book immediately made a deep
impression. It was really nothing more than a step taken in a new
direction by its author. But it was a step that promised much. An
absurd fatality destroyed this promise, and hindered the poet,
according to the expression of an excellent critic of that time,
from "rummaging with his eagle eye, among the recesses of the
world."

The works of writers of secondary rank, contemporaneous with the
above mentioned, also reveal a realistic tendency. Then appeared, to
declare it with a master's power, that genius of a realist, of whom
we have already made mention, Gogol. There was general enthusiasm;
Gogol absorbed almost the entire attention of the public and men of
letters. The great critic and publicist Byelinsky, in particular,
took it upon himself to elaborate in his works the theories of
realism; he formulated the program about 1850 under the name of the
"naturalistic school." Thus the germs of the past had expanded
triumphantly in the work of Gogol, and the way was now clear for
Turgenev, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Goncharov, Ostrovsky, and Pisemsky,
who, while enlarging the range and perfecting the methods of the
naturalistic school, conquered for their native literature the place
which it has definitely assumed in the world.

Although we may infer that Russian realism has its roots in a
special spiritual predilection, we must not nevertheless forget the
historical conditions which prepared the way for it and made its
logical development easy. Russian literature, called on to struggle
against tremendous obstacles, could hardly have gone astray in the
domain of a nebulous idealism.

The third distinctive trait of this literature is found in its
democratic spirit. Most of the heroes are not titled personages;
they are peasants, bourgeois, petty officials, students, and,
finally, "intellectuals." This democratic taste is explained by the
very constitution of Russian society.

The spirit of the literature of a nation is usually a reflection of
the social class which possesses the preponderant influence from a
political or economic standpoint or which is marked by the strength
of its numbers. The preponderance of the upper middle class in
England has impressed on all the literature of that country the seal
of morality belonging to that class; while in France, where
aristocracy predominated, one still feels the influence of the
aristocratic traditions which are so brilliantly manifested in the
pseudo-classic period of its literature. But many reasons have
hindered the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie from developing in
Russia. The Russian bourgeois was, for a long time, nothing but a
peasant who had grown rich, while the noble was distinguished more
by the number of his serfs and his authority than by his moral
superiority. Deprived of independence, these two classes blended and
still blend with the immense number of peasants who surround them on
all sides and submerge them irresistibly, however they may wish to
free themselves.

Very naturally, the first Russian authors came from the class of
proprietors, rural lords, who were the most intelligent, not to say
the only intelligent people. In general, the life of the lord was
barely distinguishable from that of the peasant. As he was usually
reared in the country, he passed his childhood among the village
children; the people most dear to his heart, often more dear to him
than his father or mother, were his nurse and the other
servants,--simple people, who took care of him and gave him the
pleasures of his youthful existence. Before he entered the local
government school, he had been impregnated with goodness and popular
poetry, drawn from stories, legends, and tales to which he had been
an ardent listener. We find the great Pushkin dedicating his most
pathetic verses to his old nurse, and we often see him inspired by
the most humble people. In this way, to the theoretic democracy
imported from Europe is united, in the case of the Russian author, a
treasure of ardent personal recollections; democracy is not for him
an abstract love of the people, but a real affection, a tenderness
made up of lasting reminiscences which he feels deeply.

This then was the mental state of the most intelligent part of this
Russian nobility, which showed itself a pioneer of the ideas of
progress in literature and life. There were even singular political
manifestations produced. Rostopchin said: "In France the shoemakers
want to become noble; while here, the nobles would like to turn
shoemakers." But, in spite of all, the greater part of this caste,
with its essential conservative instincts, was nothing more than an
inert mass, without initiative, and incapable even of defending its
own interests except by the aid of the government.

Rostopchin did not suspect the profound truth of his capricious
saying.

This truth burst forth in all its strength about 1870, the time of
the great reforms undertaken by Alexander II, when the interests of
the people were, for the first time, the order of the day. It was
at this period that a great deal of studying was being done with
great enthusiasm and that a general infatuation for folklore and for
a "union with the masses" was being shown. The desire to become
"simplified," that is to say to have all people live the same kind
of life, the appearance of a type, celebrated under the sarcastic
name of "noble penitent" (meaning the titled man who is ashamed of
his privileged position as if it were a humiliating and infamous
thing), the politico-socialistic ideology of the first Slavophiles,
still half conservative, but wholly democratic; all these things
were the results of the manifestations which astonished Rostopchin
and made the more intelligent class of Russians fraternize more with
the masses. In our day, this tendency has been eloquently
illustrated by the greatest Russian artist and thinker, Tolstoy, who
was the very incarnation of the ideas named above, and who always
appears to us as a highly cultured peasant. The hero of
"Resurrection" sums up in a few words this sympathy for the people:
"This is it, the big world, the true world!" he says, on seeing the
crowd of peasants and workingmen packed into a third-class
compartment.

In the last half of the 19th century, Russian literature took a
further step in the way of democracy. It passed from the hands of
the nobility into the hands of the middle class, as the conditions
under which it existed brought it closer to the people and made it
therefore more accessible to their aspirations. It is no longer the
great humanitarians of the privileged class who paint the miserable
conditions among which people vegetate; it is the people themselves
who are beginning to speak of their miseries and of their hopes for
a better life. The result is a deep penetration of the popular mind,
in conjunction with an acute, and sometimes sickly, nervousness,
which is shown in the works of the great Uspensky, and, more
recently still, in Tchekoff, Andreyev, and many others.

None of these writers belong to the aristocracy, and two of
them--Tchekoff and Gorky--have come up from the masses: the former
was the son of a serf, and the latter the son of a workingman. Let
me add that, among the women of letters, the one who is most
distinguished by her talent in describing scenes from popular
life--Mme. Dmitrieva--is the daughter of a peasant woman.

Thus, as we have shown, the Russian writers alone, under the cover
of imaginative works which became expressive symbols, could
undertake a truly efficacious struggle against tyranny and
arbitrariness. They found themselves in that way placed in a
peculiar social position with corresponding duties. Men expected
from them, naturally, a new gospel and also a plan of conduct
necessary in order to escape from the circle of oppression. The best
of the Russian writers have undertaken a difficult and perilous
task; they have become the guides, and, so to speak, the "masters"
of life. This tendency constitutes a new trait in Russian
literature, one of its most characteristic; not that other
literatures have neglected it, but no other literature in the world
has proclaimed this mission with such a degree of energy and with
such a spirit of sacrifice. Never, in any other country, have
novelists or poets felt with such intensity the burden on their
souls. At this point Gogol, first of all, became the victim of this
state of things.

The enthusiasm stirred up by his works and by the immense hopes that
he had evoked suddenly elevated him to such a height in the minds of
his contemporaries that he felt real anguish. Artist he was, and now
he forced himself to become a moralist; he rushed into philosophical
speculations which led him on to a nebulous mysticism, from which
his talent suffered severely. When he realized what had happened,
despair seized him, his ideas troubled him, and he died in terrible
intellectual distress.

We see also the great admirer of Gogol--Dostoyevsky--under different
pretexts making known in almost all his novels and especially in
his magazine articles, "Recollections of an Author," his opinions on
the reforms about to be realized. He studies the problems of
civilization which concern humanity in general, and particularly
insists upon the mission of the Russian people, who are destined, he
believes, to end all the conflicts of the world by virtue of a
system based upon Christian love and pity.

Turgenev, himself, although above all an artist, does not remain
aloof from this educational work. In his "Annals of a Sportsman," he
attacks bondage. And when it was abolished, and when in the very
heart of Russian society, among the younger generation, the
revolutionists appeared, Turgenev attempted to paint these "new
men." Thus in his novel, "Fathers and Sons," he sketches in bold
strokes the character of the nihilist Bazarov. This celebrated type
cannot, however, be considered a true representative of the
mentality of the "new men," for it gave only a few aspects of their
character, which, besides, did not have Turgenev's sympathy.

They are valued in an entirely different way by Chernyshevsky in his
novel, "What Is To Be Done?" where the author, one of the most
powerful representatives of the great movement toward freedom from
1860 to 1870, carefully studied the bases of the new morals and the
means to be used in struggling against the prejudices of the old
society. Finally let us mention Tolstoy, whose entire literary
activity was a constant search for truth, till the day when his mind
found an answer to his doubts in the religion of love and harmony
which he preached from then on.

The earnestness which sees an apostle in a writer has not ceased to
grow and has almost blinded the public.

For example, Gorky needed only to write some stories in which he
places before us beings belonging to the most miserable classes of
society, to be suddenly, and perhaps against his own will, elevated
to the rôle of prophet of a new gospel, of annunciator from whom
they were waiting for the Word, although one could also find the
Word in the anti-socialistic circles which he depicts. Another
contemporaneous author, Tchekoff, once wrote a story about the
precarious position of the workingman in the city; he showed how
this man, after he had become old and had gone back to his native
village, suffered even more misery than before instead of getting
the rest he had hoped for. Immediately an ardent controversy took
place between the two factions of the youth of that time, the
Populists and the Marxists. The former, defending the rural
population, accused the author of having exaggerated and of having
only superficially considered the question, while the others
triumphed, confident in the activity of the people of the city.

The literary critic, however, in carefully studying the works of
these authors, tried to get at the real meaning,--the idea between
the lines. Gorky's philosophy has often been discussed; a great many
men of letters have tried to unravel what there was of pessimism, of
indifference or of mystic idealism in the soul of Tchekoff. This
everlasting habit, not to say this mania, of analyzing the mind or
soul of an author in order to get at his conception, his personal
doctrine of life, often leads to partial and erroneous conclusions,
especially when, as in most cases, the critic has only a very vague
idea of the main current of thought which formed the genesis of the
work.

The hopes and emotions which are aroused by every original
expression in literature, show more than ever what hopes are based
upon its rôle, the mission which has devolved on it to serve life,
by formulating the facts of the ideal to be realized.

But what is this ideal? What are these ideal aspirations? Of what
elements are they made up? What is the state of mind of the great
majority of Russian "intellectuals" in the midst of the enmity which
compromises and menaces them?

Thanks to the window pierced by Peter the Great in the thick
Muscovite wall, the Russian "intellectuals" have begun to have a
general idea of European civilization. They have admired the beauty
of this culture, and the greatness of European political and social
institutions, guarantees of the dignity of human beings; they have
endured mental suffering because they have found that in Russia such
independence would be impossible, and, consequently, they have had a
feeling of extreme bitterness, which has forced them either to deny
or calumniate the moral forces of their country, or to formulate
very strange theories about this situation. Thus at the end of the
first twenty-five years of the century, Chadayev, one of the most
original and brilliant thinkers of Russia, developed the following
thesis in his "Philosophical Letters":--the fatal course of history
having opposed the union of the Russian people with Catholicism,
through which European civilization developed, Russia found herself
reduced forever to the existence of an inert mass, deprived of all
interior energy, as can be shown adequately by her history, her
customs, and even the aspect of her national type with its
ill-defined traits and apathetic expression.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the course of the terrible struggle which he waged against the
censorship and against influential persons evilly disposed toward
him, Pushkin cried out: "It was the idea of the devil himself that
made me be born in Russia!" And in one of his letters, he says,
"Naturally, I despise my country from east to west, but,
nevertheless, I hate to hear a stranger speak of it with scorn."
Lermontov, exiled to the Caucasus, ironically takes leave of his
country, which he calls, "a squalid country of slaves and masters."
And he salutes the Caucasian mountains as the immense screen which
may hide him from the eyes of the Russian pachas. The Slavophiles
themselves, the patriots who in their way idealized both Russian
orthodoxy and autocracy, and who were wrongly considered the
champions of the existing order of things, showed themselves no less
hostile. One of their most celebrated representatives, Khomyakov,
sees in Russia "a land stigmatized" by serfdom, where all is
injustice, lies, morbid laziness and turpitude.

Dostoyevsky, who shared some of the illusions of the Slavophiles,
speaks of Europe as "a land of sacred miracles." Nevertheless,
yielding to his desire to heighten the prestige of his country, he
adds: "The Russian is not partially European, but essentially so, in
the very largest sense of the word, because he watches, with an
impartial love, the progress achieved by the various peoples of
Europe, while each one of _them_ appreciates, above all, the
progress of his own country, and often does not want to let the
others share it."

In spite of the seductive powers which European civilization
exercised upon Russia, the Russians perceived its weak sides, which
they studied by the light of the ideal which they promised
themselves to attain in some indefinite future, a future which they
nevertheless hoped was near at hand.

To them, enthusiastic observers that they were, these defects became
more apparent than to the Europeans themselves; as their critical
sense was not deadened by the wear of constant use, they saw in a
clear light the inconveniences of certain institutions, they
perceived the sad consequences of the excessive triumph of
individualism in its struggle for life, the enfranchisement of the
proletariat, the satisfaction of the few at the cost of the many. At
times the bases of this civilization seemed fragile to the Russians;
they had a feeling that it was not finished; they also aspired more
and more to the harmonious equilibrium of society which appealed to
their ideal.

In a word, that which has always been called socialism, has had an
irresistible attraction for the more intelligent Russians; all of
Russian literature is permeated with it, and it has developed all
the more easily because it found a favorable basis in Russia's
natural democracy.

During the period when this literature was most persecuted--that is
to say in the second half of the 19th century--its most influential
representatives were ardent socialists. Among them should be
mentioned the critic Byelinsky, the "Petracheviens,"--adepts in the
doctrine of Fourier,--and that powerful agitator of ideas, Hertzen,
who founded the Russian free press in London. Among Western writers,
there were two well liked in Russia: George Sand and Charles
Dickens. The former was a socialist, the latter was a democrat.
Their influence was very great in Russia; their works were read with
ardor, and gave rise to thoughts which escaped the severities of the
censor, but betrayed themselves in private conversation, as well as
in certain literary circles.

All the celebrated writers of Europe who professed liberal
tendencies met with a greater sympathy among the Russians of that
time than in their own country. Dickens, received with great
enthusiasm in Russia, was not appreciated by the English public. His
excellent translator, Vedensky, tried hard to persuade him to come
to Russia to live, where his talents would be valued at their true
worth. We can then readily understand how Dostoyevsky, in his
"Memoirs of an Author," had the right to say that the European
socialistic-democrats had two countries, first their own, then
Russia.

The Russian writers who gave themselves up so passionately to this
influence,--still so new even in Europe,--not able to support their
political ideal, with a press, as it were, gagged by the censor,
engaged in the struggle along the line of customs. They attacked the
prejudices which clog the relations among men, and rose up against
family despotism and the inferior position of women from a civil and
economic point of view. But, between 1860 and 1870, when the
enfranchisement of the serfs reduced the power of the censor, all
that had been confined in the souls of the Russians burst forth.
Chernishevsky wrote economic articles on capital and on the
agricultural community; he studied the system of John Stuart Mill,
from which he deduced his socialistic conclusions, and his
reputation grew immediately at home and abroad. He became a leader
of thought among the new generation.

At the same time, the young critic Dobrolyubov, author of an
analytical study of Russian customs, "The Kingdom of Shadows,"
called the "intellectuals" to a struggle for the rights of the
oppressed people, and was ready himself to "drain the bitter cup
intended for those who have been sacrificed." Also at this time
there appeared the poet Nekrasov and the satirist Saltykov. The
former, a profound pessimist, described in his best verses the
bitter fate of the lower classes; the latter with his sarcasm
scathed bureaucratic arbitrariness, while from abroad was heard the
free ringing of "The Bell,"--a paper founded by Hertzen,--which
seemed to be announcing that freedom was coming. Two articles by the
poet Mikhailov on the situation of women started a vast movement.
The women soon filled the lecture-halls of the university, and the
class-rooms, and organized a veritable campaign to defend their
rights in the name of the principle of liberty. All the partisans of
democracy or socialism applauded them. The agitation became general;
it seemed as if they wanted to make up for lost time by this
tremendous activity; everywhere Sunday schools were started and
public libraries opened; workingmen's associations were formed on
socialistic principles, and the ardent younger generation spoke to
the ignorant masses and asked them to join them in the coming
struggle.

This epoch has been called "the moral springtime" of Russia, and in
truth it was a spring with all of its real splendors and illusions.
A sudden wave of life surged from one end of the empire to the
other. Up above, the government was making reforms prudently, as if
afraid of going too far; down below, a great transformation was
taking place. It was at this time that certain bold projects were
contemplated at which the government took fright. The "springtime"
proved ephemeral. A triumphant reaction nipped in the bud this
movement towards emancipation, with all its hopes. In 1877, after
the Russo-Turkish war, it seemed as if the movement were going to
start again. Less vast and less diverse, but more definite, it
immediately put all of its strength into the popular propaganda and
showed its activity by the assassination of the emperor and by
several other crimes. It was a terrible struggle, till finally the
leaders again succumbed under the mighty blows of their adversaries.
The years that followed this defeat (1880-1905) were most
inauspicious in Russian life. A profound apathy deadened society,
and an atmosphere of anguish and disillusion--which have left
visible traces in Russian literature--weighed it down.

       *       *       *       *       *

In short, it may be said that Russian thought has always been led
away by the theories of certain European parties who are most
opposed to political and social organization of the state.

The vigor, the clearness, and the force of negation with which this
characteristic manifests itself in the ideas and customs of the
Russian radical-socialists have often distorted, in the eyes of
other countries, opinions or doctrines which it is important to
present in their true light.

Thus, Bazarov, that nihilistic creation of Turgenev, appeared to the
English, French, and German public as a mystical hero not viable in
human society, while Pisarev, one of the sanest of Russian critics,
considers him as a model of the really free man. As to Turgenev
himself, he saw that the coming of this type would make concrete a
rising force worthy of holding attention and also of commanding some
respect.

In practical life, this negative force has found its most extreme
expression in what has already been pointed out, that is, in the
revolutionary anarchism of Bakunin and in Tolstoy's recent theories
of pacific anarchism, which are founded on the gospel. But, while
very significant as great illustrations of certain sides of Russian
mentality, neither the one nor the other of these anarchistic
doctrines, so opposed in their substance, can be considered as an
expression of the modern Russian socialistic movement. Having found
a basis in the workingman movement of their country, the Russian
socialistic theoreticians have become more practical, and their
activity turns back to the realm of European socialism, which is to
be found in the doctrines of Karl Marx.

There was a time in Europe when they christened with the name
"nihilism" this active negation of civilization and of bourgeois
customs, so characteristic of the Russian "intellectuals." Taken in
its literal sense, this word is inexact, since those to whom it was
applied were inspired by a very high ideal. In a loose use of the
word, nihilism has, on the contrary, a real significance, especially
if one connects it with most of the Russian "intellectuals." The
liberal tendencies which were brewing in the realistic literature of
the period from 1840 to 1850, and which manifested themselves
suddenly with particular strength during the tumultuous decade
between 1860 and 1870, made the substance of the new theories and
the base of Russian mentality. These theories were very bold in
their negation, and it is for this reason that they have been called
"nihilistic."

If this intellectual "élite" should some day triumph in Russia, will
it be true to its moral idea of justice and liberty? It probably
will. We may then see the following phenomenon take place: the
realization of the most advanced program of modern civilization in
one of the most backward countries of Europe.

However paradoxical such a prevision may seem at first, it has a
fundamental element of truth. Two obstacles bar the way to
civilization and the normal development of new ideas, which are the
foundation of progress. First of all, there is the naïve and boorish
ignorance of the common people; then the resistance which every
established society instinctively offers to ideas of reformation. Of
these two conservative forces, Russia knows but one, pure and simple
ignorance, while the second, which can have art and science as
powerful allies, is completely lacking. But ignorance cannot last
forever. It diminishes more and more; that is why the most advanced
ideas of European civilization naturally go hand in hand with
learning in Russia, and occupy all places which knowledge wins from
ignorance. Since the Russian has had a taste of science he has
become the champion of social and democratic ideas; the latter
develop even with elementary instruction, as can easily be seen by
observing the movements made among the workmen of the city, and also
among the more advanced elements of the peasant population.

These particulars had already attracted the attention of the
brilliant peace advocate and profound thinker, Hertzen, who,
distressed by the bloody reprisals of bourgeoise Europe, following
the Revolution of 1848, fixed his attention on Russia, from which he
expected great things,--among others, a new civilization freed from
the prejudices and customs which held it back in other countries.

Hertzen represented Russia as an immense plain where people were
getting rid of old thatched cottages, and at the same time
collecting the necessary materials for new habitations. He saw a
world in which no one lived as yet, but where life as it should be
was being prepared for. And this idea, which may seem exaggerated,
has a good deal of sense in it. Does not every backward nation,
which hastens to take her place in the circle of the more advanced
peoples of Europe, resemble a vessel into which a new wine is to be
poured?

       *       *       *       *       *

If modern Russian literature has not deviated from its fundamental
principles, realism, democracy, and socialism, on the other hand, a
radical change has taken place in society which has necessarily had
an influence on it. The populace is not the sombre, inert, and
ignorant multitude that it has been heretofore. Learning is
penetrating more and more; and as an advance-guard, it has the
workingmen of the city and the people of the suburbs. A feeling of
dignity, of human personality, and a love of liberty is awakening in
the masses who have joined in the struggle which the "intellectuals"
are conducting against the passive forces of autocracy.

That is why the literature of this time--always excepting the period
from 1905 to 1910--is preëminently a literature of fiercer and more
active combat than ever before. As in times gone by, the heroes of
this literature are common people. The writers choose them from
among the students, schoolmasters, and school-mistresses of the
village schools, who with complete disregard of self carry on the
great work of popular education in the very heart of the country,
without caring about the arbitrary power which menaces them, or the
moral and material conditions of their lives. They also choose them
from among the doctors of the districts who are worn out in
despairing efforts to struggle against the terrible epidemics, and
who are also trying to improve hygienic conditions among the
peasants. In fine, among the heroes are included all who sacrifice
their personal interests for the general good.

The results of this terrible struggle against brute force are shown
in the excessive nervousness of the combatants, who have become
delirious with their aspirations towards liberty. Hatred of actual
reality and distrust of those who have resigned themselves to it
have made them accept sympathetically the most extreme and
uncompromising measures, and one often thinks one sees a certain
generosity among the people who are at war with society,--often, it
is true, for egotistical reasons, far removed from the great ideal
of reforms profitable to the masses. Such are the celebrated
barefoot brigade, the eternal vagabonds, the "lumpen-proletariat" of
Gorky's early works.

Another favorite subject of the Russian authors is the antagonism
which makes parents and children quarrel. But the children who were
radicals of the former generation have now became fathers, and are
often reproached by their sons for the practical impossibility of
the ideal for which they vainly expended their strength, and, as a
result of which, they are worn out and useless. Veressayev and
Chirikov have written most on this point.

However, in spite of repeated attacks, the resistance has grown in
intensity and the general uneasiness has spread without any one's
being able as yet to see any lasting or positive result. The
pessimism of various writers faithfully reflects this crisis.
Andreyev, for instance, possesses an extraordinary intuition of the
element of tragic mysteriousness which envelops the slightest
circumstances of daily life. Tchekoff, the prominent author who died
a few years ago, has left us remarkably realistic sketches, where he
obviously shows mental discouragement as a result of the struggle.
Another contemporary writer, Korolenko, whose poetic talent recalls
Turgenev to our minds, is distinguished, on the contrary, by the
attempts he has made to set free the spark of life which exists in
human beings who have broken down morally. All these writers have
such a direct and powerful influence on contemporary youth that we
are going to study them separately in this book, not excepting
Tchekoff, whose influence is still enormous.

Since the death of the prophet of Yasnaya-Polyana,[1] Russian
literature cannot boast of any writers who compare with Turgenev,
Dostoyevsky, Goncharov, or the dramatist Ostrovsky. The cause is to
be traced rather to circumstances than to the authors themselves.
For social life to furnish material suitable for the artist's
description, it must first of all have types which show a certain
consistency, a more or less determined attitude. But it is futile to
look for either stability or precision in Russian life since Russia
has been going through continual crises. It would be just as
difficult for literature to record rapid changes of ideas, as for an
artist to copy a model that cannot pose for him. Besides, most
contemporary writers are struggling hard for the means of
subsistence.

 [1] Tolstoy.

Sometimes their effort to get food has so sapped their strength that
they have not had enough time to finish their studies, nor enough
tranquillity of soul to apply their talents to an impartial view of
life and to incorporating in their work the documents which they
have collected. Even in the writing of the best Russian authors of
to-day one often feels that there is something unfinished, or hasty,
as if their thoughts had not matured.

I do not think that it will be superfluous to add that all Russian
literature for the past century has been able to express only a very
small part of what it had to say. The Russian writer continually
suffers from the constraint which forces him to check the flight of
his inspiration in order to escape from the foolish and often stupid
sternness of the pitiless censor. The poet Nekrasov shows us in one
of his poems an old soldier who has become a printer, and who speaks
in the following manner of Pushkin:

"He was a good man, tipped very generously, but he never ceased to
rage against the censor. When he saw his manuscripts marked with red
crosses, he became furious. One day, in order to console him, I
said:

"'Bah! why torment yourself?'

"'Why,' he cried, 'but it is blood that is flowing,--blood,--my
blood!'"

A great deal of blood was thus shed. And in order to accentuate the
action of the censor the police dealt cruel blows to the authors.
One day Pushkin was called to the head of the department. They
believed that they had recognized in one of his satires a certain
gentleman, named N. G., who demanded that Pushkin be severely
punished. Unnerved by the cross-examination to which he was put, the
poet cried:

"But it isn't N. G. whom I have drawn!"

"Who is it, then?"

"It is you, yourself," replied the poet.

"That is madness, sir," the high dignitary cried out with wrath.
"You say that wood belonging to the state was stolen. And at the
time when these thefts were committed I was away."

"Then you do not recognize yourself in my satire?"

"No, a thousand times no!"

"And N. G. recognizes himself?"

"Not exactly, but as he is in the service of the government...."

"Well, is he its spokesman and champion? And why is it precisely he
who asks to have me arrested?"

"All right," replied the dignitary, suddenly becoming milder, "I
shall inform His Majesty of our conversation."

The affair ended without further complications. It should be noted
that the Tsar himself protected Pushkin, for Pushkin had got into
touch with him in order to influence him more successfully.
Nevertheless, this acquaintance was only a new source of suffering
to the poet. In the case of certain less known writers the
malevolence of the higher authorities often took on a tragic turn.
For a single poem in which the poet Polezhayev described a students'
debauch, the author was reduced by Nicholas I to the rank of a
common soldier. Sokolovsky, another writer of this time, not being
able to get a footing in literature, abandoned the pen, and like
many others, sought to forget his disappointment in drink. For
several years Hertzen was transferred from one place of exile to
another until he came to England. And how terrible was the fate of
the talented poet of Little Russia, Shevchenko, who was exiled for
many years to a corner of European Russia and forbidden to do any
writing or even painting, a thing that he loved above all! And
finally, who does not know the sad comedy of Dostoyevsky, who was
made to go through all the preparations for his execution, but was
finally sent to that prison which he has so wonderfully described in
his recollections of "The Dead House"?

The Damocles' sword of defiant authority was suspended over the head
of every Russian writer. The vocation of literature was filled with
danger and brought about actual tragedies in some families. Thus,
Pushkin's father, fearing that the fury of the authorities would
extend to him, began to hate all literature, and had serious
quarrels with his son. Griboyedov's mother threw herself at her
son's feet and begged him not to write any more but rather to enter
the service of the State. In Griboyedov we have a sad example of a
great talent virtually buried alive by the censor. His comedy,
"Intelligence Comes to Grief," is a masterful work, sparkling with
satiric warmth, the equal of which it would be hard to find
anywhere. This first work, rich in promise, was never published nor
produced. Discouraged, the author renounced literature, and on the
advice of his mother, accepted a position as ambassador to Persia,
where he was killed in a riot.

       *       *       *       *       *

Not only does the censorship mutilate literary works, but it often
suffocates the inspiration of the author. The Russian press has
lately published a very interesting article on Nekrasov, explaining
the frequent interruptions of his activity by a momentary paralysis
of his inspiration. Often, he writes, the ideas and poetic forms
which come to his mind are so strong that he need only take up his
pen and write them down. But the thought that what he might write
would be condemned by the censor, stops him. It was, then, a long
struggle between the ideas which he wanted to express and the
obstacles which hindered him. And when finally Nekrasov had
smothered his inspiration, he was broken down and crushed by fatigue
and disgust, and for a long time he stopped writing. His friends
advised him to jot down his ideas in spite of all, in the hope that
they would be recognized by future generations when happier days
should dawn on literature. He was not successful, because in order
to create his genius needed to feel a close bond between him and his
readers. Thus the censor carried his brutal hand into the very
laboratory of thought.

Happily, since the movement toward reform between 1860 and 1870, the
Russian censor has become more lenient and now no one says what was
once said to the writer Bulgarin: "Your business is to describe
public activities, popular holidays, the theatre. Do not look for
other topics." The number of subjects open to the press has
increased. But the desire to live a free life has developed in
literature and in society alike, and as resistance to it has also
strengthened, the pressure has remained relatively the same. The
censor and the police continue to stifle the natural richness and
the power of the Russian mind. To-day, as before, Russian literature
is made up of just that small fraction of the whole which has
escaped government inquisition.

However, in spite of all the unheard-of constraints which weigh upon
her, Russia has already given us such great authors, that we need
not hesitate to say that on the day when she regains liberty of
speech and of pen, her literature will take its place among the
first in the world.



II

ANTON TCHEKOFF[2]

 [2] This spelling has been adopted here, rather than Chekhov,
 since it is more familiar to the public. In all other cases, the
 _ch_ and _v_ have been retained.


"There is a saying that man needs only six feet of ground, but that
is for a corpse and not for a living man. It is not six feet of
ground that man requires, not even an entire estate, but the whole
terrestrial globe, nature in its fullness, so that all his faculties
can expand freely."

This is the proud profession of faith that Anton Tchekoff made on
entering the literary world. He was born January 17, 1860, at
Taganrog, where his father, a freed serf, lived. After attending
school in his native town, he took up the study of medicine at
Moscow. Once a doctor, rather than practise, he devoted most of his
time to literature. His career as an author does not offer us any
extraordinary situations. He owed his success, and later on his
glory, to severe and prolonged work. His literary talent manifested
itself while he was still a student. He began his career with
humorous short stories which were published in various newspapers.
They brought him enough for the bare necessities of life.

These stories have been collected in two volumes. They are very
short, almost miniatures. For the most part they are elegant
trifles, worked out with painstaking care. One feels that the author
had no definite goal in sight; he wrote them simply to amuse and
entertain his readers. One would search in vain for any sort of
philosophy. On the contrary, one finds there a rather significant
spirit, a gaiety, care-free, loquacious and, at times, ironical.
Unimportant people tell pleasant things about themselves or others.
All these men are a trifle debauched, talky, futile, and their
companions are flighty, intriguing little women who chatter
incessantly. Everything begins and ends with a laugh. This recalls
some of the early works of Gogol, but, we repeat, one finds no moral
element in this laughter, and these tiny comedies are in reality no
more than simple vaudeville sketches. Once in a while we find a sad
note; less frequently, we find the sadness accentuated in order to
present a terrible drama. Such, then, are the contents of the first
two volumes which came from the pen of Tchekoff.

However, this melancholy little note, met from time to time,
gradually grew in intensity in the third volume, until later on it
lost all trace of the old carelessness, and developed, on the
contrary, into a profound sadness. Tchekoff unconsciously gave up
the "genre" of pleasant anecdote in order to concentrate all his
attention on facts. This practice made him sad. Russia was, at this
time, going through a period of prostration as a result of the last
Russo-Turkish war. This war, which, at the cost of enormous
sacrifices, ended in the liberation of the Bulgarian people,
awakened among the Russians a hope of obtaining their own liberty,
and provoked among the younger generation the most energetic efforts
to obtain this liberty, no matter what the cost might be. Alas, this
hope was frustrated! All efforts were in vain, a reaction followed,
and the year 1880 brought the reaction to its height. From then on
apathy followed in the steps of the great enthusiasm. All illusion
fled. A kind of disenchantment filled all minds. Those who had hoped
with such ardor, and had counted on their own strength, felt weak
and powerless. Some confined themselves to moaning incessantly. A
grey twilight enveloped Russian life and filled it with melancholy.
These are the dreary aspects that Tchekoff describes, and none has
excelled him in portraying the events of this hopeless reaction. His
stories and dramas give us a long procession of people who succumb
to the monotony, to the platitudes, to the desolation, of
existence.

It is in the following manner that one of his characters expresses
his ideas on the subject of this moral crisis:

"I was then not more than twenty-six years of age; nevertheless I
was conscious not only that life was senseless, but that it was
without any visible goal; that all was illusion and dupery; that, in
its consequences and even in its very essence, the life of the
exiled on the island of Sakhaline was very much the same as the life
that was led at Nice; that the difference between the brain of Kant
and the brain of a fly was very small; finally, that no one in this
world was either right or wrong."

This idea of the nothingness of life, with its extremes, monstrous
and profitless, is often found in the work of Tchekoff. His story
"The Kiss" is but a variation of this theme,--the absurdity of life.
Lieutenant Riabovich, under the influence of a chance kiss, a kiss
that was not meant for him, dreams of love for an entire summer; he
waits impatiently for the return of the pretty stranger; but alas,
his lovely dream cannot be realized, for the simple and cruel reason
that no one is waiting for _him_, no one is interested in him. One
day, on the banks of a stream, the young officer gives himself up to
his reflections:

"The water flows off; one knows not where nor why; it flowed in
exactly the same way last May; from the stream it flows into the
river, and then into the sea; then it evaporates, turns into rain,
and perhaps the very same water again flows by before my eyes.... To
what good? Why?" And all life appears to Riabovich an absurd
mystification and seems thoroughly senseless.

The hero of "The Bet" absolutely scorns humanity, with its petty and
its great deeds, its little and its great ideas, because he feels
that after all everything must disappear, be annihilated, and the
earth itself will turn into a mass of ice.

       *       *       *       *       *

Tchekoff has given us innumerable rough sketches typical of people
belonging to the most diverse social classes. He seems to take his
readers by the hand and to lead them wherever he can show them
characteristic scenes of modern Russian society,--be it in the
country, in the factory, in princely dwellings, at the post-office,
or on the highway. He barely takes the time absolutely necessary to
depict in a few, appropriate words a state of mind or the secret of
a gesture. One would say that he hastens to express the totality of
life with the variety of his detached manifestations of it. That is
why his stories are short; often mere allusions stand in place of
actual development. And whatever domains or corners of Russian life
the reader, under the guiding hand of this perspicacious cicerone,
may visit, he will almost always go away with one predominating
impression: the lamentable isolation of Russia.

"The Windswept Grain" shows the reader a religious establishment,
where a young Jew, recently converted, has taken refuge. Here is a
young man, very impressionable and eager to learn, who has fled from
his home and his family, whose prejudices offended him. His family
tries every means to bring him back and to punish his apostasy.

In order to employ his energies effectively, the young proselyte,
who has embraced the new religion only that he may follow progress,
tries to get a position as a school-teacher. But the apostleship of
learning cannot satisfy his versatile mind: he continues to flit
from one thing to another, like a gypsophilia, driven by the wind
across the entire stretch of the steppes of southern Russia.

Then Tchekoff takes us to a postal station to show us another type
of the "Windswept Grain." This man, like the young convert, is a
dreamer, who puts heart and soul into any new idea that comes along.
He also has spent his life in searching for an activity
corresponding to his ideal. At present, being a widower, he is
obliged to support both himself and his daughter, who, while loving
him devotedly, never ceases to reproach him for the many
inconveniences of their uncertain existence. In the evening, a young
widow from a neighboring province gets off at the place where he and
his daughter are living. When she sees the young girl pouting, she
consoles her by caressing her with the tact peculiar to women. Then,
at tea time, she starts talking to the father. The idealist tells of
his life, and reveals to the young woman the plans that he has made.
The true sympathy with which she listens, and the respectful and
tender feeling that he has for her, inevitably makes the reader
think that fate has not brought these two people together in vain,
and that their lives will be united. This impression persists when
on the next day we find the young woman entering her carriage
assisted by her companion of the evening before. We wait for the
word that will unite this couple. But neither of them pronounces the
all-important phrase. The carriage leaves; the man remains for a
long time motionless as a statue, watching with a mingled feeling of
joy and suffering the distant road and his disappearing happiness,
which, but a moment ago, he seemed to hold in his hand.

After those who insist on always realizing their temporary ideals,
let us take up characters of a new type, those whom destiny has
irredeemably conquered, and who have finally resigned themselves to
their fate.

An example of this type is Sofia Lvovna in "Volodia the Great and
Volodia the Small." Married to a rich colonel, she has no other end
in life. The days pass, tiresome, monotonous, filled only with
visits and driving; the nights are interminable and sad near this
husband whom she does not love, and whom she married out of spite
and for money. Love for a comrade of her youth, Volodia by name,
fills her heart. But this young man, who has recently finished his
studies, is just as commonplace and just as debauched as her husband
and the society which surrounds her. Sofia Lvovna is not yet
resigned to her fate. She speaks of her aspirations to her childhood
friend, who, after getting from her what he desires, leaves her at
the end of a week. And Sofia Lvovna becomes frightened at the
thought that for the young girls and women of her station there is
no other alternative than to go on riding in carriages, or to enter
a convent and gain salvation.

"The Attack" gives us an example of the terrible feeling of terror
that suddenly enters the proud soul of a young man at his first
contact with certain realities.

The student Vassiliev, a young man of excessively nervous
temperament, has visited a house of ill-fame, and since then, he
cannot rid himself of his painful impressions. Sombre thoughts
beset his mind: "Women, living women!" he repeats, his head between
his hands. "If I broke this lamp you would say that it was too bad;
but down there it is not lamps that they break, it is the existence
of human creatures! Living women!..."

He dreams of several ways of saving these unfortunates, and he
decides childishly to stand on a street-corner, and say to each
passer-by:

"Where are you going? and why? Fear God."

But this desire soon gives place to a general state of anguish and
hatred of himself. The evil seems too great for him, and its
vastness crushes him. In the meantime, the people about him do not
suffer; they are indifferent or incredulous. The student feels that
he is losing his mind. They confine him. Later on, when, cured, he
leaves the alienist, "he blushes at his anxiety."... The general
indifference has broken down his aspirations, smothered his vague
dream.

In "Peter the Bishop," we see a man, good and simple, the son of
peasants. This man, thanks to his intelligence, has raised himself
to the rank of bishop. During all his life he has suffocated in this
high ecclesiastical position, the pompous tinsel of which troubles
him to such an extent that the cordial and sincere relationship
existing between him and his old mother, who is so full of respect
for her son, is broken off. After his death he is quickly forgotten.
The old mother, now childless, when she walks in the fields with the
women of the village, still speaks of her children, of her
grandchildren, and of her son, the bishop. But she speaks timidly of
him, as if she feared that they would not believe her. And, in
truth, no one puts any faith in what she says.

It is among the people and the working classes that man is most
completely rid of all traces of an artificial and untruthful
exterior; the struggle against misery does not leave much room for
other preoccupations; life is merciless, it crushes unrelentingly
man's dreams of happiness, and often does not leave any one to share
the burden of sorrows or even its simple cares. The short and very
touching story of "The Coachman" gives us an excellent example of
this loneliness. Yona, a poor coachman, has lost his son; he feels
that he has not the strength to live through this sorrow alone; he
feels the absolute need of speaking to some one. But he tries in
vain to confide his sorrows to one or the other of his patrons. No
one listens to him. Therefore, once his day's work is over, alone in
the stable, he pours out his heart to his horse: "Yes, my little
mare, he is dead, my beloved child.... Let us suppose that you had a
colt, and that this colt should suddenly die, wouldn't that cause
you sorrow?" The mare looks at him with shining eyes, and snuffles
the hand of her master, who ends by telling her the entire story of
the sickness and death of his son.

In "The Dreams," a miserable vagabond, whom two constables are
taking to the neighboring city, dreams aloud of the pleasant life he
expects to lead in Siberia, whither he hopes to be deported. His
gaolers listen to him not without a certain interest. They also
begin to dream ... they dream of a free country, from which they are
separated by an enormous stretch of land, a country that they can
hardly conceive. One of them brusquely interrupts the dreams of the
vagabond: "That's all right, brother, you'll never get to that
enchanted land. How are you going to get there? You are going to
travel 300 versts and then you'll give your soul up to God. You are
already almost gone." And then, in the imagination of the vagabond,
other scenes present themselves: the slowness of justice, the
temporary jails, the prison, the forced marches and the weary halts,
the hard winters, sickness, the death of comrades.... "A shudder
passes through his whole body, his head trembles and his body
contracts like a worm which has been trodden upon...."

Let us now look at those numerous stories of Tchekoff which treat of
peasant life: "The Peasants," "The Murder," "In the Ravine," and
others.

"The Peasants" is one of the most important of the stories which
treat of the country, and was recently conspicuous for bringing up
the question, violently discussed by the Marxists and the Populists,
of the life of the people in the city and in the country.

Nicholas Chigueldyev, a waiter in a Moscow hotel, falls sick and has
to leave his work. All his savings go into the hands of the doctor
and the druggist. As he does not seem to improve, he decides to
return to his native village, where his family is still living. If
the air of the country does not cure him, he will at least die at
home. He had left the village at an early age, and had never gone
back to visit. He goes home with his wife and his little daughter.
There he finds his mother, his father, and his two brothers and
their wives in the most abject misery. The whole family is entombed
in a dark and filthy "isba" full of flies. Nicholas and his wife
immediately see that it would have been better for them to have
remained in Moscow. But it is too late. They haven't enough money to
return; they must remain. A horrible life begins for the sick man
and his family. There are endless quarrels, blows, abuses. They
reproach one another for eating and even for living. They are angry
at Nicholas and his wife for having come. The latter is soon tired
of this existence. In the city Nicholas had broken himself of
country manners. He wants to go back to Moscow. But where find the
money for the trip?... His sickness becomes more acute. An old
tailor, a former nurse, who has been called in, promises to cure
him; he bleeds him several times and Nicholas dies. The widow and
her little daughter spend the winter in the village. The young
woman, who had watched during those long days of suffering, is now
broken down. When spring comes, the mother and daughter go to the
church, and, after praying at the grave of their dead, they go
begging on the highway.

In "The Murder" Tchekoff studies certain manifestations in the
spiritual life of the peasants. Matvey Terekof belongs to a peasant
family the members of which are all known for their piety; in the
village they are called "the singing boys." Very orthodox, they hold
themselves aloof and give themselves over to mysticism.

Instead of playing with his little comrades, Matvey is constantly
poring over the Gospel. His piety increases, he prays night and
day, hardly eats anything, and experiences "a singular joy at
feeling himself grow weaker through the fasting." One day he notices
that the priest of the village is less pious than he. He enters a
convent in the hopes of finding there true Christians. But even
there his disillusionment comes soon. Finally, he decides to found a
church of his own. He hires a little room which he transforms into a
chapel. He finds disciples and soon gains a reputation as a
thaumaturgical saint.

A sect, of which he is to be the head, is in process of formation,
when, one day, he finds that he is on the wrong track. He thinks he
has committed a mortal sin. Pride has taken possession of him; it is
the Devil and not God who now directs his moves. Conscious of his
error, he returns to orthodoxy, and, in the hopes of expiating his
wrong-doing, he humiliates himself everywhere and on every occasion.

But his cousin Jacob, having become infected with his earlier ideas,
practises them with the fanatic ardor of a neophyte. With his sister
and several other religious people, he locks himself into his house
to pray; he sings vespers and matins. In the meanwhile Matvey
decides that he must read Jacob a sermon.

"Be reasonable," he tells him repeatedly, "repent, cousin. You will
lose, because you are the prey of the demon. Repent."

Instead of repenting, Jacob and his sister vow an implacable hatred
against Matvey; so extreme is their feeling, that one day, at the
end of an altercation, Jacob, blinded by rage, kills his cousin.

He is judged and condemned. He is sent to the island of Sakhaline.
There, he languishes, suffers, and despairs. But, little by little,
his mind grows peaceful, and he has consoling visions. In prison he
is surrounded by pariahs and criminals, and the sight of all this
human suffering turns him again towards God, towards the religion of
Love, the religion of pity for mankind. And now he wants to return
to the country to tell of the miracle that has taken place in him,
and to save souls from ill and ignorance.

In "The Ravine" evil and injustice triumph at times with revolting
cynicism. Evil is in everything and everywhere: "in the great
manufacturers who drive along the streets of the village, crushing
men and beasts; in the bailiff and the recorder, who are such bad
characters that their very faces betray their knavery;" and finally,
in the central figure of the story, Axinia, the wife of Stepan, the
youngest son of Tzibukine, a usurer and monopolist.

The unhealthy ravine hides a village inhabited by factory workers.
The best house belongs to Gregory Tzibukine, who traffics in
everything: brandy, wheat, cattle, lumber, and usury, on the side.
His eldest son, Anissme, is employed at the police station and
seldom comes home; the second son, Stepan, is deaf and sickly; he
helps his father both well and badly, and his wife, the pretty and
coquettish Axinia, runs all day between the cellar and the shop. The
father Tzibukine is also friendly to her and respects this young
woman, for she is a very good worker and is most intelligent.
Tzibukine, a widower, has married Varvara, an affable and pious soul
who gives alms,--a strange thing in this family who cheat everybody.
Anissme often sends home beautiful letters and presents. One day, he
comes unexpectedly; he has an unquiet, and, at the same time,
flippant air. His parents have decided to get him married, and,
although he is a drunkard, ugly and vulgar, they have found him a
pretty wife. The girl is Lipa, daughter of a poor widow, a laborer
like her mother. Anissme whistles and looks at the ceiling, and
shows no signs of pleasure at his coming marriage. He leaves the
house in a strange manner, and appears again three days before the
wedding, bringing to his parents, as gifts, some newly coined money.
The wedding day has come. The clergy and the well-to-do of the
neighborhood are present at the dinner, which is sumptuously served.
Lipa seems petrified with fear, for she barely knows her husband.
The festivities last a long time; at intervals the voices of women
can be heard outside hurling curses at the usurer. Then Anissme,
red, drunk, and sweating, is shoved into the room where Lipa has
already disrobed. Five days later, Anissme comes to his mother and
bids her good-bye. He confides in her that some one has given him
advice, and that he has decided either to become rich or to perish.
Now that her husband has departed, Lipa again becomes gay.

Meanwhile, they have arrested a reaper accused of having circulated
a bad piece of money which he says he received from Anissme the
night of the wedding. Tzibukine goes home, examines the money that
his son has given him, and decides that it is all counterfeit. He
orders Axinia to throw every bit of it into the well. But, instead
of obeying, she pays it out as wages to the workmen. A week passes;
they find out that Anissme has been thrown into prison as a
counterfeiter. Tzibukine despairs; he feels his strength
diminishing. Varvara continues to pray and to watch, while Stepan
and Axinia continue to ply their trade as before. When, later on,
Anissme is sentenced to ten years at hard labor in Siberia, Varvara
suggests to her husband that he should leave one of his houses to
the child which has just been born to Lipa, so that no one will
speak badly of him after his death. But, at this suggestion, Axinia
flies into such a fury, that, in her homicidal rage, she throws a
kettle of boiling water over the child, who dies later at the
hospital. Finally, she drives the young woman out of the house. Lipa
returns to her mother. Soon Axinia reigns as absolute mistress of
the house. Tzibukine becomes distracted; he does not take care of
his money any more, because he cannot tell the good from the bad.
Rumor has it that his daughter-in-law is letting him die of hunger.
Varvara still goes on with her good work. Anissme is forgotten. The
old man, starving, and driven from home, lodges a complaint against
the young woman. Coming back to the village, the old man, tottering
along the street, meets Lipa and her mother, who are now doing tile
work.

"Both bow deeply to him, and he looks at them with tears in his
eyes. Lipa offers him a piece of oatmeal cake, and the two women go
on their way, crossing themselves several times...."

The virtuous Varvara is an extremely characteristic type, with a
subtle psychology, carefully worked out; her honesty and goodness
form an indispensable contrast to the ambient horrors.

The author himself explains the rôle of Varvara and her action in
this system of evil. "Her alms seem to be something strange, joyous
and free, like the red flowers and the lights that glow before the
saintly images." On holidays, and on jubilees, which last three
days, when coarse and rotten meat is sold to the peasants who come
to pawn their scythes and hats, or their wives' shawls; when the
workingmen lie in the gutter under the influence of bad brandy, then
"one feels a bit relieved at the thought that down there, in that
house, there is a good and quiet woman, always ready to help
unfortunates."

Lipa and her mother are good and timid souls who suffer in silence,
and give to the poor the little that they possess:

"It seemed to them that some one up on high, further up than the
azure, there among the stars, saw what was going on in their
village, and watched. Big as the evil is, in spite of it, the night
is beautiful and calm; justice is and will be calm and beautiful on
God's earth also; the universe awaits the moment when it can melt
into this justice, as the light of the moon melts into the night."

       *       *       *       *       *

These, then, are Tchekoff's favorite themes, on which he has traced
numerous variations, always breathing forth a profound melancholy.

"The life of our industrial classes," he says, "is dark, and drags
itself along in sort of a twilight; as to the life of our common
people, workingmen and peasants, it is a black night, made up of
ignorance, poverty, and all sorts of prejudices."

But from this ocean of ignorance, of barbarity, of misery which
makes up the life of a peasant, Tchekoff has taken out the things of
most importance, things that always happen in the most solemn
moments of their existence.

"All," he says, in describing a religious procession in the country,
"the old man, his wife and the others, all stretch forth their hands
to the ikon of the holy Virgin, regard her ardently, and say through
their tears: 'Protectress! Virgin protectress!' And all seem to have
understood that the space between Heaven and Earth is not empty;
that the rich and the mighty have not swallowed up everything; that
there is protection against all wrongs, slavery, misery, the fatal
brandy...."

Besides, in a story entitled "My Life," Poloznev, speaking of the
peasants, expresses himself in the following manner:

"They were, for the most part, nervous and irritable people,
ignorant, and improvident, who could think of nothing but the grey
earth and black bread; a people who were crafty, but were stupid
about it, like the birds, who, when they want to hide themselves,
only hide their heads. They would not do the mowing for you for
twenty rubles, but they would do it for six liters of brandy,
notwithstanding the fact that with twenty rubles they can buy eight
times as much. What vice and foolishness! Nevertheless, one feels
that the life of the peasant has a great deal of depth. It makes no
difference that he, behind his plough, resembles an awkward beast,
or that he gets intoxicated. In spite of all, when you look at him
closely, you feel that he possesses the essential thing, the
sentiment of justice."

This love of justice Tchekoff has had occasion to observe even among
convicts. "The convict," he says, in his book on the prison of
Sakhaline, of which he made a profound study during his stay on the
island, "the prisoner, completely corrupted and unjust as he himself
is, loves justice more than any one else does, and if he does not
find it in his superiors, he becomes angry, and grows baser and more
distrustful from year to year."

       *       *       *       *       *

In the last works of Tchekoff the pessimistic tendency grows greater
and greater. It seems as if the writer had gone through a sort of
moral crisis, brought on by the conflict of his old despair and his
new hopes. At this time, Russian society itself began to shake off
its apathy, and this awakening, sweeping like a vivifying wave into
the soul of the sad artist, opened for him, at the same time,
perspectives of new ideas.

This second aspect of Tchekoff's talent is perceptible in the story
called "The Student." A seminarist, Velikopolsky by name, tells the
gardener Vassilissa and her daughter Lukeria about St. Peter's
denial of Christ. As a result of the impression which this story
makes on her Vassilissa suddenly breaks into tears; she weeps a long
time and hides her face as if she were ashamed of crying. Lukeria,
who has been watching the student fixedly, blushes and her face
takes on the tender and sad expression which is characteristic of
those whose life is made up of deep suffering. After taking leave of
them, the student thinks that Vassilissa's tears and the emotion of
her daughter come from sorrows connected with the things he has just
told them.

"If the old woman wept, it was not because he knew how to tell the
story in a touching manner, but because Peter was near to her, and
because she was interested, heart and soul, in what was going on in
the mind of the apostle...."

Joy suddenly fills his heart, and he stops a moment to take a long
breath. "The past," he muses, "is bound to the present by an
uninterrupted chain of events." "And it seems to him that he has
just seen the two ends of this chain: he has touched one, and the
other has vibrated...."

       *       *       *       *       *

In an ironical manner and by using very personal material, Tchekoff
paints more than anything else, life in its passive or negative
manifestations. Nevertheless, it is not satire, at least not in its
general trend, for in his work we find too much human tenderness for
satire. He does not laugh at his characters, and does not nail them
to the pillory in an outburst of indignation. In his writing, the
fundamental idea is fused with the form; his talent is calm,
thoughtful, observing; but it seems, at times, that this calmness,
this seeming indifference, is only a mask. A critic, speaking of
Tchekoff, has said: "He is a tender crayon." It would be hard to
find a more suitable expression. The delicacy of tone, the softness
of touch in the outlines, the polish of some of the details, the
capricious incompleteness of others are, in fact, the mark of his
talent.

Tchekoff was such a voluminous author that it would require a
veritable effort to remember the throng of characters which exists
in his books; and it is more than difficult not to confuse their
individual doings and achievements. This abundance is connected with
a peculiarity in the author's talent. He does not exhaust his
subject; the psychology of his characters is emphasized by two or
three expressive traits only, and this epitome is enough to make the
theme of a story, the simplicity and naturalness of which demand,
nevertheless, a high degree of art. The author is not interested in
outlining the details, but the picture that he has sparingly
conjured up stands out lifelike; he is always in a hurry to observe
and to tell. Therefore the brevity and quantity of his stories. His
stories seldom exceed ten pages in length, while some do not exceed
four. They constitute a series of sketches, of miniatures of rare
value, among which can be found some real gems. One cannot say as
much for his longer works, where certain parts are exaggerated, as
in "The Valet de Chambre," "Ward No. 6," "The Steppe," and "The
Duel."

The characters of the latter novel are especially weak and bad.
There is but one exception, the zoologist von Koren, a man of
determination, who believes that the suppression of useless people
and degenerates would be a meritorious piece of work. This idea is
suggested to him by the sight of a functionary called Layevsky, an
insignificant and lazy person, who has taken the wife of one of his
friends and fled with her to the Caucasus.

"The Valet de Chambre" is an equally unsatisfactory story. The
principal character is a young man who is supposed to be a
revolutionist. He enters the service of a Petersburg dandy in hopes
of meeting there a minister whom he wants to kill. The employer of
the pseudo-lackey, who is not aware of any of his projects, is a
masterful presentation of a type which we know as the sybaritical
citizen; the character of the valet is so fantastical that the
account of his adventures belongs absolutely to the "genre" of the
newspaper novel.[3]

 [3] In many European papers there is always to be found a part
 called the "feuilleton," which usually consists of a serial story,
 continued from day to day.

"Ward No. 6" is one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful
story that Tchekoff has written. It is an analysis of moral
degeneration, leading progressively to insanity, in a doctor who is
seized by the pervasive banality of the village in which he
practises. Tchekoff, like many other Russian writers, has shown
himself a master in the study of certain psychological anomalies.
Certain conversations between the doctor, who himself is going mad,
and a patient who has long since lost his reason, interesting as
they are from a philosophical standpoint, leave the world of reality
and run free according to the imagination of the author, who takes
advantage of this to formulate some of his favorite theories.

       *       *       *       *       *

Tchekoff has also tried himself out on the drama, and he has there
established himself in a peculiar manner. His plays, like his other
literary productions, belong to two distinct periods.

There are some amusing little trifles that do not amount to much.
Among these are: "The Bear," "The Asking in Marriage," and others.
Then come the more serious plays, where one feels for a moment the
influence of Ibsen. We find here again the same heroes, each of whom
talks about his own particular case, and acts only in starts. These
are specimens of "failures" belonging to the most tiresome
provincial society.

In "Ivanov," the author studies the mentality of a "failure."
Dominated by a sickly self-love, he has known nothing but losses. He
continually complains of his real and his imaginary sufferings.
After squandering all his fortune, he marries a young girl, whom he
wants to have act as his nurse. This empty life ends in suicide.

In "Uncle Vanya," we have Vanya, a man full of goodness, modesty,
and self-abnegation contrasted with the celebrated professor
Serebriakof, an egoist, unfeeling, scornful, and ungrateful. The
latter, who has recently remarried, comes back to the estate which
Uncle Vanya, the brother of his first wife, has managed for him. For
several years Vanya has been working incessantly; he has saved in
every possible way so that he can send as much money as possible to
his brother-in-law, this professor, fondled and pampered by the
whole family, who see in him their glorification. But Serebriakof
soon gets tired of the country; besides, he thinks that the
doctor--a friend of the family who is taking care of him--does not
understand his sickness, and he begins to mistrust him. He wants to
go away, to travel, in order to recover his health, and, in order to
make money, he proposes to sell the estate, which legally belongs to
Sonya, the daughter of his first wife.

Up to this time Uncle Vanya and the other members of the family as
well, had sacrificed themselves entirely to this celebrated man. But
at this proposition Vanya realizes that their idol is nothing but an
abominable egoist, and he begins to despise his brother-in-law. What
is more, he secretly loves the young and beautiful wife of the
professor, while she suffers from the everlasting complaints and
caprices of her husband. However, a general reconciliation takes
place. The professor and his wife leave for the city, and all goes
on as before; Uncle Vanya and the family will sacrifice themselves
for the glory of Serebriakof, to whom all the revenues of the estate
are sent.

The "Three Sisters," that is to say the sisters of Prozorov, live
with their brother in a vulgar, tiresome town,--a town lacking in
men of superior minds, a town where one person is like the next.

The great desire of the three sisters is to go to Moscow, but their
apathy keeps them in the country, and they continue to vegetate
while philosophizing about everything that they see. However, at the
arrival of a regiment, they become animated, and have sentimental
intrigues with the officers till the very day of their departure.

"They are going to leave; we shall be alone; the monotonous life is
going to begin again," cries one of the sisters.

"We must work; work alone consoles," says the second.

And the youngest exclaims, embracing her two sisters, while the
military band plays the farewell march:

"Ah, my dear sisters, your life is not yet completed. We are going
to live. The music is so gay! Just a little bit more, and I feel
that we shall know why we live, why we suffer...."

This certainly is the dominant note of Tchekoff's philosophy: the
impotency of living mitigated by a vague hope of progress.

The last, and perhaps the most important play of Tchekoff, is "The
Cherry Garden."[4] Human beings, locked up in themselves, morally
bounded, impotent and isolated, wander about in the old seignioral
estate of the Cherry Garden. The house is several centuries old. In
former times a happy life was led there; feasts were given, and
generals and princes were the hosts. The Cherry Garden gave tone to
the neighborhood, but many years have passed!... Now other houses
have taken its place: the estate is mortgaged, the interest is not
paid, and the only guests now are the postman or a railway official
who lives close by. The occupants of the house do not think of doing
anything about this state of things. For them the past is gone. All
that is left is a dislike for work, carelessness, improvidence, and
ignorance of the necessities of the present. Like all that dies,
they evoke a certain pity, a certain fatality hangs over them. The
inhabitants of the Cherry Garden set forth their ideas about one
another; but in reality none of them see anything but themselves, in
their small and very limited moral world, and they analyze with
difficulty the embryos of thought that are left to them. Thus, they
cannot grasp in full the evil that is falling on the old home, and
they remain impassive when some one proposes to alleviate this evil
by energetic means. People speak to them of the downfall to which
they are doomed; a means of safety is proposed, but they turn a deaf
ear and continue in their narrow and fruitless dream. Finally, when
the estate is sold, they look upon this event as a fatal and
unexpected blow. They say good-bye to the cradle of their family,
weeping silently, and depart.

 [4] For some reason, unknown to the translator, the author has
 made no mention of Tchekoff's famous play, "The Sea-Gull." This
 drama, which, when first produced, was a flat failure, scored a
 tremendous success a short while afterwards. It is especially
 interesting in that the author has made one of the characters,
 Trigorin, largely autobiographical. To-day "The Sea-Gull" is one
 of the most popular productions on the Russian stage.

They are now thrown out into the world. The old existence has gone,
as well as the seignioral estate. The Cherry Garden is to be torn
down; the blinds are all lowered, and in the half-darkened rooms,
the old servant, who is nearly a century old, wanders about among
the disordered furniture.

       *       *       *       *       *

Tchekoff is a true product of Russian literature, an autochthon
plant, nourished by his natal sap. His humor is completely Russian;
we hear Tolstoyan notes in his democracy; the "failures" of his
stories are distantly related to the "superficial characters" of
Turgenev; finally, the theory of the redemption of the past by
suffering which he puts in the heart of the hero of the "Cherry
Garden" makes us think of Dostoyevsky. The qualities which call to
mind all these great names in Russian literature are found in the
works of Tchekoff along with characteristics which show a very
original talent. If one wishes to look for foreign influence, one
can relate Tchekoff to de Maupassant and Ibsen, of whom he reminds
one in snatches, although still in a very vague way. And that is
indeed fortunate, for, in general, Scandinavian symbolism hardly
goes hand in hand with the Russian spirit, which likes to make
_direct_ answers to "cursed questions," and whose ideal, elaborated
since 1840 in the realm of strict realism, is so definite that it
does not necessitate going back to the circumlocutions of metaphors
and allegories.

While Tchekoff lived his literary aspect was enigmatical. Some
judged him to be indifferent, because they did not find in his
writings that revolutionary spirit which is felt in almost all
modern writers. Others thought of him as a pessimist who saw nothing
good in Russian life, because he described principally resigned
suffering or useless striving for a better life. Since the death of
Tchekoff, which made it necessary for the critics to study his works
as a whole, and especially since the publication of his
correspondence, his character has come to the fore, as it really is:
he is a writer, who, by the very nature of his talent, was
irresistibly forced to study the inner life of man impartially, and
who, consequently, remains the enemy of all religious or
philosophical dogmas which may hinder the task of the observer.

The division of men into good and bad, according to the point of
view of this or that doctrine, angered him:

"I fear," he says in one of his letters, "those who look for hidden
meanings between the lines, and those who look upon me as a
liberator or as a guardian. I am neither a liberal nor a
conservative, neither a monk nor an indifferent person. I despise
lies and violence everywhere and under any form.... I only want to
be an artist, and that's all."

One realized that this unfettered artist, with his hatred of lies
and violence, although he belonged to no political party, could be
nothing but a liberal in the noblest and greatest sense of the word.
One also realized that he was not the pessimist that he was once
believed to be, but a writer who suffered for his ideal and who
awakened by his works a desire to emerge from the twilight of life
that he depicted.

To some he even appeared as an enchanted admirer of the future
progress of humanity. Did he not often say, while admiring his own
little garden: "Do you know that in three or four hundred years the
entire earth will be a flourishing garden? How wonderful it will be
to live then!" And did he not pronounce these proud words: "Man must
be conscious of being superior to the lions, tigers, stars, in
short, to all nature. We are already superior and great people, and,
when we come to know all the strength of human genius, we shall be
comparable to the gods."

These great hopes did not prevent him from painting with a vigorous
brush the nothingness of mankind, not only at a certain given moment
and under certain circumstances, but always and everywhere. Is this
a paradox? No. If he did not doubt progress, he would be most
pessimistic, if I may so express myself. He would suffer from that
earthly pessimism, in face of which reason is weak; the pessimism
which manifests itself by a hopeless sadness in face of the
stupidity of life and the idea of death.

"I, my friend, am afraid of life, and do not understand it," says
one of Tchekoff's heroes. "When, lying on the grass, I examine a
lady-bird, it seems to me that its life is nothing but a texture of
horrors, and I see myself in it.... Everything frightens me because
I understand neither the motive nor the end of things. I understand
neither persons nor things. If you understand I congratulate you.

"When one looks at the blue sky for a long time, one's thoughts and
one's soul unite mysteriously in a feeling of solitude.... For a
moment one feels the loneliness of the dead, and the enigma of
hopeless and terrible life."

This universal hopelessness; this sadness, provoked by the
platitudes of existence compared with the unrelenting lessons of
death, of which Tchekoff speaks with such a nervous terror, can be
found in almost all the works of the best known Russian writers. We
find it in Byronian Lermontov, who sees nothing in life but "une
plaisanterie;" in Dostoyevsky, who has written so many striking
pages of realism on the bitterness of a life without religious
faith; and in the realist Turgenev, we find the same kind of thing.
Turgenev even reaches a stage of hopeless nihilism, and one of his
heroes, Bazarov,--in "Fathers and Sons,"--reflecting one day on the
lot of the peasant, considering it better than his, says sadly, "He,
at least, will have his little hut, while all I can hope for is a
bed of thorns." Finally, all the tortuous quests of the ideal toward
which Tolstoy strove, were suggested to him, as he himself says, by
his insatiable desire to find "the meaning of life, destroyed by
death."

It is sometimes maintained that this state of intellectual sadness
is innate in the Russians; that their sanguinary and melancholy
temperaments are a mixture of Don Quixote and Hamlet. Foreign
critics have often traced this despair to the so-called mysticism
peculiar to the Slavonic race.

What is there mystical in them? The consciousness of the
nothingness, of the emptiness of human life, can be found deep down
in the souls of nearly all mankind. It shows itself, among most
people, only on rare tragic occasions, when general or particular
catastrophes take place; at other times it is smothered by the
immediate cares of life, by passions that grip us, and, finally, by
religion. But none of these influences had any effect on Tchekoff.
He was too noble to be completely absorbed by the mean details of
life; his organism was too delicate to become the prey of an
overwhelming passion; and his character too positive to give itself
over to religious dogmas. "I lost my childhood faith a long time
ago," he once wrote, "and I regard all intelligent belief with
perplexity.... In reality, the 'intellectuals' only play at
religion, chiefly because they have nothing else to do." Tchekoff,
in his sober manner, has seen and recognized the two great aspects
of life: first, the world of social and historical progress with its
promise of future comforts; secondly, an aspect that is closely
related to the above, the obscure world of the unknown man who feels
the cold breath of death upon him. He was an absolute positivist;
his positivism did not make him self-assertive nor peremptory; on
the contrary, it oppressed him.

But why should this sad state of mind, which has been expressed by
great men in all literatures, be so exceptionally prominent among
the Russians, and particularly among the modern ones? The reason is,
without a doubt, because the political and social organization of
Russia has always been a prison for literature. Oppression had
reached its height during Tchekoff's life. This period was the
moment of suffocation before the storm. If Tchekoff were alive
to-day, now that the tempest has burst forth, his sadness would be
lessened, or it would at least have before it the screen which,
according to Pascal, people wear before their eyes that they may not
see the abyss, on the edge of which they pass their lives. Up to the
present time, the Russians have lacked these screens.



III

VLADIMIR KOROLENKO


"A long time ago, on a dark autumn evening, I was being rowed down a
rather uninteresting Siberian stream. Suddenly, at a bend in the
river, I saw a bright fire burning ahead of us at the foot of some
black mountains. It did not seem far away.

"'Thank Heaven,' I cried with joy, 'we have nearly reached our
stopping-place!'

"The boatsman turned, looked at the fire over his shoulder, and
again grasped the oars with an apathetic gesture:

"'That is still a long way off,' he murmured.

"I did not believe him, for the fire seemed to stand out very clear
against the infinite shadows. However, he was right; we were still
far away.

"Just so those fires, the conquerors of darkness, deceive us into
thinking that they are near, while they only cast their distant,
illusive rays into the night...."

It is with this sober description in "Little Fires" that one of the
last volumes of Korolenko's "Sketches and Stories" opens. This
simple picture makes a warm and clear impression on one's very soul.
It is itself a precious and welcome light.

At times when life is sombre, and when shadows fill the heart, when,
under the blows of despair and anguish, courage finally fails, the
mere existence of some brave spirit suffices to give a new birth to
hope and to rekindle the flame so that the distance is again lighted
up, and we again put our shoulders to the wheel.

Thus for more than thirty years in Russian literature Korolenko has
played the part of one of these clear, alluring lights. He has not
written a single book in which we do not find a fire that warms us
with its caresses even from afar, not one in which we do not feel
the vibration of a loving heart, which dreams of giving light and
joy to all unfortunates, and is confident that if they have not yet
had their equal share, they will surely have it some day.

Korolenko was born in 1853 in Zhitomir, in Little Russia. On his
father's side he is descended from an old Cossack family, and by his
mother he is related to Polish nobility. This double origin, so to
speak, is shown very clearly in his works, which are filled with the
melancholy and dreamy poetry of the Little Russians, and also with
the perennial hope so common among the Poles.

His father was a judge and enjoyed a reputation for strict
integrity. It was, in fact, often hard for him to ward off those who
wanted to thank him for his services. One day he had to accept a
gift. A merchant, whose case he had won, sent him a cart filled with
various objects, among which was a beautiful large doll. The little
daughter of the judge saw it, and at once took possession of it. The
judge, when he found out what had happened, ordered the gifts to be
returned immediately; but, because of the grief of the little girl,
they had to give up all thoughts of returning the doll.

The judge, who was a man of firm principles, maintained a severe
discipline in his family. He made a special study of medicine and
hygiene, and put his knowledge into practice by treating the sick of
the neighborhood. His children, although always well dressed, had to
go around barefoot. Their father was convinced that this was the
best way to toughen them. Besides, they were compelled, every
morning, summer and winter, to take a cold plunge bath. The children
did not like this way of doing things. Early in the morning they
used to run to the stable in their shirts, and there, cowering in a
corner, trembling with cold, they would wait for their father to
leave the house.

Korolenko remembers well this Spartan-like education, which inured
him to the severity of the seasons. Without this training he
certainly would have perished in savage and freezing Siberia, where
he lived in exile for several years.

At the death of the father, the family with its six children was
left without resources. The mother, a very good and kind woman,
opened a boys' boarding-school, and Vladimir, then fifteen years of
age, helped her as well as he could, and also earned money by giving
lessons outside.

In 1870, after having finished his studies in his native town,
Korolenko entered the Technological Institute at St. Petersburg,
where he spent two years in extreme poverty. He had to earn his
living as well as he could, by giving lessons or doing copying. His
mother could not help him at all, as she herself had to struggle
against adversity. The following will show how sparingly he had to
live in his youth: during his two years, he had a real substantial
meal only about once in two months, and then in a restaurant run on
philanthropic principles, where he paid only 30 copecks (about 30
cents). His regular meals consisted of bread, tea, sausage and
potatoes. But this was an epoch in which living was cheap: the wave
of democracy was spreading, and the "intellectuals" were trying to
get into closer touch with the people. The movement was so powerful
that many of the younger generation who could have done other
things took up this work; others, on principle, married humble
peasants. In 1872 Korolenko left for Moscow, and there entered the
Academy of Agriculture. He was expelled after two years and sent to
Kronstadt for having taken part in student manifestations. Several
years later, we find him again in St. Petersburg without a permanent
position; he was employed as a reader in a publishing house, and was
also attempting to do some writing. His first efforts took the form
of a series of sketches, published under the title, "Episodes in the
Life of a Seeker." He was at this time accused of being too much
inspired by the scenes of sadness and injustice of which he had been
a witness. In 1879 he was imprisoned and then deported to Viatka. He
remained there a year. Thence he was sent to the miserable town of
Kama, and a few months later to Tomsk, where he learned that they
wanted to exile him to Siberia. In a letter, published by a
newspaper, he eloquently protested against the persecutions of which
he was the unhappy victim. His protestation was answered by his
transfer to the frozen region of the province of Yakutsk in Eastern
Siberia! He passed three years in the midst of the "taiga," the
immense virgin forest which covers this country, in a village of
nomads whose miserable huts, very low and smoky, were scattered
along the shores of the Aldane. Here he wrote several stories, and
the "Dream of Makar," which was published two years later, and
greatly praised by the critics for its originality and its setting.
The dreary country around Yakutsk and the life that is lived there
made such a profound impression on the young man that even to-day he
speaks of that time with real emotion.

"My hut was at the extreme end of the town. During the short day one
could see the small plain, the mountains which surrounded it, and
the fires in the other huts, in which lived people who were either
descended from Russian colonists or deported Tartars. But in the
morning and evening a cold grey mist covered everything so thickly
that one could not see a foot ahead.

"My little hut was like a lost island in a boundless ocean. Not a
sound about me.... The minutes, the hours passed, and insensibly the
fatal moment approached when the 'cursed land' pierced me with the
hostility of its freezing cold and its terrible shadows, when the
high mountains covered with black forests rose menacingly before me,
the endless steppes, all lying between me and my country and all
that was dear to me.... Then came the terrible sadness ... which, in
the depths of your heart, suddenly lifts up its sinister head, and
in the terrible silence among the shadows murmurs these words: 'This
is the end of you ... the very end ... you will remain in this tomb
till you die....'

"A low and caressing whine brought me out of my heavy stupor: it was
my friend, Cerberus, my intelligent and faithful dog, who had been
placed as a sentinel near the door. Chilled through and through, he
was asking me what was the matter and why, in such terribly cold
weather, I did not have a fire.

"Whenever I felt that I was going to be beaten in my struggle with
silence and the shadows, I turned to this wholesome expedient,--a
large fire."

In 1885, Korolenko, having returned from Siberia, went to
Nizhny-Novgorod, and in a relatively short space of time wrote a
series of stories which, two years later, were collected in book
form. Afterward, he became the editor of the celebrated St.
Petersburg review, the "Russkoe Bogatsvo,"--a position which he
still holds.

       *       *       *       *       *

In all of Korolenko's works we distinctly feel the living breath
that inspires the artist, and the ardor of a fervent ideal. His god
is man; his ideal, humanity; his "leitmotiv," the poetry of human
suffering. This intimate connection with all that is human is to
be found in his psychological analysis as well as in his
descriptions of natural phenomena. Both God and nature are in turn
spiritualized and humanized. Korolenko looks at life from a human
standpoint; the world which he describes is made up wholly of men
and exists for them only. He has a very clear philosophy, and a
conscience aware of the duties it has to perform. If he has not
opened up hitherto unknown paths, nor made new roads, he has
himself nevertheless passed through terrible experiences; he has
been a prey to profound sorrows and doubts, and in spite of all, he
has kept his love for the people intact, and deeply pities their
ignorance and abasement. His work constantly recalls to our minds
the theory that the cultivated classes are in debt to the people
for the education which they have received at the people's expense.
This is the great moral principle which governs the conscience of
the Russian "intellectuals." It is in this sense then, that
Korolenko may be said to continue the literature of 1870, and to be
the successor of Zlatovratsky and Uspensky. But he has reincarnated
this past in new forms, which naturally result from the activity of
his far-sighted, powerful intelligence. We do not find in his work
either the nervousness, often sickly, which pervades the works of
Uspensky, or the optimism of Zlatovratsky, which often excessively
idealizes the life of the Russian peasant, who is the principal
hero of all his works. Korolenko, because he puts a high value on
human personality, perfectly appreciates the terrible struggle that
man has to make in order to secure his rights. A desire for justice
on the one hand, and a defence of man's dignity on the other, form
the very essence of the talent of this author, and it is with these
feelings that he observes the people on whom injustice weighs most
heavily and who have merely remnants of human dignity left in their
make-up,--for in general, these people are not those whom fate has
overcome. Most of them lead a hard and gloomy life beset with
misfortunes. Many of them are vagabonds, escaped convicts,
drunkards, murderers, who are bowed down with misery, and have no
wish except to escape the mortal dangers of the Siberian forests
and marshes. On opening any of Korolenko's books we find ourselves,
to use his own words, in "bad company." He does not flatter his
heroes, he does not make gentlemen of them; they are not even men,
but rather human rubbish.

"Because I knew a lot about the world," he writes, "I knew that
there were people who had lost every vestige of humanity. I knew
that they were corroded with vice and sunk deep in debauchery, in
which they lived contented. But when the recollection of these
beings surged through my mind, enveloped in the mists of the past, I
saw nothing but a terrible tragedy, and felt only an inexpressible
sorrow...."

This author does not give any judgment on life; he does not condemn
it and does not nourish a preconceived spite against it, but his sad
heart overflows with pity, and, if he approaches this life, it is
with the balm of love, in order to try to dress its terrible wounds.

For Korolenko, the sufferings of existence atone for its injustice;
he does not perceive the iniquities that surround him except through
the prism of sorrow.

       *       *       *       *       *

From the very beginning of his literary career, in his first book,
"Episodes in the Life of a Seeker," Korolenko shows himself to be a
seeker after truth. With him, the understanding of life, so ardently
sought after, is never summed up in a single solution. He dreams of
it constantly; at times, he seems to have found it, but he loses
track of it again and starts all over.

This groping about resulted in a moral crisis in which he looked
forward to death with joy. Beset with the thought of suicide, he
often prowled around railroad platforms and looked at the
car-wheels.

"I went there and came back again," he writes, "depressed by my
realization of the stupidity of life. The snow was falling all
around me, and shaping itself into a frozen carpet, the telegraph
poles shivered as if they were cold through and through, and on the
other side of the road, on a slope, shone the sad little light of
the watchman's tower. There, in the darkness, lived a whole family.
Through the shadows the little red fire seemed to be as desolate as
the family. The children were scrofulous and suffered; the mother
was thin and sickly. To procreate and to bury! Such was the life of
the father, probably the most unfortunate of all, because the
household depended wholly upon him, and he saw no gleam of hope
anywhere. He bore this condition of things, because, in his
simplicity, he believed in a superior will, and thought that his
misery was inevitable. The resignation of this man, the terrible
bareness of his obscure existence, oppressed me. If I could bear the
sight of it, it was only because I hoped; I thought that we should
soon find the road which makes life happier, more agreeable to every
one. How, where, in what manner? What a mystery! But the future
beauty of life was in the search for it."

       *       *       *       *       *

The observations that Korolenko was able to make were many and
diverse. By going all over Russia he gathered inexhaustible riches,
in the form of anecdotes and actual experiences. This can be easily
realized when we consider the sumptuous variety of his descriptions.
Where do we not go, and whom do we not meet in his books? First, we
are in a peaceful little town of the southwest, then in the thick
woods of Poliyessye, in the snow-covered and frozen Siberian
forests, or in the valleys of Sakhaline, inhabited by half-breed
Russians and escaped convicts, not to mention the innumerable
sectarians who fill the Siberian prisons. And Korolenko never
repeats. Not even a detail occurs more than once. Each of his works
is a little world in itself. The author, moreover, unlike other
writers, is never satisfied with pale sketches; each character is
shown in full relief, each picture is absolutely finished. This
wholeness, this finish which does not hurt the harmony of the
proportions, is a precious quality, very rare in our time.

       *       *       *       *       *

The "Sketches of a Siberian Tourist," published in 1896, in which
bandits of various odd types tell thrilling tales of nocturnal
attacks and other adventures, is a kind of artistic novel. The
postillion is the most original character in the book. Huge of
stature, audacious and clever, he exercises a mysterious influence
over the brigands, whom he inspires with a superstitious terror.
Most of them, thinking him invulnerable, do not dare attack the
travelers whom he is driving.

That same year another work of Korolenko's appeared, called: "In Bad
Company,"--a sort of autobiography which added to his renown. The
story, poetically simple, is laid in a provincial town. The hero is
a little, seven-year-old boy called Volodya. He is the son of the
local judge. The mother has been dead for a long time, and the
father, in his sorrow, more or less loses track of his children, who
roam about unwatched.

The little town has its historic legends; it boasts of the ruins of
a castle, which in times gone by was inhabited by rich Polish
counts, whose descendants, having become poor, have long since left
their manorial home. The castle has served as a refuge for a nomadic
population. Expelled by the count's agent, this little band has
taken up its abode in a dilapidated chapel in the crypts of a
cemetery.

The chief of this barefoot brigade is called Tibertius Droba. He has
two children: Vanek, a large, dark-haired lad, whom one sees
wandering about the village with a sullen look on his face, and
Maroussya, a small and thin child, who is gradually fading away in
the darkness of her cellar-like home.

While strolling about one day, Volodya, impelled by his childish
curiosity, decides, with two of his friends, to explore the chapel.
He meets there Tibertius' children and they strike up a friendship.
The description of the ruins and of the superstitious fear of the
children gives an opportunity for some exquisite pages. If the
little vagabonds are hungry, poor Volodya, who himself is without
love or caresses, suffers still more, but every time that he brings
the children some apples or cakes he feels that he is less unhappy,
because these offerings are accepted with such an outpouring of
gratitude. Gradually, the little lad gets to know all the
inhabitants, and becomes especially intimate with Maroussya, whose
eyes have an expression of precocious desolation.

"Her smile," says Korolenko, "reminded me of my mother during the
last few months of her life; so much so, that I almost used to weep
when I watched this little girl."

One day, Volodya brings her some apples, flowers, and a doll that
his little sister has given him.

"Why is she always so sad?" he asks Maroussya's brother.

"It is on account of the grey stone," he replies.

"Yes, the grey stone," repeated Maroussya, like a feeble echo.

"What grey stone?"

"The grey stone that has sucked the life out of her," explained
Vanek, gazing at the sky. "Tibertius says so, and Tibertius knows
everything."

"I was very much puzzled, but the force with which Tibertius'
omniscience was affirmed impressed me. I looked at the little girl,
who was still playing with the flowers, but almost without moving.
There were dark rings under her eyes and her face was pale. I did
not exactly understand the meaning of Tibertius' words, but I felt
dimly that they veiled some terrible reality. The grey stone was, in
fact, sucking out the life of this frail child. But how could grey
stones do it? How could this hard and formless thing worm itself
into Maroussya's very soul, and make the ruddy glow disappear from
her cheeks and the brilliancy from her eyes? These mysteries puzzled
me more than the phantoms of the castle."

Volodya's father is not aware that he is spending part of his days
in the cemetery, and knows nothing of his son's new friends. But one
day the secret is discovered, and a family storm follows. The judge
demands a full confession. Volodya heroically remains silent.
Finally, Tibertius himself pleads the child's cause so eloquently
that Volodya is not scolded and the father allows him to go and say
good-bye to his little friend, who has meanwhile died of privation.
The day after the little girl's funeral the whole band disappears
without leaving a trace behind them. "Later on," says Korolenko,
"when we were about to leave our home, it was on the grave of our
poor little friend that my sister and I, both of us full of life,
faith, and hope, interchanged our vows of universal compassion...."

Another short story, called "The Murmuring Forest," which was
published in the same year, made as much of a success as "Bad
Company."

       *       *       *       *       *

But it is in "The Blind Musician" that Korolenko attains perfection.
This masterly psychological study does not present a very
complicated plot. From the very start the reader is captivated by a
powerful poetic quality, free from all artifice, fresh, spontaneous,
and breathing forth such moral purity, such tender pity, that one
literally feels regenerated.

Here is a brief outline of this exquisite story. One very dark
night, a child of rich parents is born in the southwest of Russia.
Peter--the child--is blind. His whole life is to be but a groping in
the shadows toward the light. The mother adores the poor child and
suffers more than he. But she has not enough moral strength to bring
him up, and give him the necessary comfort and energy. His father,
a countryman, thinks only of his business. Happily, there is on the
mother's side an uncle called Maxim, one of the famous "thousand" of
Garibaldi, who has a noble and generous disposition. It is he who
brings up the child, with a tenderness just touched by severity.
Peter's young mind is constantly enriched with new pictures. Thanks
to the extreme acuteness of his hearing, he catches the very
slightest sounds of nature. When barely five years of age the boy
shows his love for music; he spends hours, motionless, listening to
the playing of one of the servants who has made for himself a kind
of flute. Soon Peter begins to study music, and especially the
violin. His rapid progress astonishes his teachers. However, in
spite of his love for music and the comfort that it gives him, the
blind boy suffers from his infirmity. To distract his mind from his
own suffering, his uncle takes him one day to a place where there
are some blind beggars. Peter listens to their plaintive melody:
"Alms, alms for a poor blind man ... for the love of Christ"; and as
if he had heard the voice of some phantom, the child returns home,
frightened, confused. From that day, he is transformed. Until then,
he had thought only of himself, he had become grey with his own
sorrow. Afterward, he suffers for others; his personal sorrow
diminishes, and his life becomes an expression of the sorrows of
his fellows in misery, an ardent and passionate prayer for others
who also are deprived of sight.

For several years he has been friends with a young girl of his
neighborhood. They marry, and Evelyn, his wife, brings some
happiness to the poor blind man. But soon there comes a time of
indescribable anguish. Evelyn gives birth to a boy, and Peter is
tortured by a presentiment of impending evil. Will the son be blind
like his father? The few moments when the doctors are testing the
infant's sight pass like so many centuries. Finally the physician
says: "The pupil is contracting, the child is not blind." Peter,
seated by the window, pale and motionless, rises quickly at these
words. In a moment fear has disappeared and hope is transformed into
certainty and fills the blind man's heart with joy. "The child is
not blind." One might say that these few words of the doctor had
burned a path in his brain.

"His whole frame vibrated like a taut cord which had been snapped. A
flash went through him, like lightning in a sunless sky, conjuring
up in him strange phantasms. Whether they were sounds or sights he
could not determine. But if they were sounds they were sounds which
he could see. They sparkled like the vault of the sky, shone like
the sun, waved like the rustling, whispering grass of the steppes.
These were the sensations of a moment. What followed he was unable
to recall. But he stubbornly affirmed that in this moment he had
_seen_. What had he seen? How had he seen? Had he really seen? This
always remained a mystery. People said that it was impossible. He,
however, affirmed that in that moment he had seen the earth, his
wife, his mother, his son, and Uncle Maxim.... He was standing up,
and his face was so illumined and so strange that every one around
him was silent.... Later on, there remained nothing but the
remembrance of a sort of joyous satisfaction, and the absolute
conviction that, at that moment, he had seen...."

A year later, at Kiev, at a concert for charity, Peter made his
début. An enormous crowd gathered to hear the blind musician. From
the very first the audience was captivated. Moved to its depths, the
crowd became frantic. And Uncle Maxim heard something familiar in
the playing of his nephew.

He saw a large, crowded street, and a clear, gay wave of scolding
and jesting humanity. Then, gradually, this picture faded into the
background. A groaning was heard. It detached itself from the clamor
of the crowd and passed through the hall in a sweet but powerful
note, which sobbed and moved one's heart. Maxim knew it well, this
sad melody: "Alms, alms for the poor blind man ... for the love of
Christ."

"He understands suffering," murmured the uncle. "He has had his
share, and that is why he can change it into music for this happy
audience."

"And the head of the old warrior sank on his breast. His work was
done. He had made a good man. He had not lived in vain. He had but
to look at the crowd to be convinced of that."

       *       *       *       *       *

Korolenko belongs to the school of Turgenev. In all of his works he
remains true to the principles which his master summed up in a
letter: "One must penetrate the surroundings, and take life in all
its manifestations; decipher the laws by which it is governed; get
at the very essence of life, while remaining always within the
boundaries of truth; and finally, one must not be contented with a
superficial study."

Korolenko lives up to all of these principles. Without tiring, he
watches life in all of its phases. He uses a large canvas for his
studies of inanimate nature, as well as of individuals in particular
and the masses in general. That is why his work gives us such an
exact reproduction of life.

Like Turgenev, he describes nature admirably. His descriptions are
not irrelevant ornaments, but they constitute an organic and
integral part of the picture. In both Turgenev and Korolenko the
surrounding country reflects the feelings and emotions of the
heroes, and takes on a purely lyric character. One might almost say
that these country scenes breathe, speak a human language, and
whisper mysterious legends.

Korolenko has given us several splendid landscapes. In some of these
nature seems to be in a serene mood, like a good mother whose
harmonious strength attracts man and shows him the need of reposing
on her bosom. In others, nature is like a strong, free element which
incites man to lead an independent life. Thus, in the beautiful
prose poem, "The Moment," in which the action passes in Spain, it is
the ocean beating against the prison walls that arouses Diatz from
his torpor and makes him attempt to escape.

       *       *       *       *       *

But, in spite of the importance of the background in Korolenko's
work, it is really in the conscience of his characters that the
essential drama takes place. More than anything else, it is
psychology that beguiles the artist; it is only through psychology
that Korolenko depicts men and their mentalities. He studies the
strong and the weak, the simple and the complex; exaltation,
triumph, revolt, and downfall all interest him equally.

A simple analysis of his story, "Makar's Dream," will show his
psychological genius to greater advantage than could any critical
essay.

In the very heart of the dense woods of the "taiga," Makar, a poor
little peasant, who has become half savage by association with the
Yakutsk people, dreams of a better future.

Makar does not dream, however, when he is normal; he hasn't time to,
for he has to chop wood, plough, sow, and grind grain. He only
dreams when he is drunk. As soon as he is under the influence of
liquor, he weeps and says that he is going to leave everything and
go to the "sacred mountain" to gain salvation for his soul. What is
the name of this mountain? Where is it? He does not know exactly; he
only knows that it is very far away. On Christmas eve, Makar extorts
a ruble from two political refugees, and, instead of bringing them
some wood for the money, he quickly buys some tobacco and brandy.
After drinking and smoking a great deal, Makar goes to sleep and has
a dream. He dreams that the frost has got the better of him in the
woods, that he has died there, and that the priest Ivan, who has
also been dead a long time, takes him to the great Tayon--the god of
the woods--to be judged for his former deeds. Even there his
natural knavery does not forsake him; he tries to fool Tayon. But
the latter has everything that Makar has ever done, both good and
bad, written down, and becoming angry, he says: "I see that you are
a liar, a sluggard, and a drunkard."

He orders Makar to be transformed into a post-horse, to be used by
the police commissioner. And Makar, this Makar who never in his
lifetime was known to say more than ten words at a time, suddenly
finds that he has the faculty of speech. He begins by saying that he
does not want to be a horse, not because he is afraid of work but
because this decision is unfair. If one works geldings, one feeds
them with oats; but people have imposed upon him and tortured him
all his life and have never fed him, no, not even with oats.

"Who imposed upon you and tortured you?" asks old Tayon, moved by
compassion.

"Everybody! The men who demanded taxes, the heat and the cold, rain
and dryness, the pitiless earth, and the forest."

The beam of the balance wavers; the wooden dish, filled with sins,
rises, while the golden one sinks.

Makar continues: "You have everything written down, have you? Well,
look and see whether Makar has ever had any kindness shown to him.
He is here before his judges, dirty, his hair disordered, and his
clothes in rags. He is ashamed. However, he realizes that he was
born just like the others, with clear eyes in which both heaven and
earth were reflected, and with a heart ready to open and receive all
the beauty of the world."

Makar thus passes in review his miserable life. Old Tayon is moved.

"Makar, you are no longer on earth, and you shall receive justice."

Makar begins to weep, and Tayon weeps too.... And the young gods and
the angels, they also shed tears.

Again the balance moves. But this time it is in the opposite
direction.

Makar has received justice from the hands of Tayon.

       *       *       *       *       *

Korolenko does not try to reconcile us to reality, but to mankind.
In all of the catastrophes in his books, in the most sombre
descriptions, he comforts us with a consolation, an ideal, a "little
fire" that burns in the distance and attracts us. But to get to that
fire we have to fight against evil. And it is perhaps in answer to
Tolstoy's doctrine of passive resistance that Korolenko wrote that
beautiful story called, "The Legend of Florus," the subject of which
was probably taken from "The War of the Jews," by Flavius Josephus.

This work takes us back to the time when Judæa was bowed down under
Roman rule. The Jews bear their lot without a murmur, and this
resignation encourages Florus, the governor of Judæa, to oppress
them more.

Soon there are two parties formed: the "pacifics" want to rid
themselves of Roman cruelty by humble submission, while the others
advise opposing this cruelty to the utmost. The chief of the latter
party is Menahem, the son of a famous warrior who has inherited from
his father his generous passions and his hatred of oppression.
Menahem's words inspire respect even in his enemies. But he does not
succeed in making peace among his people. In vain he cries to them,
as his father before him had cried: "It is disgraceful to bow down
to sovereigns, especially since these sovereigns are men; no human
being should bow down to any one excepting God, who created men that
they might be free." With great trouble he finally succeeds in
rousing a part of the people to rebellion. Then he leaves the city
with his followers, resolved to defend his country. Menahem has no
illusions as to the outcome; he knows that he will be conquered by
the Romans. Nevertheless he is fearless, for his whole being is
filled with a single thought,--the idea of justice, which imposes
upon men certain obligations which they must not scorn.

During his stay in Siberia Korolenko had a very good chance to
observe the deported convicts. Most of them are thieves, forgers,
and murderers. The others, urged on by a heroic desire to live their
own true lives, have been sent to this "cursed land" because of
"political offences."

Korolenko is not resigned to the sadness of life, he is not an enemy
to manly calls to active struggle, but he neither wants to, nor can
he, break the ties that bind him to the real life of the present. He
does not wish either to judge or to renounce this life. Nor does he
try, by fighting, to perpetuate a conflict which is in itself
eternal. If he struggles, it is rather in discontent than in
despair. Not all is evil in his eyes, and reality is not always and
entirely sad. His protestations hardly ever take the form of disdain
or contempt; he does not rise to summits which are inaccessible to
mankind. In fact, his ideal is close to earth; it is the ideal which
comes from mankind, from tears and sufferings. If the thoughts and
feelings of the author rise sometimes high above the earth, he never
forgets the world and its interests. Korolenko loves humanity, and
his ideals cannot separate themselves from it. He loves man and he
believes that God lives in their souls.

We find these theories in the sketch called "En Route." The
vagabond, Panov, is one of a party of deported convicts. At one of
the stops, an inspector arrives who remembers having seen Panov when
a young man. The old man goes over the history of his life, which
has been marked with constant success, with pleasure. He shows the
vagabond his little son, and with cruel egotism boasts of his
happiness. Standing before him, his back bent, and a sad light in
his eyes, Panov listens to the story. He feels vaguely that he has
not lived and that he lacks personality. There is nothing in store
for him except the useless existence of prison life. The egotistical
and debonair inspector, in his simplicity, does not understand the
anguish of the homeless prisoner, and, by his amicable chatter,
subjects him to horrible moral torture. It is too much for Panov.
When the inspector leaves, Panov, gripping the edge of his hard cot
in his convulsive hands, falls to the ground. He breathes heavily,
his lips move, but he does not speak. "That night Panov got drunk."

Two very different types appear in the novel called, "The Postillion
of the Emperor." We have here the idealist Misheka and the sectarian
Ostrovsky, a transported prisoner who is embittered by his hard lot,
and by life in general.

If Misheka protests against the complicated conditions of life to
which he cannot entirely submit, it is rather by instinct than
through reason. He is attracted by something invisible, something
distant and strange, to the repugnant world which surrounds him. As
a postillion of the State he has frequent communications with the
distant world which glows vaguely on his mental horizon. Everything
displeases him: both the savage country in which he has to live, and
the world of stupid, degenerate, and miserable postillions whom he
mercilessly criticizes. His random attempts to get away fail.
Despairing, he becomes an accomplice in a crime so that he can leave
this solitary place and go where his restless soul leads him.

At the side of Misheka we have the tragic figure of Ostrovsky, who
is the exasperated victim of the evil all around him.

The author and the travelers, driven by Misheka, have seen the
burning of Ostrovsky's house, which the latter burned himself so
that no one could profit by it. This action strikes Misheka as
wonderful.

"He begins to tell the story of the fire. Several years before,
Ostrovsky had been deported for having given up the orthodox faith.
His young wife and child followed him. They had been given a plot of
land in a broad and deep valley, between two walls of rock. The
place seemed fertile. It was not hard to sell wheat to the miners
and Ostrovsky worked diligently and steadily. But the inhabitants
had kept something from him: although the wheat grew in the valley,
it never ripened, because each year, without fail, in the month of
July it was destroyed by the cold winds from the northeast."

The first few years Ostrovsky attributed his failure to chance. He
carefully cared for his crop in the hopes of a better season.

Alas, his wife died of sorrow, and autumn brought him nothing but
straw. Ostrovsky, without weeping, dug a grave in the frozen ground
and buried his wife. Then he asked permission to go to the mines,
and borrowed some money for the trip from his neighbors. The latter
gladly loaned it to him, thinking thus to get rid of him and to get
the profit of his house and goods. But Ostrovsky fooled them in
their naïve simplicity; he heaped up all of his possessions in his
little cottage and then set fire to it. He no longer thought of
justice; he was nothing but a despairing man.

The patriarch of the village in which he had taken refuge tried to
recall to him the faith for which he had been exiled:

"Do you remember," answered Ostrovsky, "the first visit I paid you
to ask for advice? Ah, so you have forgotten that and you speak of
God.... You are nothing but a crafty dog! All of you are dogs! There
is nothing here but woods and rocks, and you are all just as
insensible as the very rocks that surround you.... And your cursed
land, and your sky, and your stars...." "He wanted to say something
more, but he did not dare blaspheme, and there was silence again in
the little cottage...."

This Ostrovsky is among the very best of Korolenko's heroes. The
sight of this despairing and lonely man, who wanders about in the
Siberian forests with his little daughter, calls louder for justice
than all the speeches in the world.

       *       *       *       *       *

Through the wealth of his talent and knowledge, Korolenko is of
tremendous social value in three fields of work,--practical affairs,
journalism, and art.

Among the many services which he has rendered to humanity, let us
first mention his brilliant defence of the half-savage Votiaks,
accused of ritual murder in the famous Malmige case. Although he had
just suffered great grief himself--he had lost two children--he
traveled to a distant town in order to be at the trial. He took his
seat on the bench of the defenders. He used all of his knowledge,
and all the love in his heart to defend the unhappy Votiaks, whose
acquittal he succeeded in securing.

As a publicist, he has written some very valuable articles. Among
them are observations on the famine year (he spent two months in one
of the worst districts). In other articles he has analyzed a moral
malady peculiar to our state of society:--honor. In the recent
Russian duels he studied the perverse notions of honor and the moral
changes produced by sickly egotism. He has studied the causes that
bring about the complete loss of individuality. Finally, in 1910, he
published under the title, "Present Customs (Notes of a Publicist
under Sentence of Death)" a series of documents gathered here and
there, which constitute an eloquent and passionate plea in favor of
the abolitionist thesis.

When the great Tolstoy read the preface of this work, he wrote to
Korolenko, "I often sobbed and wept. Millions of copies of this work
ought to be distributed; it ought to be read by every one who has a
heart. No discourse, no novel or play, can produce the effect that
your 'Notes' do."

But above all, it is as the pure artist that Korolenko merits most
attention. It is his talent that has already made him famous, and it
is his talent that will make him immortal in Russian literature.

Korolenko is at present one of the most popular writers among the
educated classes. They have amply proved this to him, especially in
1903 and 1908, when they celebrated his 50th birthday and the 30th
anniversary of his literary activity. On the occasion of these
celebrations, delegations from many cities and universities came to
St. Petersburg to congratulate and to thank the author who, through
so many trials, had never ceased to uphold the cause of truth and
goodness, and to claim for each human being the right to work,
happiness, and free thought.



IV

VIKENTY VERESSAYEV


Veressayev is well known in France for his "Memoirs of a Physician,"
a work that has been translated into almost every language. However,
his reputation in Russia is not based on this book, which is
considered his masterpiece, but rather on his stories and tales. Let
us, however, first take a glance at the life of this author, a life
so closely connected with the subjects of his works that it forms an
indispensable commentary on them.

Veressayev, whose real name is Vikenty Smidovich, was born in 1867,
in Tula. His father was a Pole and his mother a Russian. His father,
a very pious and strictly moral man, was a well known and well liked
physician. In 1877, the boy entered the local school and received
his degree there seven years later. In 1884, he left for the
University of St. Petersburg, where he enrolled in the department of
historical sciences. Four years later, when he was twenty-four and a
half, he received his degree of licentiate of letters.[5] Most of
his class-mates became school-teachers, but he preferred to pursue
his studies. Medicine tempted him. He left for Zhouriev (formerly
Dorpat, already famous for its department of medicine) and entered
the university, where, at the end of six years, he received his
doctor's degree.

 [5] On the continent of Europe, a university degree between that
 of bachelor and of doctor.

Two years before, in 1892, a cholera epidemic had broken out in
Russia. Young Smidovich, then a fourth-year student, asked to be
sent immediately to a province in the East, where the epidemic was
spreading like wildfire. He remained there several months, in fact
until the plague had gone. As a doctor's assistant in an infirmary
organized in one of the mining districts of the government of
Ekaterinoslav, he witnessed a peasant revolt in which several
doctors were killed and others cruelly burned by the exasperated and
ignorant mob. Veressayev has traced these sad events with tremendous
power in his story, "Astray."

His doctor's degree in his pocket, he went to Tula, where he
practised for several months, but soon the position of house-surgeon
was offered to him in the Botkin Hospital in St. Petersburg. He
remained there seven years, till 1901, when, by order of the
Minister of the Interior, who has charge of all hospital
appointments, he was forced to retire from office and was expelled
from St. Petersburg and forbidden to reside in either of the two
capitals, Moscow or St. Petersburg. The reason for this was, that
the name Veressayev appeared on the petition of the "intellectuals"
which had been given to the Minister of the Interior, protesting
against the brutal attitude of the police during a student
manifestation in the Kazan cathedral on March 4, 1901. This petition
brought severe punishment to almost all the people whose names were
signed to it. Veressayev went abroad; he visited Italy, France,
Germany and Switzerland.

Gifted with poetic inspiration, he had begun writing at an early
age. He was not more than fourteen when he translated some poems of
Koerner and Goethe into Russian verse. Later, when at college, he
wrote some short prose tales, which were published in various
papers. But it was in 1896, when the "Russkoe Bogatsvo," the large
St. Petersburg review, had published his two important stories,
"Astray" and "The Contagion," that renown came to him. It came so
suddenly that it troubled him and was almost a blow to his modesty,
which is one of the sympathetic traits of his personality.

In fact, there came a time when the attention of the literary world,
especially among the younger generation, became so wrapped up in his
works that Gorky and Tchekoff sank to a second level. This
enthusiasm was caused by the fact that Veressayev's works answered a
general need. They brought into the world of literature a series of
characters who summed up the rising fermentation of new ideas and
seemed to be spokesmen, around whom the Russian revolutionary forces
gathered,--forces which, up to this time, had been scattered. An era
of struggle for liberty began.

It is rather important, I think, for the proper understanding of
this period to say a few words concerning its history.

The struggle of the younger generation against the autocracy began
about 1860, at the time of the freeing of the serfs, a period known
in Russia as the "epoch of great reforms." These ameliorations,
which extended into almost every domain of Russian life, left intact
the autocracy, which, under pretence of protecting itself, fought
successfully against all activity and thus brought about, among the
younger generation, a general movement towards freedom and
socialism. But the autocracy found its best help in the ignorance of
the people. Urban commerce, little developed at that time,
practically interested only the peasants--which means nine-tenths of
the population of Russia. It was natural, then, that the peasants
should become the principal object of the revolutionary propaganda,
and that tremendous efforts should be made on all sides in order to
awaken them from their dangerous sleep.

The peasant uprisings in the history of Russia, especially the two
revolts directed by Stepan Razin in the 17th century, and Pugachev
in the 18th, proved the fact that the masses could unite in a
general insurrection. This time, the "intellectuals" joined. As they
advocated a sort of communism, periodic redivisions of land
according to the growth of the population, and as they harped on the
tradition that land was a gift of God which no one had a right to
own, we can easily see that the agricultural proletariat would
welcome with open arms the socialistic ideas.

Although this popular movement did not affect many people, it was
attacked with such pitiless cruelty, that the revolutionists decided
to have recourse to the red terror in order to fight the white
terror which was cutting down their ranks. The secret goal of this
movement was to replace the autocratic régime with political
institutions emanating from the will of the people. In order to
accomplish its reforms more quickly, this party, which called itself
the "Popular Will," incited several attempts at murder; Russia then
witnessed dynamite outrages against imperial trains and palaces, and
finally, the assassination of the Emperor Alexander II. For a moment
the autocratic régime seemed to totter under these sudden and fierce
blows, but it soon recovered. The white terror proved to be
stronger than the red. Many executions and banishments helped to
crush the partisans of the "Popular Will;" then, when the movement
had been checked, the authorities began to repress even the
slightest desire for independence on the part of the press, the
universities, or any other institutions which could do good to the
people. Dejection and disillusion dominated this period from 1880 to
1900, which has been so faithfully portrayed in the works of
Tchekoff.

Nevertheless, in spite of the fact that their ideals had come to
nought, those of the red terror had not disappeared, and hope
remained in their breasts.

Tchekoff was still living when new symptoms of fermentation appeared
in Russia, and he could have alluded to this in his later works. But
he did not have a fighting nature, and, in his solitude, he looked
at conditions with melancholy scepticism. There was need of a man, a
writer--like Gorky several years later--born right in the midst of
this movement, who would be the very product of it, and for whom its
ideas would be a reason for existence.

Veressayev was this man and writer, and it is as much by his
political opinions as by his literary talents that he gained such a
wide-spread reputation. If his works are not always irreproachable
from a literary standpoint, they are always accurate in describing
exactly what the author himself has seen and lived through.

       *       *       *       *       *

Veressayev, in three great stories, gives us the three phases of the
movement between 1880 and 1900. These three stories, "Astray," "The
Contagion" and "At the Turn," are of such extreme importance, that
in the following pages there will be a detailed analysis of each of
them.

The two protagonists of the story, "Astray," are Dr. Chekanhov and
his cousin Natasha. The former is at the end of his moral life, the
latter is on the threshold, and both of them are "astray," because
the one has not found the road on which to travel through life, and
the other is just beginning to look for it. The entire existence of
Chekanhov is dominated by the idea that it is _his duty to serve the
people_, which was the basis of the activity of the "narodnikis."
According to him, the "intellectuals," who represent a small and
privileged fraction of the population, are the debtors of the people
and ought to pay their debt by giving the people knowledge and
comfort. This theory is burned into his very soul; it is the leading
thought that directs all of his actions. At this epoch, few men
showed such absolute devotion. From 1880 to 1890, after the cruel
suppression of the movement of the "narodnikis," there was a stop in
this revolutionary activity. Unaware of this pacification, Chekanhov
makes great exertions; as a doctor, he combats disease and saves
several people. But how exhaust the source of this evil, this
misery, which is increased by a despotic social order? Chekanhov
spends his energy in vain; where else shall he apply his strength?

The famine of 1891! Dr. Chekanhov speaks only of his despair: "A
terrible malady beats down on one after another of the inhabitants;
it is an epidemic of typhoid caused by the privations which left us
numb and weak." In 1892 an epidemic of cholera broke out. In spite
of the prayers of his parents, the young man rushes off to the most
infected district. One day, he penetrates into an infected hovel.
The children are sprawling everywhere, the mother is foolish and
stupid, and the father, weakened by prison labor, has come down with
cholera. The wife forbids the doctor, whom she accuses of poisoning
the sick, to approach her husband. Scorning the danger, in order to
encourage the sick man, the doctor drinks out of the very cup which
the invalid has used. Nothing counts with him as long as he can
inspire confidence and save people from death.

"What good is there in love between good and strong people," adds
Chekanhov, after having noted down this cure in his "Journal,"
"since it results only in miserable abortions? And why are the
people held down to work which is so rough and unpleasant? What
motive supports them in their painful labor? Is it the desire to
preserve their infected hovels?"

At the end of these reflections could not Chekanhov, absolutely in
despair, have abandoned his task? No, he knew how to keep up his
devotion. Sacrificing his life for others, Chekanhov begins to love
life again. He says to himself: "Life is good ... but will it be for
a long time?" We do not catch the answer.

Furious voices are heard, and a savage and cruel mob calls him a
poisoner and hurls itself upon him, beating and striking him.

Exhausted by the blows and jeered at by those whom he had considered
his brothers in need and for whom he had put himself in constant
peril, he lies stretched out on his bed, suffering severely; but he
nourishes no grudge against his tormentors; on the contrary, his
apostle-like character is moved with pity at the thought of these
uncultured and ignorant beings so unconscious of the evil that they
are doing. And several days before his death he writes the following
tragic words in his "Journal," almost terrifying in their
simplicity:

"They have beaten me! They have beaten me like a mad dog because I
came to help them and because I used all my knowledge and strength,
in one word, gave all that I had. I am not thinking now about how
much I loved these people and how badly I feel at the way they have
treated me. I simply did not succeed in gaining their confidence; I
did succeed in making them believe in me for a while, but soon a
mere trifle was enough to plunge them back among their dark shadows
and to awaken in them an elemental, brutal instinct. And now I have
to die. I am not afraid of death, but of a tarnished life full of
empty remorse. Why have I struggled? In the name of what am I going
to die? I am only a poor victim stripped of the strength of an ideal
and cared for by no one.... It had to be so, for we were always
strangers to them, beings belonging to another world; we scornfully
avoid them, without trying to know them, and a terrible abyss
separates us from them."

It is interesting to note how Chekanhov is regarded by the new
generation and especially by the woman he loves, his cousin Natasha.
She believes in him, she expects a gospel of life from him; but
Chekanhov cannot respond to her; he adheres to such vague
expressions as: "work," "idea," "duty towards the people." He says
to her: "You want an idea which will dominate you entirely and which
will lead you to a definite goal; you want me to give you a
standard and say: 'Fight and die for it.' I have read more than you,
I have had more experience than you, but like you, _I Do Not Know_,
and that is our torture." According to Chekanhov, all of his
generation are in the same position: it is _Astray_, without a
guiding star, it is perishing without realizing it.... Finally, in
order to avoid the pressing questions of Natasha, who would like to
work and sacrifice herself for the poor, he points out to her the
salutary work of the village school-mistress. A few days later he
dies, welcoming death with joy.

       *       *       *       *       *

While the people who were ending their existence and those who were
beginning it were so carefully looking for a field of action, the
uncultivated ground of Russian life was gradually being cleared by
the slow evolution of an economic movement. Between 1895 and 1900,
as a result of the natural development of national commerce, the
number of city workingmen grew to vast proportions and they formed
an important class, which, on account of its situation, was much
more qualified than the peasants to interest itself in the ideas of
socialism and liberty. So from the very midst of the people certain
individuals appeared capable of adopting progressive ideas; Marxism
awaited them, the theory which is the basis of European democratic
socialism. This doctrine was nothing new in Russia. But formerly,
the proletariat of the cities had been very little developed and the
Marxian doctrines had been of theoretical interest only.

"The Contagion" has for its heroine Natasha,--the Natasha that we
have already met, but how transformed! She has at last found her
bearings. If, in 1892, she was waiting for the right road to be
shown to her, in 1896 she was enthusiastically following the new
road opened by the doctrines of Marx.

In Zharoshenko's famous picture, "The Student," Uspensky notes
something new in this type of femininity. He calls it "the masculine
trait"; it is the mark of thought. He sees there the harmonious
fusion of a young girl and an adolescent boy, with an expression
neither feminine nor masculine, but exceptionally human. And this
transforms Zharoshenko's "Student" into a luminous personification,
unknown up to this time, a type which synthesizes "le type humain."

In the work of Veressayev this student is Natasha. Reflection has
ripened her mind since her last talk with poor Chekanhov. She has
become a regular "mannish woman," having seen and thought a great
deal. She has traveled; she has lived in St. Petersburg and in the
south of Russia. Full of courage and energy, she claims to be fully
satisfied with her lot; she begs her companions to follow the road
she has found, and when they refuse she becomes angry with them. In
company with her comrade Dayev she vigorously attacks the
convictions of the men of Kisselev, who see sufficient safety in the
workingmen's associations; she rises up, in the name of Marxism,
against the "narodnikis," whom she considers ingenuous idealists;
she refuses to endorse the theories of the "intellectuals," who
oppose the thought of any great work, since they believe that
smaller deeds are more immediately realizable. When one of them, a
doctor, Troïtsky, ends his conversation with her with these words:
"It is not necessary to wear one's brains out trying to solve
difficult problems while there is so much immediate need and so few
workers," she puts an end to the discussion. Shrugging her
shoulders, in a trembling voice she answers: "How can you live and
think as you do? New problems confront us, and you stand before them
and do nothing, because you have lost confidence. I can't work any
longer with you, because it would mean dedicating myself blindly to
'spiritual death.'"

Veressayev does not show us how she solves the problems of which she
speaks. The adepts of this sort of social apostleship usually
propagate their ideas among the workingmen, help them, and play a
part in conspiracies. Natasha offers herself up. But the censorship
has not allowed Veressayev to carry his subject on, and he has
limited himself to showing us Natasha in company with her friends
and disciples, giving herself up to oratorical tilts, discussing
principles, and uttering long discourses full of passion, faith, and
juvenile impatience,--discourses which unfortunately are mistaken in
their reasoning.

       *       *       *       *       *

In realizing from the socialist ideal the logical and inevitable
consequence of capitalism, which continues according to a law
independent of human will, the Marxian doctrine dissipates the
doubts and consolidates the faith of those who adopt it. According
to this faith, the socialists do not have to create socialism, they
only have to coöperate in the historical process which will
inevitably make socialism grow. In thus recognizing the supremity of
the law of history, socialism, utopian up to this time, becomes
scientific and, under its new form, it is no longer subject to the
influence of personal opinions, no matter how full of genius they
may be. But this "scientific socialism," which, on account of the
backwardness of political economy, could be only a step ahead, was
taken by the younger generation of Russia as the "dernier mot" of
the science. The result was, that several narrow and exclusive
dogmas were grafted on this doctrine. Thus, the theory of "class
struggle" transformed itself into the absolute negation of all
community interests between the diverse social strata. The
"materialistic"--or rather "economic"--point of view, according to
which the products of spiritual activity in the history of humanity
lose all independence, being only the consequences of economic
organization, generated scorn for all idealism; and the proletariat
character of the socialistic movement impelled society to divide
into two hostile and irreconcilable parts, one of which is made up
of the proletariats, the other of the elements opposed to socialism.
To this last party the enormous mass of half-starved peasants joined
itself. The peasants, according to the Marxian doctrine, cannot
understand socialism until they have become proletariats themselves,
instead of becoming miserable landed proprietors. And this
"proletariazation" of about 100,000,000 peasants, the fervent
Marxists consider a fatal and desirable event in the near future.

These theories, carried to excess, were sure to excite a reaction.
It manifested itself by a neo-idealistic movement, which found the
principal cause of social progress in the tendency of humanity to
attain supreme development and perfection. Then there were the
"narodnikis" who considered the "proletariazation" of the Russian
peasant impossible and inopportune. There were also the various
groups of Socialists who applauded the criticism that Bernstein made
on the Marxian orthodoxy. So several deviations were made from the
original theory; there were grave dissensions and interminable and
bitter controversies. All this occupies a large part of "At the
Turn," one of Veressayev's novels, in which these events are traced
with almost stenographic exactitude.

The characters are, Tanya, a fanatic Marxist; her brother, Tokarev,
whose soul is a field for spiritual battles; and Varenka, a village
school-mistress. There are several eccentric characters around them,
such as Serge, a young apostle of a somewhat Nietzschean egoism,
Antsov and others. Tanya is none other than Natasha of "Astray,"
with this great difference, however, that Tanya has found truth
already formulated for her, and does not have to grope about for it.
Nevertheless, the essential characteristics of the two girls are the
same. They both have the same joyous self-denial, the same love of
life, the same courage in face of difficulties, and also the same
faith in a better future. Tanya has lived during the whole winter
with her comrades in a region devastated by the famine, and she has
spent there all that she possesses. At Toliminsk, where she arrives
after a long walk, she speaks of her meagre living and tells amusing
stories without suspecting her wonderful heroism.

But this young girl, full of the joy of life and ready for any
sacrifices, is pitiless towards her theoretical adversaries and has
absolutely no compassion for them. The passage in "Crime and
Punishment," in which Dostoyevsky depicts one of his heroes in the
following manner: "He was young, he had abstract ideas, and was,
consequently, cruel," perfectly fits Tanya. Veressayev tells the
following incident: "One day, when she was at the station, some
peasants rushed down from the platform. A railroad guard struck one
of the peasants. The peasant put his head down and ran off....
Tanya, knitting her brows, said: 'That's good for him! Oh, these
peasants!' And her eyes lighted up with scorn and hate...."

Just as Tanya brings Natasha to our mind, so does Varenka make us
think of Dr. Chekanhov; the same feeling of duty governs them both.
But, while Chekanhov wanted to devote himself to the social problem,
without ever succeeding in doing so, because he did not exactly see
the principles, Varenka was able to devote herself to her work
without mental reservation. However, she refuses to, because she has
not enough enthusiasm for this sort of research. Her understanding,
which is deeper and broader than Tanya's, sees the error, the
narrowness of her doctrine; she cannot admit it, and, fired by a
desire to devote herself body and soul to some useful work, she
chooses the laborious profession of a school-mistress in the
village. But this humble and unpleasant career does not satisfy her.
Little by little ennui and anguish drive her to suicide.

Between Tokarev, Tanya's brother, and Varenka, the contrast is
complete. While still a student, he had accepted, with all the ardor
of youth, the idea of duty, and he desired to give himself up to the
cause of justice and truth; but, having encountered many obstacles,
he felt, when he had reached his thirtieth year, that the sacred
fire was going out.

He now dreamed only of his personal happiness, and of poor theories
that justified this egoism. An assured material existence, comfort,
a happy domestic life, work without risks, without sacrifices, but
useful enough in appearance to satisfy the conscience, attracted him
irresistibly. He then went to work to tear out his former ideas,
which had taken a pretty firm root. Urged on by his conscience,
which protested, he forced himself at times to resurrect his
youthful enthusiasm; he thought a great deal about morals, about
duty, and he read many books treating this subject; he says: "I
feel that something extremely necessary has left me. My feelings
about humanity have disappeared and nothing can replace them. I read
a great deal now, and I am directing my thoughts towards ethics. I
try to give morality a solid basis and I try to make clearer to
myself the various categories of duty.... And I blush to pronounce
the word, 'Duty.'"

Nevertheless, Tokarev tries, at times, to justify his inclinations
towards peaceable bourgeois prosperity to the struggling youth who
surround his sister Tanya. These cruel young people, however, answer
him only with sarcastic remarks, and caustic arguments, and do not
hesitate to express their doubts as to the sincerity of his
opinions. To his conscience, they are like a living reproach from
the past. Once he also was intolerant towards others as these people
are towards him to-day. And that is why he suffers under their
condemnation of him. He defends himself weakly, and after one of his
oratorical tilts, he falls into such spiritual depression, that he
almost thinks of suicide.

These, then, are the three main characters of Veressayev's novel. In
the background we have the secondary characters. We have the proud
proprietor and his wife, both of them liberals; we have the
pedagogue Osmerkov, who does not like talented people because they
bother everybody; and then there are the respectable inhabitants of
Gniezdelovka, Serge's father and mother, who are entirely absorbed
with their household and with cards.

       *       *       *       *       *

"The Comrades" is a variation on this theme: old school friends, who
formerly had been wrapped up in a great ideal, are now living a life
of shabby prosperity, and they feel that they have deteriorated,
although they do not dare to confess it to each other.

And Veressayev profits by this to generalize on the causes of this
fatal fall after the unselfish enthusiasms of youth. He sees them
especially in a mysterious force: "The Invisible," already studied
by Maeterlinck, Ibsen, Tchekoff, and especially by de Maupassant;
and he sees them in the unhappy conditions of Russian history, which
created a social and political organization favorable only to those
who crawl along and not to those who plan.

       *       *       *       *       *

Let us now analyze the stories in which Veressayev describes the
life of the people.

The story of "The Steppe" is as follows: One beautiful autumn
evening two men meet on the steppe. One of them, the forger Nikita,
is returning to his native land; he is wounded in the leg and it is
hard for him to walk. He is looking for work. The other is a
professional beggar.

The beggar, who is never hungry because he has no scruples, offers
Nikita something to eat. After resting a short while, the travelers
continue on their way. In the first village that they come to, the
pilgrim beggar makes a speech to the inhabitants and sells them
certain "sacred properties" which he keeps in his bag. After
pocketing gifts of money and various other things, the false pilgrim
pursues his way, still accompanied by Nikita. On the road once more,
he offers to share with his comrade the fruits of his "work," but
the latter refuses.

"What a fool!" cries the beggar, and bursts out laughing. But
Nikita, indignant, gives him a heavy blow and leaves him for good.

"For a Home" and "In Haste" gave Veressayev an opportunity to note
one of the characteristic traits of the ambitious villagers: their
strong desire to preserve their homes and to propagate the race.

In the first of these stories, two old people, Athanasius and his
wife, want to marry their daughter Dunka, but the "mir,"--the
assembly of peasants,--egotistical and inflexible towards people who
are growing weak, oppose them. "We have not enough land for our own
children," is the answer of the "mir." Dunka remains unmarried, and
dies at an early age. Her mother soon follows her. Old Athanasius
lives alone in his freezing "isba," which is in a state of ruin,
while the neighboring isbas, solid and austere, "spitefully watch
him die."

In the last story, we have a widower who is the father of five
children, and is therefore looking everywhere for a woman with some
bodily defect, because he knows that other women will not want to
have anything to do with him.

It is the same wish to preserve his home that makes a peasant go to
the city to earn his living while he leaves his family in the
country to take care of the house.

       *       *       *       *       *

The peasant is, besides, entirely engrossed with the difficulties of
existence. Necessity often urges him to desperate acts.... Some, who
are almost starving, ingratiate themselves with the raftsmen. They
force wages down by asking only 5 copecks (5 cents) a day.... If
they are contented with this absurd pay, it is because they avoid
seeing how their little children are suffering at home. "It's hard
living at present; there is not enough space; ground is scarce and
there are too many people." "Men haven't room enough," says a
sad-looking man with prominent cheek-bones. "But," he goes on, "they
tell me that sickness has struck our village, and that the men are
losing blood! Is that true?" "Yes, it's true!" "So much the better!
That will clean out the people; it will be easier to live then," he
concludes, thoughtfully. (From "In the Cold Spell.")

In almost all the work of Veressayev a voice proclaims that the
Russian peasant is near his end; that he is not useful to any one.
The poverty of the villages is painted in the most sombre colors.
The people are unanimous in believing that the struggle for life has
become terrible. "On what will you live?" one asks the other. "The
earth does not nourish us. The holdings are small; in summer, one
must cultivate, and in winter the cottages have to be closed while
we look for work or charity. What is there to eat? Hay! Let us thank
God that the cattle have enough of that. Oats? We have to give four
hectoliters and two measures of our oats to the common granary....
And taxes and clothes? coal-oil, matches, tea, sugar? Tell me, how
can one live?"

The unfortunates even go so far as to bless war and epidemics.
"Everything went better then. Men lived peacefully in the fear of
God, the Lord took care of every one. War, smallpox, famine came and
cleaned out the populace; those that remained, after having got the
coffins ready, lived easier. God pitied us. Now there is no more
war; He leaves us to our own poor devices."

Speeches like this abound in the works of Veressayev. A dull
sadness, bordering on despair, breathes forth from the pages. It
seems, at times, as if the Russian peasant could never awake from
his torpor, because the author represents him as full of infinite
egoism, without any spirit of solidarity, sacrificing everything for
love of his sorry little house and his morsel of ground, which is
insufficient to nourish him. But we must remember that the Marxian
point of view, which the author takes, explains in part the horror
of such pictures.

According to Veressayev the poor peasants can better their position
only by getting rid of their land, in order to become free
proletarians. But if the peasant class is unfortunate, it is so, for
the most part, because it is the most exploited and the most
oppressed. It is not, then, the getting rid of their land that will
bring the peasants salvation; on the contrary, they must fight for
it against their oppressors. The peasants are beginning to
understand the necessity of this struggle, and their late uprisings
in several provinces have shown that they lack neither solidarity
nor organization.

In the story called, "The End of Andrey Ivanovich," which is about
the working class of Russia, we see the transformation of a peasant
into a "city man." In his new surroundings, it is true, the
wine-shop plays an important rôle, but schools are organized there
which inspire a taste for reading, and "thought" gradually awakens.

Andrey has not yet rid himself of his rustic unsociability; however,
he is beginning to become civilized, and is receiving city culture.
He tries to free himself from his misery, from his degradation. He
beats his wife when he is drunk, but, at the same time, he gets
angry at a friend when he beats his mistress.... According to his
own confession he reads many useless things, nevertheless he can
become interested in a serious work. If he drinks to excess, it is
to "drive away the thoughts" that torment him. He wants to analyze
every question and find out what is at the bottom of it. He is the
spiritual brother of Natasha, Chekanhov, and Tanya.

The sequel to this story is "The Straight Road." This time we are
transported into the world of factory workers, a world lamentable
for its misery, despair, and crime. Andrey Ivanovich's wife,
Alexandra Mikhailovna, being without resources after the death of
her husband, with a little daughter in arms, enters a book-binding
establishment, belonging to a man named Semidalov. But the foreman,
a vicious and evil-minded man, reigns as despot. It is he who gives
out the work. The young girls who listen to his advances are sure
of being shown partiality; the others are badly treated. As
Alexandra wants to live honestly, her work in the shop is made very
hard. Her best friend, Tanya, who inadvertently spilled oil on some
paper and could not pay for the damage, had to give herself to the
foreman. Finally Tanya despairs and ends by drowning herself.
Alexandra is saved, thanks to a "loveless" marriage with the
locksmith, Lestmann. She accepts this union so that she will not
have to starve and can remain "straight." Thus, the "straight road"
which Alexandra wanted to follow has forced her finally to sell
herself, to marry a man whom she does not love.

       *       *       *       *       *

Each page of Veressayev's work exists merely to throw light on this
or that social question, considered from a well defined point of
view. The secret of his success rests mostly in the frank, sincere
manner in which he has approached certain problems. At the same
time, all of his work breathes forth a deep and tender love for
those who suffer. In reality, there is not a single book by
Veressayev which might not be a confession; all that he writes he
has already experienced himself, and his work vibrates with a
delicate and personal emotion. It is only necessary to read "The
Memoirs of a Physician," which is almost an autobiography, in order
to perceive the moral relationship that exists between Veressayev
and the heroes of his stories.

This book is the confession of a physician from the time of his
early studies. The young man is astonished at the number of maladies
that exist and by the unbelievable variety of keen suffering that
nature inflicts upon the human species, man. Soon he is obliged to
make a discovery that stuns him: that medicine is incapable of
curing many evils. It only gropes about, trying thousands of
remedies before it arrives at a sure result. The scruples and
anxiety of the student increase, especially after an autopsy on a
woman in the amphitheatre, when the professor announces that the
woman has succumbed because the surgeon, who was operating, swooned,
and ends by saying: "In such difficult operations the very best
surgeons are not safe from accidents of this kind." After this, the
professor shook hands with his colleague and every one left. At that
time, doubt entered the mind of the young man. And so, within a
period of ten years, he passes from extreme optimism to the same
degree of pessimism.

We follow him in the hospitals, where he is scandalized by the
brutality of the teaching, which makes use of the unwilling bodies
of sick people. "Not being able to pay for their treatment in
money, they have to pay with their bodies." Finally, the student
becomes a doctor himself. Full of faith and knowledge, he starts
practice in a small market-town of central Russia. But his work soon
cools him down; in the clinic he had studied mostly exceptional
cases; now he is disconcerted by simple and every-day sicknesses.
His ignorance leads to the following tragic case:

One day, a poor and widowed washerwoman brings him her sick child,
whom she does not want to take to the hospital because her two
oldest children died there. The child is a weak boy of eight years
who has caught scarlet-fever. At first, the inside of the throat
begins to swell, and, to prevent an abscess, the doctor orders
rubbings with a mercurial ointment. The next day, he finds the boy
all aquiver and covered with pimples. "There is no mistake," he
says, "the rubbing has spread the infection into the neighboring
organs and a general poisoning of the blood has taken place. The
little boy is lost.... All that day and night I wandered about the
streets. I could think of nothing, and I felt crushed by the horror
of the thing. Only at times this thought came into my mind: 'I have
killed a human being!'" The child lived ten days more. The night
before his death Veressayev comes to see him. The poor mother is
sobbing in a corner of the miserable room. She pulls herself
together, however, and taking three rubles out of her pocket, offers
them to the trembling doctor, who refuses them. Then this woman
falls down on her knees and thanks him for having pitied her son.
"I'll leave everything, I'll give up everything," sobs the
doctor.... "I have decided to leave for St. Petersburg to-morrow in
order to study some more even if I die of hunger!"

Once the resolution was made to pursue his studies in a more
practical manner, he becomes the house-surgeon of a hospital. But
even there a mass of problems disturb him. He sees how dangerous the
simplest operations are; he is frightened by the unrestraint of the
doctors, who try new methods on the sick, methods the effects of
which are not known, methods that result in the patient's being
inoculated with more sickness. Medicine cannot progress without
direct experimentation, and experience is gained at the expense of
the more unfortunate. Nevertheless, Veressayev does not argue
against this way of working; he shows the facts, and leaves it to
the reader to decide. On the other hand, he does not hide his fear
of the common ignorance of all doctors. Every individual differs
from his neighbor. How distinguish their idiosyncrasies? Once the
scope of a sickness is known, what remedy shall be used? Some say
this, others, that. How shall one choose? Veressayev has felt all of
this; he has tried to harden himself against the unreasonable
ingratitude of some, the scepticism of others; he realizes that
patience, resignation, and heroism are needed in order to struggle
against and support the mortifications in the career of a doctor.
How much easier it would be not to consider medicine as infallible;
to study it as an art rather than as a science. But people prefer to
believe that doctors know everything. They do not want to see the
reality, and this is the reason why sad, and at times tragic
conflicts arise between patient and physician.

Finally, what could the most perfect medical science and the
cleverest doctor do against the enormous mass of sickness and
suffering that are the inevitable result of the social evils, of
which poverty is the most conspicuous? How can one tell a man that
his trade is running him down and that he does not get enough
nourishment? How can one order a man to eat better food, to get more
sleep and more pure air? First, and most important, is the necessity
of curing the social organism.

It is easy to see why this book made many enemies for its author.
There is too much frankness and conscientiousness in these studies
not to anger those who have their greatest interest in concealing
the truth! The upright man who sees primarily in medicine a means to
relieve human suffering, cannot realize without sadness the many
abuses hidden under the name of this science.

       *       *       *       *       *

"In the War," recently published, is the story of Veressayev's
campaign in Manchuria. In this work, the author has painted
vividly the peregrinations of his moving hospital, and also the
terrible sufferings of the Russian army. By the thousands, the
starved children of the campaign, the Russian foot-soldiers,
stoics and fatalists, sacrificing their lives for a strange and
incomprehensible cause, pass before the eyes of the reader. And in
the background, detaching themselves from the crowd, in their gold
and silver embroidered uniforms, are "the heroes of the war, these
vultures of the advance and rear-guard, who enrich themselves at
the expense of the unfortunate soldiers." A number of these great
chiefs, whose infamy was evident at the end of the war, since they
had shown themselves incapable of dealing with the foreign enemy,
had distinguished themselves by the ferocity they exhibited in
quelling internal troubles. As to the military doctors, the
greater number of them went into the campaign only for commercial
gain. Among the nurses who accompanied them, aside from those who
were real heroines of goodness and devotion, there were many who
prostituted themselves shamefully.

Corruption, carelessness, disorder, and cowardice are shown on every
page of this story, as well as the terrible suffering endured by the
wounded in the hospitals. The wounded were the real martyrs of this
frightful campaign.

       *       *       *       *       *

Veressayev, like all of his heroes and heroines, wants to help the
people, and for this reason he gets in touch with the revolutionists
who consecrate their work to political and social regeneration,
under the various titles, "narodnikis," Marxists, Socialists,
idealists and so on.... Which of these does he prefer? We do not
know. We find the influence of Marx in his ideas, but we cannot
affirm that he is an absolute Marxian. It seems as if Veressayev,
troubled by the innumerable divergencies of opinion, asks himself
secretly: "Will this war lead to the unity of opinion and program,
so necessary for victory, or by its quarrels will it only retard the
harmony so much sought after?"

It is not discussion that will finally lead to unity, but rather
life itself, with all its realities.

It would be most interesting to read a sequel to the three famous
novels of Veressayev--"Astray," "The Contagion," and "At the
Turning"--in which he would give us the psychology of his former
heroes under present conditions. To-day, the people are not
"astray"; the field is big enough for every one to find the place
that best suits his ideas, tastes, and temperament. Dr. Chekanhov,
if he were living now, instead of being maltreated by the people,
would certainly be their well beloved champion, and perhaps
represent them in the Duma; the timid Tokarev, in spite of his
aversion to the ideas of the revolutionists, could find a place in
the liberal party of the Reforming Democrats, or at least among the
Octobrists; the unfortunate Varenka would not be worn out by her
work as school-mistress, for she would be supported by the peasants.
The peasants themselves are not the miserable and resigned creatures
of Veressayev's earlier stories. Certainly, liberty is not yet a
legal thing in Russia, and the Duma is still an unstable
institution, but the end of absolutism is near, for a great event
has taken place in the empire of the Tsar, namely, this awakening of
the feeling of human dignity, and the spirit of revolt among the
lower strata of the Russian people, which in the past, by its
unconsciousness, formed the granite pedestal of autocracy. The
struggle is terrible, but confidence in final victory redoubles the
energy of the strugglers. A certain Russian was right when he said:
"Formerly, life was formidable, but now it is both formidable and
gay."

In reading the works of Veressayev, Tchekoff, and other painters of
modern Russian society, it is easy to note that not one of them
anticipated this sudden change of scenery on the Russian political
stage, a change which, however, was being prepared in the souls of
the peasants. But let us not reproach them! Russia will always
remain an enigma.

There is a very old story about the son of the peasant Ilya
Murometz. After remaining lazily resting in his "isba" for thirty
years, he suddenly arose, and began to walk with such fury that the
earth trembled. How could these writers conceive the time when this
lazy giant would make up his mind to walk? It is enough to have the
assurance that now, no matter what happens, since he _has_ arisen,
he will not lie down again.



V

MAXIM GORKY


Maxim Gorky is the most original and, after Tolstoy, the most
talented of modern Russian writers. He was born in 1868 or 1869--he
does not know exactly when himself--in a dyer's back shop at Nizhny
Novgorod. His mother, Barbara Kashirina, was the daughter of the
aforementioned dyer; and his father, Maxim Pyeshkov, was an
upholsterer. The child was christened Alexis. His real name, then,
is Alexis Pyeshkov, and Maxim Gorky[6] is only his pseudonym. When
he was four, he lost his father, and three years later, his mother.
He was then taken by his grandfather, who had been a soldier under
Nicholas I, a hard, authoritative, pitiless old man, before whom all
trembled. And it was under his rude tutelage that the child first
began to read. When he was nine, he was sent to work for a
shoemaker, an evil sort of man who maltreated him.

 [6] In Russian, Gorky means bitterness.

"One day," Gorky tells us, "I was warming some water for him; the
bowl fell, and I burned my hands badly. That evening I ran away, my
grandfather having scolded me severely. I then became a painter's
apprentice."

He did not remain long in this position. From this time on, his
unsatisfied soul was seized with the "wanderlust." First apprenticed
to an engraver, and then as a gardener, he finally became a scullion
on one of the boats that plies up and down the Volga. Here he felt
more at ease.

On board, in the person of the master-cook, named Smoury, he
unexpectedly met a teacher. This cook, who had been a soldier, loved
to read, and he gave the child all the books that he had in an old
trunk. They consisted of the works of Gogol, Dumas' novels, the
"Lives of the Saints," a manual of geography, and some popular
novels. Surely, a queer collection!

Smoury inspired his scullion, then sixteen years of age, "with an
ardent curiosity for the printed word." A "furious" desire to learn
seized the young fellow; he went to Kazan, a university city, in the
hope of "learning gratuitously all sorts of beautiful things." Cruel
deception! They explained to him that "this was not according to the
established order." Discouraged, a few months later, he took a
position with a baker. He who dreamed of the sun and the open air
had to be imprisoned in a filthy and damp cellar. He remained there
for two years, earning two dollars a month, board and lodging
included; the food, however, was putrid, and his lodging consisted
of an attic which he shared with five other men.

"My life in that bakery," he has said, "left a bitter impression.
Those two years were the hardest of my whole life." He has thus
described his recollections in one of his stories:

"We lived in a wooden box, under a low and heavy ceiling, all
covered with cobwebs and permeated with fine soot. Night pressed us
between the two walls, spattered with spots of mud and all mouldy.
We got up at five in the morning and, stupid and indifferent, began
work at six o'clock. We made bread out of the dough which our
comrades had prepared while we slept. The whole day, from dawn till
ten at night, some of us sat at the table rolling out the dough,
and, to avoid becoming torpid, we would constantly rock ourselves to
and fro while the others kneaded in the flour. The enormous oven,
which resembled a fantastic beast, opened its large jaws, full of
dazzling flames, and breathed forth upon us its hot breath, while
its two black and enormous cavities watched our unending work....

"Thus, from one day to the next, in the floury dust, in the mud that
our feet brought in from the yard, in the suffocating and terrible
heat, we rolled out the dough and made cracknels, moistening them
with our sweat; we hated our work with an implacable hatred; we
never ate what we made, preferring black bread to these odorous
dainties."

       *       *       *       *       *

At this period of his life, he had occasion to study at first hand
certain places where he received original information which he later
used in writing "Konovalov" and "The Ex-Men," which have thus
acquired an autobiographical value. In fact, he worked a long while
with these "ex-men;" like them, he sawed wood, and carried heavy
burdens. At the same time, he devoted all his spare time to reading
and thinking about problems, which became more and more "cursed" and
alarming. He had found an attentive listener and interlocutor in the
person of his comrade, the baker Konovalov. These two men, while
baking their bread, found time to read. And the walls of the cellar
heard the reading of the works of Gogol, Dostoyevsky, Karamzine, and
others. Then they used to discuss the meaning of life. On holidays,
Gorky and Konovalov had for the moment an opportunity to come out of
the hole--this word does not exaggerate--in which they worked, to
breathe the fresh air, to live a bit in nature's bosom, and to see
their fellow men.

"On holidays," Gorky tells us, "we went with Konovalov down to the
river, into the fields; we took a little brandy and bread with us,
and, from morning till evening, we were in the open air."

They often went to an old, abandoned house which served as a refuge
for a whole tribe of miserable and wandering people, who loved to
tell of their wandering lives. Gorky and his companion were always
well received on account of the provisions which they distributed so
generously.

"Each story spread out before our eyes like a piece of lace in which
the black threads predominated--they represented the truth--and
where there were threads of light color--they were the lies. These
people loved us in their way, and were attentive listeners, because
I often read a great deal to them."

Often, these expeditions were not without their risks. One day, two
of the baker's workmen happened to drown in a bog; another time,
they were taken in a police raid and passed the night in the station
house.

It was also at this time that Gorky frequented the company of
several students, not care-free and happy ones, but miserable young
fellows like those whom Turgenev described as "nourished by physical
privations and moral sufferings."

On leaving the bakery, where his health, very much weakened by the
lack of air and by bad food, did not permit him to remain any
longer, he joined those vagabonds, those wanderers, whose
melancholy companion he had been, and whose painter and poet he was
to be. In their company, he traveled through Russia in every sense
of the word, now as a longshoreman, now as a wood-chopper. Whenever
he had a copeck in his pocket he bought books and newspapers and
spent the night reading them. He suffered hunger and cold; he slept
in the open air in summer, and, in winter, in some refuge or cellar.
The feverish activity of so keen an intellect in an organism so
crushed had, as its consequence, one of the attempts at suicide
which are so frequent among the younger generation of the Russians.

In 1889, at the age of twenty-one, Gorky shot himself in the chest,
but he did not succeed in killing himself. Soon afterwards, he
became gate-keeper for the winter at Tzaratzine; but the summer had
hardly come before he began his vagabondage again, in the course of
which he undertook a thousand little jobs in order to keep himself
alive. On the road, he noticed those pariahs whom society does not
want or who do not want society. And of these, in his short stories,
he has created immortal types.

Life was still very hard for him at this time. He has given us a
moving sketch of it in his story entitled: "Once in Autumn." The
hero, who is none other than the author himself, passes the night
under an old, upturned boat, in the company of a prostitute who is
just as poor and just as abandoned as himself. They have broken into
a booth in order to steal enough bread to keep them from starving.
Gorky is sad; he wants to weep; but the poor girl, miserable as she
is, consoles him and covers him with kisses.

"Those were the first kisses any woman ever gave me, and they were
the best, for those that I received later always cost me a lot and
never gave me any joy.... At this time, I was already preparing
myself to be an active and powerful force in society; it seemed to
me at times that I had in part accomplished my purpose.... I dreamed
of political resolutions, of social reorganization; I used to read
such deep and impenetrable authors that their thoughts did not seem
to be a part of them--and now a prostitute warmed me with her body,
and I was in debt to a miserable, shameful creature, banished by a
society that did not want to accord her a place. The wind blew and
groaned, the rain beat down upon the boat, the waves broke around
us, and both of us, closely entwined, trembled from cold and hunger.
And Natasha consoled me; she spoke to me in a sweet, caressing
voice, as only a woman can. In listening to her tender and naïve
words, I wept, and those tears washed away from my heart many
impurities, much bitterness, sadness and hatred, all of which had
accumulated there before this night."

At daybreak, they say good-bye to each other, and never see one
another again.

"For more than six months, I looked in all the dives and dens in the
hope of seeing that dear little Natasha once more, but it was in
vain...."

       *       *       *       *       *

We find him again at Nizhny Novgorod at the time of the call for
military recruits. Gorky was reformed, for, he says, "They do not
accept those who are fallen." Meanwhile, he became a kvass merchant
and exercised this trade for several months. Finally, he became the
secretary of a lawyer, named Lanine. The latter, who had a very good
reputation, took a deep interest in the poor boy whom life had
treated so ill. He became interested in his intellectual development
and, according to Gorky himself, had a great influence on him. At
Nizhny Novgorod, as at Kazan, Gorky felt himself attracted by the
circle of young people who discussed the "cursed" questions, and he
soon was noticed by his comrades. They spoke of him as "a live and
energetic soul."

Easy as life was for Gorky in this city, where he remained for a
while, the "wanderlust" again seized him. "Not feeling at home
among these intelligent people," he traveled. From Nizhny Novgorod,
he went, in 1893, to Tzaratzine; then he traveled on foot through
the entire province of the Don, the Ukraine, entered into
Bessarabia, and from there descended by the coast of the Crimea as
far as Kuban.

In October, 1892, Gorky found himself at Tiflis, where he worked in
the railroad shops. That same year, he published in a local paper
his first story, "Makar Choudra," in which already a remarkable
talent was evident.

Leaving Tiflis after a short sojourn there, he came to the banks of
the Volga, in his native country, and began to write stories for the
local papers. A happy chance made him meet Korolenko, who took a
great interest in the "debutante" writer. "In the year 1893-1894,"
writes Gorky, "I made the acquaintance of Vladimir Korolenko, to
whom I owe my introduction into 'great' literature. He has done a
great deal for me in teaching me many things."

The important influence of Korolenko on the literary development of
Gorky can best be seen in one of the latter's letters to his
biographer, Mr. Gorodetsky. "Write this," he says to his biographer,
"write this without changing a single word: It is Korolenko who
taught Gorky to write, and if Gorky has profited but little by the
teaching of Korolenko, it is the fault of Gorky alone. Write:
Gorky's first teacher was the soldier-cook Smoury; his second
teacher was the lawyer Lanine; the third, Alexander Kalouzhny, an
'ex-man;' the fourth, Korolenko...."

From the day when he met Korolenko, Gorky's stories appeared mostly
in the more important publications. In 1895, he published
"Chelkashe" in the important Petersburg review, "Russkoe Bogatsvo;"
a year later, other publications equally well known published,
"Konovalov," "Malva," and "Anxiety." These works brought Gorky into
the literary world, where he soon became one of the favorite
writers. The critics, at first sceptical, soon joined their voices
with the enthusiastic clamor of the people.

       *       *       *       *       *

Gorky's wandering life has given his works a peculiar and
universally established form. He is, above all others, the poet of
the "barefoot brigade," of the vagabonds who eternally wander from
one end of Russia to the other, carelessly spending the few pennies
that they have succeeded in earning, and who, like the birds of the
sky, have no cares for the morrow.

But this does not suffice to explain this author's popularity,
especially among the younger generation. The "barefoot brigade" is
not a novelty in Russian literature. We find it in the works of
Reshetnikov, Uspensky, Mamine, Zhassinsky, and others. It is true
that, up to this time, the vagabonds had been represented as the
dregs of the people, as hopeless drunkards, thieves, and murderers.
The writers who represented them were satisfied in rousing in their
readers pity for the victims of this social disorder, victims so
wounded by fate, that they have not even a realization of the
injustice with which they are treated. And it is only in the works
of the great dramatist Ostrovsky that we find any happy vagabonds,
with a deep love of nature and beauty.

Gorky's vagabonds have, like Ostrovsky's, exalted feelings for
natural beauties, but they possess, besides, a full consciousness of
themselves, and they declare open war against society. Gorky lives
the lives of his heroes; he seems to sink himself into them, and, at
the same time, he idealizes them, and often uses them as his
spokesmen. Far from being crushed by fate, his vagabonds clothe
themselves with a certain pride in their misery; for them, the ideal
existence is the one they lead, because it is free; with numerous
variations, they all exalt the irresistible seduction of
vagabondage:

"As for me, just listen! How many things I've seen in my fifty-eight
years," says Makar Choudra. "In what country have I not been? That
is the only way to live. Walk, walk, and you see everything. Don't
stay long in one place: what is there out of the ordinary in that?
Just as day and night eternally run after one another, thus you must
run, avoiding daily life, so that you will not cease to love it...."

"I, brother,"--says, in turn, Konovalov,--"I have decided to go all
over the earth, in every sense of the word. You always see something
new.... You think of nothing.... The wind blows, and you might say
that it blows the dust out of your soul. You feel free and easy....
You are not troubled by any one. If you are hungry, you stop, and
work to earn a few pennies; if there is no work to be had, you ask
for some bread and it is given to you. So you see many countries,
and the most diverse beauties...."

Likewise, in "Tedium," Kouzma Kossiyak thus clearly expresses
himself:

"I would not give up my liberty for any woman, nor for any
fireplace. I was born in a shed, do you hear, and it is in a shed
that I am going to die; that is my fate. I am going to wander
everywhere until my hair turns grey.... I get bored when I stay in
the same place."

In their feeling of hostility to all authority, and all fixed
things, including bourgeois happiness and economical principles,
some of Gorky's characters resemble some of those superior heroes
of Russian literature, like Pushkin's Evgeny Onyegin, Lermontov's
Pechorine, and, finally, Turgenev's Rudin, who, in their way, are
vagabonds, filled with the same independent spirit in their
respective social, intellectual, or political circles.

On the other hand, Gorky's wandering beggars are closely related to
those "free men" to whom M. S. Maximov attributes a historic rôle
which was favorable to the extension of the Russian empire.
"Russia," he says, in his book, "Siberia and the Prison," "lived by
vagabondage after she became a State; thanks to the vagabonds, she
has extended her boundaries: for, it is they who, in order to
maintain their independence, fought against the nomad tribes who
attacked them from the south and the east...."

There is a marked difference between these two classes: men of the
former look for a place on this earth where they can establish
themselves; while men of the other class, those who are out of work,
drunkards, and lazy men, have no taste for a sedentary life.

But if Gorky has not created the type of vagabond which is so
familiar to those who know Russian literature, on the other hand, he
has remodeled it with his original, energetic, and vibrantly
realistic talent. His nomad "barefoot brigade," picturesquely
encamped, is surrounded with a sort of terribly majestic halo in
these vast stretches of country, a background against which their
sombre silhouettes are set off. From the perfumed steppes to the
roaring sea, they conjure up to the eye of their old co-mate the
enchanting Slavic land of which they are the audacious offsprings.
And Gorky also lovingly gives them a familiar setting, painted with
bold strokes, of plains and mountains which border in the distance
the glaucous stretch of the sea. The sea! With what fervor does
Gorky depict the anger and the peace of the sea. It always inspires,
like an adored mistress:

"... The sea sleeps.

"Immense, sighing lazily along the strand, it has gone to sleep,
peaceful in its huge stretch, bathed in the moonlight. As soft as
velvet, and black, it mingles with the dark southern sky and sleeps
profoundly, while on its surface is reflected the transparent tissue
of the flaky, immobile clouds, in which is incrusted the gilded
design of the stars."

Thus, like a "leitmotiv," the murmuring of the water interrupts the
course of the story. And the steppe, this steppe "which has devoured
so much human flesh and has drunk so much blood that it has become
fat and fecund," surrounds with its immensity these miserable
wandering beings and menaces them with its storm:

"Suddenly, the entire steppe undulated, enveloped with a dazzling
blue light which seemed to enlarge the horizon ... the shadows
trembled and disappeared for a moment ... a crash of thunder burst
forth, disturbing the sky, where many black clouds were flying
past....

"... At times the steppe stretched forth like an oscillating giant
... the vast stretch of blue and cloudless sky poured light down
upon us, and seemed like an immense cupola of sombre color."

The wind passed "in large and regular waves, or blew with a sharp
rattle, the leaves sighed and whispered among themselves, the waves
of the river washed up on the banks, monotonous, despairing, as if
they were telling something terribly sad and mournful," the entire
country vibrated with a powerful life that harmonized with the souls
of the people.

In "Old Iserguile," Gorky writes: "I should have liked to transform
myself into dust and be blown about by the wind; I should have liked
to stretch myself out on the steppe like the warm waters of the
river, or throw myself into the sea and rise into the sky in an opal
mist; I should have liked to drink in this evening so wonderful and
melancholy.... And, I know not why, I was suffering...."

Gorky's stories, always short enough, have little or no plot, and
the characters are barely sketched. But, in these simple frames, he
has confined the power of an art which is prolific, supple and
profoundly living. Let us take, for example, "The Friends." Dancing
Foot and The One Who Hopes are ordinary thieves, the terror of the
villagers whose gardens they rob. One day, when they are especially
desperate, they steal a thin horse which is browsing at the edge of
the woods. The One Who Hopes gets an incurable sickness, and it is
perhaps on account of his approaching death that he feels scruples
at this crime. Dancing Foot expresses the scorn that the weakness of
his companion inspires him with, but he ends by giving in and
returns the animal. One hour later, The One Who Hopes falls dead in
front of Dancing Foot, who is tremendously upset in spite of his
affected indifference.

A dry outline cannot possibly convey the emotion contained in this
little drama, where the low mentality of the characters is rendered
with the mastery which Gorky usually shows in creating his elemental
heroes. Among other works that should be noted are "Cain and
Arteme," so poignantly ironical in its simplicity, "To Drive Away
Tedium," "The Silver Clasps," "The Prisoner," and that little
masterpiece, "Twenty-Six Men and a Girl," in which we see
twenty-six bakers pouring out an ideal and mystical love on Tanya,
the little embroiderer, who they believe, is as pure as an angel.
One day, a brutal soldier comes to defy them, and boasts that he
will conquer this young girl. He succeeds. Then the twenty-six
insult their fallen idol; the tragedy is not so much in the insults
that they hurl at her, as in the suffering they undergo through
having lost the illusion that was so dear to them.

Let us note, incidentally, the existence of a sort of comic spirit
in these works which relieves the tragedy of the situations. In
spite of their dark pessimism, the actors in these little dramas
have an appearance of gaiety which deceives. It is by this popular
humor that Gorky is the continuator of the work of Gogol; this is
especially noticeable in "The Fair at Goltva."

       *       *       *       *       *

In studying Gorky, one is often struck by the homogeneity of the
types which he has described. Open any of his books, and you will
always meet that "restless" type, dissatisfied with the banality of
his existence, trying to get away from it, and leaning irresistibly
towards absolute liberty, far removed from social and political
obligations.

Who are these "restless" people? Toward what end are they striving?
What do they represent? First, they have an immense reserve force
which they do not know what to do with; they have got out of the
rut, the rut which they despise, but it is hard for them to create
another sort of existence for themselves. Bourgeois happiness
repulses them, while all sorts of duties are hateful to them. They
consider the people who are contented with this sort of a life as
slaves, unworthy of the name of man, and they show the same disdain
for the peasants, for the leading classes, and for the workingmen.
The simple farmer excites the scorn of the "barefoot brigade:"

"As for me," says one of them, "I don't like any peasants.... They
are all dogs! They have provincial States, and they do for them....
They tremble, they are hypocrites, but they want to live; they have
one protection: the soil.... However, we must tolerate the peasant,
for he has a certain usefulness."

"What is a peasant?" asks another. And he answers the question
himself: "The peasant is for all men a matter of food, that is to
say, an animal that can be eaten. The sun, the water, the air, and
the peasant are indispensable to man's existence...."

One might think that this hostility was the fruit of a feeling of
envy provoked by the fact that the peasant seems to enjoy so many
advantages. But, on the contrary, the "barefoot brigade" admits
that the peasant subjugates his individuality for any sort of
profit, and that he cannot feel the yoke which he has voluntarily
taken in the hope of getting his daily bread.

These workingmen "who pitifully dig in the soil" are unfortunate
slaves. "They do nothing but construct, they work perpetually, their
blood and sweat are the cement of all the edifices of the earth. And
yet the remuneration which they receive, although they are crushed
by their work, does not give them shelter or enough food really to
live on."

The enlightened classes are always characterized in Gorky's works by
violent traits. The architect Shebouyev accords a sufficiently
great, but scarcely honorable, place to the category of intelligent
men to whom he belongs.

"All of us," he says, "are nonentities, deprived of happiness. We
are in such great numbers! And our numbers have been a power for so
long a time! We are animated by so many desires, pure and honest....
Why is there so much talk among us and so little action? And, all
the while, the germs are there!... All these papers, novels,
articles are germs ... just germs, and nothing else.... Some of us
write, others read; after reading, we discuss; after discussing, we
forget what we have read. For us, life is tedious, heavy, grey, and
burdensome. We live our lives, but sigh from fatigue and complain
of the heavy burdens we are carrying."

The journalist Yezhov, in "Thomas Gordeyev," expresses himself in
the same manner, but even more decisively:

"I should like to say to the intelligent classes: 'You people are
the best in my country! Your life is paid for by the blood and tears
of ten Russian generations! How much you have cost your country! And
what do you for her? What have you given to life? What have you
done?...'"

The absence of all independence, of any passion even a little
sincere, the complete submission of heart and mind to the old
prescribed morality, the constant effort to realize mere personal
ambitions--all of these are the reproaches that Gorky addresses to
cultivated man, whose moral disintegration he proves has been
produced by routine and prejudice.

In contrast to them, the vagabonds are the instinctive enemies of
all slavery, in any form whatsoever. The complete independence of
their personality means everything to them. And no material
conditions, no matter how prosperous, will induce them to make the
least compromise on this point. One of these "restless" types,
Konovalov, tells how, after he had bound himself to the wife of a
rich merchant, he could have lived in the greatest comfort, but he
abandoned everything, the easy life, and even the woman, whom he
loved well enough, in order to go out and look for the unknown. This
is a common adventure on the part of Gorky's heroes.

       *       *       *       *       *

What is the cause of this restlessness?

"Well, you see," explains Konovalov, "I became weary. It was such
weariness, I must tell you, little brother, that at moments I simply
could not live. It seemed to me as if I were the only man on the
whole earth, and, with the exception of myself, there was no living
thing anywhere. And in those moments, everything was repugnant to
me, everything in the world; I became a burden to myself, and if
everybody were dead, I wouldn't even sigh! It must have been a
disease with me, and the reason why I took to drink, for, before
this time, I never drank."

For the same reasons, in "Anguish," a workingman leaves his mistress
and his employer, the miller. Where does this anguish come from?
Perhaps it is the simple result of a psychological process which,
Konovalov admits, is nothing other than a disease. It is very
possible that, in impulsive acts, a psychiatrist would see something
analogous to alcoholism, or the symptoms of some other anomaly.

Turgenev had already analyzed a similar case in "The Madman." When
Michael Poltev is asked what evil spirit led him to drink and to
risk his life, he always refers to his anguish.

"'Why this anguish?' asks his uncle.

"'Why?... When the brain is free, one begins to think of poverty,
injustice, Russia.... And that's the end! anguish hastens on.... One
is ready to send a bullet through one's head! There's nothing left
to do but get drunk!...'

"'And why do you associate Russia with all of that? Why, you are
nothing but a sluggard!'

"'But I can do nothing, dear uncle!... Teach me what I ought to do,
to what task I ought to consecrate my life. I will do it
gladly!...'"

Gorky's characters give the same explanation of their "ennui," and
almost in identical terms. This disgust comes in great part from not
knowing how to adapt oneself to life, nor how to become a "useful"
man.

"Take me, for instance," says Konovalov, "what am I? A vagabond ...
a drunkard, a crack-brained sort of man. There is no reason for my
life. Why do I live on earth, and to whom am I useful? I have no
home, no wife, no children, and I don't feel as if I wanted any. I
live and am bored.... What about? No one knows. I have no life
within myself, do you understand? How shall I express it? There's a
spark, or force lacking in my soul...."

Another character, the shoemaker Orlov, in "Orlov and His Wife,"
especially reflects this pessimistic disposition. In the same way as
Konovalov, he is born with "restlessness in his heart."

He is a shoemaker; and why?

"As if there weren't enough of them already! What pleasure is there
in this trade for me? I sit in a cellar and sew. Then I shall die.
They say that the cholera is coming.... And after that? Gregory
Orlov lived, made shoes--and died of the cholera. What does that
signify? And why was it necessary that I should live, make shoes and
die, tell me?"

These creatures are under the impression that they are superfluous;
therefore their pessimistic conclusions. All of them passionately
want to be able to express the meaning of life in general, their
life in particular, but the task is too much for them.

Gorky's heroes consider themselves "useless beings," but they never
humiliate themselves. Their restlessness of spirit does not permit
them to resign themselves to the reigning banality or to take part
in it without protesting. At the same time, some of them are gifted
with sufficient personality to possess an unshaken faith in
themselves, in their strength, which keeps them from letting the
responsibility of their torments fall back upon society.

Promtov, the hero of "The Strange Companion," makes these restless
seekers the descendants of the Wandering Jew: "Their peculiarity,"
he ironically says, "is, that whether rich or poor, they cannot find
a suitable place for themselves on earth, and establish themselves
in it. The greatest of them are satisfied with nothing: money,
women, nor men."

What, then, do these "greatest" want?

Their desires evidently take a multitude of forms, and have the most
diverse shades; but the greatest number of them are impatient for
extraordinary happenings, eager for exploits. Some of them declare
that they would be willing to throw themselves on a hundred knives
if humanity could be relieved by their doing so. But simple daily
activity, even if it is useful, does not satisfy them.

The shoemaker Orlov leaves his cellar, as he calls it, and accepts a
position in the hospital where they are taking care of cholera
patients. His devotion makes him an "indispensable man;" he is
reborn, and, according to his own words, he is "ripe for life." It
seems as if his end were going to be attained. But not so.
Restlessness seizes him again. Orlov questions the value of his
work. He saves sick people from the cholera. Is he doing good? The
greatest care is taken of these people, but how many people are
there outside of the hospitals, one hundred times as many as there
are inside, who are just as unfortunate, but, in spite of that fact,
are not helped by any one?

"While you live," he declares, "no one will refuse to give you a
drink of water. And if you are near death, not only will they not
allow you to die, but they will go to some expense to stop you. They
organize hospitals.... They give you wine at 'six and a half rubles
a bottle.' The sick man gets well, the doctors are happy, and Orlov
would like to share their joy; but he cannot, for he knows that, on
leaving the threshold of the hospital, a life 'worse than the
convulsions of the cholera' awaits the convalescent...." And again
he is seized by the desire to drink, and to be a vagabond, and by a
wish to experience new sensations.

       *       *       *       *       *

These, then, are the vagabonds whom we can class in the category of
the "restless." After these, come those whom the author terms the
"ex-men," and whom he studies, under this title, in one of his
longest stories. The ex-men are closely related to the "restless;"
however, they differ from them in that they push their opinions to
an extreme, for they are, more than the others, miserable and at bay
against society.

"What difference would it make if it all went to the devil," one of
them philosophizes--"I should like to see the earth go to pieces
suddenly, provided that I should perish the last, after having seen
the others die.... I'm an ex-man, am I not? I am a pariah, then,
estranged from all bonds and duties.... I can spit on everything!"

Thomas Gordeyev's father develops another thesis; a rich and
rational bourgeois, he tries to inculcate in his son from his
infancy--a son who later augments the ranks of the "restless"--the
most perfect spirit of egotism.

"You must pity people," he says, "but do it with discernment. First,
look at a man, see what good you can get out of him, and see what he
is good for. If you think he is a strong man, capable of work, help
him. But if you think him weak and little suited for work, abandon
him without pity. Remember this: two boards have fallen into the
mud, one of them is worm-eaten, the other is sound. What are you
going to do? Pay no attention to the worm-eaten plank, but take out
the sound one and dry it in the sun. It may be of service to you or
to some one else...."

The reader will note the absolute egotism in all of Gorky's types.
The "restless" are interested only in their own misery, and they
think that all men are like them; nor do they try to stop or bridle
their passions.

Strong passions are one of the most precious privileges of mankind.
This truth is well shown in the story: "Once More About the
Devil."[7] Here, the men have become shabby and insignificant since
there has been propagated among them, with a new strength, the
gospel of individual perfection. The demon stifles, in the heart of
Ivan Ivanovich Ivanov, all the passions that can agitate a human
soul,--ambition, pity, evil, and anger; this operation makes Ivan an
absolutely perfect being. On his face there appears that beatitude
which words cannot express. The devil has crushed all "substance"
out of him, and he is completely "empty."

 [7] This was preceded by a story called "The Devil."

One understands that Gorky's heroes cannot find what would be good
for them, nor feel the least satisfaction in doing their fellow men
a good service. They only dream of action; their sole desire is to
affirm their individuality by "manifesting" themselves, little
matter how. Old Iserguille is persuaded that "in life, there is room
for mighty deeds" and, if a man likes them, he will find occasion to
do them. Konovalov is most enthusiastic over Zhermak,[8] to whom he
feels himself akin.

 [8] A celebrated brigand in the time of Ivan the Terrible who, in
 order to be pardoned, conquered Siberia in the name of the Tsar.

"I'd like to reduce the whole earth to dust," dreams Orlov, "or get
up a crowd of comrades and kill off all the Jews ... all, to the
very last one! Or, in general, do something that would place me high
above all men, so that I could spit on them from up there, and cry
to them: 'Dogs! Why do you live? You're all hypocritical rascals and
nothing more....'"

These people demand a boundless liberty, but how obtain it? All of
them dream of a certain organization which will let them feel
relieved of all their duties, of all the thousands of petty things
that make life hard, of all the small details, conventions, and
obligations which hold such an important place in our society. But
the time for heroic deeds has passed away, and the "restless" fight
in vain against the millions of men who are determined to keep their
habits and advantages.

Thus they are obliged to shake the dust off their feet and to leave
the ranks in which they are suffocating. No matter what they do or
what they try to do, their motto is, "each one for himself."

"Come," says a vagabond poetically to Thomas Gordeyev, "come with me
on the open road, into the fields and steppes, across the plains,
over the mountains, come out and look at the world in all its
freedom. The thick forests begin to murmur; their sweet voice
praises divine wisdom; God's birds sing its glory and the grass of
the steppe burns with the incense of the Holy Virgin.

"The soul is filled with an ardent yet calm joy, you desire nothing,
you envy no one.... And it is then that it seems as if on the whole
earth there is no one but God and you...."

The material inconveniences of such an existence hardly affect
Gorky's characters. Promtov, one of the prophets of individualism,
says, in speaking of himself:

"I have been 'on the road' for ten years, and I have not complained
of my fate to God. I don't want to tell you anything of this period,
because it is too tedious.... In general, it is the joyous life of a
bird. Sometimes, grain is lacking, but one must not be too exacting
and one must remember that kings themselves do not have pleasures
only. In a life like ours, there are no duties--that is the first
pleasure--and there are no laws, except those of nature--that is the
second. Without a doubt, the gentlemen of the police force bother
one at times ... but you find fleas even in the best hotels. As a
set-off, one can go to the right, or to the left, or straight ahead,
wherever your heart bids you go, and if you don't want to go
anywhere, after having provided yourself with bread from the hut of
some peasant, who will never refuse it, you can lie down until you
care to resume your travels...."

This is the final point at which all of the "restless" arrive,
believing that there they will find what they have always lacked.
Even the author himself shares their views up to a certain point:

"You have to be born in civilized society," he says, speaking of
himself, "in order to have the patience to live there all your life
without having the desire to flee from this circle, where so many
restrictions hinder you, restrictions sanctioned by the habit of
little poisoned lies, this sickly center of self-love, in one word,
all this vanity of vanities which chills the feelings and perverts
the mind, and which is called in general, without any good reason
and very falsely, civilization.

"I was born and brought up outside of it, and I am glad of that
fact. Because of it, I have never been able to absorb culture in
large doses, without feeling, at the end of a certain time, the
terrible need of stepping out of this frame.... It does one good to
go into the dens of the cities, where everything is dirty, but
simple and sincere; or even to rove in the fields or on the
highroads; one sees curious things there. It refreshes the mind; and
all you need in order to do it is a pair of sturdy legs...."

What then is the teaching that we get out of Gorky's works? For,
faithful to Russian tradition, he does not practise art for art's
sake. His "barefoot brigade" and his "restless" men are generally
considered as representative of his own ideals. The principle of "Do
what seems to you to be good"--a principle which is expressed by a
wandering and free life--ought to be justified, one thinks. Critics
have risen up against this ideal, trying to prove how incompatible
the kind of existence that he conceives is with a solid political
organization, and how far from reality the men are whom he
represents.

Doubtless, in real life, people are not as original and not as
heroic as Gorky represents them to be. And he himself agrees that
their inventive faculties are very highly developed. He shows this
in putting the following words into the mouth of Promtov:

"I have very probably exaggerated, but that's not of much
importance. For, if I have exaggerated what happened, my method of
exposition has shown the true state of my soul. Perhaps, I have
served you with an imaginary roast, but the sauce is made of the
purest truth."

The end that he is after, Gorky has shown us in his story, "The
Lecturer," which contains his theories on literature. In the person
of the lecturer, he addresses himself to the men who represent the
majority of the Russian cultivated classes. He begins by analyzing
himself carefully and discovers in himself many good feelings and
honest desires, but he feels that he lacks clear and harmonious
thought, a thing which keeps all the manifestations of life in
equilibrium. Numerous doubts torment him, and his mind has been so
moved with them, his heart so wounded, that, for a long time, he has
lived "empty inside."

"What have I to say to others?" he asks himself. "That which was
told them long ago, that which has always been told them, none of
which makes any one any better. But have I the right to teach these
ideas and convictions, if I, who was brought up according to them,
act so often in opposition to them?"

With his usual sincerity, it is not to be wondered at that he
answered this question in the negative, and, to cite the words of
one of his characters, that he "refused to live in the chains which
had already been forged for free thought, and to class himself under
the label of an ism."

He has not thought it profitable to hide his doubts and has not
feared to declare openly that none of the existing philosophies suit
him, and that he is trying to follow his own path. All of his work
is but the absolute image of his own uncertainties, of his
passionate researches, and of his constant "restlessness."

At times people have believed that he was a disciple of Nietzsche.
And, in truth, he has come under his influence, like so many other
Russian authors. But he has gone on mostly by himself, aided by his
acute sensibility, which has not, as yet, allowed him to adopt any
one system to the exclusion of all others, or to formulate a system
for his personal use.

"I know one thing," he says, "it is not happiness that we should
hope for. What should we do with it? The meaning of life does not
lie in the search for happiness, and the satisfaction of the
material appetites will never suffice to make a man fully contented
with himself. It is in beauty that we must look for the meaning of
life, and in the energy of the will! Every moment of our lives ought
to be devoted to some better end...."

However, he has very neatly set forth what he considers the task of
the author. According to him, the man of to-day has lost courage; he
interests himself too little in life, his desire to live with
dignity has grown weaker, "an odor of putrefaction surrounds him,
cowardice and slavery corrupt his heart, laziness binds his hands
and his mind." But, at the same time, life grows in breadth and
depth, and, from day to day, men are learning to question. And it
is the writer who ought to answer their questions; but he should not
content himself with straightening out the balance sheet of social
deterioration, and in giving photographs of daily life. The writer
must also awaken in the hearts of men a desire for liberty, and
speak energetically, in order to infuse in man an ardent desire to
create other forms of life.... "It seems to me," says Gorky, "that
we desire new dreams, gracious inventions, unforeseen things,
because the life which we have created is poor, dreary, and tedious.
The reality which formerly we wanted so ardently, has frozen us and
broken us down.... What is there to do? Let us try: perhaps
invention and imagination will aid man in raising himself so that he
may again glance for a moment at the place which he has lost on
earth."

All of Gorky's characters curse life, but without ceasing to love
it, because they "have the taste for life." Their complaints are
only a means by which the author hopes to raise up around him "that
revengeful shame and the taste for life" of which he so often
speaks. Here is the artful Mayakine, who, indignant at the
debasement of the younger generation, is ready to take the most
cruel means in order "to infuse fire into the veins" of his
contemporaries. Varenka Olessova, the heroine of a story,
incessantly repeats that people would be more interesting if they
were more animated, if they laughed, played, sang more, if they were
more audacious, stronger, and even more coarse and vulgar. Gorky
admires also the beautiful type, vigorous, with a rudimentary
mentality, which meets with his approval simply because he sees in
it a nature which is complete, untouched, and filled with a love of
life.

Gorky suffers miseries inherent in the mere fact of existence, but
he has found no remedy; he looks for consolations in the cult of
beauty, in the strength of free individuality, in the flight towards
a superior ideal. But he does not know where to find this superior
ideal, which vivifies everything. This is perhaps the reason why
people have thought they saw in his work the Nietzschean influence,
which praises an insistence on individuality in defiance of current
conventions, and gives us just as vague a solution as Gorky does.

But this enthusiasm for an ideal, vague as it is, this passionate
appeal for energy in the struggle, has awakened powerful echoes in
the hearts of the Russians, especially the younger of them. Gorky
suddenly became their favorite author, and it is to this warm
reception that he owes a great part of his renown. He has carried
the young along with him, and they have put their ideals in the
place which he had left empty.

If we now pass on to the first novels and dramas of Gorky, we shall
be struck by the fact that, in spite of the talent shown in them,
they are very inferior to his short stories. His former mastery is
not found, except in his later novels, which we shall take occasion
to mention presently.

"Thomas Gordeyev" contains some very fine passages, but is not very
successful as a whole. Thomas's father is a merchant on the banks of
the Volga; he is an energetic man who carries out all his ideas.
Whatever he is engaged on, whether business affairs, or a debauch,
or repentance thereof, he gives himself entirely to the impression
of the moment. Like other men of his class, moreover, he lives a
life which is a singular mixture of refinement and savagery. He
spends his time in drinking and working, as much for himself as for
his only son, Thomas, whose mother died in giving birth to him. The
child grows up under the care of his aunt and shows a serious
disposition toward study. Gradually, he feels the motives that make
men act, and he questions his father about them.

Before dying, the latter says to his son: "Don't count on men, don't
count on great events." In spite of the wealth which he inherits
Thomas is not happy; he has no friends; his colleagues, the
merchants, and especially his father's old friend, Mayakine, are
repulsive to him on account of their cupidity and their
unscrupulousness. Thomas does not love money and does not understand
its power, two things that people cannot forgive him for. Besides,
he does not know how to make use of the forces that are burning
within him. After having vainly sought for moral relief in
debauchery, he ends by proposing to strike a bargain with Mayakine
so that he can be freed from responsibility and go out and look for
happiness. He will give Mayakine his personal fortune if the latter
will look after his business affairs. But the old roué, who hopes to
get possession of the fortune in a surer way, refuses, and their
conversation turns into a quarrel.

As he does not work, Thomas indulges in many extravagances in
company with a journalist of very advanced ideas. Finally, one day
when he is at a fête at which are present all the wealthy members of
the merchant class, the young man, disgusted with their vices, rises
to apostrophize them in the most bitter terms. They throw themselves
on him, and he is arrested as a madman and put into an asylum. He
comes out, only to abandon himself to drink.

In "The Three," Gorky tells us the life story of Ilya Lounyev, a
poor creature, born in poverty, whose life is full of deceptions,
misfortunes, even crimes. Several times, Ilya has tried to lead a
decent life; but it is his sincerity that makes him lose his
position with the merchant for whom he works. He has believed in
beauty and in the purity of love, and he is deceived by the woman he
loves. Gradually all the baseness of the world becomes clear to him.
In a moment of jealousy he kills his mistress's lover, an old miser.
Several months later he publicly confesses his crime, and, in order
to escape from human justice, he commits suicide.

       *       *       *       *       *

In his first two dramas, "The Smug Citizen," and "A Night's Refuge,"
as in his short stories, Gorky shows us his usual characters.

The Bessemenovs, comfortable, petty bourgeois, have given their
children an education. Their daughter, Tatyana, becomes a
school-teacher, but her profession does not please her. Peter, their
son, has been expelled from the university, in spite of his
indifference toward "new" ideas. The children are continually
harassed by their father, who bemoans the fact that he has given
them an education. Besides, another sadness troubles him: Nil, his
adopted son, whom he has had taught the trade of a mechanician,--an
alert and industrious fellow,--wants to marry Polya, a girl without
a fortune. The father is beside himself, for, if Nil marries, he
will never be in a condition to pay back the money that has been
spent on him. But Nil protests: he is young, and, some day, he will
repay his debt. He has not noticed that Tatyana is in love with him;
and the young girl has not strength enough to live through the
sorrow of seeing herself abandoned forever. She tries to commit
suicide, but does not succeed. While Tatyana is bemoaning her fate,
Peter has fallen in love with a young woman quite different from any
of the members of his family. Helen understands how sad Peter's
position is among these ignorant people, and she decides to marry
him, for pity as much as for love. The father is no more satisfied
with this match than he was with Nil's, and with death in his soul
he is present at the dismemberment of his family. While Helen takes
Peter, Nil goes off with Polya. The mother, a humble and kind woman,
does not understand the cause of all this dissension and, while
consoling the weeping Tatyana, she asks her husband: "Why are our
children punishing us so? Why do they make us suffer?" This play is
not dramatically effective and has never had a great success on the
stage.

On the other hand, Gorky's second attempt, "A Night's Refuge," has
been enormously successful. Here, the author takes us into the world
of the barefoot brigade. Vasska Pepel, Vassilissa's lover, the
proprietor of the night refuge in which he sleeps, loves the sister
of his mistress, Natasha by name, a timid and dreamy young girl,
who blooms like a lily in this mire. The old vagabond, Luke, advises
the young girl to run off with Vasska, who wants to begin a new
life. But Vassilissa, jealous and evil as she is, has noticed the
coldness which her lover shows towards her. She avenges herself by
striking her younger sister whenever she can. Her plan was, with the
aid of Vasska, to kill her husband, Kostylev, and then to live
openly with her lover. But when she sees Vasska ready to leave with
Natasha, she starts a terrible scene, which ends in Vasska's killing
Kostylev without meaning to. Vassilissa and her lover are arrested
and Natasha disappears.

Although the characters of this play are vagabonds, they differ from
most of Gorky's creations, whose fiery and enthusiastic souls
usually discover a real beauty in the life they have chosen.
Alcoholism, prostitution, and misery have shut off these people who
live in the cellar. They have fallen so low, that conscience is a
useless luxury for them. It belongs to the rich only. One of them,
who is asked if he has a conscience, replies with sincere
astonishment: "What? Conscience?" And when the question is asked
again, he answers, "What good is conscience? I'm not a rich man."
The life of these people is worse than a nightmare: to-morrow they
will be cold, hungry, and drunk, just as they were yesterday.
Sometimes, perhaps, they feel like struggling against their evil
lot, but no one stretches forth a helping hand to them. They do not
dare think of the future, and they would like to forget the past.
One of them expresses his fear of life thus:

"At times, I'm afraid, brother; can you understand that?... I
tremble.... For, what is there after this?" And this fear smothers
all the energy in them. They are poor and scantily clothed, not only
in the material sense of the word, but also in the moral sense.
Money would not be necessary to save them, but a word of sympathy,
of love, a word that would give them the courage really to live.

And it is here that old Luke appears. He treats the men as if they
were children, and gains their confidence. In his words there is
manifested a real experience of things and people. As he says, "They
moulded me a lot," and that is why he became "tender." He knows just
the right word for every one. He assures the dying woman that:
"Eternal rest means happiness. Die, and you will have rest, you will
have no cares, and no one to fear. Silence will calm you! All you
have to do is remain lying down! Death pacifies and is tender. You
will appear before God, and He will say to you: 'Take her to
Paradise so that she may rest. I know that her life has been hard;
she is tired, give her peace.'" And the sick woman, who has dragged
out her existence so long, is consoled.

To the drunkard, a former actor who has fallen, Luke says: "Stop
drinking, pull yourself together and be patient. You will be cured,
and you will begin a new existence...." And he succeeds in awakening
a hope of a better life in the soul of the poor comedian, while he
himself, perhaps, hardly believes in the possible regeneration of
his protégé.

After Luke's departure, the temporary dreams of these miserable
people vanish. One evening, when they are all gathered around a
bottle of brandy, they strike up a song. A friend, a baron by birth,
rushes into the cellar and announces that the actor has hung
himself, and that his corpse is hanging in the court. A deathlike
silence follows these words. All look at each other in fright. "Ah,
the fool!" finally murmurs a vagabond, "he spoiled our song...." The
hope in a better life that Luke had awakened in the actor made him
kill himself, when he saw that he had not enough strength to realize
this hope.

This drama is the quintessence of all that Gorky has, up to this
time, written on the "ex-man," whom he has thoroughly "explored."
And the figure of old Luke is one of his most original and lifelike
creations.

His third important play, which, however, has never enjoyed the
popularity of "A Night's Refuge," is called: "The Children of the
Sun." The "children of the sun" are the elect of heaven, richly
endowed with talent and knowledge. They live in a world of noble
dreams, of elevated thoughts, enveloped though they are in the
greyness of life. There pass before them long processions of tired
and oppressed people. The latter, also, have been generated by the
strong sun; but the light has gone out for them, and they travel on
life's highway without joy or faith, among those who are proud of
their beauty or learning. The "children of the sun" are the
aristocrats of the soul. They have but one end: to make life
beautiful, good, and agreeable for all. They continually think of
making it easier, of soothing suffering, and of preparing a better
future. Their mission is a large one. They are not idle, but are men
who have the most elevated ends in view.

Between "the children of the sun" and "the children of the earth"
there is a deep abyss. They do not understand each other. The
"children of the sun" cannot admit the miseries and ugliness of
daily life. They have compassion for the people who work below them.
The "children of the earth" feel the superiority of the "children of
the sun," but their narrow-mindedness, continually absorbed by the
necessity of finding shelter and food, cannot rise to the
preoccupations of so elevated an order. However, life brings these
two worlds together in a common work; but their mere meeting on the
ground of practical interests produces a collision.

A third category constitutes the intermediary link. This is made up
of the university people, the representatives of the liberal
professions. As "intellectuals," they cannot equal the "children of
the sun," but they can understand them. They conceive the grandeur
of their moral activity. At the same time, these men are close to
the people. They are often obliged to mingle in the life of the
people, and more than the "children of the sun," they are capable of
enlarging their minds and ennobling their duties. But, while they
know and understand the duties of the people completely, they are
not yet strong enough to help them. This, then, is the general
meaning of the play.

       *       *       *       *       *

Although this play is cleverly constructed, with a last act which is
pathetic and moving in its intensity, and produces a profound
impression, on the whole, unfortunately, it has the general
harshness of problem plays. Under its lyric vestments, its solid and
massive character appears too often. Gorky, a born observer,
inheritor of the realistic traditions of his country, could not help
turning aside, one day, from this ideological art, visibly
influenced by Tolstoy's dramas. The direct part that the romanticist
has played in the political events of his country sufficiently
proves that he has taken a different road from that taken by the
apostle of Yasnaya Polyana. With maturity, he felt the need of
hastening the dénouement of the crisis in Russia, in actively
participating in its emancipation. From that time on, he chose his
heroes from a less singular environment. Instead of the philosophic
vagabonds, the neurasthenic "restless" ones, and the ex-men, he
chose the plebeian of the city and country, who is gradually
awakening from a sleep of ignorance and slavery. A remarkable story,
called "In Prison," all atremble with new sensations, inaugurates
this new style. A victim himself of the intolerance of "over-men,"
Gorky has incarnated his own revolts and hopes in the soul of his
hero, Misha, a brother of the revolutionary students who do not
hesitate to sacrifice their life or liberty for a principle or
ideal.

Written at the same time, the story called "The Soldiers" gives
proof of an equally careful incorporation of the claims of the
oppressed in a literary work.

The school-mistress, Vera, has conceived the daring project of
teaching the soldiers who are quartered in the village. She gets
some of them together at the edge of the neighboring woods and
there she tries to show them the ignominy of the rôles they play in
times of uprisings. Angered by this unexpected talk, the soldiers
threaten the young girl. But her coolness and sincerity finally make
them listen to her with a respect mingled with admiration.

A third story, called "Slaves," in a masterful way retraces the
catastrophes of the now historical journey of January 9, 1905, at
the end of which, a crowd of 200,000 men, led by the famous pope
Gapon, went to the Tsar's palace to present their demands to him,
and were received with cannon shots.

These stories were followed by three works of great merit: "Mother,"
"A Confession," and "The Spy."

The novel "Mother" takes us into the midst of revolutionary life.
The heroes of this book belong, for the most part, to that
workingman and agricultural proletariat whose rôle has lately been
of such great importance in the Russian political tempests. With
marvelous psychological analysis, Gorky shows how some of these
simple creatures understand the new truth, and how it gradually
penetrates their ardent souls.

Pavel Vlassov, a young, intelligent workingman, is thirsty for
knowledge, and is the apostle of the new ideal. He throws himself
heart and soul into the dangerous struggle he has undertaken against
ignorance and oppression. The Little Russian, Andrey, is all
feeling and thought, and the peasant Rybine is inflamed by action.
Sashenka is a young girl who sacrifices herself entirely to the
Idea, and the coal-man Ignatius is driven by an obscure force to
help in a cause which he does not understand. Finest of them all is
Pelaguaya Vlassov, the principal character of the book, and Pavel's
mother.

Old and grey, Pelaguaya has passed her whole life in misery. She has
never known anything but how to suffer in silence and endure without
complaint; she has never dreamed that life could be different. One
day her father had said to her:

"It's useless to make faces! There is a fool who wants to marry
you,--take him. All girls marry, all women have children; children
are, for all parents, a sorrow. And are you, yes or no, a human
being?"

She then marries the workingman Michael Vlassov, who gets drunk
every day, beats her cruelly and kicks her, and even on his
death-bed, says: "Go to the devil.... Bitch! I'll die better alone."

He dies, and his son Pavel begins to bring forbidden books into the
house. Friends come and talk; a small group is formed. Pelaguaya
listens to what is said, but understands nothing. Gradually,
however, there begins to filter into her old breast, like a stream
of joy, an understanding of something big, of something in which she
can take part. She discovers that she too is a free creature, and,
obscurely, there is formed in her mind the notion that every human
being has a right to live. Then she speaks: "The earth is tired of
carrying so much injustice and sadness, it trembles softly at the
hope of seeing the new sun which is rising in the bosom of mankind."
So the obscure and miserable woman gradually rises to the dignity of
"The Mother of the Prophet." And when Pavel accepts, like the
martyrdom of the cross, his banishment to Siberia, with a joyous
heart she sacrifices her son to the Idea.

Her soul opens wide to the new truth that is lighting it. With the
most touching abnegation, she tries to carry on the work of the
absent one. But the police are watching. One day, when she is about
to take the train to a neighboring town to spread the "good word"
there, she is recognized and apprehended. Seeing that she is lost,
the Mother, whose personality at this moment grows absolutely
symbolic, cries out to the crowd:

"'Listen to me! They condemned my son and his friends because they
were bringing the truth to everybody! We are dying from work, we are
tormented by hunger and by cold, we are always in the mire, always
in the wrong! Our life is a night, a black night!'

"'Hurrah for the old woman!' cries some one in the crowd.

"A policeman struck her in the chest; she tottered, and fell on the
bench. But she still cried:

"'All of you! get all your forces together under a single leader.'

"The big red hand of the policeman struck her in the throat, and the
nape of her neck hit against the wall.

"'Shut up, you hag!' cried the officer in a sharp voice.

"The Mother's eyes grew larger and shone brightly. Her jaw trembled.

"'They won't kill a resurrected soul!'

"'Bitch!'

"With a short swing the policeman struck her full in the face.

"Something red and black momentarily blinded the Mother; blood
filled her mouth.

"A voice from the crowd brought her to herself:

"'You haven't the right to strike her!'

"But the officers pushed her, and hit her on the head.

"'... It's not blood that will drown what's right.'...

"Dulled and weakened, the Mother tottered. But she saw many eyes
about her, glowing with a bold fire, eyes that she knew well and
that were dear to her.

"'... They will never get at the truth, even under oceans of blood!'

"The policeman seized her heavily by the throat.

"There was a rattling in her throat:

"... 'The unfortunates!'

"Some one in the crowd answered her, with a deep sigh."

       *       *       *       *       *

"A Confession" is the story of a restless soul who untiringly
searches for the God of truth and goodness. Found as a child in a
village of central Russia, Matvey was first taken by a sacristan,
and, after his death, by Titov, the inspector of the domain. In
order to debase Matvey, whose superiority irritates him, Titov asks
him to participate in his extortions. Having become the son-in-law
of his adopted father, Matvey, on account of his love for his wife,
accepts the shameful life. But the God in whom Matvey has placed his
distracted confidence, seems to want to chastise him cruelly. After
having lost, one after the other, his wife and child, he goes away
at a venture. He enters a monastery where, among the dissolute
monks, whose vices are most repugnant, his soul gradually shakes off
the Christian dogma. On one of his pilgrimages, he gets to
Damascus. Among the workingmen, where chance has taken him, he feels
his heart opening to the truth, which he follows up with the
determination of a real Gorkyan hero. The life of the people appears
to him in its sublime simplicity. And it is in the midst of a
dazzling apotheosis--which reminds one of the most grandiose pages
of Zola's "Lourdes"--that he finally confesses the God of his ideal:
it is the people.

"People! you are my God, creator of all the gods that you have
formed from the beauty of your soul, in your troubled and laborious
search!

"Let there be no other gods on the earth but yourself, for you are
the only God, the creator of miracles!"

       *       *       *       *       *

"The Spy" is a study of the Russian police. The novel treats of the
terrible Okhrana, whose mysterious affairs have become the
laughing-stock of all the foreign papers.

The principal character, about whom circle the police spies and
secret agents, is a poor orphan, weak and timid, called Evsey
Klimkov, whom his uncle, the forger Piotr, has taken into his house
and brought up with his son, the strong and brutal James. Beaten by
his schoolmates and by his cousin, the child lives in a perpetual
trance. Life seems formidable to him, like a jungle in which men are
the pitiless beasts. Everywhere, brute force or hypocrisy triumph;
everywhere, the weak are oppressed, downtrodden, conquered. And in
his feverish imagination, daily excited by facts which his terror
distorts, Evsey delights in conceiving another existence, all made
of love and goodness, an existence that he unceasingly opposes
against the hard realities of daily life, with the stubborn fervor
of a mystic.

Having entered the service of the old bookseller Raspopov, the young
man does his duty with the faithfulness of a beast of burden. His
home no longer pleases him at all; there, things and people are
still hostile to him; but his uncle Piotr seems enchanted with his
new position. Evsey spends his days in arranging and classifying the
books which his master has bought. A young woman, Raïssa Petrovna,
keeps house for the book-dealer, and as every one knows, they live
like man and wife. In this queer environment, the faculties of the
young man become sharpened, and serve him well. It does not take
long for him to find out what they are hiding from him. A few words
addressed by Raspopov to a certain Dorimedonte Loukhine reveal to
Evsey the part that is being played by his patron. Raspopov, who is
an agent of the secret police, gives Dorimedonte--who, by the way,
is deceiving him with Raïssa--the names of the buyers of the
forbidden books in which he trades. And here it is that the tragedy
suddenly breaks forth.

Raïssa, tired of being tormented by Raspopov, who accuses her of
poisoning him, strangles the old man in a moment of cold anger,
under the very eyes of Evsey. Thanks to Dorimedonte, this crime goes
unpunished. Evsey, having become the lodger of the two lovers, now
enters the Okhrana, at the advice of his new master. After a while,
Raïssa, haunted by remorse, commits suicide, and Dorimedonte is
killed by some revolutionists.

All the interest of the book, however, is centered in the picture of
the police institutions. From the chief Philip Philipovich to the
agent Solovyev, Gorky presents, with consummate art, the mass of
corrupt and greedy agents who wearily accomplish their tasks.

Among them, young Evsey leads a miserable and ridiculous existence.
Bruised by an invincible power, he sees himself compelled to arrest
an old man who has confided his revolutionary ideas to him; then a
young girl with whom he is in love; finally, his own cousin, a
revolutionary suspect.

Gradually his eyes are opened. He realizes that he cannot extricate
himself from the position in which he has placed himself. Tired of
leading a life which his conscience disapproves of, he thinks of
killing his superior, who has driven him to do so many infamous
deeds. He will thus get justice. His project miscarries; maddened,
he throws himself under a passing train.

       *       *       *       *       *

These three remarkable works, riddled by the Russian censor, so that
the complete version has appeared only abroad, have recently been
followed by two important stories: "Among the People" and "Matvey
Kozhemyakine."

With his accustomed power, Gorky shows us, in the first of these
stories, the spread of socialism among the agricultural proletariat.
He depicts village life with its pettiness and ignominy. The village
is for the most part a backward place, hostile to everything that
makes a breach in tradition. The hatching of socialism goes on
slowly. From day to day, new obstacles, helped on by the ignorance
of the peasants, hinder those who are trying to carry out their
belief. Even the village guard, Semyon, pursues them with his
hatred.

But Igor Petrovich, the propagator of these new ideas, finds, in a
few old friends and in a village woman who becomes his mistress,
some precious helpers. Thanks to them, he gradually gets up a little
circle of firm believers who gather in a cave in the woods. Every
evening, they read, discuss, and dream of a better organization,
out there in the cave. All would have gone well, if some of them had
not betrayed the leader to the police. While being led to the city
prison, the leader spoke to the soldiers who were escorting him:

"The soldiers trembled as they clicked their bayonets; they silently
listened to the legend of the generous earth which loves those who
work it. Again, their red faces were covered with drops of melted
snow; the drops ran down their cheeks like bitter tears of
humiliation; they breathed heavily, they snuffled, and I felt that
they kept walking a little faster, as if they wanted this very day
to arrive in that fairy land.

"We are no longer prisoners and soldiers; we are simply seven
Russians. I do not forget the prison, but when I remember all that I
lived through that summer and before that, my heart fills with joy,
and I feel like crying out:

"Rejoice, beloved Russian people! Your resurrection is close at
hand!"

       *       *       *       *       *

"Matvey Kozhemyakine" very brilliantly returns to Gorky's early
manner. In this book no symbolic character interprets the bold
thoughts of the author. It is simply a novel of Russian provincial
life. Its simplicity does not exclude vigor, and it reminds us at
times of Balzac.

Young Matvey is the son of an old workingman who has become rich,
thanks to his energy and dishonesty. He has grown up in a large
house, adjoining a rope-yard, with his father and several servants.
His mother, whom he never knew, left home shortly after his birth,
and entered a convent in order to escape the torments of life.
Later, Matvey's father marries a young girl, in order to provide a
mother for his son, whom he loves dearly. But his new mother is not
long in finding out the dreary life which she has to lead with the
old man. In order to escape from the tedium of it, she listens to
the interesting experiences of the wandering life of the porter
Sazanov, and gives her unfaithful love in exchange.

Unexpected circumstances disclose this shameful adultery to Matvey.
Instead of revealing it to his father, he generously guards the
secret. He even goes so far as to protect her from the fury of a
workingman, named Savka, whom Sazanov's success has rendered bold.
Through gratitude, and later through love, in the absence of
Kozhemyakine, she becomes the mistress of her step-son. On his
return, the father, finding out about this "liaison," spares his
son, but beats his wife to death, and himself, mad with fury, falls,
struck with apoplexy.

All the newspapers in the world have attacked Gorky's way of living.
As he is forced to remain away from his beloved country, the great
writer has made his home in the little island of Capri, the air of
which is propitious to his failing health. Moreover, its impressive
scenery inspires his restless genius.

Drunk with liberty, taken up with beauty, always ready to help a man
who is in political and social difficulties, Gorky, from the depths
of his peaceful retreat, wanders out over the world of ideas in
search of truth, as formerly he used to wander over the earth in
search of bread.



VI

LEONID ANDREYEV


Leonid Andreyev was born of a humble bourgeoise family in Orel, in
1871. "It was there that I began my studies," he says. "I was not a
good pupil; in the seventh form I was last in my class for a whole
year, and I had especially poor reports as to my deportment. The
most agreeable part of my schooling, which I still remember with
pleasure, was the intervals between the lessons, the 'recesses,' and
the times, rare as they were, when the instructor sent me from the
class-room for inattention or lack of respect. In the long deserted
halls a sonorous silence reigned which vibrated at the solitary
noise of my steps; on all sides the closed doors, shutting in rooms
full of pupils; a sunbeam--a free beam--played with the dust which
had been raised during recess and which had not yet had time to
settle; all of it was mysterious, interesting, full of a particular
and secret meaning."

Andreyev's father, who was a geometrician, died while he was still
at school, and the family was without resources. The young man did
not hesitate, however, in setting out for St. Petersburg, where he
entered the university, hoping to gain a livelihood by giving
lessons. But it was hard to secure what he wanted. "I knew what
terrible misery was," Andreyev tells us; "during my first years in
St. Petersburg I was hungry more than once, and sometimes I did not
eat for two days."

His first literary productions date from this sombre epoch. Andreyev
gives us remarkably graphic details of this misery. One day, he gave
a daily paper a story about the tribulations of an ever-hungry
student: his own life!

"I wept like a child in writing these pages," he confesses. "I had
put down all of my sufferings. I was still affected by my great
sadness when I took the manuscript to the editor. I was told to come
back in a few weeks to find out whether it had been accepted. I
returned with a light heart, keeping down my anguish in expectation
of the decision. It came to me in the form of a loud burst of
laughter from the editor, who declared that my work was absolutely
worthless...."

Nevertheless, he energetically pursued his studies, which he
completed at the University of Moscow. "There," he tells us, "life
was, from a material standpoint, less unbearable; my friends and
the aid society came to my assistance; but I recall my life at the
University of St. Petersburg with genuine pleasure; the various
classes of students are there more differentiated and an individual
can more easily find a sympathetic surrounding among such distinct
groups."

Some time after that, Andreyev, disgusted with life, attempted
suicide. "In January, 1894," he writes, "I tried to shoot myself,
but without any appreciable result. I was punished by religious
penance, imposed upon me by authority, and a sickness of the heart
which, although not dangerous, was persistent. During this time I
made one or two equally unsuccessful literary attempts, and I gave
myself up with success to painting, which I have loved since
childhood; I then painted portraits to order for from 5 to 10
rubles....

"In 1897, I received my counsellor's degree and I took up that
profession in Moscow. For want of time I did not succeed in getting
any sort of a 'clientele'; in all, I pleaded but one civil case,
which, however, I lost completely, and several gratuitous criminal
cases. However, I was actively working in reporting these cases for
an important paper."

Finally, two strangely impressionistic stories: "Silence," and "He
Was...," published in an important Petersburg review, brought the
author into prominence. From that time, he devoted himself entirely
to literature.

       *       *       *       *       *

Andreyev is considered, to-day, as one of the most brilliant
representatives of the new constellation of Russian writers, in
which he takes a place immediately next to Tchekoff, whom he
resembles in the melancholy tone of his work. In him, as in
Tchekoff, the number of people who suffer from life, either crushed
or mutilated by it, by far exceed the number of happy ones;
moreover, the best of his stories are short and sketchy like those
of Tchekoff. Andreyev is then, so to speak, his spiritual son. But
he is a sickly son, who carries the melancholy element to its
farthest limit. The grey tones of Tchekoff have, in Andreyev, become
black; his rather sad humor has been transformed into tragic irony;
his subtle impressionability into morbid sensibility. The two
writers have had the same visions of the anomalies and the horrors
of existence; but, where Tchekoff has only a disenchanted smile,
Andreyev has stopped, dismayed; the sensation of horror and
suffering which springs from his stories has become an obsession
with him; it does not penetrate merely the souls of his heroes, but,
as in Poe, it penetrates even the descriptions of nature.

Thus, the "near and terrible" disk of the moon hovers over the earth
like the "gigantic menace of an approaching but unknown evil"; the
river congeals in "mute terror," and silence is particularly
menacing. Night always comes "black and bad," and fills human hearts
with shadows. When it falls, the very branches of the trees
"contract, filled with terror." Under the influence of the
disturbing sounds of the tocsin, the high linden-trees "suddenly
begin to talk, only to become quiet again immediately and lapse into
a sullen silence." The tocsin itself is animated. "Its distinct
tones spread with rapid intensity. Like a herald of evil who has not
the time to look behind him, and whose eyes are large with fright,
the tocsin desperately calls men to the fatal mire."[9]

 [9] This passage is a sort of a variation on the theme that Poe
 has developed in a masterful way in his poem, "The Bells."

Most of Andreyev's characters, like those of Dostoyevsky, are
abnormal, madmen and neurasthenics in whom are distinguishable
marked traces of degeneration and psychic perversion. They are
beings who have been fatally wounded in their life-struggle, whose
minds now are completely or partially powerless. Too weak to fight
against the cruel exigencies of reality, they turn their thoughts
upon themselves and naturally arrive at the most desolate
conclusions, and commit the most senseless acts. Some, a prey to the
mania of pride, despairing because of their weakness and their
"nothingness," look--as does Serge Petrovich--for relief in suicide.
Others, who have resigned themselves to their sad lives, become
passive observers, become transformed into living corpses whose sole
desire is peace; such a one is the hero of "At the Window." Others
still instinctively choke in themselves the best tendencies of their
characters and are passionately fond of futile and senseless
amusements, by means of which they enjoy themselves like children,
until a catastrophe makes them "come back to themselves." This is
the idea of the original story called "The Grand Slam." In "The Lie"
Andreyev depicts the pathological process in the soul of a man who,
crushed by the falsehood of his own solitary existence, becomes
insane at the idea that truth is inaccessible to human reason and
that the reign of the Lie is invincible. The hero of "The
Thought"[10] reveres but one thing in the world--his own thought.
Wrapped up in this one idea, he admires the force and finesse of it,
while his reason, detached from reality and having only him for an
end, begins to weaken, becomes gradually perverted to the point
where this man, harassed by a terrible doubt, begins to ask himself
whether he is insane. In the long and pathetic story, "The Life of a
Priest," we are shown the disturbance of the religious feelings of a
country priest who, although he has an ardent and strong soul, is
crushed by his moral isolation among the ignorant people of a
miserable village. It is again this moral isolation that is
analyzed in "Silence," in which story it is the cause of a domestic
tragedy. The same cause provokes a rupture between a father and a
son in "The Obscure Distance," and brings with it in some way the
death of the neurasthenic student.

 [10] In the English translation this book is called "A Dilemma."

In general, the stories of Andreyev, after passing through various
catastrophes, lead the reader back to this theme,--the moral
isolation of a human being, who feels that the world has become
deserted, and life a game of shadows. The abyss which separates
Andreyev's heroes from other men makes them weak, numb, and
miserable. It seems, in fact, that there is no greater misfortune
than for a man to feel himself alone in the midst of his
fellow-creatures.

Finally, in "The Gulf," a somewhat imaginary thesis is developed,
based on the terrible vitality which certain vile instincts keep
even in the purest and most innocent minds, while the story "He
Was..." shows us the inside of a clinic, in which there are two
dying men whose illusions of life persist till the supreme moment.

       *       *       *       *       *

If we carefully study a few of Andreyev's characters we can more
easily understand his feelings and his style. Here is, for
instance, Serge Petrovich, a student. Although he is not very
intelligent, he is above the average. His mind is preoccupied with
all sorts of questions; he reads Nietzsche, he ponders over many
things, but he does not know how to think for himself. The fact that
there are people who can find a way to express themselves appears to
him as an inaccessible ideal; while mediocre minds have no
attraction for him at all. It is from this feeling that all his
sufferings come. So "a horse, carrying a heavy burden, breathes
hard, falls to the ground, but is forced to rise and proceed by
stinging lashes from a whip."

These lashes are the vision of the superman, of the one who
rightfully possesses strength, happiness, and liberty. At times a
thick mist envelops the thoughts of Serge Petrovich, but the light
of the superman dispels this, and he sees his road before him as if
it had been drawn or told him by another.

Before his eyes there is a being called Serge Petrovich for whom all
that makes existence happy or bitter, deep and human, remains a
closed book. Neither religion nor morality, neither science nor art,
exists for him. Instead of a real and ardent faith, he feels in
himself a motley array of feelings. His habitual veneration of
religious rites mingles with mean superstitions. He is not
courageous enough to deny God, not strong enough to believe in Him.
He does not love his fellow-men, and cannot feel the intense
happiness of devoting himself to his fellow-creatures and even dying
for them. But neither does he experience that hate for others which
gives a man a terrible joy in his struggle with his fellow-men. Not
being capable of elevating himself high enough or falling low enough
to reign over the lives of men, he lives or rather vegetates with a
keen feeling of his mediocrity, which makes him despair. And the
pitiless words of Zarathustra ring in his ears: "If your life is not
successful, if a venomous worm is gnawing at your heart, know that
death will succeed." And Serge Petrovich, desperate, commits
suicide.

The hero of "At the Window" is quite different. This man has
succeeded in building for himself a sort of fortress, "in which he
retires, sheltered from life." Like Serge Petrovich, although not as
often, he is tormented by restless thoughts, and, from time to time,
he is obliged to defend his "fortress." But usually he is contented
with watching life, that is to say, that part which he can see from
his window. Nothing troubles the tranquillity of his mind, not even
the desire to live like other men. One day, he speaks of his
theories to a simple, uneducated young girl whom he thinks of
marrying. She is astonished and stupefied by them. She perceives
that he leads an insipid and morose life. Andrey Nikolayevich does
not take into account or understand the stupefaction of the young
girl.

"This then is your life?" she asks, incredulously.

"This is it. What more could you want?"

"But it must be terribly monotonous to live in that way, apart from
the world."

"What good does one find in mankind? Nothing but tedium. When I am
alone, I am my own master, but among men you never know what
attitude to take to please them. They drag you into drunkenness,
into gambling; then they denounce you to your superiors. I, however,
love calmness and frankness. Some of them accept bribes and allow
themselves to become corrupt; I do not like that.... I adore
tranquillity."

Moreover, he does not marry the young girl. He gives her up because
he is afraid of the incumbrances that housekeeping will bring.

In "The Grand Slam" four provincial "intellectuals" are locked up in
the same fortress, and, by playing cards, they escape the terrible
problems of a life which is inimical to them. Their existence has
been passed among these cards, which, by a mysterious phenomenon,
have become real living creatures to them. One of the players has
dreamed all through his life of getting a grand slam, when, one
evening, he sees he has the necessary cards in his hand. He has but
to take one more card, the ace of spades, and his dream will be
realized. But at the very moment when he is stretching forth his
hand to take it, he falls down dead. His partners are terrified. One
of them, a timorous and exact old man, named Jacob Ivanovich, is
particularly struck. A thought comes to him; he quickly rises, after
making sure that it was the ace of spades that the dead man was
going to take, and cries:

"But he will never know that he was going to get the ace of spades
and a grand slam! Never.... Never...."

"Then it appeared to Jacob Ivanovich that, up to this moment, he had
never understood what death was. Now he understood, and what he saw
was senseless, horrible, and irreparable!... The dead man would
never know!"

The poignant irony of this story is not unusual with Andreyev.

It is again found in the short and symbolic story "The Laugh." A
student, profiting by the fact that it is carnival time, disguises
himself as a Chinaman and goes to the house of the girl he loves.
The mute, immobile, and stupidly calm mask, and the whole "get-up"
are so funny, that the unfortunate man rouses irresistible laughter
wherever he goes. The young girl cannot help herself, and, while
listening to his very touching and sincere declaration, which, at
any other time, would have brought tears to her eyes, she bursts out
laughing and cannot again become serious, although she realizes that
a living and unhappy being is hidden under this impassive and
foolish Chinaman's mask.

       *       *       *       *       *

In "The Lie" we see a man who, by isolating himself from life, has
lost the feeling of reality, and all capacity of discerning the true
from the false. He suffers terribly from the feeling that something
unknown is happening around him. This man, who would be ready to
sacrifice everything, even his life, in order to know truth, guesses
the lie that comes between him and the person who is dearest to him.
He falls into a despair that soon turns to fury. In order to recover
his calm, he begs the girl he loves, whom he suspects of having
deceived him, to reveal the whole truth to him. But he cannot
believe her protestations of innocence. One word bursts from his
being, breaks forth from the depths of his soul: "Lies! Lies! Lies
everywhere!"

"In looking at her beautiful pure forehead," he writes, "I dreamed
that truth was there, on the other side of that thin barrier, and I
felt a senseless desire to break that barrier and at least to see
the truth. Lower down, beneath her white breast, I heard the beating
of her heart, and I had a mad desire to open her breast so that I
could read, at least once, what there was at the bottom of her
heart."

He ends by killing that which he loved, and thinks that he is
satisfied: he believes he has killed the lie.

In "The Thought" we see the gradual development of insanity during
the period when it is doubtful, when the will is almost entirely
annihilated and replaced by a fixed idea, and when conscience is not
entirely abolished. Dr. Kerzhenzev kills his friend, obeying a
mental suggestion, which now forbids him to do it, now urges him on.
Then, like the "half-insane" or those sick people who feign madness
in order more easily to attain their end, this man suggests to
himself that he is in reality insane. This idea gets a hold on him
after the murder and fills his soul with mortal terror, the exposure
of which forms the most supremely pathetic part of the whole story.
All this drama of a foundering intelligence, complicated by bizarre
contradictions, is developed with a penetrating power of analysis.

Andreyev tells us that on the day of judgment the alienists are
divided as to the insanity of Kerzhenzev. The story ends at this
place. But the principal interest of the story does not lie in this
or that solution of the problem, which is not mysterious, for the
doctor is doubtlessly abnormal, and it is only as to the degree of
insanity that there can be any question. The main interest lies in
another direction, in the subtle analysis of this special mental
condition, which is done with consummate art.

This story had the honor of occupying an entire meeting of the
psychiatrists attached to the Academy of Medicine of St. Petersburg.
According to the report of Dr. Ivanov, the assembly was almost
unanimous in declaring the murderer insane. Another psychiatrist,
who thought he saw proofs of an abnormal mentality in all the
stories of Andreyev, pronounced the same verdict against Dr.
Kerzhenzev, in a meeting of doctors.

       *       *       *       *       *

"All of priest Vassily Fiveyisky's life was weighed down by a cruel
and enigmatic fatality,"--it is thus that the story, "The Life of a
Pope," opens. "As if struck by an unknown malediction, he had from
his youth been made to carry a heavy burden of sorrows, sickness and
misfortunes; he was solitary among men as a planet is among planets;
a peculiar and malevolent atmosphere surrounded him. Son of an
obscure, patient, and submissive village priest, he also was patient
and submissive, and he was a long time in recognizing the
particular rancour of destiny. He fell rapidly and arose slowly.
Twig by twig he restored his nest. Having become a priest, the
husband of a good woman, the father of a son and a daughter, he
thought that all was going well with him, that all was solidly
established, and that he would remain thus forever. And he blessed
God."

But fate was always on the watch for him. It had showed him
happiness only to take it away again. After seven years of
prosperity, his little son is drowned one summer's day in the river.
Death and nameless misfortunes again invade the home of Vassily. One
does not live there any more, one prowls around gropingly in a
mournful stupor. From morning till evening, his wife comes and goes,
silent and indifferent to everything, as if she were looking for
some one or something.

In losing his son, poor Vassily has also lost his wife, his helpmate
and friend, for the unfortunate woman takes to drink. The faith of
the priest holds in this terrible trial. But his misery increases
immeasurably. The vice of his wife, his own sick weakness, excite
the meanness of the people. Insults have to be borne in silence,
tears hidden. At home, the priest's wife has no rest. She has the
idea that she can have another son who will take the place of the
dead one and be a balm to her broken heart. In her alcoholic desire,
a prey to savage fury, she demands that her husband gratify her
desire.

"Give him to me, Vassily! Give him back to me, I tell you...."

At last her desire is realized: a son is born to her; but the child,
conceived in madness, is born half-witted. The mother takes to drink
again, and the despair of Vassily increases. One day the unfortunate
woman hangs herself. The pope comes in, however, in time to save
her; but now another noose has tightened itself about the priest's
heart. One question oppresses him:

"Why these sufferings? If God exists, and if God is love, how is
such misery possible?"

Vassily's faith trembles. He decides to leave his cassock, to fly,
to put his idiot son out to board and to start life over again. This
resolution relieves him. His wife breathes easier. It seems to him
that she also can begin a new life. But fate does not loosen its
reins.

One day, on coming back from the harvest, he finds his house burned.
His wife, in a drunken stupor, had probably set fire to it. She is
dying of her burns. Vassily can only sigh. This new misfortune does
not put an end to the priest, but rather inspires him. His old faith
comes back, he sees in this supreme test a predestination. He kneels
down and cries:

"I believe! I believe! I believe!"

From that time on he devotes himself entirely to prayer and
macerations. He lives in perpetual ecstasy. The people around him
understand nothing of this change and are astounded. Every one of
them is waiting for something unusual. And their waiting is not in
vain. One day, when he is delivering the funeral oration of a
workingman, who has been suddenly killed, Vassily abruptly
interrupts the ceremony, approaches the corpse, which has begun to
decay, and addresses it thus three times:

"I tell you: arise!"

But the dead man does not move. Then the priest looks at this inert
and deformed corpse. He notices the fetid odor that arises from it,
the odor of the slow but sure decomposition, and he has a sort of
sudden revelation. The scepticism which, for a long time, has been
brooding in his heart suddenly is transformed into absolute
negation, and addressing himself to Him in whom he had believed,
Vassily cries out:

"Thou wishest to deceive me? Then why did I believe? Why hast Thou
kept me in servitude, in captivity, all of my life? No free thought!
No feeling! No hope! All with Thee! All for Thee! Thee alone! Well,
appear! I am waiting! I am waiting!... Ah! Thou dost not want to?
Very well...."

He does not finish. In a burst of savage madness he rushes forth
from the now empty church. He rushes straight ahead and finally
falls in the middle of the road. Death has put an end to his
miseries.

"Silence" also shows us a priest, stubborn in his prejudices. This
man, Father Ignatius by name, is a sort of rude and authoritative
Hercules. All tremble before his stern air, except his daughter, who
has decided to continue her studies in St. Petersburg, against the
will of her father. Coming back to her home after a long absence,
she wanders about, sad and silent. For days at a time she wanders
about, pale and melancholy, speaking little, seeking solitude. She
hides what oppresses her; she keeps her secret from all. One night,
she throws herself under a train, taking her secret with her.

Her grief-stricken mother gets a paralytic stroke which transforms
her into a sort of living corpse. The father, crushed by these two
catastrophes, which have destroyed all the joy of his life, becomes
the prey of a singular mental state: his conscience revolts against
the severe maxims and the pitiless prejudices that he has always
defended. Tender love, which he has hitherto concealed under his
pride, now softens him; he needs affection, and a vague feeling
suggests to him that he himself is to blame for all of these
misfortunes. His past life, his daughter, and his wife appear to
him as so many enigmas which raise anguishing questions in his
heart. He calls out, but no one answers. A death-like silence has
invaded the presbytery, and this silence is especially dreadful near
the paralyzed wife, who is dying without speaking. Even her eyes do
not betray a single thought. Gradually, a terrible desire to know
why his daughter committed suicide seizes him. At twilight, softly,
in his bare feet, he goes up to the room of his dead daughter and
speaks to her. He entreats her to tell him the truth, to confess to
him why she was always so sad, why she has killed herself. Only the
silence answers him. Then he rushes to the cemetery, where his
daughter's tomb irresistibly attracts him; again he implores, begs,
threatens. For a moment he thinks that a vague answer arises from
the earth; he places his ear on the rough turf.

"Vera, tell me!" he repeats in a loud and steady voice.

"And now Father Ignatius feels with terror that something
sepulchrally cold is penetrating his ear and congealing his brain;
it is Vera, who is continually answering him with the same prolonged
silence. This silence becomes more and more sinister and restless,
and when Father Ignatius arises with an effort, his face is as livid
as death."

Crushed by the same blind destiny which annihilated the powerful
personality of Father Ignatius, the piteous and tearful hero of "The
Marseillaise" moves us even more than does the old priest. The poor
fellow cannot grasp the reason for the ferocity of stupid fate,
which unrelentingly preys upon him. Arrested by mistake as a
revolutionist and condemned to deportation, he becomes an object of
derision to his comrades. However, gradually, he finds the strength
to share the severe privations of his companions who have sacrificed
themselves to their ideal of justice and liberty. And, on his
death-bed, he is elated by all that he has endured; he dreams of
liberty, which, up to this time, had been indifferent to him, and
asks them to sing the Marseillaise over his grave.

"He died, and we sang the Marseillaise. Our young and powerful
voices thundered forth this majestic song of liberty, accompanied by
the noise of the ocean which carried on the crests of its waves
towards 'dear France,' pale terror and blood-red hope.

"It became our standard forever, the picture of this nonentity with
the hare's body and the man's heart.

"On your knees to the hero, friends and comrades!

"We sang. The guns, with their creaking locks, were pointed
menacingly at us; the steel points of the bayonets were pointed at
our hearts. The song resounded louder and louder, with increasing
joy. Held in the friendly hands of the 'strugglers,' the black
coffin slowly sank into the earth.

"We sang the Marseillaise!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The two main characters of "The Gulf," a student and a school-girl,
are walking and discussing rather deep things, such as immortality
and the beauty of pure and noble love. They feel some sadness in
speaking about these things, but love appears more and more luminous
to them. It rises before their eyes, as large as the world, bursting
forth like the sun and marvelously beautiful, and they know that
there is nothing so powerful as love.

"You could die for the woman you loved?" asked Zinochka.

"Of course," replies Nemovetsky unhesitatingly, in a frank and
sincere voice, "and you?"

"I too!" She remains pensive a moment. "To die for the one you love,
that is a great happiness! Would that that were to be my destiny!"

Gradually night falls. Nemovetsky and his companion lose their way
in the woods; they finally arrive in a clearing, where three
filthy-looking men are seated about an empty bottle. These
intoxicated men, whose wicked eyes light up with a brutal envy of
enjoyment and love of destruction, try to quarrel with Nemovetsky,
and one of them ends by striking him full in the face with his fist.
Zinochka runs away. His heart full of terror, Nemovetsky can hear
the shrieks of his friend, whom the vagabonds have caught. Then a
feeling of emptiness comes over him, and he loses consciousness. Two
of the men throw him into a ravine.

An hour later, Nemovetsky regains consciousness; he gets up with
great pain, for he is badly wounded. He remembers what has happened.
Fright and despair seize him. He begins to run and call for help
with all his strength, at the same time looking among all the
bushes, when at his feet, he sees a dim, white form. It is his
companion, who lies there motionless. He falls down on his knees and
touches her. His hand encounters a nude body, damp and cold, but
still living. It seems to grow warm at his touch. He pictures to
himself with abominable clearness what the men have done. A feeling
of strange strength circulates in his members. On his knees in front
of the young girl, in the obscurity of the forest, he tries to bring
her back to life, calling her sweet names, caressing her hair,
rubbing her cold hands.

"With infinite precautions, but also with deep tenderness, he tries
to cover her with the shreds of her torn dress, and the double
sensation of the cloth and the nude body are as keen as a sword and
as inconceivable as madness. And now he cries for help, now he
presses the sweet and supple body to his breast. His unconscious
abandonment unchains the savageness of his passion. He whispers in a
low voice, 'I love you, I love you.' And throwing himself violently
upon her lips, he feels his teeth entering her flesh.

"Then, in the sadness and impetuousness of the kiss, the last bit of
his mind gives way. It seems to him that the lips of the young girl
tremble. For an instant, a terrible terror fills his soul and he
sees a horrible gulf yawning at his feet.... And he hurls himself
into the mad throes of his insane passion."

The account of the collegian, which forms the plot of the story "In
the Fog," is even more daring in its realism. It actually oppresses
the reader, not so much by certain details that provoke disgust, as
by the analysis of the sufferings of an unfortunate young man, whose
mind is pure, but who has let himself be dragged into excesses which
are followed by a sickness of ill name. Severely reprimanded by his
father, the poor young fellow, overcome with sorrow, the victim of
an instinct which he could not conquer, ends his days in a most
horrible way: one evening, he leaves home and goes out into the
streets in an adventuresome spirit. A half-intoxicated prostitute
touches him in passing; he follows her. As they go along, a
conversation starts up, and the young man, although she is repugnant
to him, goes home with her. Once in her room, a violent quarrel
starts up and he kills her, and then commits suicide.

These two stories, especially "The Gulf," caused many lively
discussions on the part of the public, and then in the newspapers.
Mr. Bourenine, the well-known critic of the "Novoye Vremya," says
that he received from several correspondents a series of letters
which blamed Andreyev vehemently and requested that this "skunk" of
literature be called to order according to his deserts. These
protestations were reënforced by an ardent letter from Countess
Tolstoy, the wife of the great author, who reproached Andreyev for
having so complacently painted such sombre pictures, with such low
and violent scenes, all of which tended to pervert youth. The
writers were not the only ones to take offence. Two important
Russian newspapers organized a sort of inquiry, and they published
many of the answers received from the young people of both sexes,
but these were all favorable to Andreyev.

In truth, all these judgments are too passionate. It is true that
"most of the critics have understood Andreyev only in a superficial
manner," as Tolstoy rightfully asserted. The double impression, for
instance, produced by "The Gulf," is the result of a simple
misunderstanding. Those who think that the adventure of young
Nemovetsky is a slice of life and characterizes certain
psychological states, have, without a doubt, the right to judge this
story as an indiscretion, and to reproach the author with a
deviation from morality; but Andreyev has not taken his hero from
reality; he has not tried to give us a picture of manners, but has
expressed an idea, born in his brain under the influence of the
philosophy of Nietzsche. It illustrates the terrible power and the
brutality of a dormant instinct lurking in the purest minds.

       *       *       *       *       *

Besides, "The Gulf" and "In the Fog" are compositions which are
exceptional in the work of Andreyev. The idea that he mostly
presents is not the power of bestial instincts, but rather the
indestructible vitality of human feelings and aspirations towards a
better existence, which sometimes comes to light among the most
miserable and depraved people, and even among those who are in the
most abject material condition.

In the destiny of these beings, there are, however, rays of hope.
The slightest incident serves to transform them; suddenly their
hearts begin to beat happily, tears of tenderness moisten their
eyes, they vaguely feel the existence of something luminous and
good. A profound sensibility, an ardent love of life bursts forth
in their souls. This sensibility, this attachment to existence, form
the theme of four touching stories: "He Was," "Petka in the
Country," "The Cellar," and "The Angel."

The action of "He Was" takes place in a hospital, where a deacon, a
foolishly debonair man, who is attached to his stunted existence,
and a pessimistic merchant, thoroughly satiated, are at the point of
death. The deacon has an incurable sickness, and his days are
numbered. But he does not know it, and speaks with enthusiasm of the
pilgrimage he is going to make after he is cured, and of the
apple-tree in his garden, which he expects will bear a great deal of
fruit. The fourth Friday of Lent he is taken into the amphitheatre.
He comes back, very much moved and making the sign of the cross.

"Ah! my brothers," he says, "I am all upset. The doctor made me sit
down in a chair and said to the students: 'Here you see a sick man.'
Ah! how painful it was to hear him add: 'He was a deacon!'"

"The unfortunate man stopped, and continued in a choking voice: '"He
was a deacon," the doctor told them. He told them the story of my
whole life, he even spoke about my wife. It was terrible! One would
have said that I was dead already, and that he was talking over my
coffin.'

"And as the deacon is thus speaking, all of the others see clearly
that he is going to die. They see it as clearly as if death itself
was standing there, at the foot of the bed...."

The merchant is a very different sort of man: he does not believe in
God; he has had enough of life and is not afraid of death. All of
his strength he has spent unnecessarily, without any appreciable
result, without joy. When he was young he had stolen meat and fruit
from his master. Caught in the act, he had been beaten, and he
detested those who had struck him. Later on, having become rich, he
crushed the poor with his fortune and scorned those who, on falling
into his hands, answered his hate with scorn. Finally, old age and
sickness had come; people now began to steal from him, and he, in
turn, beat those whom he caught terribly. And thus his life had been
spent; it had been nothing but a series of transgressions and
hatreds, where the flames of desire, in dying out, had left nothing
but cold ashes in his soul. He refuses to believe that any one can
love this existence, and he disdainfully looks at the sallow face of
the deacon, and mutters: "Fool!" Then, he looks at the third man in
the room, a young student who is asleep. This student never fails to
embrace his fiancée, a pretty young girl, whenever she comes to see
him. As he looks the merchant, more bitterly than before, repeats:
"Fool!"

But death approaches; and this man who thinks himself superior and
who scorns the deacon because he dreams of light and the sun, now
feels disturbed in his turn. In making up the balance-sheet of this
existence which, up to this time, he believed he hated, he remembers
a stream of warm light which, during the day, used to come in
through the window and gild the ceiling; and he remembers how the
sun used to shine on the banks of the Volga, near his home. With a
terrible sob, beating his hands on his breast, he falls back on his
bed, right against the deacon, whom he hears silently weeping.

"And thus they wept together. They wept for the sun which they were
never to see again, for the apple-tree with fruit which they were
not going to eat, for the shadow that was to envelop them, for dear
life and cruel death!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Petka--the hero of "Petka in the Country"--is, at ten years of age,
a barber's apprentice. He does not yet smoke as does his thirteen
year old friend Nicolka, whom he wants to equal in everything.
Petka's principal occupation, in the rare moments when the shop is
empty, is to look out of the window at the poorly dressed men and
women who are sitting on the benches of the boulevard. In the
meantime, Nicolka goes through the streets of ill fame, and comes
back and tells Petka all his experiences. The precocious knowledge
of Nicolka astonishes the child, whose one ambition is to be like
his friend one of these days. While waiting, he dreams of a vague
country, but he cannot guess its location nor its character. And no
one comes to take him there. From morning till evening he always
hears the same jerky cry: "Some water, boy!"

But one morning his mother, the cook Nadezhda, tells the barber that
her master and mistress have told her to take Petka to the country
for a few days. Then begins for him an enchanted existence. He goes
in bathing four times a day, fishes, goes on long walks, climbs
trees, rolls in the grass. When, at the end of a week, the barber
claims his apprentice, the child does not understand: he has
completely forgotten the city and the dirty barber-shop; and the
return is very sad. Again is heard the jerky cry: "Some water, boy!"
followed by a menacing murmur of "Come! Come!" if the child spills
any of the water, or has not understood the orders.

"And, during the night, in the place where Petka and Nicolka sleep
side by side, a weak little voice speaks of the country, of things
that do not exist, of things that no one has ever heard of or
seen!..."

"The Cellar" is inhabited by absolutely fallen people. A baby has
just been born there. With down-bent necks, their faces
unconsciously lighted up by strangely happy smiles, a prostitute and
a miserable drunkard look at the child. This little life, "weak as a
fire in the steppe," calls to them vaguely, and it seems to promise
them something beautiful, clear, and immortal. Among the inhabitants
of this cellar, the most unfortunate of all, is a man named
Kizhnakov; he is pale, sickly, worn by work, almost devoured by
suffering and alcohol; death already lies in wait for him. The most
terrible thing for this man is the necessity of having to begin to
live again each day. He would like to lie down all day and think of
suicide under the heap of rags that serve him as a covering. He
would like best to have some one come up back of him, and shoot him.
He fears his own voice and his own thoughts. And it is on him that
the baby produces the deepest impression. Since the birth of the
child Kizhnakov does not sleep any more; he tries to protect himself
from the cold, and weeps softly, without sadness and without
convulsions, like those who have pure and innocent hearts, like
children.

"'Why do I weep?' he asks himself.

"Not finding a suitable answer, he replies: 'It is thus....'

"And the meaning of his words is so deep that a new flood of tears
come to the eyes of the man whose life is so sad and solitary."

We find the same theme again in "The Angel." A child who also lives
in a cellar comes back from a Christmas-tree; he brings with him a
toy, and a pretty little wax angel, which he shows to his father.
The latter has seen better days, but in the last few years he has
been sick with consumption, and now he is awaiting death, silent and
continually exasperated by the sight of social injustice. However,
the delight of the child infects the father, and both of them have a
feeling "of something that joins all hearts into one, and does away
with the abyss which separates man from man, and makes him so
solitary, unfortunate, and weak." The poor dying man seems to hear a
voice from this better world, where he once lived and from which he
had been sent forever.

But these are only the dreams of a dying man, the last rays of light
of the life which is being extinguished. The ray, penetrating this
sick soul, is like the weak sunlight which passes through the dirty
windows of a dark hovel.

       *       *       *       *       *

In his two stories, "The Stranger" and "The Obscure Future,"
Andreyev shows us two men of entirely different character, animated
by generous feelings and a firm will. One of them, a young student,
being disgusted with the miseries of Russian life and having decided
to expatriate himself, suddenly changes his mind, as a result of the
patriotism of one of his friends, a Servian, named Raiko. He makes
it his duty never to leave his country, although life there is so
terrible and hopeless. There is, in this new feeling, an immense joy
and a terrible sadness. The other, the hero of the second story,
having one day expressed to his father the hatred he has for the
bourgeois life that he is leading, leaves his family, who love him,
in order to penetrate the "obscure future."

Evidently, these are people who are fitted to struggle. However,
these strugglers, so infrequent in the work of Andreyev, have, in
spite of all, something sickly and savage in them; instead of real
fighting courage, they possess only extreme audaciousness, mystical
rapture, or nervous exaltation. The "obscure future" toward which
their eyes are turned is not lighted up by the rays of faith and
hope.

The question is whether Andreyev himself believes in the triumph of
the elements of life over the elements of death, the horror of which
he excels in portraying for us. It is in the following manner that
he expresses himself in one of his essays entitled, "Impressions of
the Theatre": "In denying everything, one arrives immediately at
symbols. In refuting life, one is but an involuntary apologist. I
never believe so much in life as when I am reading the father of
pessimism, Schopenhauer! As a result, life is powerful and
victorious!... It is truth that always triumphs, and not falsehood;
it is truth which is at the basis of life, and justifies it. All
that persists is useful; the noxious element must disappear sooner
or later, will inevitably disappear."

       *       *       *       *       *

What, then, constitutes the essence of Andreyev's talent is an
extreme impressionability, a daring in descriptions of the negative
sides of reality, melancholy moods and the torments of existence. As
he usually portrays general suffering and sickness rather than
definite types, his heroes are mostly incarnations and symbols. The
very titles of some of his stories indicate the abstract character
of his work. Such are: "Silence," "The Thought," and "The Lie." In
this respect he has carried on the work of Poe, whose influence on
him is incontestable. These two writers have in common a refined and
morbid sensibility, a predilection for the horrible and a passion
for the study of the same kind of subjects,--solitude, silence,
death. But the powerful fantasy of the American author, which does
not come in touch with reality, wanders freely through the whole
world and through all the centuries of history. His heroes take
refuge in half-crumbled castles, they look at the reader from the
top of craggy rocks, whither their love of solitude has led them;
even death itself is not a repulsive skeleton, but rather a majestic
form, full of grandiose mystery. Andreyev, on the other hand, but
rarely breaks the bounds which unite him to reality. His heroes are
living people, who act, and whose banal life ends with a banal
death. This realism and this passionate love of truth make the
strength and the beauty of all his work.

       *       *       *       *       *

A certain harmony between the imaginative and the real element is
characteristic of the best of Andreyev's productions, especially his
last stories: "The Red Laugh," "The Governor," "The Shadows," and
"The Seven Who Were Hanged."

"The Red Laugh" is the symbol, the incarnation, of the bloody and
implacable cynicism of war. The psychologist of the mysterious has,
in these pages, recorded the terrifying aspects of the Manchurian
campaign, which one could not have foreseen in all of its horror. He
has shown in a lasting manner the poor human creature torn from his
home, debased to the rôle of a piece of mechanism. Not knowing where
he is being led to, he goes, making murderous gestures, the meaning
of which he does not know, without even having the illusory
consolation of possible personal bravery, being killed by the shots
of an invisible enemy, or, what is worse, being killed by the shots
of his own comrades--and all of this, automatically, stupidly. The
feeling of terror, the somewhat mystical intuition of events which,
at times, seem to be paradoxes in the other works of Andreyev, are
perfectly adapted to this terribly real representation of the
effects of war.

The inner drama which Andreyev analyzes in "The Governor" makes a
bold contrast with the violent pages of "The Red Laugh," the savage
powers of which attain the final limits of horror.

The governor has during his whole life been a loyal and strict
servant of the Tsar. On the day of an uprising he mercilessly beat
the enemies of his master; he blindly accomplished what he thought
was his duty. But, since that bloody day, a new and unceasing voice
speaks in his conscience. The irreparable act has forever isolated
him from his fellow-creatures, and even from his friends who
congratulate him upon his fine conduct. A stranger to all that is
happening around him, he is left alone to fight with his conscience,
which soon crushes him with all the weight of remorse. He knows that
he has been condemned by a revolutionary tribunal. A young girl who
is a stranger to him writes him a compassionate letter: "You are
going to be killed," she says, "and that will be justice; but I have
great pity for you." This discerning and youthful sympathy
penetrates his heart, which finally opens--alas, too late,--to
justice and pity.

This marks the beginning of a terrible agony. The governor makes no
effort to escape from the fatal judgment. Always alone, he
contemplates his terrible distress and awaits the coming of the
judiciary. He feels that he has incurred universal blame, and at
times he comes to wish for death, which surprises him suddenly as he
is turning the corner of a street:

"The whole thing was short and simple, like a scene from a
moving-picture play. At a cross-ways, close by a muddy spot, a
hesitating voice called to the governor:

"'Your honor!'

"'What?'

"He stopped and turned his head: two men who had come from behind a
wall were crossing the street, and were shuffling along in the mud
towards him. One of them had in his left hand a piece of folded
paper; his other hand was in his pocket.

"And immediately, the governor knew that death had come; and they
knew that the governor knew.

"While keeping the paper in his left hand the unknown man took a
revolver out of his pocket with difficulty.

"The governor glanced about him; he saw a dirty and deserted square,
with bits of grass growing in the mud, and a wall. But what did it
matter, it was too late! He gave a short but deep sigh, and stood
erect again, fearless, but without defiance.... He fell, with three
shots in his body."

This drama of conscience is set forth with admirable sureness of
analysis, and the author has been able to represent with impressive
intensity the mysterious fatality which demands the death of the
guilty one.

       *       *       *       *       *

It is this same fatality, under whose hand all men are equal, which
makes the hero of "The Shadows," a young terrorist who has taken
refuge in a house of ill-fame, obey the strange desire of his
bed-companion.

"Stay with me!" cries the young girl, in whom is incarnated his
destiny, at the moment that he is going to leave the establishment
in order to escape from the spies who are following him. "You are an
honest man! And I've been waiting five years to meet an honest
man.... Stay with me, because you belong to me."

After a terrible internal combat the man yields to this unknown will
which is oppressing him. A traitor to his party, he decides to
become the companion of this painted girl, with whom he then gets
drunk.

"As long as I am in the shadows," he murmurs with the sombre
resignation of an Andreyev hero, "I might as well remain there."

At dawn, the police come to arrest him. And while his friend tries
desperately to resist the agents of the force, he contemplates the
brutal scene with an ironic smile.

       *       *       *       *       *

"The Seven Who Were Hanged," written in 1908, right after the
executions at Kherson and Warsaw, shows us pictures of terror and
fright aptly described by the genius of Andreyev. This work has
prodigious color and strength, and one experiences deep emotions on
reading it. Five terrorists, captured at the very moment when they
are going to assassinate a minister, and two criminals, are
condemned to be hanged on the same day. The writer shows them to us
tortured by the most horrible anguish, that which immediately
precedes death. The word "madness" appears on every page: mystical
madness of hallucination that hears music and voices, such is that
of the young revolutionary Moussya; then there is the brutal madness
of her comrades Kashirine and Golovine, who are ready to scream with
terror; the madness of the victims, the frenzy of the executioners.

The night before the execution the prisoners are visited by their
relatives. The farewell which Serge Golovine takes of his family is
rightly considered one of the most poignant and most cleverly
constructed scenes that Andreyev has ever written.

Followed by his mother, who totters along, Serge's father, a retired
colonel, enters the room where visitors are received. Serge does not
know that the colonel spent the whole night in preparing for this
meeting. He has told his wife what to do: embrace her son, keep from
crying, and say nothing. But the unhappy mother in the presence of
her son cannot control her emotions; her eyes are strained and she
breathes faster and faster.

"Don't torture him!" commands the colonel.

Several stupid and insignificant words are exchanged in order to
hide the terrible suffering that they all are going through. The
visit ends: the parents must bid their son good-bye forever. The
mother gives her son a short kiss, then she shakes her head and
murmurs, trembling:

"'No, it is not that! It is not that!'

"'Good-bye, Serge,' says his father.

"They shake hands, and give each other a brief but hearty kiss.

"'You...' begins Serge.

"'What's that?' asks his father in a jerky voice.

"'No, not like that. No, no! What was I going to say?' repeats his
mother, shaking her head.

"She was again seated, trembling.

"'You...' continues Serge.

"Suddenly, his face took on a pitiful expression, and he made a
grimace like a child. The tears then came to his eyes.

"'Father, you are a strong man!'

"'What are you saying? What are you saying?' the colonel cries,
frightened.

"Then, as if he had been struck, the colonel's head sank down upon
his son's shoulder. And they kissed each other, again and again, the
one with white hair and the other with the prisoner's 'capote.'

"'And I?' a hoarse voice brusquely asked.

"They looked: the mother was standing, her head thrown back, and she
was watching them with anger, almost hate.

"'What is the matter, dear?' cried the colonel.

"'And I?' she repeated. 'You two kiss each other, and I? You are
men, aren't you? And I?'

"'Mother!'

"And Serge threw himself into his mother's arms....

"The last words of the colonel were:

"'I consecrate you to death, my boy! Die with courage, like a
soldier!'"

These few lines retrace one of the thousands of daily dramas which
compose modern Russian history. The work of Andreyev brings to us a
sad vibrant echo of the sobs which ring out in Russian dungeons. And
this faithful portrayal of events, events so frequent that they no
longer move us from our indifference, when we find the echo of them
in the press, will raise in the conscience of Andreyev's readers a
cry of horror and pity.

       *       *       *       *       *

It is principally in the dramas which he has written in the last few
years[11] that Andreyev has developed with most force and clearness
his favorite themes: the fear of living and dying, the madness of
believing in free-will, and the nonsense of life, the weakness and
vanity of which he depicts for us.

 [11] Mention should be made of some of Andreyev's other dramas:
 "To the Stars," "Anfissa," "Gaudeamus," and "Sava," plays of
 uneven value, but with a strength of observation and analysis
 which is not inferior to that shown in some of his best stories.

The first of these works to appear was "The Life of Man," which is a
tragic illustration of this pessimism.

When the curtain rises, "some one in grey," holding a torch, informs
the audience that Man is about to be born. From this time on, his
life, lighted like a lamp, will burn until death extinguishes it.
And Man will live, docile and obedient to the orders that come to
him from On-High, through the intermediary of this "some one," whom
he does not know. Each act of the play represents a period in the
life of Man. In the first act, Man has acquired riches and glory,
and is found feasting with his friends in his sumptuous home. The
guests are enchanted with their host, whom they envy. But happiness
is a fugitive shadow; it soon betrays the man, who becomes poor,
loses his son, falls into the most abject misery, and dies in a
filthy and infected cellar, surrounded by vile beggars, while the
torch, held by "some one in grey," begins to grow weaker, and then
dies out. And the man, conscious of his powerlessness to conquer
fate, and conscious of his weakness in face of the mysterious "some
one in grey," confounds in the same malediction God, Satan,
Fatality, and Life, who have united to annihilate him.

The themes of the "King of Famine" and "Black Masks" offer a certain
analogy to the theme of "The Life of Man."

From the top of a belfry the "King of Famine," in company with
"Time" and "Death," incites a workingmen's revolt. He inspires them
with an absolute certainty of victory, although he can see that the
revolt will be quelled and the rebels crushed. Events do not delay,
in fact, to verify the prophecy of the monarch. Locked up, the
leaders of the revolt are condemned to death. The scene of judgment
in the last act is one of the finest in the play. On one side are
seated the sad and dull judges; on the other, the elegant public,
which, with a feeling of fear and disgust, gazes at the unfortunates
whom the King of Famine has robbed of almost all human semblance.
And in this play, also, Death reaps a bountiful harvest.

"Black Masks" is the study of a pathological case which Andreyev has
dramatized after the fashion of de Maupassant's "The Horla."

The Duke Lorenzo, young, noble, and the owner of a magnificent
palace, is getting ready to receive his guests, to whom he is
giving, on this evening, a masked ball. The masks arrive: they are
all black, and all look alike. They all crowd around Lorenzo, whom
this funereal sort of masquerade bothers extremely. He cannot find
his wife among the guests. In fact, he does not recognize any of
them until, to cap the climax, he meets his double, fights with him
and dies, without being able to discern who is the real Lorenzo.

       *       *       *       *       *

At times, Andreyev tries to find the justification of life, and
looks for it in mysticism. He then expounds a doctrine, according to
which, truth is individual and perhaps conceived by each man,
thanks to direct intuition. Such is the mystical truth which the
author tries to affirm in "Anathema."

The play opens with a scene between Anathema, the incarnation of
Satan, and "He who guards the gates," behind which is the mystery of
eternity. Anathema entreats the Guardian to give him access. But it
is in vain that Anathema flatters and insults him; finally, Anathema
declares that he will choose from among mankind a poor Jew, named
David Leiser, will enrich him and, in order to prove the absolute
nonsense of life, will make this man a living protestation against
the work of Him who knows all. Disguised as the lawyer Nullius,
Anathema comes down to earth and gives millions to David. The
latter, the best of men, distributes his riches among the poor. But
the beggars become more and more numerous, and soon David finds that
he is as poor as he was before the visit of Anathema.

In the meantime, the crowd of paupers, always increasing, ask more
money from David; they demand miracles from this man, whose goodness
has made him a saint, a superman, in their eyes. They bring him
corpses and ask him to resuscitate them. David flees; the crowd
follows and stones him to death. But, through his love for his
fellow-men, David has acquired immortality, as "He who guards the
gates" tells Anathema, when, in the last act, the evil archangel,
beaten, returns to lie on the threshold of the inconceivable
mysterious.

This admirable play, born of a philosophical conception which
relates it to Goethe's "Faust," has been received with particular
interest. Andreyev, in writing it, has come very near to solving the
question of the meaning of life, and its justification. And, to the
person who ponders a while over this work, it will appear that it is
not Anathema who entreats "Him who guards the gates" to reveal the
mystery, but it is Andreyev himself, who, carried away by the force
of his genius, has thrown himself, as if at an invincible wall,
against this pitiless guardian, the guardian of the solution of the
enigma of life.

While "Anathema" is an abstract character, whose form resembles more
an algebraic formula than a living process of human relations,
another of Andreyev's plays, "The Love of the Student," written a
short time before "Anathema," gives us a little picture of customs,
alert and painted with the touch of a master.

Gloukortzev, a young student, falls in love with a young girl whom
her mother forces to become a prostitute. Gloukortzev, young and
inexperienced, has not the slightest suspicion, till the young girl
herself reveals to him the horrible truth. And, perhaps for the
first time in his life, the gulf of necessity, toward which fate
drives men, opens before him. He sees with horror that he cannot
come to the rescue of the girl he loves, because he is poor himself.
He cannot even buy her some food, when she tells him that she has
eaten nothing since the night before. Placed before the absolute
bare reality of life, Gloukortzev does not know what to do, and his
comrades, good and upright fellows like himself, have not the means
to help him.

Several very successful scenes, in which the author blends the
tragic with the comic, deserve, in this brief analysis, special
attention. In the first act, there is a students' picnic at which
Olga and Gloukortzev, still full of happiness, are present. The
spectator is drawn by personal sympathy to the student Onoufry, a
good fellow, always drunk, who makes fun of others and himself. We
see him again in the second act, when Gloukortzev finds out about
Olga's life. The poignant scene between the poor girl and her lover
is heightened and softened by the arrival of the students, to whom
Gloukortzev tells his sorrow. The last two acts take place in Olga's
home. The mother brings her daughter a rich "client." And, in the
next room, Gloukortzev suffers terribly, because he knows that his
beloved is still leading an infamous life. In the same room, in the
fourth act, we are present at an orgy, during which the student
quarrels with an officer who has come to spend the night with Olga.
But Onoufry, interfering in time, prevents an affray the issue of
which would probably have been fatal. When the curtain falls,
Gloukortzev, intoxicated, is weeping; at his side is Olga, also
weeping, while Onoufry and the officer are singing: "The days of our
lives are as short as the life of a wave."

This drama, as well as most of Andreyev's plays, has been produced
with great success in Russia and also in Europe.



VII

DMITRY MEREZHKOVSKY


Unlike Gorky, Andreyev, and Tchekoff, Merezhkovsky was brought up in
the midst of comfort and elegance; he received a correct and careful
education; fate was solicitous for him, in that it allowed him to
develop that spirit of objective observation and calm meditation
which permits a man to look down on the spectacle of life, and
indulge in philosophical speculations very often divorced from
reality.

The son of an official of the imperial court, Merezhkovsky was born
in St. Petersburg in 1865. In this city he received his entire
education, and here he gained the degree of bachelor of letters in
1886.

He began his literary career with some poems which won for him a
certain renown. In 1888, he published his first collection, and then
a second in 1892, "The Symbols." At the same time, he published
several translations from Greek and Latin authors.

As he was a friend of the unfortunate Nadson, and a pupil of the
humanitarian Pleshcheyev, Merezhkovsky wrote at first under the
influence of the liberal ideas of his early masters. His verses,
always harmonious, and a little affected, soon belied this tendency
and very frankly revealed his preferences. In the first collection
of his poems, vibrant with generous ideas, he proclaimed that he
wanted, above all, "the joy of life," and that a poet should not
have any other cult than that of beauty.

The poem called "Vera" was his first real success. The extreme
simplicity of the plot--the unfortunate love of a young professor
and of a young weakly girl who dies of consumption in the very
flower of youth--and the very faithful reproduction of the
intellectual life of Russia in 1880, give to this work the
importance of a document in some ways almost historic.

This poem is like a last tribute paid by the author to the
humanitarian and realistic tendencies of Russian literature.
Afterward, yielding to the inclinations of his nature and his taste
for classical antiquity, Merezhkovsky insensibly changed. While
acquiring, both in prose and in verse, an incontestable mastery, he
could now look only for a cold and haughty beauty which was
sufficient unto itself. The beginning was hard, but then all came
easier. After critical articles on the trend of modern literature,
he published "The Reprobate," a bold dithyrambic on ancient Greek
philosophy. The poetry that followed was clearly Epicurean and in
complete contradiction to the altruistic tendencies of the
neo-Christian period, which found an arch enemy in Nietzsche, whose
philosophy evidently influenced Merezhkovsky. However, this
evolution did not have a very favorable effect on his poetry; it
bordered on an art the clarity of which approached dryness, while at
the same time its lack of tenderness reduced its symbolism to an
artificial lyricism or to lifeless allegories.

       *       *       *       *       *

Merezhkovsky works with untiring constancy to glorify antiquity. He
has made excellent translations of Sophocles, Euripides, and of
"Daphne and Chloe," that idyl of Longus that charmed both Goethe and
Catherine II. He chooses the characters of his new poems from Greek
and Latin mythology, and from themes inspired by an ardent love of
paganism. He has written three prose works of considerable value:
"The Death of the Gods," "The Resurrection of the Gods,"[12] and
"Peter and Alexis." The general idea of all of these is the struggle
between Greek polytheism and Christianity, between Christ and
Antichrist, to use the author's expression, or, as Dostoyevsky used
to say, between the "man-God" and the "God-man."

 [12] Also called "The Romance of Leonardo da Vinci, the
 Forerunner."

This struggle touches upon the gravest problem that can occupy the
human mind, and continually puts before us this perplexing question:
"Should the purpose of life be only the search for happiness and
beauty, or must we admit, as a law of nature, the dogma of suffering
and death?" The former of these conceptions found its supreme
formula in Greek paganism. The ultimate expansion of the latter
leads us, on the one hand, to faith,--to the religion of sacrifice,
and, on the other hand, into the domain of philosophy,--to the
destruction of the desire to live, as conceived by Schopenhauer. It
is this struggle between the two principles of Hellenic philosophy
and Christian faith that Merezhkovsky has tried to show us by
fixing, in his novels, the historic moments when this struggle
reached its greatest intensity; and by making appear in these
periods the characters who, according to him, are most typical and
representative. For this reason he has chosen to give his readers
pictures of the three epochs which he considers as culminating:
first, the last attempt made to restore the worship of the gods a
short time after the Emperor Constantine had brought about their
ruin; secondly, the Renaissance, which, in spite of triumphant
Christianity, shows us a glorious renewal of the arts and sciences
of antiquity; finally, the beginning of the 18th century, the reign
of Peter the Great, who tried to make a place for the gods of
antiquity in Russia, where they were regarded with horror by the
orthodox clergy.

       *       *       *       *       *

In his novel, "The Death of the Gods," Merezhkovsky has painted the
first of these epochs, the different phases of which revolve about
the principal hero, the emperor Julian the Apostate. In "The
Resurrection of the Gods" he develops, in sumptuous frescoes, the
age of the Renaissance, personified by Leonardo da Vinci, who best
typifies the character and tendencies of that time. In "Peter and
Alexis," he retraces Russian life in the beginning of the 18th
century, when it was dominated by the extraordinary character of
Peter the Great.

Julian the Apostate was one of the last idolaters of expiring
paganism. But he could do nothing against the infatuation of the
masses who were embracing the new religion, and it was in vain that
he employed both so much kindness and so much violence in order to
suppress Christianity. The reign of the gods was irrevocably ended.
His soul filled with rage when he saw that he was powerless to
change the course of events. He ended by undertaking a foolhardy
expedition into Persia, thinking that that was the only way in which
to defeat Christ, triumph over the "cursed" religion, and bring
back victoriously the altars of the dead gods. But the Olympians on
whom he had counted were of no service to him. According to the
Christian legend, it was then, at the moment of death, that he cried
out: "Galilean, thou hast conquered!" They say that he added: "Let
the Galileans conquer, for the victory will be ours, ... later. The
gods will come back ... we shall all be gods."

This scene is one of the finest in the book. Surrounded by some
faithful friends, Julian speaks, with his last breath, the words
which one of these friends, the historian Ammianus Marcellinus, has
recorded.

"His voice was low but clear. His whole presence breathed forth
intellectual triumph, and from his eyes there still gleamed
invincible will. Ammianus's hand trembled as he wrote. But he knew
that he was writing on the tables of history, and transmitting to
future generations the words of a great emperor:

"'Listen, friends; my hour is come, perhaps too soon. But you see
that I, like an honest debtor, rejoice in giving back my life to
Nature, and feel in my soul neither pain nor fear; nothing but
cheerfulness, and a presentiment of eternal repose.... I have done
my duty, and have nothing to repent. From the days when, like a
hunted animal, I awaited death in the palace of Marcellum, in
Cappadocia, up to the time when I assumed the purple of the Roman
Cæsars, I have tried to keep my soul spotless. If I have failed to
do all that I desired, do not forget that our earthly deeds are in
the hands of Fate. And now I thank the Eternal Ruler for having
allowed me to die, not after a long sickness nor at the hands of an
executioner, but on the battlefield, in full youth, with work ahead
of me still to be done.... And, my dear friends, tell both my
friends and my enemies, how the Hellenes, endowed with divine
wisdom, can die....'"

       *       *       *       *       *

Revenge for the dying emperor was long in coming. But now, after
eleven centuries, the prophecy of Julian is accomplished: heroic
antiquity, everlastingly young, arises from the grave. On all sides
the gods are resurrected. Their marble effigies, so long buried,
reappear. Both the powerful and the humble receive them with
enthusiasm and rejoice at seeing them. It is an irresistible
outburst which carries with it all classes of the Italian people.
Like a wind-blown flame, Greek genius inspires a new life in the
world. But, while a sweeter and more humane moral feeling tries to
liberalize the church, the sombre voice of Savonarola, hardened by
the terrible corruption of manners, mounts ever more menacingly:

"Oh, Italy! oh, Rome! I am going to deliver you up into the hands of
a people who will efface you from among the nations. I see them, the
enemies who descend like hungry tigers.... Florence, what have you
done? Do you want me to tell you? Your iniquity has heaped up the
measure; prepare for a terrible plague! Oh, Lord, thou art witness
that I tried to keep off this crumbling ruin from my brothers; but I
can do no more, my strength is failing me. Do not sleep, oh, Lord!
Dost Thou not see that we are becoming a shame to the world? How
many times we have called to Thee! How many tears we have shed!
Where is Thy providence? Where is Thy goodness? Where is Thy
fidelity? Stretch forth Thy helping hand to us!"

And thus the antagonism between the "God-man" and the "man-God" of
Hellenic paganism expresses itself more strongly than ever before.

The picture of the Renaissance that Merezhkovsky paints for us is
very full, very rich, at times even a little overburdened with
episodes and people. One constantly rubs shoulders with Leonardo da
Vinci, the duchess Beatrice of Este, regent of Milan, the favorite
Lucrecia Crivelli, the mysterious Gioconda, Charles VIII, Louis XII
and Francis I, kings of France, and also with Cæsar Borgia; we find
here the preaching of Savonarola, the death of the pope Alexander
VI (Borgia), Marshal Trivulce, the triumphal entry of the French
into Milan, the diplomacy of Niccolo Machiavelli. In fact, as has
been said above, there are too many events and characters.

       *       *       *       *       *

Two centuries go by and now we come to the third novel, "Peter and
Alexis." The scene is in Russia, and the hero is Peter the Great,
whom Merezhkovsky represents as a worshipper of things Olympian. He
gives a magnificent description of the orgies held by the emperor in
honor of Bacchus and Venus, especially the latter, whose statue he
expressly ordered from Rome and installed in the Summer Garden at
St. Petersburg.

In a veritable fairyland of avenues, of yoke-elms and flower-beds in
geometric designs, of enormous baskets filled with the choicest
flowers, of straight canals, of ponds, of islets, of magnificent
fountains, such a fairyland as Watteau would have dreamed of, there
is a Venetian fête with all sorts of fire-works and illuminations;
small crafts, adorned with flags, are filled with men in golden
garments, girded with swords, and wearing three-cornered hats and
buckled shoes; and the women are dressed in velvet and covered with
jewels.

The Tsar himself opens the case, and helps in placing the goddess on
her pedestal. Again, as two hundred years before in Florence, the
resurrected goddess, Aphrodite, emerges from the grave. The cords
stretch, the pulleys creak; she rises higher and higher. Peter is
almost of the same superhuman height as the statue. And his face,
close to that of Aphrodite, remains noble: the man is worthy of the
goddess....

"The Immortal One--Aphrodite--was still the same that she was on the
hillside in Florence; she had progressed further and further, from
age to age, from people to people, halting nowhere, till in her
victorious march she had reached the very ends of the earth, the
Hyperborean Scythia, beyond which there is naught but darkness and
death...."

But what miseries this magnificent façade conceals! Not far off, on
an island in the river, one can see people who are watching the fête
and who think that they are present at one of the spectacles
forerunning doomsday. Among the crowd are seen the "raskolnik"
Cornelius, old Vitalya of the "runners," deserters, the merchant
Ivanov, the clerk Dokounine ... and several others. In the few
remarks that they exchange, we can see that, for them, Peter the
Great is the Antichrist, "the beast announced by the Gospel."

Such is the tie that binds Peter the Great, Julian, and Leonardo
together. But this tie is weakened by the fact that Peter, an
essentially practical and utilitarian genius, was not the man to
become inspired with Hellenic poetry, and if the author introduces
the Tsar into the society of Julian the Apostate and of Leonardo da
Vinci, it is because Peter the Great was one of those indefatigable
strugglers, who, to attain their ends, put themselves above the
obligations of ordinary morality, one of those supermen, who
hesitate at nothing in satisfying the instincts of their egoisms, of
their dominating wills. In fact, the heroes of Merezhkovsky's novels
all belong in the category of the Nietzschean type of superman,
which explains their philosophical relationship and the sort of
trilogy which these three novels form. Thus, Julian the Apostate,
who tried in vain during his life to make history repeat itself, by
transplanting pagan traditions into a plot which had become unfit to
receive them, and who died in the effort to preserve a faith--does
not this man, then, incarnate that implacable pursuit of the
"integral personality" so extolled by Nietzsche? Leonardo da Vinci,
that great universal and keen mind, who gave himself over to all the
impulses of his creative genius, not caring whether the impulses are
worthy or harmful, appears as a luminous manifestation of that state
of the soul "beyond good and bad" which characterizes the superman.
And is not Peter the Great also a veritable superman; a man who,
through his iron will, upset all the ancient institutions of aged
Russia, and who did not even prevent the assassination of his son
Alexis, inasmuch as he thought that it was for the good of his
country?

At all events, the interest and value of "Peter and Alexis" does not
rest in its philosophic ideas and in the Nietzschean obsession, but
rather in the art with which Merezhkovsky faithfully depicts the
psychology of his heroes. The successive phases of this terrible
tragedy lead up to a striking climax, and set off, one against the
other, temperaments so entirely opposed that the reciprocal
tenderness of the father and son is transformed finally into
suspicion and hate, and the father resolves to sacrifice the life of
his son to what appears to him to be the right of the State. The
novel, although a little overburdened with details, is an excellent
analysis of the customs of the Russia of former times.

The source of the struggle between Peter and Alexis was known. Peter
represented the West and the new ideas, while Alexis represented the
Russia of old, rebellious to innovations which she considered
dangerous. The author thus symbolizes the eternal conflict between
the past and the future. He has analyzed with consummate art the
characters of his two heroes. Peter is a man full of contrasts; he
is, like many Russians, "a brute and a child," by turns violent and
gentle, knavish and simple, cruel and kind, practical and mystical,
proud and modest. Possessed of a prodigious activity, he conceives
tremendous projects which he immediately wants to put into
execution, inspecting everything, verifying everything, finding no
care beneath his dignity, talking to the workingmen as if he were
one of them, not making long speeches, and fiercely, with cries of
rage, fighting dishonest contractors and tradesmen.

Set over against this irascible father, endowed with herculean
strength, the Tsarevich Alexis, thin, pale, and delicate, makes a
sad figure. Most historians, following the example of Voltaire, have
represented this prince as a narrow-minded person, a victim of the
bigoted and intolerant education of the clergy. Merezhkovsky, a more
discreet psychologist, does not rely on these superficial data, but
shades the portrait admirably. He makes Alexis an intelligent man,
not like his father, but a man with a comprehensive, subtle spirit.
He probably was crushed by the powerful individuality of his father.
As he is closely in touch with the people, and knows their
aspirations, Alexis judges the work of his father with delicate
insight: "My father hopes," he says, "to do everything in a great
hurry. One, two, three, and the affair is settled. He does not
realize that things done hastily do not last...."

While Peter is aware of his unpopularity, his son is loved by the
townspeople, the peasants, and the clergy. They say that, "Alexis is
a man who seeks God and who does not want to upset everything: he is
the hope of the nation."

What the author has best shown in this novel is the degree to which
the high society of this time was, under its exterior gorgeousness,
barbarous and vulgar. A German girl, maid-of-honor to the wife of
Alexis, defines it in the following way: "Brandy, blood, coarseness.
It is hard to say which is most prominent,--perhaps it is
coarseness." The boyards[13] she describes as: "Impudent savages,
baptized bears, who only make themselves more ridiculous when they
try to ape the Europeans."

 [13] Russian noblemen.

       *       *       *       *       *

As is evident, these three works of Merezhkovsky belong to the
"genre" of the historical and philosophical novel which demands,
besides the power to call up past ages, a careful education and the
gift of clear-sightedness. And the novelist completely fulfills
these requirements. He knows his subject, he studies all the
necessary documents with the greatest care and follows every story
to its source; finally, before taking up his pen, he visits the
countries and the cities in which the stories take place. Thus, in
order better to understand Leonardo da Vinci, in order to live his
life, the author of "The Resurrection of the Gods" traversed Italy
and France from one end to the other, in the same way that he had
traveled all over Greece so that he could give us a more life-like
Julian. With the same care, he spent a long time reading Russian
historical documents in order to present the reader with a better
picture of the customs of the time of Peter the Great. The result is
a series of historical pictures, almost perfect in their accuracy.
If Merezhkovsky had no other merit than this faithful portrayal of
the past, his novels even then would be read with interest and
pleasure.

Some critics have remarked that the most glaring defect in his books
lies in their construction. His novels often disregard the laws
relating to this sort of literature, which demand the clever
grouping of the characters and events around a principal hero. It is
true that this unity and the sense of proportion absolutely
necessary for any sort of harmony are not to be found in his works.
The details predominate to the detriment of important facts; the
people of secondary importance are sometimes drawn better than the
heroes themselves, whose adventures are entirely unconnected. There
is a series of jumps from one situation to another, with gaps and
interruptions of considerable length, which break the chain of
events. It is for this reason that, instead of seeing a historical
fresco, we see a whole gallery of sketches, executed with subtle
artistry, but insufficiently connected with the main action of the
drama.

These observations apply especially to the first attempt of the
young author: "The Death of the Gods"; "The Resurrection of the
Gods" and "Peter and Alexis" are more skilfully composed. They
indicate a stronger tendency towards unity; one feels that an
infinitely firmer and more experienced brush has been used; the
colors are richer and they do not suffer from that monotony of
effect and of color so noticeable in "The Death of the Gods," where
the author too often uses the same devices. As to the characters of
Leonardo da Vinci and Peter the Great, they are very carefully
worked out, and the events in the lives of the Italian master and
the Russian Tsar are narrated with magnificent psychological
analysis, which forces the reader to sympathize with the heroes even
more than he would naturally.

Merezhkovsky has also been accused of being over-educated. The
innumerable documents presented do not bear closely enough upon the
action, the result being that many of his pages read like mere
annals. They interest the reader but do not move him. This is one
reason why some critics, essentially different in spirit from
Merezhkovsky, have believed themselves right in denying that he has
any talent. But this accusation falls of itself in the face of the
power of the inspiration which pervades his work, and the dramatic
sense which he displays in setting forth the events and personages.
It is impossible, for instance, to read without the deepest emotion
the story of the last days of Leonardo da Vinci, where the author
establishes the tragic contrast between the outward signs of glory,
the superficial honors with which this genius is overwhelmed, and
the moral solitude which afflicts him to the very end, which comes
when he is among people who are strangers to his soul. All the
childhood recollections of this same Da Vinci are full of charm.
There is a veritable master spirit shown in the chapters in which
the author portrays for us the enigmatic and seductive Mona Lisa.
Finally, he has given us a relief of rare energy in the terrible
struggle between Peter and Alexis, between the man of iron whom
nothing can affect and his son, kind and timid, who, while having a
mortal fear of his father, still loves him. As to certain pages,
like those which describe the strange inner life of the Tsarina
Marfa Matveyevna, "living by the light of candles, in an old house
savouring of the oil of night-lamps, the dust and the putrification
of centuries," these pages are a veritable tour de force if only
because of the plasticity and richness of the author's vocabulary.

Finally, what tragic horror there is in the supreme struggle where
the emperor, the assassin of his son, sees his isolation and feels
his weakness, "like a large deer gnawed at by flies and lice until
the blood runs!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Besides his novels Merezhkovsky has published several essays, on
Pushkin, Maykov, Korolenko, Calderon, the French neo-romanticists,
Ibsen and others.... The most important of all are: "The Causes of
the Decadence of Modern Russian Literature" and "Tolstoy and
Dostoyevsky." He reveals here a fine and penetrating power of
observation, which, however, is often obscured because of his
obsession by Nietzschean ideas. Moreover, he does not hide his
antipathy to the people whose literary tastes and ideas differ from
his. From this characteristic comes strange exaggerations and a
somewhat limited appreciation of men and events. An example of
this, for instance, is the impression that he gives in his study of
the causes of the decadence of modern Russian literature, the
subject of which imposes upon the author the double task of
looking up the causes of this decadence and also proving that it
exists. He has not succeeded. In fact, it appears that this idea of
decadence exists only in the minds of the author and of a small
circle of writers who have the same ideas about the mission of
literature. Merezhkovsky is absolutely right in all that he says
about the fact that Russian writers live solitary, deprived of that
precious excitation which is felt when one is in contact with
original and different temperaments; but if you add to this, as he
has done, the statement that Russia does not possess a literature
worthy of the name, you go too far. Without being a great scholar,
it is easy to perceive that our contemporary Russian authors are
legitimate sons of Turgenev, Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, and grandsons
of Gogol, who himself is closely related to Pushkin. A democratic
and humanitarian realism--widely separated from the Nietzscheism of
Merezhkovsky--strongly characterizes the Russian lineage.

In his book on Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky he spends a long time in
differentiating between the artistic intuition of these two great
masters, who are, according to him, the most profound expression of
the popular and higher element of Russian culture.

What strikes him first in Tolstoy is the insistence with which he
describes "animal man." In a kind of "leitmotiv" Merezhkovsky has
shown us the Tolstoyan characters individualized by very particular
corporal signs. "Tolstoy," he says, "has, to the very highest
degree, the gift of clairvoyance of the flesh; even when dead, the
flesh has a tongue." He is the subtle painter of all sensations and
he is a master in this domain. But his art diminishes singularly,
and even disappears when he tries to analyze the soul within the
flesh. Dostoyevsky, on the other hand, triumphs in his dialogue; one
sees his characters because one shares all their sadness, their
passions, their intelligence, and their sensibility. Dostoyevsky is
the painter of the depths of the human soul, which he portrays with
almost supernatural acuteness. And, as Tolstoy is "the seer of the
flesh," so is Dostoyevsky "the seer of the soul."

Having established this difference in principle, Merezhkovsky, by
constant deduction, concludes, in consonance with his favorite idea,
that Tolstoy personifies "the pagan spirit" at its height, while
Dostoyevsky represents "the Christian spirit." There is a great deal
of fine drawn reasoning in all of this, some very original ideas,
but a great many paradoxes. Even the very personality of Tolstoy,
the analysis of which occupies a large part of the book, is
belittled in the hands of Merezhkovsky. Instead of a noble
character, one sees a very vain person, preoccupied only with
himself. It is in this simple way that Merezhkovsky explains the
moral evolution which led Tolstoy to make those long and sad studies
of a kind of life compatible with the true good of humanity, and
forced him to them by "the anguish of the black mystery of death"
which, having got possession of the author of "Anna Karenina" in his
sixtieth year, in the midst of a life of prosperity, made him hate
his fortune and his comfort, which formerly had been so dear to him.
In the refusal of Tolstoy to "bow to the great authorities of the
literary world, such as Æschylus, Dante, and Shakespeare," a refusal
which is only the logical consequence of his ideas on the principle
and purpose of art, Merezhkovsky can only see a lack of general
culture. Finally, the sort of life he led toward the end of his days
came only "from the desire to know and taste the pleasure of
simplicity in all its subtleties." "The admirable Epicurus," says
Merezhkovsky, "that joyous sage, who, in the very center of Athens,
cultivated with his own hands a tiny garden, and taught men not to
believe in any human or divine chimeras, but to be contented with
the simple happiness that can be given by a single sunbeam, a
flower, a sup of water from an earthen cup, or the summer time,
would recognize in Tolstoy his faithful disciple, the only one,
perhaps, who survives in this barbaric silence, where American
comfort, a mixture of effeminacy and indigence, has made one forget
the real purpose of life...."

In writing these lines, Merezhkovsky must have forgotten that
Tolstoy, in proclaiming his ideas on religion and humanity, prepared
himself, not for Epicurean pleasures, but for seclusion in one of
the terrible dungeons of a Russian monastery (now in disuse) under
the persecutions of a temporal and secular authority, and it was not
his fault that, by a sort of miracle, he escaped this fate.

Dostoyevsky's life is the exact opposite of Tolstoy's. The story of
Dostoyevsky's terrible existence is probably known. Born in an
alms-house, he never ceased to suffer, and to love.... It is hard to
think of two people more absolutely different than Tolstoy and
Dostoyevsky. But Merezhkovsky loves violent contrasts; in the sharp
difference between these two writers, he sees the permanent union of
two controlling ideas of the Russian Renaissance and the imminence
of a final sympathy, symbolic of a concluding harmony.

       *       *       *       *       *

We have, by turns, studied Merezhkovsky as a poet, a novelist, and a
critic. The greatest merit of his literary personality rests in the
perfect art with which he calls up the past.

But Merezhkovsky is not only an artist. As we have noted, his
novels have, as their end, one of the greatest contradictions of
human life,--the synthesis of the voluptuous representations of the
religion of classical antiquity and the moral principles of
Christianity. It is, therefore, natural to ask whether he has in
any way approached his goal and just where he sees the salvation of
humanity, the present situation of which seems to him desperate.
The answer to this question can be found in his book, "Ham
Triumphant."[14] Our study of Merezhkovsky's literary character
would be incomplete if the ideas of this book were not set forth.

 [14] In Russia, the name of the biblical Ham has become synonymous
 with servility and moral baseness. Merezhkovsky employs this
 scornful term to designate those people who are strangers to the
 higher tendencies of the mind and are entirely taken up with
 material interests. His "Ham Triumphant" is the Antichrist, whose
 reign, as predicted by the Apocalypse, will begin with the final
 victory of the bourgeoisie. In one chapter of this book,
 Merezhkovsky proves that the writers of western Europe and Russia
 (Byron and Lermontov) err in crowning this Antichrist with an
 aureole of proud revolutionary majesty, for, since he is the enemy
 of all that is divine in man, he can only be a character of shabby
 mediocrity and human banality, that is to say, a veritable "Ham."

According to Merezhkovsky, the present evil in the world consists
entirely in the moral void which results from the disappearance of
the Christian ideal from the soul. The loss of this ideal was
inevitable, and even productive of good, because it had been so
mutilated and deformed by the Church, that Christian religion became
a symbol of the reaction, and its God synonymous with executioner.
Humanity will rid itself of Christianity. But nothing will replace
it, unless it be the philosophy of positivism, a sort of material
religion of the appetites and the senses, which gives no answer to
our anguish and our mystical instincts. This philosophy presided at
the formation of a miserable society, an egotistical and mediocre
bourgeoisie, who have no spiritual tendencies, and are incapable of
sacrificing themselves to any ideal other than that of money.

John Stuart Mill said that the bourgeoisie would transform Europe
into a China; the Russian publicist Hertzen, frightened by the
victories of socialism, in 1848, foresaw the end of European
civilization, drowned in a wave of blood. Merezhkovsky affirms that
the Chinese and the Japanese, being the most complete and the most
persevering representatives of this "terrestrial" religion, will
without fail conquer Europe, where positivism still bears some
traces of Christian romanticism. "The Chinese," he says, "are
perfect positivists, while the Europeans are not yet perfect
Chinese, and, in this respect, the Americans are perfect Europeans."
Where is one to look for safety against this heavy load on the
understanding and this future humiliation? In socialism, one says.
But socialism, if it is not yet bourgeois, is almost so. "The
starved proletariat and the rejected bourgeois have different
economic opinions," says Merezhkovsky, "but their ideal is the same,
the pursuit of happiness." As it is but a step from the prudence of
the bourgeois to the exasperated state of the starved proletariat,
this pursuit can lead to nothing else but international atrocities
of militarism and chauvinism. Progress having become the sole
ambition of the cultivated barbarians, satiety became their
religion, and the only hope of escaping from this barbarism was to
adopt the religion of love, founded by Jesus. Jesus said to those
who were treated with violence, and who, in turn, had used violence
in trying to free themselves: "Truth (love) will set you free."
These words, which identify truth with love, contain in themselves
the profoundest social and personal morality. They inspired the
first martyrs of Christianity; but in time they were forgotten by
the Church. Succumbing to the "diabolical seduction of power,"
religion itself became a power, an autocracy; people submitted to
this power, and thus the Byzantine and Russian orthodoxy came into
existence. In this manner, the morals of the government,
antichristian in essence, became the doctrine of Christianity; and
the particular morals of the latter became transformed into a
mysterious gospel of life, relegating its aspirations to an
existence beyond the tomb. Now there is nothing for Christianity to
do but return to its first sources and develop the principles of
universal religion found there. One should no longer be concerned
with heavenly and personal advantage, but with earthly affairs and
social conditions; instead of being conquered by the government one
should conquer it, permeate it with one's spirit, and thus realize
the prophecy in the Apocalypse of the millennium of the saints on
earth, and destroy the forms of the power of the government, the
laws, and the empire. Such a renewal of Christianity demands an
energetic struggle, self-forgetfulness, and martyrs. But where is
one to find the necessary forces? Merezhkovsky does not see them in
the States of western Europe, because the "intellectuals" there are
antichristians and are congealed in their bourgeois positivism.
"Above these Christian states, above these old Gothic stores," says
Merezhkovsky, "rises, here and there, a Protestant wooden cross,
half rotted; or a Catholic one of iron, all rusted, and no one pays
any attention to them." What purity and nobility remains can
manifest itself only in certain scattered individuals, in such great
hermits as Nietzsche, Ibsen, Flaubert, Goethe in his old age; they
are like deep artesian wells which prove that, beneath the arid
earth there is still some flowing water. There is nothing of this
sort in Russia. Although backward from the point of view of progress
and politics, this country produced the "intellectuals" who form
something unique in our present civilization: in essence, they are
anti-bourgeois. "The positivism which the Russian 'intellectuals'
have adopted by way of imitation is rejected by their feelings,
their conscience, and their will; it is an artificial monument that
is set up in their minds only."

Merezhkovsky, then, has reason for thinking that the social
renovation of Christianity will be accomplished in Russia. And as
this work is the especial concern of the clergy, Merezhkovsky, who
several years ago was present at a meeting where the Russian priests
affirmed their desire to free themselves from the yoke of their
religious and secular chiefs, proposed to accomplish this great
mission. "It is indispensable," he says, "for the Russian Church to
untie the knots that bind it to the decayed forms of the autocracy,
to unite itself to the 'intellectuals' and to take an active part in
the struggle for the great political and social deliverance of
Russia. The Church should not think of its own liberty at present,
but of martyrdom."

We will not criticize these, perhaps illusory, ideas and previsions
of Merezhkovsky. Russian life has become an enigma; who knows to
what moral crisis the social conscience may be led by the present
political crisis? Merezhkovsky's Olympian æsthetics have made him a
foreigner in Russian literature. Yet as soon as the tempest burst
forth, certain familiar traits showed themselves, traits common to
the best Russian writers and to the general spirit of Russian
literature. In his absolute, and even exaggerated, distaste for
"bourgeoisisme," and his desire for an ideal, he is a legitimate son
of this literature. The nature of his ideas is in harmony with those
we have already found in Tolstoy, with his gospel of Christian
anarchism, in Dostoyevsky, with his ideas about the "omni-humanity"
of the Russian spirit, in Vladimir Solovyev, with his idea of
universal theocracy, and, finally, in Chadayev, one of the most
remarkable thinkers of the first half of the last century, who,
although now almost forgotten, was the real source of all these
ideas.

Thus in the conception of socialized Christianity Merezhkovsky seeks
the end of the great antithesis between the "God-man" and the
"man-God," between Christ and Bacchus, an antithesis which makes the
generality of men often conduct themselves after the manner of that
German petty kingdom, of which Heine speaks, where the people, while
venerating Christ, do not forget to honor Bacchus by abundant
libations. Merezhkovsky's idea ought to appear in the form of a
synthetic fusion of the joyous religion of Greece and the religion
of love, as taught by Jesus.[15]

 [15] Merezhkovsky has also written a long historical drama, called
 "The Death of Paul I." He traces there, with his accustomed
 animation, the figure of the weak and criminal Tsar, now heaping
 favors upon those who surround him, now persecuting them with the
 most terrible cruelty. The savage scene of the assassination of
 this tyrant is of remarkable beauty.



VIII

ALEXANDER KUPRIN


The work of Kuprin contrasts strongly with the writings of his
predecessors and of his contemporaries. It would be useless to try
to connect him with Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, or Gorky. This does not
mean that he came under foreign influence. As a matter of fact his
work clearly shows the imprint of Slavic genius and receives its
richness from qualities which have always appeared in Slavic
literature,--sincerity and accuracy of observation, a passionate
love for all manifestations of modern life, lyrical fullness, and
power of suggestion. But Alexander Kuprin does not depict adepts of
the "religion of pity," nor the psychology of the abnormal, the
"pathological case," so curious and rare, and so dear to the author
of "Crime and Punishment."[16] He does not reincarnate the sad
genius of Korolenko. He is equally separated from Tolstoy and Gorky.
He is himself. That is to say, he is an exquisite story-teller,
profound and touching, who imposes neither thesis nor moral upon
his reader, but paints life as it appears to him,--not seen through
the medium of a temperament,--but in all sincerity, without too much
ardor or too much indifference.

 [16] Dostoyevsky.

This author was born in 1870. After having attended the Cadet School
and the Military School at Moscow, he entered military service as an
active lieutenant in 1890, but resigned seven years later in order
to devote his time to literature. Before this, he had published
several stories.

In spite of the undeniable talent which is found in his earlier
writings, the public hesitated to praise him. Certain lucky
circumstances, however, favored the beginning of his work. One of
his relatives, at the start, offered him a position on a magazine
which she was then editing. This was a wonderful opportunity for
him, for usually at his age the more gifted writers are still
groping around for light. But merit alone seldom suffices to form
the basis of literary fame. Scandal is often necessary to
consecrate, as one might say, a growing reputation. Kuprin, without
seeking to start a scandal, did so, in spite of himself, when he
published "The Duel," a study of military life, in which he showed
the most absolute impartiality.

To his great surprise, the public accepted this book as a new
indictment of the army. It was because the Manchurian campaign was
so recent. Every portrayal of military life passed as a violent
satire on the corrupt and disgraced army. Kuprin in vain tried to
change this unexpected judgment. As he was an ardent partisan of the
theory of "art for art's sake," he could not allow a purpose to be
attributed to his work. He had only faithfully portrayed what he had
witnessed in the course of his brief career. But in order to
strengthen his defence, he alleged reasons which could not be
understood in an altruistic country. Besides, several of his
stories, such as, "The Wedding," full of the dissolute life led by
the officers in their garrisons, "The Inquest," where the author
shows the violences to which the Russian soldiers are subjected,
"The Night's Lodging," and "The Ensign of the Army," which
stigmatize certain lace-bedecked "Lovelaces," only help to nullify
his best arguments. In short, his fame spread rapidly and the young
writer had to accept the renown that became his.

       *       *       *       *       *

From that time on Kuprin's road was mapped out. According to the
dictates of his fancy he depicts thousands of the ever-changing,
different aspects of life. He is equally impelled to write about
petty tradesmen, actors, acrobats, and sinners in the Crimea. To
the accomplishment of his task, he brings an over-minute and cruel
observation. With the genius that is his he dwells on certain
important, carefully selected traits of people who live intensely.

In "The Disciple," we see a young sharper on a boat on the Volga. He
has the tired eyes of a precocious old man, stubby fingers, and the
hands of a murderer alert to strike the fatal blow. He has just
fleeced a party of travelers, and he discovers, in a savory
conversation with an old cheat, who has found him out, that his soul
is being consumed with insatiable desires. And as the old sharper
admires the "savoir-faire" of his young friend, the latter observes,
not without scorn, that they belong to two very different categories
of sharpers. "Among you old fellows," he sneers, "there was
romanticism. You loved beautiful women, champagne, music and the
song of the tziganes.... We, however, we others are tired of
everything. Fear and debauch are equally unknown to us...."

After the sharper we have the spy in "Captain Rybnikov." He passes
for a Siberian, and says that he has been wounded in the
Russo-Japanese war. He goes out into society a great deal, and is
most commonly seen in the military offices and in the best "salons"
of St. Petersburg. One night, when he is asleep at a courtesan's
house, he mutters the war-cry of Japan: "Banzai! Banzai!" The
courtesan denounces him to a policeman who happens to be there, and
the pseudo-captain, who is no other than a colonel in the Japanese
army, is arrested.

Before leaving the military world, let us analyze "The Delirium."
Captain Markov has been ordered by the government to suppress the
revolution in certain provinces. Disgusted with the duty of daily
executioner, the officer frets himself into a high fever. A
non-commissioned officer enters to ask him to decide the fate of
three men who have been arrested the previous night, one of whom is
an old man with a peaceful and strangely beautiful face. The
sergeant knows that they ought to be shot, but these executions are
so repulsive to him, that he is anxious to have the sentence of
death confirmed by his chief, who seems to him to have the sole
responsibility.

"I don't want you ever again to ask me such a question," cries
Markov, who has guessed the intention of his subordinate. "You know
what you ought to do." And he dismisses him. But the soldier remains
motionless.

"What else do you want?" asks the captain.

"The men," answers the stubborn soldier, "are anxious to know what
to do with the ... old ... man...."

"Get out of here!" the officer roars, exasperated. "Do you
understand?"

"Very well, captain. But as to-day is December 31, allow me to offer
you my best wishes for a happy New Year."

"Thank you, my friend," replies Markov in a voice which has suddenly
become soft.

During the night the captain begins to rave. The old man whom he has
just condemned to death appears and speaks to him. He says that his
name is Cain, and confesses the murder of his brother. Cursed by
God, he wanders disconsolately through the centuries, followed by
the groaning of his victim.

Just before dawn the sergeant awakens Markov.

"What about those three men?" asks the captain eagerly.

"Shot, captain!"

"And the old man? The old man?... what have you done with him?"

"We shot him along with the others, captain."

The next day Captain Markov asks for his discharge, having decided
to leave the army for good.

This story, which is one of the most powerful in Russian literature,
would have been enough to bring the young writer renown, even if he
had never written anything else. But his work, which is already
imposing in amount, abounds in pages of great merit, and especially
in well-constructed, brief, tragic stories.

Under this class should be mentioned "Humble People," a short story,
the scene of which is laid in the extreme north. It is the story of
a close friendship between a nurse in a dispensary and a
school-teacher.

Snowed in by a terrible winter--a winter of seven months--these two
friends find in their daily meetings the only pleasure that can make
their enforced solitude easier for them. However, in spite of their
mutual friendship, they often find their lot hard to endure. And
they continually quarrel, only to become reconciled almost
immediately. But now an unexpected event comes to break the monotony
of their existence. They are invited to a dance, given by the priest
of the neighboring village, and there they fall in love with two
charming young girls, who, they are happy to find, are not
indifferent to them. Once at home, they bestow lavish praises on
their new friends. With the touching devotion of simple and starved
hearts they speak about them as if the young girls already were
theirs.

"Mine has eyes of velvet," says the one.

"And mine has hair of pure gold," replies the other.

Gradually, however, their recollections grow weaker, and fade, just
as flowers do. Their sad life would have begun again if the spring
had not come, and with it brought deliverance. The two friends, full
of new sprightliness, get up a fishing party one day. A foolish
accident makes them both fall into the river, and they are drowned.

       *       *       *       *       *

"The End of a Story," which we are about to analyze, deserves, as
does "Humble People," a special place in the work of Kuprin. It is a
little masterpiece of graceful emotion.

Kotik, a child of seven, and the son of a celebrated painter, teases
his father to tell him a story. The father racks his memory. He has
told so many that his fount is almost dry.

Suddenly an idea comes to him. Is not his own life a tender,
melancholy, and charming story? It is not a long time, twelve years
at the most, since he was a poor, obscure painter, neglected by his
masters and tormented by the miseries of his life. Discouraged, he
used continually to curse the hour in which he chose to devote
himself to art. One day, a young girl, believing in his talent, gave
him her hand and comforted him with her tenderness and angelic
goodness. And love had triumphed.

To-day his name is celebrated among the most famous, and his
paintings adorn the galleries of kings and emperors. The plot of
the story is ready.

"Listen," says the father to his son. "There was once upon a time a
king who, feeling that he was going to die, gathered his many
children about him and said to them: 'I will leave my kingdom to
that one of you who can enter a marble palace situated in a very
dense forest, and there light his torch from the sacred fire which
always burns there. The forest is full of wild beasts and venomous
serpents. The palace is guarded by three lions: Envy, Poverty, and
Doubt.'

"The young people set out on the road. But, while the older ones
search outside of the forest for a road that is not beset with
dangers, the youngest courageously starts on the regular path. He
there is exposed to many dangers and temptations. Already, his
strength failing, he feels that he is almost on the point of
succumbing, when a fairy appears and stretches forth her hand to
him. The young man blesses this providential aid. The fairy brings
back his courage and leads him to the palace."

Near them on the terrace, concealed by some plants, there sat a
young and beautiful woman who was eagerly listening to the story.
She was Kotik's mother, the fairy of the story, and the favorite
pupil of the painter. Some of her paintings had already made a
sensation.

The story ended, the father led the child to his room and with the
help of his nurse undressed him and put him to bed.

"He had started back towards the terrace, when suddenly two arms
embraced his neck, while two sweet lips pressed against his.

"The story was finished."

With these words the story really ends.

Kuprin shows the same grace and the same delicate emotion in his
recent story, "The Garnet Necklace," a tale which is analogous to
the legend of the troubadour Geoffrey Rudel, which has been made
into a play by Rostand in his "Princesse Lointaine."

Geltov, a Russian petty official, loves the beautiful Princess
Sheïne with a desperate love. After long hesitation he decides to
send her a garnet necklace, with a tender and respectful note
enclosed. Alas! his gift is returned to him and the husband of the
princess angrily threatens the naïve lover. The latter has not the
strength to face the situation, and commits suicide. But before
dying he writes to the princess:--

"I saw you for the first time eight years ago in a theatre, and
since that time I have loved you with boundless passion. It is not
my fault, Princess, that God has sent this great happiness to me....
My life for the last eight years has been bound up in one
thought,--you. Believe what I say, believe me because I am going to
die.... I am neither a sick man nor an enthusiast.... I consider my
love for you as the greatest happiness that God could have given
me.... This happiness I have enjoyed for eight years. May God give
you happiness, and may nothing henceforth trouble you...."

This naïve and touching letter moves the princess. At the grave of
her unhappy lover, she recalls the words of an old friend of her
father's: "Perhaps he was an abnormal man or a maniac....
Perhaps,--who knows?--your life was illumined by a love of which
women often dream, a kind of love that one does not see nowadays."

       *       *       *       *       *

One can judge by these summaries how little Kuprin "pads" his
stories. Most of them are reduced to a commonplace anecdote, which
the author is careful not to ornament in the least. He respects
truth to such a degree that he offers it to his readers in its
disconcerting bareness. He would think that he was failing in his
duty as an observer if he disguised it by any literary mechanism.

His work, stripped of all general ideas and of all subjective
aspects, is of a rather curious impersonality. Nothing ever betrays
his intimate thoughts or feelings. And it is in this respect that
he differs so much from most of the writers of to-day, who give
themselves up completely to their attractive heroes and vituperate
their odious people. Kuprin's objective tendencies are best shown in
his story called "Peaceful Life."

A retired official, Nassedkine, who has been enriched by the
gratuities which he has exacted from those who have had to do
business with him, has made it his duty to play censor in his little
town. He makes use of a very discreet and edifying method: to all of
the citizens whose honor is in danger, he sends one or more
anonymous letters telling them of the "extent of their misfortune."

Nassedkine has just finished writing two laconic notes, one of which
is to a young woman whom he tells to visit one of her friends on a
certain day, when, he assures her, her husband is always to be found
there. At this moment the church bells ring, and Nassedkine, who is
religious, goes to vespers. On entering, he notices a fashionable
lady, all dressed in black, in a dark corner of the church.
Nassedkine, more than any one else, knows the heart-rending story of
this woman. She had recently, against her will, married an
excessively rich wood merchant who was almost forty years older than
she. One day, when she thought that her husband had gone off on
business, he returned unexpectedly and found her in the arms of one
of his employees. He had been warned that same morning, by an
anonymous letter, that his wife was deceiving him.

"Beside himself with rage, the merchant threw his employee out of
the house, and then satiated his brutal jealousy on his wife. He
struck her with his big, hobnailed boots; then he called his
coachman and valet, made her undress completely, and had each of
them in turn lash her beautiful body until, covered with blood, she
fainted away.

"And as the priest at the altar was reciting: 'Lord, I offer Thee
the tears of a woman who has sinned,' Nassedkine repeated this
phrase with satisfaction. Then he left the church in order to post
the two letters he had just written."

This characteristic dryness does not come, as one is liable to
think, from ill-disguised insensibility. Kuprin's soul, on the
contrary, is of such exquisitely fine texture that all human
emotions vibrate there. The few times when he has expressed himself
are enough to convince the reader. He has often pitied women with a
discreet, fraternal compassion. He has also devoted many pages to
the sufferings of animals, be it the story of circus horses hurt by
the rolling of the ship, or the story of a kitten mutilated by
wolves. Only a few words are needed to make us tender and to bring
tears to our eyes. And it is with the eyes of a poet or a child that
he has viewed nature.

       *       *       *       *       *

No one ever studies a Russian author without finally asking himself
what the author's influence was on the political manifestations of
society. The answer here is not hard to find: Kuprin, observer,
artist, and painter of life, has had no influence. If we except one
story, "The Toast," in which he shows his deep affection for the
oppressed classes, nothing in his work betrays even slightly his
opinions on this subject. Always, the thought of Kuprin deserts the
social struggle to fly into more vast and serene surroundings than
the theatre of wars and revolutions. And he is doubtless ready to
exalt above this terrible struggle, the one thing that he judges
eternal, the love of woman.

"There have been kingdoms and kings," he says in his beautiful
novel, "Sulamite," "and the only trace that is left of them is the
wind in the desert. There have been long and pitiless wars, at the
end of which the names of the leaders sparkled like stars: time has
effaced all memory of them.

"But the love of a poor girl of the vineyards and a great king[17]
will never be effaced and will always live in the minds of men,
because love is divinely beautiful, because every woman who loves is
a queen, because love is stronger than death."

 [17] Refers to Solomon.



IX

WRITERS IN VOGUE


As we have already noted in the first chapter of this book, Russian
literature from 1830 to 1905 is distinctly different from European
literature: it is, above all, a literature of action and social
propagandas which puts the popular cause in the place of prominence.

This cause has been abandoned by several writers during the last
few years. From 1905 to 1910, an evolution, accelerated by the
most audacious hopes and the most lively beliefs, has transformed
the story and the novel, and has brought to the front certain
authors who, up to this time, had scarcely been known. It seems
as if suddenly the ancient tradition of Russian literature had
been broken. Contrary to the rule of their predecessors, whose
thoughts were on justice and liberty, and whose works breathe
forth a wholesome quality, a large number of the present writers
have been gradually attracted by metaphysical questions, which
fill their works with a veritable chaos of morbid conceptions and
disenchantment. Some express with acuteness man's unconquerable
fear of life or death; others treat of the divine or satanic
principles in man; still others study, with a sickly passion, the
problems of the flesh in all of its manifestations.[18]

 [18] Happily, this literary crisis seems to have been ephemeral.
 Since the beginning of 1910, according to a Russian critic, "the
 salubrity of the atmosphere" has been accomplished. The "cursed
 questions" are less prominent in recent works, and it seems that
 the crisis which desolated Russian literature for several years
 has come to an end, and that the writers are going back to the old
 traditions of Russian literature.

Among the latter, Michael Artzybashev is a writer of great breadth,
whose erotic tendencies have spoiled some of his best traits. His
novel, "Sanine," which recently caused so much talk, pretends to
paint the youth of to-day in Russia. If we believed the author, we
should conclude that the above-mentioned youth consisted of
hysterical people in whom chastity was the least of virtues.

The heroes of his novel are two representatives of the revolutionary
youth, Sanine and Yuri Svagorich. Both of them have deserted "the
cause," Sanine, through lassitude, and Yuri, who has met nothing but
a despairing indifference among those whom he wanted to save from
"the oppression of the shadows," through scorn. Yuri, "a man of the
past," is an "intellectual" entirely impregnated with generous
altruism, haunted by social and political preoccupations. But he is
also a "failure" who falls from one deception into another, because
he is thoroughly powerless to combat life.

On the other hand, his friend, Vladimir Sanine, "the man of the
future," is, without a doubt, capable of living. None is freer than
he from all social and political preoccupations, and none is more
than he resolved to obey only his lucid egotism, or the suggestions
of his instincts.

These two young fellows meet, one summer, in the country. Yuri lives
with his father, a retired colonel; Sanine, with his mother.
Sanine's sister, Lida, is in love with the officer Zaroudine, who
abandons her later when she is with child. Lida wants to commit
suicide, but Sanine stops her and proposes that she marry Dr.
Novikov, who has been in love with her for a long time. Parallel to
the history of Lida, the life story of Karsavina is presented. Yuri
falls in love with this young and pretty school-teacher. But,
although she returns Yuri's love, the young girl, in a moment of
passion, gives herself to Sanine, whom she does not love. Disgusted
with life, feeling himself weak, neurasthenic, and sick, Yuri, only
twenty-six years of age, commits suicide. Karsavina, terribly
affected by this act of despair, leaves Sanine. And the latter,
after Yuri's funeral, disappears from the city....

All the characters in the book, from Sanine to Karsavina, are
continually preyed upon by carnal desires. Long passages of funereal
scenes alternate with pictures of the transports of love and the
descriptions of masculine and feminine bodies. "Your body proclaims
the truth, your reason lies." This is the "leitmotiv" of all the
theories that the characters in the book preach.

Let us hasten to add to the praise of the Russian public, that the
enormous success of "Sanine" was not justified by the extreme
licentiousness of the book, but by the eloquence with which the
author claims the right of free love for man and woman.

Although its success was less than that of "Sanine," Artzybashev's
second novel, "Morning Shadows," is more interesting and is more
realistic than his first.

Tired of their sometimes happy, sometimes monotonous existence, two
young people from the provinces, Lisa and Dora, go to St. Petersburg
to take some courses there and to join the revolutionary movement.
They have read Nietzsche, and want to "live dangerously." In order
to realize this project, Lisa has not hesitated to break off her
engagement with the charming and naïve Lieutenant Savinov. However,
their existence in the capital is nothing but a long and bitter
deception: Dora's literary ambitions disappointed! the love of Lisa,
who has given herself to the student Korenyev, disappointed! In a
fit of despair Lisa kills herself, and her friend, who has not had
the courage to follow her example, falls victim to a terrorist
outrage which the author describes with rare power.

In his recent novel, "Before Expiration,"--which recalls "Sanine" to
our minds again,--Artzybashev has found some ingenious variations on
the old theme, "love and death." The story of the love affairs of
the painter Mikhailov, a cynical and brutal Lovelace who abandons
his mistresses when they are with child, is intermingled incessantly
with gloomy episodes, such as the agonies of an old man or of a
child. It is a book for "blasé" people, a book which a reader with
moral health will not read without a certain feeling of uneasiness.

We are also indebted to Artzybashev for a series of highly colored
stories. "Sub-Lieutenant Golobov," "Blood," "The Workingman
Shevshrev," and "The Millions" are some of the most remarkable.

       *       *       *       *       *

Like Artzybashev, but with less talent, Anatol Kamensky has written
little stories happily enough conceived. Thus, "Laida"--the story of
a worldly woman so taken up with liberty that she exhibits herself
nude before her husband's guests. Another story called "Four," tells
of four women taken from the most diverse social classes, ranging
from a young school-girl to the wife of a clergyman, who give
themselves to an officer at the end of a trip of twenty-four hours.
Then there is also the story of a woman who proposes to an unknown
man that he should play a game of cards with her companions, she
being the prize. This story is called "The Game." Finally, there is
the story of a young man whose agreeable profession consists in
living among others gratuitously and in seducing women under the
eyes of their husbands.

These stories are sadly spoiled by a crude philosophy and by
"anarchistic" protestations against present values.

       *       *       *       *       *

Certain authors wander into far-away countries for their subjects:
to Sodom and Lesbos. The best known is Michael Kouzmine. This
writer, who happily began with stories of the Orient in the Middle
Ages, has now acquired a rather sad renown for himself with his
story called "The Wings," which appeared at the end of 1906. The
scandalous success which this book won, encouraged the author to go
on in the same manner. In poor verse, and especially in the story,
"The Castle of Cards," Kouzmine has exalted the sin of Sodom as
being the most supreme form of æsthetic emotions.

       *       *       *       *       *

Closely related to these writers, although surpassing them all in
original talent, Feodor Sologoub is the most intellectual and subtle
of the Russian modernists. His principal work consists in depicting
the small provincial towns. His heroes are little bourgeois petty
officials, school-teachers, and country proprietors.

This chanter of birth and death, disgusted by the banality of
existence, has given us, under the title, "The Little Demon," a
pathetic picture of human baseness and sordidness, which cannot be
read without emotion.

The atmosphere of an arbitrary regime engenders almost always
"demonomania." The insecurity of life, and the consecutive
injustices in the cavils of the police administration, develop in
society a reciprocal fear and distrust. From feeling themselves in
danger of being denounced and menaced in their liberty, men rapidly
become the prey of terror. And the terrible life, sooner or later,
awakens demoniacal terror among the weak. But people of this sort
are legion in Russia, and Peredonov, the hero of "The Little Demon,"
represents this class so graphically that to-day Russian historians
and authors designate the era from 1880 to 1905 by the name
"peredonovchina." The following is a brief outline of the story:

Peredonov is a school-teacher in a provincial town. His fondest
dream is to be nominated primary inspector. He lives with his
mistress, the old dressmaker, Varvara by name. One of his mistress's
clients, a virtuous and philanthropic princess, makes him
understand, one day, that she will have him nominated if he marries
Varvara. Peredonov does not love his mistress; he simply lives with
her from habit and because she bears, without complaining too much,
his coarseness, his cavilling, and his bad humor. However, he will
marry her if the princess can get him the position he desires. But
will the princess keep her word? It is some time since she has let
herself be heard from. What is to be done?

"Marry," says his friend Routilov to him, when he is told the
condition of things. "I have three sisters," he continues. "Choose
the one you like best and marry her immediately. Thus Varvara will
know nothing and cannot throw any obstacles in the way."

"Done!" cries Peredonov, who has known the three sisters for a long
time. He chooses the youngest, Valerie.

"Go and tell her about it. I will wait for you in the hall and then
we'll go to the priest's together."

Alone, Peredonov again muses: "Doubtless, Valerie is pretty and I
shall be happy to have her as my wife. But she is young,
pretentious; she will demand lots of new clothes, she will want to
go out a lot, in fact, so much that I'll not be able to lay anything
aside. Moreover, she'll not look after the kitchen, I'll have poor
food, and the cook will rob us." Anguish seizes him. He knocks at
the window, calls his friend, and says:

"I've changed my mind."

"Ah!" exclaimed the other, horrified.

"Yes, I have reflected, and I have decided that I prefer the second,
Lyoudmila."

Lyoudmila consents, for, besides his personal fortune, Peredonov
occupies an enviable position, and the sisters are poor. She
hurriedly gets dressed; in a quarter of an hour she will be ready to
accompany him to the priest's.

However, Peredonov reflects: "Lyoudmila is pretty and plump; she
doubtless has a perfect body, but she is always jolly, she loves to
laugh. She will laugh incessantly and will make her husband seem
ridiculous." Full of fear, he knocks at the window: "I have
reflected," he cries. "I prefer the oldest, Darya."

"What an awful man!" cries his friend. "Hurry up, Darya, or he'll
leave all of us in the lurch."

Again Peredonov reflects: "Darya is nice, not young any more, and
economical; she knows life. But ... she is decisive in her
resolutions, and she has an energetic character. She is not the kind
who would listen to my observations. She could make life hard for
me, and use me ill. Frankly, do I have to marry any of the three
sisters? What will the princess say when she hears of my marriage?
And my position as inspector? How stupid it is to stand waiting in
this court! Without a doubt, Routilov ensnared me. I've got to get
out of this at any cost!"

He spits on all sides to conjure up the spirits, then knocks at the
window, and tells the amazed family:

"I am going away.... I have thought it over. I don't want to get
married."

Meanwhile, his position in school becomes intolerable; complaints
are registered against him; he is reproached with having ill-treated
and even with having beaten the poor children, and with treating the
noble and rich children with too much respect. His ridiculous and
evil passions cause him to be detested by all. Luckily, he will soon
be nominated inspector, and then he will say good-bye to all this
riff-raff. In the meantime, Varvara writes a letter, filled with the
most alluring promises, to which she signs the princess's name, and
has it mailed from St. Petersburg. Peredonov is at the height of
joy; but, being a prudent man, he does not want to marry before he
has received the nomination. He waits and waits for it, and,
meanwhile, he is not even sure of his position in the school. He
discovers enemies everywhere, and believes there are always spies at
his heels. In order to cajole the administration, he begins to
frequent the church, and to pay visits to the city authorities. He
assures the chief of police of his respect, and, in order to give a
glaring proof of his devotion to the established institutions, he
lodges information against a school-mistress of the locality. But
still the nomination does not come, and he lives in a continual
trance. The evil in him increases. He torments beasts and human
beings. He whips his pupils, throws nettles at his cat, and
maltreats his cook. He believes himself more and more in the power
of the demon, and terrible visions follow him:

"He saw running before him, a little, grey, noisy beast. It sneered,
its head trembled, and it ran quickly around Peredonov. When he
wanted to seize it, it escaped under the cupboard, only to reappear
a moment later...."

This strange book, written with rare perfection, had a great
success. To several readers who thought that they recognized the
author himself in the person of Peredonov (Sologoub had had the same
position as his hero for several years) the author replied in the
preface of a recent edition, by these malicious lines:

"Men like to be loved. They adore noble and elevated descriptions
and portrayals. They even search among the scum for a 'divine
spark.' They also are surprised and offended when any one offers
them a veracious and sombre picture. And most of them then do not
fail to declare: 'The author has described himself in his work.'
But no, my dear friends and readers, it is you, and only you, whom I
have painted in my book, 'The Little Demon.'"

In "The Charms of Navii" Sologoub happily blends fantasy and
reality. Revolutionary meetings alternate with improbable hypnotic
seances, and terrible cortèges of corpses contrast violently with
scenes of platonic and ethereal love.

The plot of the story, "The Old Home," is not less distressing than
the preceding one. A young revolutionary, condemned to death by
court-martial, has been executed, but for his dear ones this death
has never been a reality. His mother and sister, and even the old
servant, have not the strength to admit his disappearance. They wait
and wait for his return until their own death carries them off.

Another story, "The Crowd," shows us a "fair" at which pewter
goblets are being given away. These so excite the greediness of the
crowd that a fray results, in which three children are seriously
wounded. While dying, the unfortunates have terrible visions of life
and humanity. "It seemed to them that ferocious demons were
chuckling and sneering silently behind human faces. And this
masquerade lasted so long that the poor little tots thought that it
would never end...."

Sologoub is, above all, a chanter of death. Almost all of his works
unveil a murder, suicide, or madness. Moreover, the author, who
shows only the injustices, evils, and infamy of life, and who
affirms that the only happiness that he foresees for man is the
possibility of "creating for himself a chimera" by turning away from
reality, finds the clearest colors and the sweetest expressions in
speaking of death.

"There is not a surer and more tender friend on earth than death,"
says one of his heroes. "And if men fear the name of death, it is
because they do not know that it is the real life, eternal and
invariable. Life deceives very often, death never. It is sweet to
think of death, as it is to think of a dear friend, distant and yet
always close at hand.... One forgets all in the arms of the
consoling angel, the angel of death."

The ever supremely correct and beautiful language of Sologoub shows
the power of a master, and it is most regrettable that an artist of
his merit should confine himself to so morbid an art.

       *       *       *       *       *

These then are the principal authors--some of whom have enjoyed an
immense popularity--who treat the "cursed questions:" the rights of
the flesh, the problem of death, and other equally "cursed"
problems.

The other writers are principally occupied with social questions,
and, without rigorously following in the steps of their
predecessors, remain, however, most of the time, realists.

Among these, Sergyev-Tzensky occupies a prominent place. The stories
of this writer show us beings who seem strangers to what is going on
around them. This peculiarity comes from the fact that Tzensky does
not understand the physical facts in the same way that the
naturalists do. For him, they are the manifestations of the will of
a supernatural entity, incomprehensible, inconceivable, and, at the
same time, clearly hostile to man.

His story, "The Sadness of the Fields," testifies to this singular
conception. A farmer and his wife, good and peaceful people, have
for many years wished for a child. Up to this time, the six children
which the mother has given birth to have died in their infancy. They
are anxiously awaiting the seventh. Will this one live? Will not the
sadness of the fields, which puts its imprint on everything, kill it
as it has killed the others? Alas! the child is not viable, and the
mother dies in child-birth. They are buried, and "the fields and the
surrounding country forever keep their powerful and mysterious
melancholy."

"The Fluctuation" is one of the most curious and beautiful of all of
Tzensky's stories. Anton Antonovich, a rich and enterprising
merchant, of a very violent and unruly character, lives like a wolf
in his domains, alone with his family, without seeing any of his
neighbors. The peasants detest him. As his partners and helpers, he
always engages nonentities, without power of initiative, who blindly
follow his orders. Intellectual and energetic men cannot get along
with him. Men, beasts, and nature in its entirety, are considered by
this man as having been especially created for his service. The one
end of his life is wealth and power. The only beings he loves are
his wife and his three sons; but even they have to bow down to his
will.

One day, he buys some straw and insures it against fire. Sometime
later, it burns. They accuse him of having been the incendiary.
Ridiculous accusation! He is a millionaire and the straw barely cost
a few hundred rubles. The old man makes fun of the whole affair; he
insults the judge, his own lawyer, and even the jury. He feels the
impending misfortune, but his inborn violence carries him away from
prudence. He is condemned to hard labor and he succumbs to a
sickness that he has been feeling coming on for a long time. He had
made a pillager's nest for himself, and he died like a pillager,
abandoned even by those who were dear to him.

In Tzensky's short stories, "I Shall Soon Die," "Diphtheria,"
"Tedium," and "The Masks," there is something mysterious, fatal, and
terrible that constantly surrounds his people. As to his longer
works, "The Swamp in the Forest," and "Lieutenant Babayev," they
plunge the reader into the mad chaos of the often abnormal emotions
felt by the characters. These characters imagine the divine side of
human nature; they consider it as having existed before in the
essence of things, but the reality does not harmonize with their
dream. The authentication of this discord torments Tzensky's heroes
and their souls protest passionately, but in vain, against these
outrages.

Sergyev-Tzensky's style, graphic and pure, often strange, has found
imitators among the younger writers. Thus, Mouyzhel, who describes
village life, is visibly influenced by his writings. According to
him, the soul goes through life without understanding it, without
being able to ascribe any meaning to it. And he is so sincere, that
his works obtain the frankest sort of success.

       *       *       *       *       *

While Mouyzhel studies peasant life, Simon Youshkevich, to the
exclusion of all else, makes a study of the poor Russian Jews. Some
of his stories have produced an overwhelming impression. They show
us beings, heaped up, pell-mell in the ghettos of the cities of
western and southern Russia, dirty and unwholesome ghettos, where
consumption and all kinds of terrible sickness reign. These stories,
often tragic, always sad, have given Youshkevich the name of
"chanter of human suffering."

In his earlier works--the best of which are "The Jews,"
"Tavern-Keeper Heimann," "The Innocents," "The Prologue" and "The
Assassin"--he devoted himself to portraying, not isolated persons,
but the immense Russian Jewish proletariat, with its sad past, its
bloody present, and its exalted faith in the future. Youshkevich has
created this sphere; he considers the poor people of the cities not
as a social class, but as a symbolic representation of an entire
organization. If his work is at times infected with romanticism and
some exaggeration the reader will gladly forget these imperfections
when he recognizes the fact that they are necessary to enable this
author to express the truth. What makes this writer unique, is that
he cannot be confounded with any one else. He has never influenced
any of his readers and, in turn, has never imitated any one. He made
himself what he is.

His last literary productions--with the exception of his very
touching drama, "Misere"--have been inferior to his former work.
But the abundance of the materials furnished by Jewish life would
still give this author opportunity to give us more of the
magnificently colored pictures that he gave us in his initial
productions.

Close to Youshkevich should be placed the two young writers, Sholom
Ash and Izemann. Sholom Ash has principally depicted the Jewish
world and its psychology. "The God of Vengeance" is a touching
picture of the life of young Jewish girls who have been obliged to
prostitute themselves for a living. "Sabbatai-Zevi,"[19] a
philosophical poem, treats of the powerful personality of that
Jewish prophet and of the surroundings in which he passed his life.

 [19] A famous impostor of the 17th century: 1626-1676.

Izemann, who has written quite a few tales and stories, is a very
uneven author. His best work is "The Thorn Bush," a drama of the
life of the Russian-Jewish revolutionists. Manousse, the son of a
poor tinsmith, has been arrested, and then hanged for having taken
part in a terrorist uprising. His sister, Dara, engaged to the son
of a wealthy manufacturer, has, in her turn, been killed at a
barricade. She is carried back to her home, and there, revolver in
hand, the mother receives the soldiers. She falls mortally wounded
at the side of her fourteen year old son. Thus, the entire family
perishes. The last act of this sombre drama makes a tremendous
impression on the stage.

       *       *       *       *       *

After having been a country doctor for several years, Eugene
Chirikov abandoned his practice in order to devote himself to
literature. His drama, "The Jews," has aroused great interest and
has been played with great success both in Russia and abroad. It is
one of the most significant works of this writer. The story concerns
itself with the children of a poor Jewish watchmaker, who are
infatuated with ideas of progress. Their infatuation is such, that
the daughter becomes engaged to a Gentile. A delirious mob invades
the houses of the Jews. The store of the poor watchmaker is not
spared, and the fiancée of the Gentile is ravished and then
murdered. The rapid action of the play makes it a dramatic "slice of
life."

The other plays and stories of this author give us pictures both of
the petty "bourgeois" and of the "intellectuals." Thus, "The
Strangers" tells the story of a group of "intellectuals" who have
strayed into a small market town in the provinces where all are
hostile to them. Then there is "The Invalids," which gives the story
of the life of an old man who, after having been exiled to Siberia
for several years on account of "advanced" ideas, returns to Russia
as confident as ever, ready to consecrate the rest of his life to
the people. Finally, "At the Bottom of the Court," "The Mysteries of
the Forest" and "Marya Ivanovna" are dramas from bourgeois life,
while "The Sorceress" is a play, taken from a national epic.

Not less well known than Chirikov, is Ossip Dymov. He forsook the
"Imperial Institute of Foresters" in order to devote himself to
literature. He has written numerous stories, among which "Vlass" is
the most captivating. It is the childhood of Vlass told by himself.
An observing little person, the child notices everything and
everybody around him. His father had killed himself before the child
was old enough to talk, and his mother, a very intelligent and stern
woman, alone had to care for four children. Vlass has an older
brother, Yuri, a sister, Olya, and a younger brother, Vladimir, a
kind and inoffensive creature. Life runs along smoothly in the
little country town. The days pass, one like the other, and the most
insignificant event takes on grave importance in this monotonous
life. One night, Vlass's young teacher is arrested and sent to
Siberia. A year later, a friend of the family, who has been in exile
a long time, comes back secretly and passes several days at the
house. Later on, it is "the beautiful, good aunt" who comes
unexpectedly; but she soon departs, leaving a mass of confused and
restless thoughts in the child's mind. Vlass ends his story with a
most pathetic account. Far away from the little town, in one of the
prisons of St. Petersburg, they are going to hang Yuri. The entire
family has broken down since they have heard the news, and they sit
up the night before the execution, trying, in thought, to alleviate
the torment of their cherished one.

In his other stories, the author paints nature in an original and
entirely personal manner. According to a Russian critic, the works
of Dymov breathe forth "the fresh breeze and the quickening aroma of
the forests."

Dymov has also written some very well-liked plays, of which "Niyu"
is the most original. Niyu, a young woman, abandons her husband and
child in order to follow a poet, whose beautiful language and
touching poetry have won her admiration and brought her under his
spell. She hopes that her lover will create a new world, a higher
and nobler world than the every-day one, because he is a poet, that
is to say, one of the elect. The abandoned husband and the
uncared-for child desperately call out for their wife and mother. In
vain! However, the days that she passes with the poet are filled
with disenchantment, disillusion, and bitterness. Despairing, she
writes a letter to her old parents who live in a distant town, and
then commits suicide. And hardly is Niyu buried, when the poet,
although sadly affected by the premature loss of his companion,
again begins to charm and entrance by his beautiful words other
women, whose lives he ruins.

"Niyu" has had a tremendous success, because it brings a really new
formula into the theatrical world. Very little action, very few
"situations;" no artificial procedure: life; dialogue imitated from
reality; an atmosphere of despair and tedium in which three beings
cruelly struggle; sincere evolution, very much pessimism, and
happiness and love, constitute the traits that characterize this
very human piece of writing.

       *       *       *       *       *

Mention should also be made of Sayitzev, certain of whose stories
are comparable to the aquarelles of a landscape painter. One of his
best works is "Agrafena," a touching picture of the life of a
peasant woman. During her lifetime, she was a domestic in the
cities, and when finally, bent under years of labor, she comes back
to her native village and her daughter, whom she has secretly
brought up at great pains, it is only to find that she has committed
suicide, having been abandoned by her lover.

Among others, should be mentioned Gussev-Orenburgsky, who has
written some very interesting stories about the Russian clergy;
Skitaletz, whose "Rural Tribunal" has had a great success, and has
been translated into several languages; Seraphimovich and Teleshov,
who, like Chirikov, depict the life of the "intellectuals," and
Olizhey, the psychologist of revolutionary spheres, known
particularly by his "The Day of Judgment," which tells of an
officer, a member of a council of war, who is forced to condemn his
future brother-in-law to death. This story leaves an indescribable
impression of terror and horror.

Let us finally mention Count Alexis Tolstoy, the homonym of the
great Russian thinker, to whom the critics predict a brilliant
future. His first work appeared in 1909. He generally depicts landed
proprietors. His recent stories, "The Asking in Marriage," and
"Beyond the Volga," show signs of great strength and power of
observation.

       *       *       *       *       *

Among the women, there are three who show real talent. In fact, Mme.
Hippius-Merezhkovskaya is regarded as one of the founders of Russian
modernism. We are indebted to her for some rather daring verses and
some very good stories. The most recent of these, "The Creature," is
the curious history of a love-sick prostitute; "The Devil's Doll" is
an episode in the life of the Russian "intellectuals." Endowed with
a caustic spirit, she excels all others in literary criticism.

Then comes Mme. Verbitzkaya, who has declared herself a champion of
women, who, she thinks, should throw off the often tyrannical yoke
of their husbands. Her novels, "Vavochka," and "The Story of a
Life," have given her just renown. In "The Spirit of the Time" she
has tried, not without some success, to paint the immense picture of
the revolution of 1905. Her recent novel, "The Keys of Happiness,"
has had an enormous success.

Finally, mention should be made of Mme. Shepkina-Koupernik, who has
written some verses and charming stories, full of caressing
tenderness and delicate psychology. Her stories, in which she shows
us two old Italian masters, are very interesting. Thus, "Eternity in
a Moment" is delicious. In a painter's studio, a young model by
chance meets her old lover, who has also been reduced to posing in
studios. Happy at heart, the woman rushes toward him, but he pushes
her away: he is too miserable, he has fallen too low to dare to love
her again. Repulsed by him, she stands as if petrified, with death
in her soul, and her face changed by terrible despair. At this
moment the master enters; he looks at the young woman and utters a
cry of joy; finally he has found what he wants for his picture:
human traits ravaged by suffering and despair!

Russia is also indebted to this author for impeccable translations
of Rostand's "Princesse Lointaine" and "Chantecler."


THE END





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