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Title: Russia: Its People and Its Literature
Author: Pardo Bazán, Emilia, condesa de, 1852-1921
Language: English
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Translated from the Spanish






Emilia Pardo Bazán, the author of the following critical survey of
Russian literature, is a Spanish woman of well-known literary
attainments as well as wealth and position. Her life has been spent in
association with men of mark, both during frequent sojourns at Madrid
and at home in Galicia, "the Switzerland of Spain," from which province
her father was a deputy to Cortes.

Books and libraries were almost her only pleasures in childhood, as she
was allowed few companions, and she says she could never apply herself
to music. By the time she was fourteen she had read widely in history,
sciences, poetry, and fiction, excepting the works of the French
romanticists, Dumas, George Sand, and Victor Hugo, which were forbidden
fruit and were finally obtained and enjoyed as such. At sixteen she
married and went to live in Madrid, where, amid the gayeties of the
capital, her love for literature suffered a long eclipse.

Her father was obliged, for political reasons, to leave the country
after the abdication of Amadeus, and she accompanied him in a long and
to her profitable period of wandering, during which she learned French,
English, and Italian, in order to read the literatures of those tongues.
She also plunged deep into German philosophy, at first out of curiosity,
because it was then in vogue; but she confesses a debt of gratitude to
it nevertheless.

While she was thus absorbed in foreign tongues and literatures, she
remained almost entirely ignorant of the new movement in her own land,
led by Valera, Galdos, and Alarcon. The prostration which characterized
the reign of Isabella II. had been followed by a rejuvenation born of
the Revolution of 1868. When this new literature was at last brought to
her notice, she read it with delighted surprise, and was immediately
struck by something resembling the spirit of Cervantes, Hurtado, and
other Spanish writers of old renown. Inspired by the possibility of this
heredity, she resolved to try novel-writing herself,--a thought which
had never occurred to her when her idea of the novel had been bounded by
the romantic limitations of Victor Hugo and his suite. But if the novel
might consist of descriptions of places and customs familiar to us, and
studies of the people we see about us, then she would dare attempt it.
As yet, however, no one talked of realism or naturalism in Spain; the
tendency of Spanish writers was rather toward a restoration of elegant
Castilian, and her own first novel followed this line, although
evidently inspired by the breath of realism as far as she was then aware
of it. The methods and objects of the French realists became fully
manifest to her shortly afterward; for, being in poor health, she went
to Vichy, where in hours of enforced leisure she read for the first time
Balzac, Flaubert, Goncourt, and Daudet. The result led her to see the
importance of their aims and the force of their art, to which she added
the idea that each country should cultivate its own tradition while
following the modern methods. These convictions she embodied first in a
prologue to her second novel, "A Wedding Journey," and then in a series
of articles published in the "Epoca" at Madrid, and afterward in Paris;
these she avers were the first echoes in Spain of the French realist

All of her novels have been influenced by the school of art to which she
has devoted her attention and criticism, and her study of which has well
qualified her for the essays contained in this volume. This work on
Russian literature was published in 1887, but prior to its appearance
in print the Señora de Bazán was invited to read selections from it
before the Ateneo de Madrid,--an honor never before extended to a woman,
I believe.

Few Spanish women are accustomed to speaking in public, and she thus
describes her own first attempt in 1885, when, during the festivities
attending the opening of the first railway between Madrid and Coruña,
the capital of her native province, she was asked to address a large
audience invited to honor the memory of a local poet:--

     "Fearful of attempting so unusual a performance, as well as
     doubtful of the ability to make my voice heard in a large
     theatre, I took advantage of the presence of my friend
     Emilio Castelar to read to him my discourse and confide to
     him my fears. On the eve of the performance, Castelar,
     ensconced in an arm-chair in my library, puzzled his brains
     over the questions whether I should read standing or
     sitting, whether I should hold my papers in my hand or no,
     and having an artist's eye to the scenic effect, I think he
     would have liked to suggest that I pose before the mirror!
     But I was less troubled about my attitude than by the
     knowledge that Castelar was to speak also, and before me,
     which would hardly predispose my audience in my favor....
     The theatre was crowded to suffocation, but I found that
     this rather animated than terrified me. I rose to read (for
     it was finally decided that I should stand), and I cannot
     tell how thin and hard and unsympathetic my voice sounded in
     the silence. My throat choked with emotion; but I was
     scarcely through the first paragraph when I heard at my
     right hand the voice of Castelar, low and earnest, saying
     over and over again, 'Very good, very good! That is the
     tone! So, so! 'I breathed more freely, speaking became
     easier to me; and my audience, far from becoming impatient,
     gave me an attention and applause doubly grateful to one
     whose only hope had been to avoid a fiasco. Castelar greeted
     me at the close with a warm hand-grasp and beaming eyes,
     saying, 'We ought to be well satisfied, Emilia; we have
     achieved a notable and brilliant success; let us be happy,

Probably the Señora de Bazán learned her lesson well, and had no need of
the friendly admonitions of Castelar when she came to address the
distinguished audience at the Ateneo, for she is said to have "looked
very much at ease," and to have been very well received, but a good deal
criticised afterward, being the first Spanish woman who ever dared to
read in the Ateneo.

Turning from the authoress to the work, I will only add that I hope the
American reader may find it to be what it seemed to me as I read it in
Spanish,--an epitome of a vast and elaborate subject, and a guide to a
clear path through this maze which without a guide can hardly be clear
to any but a profound student of belles-lettres; for classicism,
romanticism, and realism are technical terms, and the purpose of the
modern novel is only just beginning to be understood by even fairly
intelligent readers. In the belief that the interest awakened by Russian
literature is not ephemeral, and that this great, young, and original
people has come upon the world's stage with a work to perform before the
world's eye, I have translated this careful, critical, synthetical study
of the Russian people and literature for the benefit of my intelligent


Chicago, March, 1890.


Book I.


   I. Scope and Purpose of the Present Essay
  II. The Russian Country
 III. The Russian Race
  IV. Russian History
   V. The Russian Autocracy
  VI. The Agrarian Communes
 VII. Social Classes in Russia
VIII. Russian Serfdom

Book II.


   I. The Word "Nihilism"
  II. Origin of the Intellectual Revolution
 III. Woman and the Family
  IV. Going to the People
   V. Herzen and the Nihilist Novel
  VI. The Reign of Terror
 VII. The Police and the Censor

Book III.


   I. The Beginnings of Russian Literature
  II. Russian Romanticism.--The Lyric Poets
 III. Russian Realism: Gogol, its Founder

Book IV.


   I. Turguenief, Poet and Artist
  II. Gontcharof and Oblomovism
 III. Dostoiëwsky, Psychologist and Visionary
  IV. Tolstoï, Nihilist and Mystic
   V. French Realism and Russian Realism

Book I.



Scope And Purpose of the Present Essay.

The idea of writing something about Russia, the Russian novel, and
Russian social conditions (all of which bear an intimate relationship to
one another), occurred to me during a sojourn in Paris, where I was
struck with the popularity and success achieved by the Russian authors,
and especially the novelists. I remember that it was in the month of
March, 1885, that the Russian novel "Crime and Punishment," by
Dostoiëwsky, fell into my hands and left on my mind a deep impression.
Circumstances prevented my following up at that time my idea of literary
work on the subject; but the next winter I had nothing more important to
do than to make my projected excursion into this new realm.

My interest was quickened by all the reports I read of those who had
done the same. They all declared that one branch of Russian literature,
that which flourishes to-day in every part of Europe, namely, the novel,
has no rival in any other nation, and that the so much discussed
tendency to the pre-eminence of truth in art, variously called realism,
naturalism, etc., has existed in the Russian novel ever since the
Romantic period, a full quarter of a century earlier than in France. I
saw also that the more refined and select portion of the Parisian
public, that part which boasts an educated and exacting taste, bought
and devoured the works of Turguenief, Tolstoï, and Dostoiëwsky with as
much eagerness as those of Zola, Goncourt, and Daudet; and it was
useless to ascribe this universal eagerness merely to a conspiracy
intended to produce jealousy and humiliation among the masters and
leaders of naturalism or realism in France, even though I may be aware
that such a conspiracy tacitly exists, as well as a certain amount of
involuntary jealousy, which, in fact, even the most illustrious artist
is prone to display.

I do not ignore the objections that might be urged against going to
foreign lands in search of novelties, and I should decline to face them
if Russian literature were but one of the many caprices of the exhausted
Parisian imagination. I know very well that the French capital is a city
of novelties, hungry for extravagances which may entertain for a moment
and appease its yawning weariness, and that to this necessity for
diversion the _decadent_ school (which has lately had such a revival,
and claims the aberrations of the Spanish Gongora as its master), though
aided by some talent and some technical skill, owes the favor it enjoys.
Some years ago I attended a concert in Paris, where I heard an orchestra
of Bohemians, or Zingaras, itinerant musicians from Hungary. I was
asked my opinion of them at the close, and I frankly confessed that the
orchestra sounded to me very like a jangling of mule-bells or a
caterwauling; they were only a little more tolerable than a street band
of my own country (Spain), and only because these were gypsies were
their scrapings to be endured at all. Literary oddities are puffed and
made much of by certain Parisian critics very much as the Bohemian
musicians were, as, for example, the Japanese novel "The Loyal Ronins,"
and certain romantic sketches of North American origin.

It is but just, nevertheless, to acknowledge that in France the mania
for the exotic has a laudable aim and obeys an instinct of equity. To
know everything, to call nothing outlandish, to accord the highest right
of human citizenship, the right of creating their own art and of
sacrificing according to their own rites and customs on the altar sacred
to Beauty, not only to the great nations, but to the decayed and obscure
ones,--this surely is a generous act on the part of a people endowed
with directive energies; the more so as, in order to do this, the French
have to overcome a certain petulant vanity which naturally leads them to
consider themselves not merely the first but the only people.

But confining myself now to Russia, I do not deny that to my curiosity
there were added certain doubts as to the value of her literary
treasures. During my investigations, however, I have discovered that,
apart from the intrinsic merit of her famous authors, her literature
must attract our attention because of its intimate connections with
social, political, and historical problems which are occupying the mind
of Europe to-day, and are outcomes of the great revolutionary movement,
unless it would be more correct to say that they inspired and directed
that movement.

I take this opportunity to confess frankly that I lack one almost
indispensable qualification for my task,--the knowledge of the Russian
language. It would have been easy for me, during my residence in Paris,
to acquire a smattering of it perhaps, enough to conceal my ignorance
and to enable me to read some selections in poetry and prose; but not so
easy thus to learn thoroughly a language which for intricacy, splendid
coloring, and marvellous flexibility and harmony can only be compared,
in the opinion of philologists, to the ancient Greek. Of what use then a
mere smattering, which would be insufficient to give to my studies a
positive character and an indisputable authority? Two years would not
have been too long to devote to such an accomplishment, and in that
length of time new ideas, different lines of thought, and unexpected
obstacles might perhaps arise; the opportunity would be gone and my plan
would have lost interest.

Still, I mentioned my scruples on this head to certain competent
persons, and they agreed that ignorance of the Russian language, though
an ignorance scarcely uncommon, would be an insuperable difficulty if I
proposed to write a didactic treatise upon Russian letters, instead of
a rapid review or a mere sketch in the form of a modest essay or two.
They added that the best Russian books were translated into French or
German, and that in these languages, and also in English and Italian,
had been published several able and clever works relative to Muscovite
literature and institutions, solid enough foundations upon which to
build my efforts.

It may be said, and with good reason, that if I could not learn the
language I might at least have made a trip to Russia, and like Madame de
Staël when she revealed to her countrymen the culture of a foreign land,
see the places and people with my own eyes. But Russia is not just
around the corner, and the women of my country, though not cowardly, are
not accustomed to travel so intrepidly as for example the women of Great
Britain. I have often envied the good fortune of that clever Scotchman,
Mackenzie Wallace, who has explored the whole empire of Russia, ridden
in sleighs over her frozen rivers, chatted with peasants and _popes_,
slept beneath the tents of the nomadic tribes, and shared their offered
refreshment of fermented mare's-milk, the only delicacy their
patriarchal hospitality afforded. But I acknowledge my deficiencies, and
can only hope that some one better qualified than I may take up and
carry on this imperfect and tentative attempt.

I have tried to supply from other sources those things which I lacked.
Not only have I read everything written upon Russia in every language
with which I am acquainted, but I have associated myself with Russian
writers and artists, and noted the opinions of well-informed persons
(who often, however, be it said in parenthesis, only served to confuse
me by their differences and opposition). A good part of the books (a
list of which I give at the end) were hardly of use to me, and I read
them merely from motives of literary honesty. To save continual
references I prefer to speak at once and now of those which I used
principally: Mackenzie Wallace's work entitled "Russia" abounds in
practical insight and appreciation; Anatole Leroy-Beaulieu's "The Empire
of the Czars" is a profound, exact, and finished study, so acknowledged
even by the Russians themselves in their most just and calm judgments;
Tikomirov's "Russia, Political and Social" is clear and comprehensible,
though rather radical and passionate, as might be expected of the work
of an exile; Melchior de Voguié's "The Russian Novel" is a critical
study of incomparable delicacy, though I do not always acquiesce in his
conclusions. From these four books, to which I would add the remarkable
"History of Russia" by Rambaud, I have drawn copious draughts; and
giving them this mention, I may dispense with further reference to


The Russian Country.

If we consider the present state of European nations, we shall observe a
decided decline of the political fever which excited them from about the
end of the last century to the middle of the present one. A certain
calm, almost a stagnation with some, has followed upon the conquest of
rights more craved than appreciated. The idea of socialistic reforms is
agitated darkly and threateningly among the masses, openly declaring
itself from time to time in strikes and riots; but on the other hand,
the middle classes almost everywhere are anxious for a long respite in
which to enjoy the new social conditions created by themselves and for
themselves. The middle classes represent the largest amount of
intellectual force; they have withdrawn voluntarily (through egoism,
prudence, or indifference) from active political fields, and renounced
further efforts in the line of experiment; the arts and letters, which
are in the main the work of well-to-do people, cry out against this
withdrawal, and, losing all social affinities, become likewise isolated.

France possesses at this moment that form of government for which she
yearned so long and so convulsively; yet she has not found in it the
sort of well-being she most desired,--that industrial and economical
prosperity, that coveted satisfaction and compensation which should
restore to the Cock of Brenus his glittering spurs and scarlet crest.
She is at peace, but doubtful of herself, always fearful of having to
behold again the vandalism of the Commune and the catastrophes of the
Prussian invasion. Italy, united and restored, has not regained her
place as a European power, nor, in rising again from her glorious ashes,
can she reanimate the dust of the heroes, the great captains and the
sublime artists, that lie beneath her monuments. And it is not only the
Latin nations that stand in more or less anxious expectation of the
future. If France has established her much desired republic, and Italy
has accomplished her union, England also has tasted all the fruits of
the parliamentary system, has imparted her vigor to magnificent
colonies, has succeeded in impressing her political doctrines and her
positive ideas of life upon the whole continent; while Germany has
obtained the military supremacy and the amalgamation of the fatherland
once dismembered by feudalism, as well as the fulfilment of the old
Teutonic dream of Cæsarian power and an imperial throne,--a dream
cherished since the Middle Ages. For the Saxon races the hour of change
has sounded too; in a certain way they have fulfilled their destinies,
they have accomplished their historic work, and I think I see them like
actors on the stage declaiming the closing words of their rôles.

One plain symptom of what I have described seems to me to be the
draining off of their creative forces in the domain of art. What
proportion does the artistic energy of England and Germany bear to
their political strength? None at all. No names nowadays cross the
Channel to be put up beside--I will not say those of Shakspeare and
Byron, but even those of Walter Scott and Dickens; there is no one to
wear the mantle of the illustrious author of "Adam Bede," who was the
incarnation of the moral sense and temperate realism of her country, and
at the same time an eloquent witness to the extent and limit allowed by
these two tendencies, both of puritanic origin, to the laws of æsthetics
and poetry. On the other side of the Rhine the tree of Romance is dry,
though its roots are buried in the mysterious sub-soil of legend, and
beneath its branches pass and repass the heroes of the ballads of Bürger
and Goethe, and within its foliage are crystallized the brilliant
dialectics of Hegel. To put it plainly, Germany to-day produces nothing
within herself, particularly if we compare this to-day with the not
distant yesterday.

But I would be less general, and set forth my idea in a clearer manner.
It is not my purpose to sacrifice on the altar of my theme the genius of
all Europe. I recognize willingly that there are in every nation writers
worthy of distinction and praise, and not only in nations of the first
rank but in some also of second and third, as witness those of Portugal,
Belgium, Sweden, modern Greece, Denmark, and even Roumania, which can
boast a queenly authoress, extremely talented and sympathetic. I merely
say--and to the intelligent reader I need give but few reasons why--that
it is easy to distinguish the period in which a people, without being
actually sterile, and even displaying relatively a certain fecundity
which may deceive the superficial observer, yet ceases to produce
anything virile and genuine, or to possess vital and creative powers.

To this general rule I consider France an exception, for she is really
the only nation which, since the close of the Romantic period, has seen
any spontaneous literary production great enough to traverse and
influence all Europe,--a phenomenon which cannot be explained by the
mere fact of the general use of the French tongue and customs. It will
be understood that I refer to the rise and success of Realism, and that
I speak of it in a large sense, not limiting my thoughts to the master
minds, but considering it in its entirety, from its origin to its newest
ramifications, from its antecedent encyclopedists to its latest echoes,
the pessimists, _decadents_, and other fanatics. Looking at what are
called French naturalists or realists in a group, as a unity which
obliterates details, I cannot deny to France the glory of presenting to
the world in the second half of this century a literary development,
which, even if it carries within itself the germs of senility and
decrepitude (namely, the very materialism which is its philosophic
basis, its very extremes and exaggerations, and its erudite, and
reflective character, a quality which however unapparent is nevertheless
perfectly demonstrable), yet it shows also the vigor of a renaissance in
its valiant affirmation of artistic truth, its zeal in maintaining this,
in the faith with which it seeks this truth, and in the effectiveness
of its occasional revelations thereof. When party feeling has somewhat
subsided, French realism will receive due thanks for the impulse it has
communicated to other peoples; not a lamentable impulse either, for
nations endowed with robust national traditions always know how to give
form and shape to whatever comes to them from without, and those only
will accept a completed art who lack the true conditions of nationality,
even though they figure as States on the map.

There are two great peoples in the world which are not in the same
situation as the Latin and Saxon nations of Europe,--two peoples which
have not yet placed their stones in the world's historic edifice. They
are the great transatlantic republic and the colossal Sclavonic
empire,--the United States and Russia.

What artistic future awaits the young North American nation? That land
of material civilization, free, happy, with wise and practical
institutions, with splendid natural resources, with flourishing commerce
and industries, that people so young yet so vigorous, has acquired
everything except the acclimatization in her vast and fertile territory
of the flower of beauty in the arts and letters. Her literature, in
which such names as Edgar Poe shine with a world-wide lustre, is yet a
prolongation of the English literature, and no more. What would that
country not give to see within herself the glorious promise of that
spirit which produced a Murillo, a Cervantes, a Goethe, or a Meyerbeer,
while she covers with gold the canvases of the mediocre painters of

But that art and literature of a national character may be spontaneous,
a people must pass through two epochs,--one in which, by the process of
time, the myths and heroes of earlier days assume a representative
character, and the early creeds and aspirations, still undefined by
reflection, take shape in popular poetry and legend; the other in which,
after a period of learning, the people arises and shakes off the outer
crust of artificiality, and begins to build conscientiously its own art
upon the basis of its never-forgotten traditions. The United States was
born full-grown. It never passed through the cloudland of myth; it is
utterly lacking in that sort of popular poetry which to-day we call

But when a nation carries within itself this powerful and prolific seed,
sooner or later this will sprout. A people may be silent for long years,
for ages, but at the first rays of its dawning future it will sing like
the sphinx of Egypt. Russia is a complete proof of this truth. Perhaps
no other nation ever saw its æsthetic development unfold so
unpromisingly, so cramped and so stunted. The stiff and unyielding
garments of French classicism have compressed the spirit of its national
literature almost to suffocation; German Romanticism, since the
beginning of this century, has lorded it triumphantly there more than in
any other land. But in spite of so many obstacles, the genius of Russia
has made a way for itself, and to-day offers us a sight which other
nations can only parallel in their past history; namely, the sudden
revelation of a national literature.

I do not mean to prophesy for others an irremediable sterility or
decadence; I merely confine myself to noting one fact: Russia is at this
moment the only young nation in Europe,--the last to arrive at the
banquet. The rest live upon their past; this one sets out now
impetuously to conquer the future. Over Russia are passing at present
the hours of dawn, the golden days, the times that after a while will be
called classic; some even of the men whom generations to come will call
their glorious ancestors are living now. I insist upon this view in
order to explain the curiosity which this empire of the North has
aroused in Europe, and also to explain why so much thoughtful and
serious study and attention is given to Russia by all foreigners; while
every book or article on such a country as Spain, for instance, is full
of so many careless and superficial errors. That elegant and subtle
author, Voguié, in writing of Léon Tolstoï, says that this Russian
novelist is so great that he seems to belong to the dead,--meaning to
express in this wise the idea that the magnitude of Tolstoï's genius
annuls the laws of temporal criticism by which we are accustomed to see
the glory of our contemporaries less or more than the reality. I would
apply Voguié's phrase to the Russian national literature as a whole.
Though I see it arise before my very eyes, yet I view it amid the halo
of prestige enjoyed only by things that have been.

There is indeed no parallel to it anywhere. The modern phenomenon of the
resurrection of local literatures, and the reappearance of forgotten or
amalgamated races, bears no analogy to this Russian movement; for apart
from the fact that the former represents a protest by race individualism
against dominant nationalities, and the latter, on the contrary, bears
the seal of strong unity of sentiment (which distinguishes Russia), it
must be borne in mind that local literatures are reactionary in
themselves,--restorers of traditions more or less forgotten and lost
sight of,--while Russian literature is an innovation, which accepts the
past, not as its ideal, but as its root.

I have heard Émile Zola say, with his usual ingenuousness, that between
his own spirit and that of the Russian novel there was something like a
haze. This gray vapor may be the effect of the northern mist which is so
asphyxiating to Latin brains, or it may be owing to the eccentricity
which sometimes produces a work entirely independent of accepted social
notions and historical factors. In order to dissipate this haze, this
mist, I must devote a part of this essay to a study of the race, the
natural conditions, the history, the institutions, the social and
political state of Russia, especially to that revolutionary
effervescence known as Nihilism. Without such a preliminary study I
could scarcely give any idea of this literary phenomenon.

Let us, then, cross the Russian frontier and enter her colossal expanse,
without being too much abashed by its size, which, says Humboldt, is
greater than that of the disk of the full moon. Really, when we cast our
eyes upon the map, fancy refuses to believe or to conceive that so large
an extent of territory can form but one nation and obey but one man. We
are amazed by its geographical bigness, and a sentiment of respect
involuntarily enters the mind, together with the instinctive conviction
that God has not modelled the body of this Titan without having in view
for it some admirable historical destiny to be achieved by the fine
diplomacy of Providence. Truly it is God's handiwork, as is proved by
its solid unity,--geographical as well as ethnographical,--and its
duration as an independent empire. Russia is no artificial
conglomeration, nor a federation of States,--each with distinct internal
life and traditions,--the result of conquest or of the necessity of
resistance to a common enemy; for while the strife against the nomadic
Asiatics may have contributed to solidify her union, it was Nature that
predisposed her to a community of aspirations and political existence.
There are islands like Sicily, peninsulas like Spain, whose territory,
though so small, is far more easily subdivided than Russia, which is
intersected by no mountain chains, and which is everywhere connected by
rivers,--water-ways of communication. The vast surface of Russia is like
a piece of cloth which unfolds everywhere alike, seamless and level. The
northern regions, which produce lumber, cannot exist without the
southern regions, which produce cereals; the two halves of Russia are
complementary; there is nowhere any conception of the provincialisms
which honeycomb the Spanish peninsula; and in spite of the imposing
magnitude of the nation, which at first glance would seem necessarily
divided into different if not inimical provinces, especially those most
distant, the cohesion is so strong that all Russia considers herself,
not so much a state as a family, subject to the law of a father; and
Father they call, with tender familiarity, the Autocrat of all the
Russias. Even to-day the name of the famous Mazeppa, who tried to
separate Ukrania from Russia, is a term of insult in the Ukranian
dialect, and his name is cursed in their temples. To this sublime
sentiment Russia owes that national independence which the other
Sclavonic peoples have lost.


The Russian Race.

It is no hindrance to Muscovite unity that within it there are two
completely opposing elements, namely, the Germanic and the Semitic. The
influence of the Germans is about as irritating to the Russians as was
that of the Flemings to the Spaniards under Charles V. They are petted
and protected by the government, especially in the Baltic provinces, all
the while that the Russians accuse them of having introduced two
abominations,--bureaucracy and despotism. But even more aggravating to
the Russian is the Jewish usurer, who since the Middle Ages has fastened
himself like a leach upon producer and consumer, and who, if he does not
borrow or lend, begs; and if he does not beg, carries on some
suspicious business. A nation within a nation, the Jews are sometimes
made the victims of popular hatred; the usually gentle Russians
sometimes rise in sudden wrath, and the newspapers report to us dreadful
accounts of an assault and murder of Hebrews.

Russian national unity is not founded, however, upon community of race;
on the contrary, nowhere on the globe are the races and tribes more
numerous than those that have spread over that illimitable territory
like the waves of the sea; and as the high tide washes away the marks of
every previous wave, and levels the sandy surface, these divers races
have gone on stratifying, each forgetful of its distinct origin. Those
who study Russian ethnography call it a chaos, and declare that at least
twenty layers of human alluvium exist in European Russia alone, without
counting the emigrations of prehistoric peoples whose names are lost in
oblivion. And yet from these varied races and origins--Scythians,
Sarmatians, Kelts, Germans, Goths, Tartars, and Mongols--has proceeded a
most homogeneous people, a most solid coalescence, little given to
treasuring up ancient rights and lost causes. Geographical oneness has
superseded ethnographical variety, and created a moral unity stronger
than all other.

When so many races spread themselves over one country, it becomes
necessary and inevitable that one shall exercise sovereignty. In Russia
this directive and dominant race was the Sclav, not because of numerical
superiority, but from a higher character more adaptable to European
civilization, and perhaps by virtue of its capability for expansion.
Compare the ethnographical maps of Russia in the ninth and nineteenth
centuries. In the ninth the Sclavs occupy a spot which is scarcely a
fifth part of European Russia; in the nineteenth the spot has spread
like oil, covering two thirds of the Russian map. And as the Sclavonic
inundation advances, the inferior races recede toward the frozen pole or
the deserts of Asia. When the monk Nestor wrote the first account of
Russia, the Sclavs lived hedged in by Lithuanians, Turks, and Finns;
to-day they number above sixty million souls.

Thus it is once more demonstrated that to the Aryan race, naturally and
without violence, is reserved the pre-eminence in modern civilization. A
thousand years ago northern Russia was peopled by Finnish tribes; in
still more recent times the Asiatic fisherman cast his nets where now
stands the capital of Peter the Great; and yet without any war of
extermination, without any emigration of masses, without persecutions,
or the deprivation of legal privileges, the aboriginal Finns have
subsided, have been absorbed,--have become Russianized, in a word.

This is not surprising, perhaps, to us who believe in the absolute
superiority of the Indo-European race, noble, high-minded, capable of
the loftiest and profoundest conceptions possible to the human
intellect. I may say that the Russian ethnographical evolution may be
compared with that of my own country, if we may trust recent and
well-authenticated theories. The most remote peoples of Russia were,
like those of Spain, of Turanian origin, with flattish faces, and high
cheek-bones, speaking a soft-flowing language; and to this day, as in
Spain also, one may see in some of the physiognomies clear traces of the
old blood in spite of the predominance of the invading Aryan. In Spain,
perhaps, the aboriginal Turanian bequeathed no proofs of intellectual
keenness to posterity, and the famous Basque songs and legends of Lelo
and Altobizkar may turn out to be merely clever modern tricks of
imitation; but in Russia the Finnish element, whose influence is yet
felt, shows great creative powers. One of the richest popular
literatures known to the researches of folk-lore is the epic cycle of
Finland called the Kalevala, which compares with the Sanscrit poems of

A Castilian writer of note, absent at present from his country, in
writing to me privately his opinions on Russia, said that the
civilization which we behold has been created, so far as concerns its
good points, exclusively by the Mediterranean race dwelling around that
sea of inspiration which stretches from the Pillars of Hercules to Tyre
and Sidon; that sea which brought forth prophets, incarnate gods, great
captains and navigators, arch-philosophers, and the geniuses of mankind.
Recently the most celebrated of our orators has stirred up in Paris some
Greco-Latin manifestations whose political opportuneness is not to the
point just here, but whose ethnographical significance, seeking to
divide Europe into northern barbarians and civilized Latin folk,--just
as happened at the fall of the Roman Empire,--is of no benefit to me.
Who would listen without protest nowadays to the famous saying that the
North has given us only iron and barbarism, or read tranquilly Grenville
Murray's exclamation in an access of Britannic patriotism, "Russia will
fall into a thousand pieces, the common fate of barbarous States!" The
intelligence of the hearers would be offended, for they would recall the
part played in universal civilization by Germans and Saxons,--Germany,
Holland, England; but confining myself to the subject in hand, I cannot
credit those who taunt the Sclav with being a barbarian, when he is as
much an Aryan, a descendant of Japhet, as the Latin, descended as much
as he from the sacred sources beside which lay the cradle of humanity,
and where it first received the revelation of the light. Knowing their
origin, are we to judge the Sclav as the Greeks, the contemporaries of
Herodotus, did the Scythian and the Sarmatian, relegating him forever to
the cold eternal night of Cimmerian regions?

It is nothing remarkable that, in the varied fortunes of this great
Indo-European family of races, if the Kelt came early to the front, the
Sclav came correspondingly late. Who can explain the causes of this
diversity of destiny between the two branches that most resemble each
other on this great tree?

In the study of Russian writings I was ofttimes surprised at the
resemblances in the character, customs, and modes of thought of the
Russian _mujik_ to those of the peasants of Gallicia (northern Spain),
my native province. Then I read in various authors that the Sclav is
more like the Kelt than like his other ancestors, which observation
applied equally well to my own people. Perhaps the Kelt brought to Spain
and France the first seeds of civilization; but the superiority of the
Greek and the Latin obliterated the traces of that primitive culture
which has left us no written monuments. More fortunate is the Sclav, the
last to put his hand to the great work, for he is sure of leaving the
marks of his footprints upon the sands of time.

It is undeniable that he has come late upon the world's stage, and after
the ages of inspiration and of brilliant historic action have passed. It
sometimes seems now as though the brain of the world had lost its
freshness and plastic quality, as though every possible phase of
civilization had been seen in Greece and Rome, the Middle Ages and the
Renaissance, and in the scientific and political development of our own
day. But the backwardness of the Russian has been caused by no
congenital inferiority of race; his quickness and aptitude are apparent,
and sufficient to prove it is the rich treasure of popular poetry to be
found among the peoples of Sclav blood,--Servians, Russians, and Poles.
Such testimony is irrefutable, and is to groups of peoples what
articulate speech is to the individual in the zoological scale. What the
Romanceros are to the Spaniard, the Bilinas are to the Russian,--an
immense collection of songs in which the people have immortalized the
memory of persons and events indelibly engraved on their imagination; a
copious spring, a living fountain, whither the future bards of Russia
must return to drink of originality. What the poem of the Cid represents
to Spain, and the Song of Roland to France, is symbolized for the
Russian by the Song of the Tribe of Igor, the work of some anonymous
Homer,--a pantheistic epic impregnated with the abounding and almost
overwhelming sense of realism which seems to preponderate in the
literary genius of Russia.

History--and I use this word in the broadest sense known to us
to-day--thrusts some nations to the fore, as the Latins, for example;
others, like the Sclavs, she holds back, restraining their instinctive
efforts to make themselves heard. We are accustomed to say that Russia
is an Asiatic country, and that the Russian is a Tartar with a thin coat
of European polish. The Mongolian element must certainly be taken into
account in a study of Muscovite ethnography, in spite of the supremacy
of the Byzantine and Tartar influence, and in order to understand
Russia. In the interior of European Russia the ugly _Kalmuk_ is still to
be seen, and who can say how many drops of Asiatic blood run in the
veins of some of the most illustrious Russian families? Yet within this
question of purity of race lies a scientific and social _quid_ easily
demonstrable according to recent startling biological theories, and only
the thoughtless will censure the old Spaniards for their efforts to
prove their blood free of any taint of Moor or Jew. Russia, with her
double nature of European and Asiatic, seems like a princess in a
fairy-tale turned to stone by a malignant sorcerer's art, but restored
to her natural and living form by the magic word of some valiant knight.
Her face, her hands, and her beautiful figure are already warm and
life-like, but her feet are still immovable as stone, though the damsel
struggles for the fulness of reanimation; even so Imperial Russia
strives to become entirely European, to free herself from Asiatic
inertia to-day.

Apart from the undeniable Asiatic influence, we must consider the
extreme and cruel climate as among the causes of her backwardness. The
young civilization flourishes under soft skies, beside blue seas whose
soft waves lave the limbs of the new-born goddess. Where Nature
ill-treats man he needs twice the time and labor to develop his vocation
and tendencies. To us of a more temperate zone, the description of the
rigorous and overpowering climate of Russia is as full of terrors as
Dante's Inferno. The formation of the land only adds to the trying
conditions of the atmosphere. Russia consists of a series of plains and
table-lands without mountains, without seas or lakes worthy of the
name,--for those that wash her coasts are considered scarcely navigable.
The only fragments of a mountain system are known by the generic and
expressive term _ural_, meaning a girdle; and in truth they serve only
to engirdle the whole territory. To an inhabitant of the interior the
sight of a mountainous country is entirely novel and surprising. Almost
all the Russian poets and novelists exiled to the Caucasus have found an
unexpected fountain of inspiration in the panorama which the mountains
afforded to their view. The hero of Tolstoï's novel "The Cossacks," on
arriving at the Caucasus for the first time, and finding himself face to
face with a mountain, stands mute and amazed at its sublime beauty.

"What is that?" he asked the driver of his cart.

"The mountain," is the indifferent reply.

"What a beautiful thing!" exclaims the traveller, filled with
enthusiasm. "Nobody at home can imagine anything like it!" And he loses
himself in the contemplation of the snow-covered crests rising abruptly
above the surface of the steppes.

The oceans that lie upon the boundaries of Russia send no refreshing
breezes over her vast continental expanse, for the White Sea, the
Arctic, the Baltic, and sometimes the Caspian, are often ice-bound,
while the waves of the Sea of Asof are turbid with the slime of marshes.
Neither does Russia enjoy the mild influence of the Gulf Stream, whose
last beneficent waves subside on the shores of Scandinavia. The winds
from the Arctic region sweep over the whole surface unhindered all the
winter long, while in the short summer the fiery breath of the central
Asian deserts, rolling over the treeless steppes, bring an intolerable
heat and a desolating drought. Beyond Astrakan the mercury freezes in
winter and bursts in the summer sun. Under the rigid folds of her winter
shroud Russia sleeps the sleep of death long months at a time, and upon
her lifeless body slowly and pauselessly fall the "white feathers" of
which Herodotus speaks; the earth becomes marble, the air a knife. A
snow-covered country is a beautiful sight when viewed through a
stereopticon, or from the comfortable depths of a fur-lined,
swift-gliding sleigh; but snow is a terrible adversary to human
activity. If its effects are not as dissipating as excessive heat, it
none the less pinches the soul and paralyzes the body. In extreme
climates man has a hard time of it, and Nature proves the saying of
Goethe: "It envelops and governs us; we are incapable of combating it,
and likewise incapable of eluding its tyrannical power." Formidable in
its winter sleep, Nature appears even more despotic perhaps in its
violent resurrection, when it breaks its icy bars and passes at once
from lethargy to an almost fierce and frenzied life. In the spring-time
Russia is an eruption, a surprise; the days lengthen with magic
rapidity; the plants leaf out, and the fruits ripen as though by
enchantment; night comes hardly at all, but instead a dusky twilight
falls over the land; vegetation runs wild, as though with impatience,
knowing that its season of happiness will be short. The great writer,
Nicolaï Gogol, depicts the spring-time on the Russian steppes in the
following words:

     "No plough ever furrowed the boundless undulations of this
     wild vegetation. Only the unbridled herds have ever opened a
     path through this impenetrable wilderness. The face of earth
     is like a sea of golden verdure, broken into a thousand
     shades. Among the thin, dry branches of the taller shrubs
     climb the cornflowers,--blue, purple, and red; the broom
     lifts its pyramid of yellow flowers; tufts of white clover
     dot the dark earth, and beneath their poor shade glides the
     agile partridge with outstretched neck. The chattering of
     birds fills the air; the sparrow-hawk hangs motionless
     overhead, or beats the air with the tips of his wings, or
     swoops upon his prey with searching eyes. At a distance one
     hears the sharp cry of a flock of wild duck, hovering like a
     dark cloud over some lake lost or unseen in the immensity of
     the plain. The prairie-gull rises with a rhythmic movement,
     bathing his shining plumage in the blue air; now he is a
     mere speck in the distance, once more he glistens white and
     brilliant in the rays of the sun, and then disappears. When
     evening begins to fall, the steppes become quite still;
     their whole breadth burns under the last ardent beams; it
     darkens quickly, and the long shadows cover the ground like
     a dark pall of dull and equal green. Then the vapors
     thicken; each flower, each herb, exhales its aroma, and all
     the plain is steeped in perfume. The crickets chirp
     vigorously.... At night the stars look down upon the
     sleeping Cossack, who, if he opens his eyes, will see the
     steppes illuminated with sparks of light,--the fireflies.
     Sometimes the dark depths of the sky are lighted up by fires
     among the dry reeds that line the banks of the little
     streams and lakes, and long lines of swans, flying northward
     and disclosed to view by this weird light, seem like bands
     of red crossing the sky."

Do we not seem to see in this description the growth of this impetuous,
ardent, spasmodic life, goaded on to quick maturity by the knowledge of
its own brevity?

Without entirely accepting Montesquieu's theory as to climate, it is
safe to allow that it contains a large share of truth. It is indubitable
that the influence of climate is to put conditions to man's artistic
development by forcing him to keep his gaze fixed upon the phenomena of
Nature and the alternation and contrast of seasons, and helps to develop
in him a fine pictorial sense of landscape, as in the case of the
Russian writers. In our temperate zone we may live in relative
independence of the outside world, and almost insensible to the
transition from summer to winter. We do not have to battle with the
atmosphere; we breathe it, we float in it. Perhaps for this reason good
word-painters of landscape are few in our (Spanish) literature, and our
descriptive poets content themselves with stale and regular phrases
about the aurora and the sunset. But laying aside this parallel, which
perhaps errs in being over-subtle, I will say that I agree with those
who ascribe to the Russian climate a marked influence in the evolution
of Russian character, institutions, and history.

Enveloped in snow and beaten by the north wind, the Sclav wages an
interminable battle; he builds him a light sleigh by whose aid he
subjects the frozen rivers to his service; he strips the animals of
their soft skins for his own covering; to accustom his body to the
violent transitions and changes of temperature, he steams himself in hot
vapors, showers himself with cold water, and then lashes himself with a
whip of cords, and if he feels a treacherous languor in his blood he
rubs and rolls his body in the snow, seeking health and stimulus from
his very enemy. But strong as is his power of reaction and moral
energy, put this man, overwrought and wearied, beside a genial fire, in
the silence of the tightly closed _isba_, or hut, within his reach a jug
of _kvass_ or _wodka_ (a terrible _fire-water_ more burning than any
other), and, obeying the urgency of the long and cruel cold, he drinks
himself into a drunken sleep, his senses become blunted, and his brain
is overcome with drowsiness. Do not exact of him the persevering
activity of the German, nor talk to him of the public life which is
adapted to the Latin mind. Who can imagine a forum, an oracle, a
tribune, in Russia? Study the effect of an inclement sky upon a Southern
mind in the Elegies of Ovid banished to the Pontus; his reiterated
laments inspire a profound pity, like the piping of a sick bird cowering
in the harsh wind. The poet's greatest dread is that his bones may lie
under the earth of Sarmatia; he, the Latin voluptuary, son of a race
that desires for its dead that the earth may lie lightly on them,
shrinks in anticipation of the cold beyond the tomb, when he thinks that
his remains may one day be covered by that icy soil.

The Sclav is the victim of his climate, which relaxes his fibres and
clouds his spirit. The Sclav, say those who know him well, lacks
tenacity, firmness; he is flexible and variable in his impressions; as
easily enthusiastic as indifferent; fluctuating between opposite
conclusions; quick to assimilate foreign ideas; as quick to rid himself
of them; inclined to dreamy indolence and silent reveries; given to
extremes of exaltation and abasement; in fact, much resembling the
climate to which he has to adapt himself. It needs not be said that
this description, and any other which pretends to sum up the
characteristics of the whole people, must have numerous exceptions, not
only in individual cases but in whole groups within the Russian
nationality: the Southerner will be more lively and vivacious; the
Muscovite (those properly answering to that name) more dignified and
stable; the Finlander, serious and industrious, like the Swiss, to whose
position his own is somewhat analogous. There is in every nation a
psychical as well as physical type to which the rank and file more or
less correspond, and it is only upon a close scrutiny that one notices
differences. The influence of the Tropics upon the human race has never
been denied; we are forced to admit the influence of the Pole also,
which, while beneficial in those lands not too close upon it,
invigorating both bodies and souls and producing those chaste and robust
barbarians who were the regenerators of the effete Empire, yet too
close, it destroys, it annihilates. Who can doubt the effect of the snow
upon the Russian character when it is stated upon the authority of
positive data and statistics that the vice of drunkenness increases in
direct proportion to the degrees of latitude? There is a fine Russian
novel, "Oblomof" (of which I shall speak again later), which is more
instructive than a long dissertation. The apathy, the distinctively
Russian enervation of the hero, puts the languor of the most indolent
Creole quite in the shade, with the difference that in the case of the
Sclav brain and imagination are at work, and his body, if well wrapped,
is able to enjoy the air of a not unendurable temperature.

Not only the rigors of climate but the aspect of the outside world has a
marked influence on character. Ovid in exile lamented having to live
where the fields produced neither fruits nor sweet grapes; he might have
added, had he lived in Russia, where the fields are all alike, where the
eye encounters no variety to attract and please it. Castile is flat and
monotonous like Russia, but there the sky compensates for the nakedness
of the earth, and one cannot be sad beneath that canopy of turquoise
blue. In Russia the dark firmament seems a leaden vault instead of a
silken canopy, and oppresses the breast. The only things to diversify
the immense expanse of earth are the great rivers and the broad belts or
zones of the land, which may be divided into the northern, covered with
forests; the _black lands_, which have been the granary of the empire
from time immemorial; the arable steppes, so beautifully described by
Gogol, like the American prairies, the land of the wild horses of the
Russian heroic age; and lastly, the sandy steppes, sterile deserts only
inhabited by the nomadic shepherds and their flocks. Throughout this
vast body four large arteries convey the life-giving waters: the Dnieper
which brought to Russia the culture of old Byzantium; the Neva, beside
which sits the capital of its modern civilization; the Don, legendary
and romantic; and the Volga, the great _Mother Volga_, the marvellous
river, whose waters produce the most delicious fish in the world.
Without the advantage of these rivers, whose abundance of waters is
almost comparable to an ocean, the plains of Russia would be
uninhabitable. Land, land everywhere, an ocean of land, a uniformity of
soil, no rocks, no hills, so that stone is almost unknown in Russia. St.
Petersburg was the first city not built entirely of wood, and it is an
axiom, that Russian houses, as a rule, burn once in seven years. This
dulness and desolation of Nature's aspect must of course influence brain
and imagination, and consequently must be reflected in the literature,
where melancholy predominates even in satire, and whence is derived a
tendency to pessimism and a sort of religious devotion tinged with
misery and sadness. Indolence, fatalism, inconstancy,--these are the
defects of Russian character; resignation, patience, kindness,
tolerance, humility, its better qualities. Its passive resignation may
be readily transformed into heroism; and Count Léon Tolstoï, in his
military narrative of the "Siege of Sevastopol," and his novel "War and
Peace," studies and portrays in a wonderful way these traits of the
national soul.


Russian History.

History has been for Russia as inclement and hostile as Nature. A
cursory glance will suffice to show this, and it is foreign to my
purpose to devote more than slight attention to it.

The Greeks, the civilizers of the world, brought their culture to
Colchis and became acquainted with the very southernmost parts of Russia
known as Sarmatia and Scythia. Herodotus has left us minute descriptions
of the inhabitants of the Cimmerian plains, their ways, customs,
religions, and superstitions, distinguishing between the industrious
Scythians who produce and sell grain, and the nomadic Scythians, the
Cossacks, who, depending on their pastures, neither sow nor work. The
Sarmatian region was invaded and subjugated by the northern Sclavs, who
in turn were conquered by the Goths, these by the Huns, and finally,
upon the same field, Huns, Alans, and Bulgarians fought one another for
the mastery. In this first confused period there is no historical
outline of the Russia that was to be. Her real history begins in a, to
us, strange event, whose authenticity historical criticism may question,
but which is the basis of all tradition concerning the origin of Russian
institutions; I mean the famous message sent by the Sclavs to those
Norman or Scandinavian princes, those daring adventurers, the Vikings
supposedly (but it matters not), saying to this effect, more or less:
"Our land is broad and fertile, but there is neither law nor justice
within it; come and possess it and govern it."

Upon the foundation provided by this strange proceeding many very
original theories and philosophical conclusions have been built
concerning Russian history; and the partisans of autocracy and the
ancient order of things consider it a sure evidence that Russia was
destined by Heaven to acknowledge an absolute power of foreign
derivation, and to bow voluntarily to its saving yoke. Whether the
triumphal rulers were Normans or Scandinavians or the original Sclavs,
it is certain that with their appearance on the scene as the element of
military strength and of disciplined organization, the history of Russia
begins: the date of this foreign admixture (which would be for us a day
of mourning and shame) Russia to-day celebrates as a glorious
millennium. Heroic Russia came into being with the Varangian or Viking
chieftains, and it is that age which provides the subject of the
_bilinas_; it was the ninth century after Christ, at the very moment
when the epic and romantic life of Spain awoke and followed in the train
of the Cid.

With the establishment of order and good government among the Sclavs,
Rurik founded the nation, as certainly as he founded later the legendary
city of Novgorod, and his brother and successor, Olaf, that of Kief,
mother of all the Russian cities. It fell to Rurik's race also to give
the signal for that secular resistance which even to-day Russia
maintains toward her perpetual enemy, Constantinople; the Russian fleets
descended the Dnieper to the Byzantine seas to perish again and again
under the Greek fire. Russia received also from this same Byzantium,
against which her arms are ever turned, the Christian religion, which
was delivered to Olga by Constantine Porfirogenitus. Who shall say what
a change there might have been over the face of the earth if the
Oriental Sclavs had received their religion from Rome, like the Poles?

Olga was the Saint Clotilde of Russia; in Vladimir we see her
Clodovicus. He was a sensuous and sanguinary barbarian, though at times
troubled with religious anxieties, who at the beginning of his reign
upheld paganism and revived the worship of idols, at whose feet he
sacrificed the Christians. But his darkened conscience was tortured
nevertheless by aspirations toward a higher moral light, and he opened a
discussion on the subject of the best religion known to mankind. He
dismissed Mahometanism because it forbade the use of the red wine which
rejoiceth the heart of man; Judaism because its adherents were wanderers
over the face of the earth; Catholicism because it was not sufficiently
splendid and imposing. His childish and primitive mind was taken with
the Asiatic splendors of the church of Constantinople, and being already
espoused to the sister of the Byzantine emperor, he returned to his own
country bringing its priests with him, cast his old idols into the
river, and compelled his astonished vassals to plunge into the same
waters and receive baptism perforce, while the divinity he venerated but
yesterday was beaten, smeared with blood, and buried ignominiously.
Happy the people upon whom the gospel has not been forced by a cruel
tyrant, at the point of the sword and under threats of torture, but to
whom it has been preached by a humble apostle, the brother of
innumerable martyrs and saintly confessors! In the twelfth century, when
Christianity inspired us to reconquer our country, Russia, more than
half pagan, wept for her idols, and seemed to see them rising from the
depths of the river demanding adoration. From this corrupt Byzantine
source Russia derived her second civilization, counting as the first
that proceeding from the colonization and commerce of the Greeks, as
related by Herodotus. The dream of Yaroslaus, the Russian Charlemagne,
was to make his capital, Kief, a rival and imitator of Byzantium. From
Byzantium came the arts, customs, and ideas; and it seemed the fate of
the Sclav race to get the pattern for its intellectual life from abroad.

Some Russian thinkers deem it advantageous for their country to have
received its Christianity from Byzantium, and consider it an element of
greater independence that the national Church never arrogated to itself
the supremacy and dominion over the State. Let such advantages be judged
by the rule of autocracy and the nullity of the Greek Church. The
Catholic nations, being educated in a more spiritual and exalted idea of
liberty, have never allowed that the monarch could be lord of the human
conscience, and have never known that monstrous confusion of attributes
which makes the sovereign absolute dictator of souls. The Crusade, that
fecund movement which was the work of Rome, never spread over Russia;
and when the Sclavs fell under the Tartar yoke, the rest of Europe left
her to her fate. Russia's choice of this branch of the Christian
religion was fatal to her dominion over other kindred Sclavs; for it
embittered her rivalry with the Poles, and raised an insurmountable
barrier between Russia and European civilization which was inseparably
intertwined with the Catholic faith even in such phenomena as the
Renaissance, which seems at first glance laic and pagan.

Nevertheless, so much of Christianity as fell to Russia through the
accepted channel sufficed to open to her the doors of the civilized
world, and to rouse her from the torpid sleep of the Oriental. It gave
her the rational and proper form of family life as indicated by
monogamy, whose early adoption is one of the highest and most
distinguishing marks of the Aryan race; and instead of the savage
chieftain surrounded by his fierce vassals always ready for rebellion
and bloodshedding, it gave the idea of a monarch who lives as God's
vicar upon the earth, the living incarnation of law and order,--an idea
which, in times of anarchy and confusion, served to constitute the State
and establish it upon a firm basis. Lastly, Russia owes to Christianity
her ecclesiastical literature, the fount and origin of literary culture
throughout Europe.

In the thirteenth century--that bright and luminous age, the time of
Saint Thomas, of Saint Francis of Assisi, of Dante, of Saint
Ferdinand--Russia was suddenly invaded by the Mongols, and, like locusts
in a corn-field, those hideous and demoniacal foes fell upon her and
made all Christendom tremble, so that the French historian Joinville
records it as a sign of the coming of Antichrist. "For our sins the
unknown nations covered our land," say the Russian chroniclers. Genghis
Khan, after subduing all Asia, drew around him an immense number of
tribes, and fell upon Russia with irresistible force, sowing the land
with skulls as the flower of the field sows it with seeds, and
compelling the once free and wealthy native Boyars to bring grist to the
mill and serve their conquerors as slaves. The Russian towns and princes
performed miracles of heroism, but in vain. The Tartar hordes, let loose
upon those vast plains where their horses found abundant pasture, rolled
over the land like an inundation. In a more varied country, more densely
populated and with better communication, the Tartars would have been
beaten back, as they were from Moravia. Again Nature's hand was upon the
destinies of Russia; the topographical conditions laid her under the
power of the Golden Horde.

This great misfortune not only isolated Russia from the Occident and
left her under Asiatic sway, but it also subjugated her to the growing
autocracy of the Muscovite princes who were becoming formidable
oppressors of their subjects, and they in turn were victims,
tributaries, and vassals of the great Khans. So the invasion came to
exercise a decisive influence upon the institutions of the future
empire, pernicious in consequence of the abnormal development allowed to
monarchical authority, and beneficent inasmuch as it aided forcibly in
the formation of the nationality. At the time of the Mongol irruption
Russia was composed of various independent principalities governed by
the descendants of Rurik; the necessity of opposing the invader
demonstrated the necessity also of uniting all under one sceptre.

Continually chafing at the bit, dissimulating and temporizing with the
enemy by means of clever diplomatic envoys, the princes slowly cemented
their power and prepared the land for a homogeneous state, until one day
the chivalrous Donskoï, the victor at the battle of the Don, opened the
era of reconquest, exclaiming in the exuberance of his first triumph
over the Tartars, "Their day is past, and God is with us!" But Russia's
evil star awoke one of the greatest captains named in history,
Tamerlane, who ruined the work begun by Donskoï, and toward the end of
the fourteenth century once more laid the Muscovite people under

At the meeting of the Council of Florence, when the Greek Emperor John
Paleologos agreed to the reunion of the two churches, the prince of
Moscow, Basil the Blind, showed himself blind of soul as well as of eye,
in obstinately opposing such a union, thus cutting off Russia again from
the Occident. When the Turks took Constantinople and consummated the
fall of the Byzantine empire, Moscow became the capital of the Greek
world, the last bulwark of the schismatic church, the asylum of the
remains of a depraved and perishing organism, of the senile decadence of
the last of the Cæsars.


The Russian Autocracy.

Such was the sad situation in Russia at the opening of the period of
European Renaissance, out of which grew the modern age which was to
provide the remedy for her ills through her own tyrants. For without
intending a paradox, I will say that tyranny is the liberator of Russia.
Twice these tyrants who have forced life into her, who have impelled her
toward the future, have been called _The Terrible_,--Ivan III., the
uniter of the provinces, he whose very look made the women faint, and
Ivan IV., the first to use the title of Czar. Both these despots cross
the stage of history like spectres called up by a nightmare: the former
morose, dissimulating, and hypocritical, like Louis XI. of France, whom
he resembles; the latter demented, fanatical, epileptic, and
hot-tempered, clutching his iron pike in hand, with which he transfixed
Russia as one may transfix a fluttering insect with a pin. But these
tyrants, gifted and guided by a saving instinct, created the nation.
Ivan III. instituted the succession to the throne, thus suppressing the
hurtful practice of partition among brothers, and it was he who finally
broke the yoke of the Mongols. Ivan IV. did more yet; he achieved the
actual separation of Europe from Asia, put down the anarchy of the
nobles, and taught them submission to law; and not content with this,
he put himself at the head of the scanty literature of his time, and
while he widened the domains of Russia, he protected within her borders
the establishment of the press, until then persecuted as sacrilegious.
It is difficult to think what would have become of the Russian nation
without her great tyrants. Therefore it is that the memory of Ivan IV.
still lives in the popular imagination, and the Terrible Czar, like
Pedro the Cruel of Spain, is neither forgotten nor abhorred.

The consolidation of the autocratic idea is easily understood in the
light of these historic figures. No wonder that the people accepted it,
from a spirit of self-preservation, since it was despotism that
sustained them, that formed them, so to speak. It is folly to consider
the institutions of a nation as though they were extraneous to it, fruit
of an individual will or of a single event; society obeys laws as exact
as those which regulate the courses of the stars, and the historian must
recognize and fix them.

The autocracy and the unity of Russia were consolidated together by the
genius of Ivan III., who made their emblem the double-headed eagle, and
by Ivan IV., who sacrificed to them a sea of blood. The municipal
autonomies and the petty independent princes frowned, but Russia became
a true nation; at the beginning of the sixteenth century, the brilliant
age of the monarchical principle, no European sovereign could boast of
being so thoroughly obeyed as the sovereign prince of Moscow.

The radical concept of omnipotent power, not tempered as in the West by
the humanity of Catholicism, at once rushed headlong to oppression and
slavery. The ambitious regent Boris Godonof was not long in attaching
the serfs to the soil, and upon the heels of this unscrupulous act
followed the dark and bloody days of the false Demetrii, in which the
serf, irritated by the burden of his chains, welcomed, in every
adventurer, in every impostor, a Messiah come to redeem him. Then the
Poles, the eternal enemies of Russia, seized the Kremlin, the Swedes
threatened to overcome her, and the nation seemed ready to perish had it
not been for the heroism of a butcher and a prince; a suggestive example
of the saving strength which at supreme moments rises up in every

But one more providential tyrant was needed, the greatest of all, the
most extraordinary man of Russia's history, of the house of Romanoff,
successor to the extinct dynasty of the Terrible Ivans. "Terrible" might
also be applied to the name of the imperial carpenter whose character
and destiny are not unlike those of Ivan IV. Both were precocious in
intellect, both were self-educated, and both cooled their hot youth in
the hard school of abandonment. Out of it came Peter the Great,
determined at all costs to remodel his gigantic empire.

Herodotus relates how the young Anacarsis, on returning from foreign
lands wherein he had learned new arts and sciences, came to Scythia his
native country, and wished to celebrate there a great feast, after the
manner of the Greeks, in honor of the mother of the gods; hearing of
which the king Sarillius impaled him with a lance. He tells also how
another king who wearied of the Scythian mode of living, and craved the
customs of the Greeks, among whom he had been educated, endeavored to
introduce the Bacchanalian dances, himself taking part in them. The
Scythians refused to conform to these novel ideas, and finally cut off
the king's head; for, adds the historian, "The Scythians detest nothing
so much as foreign customs." The tale of Herodotus was in danger of
being repeated at the beginning of the reign of Peter Romanoff. With him
began the battle, not yet ended, between old Russia, which calls itself
Holy, and new Russia, cut after the Western pattern. While Peter
travelled and studied the industry and progress of Europe with the idea
of bringing them to his Byzantine empire, the rebels at home conspired
to dethrone this daring innovator who threatened to use fire and sword,
whips and scourges, the very implements of barbarism, against barbarism

It is a notable fact in Russian history that none of her mighty
sovereigns was possessed of moral conditions in harmony with the vigor
of their intelligence and will force. Russia has had great emperors but
not good emperors. The halo that wreathes the head of Berenguela of
Castile and Isabel the Catholic, Saint Ferdinand, or Saint Louis,--men
and women in whom the ideal of justice seemed to become incarnate,--is
lacking to Vladimir the Baptizer, to Ivan IV., to Peter the Great.
Among Occidental peoples the monarchy owed its prestige and sacred
authority to good and just kings, vicars of God on earth, who were
impressed with a sense of being called to play a noble part in the drama
of history, conscious of grave responsibilities, and sure of having to
render an account of their stewardship to a Supreme Power. The Czars
present quite a different aspect: they seem to have understood
civilization rather by its externals than by its intrinsic doctrines,
which demand first of all our inward perfecting, our gradual elevation
above the level of the beast, and the continuous affirmation of our
dignity. Therefore they used material force as their instrument, and
spared no means to crown their efforts.

But with all it is impossible to withhold a tribute of admiration to
Peter the Great. That fierce despot, gross and vicious, was not only a
reformer but a hero. Pultowa, which beheld the fall of the power of
Sweden, justified the reforms and the military organization instituted
by the young emperor, and made Russia a European power,--a power
respected, influential, and great. Whatever may be said against war,
whatever sentimental comparisons may be made between the founder and the
conqueror, it must still be admitted that the monarch who leads his
people to victory will lead them _ipse facto_ to new destinies, to a
more glorious and intense historic life.

If Peter the Great had vacillated one degree, if he had squandered time
and opportunity in studying prudent ways and means for planting his
reforms, if his hand had trembled in laying the rod across the backs of
his nobles, or had spared the lash upon the flesh of his own son,
perhaps he would never have achieved the transformation of his Oriental
empire into a European State, a transformation which embraced
everything,--the navy, the army, public instruction, social relations,
commerce, customs, and even the beards of his subjects, the much
respected traditional long beards, mercilessly shaven by order of the
autocrat. In his zeal for illimitable authority, and that his decrees
might meet with no obstacles either in heaven or earth, this Czar
conceived the bright idea of assuming the spiritual power, and having
suppressed the Patriarchy and created the Synod, he held in his hands
the conscience of his people, could count its every pulsation, and wind
it up like a well-regulated clock. What considerations, human or divine,
will check a man who, like Abraham, sacrifices his first-born to an
idea, and makes himself the executioner of his own son?

The race sign was not obliterated from the Russian culture produced by
immoral and short-sighted reformers. A woman of low extraction and
obscure history, elevated to the imperial purple, was the one to
continue the work of Peter the Great; his daughter's favorite became the
protector of public instruction and the founder of the University of
Moscow; a frivolous and dissolute Czarina, Elisabeth Petrowna, modified
the customs, encouraged intellectual pleasures and dramatic
representations, and put Russia in contact with the Latin mind as
developed in France; another empress, a parricide, a usurper and
libertine, who deserves the perhaps pedantic name of the Semiramis of
the North given her by Voltaire, hid her delinquencies under the
splendor of her intellect, the refined delicacy of her artistic tastes,
her gifts as a writer, and her magnificence as a sovereign.

It was the profound and violent shock administered by the hard hand of
Peter the Great that impelled Russia along the road to French culture,
and with equal violence she retraced her steps at the invasion of the
armies of Napoleon. The nobility and the patriots of Russia cursed
France in French,--the language which had been taught them as the medium
of progress; and the nation became conscious of its own individuality in
the hour of trial, in the sudden awakening of its independent instincts.
But in proportion as the nationality arose in its might, the low murmur
of a growing revolution made itself heard. This impulse did not burst
first from the hearts of the people, ground down by the patriarchal
despotism of Old Russia, but from the brain of the educated classes,
especially the nobility. The first sign of the strife, predestined from
the close of the war with the French, was the political repression of
the last years of the reign of Alexander I., and the famous republican
conspiracy of December against Nicholas,--an aristocratic outbreak
contrived by men in whose veins ran the blood of princes. Of these
events I shall speak more fully when I come to the subject of Nihilism;
I merely mention it here in this general glimpse of Russian history.

Menaced by Asia, Russia had willingly submitted to an absolute power,
because, as we have seen, she lacked the elements that had concurred in
the formation of modern Europe. Classic civilization never entered her
veins; she had no other light than that which shone from Byzantium, nor
any other model than that offered by the later empire; she had no place
in the great Catholic fraternity which had its law and its focus in
Rome, and the Mongolian invasion accomplished her complete isolation.
Spain also suffered an invasion of a foreign race, but she pulled
herself together and sustained herself on a war-footing for seven
centuries. Russia could not do this, but bent her neck to the yoke of
the conqueror. Our national character would have chafed indeed to see
the kings of Asturias and Castile, instead of perpetually challenging
the Moors, become their humble vassals, as the Muscovite princes were to
the Khans. With us the struggle for re-conquest, far from exhausting us,
redoubled our thirst for independence,--a thirst born farther back than
that time, in spite of Leroy-Beaulieu's statement, although it was
indeed confirmed and augmented during the progress of that
Hispano-Saracenic Iliad. The Russians being obliged to lay down their
arms, to suffer and to wait, assumed, instead of our ungovernable
vehemence, a patient resignation. But they none the less considered
themselves a nation, and entertained a hope of vindicating their rights,
which they accomplished finally in the overthrow of the Tartars, and in
later days in rising against the French with an impetuosity and
spontaneity almost as savage as Spain had shown in her memorable days.
Moreover, Russia lacked the elements of historic activity necessary to
enable her to play an early part in the work of modern civilization. She
had no feudalism, no nobility (as we understand the term), no chivalry,
no Gothic architecture, no troubadours, no knights. She lacked the
intellectual impetus of mediæval courts, the sturdy exercise of
scholastic disputations, the elucidations of the problems of the human
race, which were propounded by the thirteenth century. She lacked the
religious orders, that network which enclosed the wide edifice of
Catholicism; and the military, uniting in mystic sympathy the ascetic
and chivalric sentiments. She lacked the councils of the laws of modern
rights; and that her lack might be in nothing lacking, she lacked even
the brilliant heresies of the West, the subtle rationalists and
pantheists, the Abelards and Amalrics, whose followers were brilliant
ignoramuses or rank bigots roused by a question of ritual. Lastly, she
lacked the sunny smile of Pallas Athene and the Graces, the Renaissance,
which brightened the face of Europe at the close of the Middle Ages.

And as the civilization brought at last to Russia was the product of
nations possessed of all that Russia lacked, and as finally, it was
imposed upon her by force, and without those gradual transitions and
insensible modifications as necessary to a people as to an individual,
she could not accept it in the frank and cordial manner indispensable to
its beneficent action. A nation which receives a culture ready made, and
not elaborated by itself, condemns itself to intellectual sterility; at
most it can only hope to imitate well. And so it happened with Russia.
Her development does not present the continuous bent, the gentle
undulations of European history in which yesterday creates to-day, and
to-day prepares for to-morrow, without an irregular or awkward halt, or
ever a trace broken. In the social order of Russia primitive
institutions coexist with products of our spick and span new sociology,
and we see the deep waters of the past mixed with the froth of the
Utopia that points out the route of the unknown future. This confusion
or inharmoniousness engenders Russian dualism, the cause of her
political and moral disturbances. Russia contains an ancient people,
to-day an anachronism, and a society in embryo struggling to burst its

But above all it is evident there is a people eager to speak, to come
forth, to have a weight in the world, because its long-deferred time has
come; a race which, from an insignificant tribe mewed in around the
sources of the Dnieper, has spread out into an immense nation, whose
territory reaches from the Baltic to the Pacific, from the Arctic to the
borders of Turkey, Persia, and China; a nation which has triumphed over
Sweden, Poland, the Turks, the Mongols, and the French; a nation by
nature expansive, colonizing, mighty in extent, most interesting in the
qualities of the genius it is developing day by day, and which is more
astonishing than its material greatness, because it is the privilege of
intellect to eclipse force. Half a dozen brains and spirits who are now
spelling out their race for us, arrest and captivate all who contemplate
this great empire. Out of the poverty of traditions and institutions
which Russian history bewails, two characteristic ones appear as bases
of national life: the autocracy, and the agrarian commune,--absolute
imperial power and popular democracy.

The geography of Russia, which predisposes her both to unity and to
invasion, which obliges her to concentrate herself, and to seek in a
vigorous autocratic principle the consciousness of independent being as
a people, created the formidable dominion of the Muscovite Czars, which
has no equal in the world. Like all primordial Russian ideas, the plan
of this Cæsarian sovereignty proceeded from Byzantium, and was founded
by Greek refugee priests, who surrounded it with the aureole of divinity
indispensable to the establishment of advantageous superstitions so
fecund in historical results. Since the twelfth century the autocracy
has been a fixed fact, and has gone on assuming all the prerogatives,
absorbing all the power, and symbolizing in the person of one man this
colossal nation. The sovereign princes, discerning clearly the object
and end of these aims, have spared no means to attain to it. They began
by checking the proud Boyars in their train, reducing them from
companions and equals to subjects; later on they devoted themselves to
the suppression of all institutions of democratic character.

For the sake of those who judge of a race by the political forms it
uses, it should be observed that Russia has not only preserved latent in
her the spirit of democracy, but that she possessed in the Middle Ages
republican institutions more liberal and radical than any in the rest of
Europe. The Italian republics, which at bottom were really oligarchies,
cannot compare with the municipal and communist republics of Viatka,
Pskof, and especially the great city of Novgorod, which called itself
with pride Lord Novgorod the Great. The supreme power there resided in
an assembly of the citizens; the prince was content to be an
administrator or president elected by free suffrage, and above all an
ever-ready captain in time of war; on taking his office he swore
solemnly to respect the laws, customs, and privileges of the republic;
if he committed a perjury, the assembly convened in the public square at
the clang of an ancient bell, and the prince, having been declared a
traitor, was stripped, expelled, and _cast into the mud_, according to
the forcible popular expression. This industrious republic reached the
acme of its prosperity in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, after
which the rising principality of Moscow, now sure of its future, came
and took down the bells of Novgorod the Great, and so silenced their
voices of bronze and the voice of Russian liberties, though not without
a bloody battle, as witnesseth the whirlpool--which is still pointed out
to the curious traveller--under the bridge of the ancient republican
city, whose inhabitants were drowned there by Ivan the Terrible. Upon
their dead bodies he founded the unity of the empire. Nor are the free
towns the only tradition of autonomy which disturbed the growing
autocratic power. The Cossacks for a long time formed an independent and
warlike aristocracy, proud and indomitable; and to subdue and
incorporate these bellicose tribes with the rest of the nation it was
necessary to employ both skill and force.

We may say without vanity that although the Spaniards exalted
monarchical loyalty into a cult, they never depreciated human dignity.
Amongst us the king is he who makes right (_face derecho_), and if he
makes it not, we consider him a tyrant, a usurper of the royal
prerogative; in acknowledging him lord of life and property, we protest
(by the mouth of Calderon's honest rustic) against the idea that he can
arrogate to himself also the dominion over conscience and soul; and the
smallest subject in Spain would not endure at the king's hand the blows
administered by Peter the Great for the correction of his nobles,
themselves descendants of Rurik. In Russia, where the inequalities and
extremes of climate seem to have been communicated to its institutions,
there was nothing between the independent republics and the autocracy.
In Spain, the slightest territorial disaffection, the fruit of partial
conquests or insignificant victories, was an excuse for some upstart
princeling, our instinctive tendencies being always monarchical and
anything like absolute authority and Cæsarism, so odious that we never
allowed it even in our most excellent kings; a dream of imperial power
would almost have cost them the throne. In Russia, absolutism is in the
air,--one sole master, one lord omnipotent, the image of God himself.

Read the Muscovite code. The Czar is named therein _the autocrat whose
power is unlimited_. See the catechism which is taught in the schools of
Poland; it says that the subject owes to the Czar, not love or loyalty,
but adoration. Hear the Russian hymn; amid its harmonies the same idea
resounds. In all the common forms of salutation to the Czar we shall
find something that excites in us a feeling of rebellion, something that
represents us as unworthy to stand before him as one mortal before
another. Paul I. said to a distinguished foreigner, "You must know that
in Russia there is no person more important than the person to whom I
speak and while I speak." A Czar who directs by means of _ukases_ not
only the dress but even the words of the language which his subjects
must use, and changes the track of a railroad by a stroke of his pen,
frightens one even more than when he signs a sentence of proscription;
for he reaches the high-water mark of authority when he interferes in
these simple and unimportant matters, and demonstrates what one may call
the micrography of despotism. If anything can excuse or even commend to
our eyes this obedience carried to an absurdity, it is its paternal
character. There are no offences between fathers and sons, and the Czar
never can insult a subject. The serf calls him _thou_ and _Father_, and
on seeing him pass he takes off his cap though the snow falls, crossing
his hands over his breast with religious veneration. For him the Czar
possesses every virtue, and is moved only by the highest purposes; he
thinks him impeccable, sacred, almost immortal. If we abide by the
judgment of those who see a symbol of the Russian character in the call
of Rurik and the voluntary placing of the power in his hands, the
autocracy will not seem a secular abuse or a violent tyranny, but rather
an organic product of a soil and a race; and it will inspire the respect
drawn forth by any spontaneous and genuine production.

There exists in Russia a small school of thinkers on public affairs,
important by reason of the weight they have had and still have upon
public opinion. They are called Sclavophiles,--people enamoured of their
ancient land, who affirm that the essence of Russian nationality is to
be found in the customs and institutions of the laboring classes who are
not contaminated by the artificial civilization imported from the
corrupt West; who make a point of appearing on occasions in the national
dress,--the red silk blouse and velvet jacket, the long beard and the
clumsy boots. According to them, the only independent forces on which
Russia can count are the people and the Czar,--the immense herd of
peasants, and, at the top, the autocrat. And in fact the Russian empire,
in spite of official hierarchies, is a rural state in which the
sentiment of democratic equality predominates so entirely that the
people, not content with having but yesterday taken the Czar's part
against the rich and mighty Boyars, sustains him to-day against the
revolution, loves him, and cannot conceive of intermediaries between him
and his subjects, between lord and vassal, or, to put it still more
truly, between father and son. And having once reduced the nobles, with
the consent of the people, to the condition of inoffensive hangers-on of
the court, many thinkers believe that the Czar need only lean upon the
rude hand of the peasant to quell whatever political disaffection may
arise. So illimitable is the imperial power, that it becomes impotent
against itself if it would reduce itself by relegating any of its
influence to a class, such as, for instance, the aristocracy. If
turbulent magnates or sullen conspirators manage to get rid of the
person of the Czar, the principle still remains inviolate.


The Agrarian Communes.

At the right hand of the imperial power stands the second Russian
national institution, the municipal commune known as the _mir_, which is
arresting the attention of European statesmen and sociologists, since
they have learned of its existence (thanks to the work of Baron
Haxsthausen on the internal life of Russia). Who is not astonished at
finding realized in the land of the despots a large number of the
communist theories which are the terror of the middle classes in
liberal countries, and various problems, of the kind we call formidable,
there practically solved? And why should not a nation often called
barbarous swell with pride at finding itself, suddenly and without noise
or effort, safely beyond what in others threatens the extremity of
social revolution? Therefore it happens that since the discovery of the
_mir_, the Russians have one argument more, and not a weak one, against
the corrupt civilization of the Occident. The European nations, they
say, are running wildly toward anarchy, and in some, as England, the
concentration of property in a few hands creates a proletariat a
thousand times more unhappy than the Russian serf ever was, a hungry
horde hostile to the State and to the wealthy classes. Russia evades
this danger by means of the _mir_. In the Russian village the land
belongs to the municipality, amongst whose members it is distributed
periodically; each able-bodied individual receives what he needs, and is
spared hunger and disgrace.

Foreigners have not been slow to examine into the advantages of such an
arrangement. Mackenzie Wallace has pronounced it to be truly
constitutional, as the phrase is understood in his country; not meaning
a sterile and delusive law, written upon much paper and enwrapped in
formulas, but a traditional concept which came forth at the bidding of
real and positive necessities. What an eloquent lesson for those who
think they have improved upon the plan of the ages! History, scouting
our thirst for progress, offers us again in the _mir_ the picture of the
serpent biting his own tail. This institution, so much lauded by the
astonished traveller and the meditative philosopher, is really a
sociological fossil, remains of prehistoric times, preserved in Russia
by reason of the suspension or slow development of the history of the
race. Students of law have told me that in the ancient forms of
Castilian realty, those of Santander, for example, there have been
discovered traces of conditions analogous to the Russian _mir_. And when
I have seen the peasants of my own province assembled in the
church-porch after Mass, I have imagined I could see the remains of this
Saturnian and patriarchal type of communist partition. Common possession
of the land is a primitive idea as remote as the prehistoric ages; it
belongs to the paleontology of social science, and in those countries
where civilization early flourished, gave way before individual interest
and the modern idea of property. "Happy age and blessed times were
those," exclaimed Don Quixote, looking at a handful of acorns, "which
the ancients called golden, and not because gold which in our iron age
has such a value set on it, not because gold could be got without any
trouble, but because those who lived in it were ignorant of those two
words, _mine_ and _thine_! In that blessed age everything was in common;
nobody needed to take any more trouble for his necessities than to
stretch forth his hand and take from the great oak-trees the sweet and
savory fruit so liberally offered!" Gone long ago for us is the time
deplored by the ingenious knight, but it has reappeared there in the
North, where, according to our information, it is still recent; for it
is thought that the _mir_ was established about the sixteenth century.

The character of the _mir_ is entirely democratic; the oldest peasant
represents the executive power in the municipal assembly, but the
authority resides in the assembly itself, which consists of all the
heads of families, and convenes Sundays in the open air, in the public
square or the church-porch. The assembly wields a sacred power which no
one disputes. Next to the Czar the Russian peasant loves his _mir_,
among whose members the land is in common, as also the lake, the mills,
the canals, the flocks, the granary, the forest. It is all re-divided
from time to time, in order to avoid exclusive appropriation. Half the
cultivable land in the empire is subject to this system, and no
capitalist or land-owner can disturb it by acquiring even an inch of
municipal territory; the laborer is born invested with the right of
possession as certainly as we are all entitled to a grave. In spite of a
feeling of distrust and antipathy against communism, and of my own
ignorance in these matters which precludes my judgment of them, I must
confess to a certain agreement with the ardent apologists of the Russian
agrarian municipality. Tikomirov says that in Russia individual and
collective property-rights still quarrel, but that the latter has the
upper hand; this seems strange, since the modern tendency is decidedly
toward individualism, and it is hard to conceive of a return to
patriarchal forms; but there is no reason to doubt the vitality of the
_mir_ and its generation and growth in the heart of the fatherland, and
this is certainly worthy of note, especially in a country like Russia,
so much given to the imitation of foreign models. Mere existence and
permanence is no _raison d'être_ for any institution, for many exist
which are pernicious and abominable; but when an institution is found to
be in harmony with the spirit of the people, it must have a true merit
and value. It is said that the tendency to aggregate, either in agrarian
municipalities or in trades guilds and corporations, is born in the
blood and bred in the bone of the Sclavs, and that they carry out these
associations wherever they go, by instinct, as the bee makes its cells
always the same; and it is certainly true that as an ethnic force the
communistic principle claims a right to develop itself in Russia. It is
certain that the _mir_ fosters in the poor Russian village habits of
autonomous administration and municipal liberty, and that in the shadow
of this humble and primitive institution men have found a common home
within the fatherland, no matter how scattered over its vast plains.
"The heavens are very high, and the Czar is far off," says the Russian
peasant sadly, when he is the victim of any injustice; his only refuge
is the _mir_, which is always close at hand. The _mir_ acts also as a
counterbalance to a centralized administration, which is an inevitable
consequence of the conformation of Russian territory; and it creates an
advantageous solidarity among the farmers, who are equal owners of the
same heritages and subject to the same taxes.

Since 1861 the rural governments, released from all seignorial
obligations, elect their officers from among themselves, and the smaller
municipal groups, still preserving each its own autonomy, meet together
in one larger municipal body called _volost_, which corresponds to the
better-known term _canton_. No institution could be more democratic:
here the laboring man discusses his affairs _en famille_, without
interference from other social classes; the _mir_ boasts of it, as also
of the fact that it has never in its corporate existence known head or
chief, even when its members were all serfs. In fine, the _mir_ holds
its sessions without any presiding officer; rooted in the communist and
equal-rights idea, it acknowledges no law of superiority; it votes by
unanimous acclamation; the minority yields always to the general
opinion, to oppose which would be thought base obstinacy. "Only God
shall judge the _mir_" says the proverb; the word _mir_, say the
etymological students and admirers of the institution, means, "world,"
"universe," "complete and perfect microcosm," which is sufficient unto
itself and is governed by its own powers.

To what does the _mir_ owe its vitality? To the fact that it did not
originate in the mind of the Utopian or the ideologist, but was produced
naturally by derivation from the family, from which type the whole
Russian state organization springs. It should be understood, however,
that the peasant family in Russia differs from our conception of the
institution, recalling as it does, like all purely Russian institutions,
the most ancient or prehistoric forms. The family, or to express it in
the language of the best writers on the subject, _the great Russian
family_, is an association of members submitted to the absolute
authority of the eldest, generally the grandfather,--a fact personally
interesting to me because of the surprising resemblance it discloses
between Russia and the province of Gallicia, where I perceive traces of
this family power in the _petrucios_, or elders. In this association
everything is in common, and each individual works for all the others.
To the head of the house is given a name which may be translated as
administrator, major-domo, or director of works, but conveys no idea of
relationship. The laws of inheritance and succession are understood in
the same spirit, and very differently from our custom. When a house or
an estate is to be settled, the degree of relationship among the heirs
is not considered; the whole property is divided equally between the
male adults, including natural or adopted sons if they have served in
the family the same as legitimate sons, while the married daughter is
considered as belonging to the family of her husband, and she and the
son who has separated himself from the parent house are excluded from
the succession, or rather from the final liquidation or settlement
between the associates. Although there is a law of inheritance written
in the Russian Code, it is a dead letter to a people opposed to the idea
of individual property.

Intimately connected with this communist manner of interpreting the
rights of inheritance and succession are certain facts in Russian
history. For a long time the sovereign authority was divided among the
sons of the ruler; and as the Russian nobility rebelled against the
establishment of differences founded upon priority in birth, entail and
primogeniture took root with difficulty, in spite of the efforts made by
the emperors to import Occidental forms of law. Their idea of succession
is so characteristic that, like the Goths, they sometimes prefer the
collateral to the immediate branch, and the brother instead of the son
will mount the steps of the throne. It is important to note these
radical differences, because a race which follows an original method in
the matter of its laws has a great advantage in setting out upon genuine
literary creations.

But while the family, understood as a group or an association, offers
many advantages from the agrarian point of view, its disadvantages are
serious and considerable because it annuls individual liberty. It
facilitates agricultural labors, it puts a certain portion of land at
the service of each adult member, as well as tools, implements, fuel,
and cattle; helps each to a maintenance; precludes hunger; avoids legal
exactions (for the associated family cannot be taxed, just as the _mir_
cannot be deprived of its lands); but on the other hand it puts the
individual, or rather the true family, the human pair, under an
intolerable domestic tyranny. According to traditional usage, the
authority of the head of the family was omnipotent: he ordered his
house, as says an old proverb, like a Khan of the Crimea; his gray hairs
were sacred, and he wielded the power of a tribal chieftain rather than
of a head of a house. In our part of the world marriage emancipates; in
Russia, it was the first link in a galling chain. The oppression lay
heaviest upon the woman: popular songs recount the sorrows of the
daughters-in-law subjected to the maltreatment of mothers-in-law and
sisters-in-law, or the victims of the vicious appetites of the chief,
who in a literally Biblical spirit thought himself lord of all that
dwelt beneath his roof. Truly those institutions which sometimes elicit
our admiration for their patriarchal simplicity hide untold iniquities,
and develop a tendency to the abuse of power which seems inherent in the
human species.

At first sight nothing could be more attractive than the great Russian
family, nothing more useful than the rural communes; and nowadays, when
we are applying the laws and technicism of physiology to the study of
society, this primordial association would seem the cell from which the
true organism of the State may be born; the family is a sort of lesser
municipality, the municipality is a larger family, and the whole Russian
people is an immense agglomeration, a great ant-hill whose head is the
emperor. In the popular songs we see the Oriental idea of the nation
expressed as the family, when the peasant calls the Czar _father_. But
this primitive machinery can never prevail against the notion of
individualism entertained among civilized peoples. Our way of
understanding property, which the admirers of the Russian commune
consider fundamentally vicious, is the only way compatible with the
independence and dignity of work and the development of industries and
arts. The Russian _mir_ may prevent the growth of the proletariat, but
it is by putting mankind in bonds. It may be said that agrarian
communism only differs from servitude in that the latter provides one
master and the former many; and that though the laboring man
theoretically considers himself a member of a co-operative agricultural
society, he is in reality a slave, subject to collective
responsibilities and obligations, by virtue of which he is tied to the
soil the same as the vassals of our feudal epochs. Perhaps the new
social conditions which are the fruit of the emancipation of the serfs,
which struck at and violated the great associated family, will at last
undermine the _mir_, unless the _mir_ learns some way to adapt itself to
any political mutations. What is most important to the study of the
historical development and the social ideas as shown in modern Russian
literature, is to understand how by means of the great family and the
agrarian municipality, communism and socialism run in the veins of the
people of Russia, so that Leroy-Beaulieu could say with good reason,
that if they are to be preserved from the pernicious effects of the
Occidental proletariat it must be by inoculation, as vaccination exempts
from small-pox.

The socialist leaven may be fairly said to lie in the most important
class in the Russian State,--important not alone by reason of numerical
superiority, but because it is the depositary of the liveliest national
energies and the custodian of the future: I mean the peasants. There
are some who think that this _mitjik_, this _little man_ or _black man_,
tiller of still blacker soil, holds the future destinies of Europe in
his hands; and that when this great new Horde becomes conscious some day
of its strength and homogeneity, it will rise, and in its concentrated
might fall upon some portion of the globe, and there will be no defence
or resistance possible. In the rest of Europe it is the cities, the
urban element, which regulates the march of political events. Certainly
Spain is not ignorant of this fact, since she has a vivid remembrance of
civil wars in which the rustic element, representing tradition, was
vanquished. In Russia, the cities have no proportionate influence, and
that which demands the special attention of the governor or the
revolutionist is the existence, needs, and thoughts of the innumerable
peasant communities, who are the foundation and material of an empire
justly termed rural. From this is derived a sort of cult, an apotheosis
which is among the most curious to be found in Russian modern
literature. Of the peasant, wrapped in badly cured sheepskins, and
smelling like a beast; the humble and submissive peasant, yesterday
laden with the chains of servitude; the dirty, cabbage-eating peasant,
drunk with _wodka_, who beats his wife and trembles with fright at
ghosts, at the Devil, and at thunder,--of this peasant, the charity of
his friends and the poetic imagination of Russian writers has made a
demi-god, an ideal. So great is the power of genius, that without
detriment to the claims of truth, picturing him with accurate and even
brutal realism (which we shall find native to the Russian novel),
Russian authors have distilled from this peasant a poetic essence which
we inhale involuntarily until we, aristocratic by instinct, disdainful
of the rustic, given to ridicule the garlic-smelling herd, yield to its
power. And not content with seeing in this peasant a brother, a
neighbor, whom, according to the word of Christ, we ought to love and
succor, Russian literature discovers in him a certain indefinable
sublimity, a mysterious illumination which other social classes have
not. Not merely because of the introduction of the picturesque element
in the description of popular customs has it been said that Russian
contemporary literature smells of the peasant, but far rather because it
raises the peasant to the heights of human moral grandeur, marks in him
every virtue, and presupposes him possessed of powers which he never
puts forth. From Turguenief, fine poet as he is, to Chtchédrine, the
biting satirist, all paint the peasant with loving touch, always find a
ready excuse for his defects, and lend him rare qualities, without ever
failing to show faithfully his true physiognomy. Corruption, effeminacy,
and vice characterize the upper classes, particularly the employees of
government, or any persons charged with public trusts; and to make these
the more odious, they are attributed with a detestable hypocrisy made
more hateful by apparent kindliness and culture.

There is a humorous little novel by Chtchédrine (an author who merits
especial mention) entitled "The Generals[1] and the _Mujik_," which
represents two generals of the most ostentatious sort, transported to a
desert island, unable either to get food or to get away, until they meet
with a _mujik_, who performs all sorts of services for them, even to
_making broth in the hollow of his hand_, and then, after making a raft,
conveys them safely to St. Petersburg; whereupon these knavish generals,
after recovering back pay, send to their deliverer a glass of whiskey
and a sum amounting to about three cents. But this bitter allegory is a
mild one compared with the mystical apotheosis of the _mujik_ as
conceived by Tolstoï. In one of his works, "War and Peace," the hero,
after seeking vainly by every imaginable means to understand all human
wisdom and divine revelation, finds at last the sum of it in a common
soldier, imperturbable and dull of soul, and poor in spirit, a prisoner
of the French, who endures with calm resignation ill treatment and death
without once entertaining the idea of taking the life of his foreign
captors. This poor fellow, who, owing to his rude, uncouth mode of life,
suffers persecution by other importunate lesser enemies which I forbear
to name, is the one to teach Pierre Besukof the alpha and omega of all
philosophy, wherein he is wise by intuition, and, in virtue of his
condition as the peasant, fatalistic and docile.

I have had the good fortune to see with my own eyes this idol of Russian
literature, and to satisfy a part of my curiosity concerning some
features of Holy Russia. Twenty or thirty peasants from Smolensk who had
been bitten by a rabid wolf were sent to Paris to be treated by M.
Pasteur. In company with some Russian friends I went to a small hotel,
mounted to the fourth floor, and entered a narrow sleeping apartment.
The air being breathed by ten or twelve human beings was scarcely
endurable, and the fumes of carbolic acid failed to purify it; but while
my companions were talking with their compatriots, and a Russian
young-lady medical student dressed their wounds, I studied to my heart's
content these men from a distant land. I frankly confess that they made
a profound impression upon me which I can only describe by saying that
they seemed to me like Biblical personages. It gave me a certain
pleasure to see in them the marks of an ancient people, rude and rough
in outward appearance, but with something majestic and monumental about
them, and yet with a suggestion of latent juvenility, the grave and
religious air of dreamer or seer, different from really Oriental
peoples. Their features, as well as their limbs (which bearing the marks
of the wild beast's teeth they held out to be washed and dressed with
tranquil resignation), were large and mighty like a tree. One old man
took my attention particularly, because he presented a type of the
patriarchs of old, and might have served the painter as a model for
Abraham or Job,--a wide skull bald at the top, fringed about with
yellowish white hair like a halo; a long beard streaked with white also;
well-cut features, frontal development very prominent, his eyes half
hidden beneath bushy eyebrows. The arm which he uncovered was like an
old tree-trunk, rough and knotty, the thick sinuous network of veins
reminding one of the roots; his enormous hands, wrinkled and horny,
bespoke a life of toil, of incessant activity, of daily strife with the
energies of Mother Nature. I heard with delight, though without
understanding a word, their guttural speech, musical and harmonious
withal, and I needed not to heat my imagination overmuch to see in those
poor peasants the realization of the great novelists' descriptions, and
an expression of patience and sadness which raised them above vulgarity
and coarseness. The sadness may have been the result of their unhappy
situation; nevertheless it seemed sweet and poetic.

The attraction which _the people_ exercises upon refined and cultivated
minds is not surprising. Who has not sometimes experienced with terrible
keenness what may be called the æsthetic effect of collectivity? A
regiment forming, the crew of a ship about to weigh anchor, a
procession, an angry mob,--these have something about them that is epic
and sublime; so any peasant, if we see in him an epitome of race or
class, with his historic consequence and his unconscious majesty, may
and ought to interest us. The _payo_ of Avila who passes me
indifferently in the street; the beggar in Burgos who asks an alms with
courteous dignity, wrapped in his tattered clothes as though they were
garments of costly cloth; the Gallician lad who guides his yoke of oxen
and creaking cart,--these not only stir in my soul a sentiment of
patriotism, but they have for me an æsthetic charm which I never feel in
the presence of a dress-coat and a stiff hat. Perhaps this effect
depends rather on the spectator, and it may be our fancy that produces
it; for, as regards the Russian peasant, those who know him well say
that he is by nature practical and positive, and not at all inclined to
the romantic and sentimental. The Sclav race is a rich poetic
wellspring, but it depends upon what one means by poetry. For example,
in love matters, the Russian peasant is docile and prosaic to the last
degree. The hardy rustic is supposed to need two indispensable
accessories for his work,--a woman and a horse; the latter is procured
for him by the head or _old man_ of the house, the former by the _old
woman_; the wedding is nothing more than the matriculation of the
farmer; the pair is incorporated with the great family, the agricultural
commune, and that is the end of the idyl. Amorous and gallant conduct
among peasants would be little fitting, given the low estimation in
which women are held. Although the Russian peasant considers the woman
independent, subject neither to father nor husband, invested with equal
rights with men; and although the widow or the unmarried woman who is
head of the house takes part in the deliberations of the _mir_ and may
even exercise in it the powers of a mayor (and in order to preserve this
independence many peasant-women remain unmarried), this consideration is
purely a social one, and individually the woman has no rights whatever.
A song of the people says that seven women together have not so much as
one soul, rather none at all, for their soul is smoke. The theory of
marriage relations is that the husband ought to love his wife as he does
his own soul, to measure and treasure her as he does his sheepskin coat:
the rod sanctions the contract. In some provinces of Finnish or Tartar
origin the bride is still bought and sold like a head of cattle; it is
sometimes the custom still to steal her, or to feign a rape, symbolizing
indeed the idea of woman as a slave and the booty of war. So rigorous is
the matrimonial yoke, that parricides are numerous, and the jury,
allowing attenuating circumstances, generally pardons them.

Tikomirov, who, though a radical, is a wise and sensible man, says, that
far from considering the masses of the people as models worthy of
imitation, he finds them steeped in absolute ignorance, the victims of
every abuse and of administrative immorality; deprived for many
centuries of intercourse with civilized nations, they have not outgrown
the infantile period, they are superstitious, idolatrous, and pagan, as
shown by their legends and popular songs. They believe blindly in
witchcraft, to the extent that to discredit a political party with them
one has only to insinuate that it is given to the use of sorcery and the
black arts. The peasant has also an unconquerable propensity to
stealing, lying, servility, and drunkenness. Wherefore, then, is he
judged superior to the other classes of society?

In spite of the puerile humility to which the Russian peasant is
predisposed by long years of subjection, he yet obeys a democratic
impulse toward equality, which servitude has not obliterated; the
Russian does not understand the English peasant's respect for the
_gentleman_, nor the French reverence for the _chevalier_ well-dressed
and decorated. When the government of Poland ordered certain Cossack
executions of the nobility, these children of the steppes asked one
another, "Brother, has the shadow of my body increased?" Taught to
govern himself, thanks to the municipal regimen, the Russian peasant
manifests in a high degree the sentiment of human equality, an idea both
Christian and democratic, rather more deeply rooted in those countries
governed by absolute monarchy and municipal liberty, than in those of
parliamentary institutions. The Spaniard says, "None lower than the
King;" the Russian says the same with respect to the Czar. Primitive and
credulous, a philosopher in his way, the dweller on the Russian steppes
wields a dynamic force displayed in history by collectivities, be the
moral value of the individual what it may. In nations like Russia, in
which the upper classes are educated abroad, and are, like water,
reflectors and nothing more, the originality, the poetry, the epic
element, is always with the masses of the people, which comes out strong
and beautiful in supreme moments, a faithful custodian of the national
life, as for example when the butcher Minine saved his country from the
yoke of Sweden, or when, before the French invasion of 1812, they
organized bands of guerillas, or set fire to Moscow.

Hence in Russia, as in France prior to the Revolution, many thinkers
endeavor to revive the antiquated theory of the Genevan philosopher, and
proclaim the superiority of the natural man, by contact with whom
society, infected with Occidental senility, must be regenerated.
Discouraged by the incompatibility between the imported European
progress and the national tradition, unable to still the political
strife of a country where pessimist solutions are most natural and
weighty, their patriotism now uplifts, now shatters their hopes, even in
the case of those who disclaim and condemn individual patriotism, such
as Count Tolstoï; and then ensues the apotheosis of the past, the
veneration of national heroes and of the people. "The people is great,"
says Turguenief in his novel "Smoke;" "we are mere ragamuffins." And so
_the people_, which still bears traces of the marks of servitude, has
been converted into a mysterious divinity, the inspiration of
enthusiastic canticles.

[1] Voguié explains this title of "General" to be both in the civil and
military order with the qualification of "Excellency." Without living in
Russia one can hardly understand the prestige attached to this title, or
the facilities it gives everywhere for everything. To attain this
dignity is the supreme ambition of all the servants of the State. The
common salutation by way of pleasantry among friends is this line from
the comedy of Griboiëdof, which has become a proverb: "I wish you health
and the tchin of a General."--TR.


Social Classes in Russia.

Properly speaking, there are no social classes in Russia, a phenomenon
which explains to some extent the political life and internal
constitution; there is no co-ordinate proportion between the rural and
the urban element, and at first sight one sees in this vast empire only
the innumerable mass of peasants, just as on the map one sees only a
wide and monotonous plain. Although it is true that a rural and
commercial aristocracy did arise and flourish in old Moscow in the
twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the era of invasions, yet the passions
of the wars that followed gave it the death-blow. The middle classes in
the rich and independent republics lost their wealth and influence, and
the people, being unable of themselves to reorganize the State,
sustained the princes, who soon became autocrats, ready at the first
chance to subdue the nobles and unite the disintegrated and war-worn
nation. With the sub-division into independent principalities and the
institution of democratic municipalities the importance of the cities
decreased, and the privileged classes were at an end. The middle class
is the least important. In the same districts where formerly it was most
powerful it has been dissolved by the continuous infusion of the
peasant element, owing to the curious custom of emigration, which is
spontaneous with this nomadic and colonizing people. Many farmers,
although enrolled in the rural villages, spend a large part of the year
in the city, filling some office, and forming a hybrid class between the
rural and artisan classes, thus sterilizing the natural instincts of the
laboring proletariat by the enervation of city life. The emperors were
not blind to the disproportion between the civic and rural elements, and
have endeavored to remedy it. The industrial and commercial population
fled from the cities to escape the taxes; therefore they promulgated
laws prohibiting emigration and the renunciation of civic rights, under
severe penalties. Yet with all these the cities have taken but a second
place in Russian history. Western annals are full of sieges, defences,
and mutinies of cities; in Russia we hear only of the insurrection of
wandering tribes or hordes of peasants. Russian cities exist and live
only at the mandate or protection of the emperor. Every one knows what
extraordinary means were taken by Peter the Great to build St.
Petersburg upon the swamps along the Neva; in twenty-three years that
remarkable woman called the Semiramis of the North founded no less than
two hundred and sixteen cities, determined to create a mesocratic
element, to the lack of which she attributed the ignorance and misery of
her empire. Whenever we see any rapid advancement in Russia we may be
sure it is the work of autocracy, a beneficence of despotism (that word
so shocking to our ears). It was despotism which created the modern
capital opposite the old Byzantine, legendary, retrogressive town,--the
new so different from the old, so full of the revolutionary spirit, its
streets undermined by conspirators, its pavements red with the blood of
a murdered Czar. These cities, colleges, schools, universities,
theatres, founded by imperial and autocratic hands, were the cradle of
the political unrest that rebels against their power; were there no
cities, there would be no revolutions in Russia. Although they do not
harbor crowds of famishing authors like those of London and Paris, who
lie in wait for the day of sack and ruin, yet they are full of a strange
element composed of people of divers extraction and condition, and of
small intellect, but who call themselves emphatically _the intelligence
of Russia_.

I have felt compelled to render justice to the good will of the
autocrats; and to be equally just I must say that whatever has advanced
culture in Russia has proceeded from the nobility, and this without
detriment to the fact that the larger energies lie with the masses of
the people. The enlightenment and thirst for progress manifested by the
nobility is everywhere apparent in Russian history. They are descended
from the retinues of the early Muscovite Czars, to whom were given
wealth and lands on condition of military service, and they are
therefore in their origin unlike any other European nobility; they have
known nothing of feudalism, nor the Germanic symbolism of blazons, arms,
titles, and privileges, pride of race and notions of caste: these have
had no influence over them. The Boyars, who are the remnants of the
ancient territorial aristocracy, on losing their sovereign rights,
rallied round the Czar in the quality of court councillors, and received
gold and treasure in abundance, but never the social importance of the
Spanish grandee or the French baron. Hence the Russian aristocracy was
an instrument of power, but without class interests, replenished
continually by the infusion of elements from other social classes, for
no barrier prevented the peasant from becoming a merchant and the
merchant from becoming a noble, if the fates were kind. There are
legally two classes of aristocracy in Russia,--the transmissible, or
hereditary, and the personal, which is not hereditary. If the latter
surprise us for a moment, it soon strikes us with favor, since we all
acknowledge to an occasional or frequent protest against the idea of
hereditary nobility, as when we lament that men of glorious renown are
represented by unworthy or insignificant descendants. In Russia, Krilof,
the Æsop of Moscow, as he is called, put this protest into words in the
fable of the peasant who was leading a flock of geese to the city to
sell. The geese complained of the unkindness with which they were
treated, adding that they were entitled to respect as being the
descendants of the famous birds that saved the Capitol, and to whom Rome
had dedicated a feast. "And what great thing have _you_ done?" asked the
peasant. "We? Oh, nothing." "Then to the oven!" he replied.

The only title of purely national origin in Russia is that of
prince;[1] all others are of recent importation from Europe; in the
family of the prince, as in that of the humblest _mujik_, the sons are
equals in rights and honors, and the fortune of the father, as well as
his title, descends equally to all. Feudalism, the basis of nobility as
a class, never existed in Russia: according to Sclavophiles, because
Russia never suffered conquest in those ancient times; according to
positivist historians, by reason of geographical structure which did not
favor seignorial castles and bounded domains, or any other of those
appurtenances of feudalism dear to romance and poetry, and really
necessary to its existence,--the moated wall, the mole overhanging some
rocky precipice washed by an angry torrent, and below at its foot, like
a hen-roost beneath a vulture's nest, the clustered huts of the vassals.
But we have seen that the Russian nobility acknowledges no law of
superiority; like the people, they hold the idea of divisible and common
property. Hence this aristocracy, less haughty than that of Europe,
ruled by imperial power, subject until the time of Peter III. to
insulting punishment by whip or rod, and which, at the caprice of the
Czar, might at any time be degraded to the quality of buffoons for any
neglect of a code of honor imposed by the traditions of their
race,--never drew apart from the life of the nation, and, on the
contrary, was always foremost in intellectual matters. Russian
literature proves this, for it is the work of the Russian nobility
mainly, and the ardent sympathy for the people displayed in it is
another confirmation. Tolstoï, a noble, feels an irrepressible
tenderness, a physical attraction toward the peasant; Turguenief, a
noble and a rich man, in his early years consecrated himself by a sort
of vow to the abolition of servitude.

The same lack of class prejudices has made the Russian nobility a quick
soil for the repeated ingrafting of foreign culture according to the
fancy of the emperors. Catherine II. found little difficulty in
modelling her court after that of Versailles; but the same aristocracy
that powdered and perfumed itself at her behest adopted more important
reforms to a degree that caused Count Rostopchine to exclaim, "I can
understand the French citizen's lending a hand in the revolution to
acquire his rights, but I cannot understand the Russian's doing the same
to lose his." They are so accustomed to holding the first place in
intellectual matters, that no privilege seems comparable to that of
standing in the vanguard of advanced thought. They had been urged to
frequent the lyceums and debating societies, to take up serious studies
and scientific education by the word of rulers who were enlightened, and
friends to progress (as were many of them), when all at once sciences
and studies, books and the press, began to be suspected, the censorship
was established, and the conspiracy of December was the signal for the
rupture between authority and the liberal thought of the country. But
the nobles who had tasted of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil
did not resign themselves easily to the limited horizon offered by the
School of Pages or the antechamber of the palace; their hand was upon
the helm, and rather than let it go they generously immolated their
material interests and social importance. The aristocracy is everywhere
else the support of the throne, but in Russia it is a destroying
element; and while the people remains attached to the autocrat, the
nobles learn in the very schools founded by the emperors to pass
judgment upon the supreme authority and to criticise the sovereign.
Nicholas I. did not fail to realize that these establishments of
learning were focuses of revolutionary ardor, and he systematically
reduced the number of students and put limits to scientific education.

It follows that the most reactionary class, or the most unstable class
in Russia, the class painted in darkest colors by the novelists and used
as a target for their shafts by the satirists, is not the noble but the
bureaucratic, the office-holders, the members of the _tchin_ (an
institution Asiatic in form, comparable perhaps to a Chinese
mandarinate). Peter the Great, in his zeal to set everything in order,
drew up the famous categories wherein the Russian official microcosm is
divided into a double series of fourteen grades each, from
ecclesiastical dignitaries to the military. This Asiatic sort of
machinery (though conceived by the great imitator of the West) became
generally abhorred, and excited a national antipathy, less perhaps for
its hollow formalism than on account of the proverbial immorality of the
officers catalogued in it. Mercenariness, pride, routine, and indolence
are the capital sins of the Russian office-holder, and the first has so
strong a hold upon him that the people say, "To make yourself understood
by him you must talk of rubles;" adding that in Russia everybody robs
but Christ, who cannot because his hands are nailed down. Corruption is
general; it mounts upward like a turbid wave from the humblest clerk to
the archduke, generalissimo, or admiral. It is a tremendous ulcer, that
can only be cured by a cautery of literary satire, the avenging muse of
Gogol, and the dictatorial initiative of the Czars. In a country
governed by parliamentary institutions it would be still more difficult
to apply a remedy.

The contrast is notable between the odium inspired by the bureaucracy
and the sympathy that greets the municipal institutions,--not only those
of a patriarchal character such as the _mir_, but those too of a more
modern origin. Among the latter may be mentioned the _zemstvo_, or
territorial assembly, analogous to our provincial deputations, but of
more liberal stripe, and entirely decentralized. In this all classes are
represented, and not, as in the _mir_, the peasants merely. The form of
this local parliament is extremely democratic; the cities, the peasants,
and the property-holders elect separate representatives, and the
assembly devotes itself to the consideration of plain but interesting
practical questions of hygiene, salubrity, safety, and public
instruction. This offers another opportunity to the nobility, for this
body engages itself particularly with the well-being and progress of the
poorer classes, in providing physicians for the villages in place of the
ignorant herb-doctors, in having the _mujiks_ taught to read, and in
guarding their poor wooden houses from fire.

While the Russian nobility has never slept, the Russian clergy, on the
contrary, has been permanently wrapped in lethargy. The rôle accorded to
the Greek Church is dull and depressing, a petrified image, fixed and
archaic as the _icons_, or sacred pictures, which still copy the
coloring and design of the Byzantine epoch. Ever since it was rent by
schism from the parent trunk of Catholicism, life has died in its roots
and the sap has frozen in its veins. Since Peter the Great abolished the
Patriarchy, the ecclesiastical authority resides in a Synod composed of
prelates elected by the government. According to the ecclesiastical
statutes, the emperor is Head of the church, supreme spiritual chief;
and though there has been promulgated no dogma of his infallibility, it
amounts to the same in effect, for he may bind and loose at will. At the
Czar's command the church anathematizes, as when for example to-day the
_popes_ are ordered to preach against the growing desire for partition
of land, against socialism, and against the political enemies of the
government; the priest is given a model sermon after which he must
pattern his own; and such is his humiliation that sometimes he is
obliged by order of the Synod to send information, obtained through his
office as confessor, to the police, thus revealing the secrets of
confiding souls. What a loss of self-respect must follow such a
proceeding! Is it a marvel that some independent schismatics called
_raskolniks_, revivalists and followers of ancient rites and truths,
should thrive upon the decadence of the official clergy, who are
subjected to such insulting servitude and must give to Cæsar what
belongs to God?

In view of these facts it is in vain to boast of spiritual independence
and say that the Greek church knows no head but Christ. The government
makes use of the clergy as of one arm more, which, however, is now
almost powerless through corruption. The Oriental church has no
conception of the noble devotion which has honored Catholicism in the
lives of Saint Thomas of Canterbury and Cardinal Cisneros.

The Russian clergy is divided into _black_ and _white_, or regular and
secular; the former, powerful and rich, rule in ecclesiastical
administration; the latter vegetate in the small villages, ill paid and
needy, using their wits to live at the expense of their parishioners,
and to wheedle them out of a dozen eggs or a handful of meal. Is it
strange that the parishioner respects them but little? Is it strange
that the _pope_ lives in gross pride or scandalous immorality, and that
we read of his stealing money from under the pillow of a dying man, of
one who baptized a dog, of another who was ducked in a frozen pond by
his _barino_, or landlord, for the amusement of his guests? It is true
that a few occasional facts prove nothing against a class, and that
malice will produce from any source hurtful anecdotes and more or less
profane details touching sacred things; but to my mind, that which tells
most strongly against the Russian clergy is its inanity, its early
intellectual death, which shut it out completely from scientific
reflection, controversy, and apology, and therefore from all
philosophy,--realms in which the Catholic clergy has excelled. Like a
stripped and lifeless trunk the Oriental church produces no theologians,
thinkers, or _savants_. There are none to elaborate, define, and ramify
her dogmas; the human mind in her sounds no depths of mystery. If there
are no conflicts between religion and science in Russia, it is because
the Muscovite church weighs not a shadow with the free-thinkers.

Certainly the adherents and members of the earlier church bear away the
palm for culture and spiritual independence. At the close of the
seventeenth century, after the struggles with Sweden and Poland, the
schismatic church aroused the national conscience, and satisfied, to a
certain extent, the moral needs of a race naturally religious by
temperament It began to discuss liturgical minutiæ, and persecuted
delinquents so fiercely that it infused all dissenters with a spirit of
protest against an authority which was disposed to treat them like
bandits or wild beasts. Such persecution demonstrates the fact that not
only ecclesiastical but secular power is irritated by heterodoxy. In
Russia, whose slumbering church is unmoved even by a thunder-bolt, an
instinct of orderliness led the less devout of the emperors against the
schismatics. To-day there are from twelve to fifteen millions of
schismatics and sects; and many among them are given to the coarsest
superstitions, practise obscene and cruel rites, worship the Devil, and
mutilate themselves in their insane fervors. Probably Russia is the only
country in the civilized world to-day where superstition, quietism, and
mysticism, without law or limit, grow like poisonous trees; and in my
work on Saint Francis of Assisi I have remarked how the communist
heresies of the Middle Ages have survived there in the North. Some
authors affirm that the clergy shut their eyes and open their hands to
receive hush-money for their tolerance of heterodoxy. But let us not be
too ready always to believe the worst. Only lately there fell into my
hands an article written by that much respected author, Melchior de
Voguié, who assures us that he has observed signs of regeneration in
many Russian parishes.

From this review of social classes in Russia it may be deduced that the
peasant masses are the repository of national energies, while the
nobility has until now displayed the most apparent activity. The proof
of this is to be found in the consideration of a memorable historical
event,--the greatest perhaps that the present century has known,--the
emancipation of the serfs.

[1] "The term translated 'prince' perhaps needs some explanation. A
Russian prince may be a bootblack or a ferryman. The word _kniaz_
denotes a descendant of any of the hundreds of petty rulers, who before
the time of the unification of Russia held the land. They all claim
descent from the semi-mythical Rurik; and as every son of a _kniaz_
bears the title, it may be easily imagined how numerous they are. The
term 'prince,' therefore, is really a too high-sounding title to
represent it."--Nathan Haskell Dole.


Russian Serfdom.

Russia boasts of never having known that black stain upon ancient
civilizations, slavery; but the pretension, notwithstanding many
allegations thereto in her own chronicles, is refuted by Herodotus, who
speaks of the inhuman treatment inflicted by the Scythians on their
slaves, even putting out their eyes that they might better perform
certain tasks; and the same historian refers to the treachery of the
slaves to their masters in raping the women while they were at war with
the Medes, and to the insurrection of these slaves which was put down by
the Scythians by means of the whip alone,--the whip being in truth a
characteristic weapon of a country accustomed to servitude. Herodotus
does say in another place that "among the Scythians the king's servants
are free youths well-born, for it is not the custom in Scythia to buy
slaves;" from which it may be inferred that the slaves were prisoners of
war. Howbeit, Russian authors insist that in their country serfs were
never slaves, and serfdom was rather an abuse of the power of the
nobility and the government than an historic natural result.

To my mind this is not so; and I must say that I think servitude had an
actual beginning, and that there was a cause for it. The Muscovite
empire was but sparsely populated, and the population was by
temperament adventurous, nomadic, restless, and expansive. We have
observed that the limitless plains of Russia offer no climatic
antagonisms, for the reason that there are no climatic boundaries; but
it was not merely the love of native province that was lacking in the
Russian, but the attachment to the paternal roof and to the home
village. It is said that the origin of this sentiment is embedded in
rock; where dwellings are built of wood and burn every seven years on an
average, there is no such thing as the paternal roof, there is no such
thing as home. With his hatchet in his belt the Russian peasant will
build another house wherever a new horizon allures him. But if the
scanty rural population scatters itself over the steppes, it will be
lost in it as the sand drinks in the rain, and the earth will remain
unploughed and waste; there will be nothing to tax, and nobody to do
military service. Therefore, about the end of the sixteenth century,
when all the rest of Europe was beginning to feel the stirrings of
political liberty and the breath of the Renaissance, the Regent, Boris
Godonof, riveted the chains of slavery upon the wrists of many millions
of human beings in Russia. It is very true that Russian servitude does
not mean the subjection of man to man, but to the soil; for the decree
of Godonof converted the peasant into a slave merely by abrogating the
traditional right of the "black man" to change his living-place on Saint
George's day. The peasant perceived no other change in his condition
than that of finding himself fastened, chained, bound to the soil. The
Russian word which we translate "serf" means "consolidated,"

It is easy to see the historical transition from the free state to that
of servitude. The military and political organization of the Russian
State in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries hedged in the peasant's
liberty of action, and his situation began to resemble that of the Roman
_colonus_, or husbandman, who was neither "bond nor free." When the
nation was constituted upon firmer bases, it seemed indispensable to fix
every man's limitation, to range the population in classes, and to lay
upon them obligations consistent with the needs of the empire. These
bonds were imposed just as the other peoples of Europe were breaking
away from theirs.

Servitude, or serfdom, did not succeed throughout the empire, however.
Siberia and the independent Cossacks of the South rejected it; only
passive consent could sanction a condition that was not the fruit of
conquest nor had as an excuse the right of the strongest. Even in the
rest of Russia the peasant never was entirely submissive, never
willingly bent his neck to the yoke, and the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries witnessed bitter and sanguinary uprisings of the serfs, who
were prompt to follow the first impostor who pronounced words of
promise; and, strange to say, what was most galling was his entail upon
the land rather than the deprivation of his own liberty. He imagined
that the lord of the whole earth was the Czar, that by his favor it was
temporarily in possession of the nobles, but that in truth and justice
it belonged to him who tilled it. Pugatchef, the pretender to the title
of Peter III., in order to rally to his standard an innumerable host of
peasants, called himself the rural emperor, and declared that no sooner
should he gain the throne of his ancestors than he would shower treasure
upon the nobles and restore the land to the tillers of it.

Those who forged the fetters of serfdom had little faith in the
stability of it, however. And although the abuses arising out of it were
screened and tacitly consented to,--and never more so than during the
reign of the humane philosopher, friend, and correspondent of Voltaire,
the Empress Catherine II.,--yet law and custom forever refused to
sanction them. Russian serfdom assumed rather a patriarchal character,
and this softened its harshness. It was considered iniquitous to
alienate the serfs, and it was only lawful in case of parting with the
land whereon those serfs labored; in this way was preserved the thin
line of demarcation between agrarian servitude and slavery.

There were, however, serfs in worse condition, true helots, namely, the
domestic servants, who were at the mercy of the master's caprice, like
the fowls in his poultry-yard. Each proprietor maintained a numerous
household below stairs, useless and idle as a rule, whose children he
brought up and had instructed in certain ways in order to hire them out
or sell them by and by. The players in the theatres were generally
recruited from this class, and until Alexander I. prohibited such
shameless traffic, it was not uncommon to see announced in the papers
the sale of a coachman beside that of a Holstein cow. But like every
other institution which violates and offends human conscience, Russian
serfdom could not exist forever, in spite of some political and social
advantages to the empire.

Certain Russian writers affirm that the assassination of masters and
proprietors was of frequent occurrence in the days of serfdom, and that
even now the peasant is disposed to quarrels and acts of violence
against the nobles. Yet, on the whole, I gather from my reading on the
subject that the relations in general between the serf and the master
were, on the one side, humble, reverent, and filial; on the other, kind,
gentle, and protecting. The important question for the peasant is that
of the practical ownership of the land. It is not his freedom but his
agrarian rights that have been restored to him; and this must be borne
in mind in order to understand why the recent emancipation has not
succeeded in pacifying the public mind and bringing about a new and
happy Russia.

Given the same problem to the peasant and the man of mind, it will be
safe to say that they will solve it in very different ways, if not in
ways diametrically opposed. The peasant will be guided by the positive
and concrete aspect of the matter; the man of mind by the speculative
and ideal. The peasant calculates the influence of atmospheric phenomena
upon his crops, while the other observes the beauty of the sunset or
the tranquillity of the night. In social questions the peasant demands
immediate utility, no matter how small it may be, while the other
demands the application of principles and the triumph of ideas. Under
the care of a master the Russian serf enjoyed a certain material
welfare, and if he fell to the lot of a good master--and Russian masters
have the reputation of being in general excellent--his situation was not
only tolerable but advantageous. On the other hand, the intelligent
could not put up with the monstrous and iniquitous fact of human liberty
being submitted to the arbitrary rule of a master who could apply the
lash at will, sell men like cattle, and dispose as he would of bodies
and souls. Where this exists, since Christ came into the world, either
there is no knowledge, or the ignominy must be stamped out.

We all know that celebrated story of "Uncle Tom's Cabin," the famous
Abolitionist novel by Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe. There were also
novelists in Russia who set themselves to plead for the emancipation of
the serfs. But there is a difference between them and the North American
authoress, in that the Russians, in order to achieve their object, had
no need to exaggerate the reality, to paint sensitive slaves and
children that die of pity, but, with an artistic instinct, they appealed
to æsthetic truth to obtain human justice. "Dead Souls," by Gogol, or
one of the poetical and earnest _brochures_ of Turguenief, awakens a
more stirring and permanent indignation than the sentimental allegory
of Mrs. Stowe; and neither Gogol nor Turguenief misrepresented the serf
or defamed the master, but rather they present to us both as they were
in life, scorning recourse to bad taste for the sake of capturing tender
hearts. The noblest sentiments of the soul, divine compassion, equity,
righteous vengeance, the generous pity that moves to sacrifice, rise to
the inspired voice of great writers; we see the abuse, we feel it, it
hurts us, it oppresses us, and by a spontaneous impulse we desire the
good and abhor the evil. This enviable privilege has been granted to the
Russian novelists; had they no greater glory, this would suffice to save
them from oblivion.

The Abolitionist propaganda subtly and surely spread through the
intelligent classes, created an opinion, communicated itself naturally
to the press in as far as the censor permitted, and little by little the
murmur grew in volume, like that raised against the administrative
corruption after the Crimean War. And it is but just to add that the
Czars were never behind in this national movement. Had it not been for
their omnipotent initiative, who knows if even now slavery would not
stain the face of Europe? There is reason to believe it when one sees
the obstacles that hinder other reforms in Russia in which the autocrat
takes no part. Doubtless the mind of the emperor was influenced by the
words of Alexander II., in 1856, to the Muscovite nobles: "It is better
to abolish serfdom by decrees from above than to wait for it to be
destroyed by an impulse from below." A purely human motive; yet in every
generous act there may be a little egotistical leaven. Let us not judge
the unfortunate Emancipator too severely.

The Crimean War and its grave internal consequences aided to undermine
the infamous institution of serfdom, at the same time that it disclosed
the hidden cancer of the administration, the misgovernment and ruin of
the nation. With the ill success of the campaign, Russia clearly saw the
need for self-examination and reorganization. Among the many and
pressing questions presented to her, the most urgent was that of the
serfs, and the impossibility of re-forming a prosperous State, modern
and healthy, while this taint existed within her. Alexander II., whose
variability and weakness are no bar to his claim of the honored title of
the Liberator, exhorted the aristocracy to consummate this great work,
and (a self-abnegation worthy of all praise, and which only a blind
political passion can deny them) the nobles coincided and co-operated
with him with perfect good faith, and even with the electrical
enthusiasm characteristic of the Sclavic race. One cannot cease to extol
this noble act, which, taken as a whole, is sublime, although, being the
work of large numbers, it may be overloaded with details and incidents
in which the interest flags. It may be easy to preach a reform whose
aims do not hurt our pride, shatter our fortunes, alter our way of
living, or conflict with the ideas inculcated upon us in childhood by
our parents; but to do this to one's own detriment deserves especial
recognition. The nobility on this occasion only put into practice
certain theories which had stirred in their hearts of old. The first
great Russian poet, Prince Kantemire, wrote in 1738, in his satires,
that Adam did not beget nobles, nor did Noah save in the ark any but his
equals,--humble husbandmen, famous only for their virtues. To my mind
the best praise to the Russian nobility is for having offered less
hindrance to the emancipation of the serfs than the North American
democracy to the liberation of the slaves; and I solicit especial
applause for this self-sacrificing, redeeming aristocracy.

The fruits of the emancipation were not what desire promised. The
peasants, from their positivist point of view, set little value on
liberty itself, and scarcely understood it. "We are yours," they were
accustomed to say to their masters; "but the soil is ours." When it
became known that they must go on paying even for the goods of the
community, they rebelled; they declared that emancipation was a farce, a
lie, and that true emancipation ought to abolish rent and distribute the
land in equal parts. Did not the proclamation of the Czar read that they
were free? Well, freedom, in their language, meant emancipation from
labor, and the possession of the land. One _mir_ even sent a deputation
to the governor, announcing that as he had been a good master he would
still be allowed the use and profit of his house and farm. The peasant
believed himself free from all obligation, and even refused to work
until the government forced him to do so; and the result was that the
lash and the rod were never so frequently laid across Russian shoulders
as in the first three years of emancipation and liberty.

What cared they--"the little black men"--for the dignity of the freeman
or the rights of citizenship? That which laid strongest hold of their
primitive imagination was the desire to possess the whole land,--the old
dream of what they called the _black partition_, the national Utopia.
One Russian revolutionary journal adopted the name of "Land and
Liberty," a magic motto to a peasant country, giving the former the
first place, or at least making the two synonymous. The Russian
people ask no political rights, but rather the land which is watered
by the sweat of their brow; and if some day the anarchists--the
agitators who go from village to village propagating their sanguinary
doctrines--succeed in awakening and stirring this Colossus to action, it
will be by touching this tender spot and alluring by the promise of this
traditional dream. The old serf lives in hopes of a Messiah, be he
emperor or conspirator, who shall deliver the earth into his hands; and
at times the vehemence of this insatiable desire brings forth popular
prophets, who announce that the millennium is at hand, and that by the
will of Heaven the land is to be divided among the cultivators thereof.
From his great love to the autocrat the peasant believes that _he_ also
desires this distribution, but being hampered by his counsellors and
menaced by his courtiers, he cannot authorize it yet. "For," says the
peasant, "the land never belonged to the lords, but first to the
sovereign and then to the _mir_." The idea of individual proprietorship
is so repugnant to this people that they say that even death is
beautiful shared in common.

All the schismatic sects in Russia preach community of possessions. Some
among them live better than the orthodox Greeks; some are voluntarily
consecrated to absolute poverty, such as characterized the early orders
of mendicants, and literally give their cloak to him who asks; but both
the more temperate and the fanatics agree in the faith of the general
and indisputable right of man to possess the land he cultivates.

With society as with the individual, after great effort comes
prostration, after a sudden change, inevitable uneasiness. So with
Russian emancipation. Although in some localities the condition of the
peasants was ameliorated, in others their misery and retrogression
seemed only to increase, and led them to pine for the old bonds. The
abuse, arbitrariness, and cruelty which are cited, and which shock the
nerves of Westerners, caused no alarm to the Russian peasant, who was
well used to baring his back in payment for any delinquency. The worst
extent to which the master allowed his anger to spend itself was an
unlimited number of stripes; and this very punishment, which to-day no
master would inflict, and which the law expressly forbids, is still
frequently imposed by the peasant tribunals of the _volost_ or
_canton_; their confidence in its efficacy is well grounded, and it is
well authorized by custom and experience. What the peasant fears and
hates most is not the rod or the whip, but the rent-collector, the
tax-gatherer, the burden of the taxes themselves, and hunger.

What must be the æsthetic and political determination of this race,
which prefers the possession of the soil to the liberty of the
individual? In literature, toward a plain and candid realism; in form of
government, a communist absolutism. The abstract constitutional idea,
which, in spite of its Anglo-Saxon origin, meets perfectly the ideal
entertained by Latin minds, has no charm for the Sclav. Yet at the same
time the Russian combines, with his practical and concrete notions of
life and his preponderating sense of realism, a dreamy and childlike
imagination, which acts upon him like a dangerous dose of opium.

In the next essay I propose to show how there has grown up within this
patient and submissive rural people, and has finally burst forth, that
most terrible of revolutionary volcanoes, nihilism.

Book II.



The Word "Nihilism."

I have scarcely realized until now the difficulties in the way of the
subject I am treating. To talk of nihilism is an audacious undertaking,
and in spite of all my endeavors to hold the balance true, and to
consider calmly the social phenomena and the literature into which it
has infiltrated, I shall perhaps not be able to avoid a note of
partiality or emotion. To some I shall seem too indulgent with the
Russian revolutionaries, and they may say of me, as of M.
Leroy-Beaulieu, that my opinions are imbibed from official sources and
my words taken from the mouth of reactionaries.

The first stumbling-block is the word "nihilism." In Tikomirov's work on
Russia seven or eight pages are devoted to the severe condemnation of
the use of the expressions "nihilism" and "nihilist," Nevertheless, at
the risk of offending my friend the author, I must make use of them,
since, as he himself allows, they are employed universally, and all the
world understands what is meant by them in an approximate and relative
way. I do not reject the term proposed by Tikomirov, who would call
nihilism "the militant intelligence;" but this is much too long and
obscure, and before accepting it, it behooves one to understand what is
meant by _Russian intelligence_. The nihilists call themselves by a
variety of names,--democrats, socialists, propagandists, _new men_, or
sometimes by the title of some organ of their clandestine press. This
war of names seems puerile, and I prefer to face the fury of Tikomirov
against those who not only use the objectionable term but dedicate a
chapter to what it represents, and study nihilism as a doctrine or
tendency distinct among all that have arisen until now. I cannot agree
to the idea that nihilism is merely a Russian intellectual movement, nor
do I think that all Europe is mistaken in judging that the nihilist
explosions are characteristic of the great Sclav empire. On the
contrary, I believe that if Russia were to-morrow blotted from the map,
and her history and every trace of her national individuality
obliterated, only a few pages of her romances and a few fragments of her
revolutionary literature being left to us, a philosopher or a critic
could reconstruct, without other data, the spirit of the race in all its
integrity and completeness.

Now, to begin, how did this much-discussed word originate? It was a
novelist who first baptized the party who called themselves at that time
_new men_. It was Ivan Turguenief, who by the mouth of one of the
characters in his celebrated novel, "Fathers and Sons," gave the young
generation the name of nihilists. But it was not of his coinage;
Royer-Collard first stamped it; Victor Hugo had already said that the
negation of the infinite led directly to nihilism, and Joseph Lemaistre
had spoken of the nihilism, more or less sincere, of the contemporary
generations; but it was reserved for the author of "Virgin Soil" to
bring to light and make famous this word, which after making a great
stir in his own country attracted the attention of the whole world.

The reign of Nicholas I. was an epoch of hard oppression. When he
ascended the throne, the conspiracy of the Decembrists broke out, and
this sudden revelation of the revolutionary spirit steeled the already
inflexible soul of the Czar. Nicholas, although fond of letters and an
assiduous reader of Homer, was disposed to throttle his enemies, and
would not have hesitated to pluck out the brains of Russia; he was very
near suppressing all the universities and schools, and inaugurating a
voluntary retrocession to Asiatic barbarism. He did mutilate and reduce
the instruction, he suppressed the chair of European political laws, and
after the events of 1848 in France he seriously considered the idea of
closing his frontiers with a cordon of troops to beat back foreign
liberalism like the cholera or the plague. Those who have had a near
view of this Iron Czar have described him to me as tall, straight,
stiff, always in uniform, a slave to his duties as sovereign, the
living personification of the autocrat, and called, not without reason,
the Quixote of absolutism. At the close of a life devoted to the
fanatical inculcation of his convictions, this inflexible emperor, who
believed himself to be guided by the Divine hand, saw only the
dilapidation and ruin of his country, which then started up dismayed and
raised a cry of reprobation, a chorus of malediction against the emperor
and the order of things established by him. Satire cried out in strident
and indignant tones, and spit in the face of the Czar with terrible
anathemas. "Oh, Emperor," it said to him, "Russia confided the supreme
power to you; you were as a god upon the earth. What have you done?
Blinded by ignorance and selfishness, you longed for power and forgot
Russia; you spent your life in reviewing troops, in changing uniforms,
in signing decrees. You created the vile race of press-censors, so that
you might sleep in peace, that you might ignore the needs of the people,
and turn a deaf ear to their cries; and the truth you buried deep, and
rolled a great stone over the door of the sepulchre, and put a guard
over it, so that you might think in your proud heart that it would never
rise again. But the light of the third day is breaking, and truth will
come forth from among the dead." And so the great autocrat heard the
crash of the walls that he had built with callous hands and cemented
with the blood and tears of two millions of human beings whom he had
exiled to Siberia. Perhaps the inflexible principles, the mainspring of
his hard soul, gave way then; but it was indeed too late to give the
lie to his whole life, and according to well-authenticated reports he
sought a sure and speedy death by wilful exposure to the rigors of the
terrible climate. "I cannot go back," were the dying words of this
upright and consistent man, who, notwithstanding his hardness, was yet
not a tyrant.

However, it was under his sceptre, under his systematic suppression,
that, by confession of the great revolutionary statesman Herzen, Russian
thought developed as never before; that the emancipation of the
intelligence, which this very statesman calls a tragic event, was
accomplished, and a national literature was brought to light and began
to flourish. When Alexander II. succeeded to the throne, when the bonds
of despotism were loosened and the blockade with which Nicholas vainly
tried to isolate his empire was raised, the field was ready for the
intellectual and political strife.

Russia is prone to violent extremes in everything. No social changes are
brought about in her with the slow gradations which make transitions
easy and avoid shocks and collisions. In the rest of Europe modern
scientific progress was due to numerous coincident causes, such as the
Renaissance, the art of printing, the discovery of America; but in
Russia the will of the autocrat was the motor, and the country was
forced and surprised into it. And when this drowsy land one day shakes
off its lethargy and takes note of the latent political effervescence
within itself, it will be with the same fiery earnestness, the same
exaggeration, the same logical directness, straight to the end, even
though that end culminate in absurdity.

Before explaining how nihilism is the outcome of intelligence, we must
understand what is meant by intelligence in Russia. It means a class
composed of all those, of whatever profession or estate, who have at
heart the advancement of intellectual life, and contribute in every way
toward it. It may be said, indeed, that such a class is to be found in
every country; but there is this difference,--in other countries the
class is not a unit; there are factions, or a large number of its
members shun political and social discussion in order to enjoy the
serene atmosphere of the world of art, while in Russia _the
intelligence_ means a common cause, a homogeneous spirit, subversive and
revolutionary withal. To write a history of modern literature,
particularly of the novel, in Russia, is equivalent to writing the
history of the revolution.

The subversive, dissolvent character of this intelligence--working now
tacitly, now openly, and with a candor surprising in a country subjected
to such suspicious censorship--explains why the czars, once the
protectors of the arts, have become since the middle of this century so
out of humor with authors, books, and the press. We have heard of one
emperor--the cleverest of them all--who in the interest of his reforms
had his own son whipped to death. Russian art, also son of the czars,
figuratively speaking, received scarcely better treatment when it
signified a desire to stand on its own feet.

Long and painful is the list of persecutions directed against the
growth of Thought, in prose and verse, and above all against illustrious
men. But we must make a distinction, so as not to be unjust. Herzen,
exiled and deprived of all his possessions, and the famous martyr
Tchernichewsky, confined twenty and odd years in a Siberian prison or
fortress, do not arouse our astonishment, for they suffered the common
fate of the political agitator; but it seems a pity that such artists as
Dostoiëwsky and Turguenief should suffer any such infliction at all. All
Russian literature is charged with a revolutionary spirit; but there is
the same difference between those authors whose aim is political and
those who merely speak of Russia's wounds when occasion offers, that
there is between those who are licentious and those who are simply open
and candid. And by this I do not mean to compare the nihilist writers
with licentious ones, nor to convey any stigma by my words. I merely say
that when literature deliberately attacks established society, the
instinct of self-preservation obliges the latter to defend itself even
to persecuting its adversary.


Origin of the Intellectual Revolution.

Whence came the revolutionary element in Russia? From the Occident, from
France, from the negative, materialist, sensualist philosophy of the
Encyclopædia imported into Russia by Catherine II. and later from
Germany, from Kantism and Hegelianism, imbibed by Russian youth at the
German universities, and which they diffused throughout their own
country with characteristic Sclav impetuosity. By "Pure Reason" and
transcendental idealism, Herzen and Bakunine, the first apostles of
nihilism, were inspired. But the ideas brought from Europe to Russia
soon allied themselves with an indigenous or possibly an Oriental
element; namely, a sort of quietist fatalism, which leads to the darkest
and most despairing pessimism. On the whole, nihilism is rather a
philosophical conception of the sum of life than a purely democratic and
revolutionary movement. Since the beginning of this century Europe has
seen mobs and revolutions, dynasties wrecked and governments overturned;
but these were political disturbances, and not the result of mind
diseased or anguish of soul.

Nihilism had no political color about it at the beginning. During the
decade between 1860 and 1870 the youth of Russia was seized with a sort
of fever for negation, a fierce antipathy toward everything that
was,--authorities, institutions, customary ideas, and old-fashioned
dogmas. In Turguenief's novel, "Fathers and Sons," we meet with Bazarof,
a froward, ill-mannered, intolerable fellow, who represents this type.
After 1871 the echo of the Paris Commune and emissaries of the
Internationals crossed the frontier, and the nihilists began to bestir
themselves, to meet together clandestinely, and to send out propaganda.
Seven years later they organized an era of terror, assassination, and
explosions. Thus three phases have followed upon one another,--thought,
word, and deed,--along that road which is never so long as it looks, the
road that leads from the word to the act, from Utopia to crime.

And yet nihilism never became a political party as we understand the
term. It has no defined creed or official programme. The fulness of its
despair embraces all negatives and all acute revolutionary forms.
Anarchists, federalists, cantonalists, covenanters, terrorists, all who
are unanimous in a desire to sweep away the present order, are grouped
under the ensign of _nihil_.

The frenzy which thus moves a whole people to tear their hair and rend
their garments has at bottom an element of passionate melancholy born of
just and noble aspirations crushed by fatal circumstances. We have seen
what Nature and history have made of Russia,--a nation civilized by
violence, whose natural and harmonious development was checked, and
which was isolated from Europe as soon as the ruling powers perceived
the dangers likely to ensue from communication therewith. The impulse of
youth toward the unknown and the new, toward vague dreams and
abstractions, was thus exasperated; and from out the seminaries,
universities, and schools, from the ranks of the nobility and from the
bosom of the literature, there arose a host composed of women hungering
for the ideal, and young students, poor in pocket and position, who gave
themselves up to a Bohemian sort of life well calculated to set at
nought society and the world in general. A Russian friend once told me
that seeing a _mujik_ looking very dejected and melancholy he asked what
was the matter, and received answer, "Sir, we are a sick people." His
reply defines the whole race; and of all the explanations of nihilism,
that which describes it as a pathological condition of the nation is
perhaps the most accurate.

One must be prudent, however, in calling an intellectual phenomenon
based upon historical reasons a sickness or dementia; and above all one
must not confound the mental exaltation of the enthusiast with the
vagaries of the unsound mind. We do not allow ourselves to call him a
fool who does not think as we do, nor even him who leaves the beaten
common track for dizzy heights above our ken. No reformer or other great
man, however, has escaped the insinuation of foolishness, not even Saint
Francis of Assisi, who openly professed idiocy. But we have a kind of
sympathy for madness of a speculative character,--the sort of lunacy
which makes mankind dream sometimes that material good does not entirely
satisfy, that makes it yearn anxiously for something that it may never
obtain on this earth.

To begin with, is nihilism pure negation? No. Pure negation conceives
nothing further, and whatever it denies it affirms at the same time.
Nihilism, or to use their own term, Russian _intelligence_, contains the
germs of social renovation; and before referring to its political
history I will explain some of its strange and curious doctrines.


Woman and the Family.

Among the most important of the nihilist doctrines is that which refers
to the condition of woman and the constitution of the family; and the
attempt radically to modify things so guarded and so sacred presupposes
an extraordinary power in the moving principle. The state of woman in
Russia has been far more bitter and humiliating than in the rest of
Europe; she wore her face covered with the Oriental veil until an
empress dared to cast it aside,--to the great horror of the court; among
the peasants she was a beast of burden; among the nobles an odalisque;
in the most enlightened classes of society the whip hung at the head of
the bed as a symbol of the husband's authority. The law did not keep her
perpetually a minor, as with us, but allowed her to administer her
property freely; yet the invisible and unwritten bonds of custom made
this freedom illusory. The new ideas have changed all this, however, and
to-day the Russian woman is more nearly equal to the man in condition,
more free, intelligent, and respected than elsewhere in Europe. Even the
peasants, accustomed to bestow a daily allowance of the lash upon their
women, are beginning to treat them with more gentleness and regard, for
they realize, tardily though certainly, the worth of the ideas of
justice deduced from the Gospels, which once planted can never be rooted
out. Their conquests are final. A few years hence the conjugal relation
in Russia will be based on ideas of equality, fraternity, and mutual
respect. I have never gone about preaching emancipation or demanding
rights, but I am nevertheless quite capable of appreciating everything
that savors of equity.

The great Russian romantic poet, Lermontof, lamented the moral
inferiority of the women of his country. "Man," said this Russian Byron,
"should not be satisfied with the submission of his slave or the
devotion of his dog; he needs the love of a human being who will repay
insight for insight, soul for soul." This noble aspiration, derived from
the profound Platonic allegory of the two soul-halves that seek each
other and thereby find completion, the Russian intelligence desired to
realize, and as a step toward it procured participation for woman in
intellectual and political life; she, on her part, proved her worth by
bringing to nihilism a passionate devotion, absolute faith, and
initiative energy. When the early Christians rehabilitated the pagan
woman, somewhat the same thing happened, and a tender gratitude toward
the gentle Nazarene led virgins and matrons to vie with strong men in
the heroism displayed in the amphitheatre.

But in our times the systematic efforts toward female emancipation have
a tendency to stumble into absurdities. To show to what an extent
conjugal equality has been carried in certain Russian families of
humble position, I was told that the wife cooks one day and the husband
the next! At the beginning of the reign of Alexander II. the longing for
feminine independence was expressed in the wearing of short hair, blue
spectacles, and extraordinary dress; in smoking, in scorn of neatness,
and the assumption of viragoish and disgusting manners. The serious side
of the movement led them on the other hand to study, to throw themselves
into every career open to them, to show a brave front in the hospitals
of typhus and the plague, to win honors in the clinics, and to practise
medicine in the small villages with noble self-abnegation, seriousness,
and sagacity.

It is worthy of note, in examining Russian revolutionary tendencies,
that political rights are a secondary consideration, and that they go
down to the root of the matter, and seek first to reclaim natural
rights. In countries that are under parliamentary regimen, half of the
human race is judicially and civilly the servant of the other half;
while in the classic land of absolutism all parts are equal before the
law, especially among the reformatory class, the nobility.

There is one fact in this connection which, though rather dubious on the
face of it, is yet so original and typical that it ought not to be
omitted. Owing to these modifications in the social condition of women,
and also to political circumstances, we are told that one frequently
hears in Russia--among the _intelligent_ class particularly--of a sort
of free unions, having no other bond than the mutual willingness of the
contracting parties, and marked by singular characteristics. Some of
these unions may be compared to the espousals of Saint Cecilia and her
husband, Saint Valerian, or to the nuptials of the legendary hero
separated by a naked sword from the bride. The Russians call this a
fictitious marriage. It sometimes happens that a young girl, bold,
determined, and full of a longing for life,--in the social sense of the
word,--leaves the paternal roof and takes up her abode under that of
another man. Having obtained the liberty and individuality enjoyed by
the married woman, the protector and the _protégée_ maintain a fraternal
friendship mutually and willingly agreed to. In Turguenief's novel,
"Virgin Soil," a young lady runs away from her uncle's house with the
tutor, a young nihilist poet, with whom she believes herself to be
deeply in love; but she finds out that what she really loved and craved
was liberty, and the chance to practise her politico-social principles;
and as these two runaways live in chastity, the heroine finally, and
without any conscientious scruples, marries another poet, also a
nihilist, but more practical and intelligent, who has really succeeded
in interesting her heart.

Is such a voluntary restriction the result of a hyperæsthesia of the
fancy, natural to an age of persecution, in which those who fight for
and defend an idea are ready at any moment to go to the gallows for its
sake? Is it mere woman's pride demanding for her sex liberty and
franchises which she scorns to make use of? Is it a manifestation of an
idealist sentiment which is always present in revolutionary outbursts?
Is it a consequence of the theory which Schopenhauer preached, but did
not practise? Is it Malthusian pessimism which would refuse to provide
any more subjects for despotism? Is it a result of the natural coldness
of the Scythian? There seems to be no doubt, according to the statement
of trustworthy authors, that there are nihilist virgins living
promiscuously with students, helping them like sisters, united by this
strange understanding. Solovief, who made a criminal attempt on the life
of Alexander II., was thus _married_, as was shown at his trial.

Among the young generation of nihilists this sort of union was really an
affiliation in devotion to their party. The bride's dower went into the
party treasury, her body was consecrated to the worship of the unknown
God; and being but slightly bound to his or her nominal spouse, each one
went his or her way, sometimes to distant provinces, to propagate and
disseminate the good news.

Tikomirov (from whose interesting book I have taken most of my
information concerning the constitution of the Russian revolutionary
family) seems to think that French authors have not done full justice to
the austerity and purity of nihilist customs, and he depicts a charming
scene in the home of intelligence, whose members are united and
affectionate, where moral and intellectual equality produce solid
friendship, precluding tyranny on the one hand and treason on the other;
adding that in Russia everybody is convinced of the superiority of this
sort of family, and only foreigners think that nihilism undermines the
foundations of conjugal union. Is this really true? In any case it seems
possible that such a beautiful ideal might be attained to in our Latin
societies, given the elevated conception of the Catholic marriage, which
makes it a sacrament, were there only a little more equity, toward which
it is evident, however, that laws and customs are ever tending.

In speaking of nihilist marriages, it is well to add that in general the
Russian revolutionary movement has a pronounced flavor of mysticism,
although at first sight it seems an explosion of free-thinking and
blasphemy. It is true that nihilist youth laughs at the supernatural,
and has been steeped in the crudities of German materialism and in the
pliant philosophies of the clinic and the laboratory; but at the same
time, whether because of the religious character of the race, or because
of a certain exaltation which may be the fruit of a period of stress,
the nihilist young people are mystics in their own way, and talk about
the martyrs to the cause with an inspired voice and with the unction of
a devotee invoking the saints. In proof of this I will give here a
nihilist madrigal dedicated to the young heroine in a political trial,
Lydia Figuier, who had studied medicine in Zurich and Paris.

     "Deep is the impression, O maiden, left by thy enchanting
     beauty; but more powerful than the charm of thy face is the
     purity of thy soul. Full of pity is the image of the
     Saviour, and his divine features are full of compassion; but
     in the unfathomable depths of thine eyes there is still more
     love and suffering."

The extremes of this rare sort of fanaticism are still better shown in a
famous novel of Tchernichewsky, the hero of which outdoes the Hindu
fakirs and Christian anchorites in point of macerations, penances, and
austerities. He is offered several kinds of fruit, but he will taste
only the apple, which is what the people eat; he fasts in grief and
anguish, and one day, in order to accustom himself to bear any sort of
trial, he lays himself down upon a cloth thickly studded with nails an
inch long, points upward, and there he remains until his blood saturates
the ground. Not content with mortifying the flesh in this way, he
disposes of all his worldly goods among the poor, and vows never to
touch a drop of wine or the lips of woman. This is only the hero of a
story-book; yes, but this story endeavors to present a type, an ideal
pattern, to which the _new men_, or nihilists, try to conform

It must be understood that when I say mysticism, I use the word in a
generic and not in a theological sense. It seems contradictory to say
that an atheist can do and feel like the most fervent believer; but a
man may pass a whole lifetime in parrying logic, and yet sometimes what
his reason refuses his imagination accepts. There is something in
nihilism that recalls the transcendental contradictions of the Hindu
philosophies and religions, especially Buddhism; and in Russian brains
there is a fermentation of heterodox illumination which is manifested
among the common people by sects of tremblers, jumpers, and others, and
among the more learned classes by revolutionary mysticism, amorphism,
anarchy, and a gloomy and rebellious pessimism. The prophets of the
ignorant sects among the people preach many of the revolutionary dogmas,
teaching disobedience to all authority, community of goods, social
liquidation and free love, yet without political intention; and better
educated nihilists, even reactionary minds like Dostoiëwsky, feel the
pulse of mystic enthusiasm which runs in the blood. The people are so
predisposed to color the language of the political devotee that they
were quite satisfied with the answer given by the propagandist Rogatchef
to the peasants who asked what he sought among them. He replied, "The
true faith."

To the honor of humanity be it said that the most profound emotions it
has experienced have been produced by its own thirst for the ideal, and
caused by the need of belief, and of feeling in one form or another a
religious excitement. It is this element which conquers our sympathy for
nihilism; this shows us a young and enthusiastic people given to visions
and sublime ardors. To put it more explicitly, I am not passing judgment
upon the only revolutionaries just now extant in the world. I have very
little liking for political upheavals; but, to the egotistical
indifference that afflicts some nations, I believe that I prefer the
passionate extremes of nihilism. In politics as in art we want the

It will be seen therefore that the people were not irrelevant in
confounding nihilism with a religions sect. As far as our rationalist
age will admit, the nihilist dissenter resembles the great heretics of
the Middle Ages; he has traces of the Millenarian, of Sakya Muni, and of
the German pantheists; and he has the blind faith, the hazy transports,
the dogmatical and absolute affirmation of the persecuted religious
sects, and of esoteric and subterranean beliefs. He adores a divinity
without feelings, deaf and primitive, and this adoration is the
corner-stone of the nihilist temple. The _mujik_ sublimated by Russian
literature is the god of nihilism.


Going to the People.

Here is a passage from Tikomirov's book to illustrate this aspect of
Russian revolution:--

     "Where is there any sociological theory that can explain the
     crusade taken up in 1873 by thousands of young men and women
     determined to _go to the people_? The word crusade is
     appropriate. Our youths left the bosom of their families;
     our maidens abandoned the worldly pleasures of life. Nobody
     thought of his own welfare; the great cause absorbed all
     attention, and the nervous tension was such that many were
     able to endure, without injury to health, unusual and
     dreadful privations. They gave up their past life and all
     their property, and if any vacillated in offering his
     fortune to the cause, he was looked upon with pity and
     contempt. Some renounced official positions and gave all
     their means, even to thousands of rubles; others, like
     Prince Krapotkine, from being _savants_, diplomats and
     opulent, became humble artisans. The prince took to painting
     doors and windows. Rich heiresses sought occupation as
     factory operatives, even some who had reigned as belles in
     aristocratic salons. It was as though, exiled from other
     classes of society, they found, in turning to the people,
     their souls' true country."

Do not these words almost seem to describe the beginnings of
Christianity in Rome?

The idol takes no notice of his fanatical adorers, nor perhaps does he
understand them any better than the peasant-woman of Toboso understood
the amorous suit with which Don Quixote wooed her malformed and
dishevelled person. The Russian peasant cannot make anything of theories
and apotheoses evolved from an intellectual condition amounting to
rapturous frenzy. "Oh that I might die," exclaims a devout nihilist,
"and that my blood like a drop of hot lead could burn and arouse the
people!" This thirst for martyrdom is common, but above all is the
anxiety to be amalgamated with the people, to know them, and if possible
to infuse them with the enthusiasm they feel themselves.

It requires more courage to do what Russians call _going to the people_,
than to bear exile or the gallows. In our society, which boasts of its
democracy, the very equalization of classes has strengthened the
individual instinct of difference, and especially the aristocrats of
mind, the writers and thinkers, have become terribly nervous, finicky,
and inimical to the plebeian smell, to the extent that even novels which
describe the common people with sincerity and truth displease the public
taste. Yet the nihilists, a select company from the point of view of
intellectual culture, go, like apostles, in search of the poor in
spirit, the ignorant and the humble. The sons of families belonging to
the highest classes, alumni of universities, leave fine clothes and
books, dress like peasants, and mix with factory hands, so as to know
them and to teach them; young ladies of fine education return from a
foreign tour and accept with the utmost contentment situations as cooks
in manufacturers' houses, so as to be able to study the labor question
in their workshops. We find very curious instances of this in
Turguenief's novel "Virgin Soil." The heroine, Mariana, a nihilist, in
order to learn how the people live, and to _simplify herself_ (this is a
sacramental term), helps a poor peasant-woman in her domestic duties.
Here we have the way of the world reversed: the educated learns of the
ignorant, and in all that the peasant-woman does or says the young lady
finds a crumb of grace and wisdom. "We do not wish to teach the people,"
she explains, "we wish to serve them." "To serve them?" replies the
woman, with hard practicality. "Well, the best way to serve them is to
teach them." Equally fruitless are the efforts of Mariana's _fictitious
husband_, or _husband by free grace_, as the peasant-woman calls
him,--the poet and dreamer Nedjanof, who thinks himself a nihilist, but
in the bottom of his soul has the aristocratic instincts of the artist.
Here is the passage where he presents himself to Mariana dressed in
workman's clothes:--

     "Mariana uttered an exclamation of surprise. At first she
     did not know him. He wore an old caftan of yellowish drill,
     short-waisted, and buttoned with small buttons; his hair was
     combed in the Russian style, with the part in the middle; a
     blue kerchief was tied around his neck; he held in his hand
     an old cap with a torn visor, and his feet were shod with
     undressed calfskin."

Mariana's first act on seeing him in this guise is to tell him that he
is indeed ugly, after which disagreeable piece of information, and a
shudder of repugnance at the smell of his greasy cap and dirty sleeves,
they provide themselves with pamphlets and socialist proclamations and
start out on their Odyssey among the people, hoping to meet with
ineffable sufferings. He would be no less glad than she of a heroic
sacrifice, but he is not content with a grotesque farce; and the girl is
indignant when Solomine, her professor in nihilism, tells her that her
duty actually compels her to wash the children of the poor, to teach
them the alphabet, and to give medicine to the sick. "That is for
Sisters of Charity," she exclaims, inadvertently recognizing a truth;
the Catholic faith contains all ways of loving one's neighbor, and none
can ever be invented that it has not foreseen. But the human type of the
novel is Nedjanof, although the nihilists have sought to deny it. There
is one very sad and real scene in which he returns drunk from one of
his propagandist excursions, because the peasants whom he was
haranguing compelled him to drink as much as they. The poor fellow
drinks and drinks, but he might as well have thrown himself upon a file
of bayonets. He comes home befuddled with _wodka_, or perhaps more so
with the disgust and nausea which the brutish and mal-odorous people
produced in him. He had never fully believed in the work to which he had
consecrated himself: now it is no longer scepticism, it is invincible
disgust that takes hold upon his soul, urging him to despair and
suicide. The lament of his lost revolutionary faith is contained in the
little poem entitled "Dreaming," which I give literally, as follows:--

     "It was long since I had seen my birthplace, but I found it
     not at all changed. The deathlike sleep, intellectual
     inertia, roofless houses, ruined walls, mire and stench,
     scarcity and misery, the insolent looks of the oppressed
     peasants,--all the same! Only in sleeping, we have
     outstripped Europe, Asia, and the whole world. Never did my
     dear compatriots sleep a sleep so terrible!

      "Everything sleeps: wherever I turn, in the fields, in the
      cities, in carnages, in sleighs, day and night, sitting or
      walking; the merchant and the functionary, and the watchman
      in the tower, all sleep in the cold or in the heat! The
      accused snores and the judge dozes; the peasants sleep the
      sleep of death; asleep they sow and reap and grind the
      corn; father, mother, and children sleep! The oppressed and
      the oppressor sleep equally well!

      "Only the gin-shop is awake, with eyes ever open! And
      hugging to her breast a jug of fire-water, her face to the
      pole, her feet to the Caucasus, thus sleeps and dreams on
      forever our Mother, Holy Russia!"

To all nihilist intents and purposes, particularly to those of a
political character, the masses are apparently asleep. Many eloquent
anecdotes refer to their indifference. A young lady propagandist, who
served as cook on a farm, confesses that the peasants spitefully accused
her of taking bread from the poor. In order to get them to take their
pamphlets and leaflets, the nihilists present them as religious tracts,
adorning the covers with texts of Scripture and pious mottoes and signs.
Only by making good use of the antiquated idea of distribution (of
goods) have they any chance of success; it is of no use to talk of
autonomous federations, or to attack the emperor, who has the people on
his side.

The active nihilists are always young people, and this is reason enough
why they are not completely discouraged by the sterility of their
efforts. Old age abhors fruitless endeavors, and better appreciating the
value of life, will not waste it in tiresome experiments. And this
contrast between the ages, like that between the seasons, is nowhere so
sharp as in Russia; nowhere else is the difference of opinions and
feelings between two generations so marked. Some one has called nihilism
a disease of childhood, like measles or diphtheria; perhaps this is not
altogether erroneous, not only as regards individuals but also as
regards society, for vehemence and furious radicalism are the fruit of
historical inexperience, of the political youth of a nation. The
precursor of nihilism, Herzen, said, with his brilliant imagery and
vigor of expression, that the Russia of the future lay with a few
insignificant and obscure young folks who could easily hide between the
earth and the soles of the autocrat's boots; and the poet Mikailof, who
was sentenced to hard labor in 1861, and subsequently died under the
lash, exclaimed to the students, "Even in the darkness of the dungeon I
shall preserve sacredly in my heart of hearts the incomparable faith
that I have ingrafted upon the new generation."

It is sad to see youth decrepit and weary from birth, without enthusiasm
or ambition for anything. It is more natural that the sap should
overflow, that a longing for strife and sacrifice, even though foolish
and vain, should arise in its heart. This truth cannot be too often
repeated: to be enthusiastic, to be full of life, is not ridiculous; but
our pusillanimous doctrine of disapproval is ridiculous indeed,
especially in life's early years,--as ridiculous as baldness at twenty,
or wrinkles and palsy at thirty. Besides, we must recognize something
more than youthful ardor in nihilism, and that is, sympathetic
disinterestedness. The path of nihilism does not lead to brilliant
position or destiny: it may lead to Siberia or to the gibbet.


Herzen and the Nihilist Novel.

But it is time to mention some of the precursors of nihilism. First of
all there is Alexander Herzen, a brilliant, paradoxical writer, a great
visionary, a keen satirist, the poet of denial, a romanticist and
idealist to his own sorrow, and, in the bottom of his soul, sceptical
and melancholy. Herzen was born in Moscow in the year of the Fire, and
his mind began to mature about the time the December conspirators forced
Nicholas I. into trembling retirement. He was wont to say that he had
seen the most imposing personification of imperial power, had grown up
under the shadow of the secret police and panted in its clutches.
Charmed by the philosophical doctrines of Hegel and Feuerbach, which
were then superseding the French, he became a socialist and a
revolutionary. Just at the time when to have a constitution was the
ideal and the dream of the Latin peoples, who were willing to tear
themselves to pieces to obtain it, this Sclav was writing that a
constitution was a miserable contract between a master and his slaves!
Herzen was but a little more than twenty years old when he was sent to
Siberia. On his return from exile he found at home a mental
effervescence, a Germanic and idealist current in the wake of the
eminent critic Bielinsky, Sclavophiles singing hymns in praise of
national life and repudiating European civilization which was in turn
defended by the so-called Occidentals; and lastly he found a set of
literary, innovators who formed the famous _natural school_, at the head
of which was the great Gogol. Herzen fell into this whirl of ideas, and
his æsthetic doctrines and advanced Hegelianism had great influence, and
after some more serious works he published his celebrated novel, "Who is
to Blame?"--a masterly effort, which gained him immense renown in
Russia. It was masterly more by reason of the popularity it achieved
than by its literary merit, for Herzen is, after all, not to be counted
among the chief novel-writers of Russia. Herzen was born to point the
way to a social Utopia rather than the road to pure Beauty. He invented
new phases of civilization, societies transformed by the touch of a
magic wand. The star of Proudhon was at this time in the ascendant, and
Herzen, attracted by its brilliancy, left his country never to return;
but he did not on this account cease to exercise a great influence upon
her destinies, so great, indeed, that some profess to think that had
Herzen never lived, nihilism would have perished in the bud.

Herzen hailed with delight the French revolution of 1848. He expected to
behold a social liquidation, but he saw instead only a conservative
republic,--a change of form. Then he cried out in savage despair, and
his words have become the true nihilist war-cry: "Let the old world
perish! Let chaos and destruction come upon it! Hail, Death! Welcome to
the Future!"

To sweep away the past with one stroke became his perennial aspiration.
He drew a vivid picture of a secret tribunal which every _new man_
carries within himself, to judge, condemn, and guillotine the past; he
described how a man, fearful of following up his logical conclusions,
after citing before this tribunal the Church, the State, the family, the
good, and the evil, might make an effort to save a rag of the worn-out
yesterday, unable to see that the lightest weight would prove a
hindrance to his passage from the old world to the new. "There is a
remarkable likeness between logic and terror," he said. "It is not for
us to pluck the fruits of the past, but to destroy them, to persecute
them, to judge them, to unmask them, and to immolate them upon the
altars of the future. Terror sentenced human beings; it concerns us to
judge institutions, demolish creeds, put no faith in old things,
unsettle every interest, break every bond, without mercy, without
leniency, without pity."

This was his programme: Not to civilize or to progress, but to
obliterate, to demolish; to replace what he called the senile barbarity
of the world with a juvenile barbarity; "to go to the very limits of
absurdity,"--these are his own words. They contain the sum of nihilism;
they include the pessimist despair, and the foolish proscription of art,
beauty, and culture, which to an artistic mind is the greatest crime
that can be laid at the door of any political or philosophical doctrine.
A tendency that aspires to overthrow the altar sacred to the Muses and
the Graces can never prevail.

Herzen went to London, established a press for the dissemination of
political writings in Russia, and organized a secret society for Russian
refugees, among whom he counted Bakunine; and having refused to return
to his country, he founded a singular paper called "The Bell"
(_Kolokol_), of which thousands of copies, though strictly prohibited by
the censor, crossed the frontier. They were distributed and read on
every hand, and a copy was regularly placed, by invisible hands, in the
chamber of the emperor, who devoured it no less eagerly than his
faithful subjects. From the pages of this illegal publication the
sovereign learned of secret intrigues in his palace, of plots among his
high officials, and scandalous stories reported by the socialist refugee
with incredible accuracy. By the side of these evidences of dexterity
and cleverness, some of the stratagems recounted of the times of our own
Carlist war seem mere child's play.

As the precursor of nihilism Herzen excites great interest, but there is
much to be said of Tchernichewsky and Bakunine. It is said that the
latter's influence was more felt abroad than at home, and that he fanned
the activity of the Internationalist societies, and of the Swiss,
Italian, and Spanish laboring classes. Be that as it may, Bakunine was a
classic type of the conspirator by profession,--in love with his
dangerous work. He adopted as his motto that to destroy is to create.
Caussidière saw him and watched him during the insurrections in Paris,
and exclaimed, "What a man! The first day of the revolution he is a
treasure; on the second we must shoot him!" Paris was not the only
witness of his feats; he fought like a lion at the barricades in
Dresden, and was elected dictator; he took an active part in the Polish
insurrection; he quite outshone Carl Marx in the International, and with
him originated the anarchist faction, and that last grade of revolution,
amorphism. As for Tchernichewsky, he is considered the great master and
inspirer of contemporary nihilism, his principal claim to such a place
being based on a novel; and at the bottom of the Russian revolution we
shall always find the epic fictions of our day exerting a powerful

With Herzen's novel the tendencies of nihilism were first revealed; with
Tchernichewsky's they became fixed and decisive. Novels of Gogol and
Turguenief overthrew serfdom, and novels of Turguenief, Dostoiëwsky,
Tolstoï, Gontcharof, and Tchedrine are the documents which historians
will consult hereafter when the great contest between the revolution and
the old society shall be written. When Tchernichewsky wrote his famous
novel, he had already tried his hand at various public questions, had
made a compilation from the "Political Economy" of John Stuart Mill, and
was a prisoner on the charge of organizing the revolutionary propaganda
in Russia along with Herzen, Ogaref, and Bakunine, who were refugees in
London. Before setting out to suffer his sentence of fifteen years'
imprisonment and perpetual residence in Siberia, he was tied to a stake
in a public square of St. Petersburg, and after the reading of the
sentence a sword was broken over his head. What a blow was dealt at
absolute power by this man, shut up, annihilated, suppressed, and
civilly dead! Happy the cause that hath martyrs!

His novel produced an indescribable sensation. The nihilists were
inclined to resent Turguenief's "Fathers and Sons," whose hero, the
materialist Bazarof, represented the new generation, or, according to
them, caricatured it. Tchernichewsky's book was considered to be a
faithful picture, and a model besides for the party; it was the
nihilists painted by one of themselves, so to speak. Although it is
tedious and inconsistent in its arguments, the book shows much talent
and a fertile imagination; the author declares that it is his purpose to
stereotype the personality of the _new man_, who is but an evanescent
type, a sign of the times, destined to disappear with the epoch he has
initiated. Writing about the year 1850, he says, "Six years ago there
were no such men; three years ago they were little noticed, and now--but
what matters what is thought of them now? Soon enough they will hear the
cry, Save us! and whatever they command shall be done." Farther on he
says that these _new men_ in turn shall disappear to the last man; and
after a long time men shall say, "Since the days of those men things go
on better, although not entirely well yet." Then the type shall reappear
again in larger numbers and in greater perfection, and this will
continue to happen until men say, "Now we are doing well!" And when this
hour arrives, there will be no special types of humanity, there will be
no _new men_, for all shall realize the largest sum of perfection
possible. Such is the theory of this famous martyr, and it is certainly
as original as it is curious.

The admirers of Tchernichewsky's novel compare it to "The City of the
Sun," by Campanella, "Utopia," by Sir Thomas More, "The Journey to
Icaria," by Cabet, and the phalansterian sketches by Fourier's
disciples. This comparison is alone sufficient to decide the rivalry in
favor of Turguenief; for the Siberian exile wrought only in the interest
of socialist propaganda, while the author of "Virgin Soil," whether
accurate or not in detail, was a consummate artist. Only political
excitement can dictate certain judgments and decisions. If I speak now
more at length of the exile's novel, it is for the sake of its
representative value, and as a reflection of nihilism in literature. The
title is, "What to do?" The author wishes to solve the problem put by
Herzen in the title to his novel, "Who is to blame?" and under the guise
of a love-quarrel he delineates the ideal of the contemporary generation
represented by two favorite characters, the two classic types of the
nihilist novel,--the student of medicine, a _new man_, saturated with
science and German metaphysics, and a brave girl longing to be
_initiated_ and thirsting to consecrate herself to some lofty cause.
Among other curiosities there is a nihilist husband, who, on discovering
that his wife is enamoured of somebody else, calculates his moral
sufferings as equivalent to the excitement produced by four cupfuls of
strong coffee, and he therefore takes two morphine pills and declares
that he feels better! In spite of being prohibited by the censor, this
novel, as might be expected, had a great success; the editions
multiplied clandestinely; the heroine's type became immensely popular;
the young girls took to the study of medicine with an enthusiasm and a
will to which I can personally testify; and if report be true, a part of
the new ideas concerning conjugal equality and the constitution of the
family proceeded from this novel. The popularity of the author,
glorified by the halo of his sufferings and imprisonment, far superseded
that of Herzen.

Materialism and positivism soon came also to replace the visions of
Herzen; for when Alexander II. opened the frontiers which the inflexible
Nicholas had closed, the students brought home new idols from the German
universities. Schopenhauer and Buchner superseded Hegel and Feuerbach.
Schopenhauer, with his pessimism, his theory of Nirvana and universal
annihilation, arrived just in time to foster the germs of fatalism
dormant within the Russian soul; and Buchner, by means of his very
superficial but eloquent book, was also in season to offer an
accessible, clear, and popular formula to unthinking minds and negative
or indolent temperaments; "Force and matter" was for a time the Bible of
Russian students. It will be readily seen that the revolutionary formula
and methods in Russia always came from abroad; but they met with
tendencies which were unexpected, even though they proved favorable to
development. The philosophy of nihilism was drawn from Western sources,
no doubt; yet this phenomenon made its appearance only in Russia, a land
predisposed to realism and mysticism, to brutality and languor, and
above all to melancholy limitless as its plains.

We are told of the now famous saying of a nihilist, who, being asked his
doctrines, replied, "To see earth and heaven, Church and State, God and
king, and to spit upon them all!" Although the verb to _spit_ is not so
offensive in Russia as here, and is rather a sign of repugnance than of
insult, such a reply contains the sum of negative nihilism; and
negation, the critical period, cannot last longer than the despairing
sigh of the dying. The active phase of nihilism, the reign of terror,
passed by quickly, and now the party is beginning to lay aside its
ferocious radicalism and deal with realities.


The Reign of Terror.

The reign of terror was short but tragic. We have seen that the active
nihilists were a few hundred inexperienced youths without position or
social influence, armed only with leaflets and tracts. This handful of
boys furiously threw down the gauntlet of defiance at the government
when they saw themselves pursued. Resolved to risk their heads (and with
such sincerity that almost all the associates who bound themselves to
execute what they called _the people's will_ have died in prison or on
the scaffold), they adopted as their watchword _man for man_. When the
sanguinary reprisals fell upon Russia from one end to the other, the
frightened people imagined an immense army of terrorists, rich, strong,
and in command of untold resources, covering the empire. In reality, the
twenty offences committed from 1878 to 1882, the mines discovered under
the two capitals, the explosions in the station at Moscow and in the
palace at St. Petersburg, the many assassinations, and the marvellous
organization which could get them performed with circumstances so
dramatic and create a mysterious terror against which the power of the
government was broken in pieces,--all this was the work of a few dozens
of men and women seemingly endowed with ubiquitousness, so rapid and
unceasing their journeys, and so varied the disguises, names, and
stratagems they made use of to bewilder and confound the police. It was
whispered that millions of money were sent in from abroad, that there
were members of the Czar's family implicated in the conspiracy, that
there was an unknown chief, living in a distant country, who managed the
threads of a terrible executive committee which passed judgment in the
dark, and whose decrees were carried out instantly. Yet there were only
a few enthusiastic students, a few young girls ready to perform any
service, like the heroine of Turguenief's "Shadows;" a few thousand
rubles, each contributing his share; and, after all, a handful of
determined people, who, to use the words of Leroy-Beaulieu, had made a
covenant with death. For a strong will, like intelligence or
inspiration, is the patrimony of the few; and so, just as ten or twelve
artist heads can modify the æsthetic tendency of an age, six or eight
intrepid conspirators are enough to stir up an immense empire.

After Karakozof's attempt upon the life of the Czar (the first spark of
discontent), the government augmented the police and endowed Muravief,
who was nicknamed _the Hangman_, with dictatorial powers. In 1871 the
first notable political trial was held upon persons affiliated with a
secret society. Persecutions for political offences are a great mistake.
Maltreatment only inspires sympathy. After a few such trials the doors
had to be closed; the public had become deeply interested in the
accused, who declared their doctrines in a style only comparable to the
acts of the early Christian martyrs. Who could fail to be moved at the
sight of a young woman like Sophia Bardina, rising modestly and
explaining before an audience tremulous with compassion her
revolutionary ideas concerning society, the family, anarchy, property,
and law? Power is almost always blind and stupid in the first moments of
revolutionary disturbances. In Russia men risked life and security as
often by acts of charity toward conspirators as by conspiracy itself. In
Odessa, which was commanded by General Totleben, the little blond heads
of two children appeared between the prison bars; they were the children
of a poor wretch who had dropped five rubles into a collection for
political exiles, and these two little ones were sentenced to the
deserts of Siberia with their father. And the poet Mikailof chides the
revolutionaries with the words: "Why not let your indignation speak, my
brothers? Why is love silent? Is our horrible misfortune worthy of
nothing more than a vain tribute of tears? Has your hatred no power to
threaten and to wound?"

The party then armed itself, ready to vindicate its political rights by
means of terror. The executive committee of the revolutionary
socialists--if in truth such a committee existed or was anything more
than a triumvirate--favored this idea. Spies and fugitives were quickly
executed. The era of sanguinary nihilism was opened by a woman, the
Charlotte Corday of nihilism,--Vera Zasulitch. She read in a newspaper
that a political prisoner had been whipped, contrary to law,--for
corporal punishment had been already abolished,--and for no worse cause
than a refusal to salute General Trepof; she immediately went and fired
a revolver at his accuser. The jury acquitted her, and her friends
seized her as she was coming out of court, and spirited her away lest
she should fall into the hands of the police; the emperor thereupon
decreed that henceforth political prisoners should not be tried by jury.
Shortly after this the substitute of the imperial deputy at Kief was
fired upon in the street; suspicion fell upon a student; all the others
mutinied; sixteen of them were sent into exile. As they were passing
through Moscow their fellow-students there broke from the lecture-halls
and came to blows with the police. Some days later the rector of the
University of Kief, who had endeavored to keep clear of the affair, was
found dead upon the stairs; and again later, Heyking, an officer of the
_gendarmerie_, was mortally stabbed in a crowded street. The clandestine
press declared this to have been done by order of the executive
committee; and it was not long before the chief of secret police of St.
Petersburg received a very polite notice of his death-sentence, which
was accomplished by another dagger, and the clandestine paper, "Land and
Liberty," said by way of comment, "The measure is filled, and we gave
warning of it." Months passed without any new assassinations; but in
February, 1879, Prince Krapotkine, governor of Karkof, fell by the hand
of a masked man, who fired two shots and fled, and no trace of him was
to be found, though sentence of death against him was announced upon the
walls of all the large towns of Russia. The brother of Prince Krapotkine
was a furious revolutionary, and conducted a socialist paper in Geneva
at that time. In March it fell to the turn of Colonel Knoup of the
_gendarmerie_, who was assassinated in his own house, and beside him was
found a paper with these words: "By order of the Executive Committee. So
will we do to all tyrants and their accomplices." A pretty nihilist girl
killed a man at a ball; it was at first thought to be a love-affair, but
it was afterward found out that the murderess did the deed by order of
the executive committee, or whatever the hidden power was which inspired
such acts. On the 25th of this same March a plot against the life of
the new chief of police, General Drenteln, was frustrated, and the walls
of the town then flamed with a notice that revolutionary justice was
about to fall upon one hundred and eighty persons. It rained
crimes,--against the governor of Kief, against Captain Hubbenet, against
Pietrowsky, chief of police, who was riddled with wounds in his own
room; and lastly on the 14th of April Solovief attempted the life of the
Czar, firing five shots, none of which took effect. On being caught, the
would-be assassin swallowed a dose of poison, but his suicide was also
unsuccessful. Solovief, however, had reached the heights of nihilism; he
had dared to touch the sacred person of the Czar. He was the ideal
nihilist: he had renounced his profession, determined to _go with the
people_, and became a locksmith, wearing the artisan's dress; he was
married _mystically_, and by _free grace_ or _free will_, and it was
said that he was a member of the terrible executive committee. He
suffered death on the gallows with serenity and composure, and without
naming his accomplices. "Land and Liberty" approved his acts by saying,
"We should be as ready to kill as to die; the day has come when
assassination must be counted as a political motor." From that day
Alexander II. was a doomed man, and his fatal moment was not far off.
The revolutionaries were determined to strike the government with
terror, and to prove to the people that the sacred emperor was a man
like any other, and that no supernatural charm shielded his life. At the
end of 1879 and the beginning of 1880 two lugubrious warnings were
forced upon the emperor: first, the mine which wrecked the imperial
train, and then the explosion which threw the dining-room of the palace
in ruins, which catastrophe he saw with his own eyes. About this time
the office of a surreptitious paper was attacked, the editors and
printers of which defended themselves desperately; alarmed by this
significant event, the emperor intrusted to Loris Melikof, who was a
liberal, an almost omnipotent dictatorship. The conciliatory measures of
Melikof somewhat calmed the public mind; but just as the Czar had
convened a meeting for the consideration of reforms solicited by the
general opinion, his own sentence was carried out by bombs.

It is worthy of note that both parties (the conservative and the
revolutionary) cast in each other's face the accusation of having been
the first to inflict the death-penalty, which was contrary to Russian
custom and law. If Russia does not deserve quite so appropriately as
Spain to be called the country of _vice versas_, it is nevertheless
worth while to note how she long ago solved the great juridical problem
upon which we are still employing tongue and pen so busily. Not only is
capital punishment unknown to the Russian penal code, but since 1872
even perpetual confinement has been abolished, twenty years being the
maximum of imprisonment; and this even to-day is only inflicted upon
political criminals, who are always treated there with greater severity
than other delinquents. Before the celebrated Italian criminalist
lawyer, Beccaria, ever wrote on the subject, the Czarina Elisabeth
Petrowna had issued an edict suppressing capital punishment. The
terrible Muscovite whip probably equalled the gibbet, but aside from the
fact that it had been seldom used, it was abolished by Nicholas I. If we
judge of a country by its penal laws, Russia stands at the head of
European civilization. The Russians were so unaccustomed to the sight of
the scaffold, that when the first one for the conspirators was to be
built, there were no workmen to be found who knew how to construct it.


The Police and the Censor.

It is not easy to say whether the government was ill-advised in
confronting the terrors of nihilism with the terrors of authority.
Public executions are contageous in their effect, and blood intoxicates.
The nihilists, even in the hour of death, did not neglect their
propaganda, and held up to the people their dislocated wrists as
evidences of their tortures. One must put one's self in the place of a
government menaced and attacked in so unusual a manner. Certain extreme
measures which are the fruit of the stress of the moment are more
excusable than the vacillating system commonly practised from time
immemorial; and which is foster-mother to professional demagogues, and
dynamiters by vocation and preference.

The police as organized in Russia seem to inspire greater horror even
than the nihilist atrocities. In the face of judicial reforms there
exists an irresponsible tribunal, called the Third Section of the
Imperial Chancellorship. The worst of this kind of arbitrary and
antipathetic institutions is that imagination attributes many more
iniquities to them than they in reality commit. Russian written law
declares that no subject of the Czar can be condemned without a public
trial; but the special police has the right to arrest, imprison, and
make way with, rendering no account to any one. Thus absolute power
leaps the barriers of justice. It must be acknowledged that the dark
ways of the special police only reflected those of their nihilist
adversary. Nowhere in the world, however, is the police so hated;
nowhere do they perform their work in so irritating a manner as in
Russia; and the public, far from assisting them, as in England and
France, fights and circumvents them. The proneness to secret societies
in Russia is the result of the perpetual and odious tyranny of the
police. The Russian lives in clandestine association like a fish in
water; so much so that after the fall of Loris Melikof the reactionaries
were no less eager for it than the nihilists, and bound themselves
together under the name of the Holy League, taking as a model the
revolutionary executive committee, and even including the death-sentence
in their rules.

War without quarter was declared, and the police organized a
counter-terror characterized by impeachment, suspicion, espionage, and
inquisition. There were domiciliary visitations; every one was obliged
to take notice whether any illegal meetings were held in his
neighborhood, or any proscribed books or explosive materials were to be
seen; no posters were allowed to be put on the walls, and every one was
expected to aid the arrest of any suspicious person; a vigilant watch
was kept upon Russian refugees; the rigors of confinement were enforced;
and all this made the police utterly abhorred, even in a country
accustomed to endure them as a traditional institution since the last of
the Ruriks and the first of the Romanoffs.

The chief of the Third Section became a power in the land. The Section
worked secretly and actively. The chief and the emperor maintained
incessant communication, and the former was made a member of the
cabinet, and could arrest, imprison, exile, and put out of the way,
whomever he pleased. During the reign of the kind-hearted Alexander II.
his power declined for a while, until nihilist plots and manoeuvres
caused it to be redoubled. There was a struggle unto death between two
powers of darkness, from which the police came out beaten, having been
unable to save the lives of their chief and the sovereign.

While the Third Section attacked personal security and liberty, the
censorship, more intolerable still, hemmed in the spirit and condemned
to a death by inanition a young people hungry for literature and
science, for plays, periodicals, and books. Mutilated as it is, the
newspaper is bread to the soul of the Russian. The Russian press, like
all the obstacles that absolute power finds in its way, was founded by
one of their imperial civilizers, Peter the Great, and it maintained a
purely literary character until the reign of Alexander II., when it took
a political form. Under the iron hand of the censor, the Russian press
has learned the manner and artifices of the slave; in allusions,
insinuations, retentions, and half-meanings it is an adept, for only so
can it convey all that it is forbidden to speak. It must emigrate and
recross the frontier as contraband in order to speak freely.

The censor lies ever in ambush like a mastiff ready to bite; and
sometimes its teeth clinch the most inoffensive words on the page, the
most innocent page in the book, the librettos of operas, as for example
"The Huguenots" and "William Tell." In 1855 certain literary works were
exempted from the previous censure, but this beneficence was not
extended to the periodical press. The newspapers of St. Petersburg and
Moscow were open to a choice between the new and old systems, between
submitting to the rule of the censor and a deluge of denunciations,
seizures, suspensions, and suppressions; and they willingly chose the
former. So the Russian press exists under an entirely arbitrary
sufferance, and according as the political scales rise and fall they are
allowed to-day what was prohibited yesterday, and sometimes their very
means of sustenance are cut off by an embargo on certain numbers or the
proscription of advertisements. If a liberal minister is to the fore,
times are prosperous; if there is a reaction, they are crushed to death.
This accounts for the popularity of the secret press, which is at work
even in buildings belonging to the crown, in seminaries and convents,
and in the very laboratory of dynamite bombs.

Books are as much harassed as periodicals. The Russians, being very fond
of everything foreign, sigh for books from abroad, especially those that
deal with political and social questions; but the censor has
custom-houses at the frontier, and the officials, with the usual
perspicacity of literary monitors, finally let slip that which may prove
most dangerous and subversive, and exercise their zeal upon the most
ingenuous. They have even cut off the _feuilletines_ of thousands of
French papers,--what patience it must have required to do it!--while
Madame Gagneur's novel, "The Russian Virgins," passed unmutilated. I
wonder what would be the fate of my peaceful essays should they receive
the unmerited honor of translation and reach the frontiers of Muscovy!

As to the foreign reviews, they are submitted to a somewhat amusing
process, called the _caviar_. Suspicious passages, if they escape the
scissors, get an extra dash of printing-ink. Thus the Russian is not
even free to read till he goes from home, and by force of dieting he
suffers from frequent mental indigestion, and the weakest sort of
_spirits_ goes to his head!

All this goes to prove that if speculative nihilism is a moral
infirmity congenital to the soul of the Russian, active and political
nihilism is the fruit of the peculiar situation of the empire. The
phrase is stale, but in the present case accurate. Russia is passing
through a period of transition. She goes forward to an uncertain future,
stumbles and falls; her feet bleed, her senses swim; she has fits of
dementia and even of epilepsy. Good intention goes for nought, whether
the latent generosity of revolutionaries, or of government and Czar.
Where is there a person of nobler desires and projects than Alexander
II.? But his great reforms seemed rather to accelerate than to calm the
revolutionary fever.

As long as the revolution does not descend from the cultivated classes
upon the masses of the people, it must be content with occasional
spurts, chimerical attempts, and a few homicides; but if some day the
socialist propaganda, which now begins to take effect in the workshops,
shall make itself heard in the country villages, and the peasant lend an
ear to those who say to him, "Rise, make the sign of the Cross and take
thy hatchet with thee," then Russia will show us a most formidable
insurrection, and that world of country-folk, patient as cattle, but
fanatical and overwhelming in their fury, once let loose, will sweep
everything before it. Nothing will appease or satisfy it. The
constitutions of Western lands they have already torn in pieces without
perusal. Even the revolutionaries would prefer to those illusory
statutes a Czar standing at the head of the peasants, and institutions
born within their own land. It is said that now, just as the nihilist
frenzy is beginning to subside, one can perceive a smouldering agitation
among the people manifesting itself occasionally in conflagrations,
anti-Semitic outbreaks, and frequent agrarian crimes. What a clouded
horizon! What volcanic quakings beneath all that snow! On the one hand
the autocratic power, the secular arm, consecrated by time, tradition,
and national life; on the other the far-reaching revolution, fanatical
and impossible to appease with what has satisfied other nations; and at
bottom the cry of the peasants, like the sullen roar of the ocean,
for--it is a little thing--the land!

Book III.



The Beginnings of Russian Literature.

From this state of anguish, of unrest, of uncertainty, has been brought
forth, like amber from the salt sea, a most interesting literature. Into
this relatively peaceful domain we are about to penetrate. But before
speaking of the novel itself I must mention as briefly as possible the
sources and vicissitudes of Russian letters up to the time when they
assumed a national and at the same time a social and political

I will avoid tiresome details, and the repetition of Russian names which
are formidable and harsh to our senses, besides being confusing and at
first sight all very much alike, and much given to terminating in
_of_,--a syllable which on Russian lips is nevertheless very euphonious
and sweet. I will also avoid the mention of books of secondary
importance; for as this is not a course of Russian literature, it would
be pedantry to refer to more than those I have read from cover to
cover. I will mention in passing only a few authors of lesser genius
than the four whom Melchior de Voguié very correctly estimates as the
perfect national types; namely, Gogol, Turguenief, Dostoiëwsky, and
Tolstoï, and I will give only a succinct review of the primitive period,
the classicism and romanticism, the satire and comedy antecedent to
Gogol, this much being necessary in order to bring out the
transformation due to the prodigious genius of this founder of realism,
and consummated in the contemporary novel.

Literature, considered not as rhetorical feats or as the art of speaking
and writing well, but as a manifestation of national life or of the
peculiar inclinations of a people, exists from the time when the spirit
of the people is spontaneously revealed in legends, traditions,
proverbs, and songs. The fertility of Russian popular literature is well
known to students of folk-lore. Critics have demonstrated to us that
between the primitive oral, mythical, and poetical literature of Russia
and the present novel (which is profoundly philosophical in character,
and inspired by that austere muse, the Real) there is as close a
relationship as between the gray-haired grandfather who has all his life
followed the plough, and his offspring who holds a chair in a
university. Russian literature was born beside the Danube, in the
fatherland of the Sclavonic people. The various tribes dispersed
themselves over the Black Sea, and the Russian Sclavs, following the
course of the Dnieper, began to elaborate their heroic mythology with
feats of gods and demi-gods against the forces of Nature, and monsters
and other fantastic beings. A warlike mode of life and a semi-savage
imagination are reflected in their legends and songs. All this period is
covered by the _bilinas_, a word which is explained by Russian etymology
to mean _songs of the past_. These epics tell of the exploits of ancient
warriors who personify the blind and chaotic forces of Nature and the
elements. _Esviatogor_, for example, represents a mountain; _Volk_ may
mean a wolf, a bull, or an ant; there is a godlike tiller of the soil
who stands for Russian agriculture, and who is the popular and
indigenous hero, in opposition to the fighting and adventurous hero
_Volga_, who stands for the ruling classes. Perhaps these _bilinas_ and
the Finnish Kalevala are the only primitive epics in which the laborer
plays a first part and puts the fighting hero into the shade. In these
national poems of a people descended from the Scythians, who in the days
of Herodotus were proud of calling themselves _farmers_ or _laborers_,
the two most attractive figures are the heroes of the plough, Mikula and
Ilia; it is as though the singers of long ago started the worship of the
peasant, which is the dogma of the present novel, or as though the
apotheosis of agriculture were an idea rooted in the deepest soil of the
national thought of Russia.

Next after this primitive cycle comes the age of chivalry, known under
the name of Kief cycle, which has its focus in the Prince Vladimir
called the Red Sun; but even in this Round Table epic we find the
heroic _mujik_, the giant Cossack, Ilias de Moron. The splendor of the
hero-mythical epoch faded after the advent of Christianity, and the
heroes of Kief and Novgorod fell into oblivion; one _bilina_ tells now
"the paladins of Holy Russia disappeared; a great new force that was not
of this world came upon them," and the paladins, unable to conquer it,
and seeing that it multiplied and became only more powerful with every
stroke, were afraid, and ran and hid themselves in the caverns, which
closed upon them forever. Since that day there are no more paladins in
Holy Russia.

In every _bilina_, and also in songs which celebrate the seed-time, the
pagan feast of the summer solstice, and the spring-time, we notice the
two characteristics of Russian thought,--a lively imagination and a
dreamy sadness, which is most evident in the love-songs. On coming in
contact with Christianity the pagan tale became a legend, and the
clergy, brought from Byzantium by Valdimir the Baptizer, gave the people
the Gospel in the Sclavonic tongue, translated by two Greek brothers,
Cyril and Methodius, and the day of liturgical and sacred literature was
at hand. The apostles of Christianity arranged the alphabet of
thirty-eight letters, which represent all the sounds in the Sclav
language, and founded also the grammar and rhetoric. As in every other
part of Christendom, these early preachers were the first to enlighten
the people, bringing ideas of culture entirely new to the barbarous
Sclavonic tribes; and the poor monk, bent over his parchment, writing
with a sharp-pointed reed, was the first educator of the nation. In the
eleventh century the first Russian literary efforts began to take shape,
being, like all early-written literature, of essentially clerical origin
and character,--such as epistles, sermons, and moral exhortations. The
chief writers of that time were the monk Nestor, the metropolitan
Nicephorous, and Cyril the Golden-Mouthed, who imitated the florid
Byzantine eloquence. At the side of ecclesiastical literature history
was born; the lives of the saints prepared the ground for the
chroniclers, and Nestor's Chronicle, the first book on Russian history,
was written. The early essays in profane history, which took the form of
fables and trenchant sayings disclosing a vein of satire, still smack of
the ecclesiastical flavor, although they contain the instincts of a laic
and civil literature.

The people had their epic, the clergy accumulated their treasures, but
the warriors and knights, who with the sovereign formed a separate
society, must have their heroic cycle also; and bards and singers were
found to give it to them in fragmentary pieces, among which the most
celebrated is the "Song of the Host of Igor," which relates the
victories of a prince over the savage tribes of the steppes. The poem is
a mixture of pagan and Christian wonders, which is only natural, since
in the twelfth century (the era of its composition) Christianity, while
triumphant in fact, had not yet succeeded in driving out the old
Sclavonic deities.

In the eighth century the Tartar invasion interrupted the course of
civil literature. Russia then had no time for the remembrance of
anything but her disasters, and the Church became again the only
depository of the civilization brought from Byzantium, and of the
intellectual riches of the nation; for the Khans, who destroyed
everything else, regarded the churches and images with superstitious
respect. The little then written expresses the grief of Russia over her
catastrophe, but in sermon form, presenting it as a punishment from
Heaven, and a portent of the end of the world; it was the universal
panic of the Middle Ages arrived in Russia three centuries late. Until
the fourteenth century there was no revival of historical narrations in
sufficient numbers to show the preponderance of the epic spirit in the
Russian people. In the fifteenth century, for the first time, oral
literature really penetrated into the domain of the written; but the
inevitable and tiresome mediæval stories of Alexander the Great and the
Siege of Troy, the Thousand and One Nights, and others, entering by way
of Servia and Bulgaria, appear among the literature of the southern
Sclavs; and tales of chivalry from Byzantium are also rearranged and
copied,--an element of imitation and artificiality which never took deep
root in Russia, however. Aside from some few tales, the only germs of
vitality are to be found in the apocryphal religious narratives, which
were an early expression of the spirit of mysticism and exegesis,
natural to Muscovite thought; and in the songs, also religious, chanted
by pilgrims on their way to visit the shrines, and by the people also,
but probably the work of the monks. These are still sung by beggars on
the streets, and the people listen with delight.

In the sixteenth century there were Maximus the Greek (the Savonarola of
Russia), the priest Silvester, author of "Domostrof," a book which was
held to contain the model of ancient Russian society, and lastly the
Czar, Ivan the Terrible himself, who wrote many notable epistles, models
of irony. The songs of the people still flourished, and they were
provided with subject-matter by the awful figure and actions of the
emperor, who was beloved by the people, because, like Pedro the Cruel of
Castile, he dared to bridle the nobles. The popular poet describes him
as giving to a potter the insignia and dignity of a Boyar. This tyrant,
the most ferocious that humanity ever endured, busied himself with
establishing the art of printing in Russia, with the help of Maximus the
Greek, who was a great friend of Aldus the Venetian, the famous printer.
According to the Metropolitan Macarius, God himself from his high throne
put this thought into the heart of the Czar. On the 1st of May, 1564,
the first book printed in Russia, "The Acts of the Apostles," made its

The Russian theatre grew out of the symbolic ceremonies of the church
and the representations given by the Polish Jesuits in the colleges; and
through Poland, in the seventeenth century, by means of translations or
imitations, came also that kind of literary recreations known in France
and Italy during the fourteenth century under the name of novels and
facetias. But these did not intercept the natural course of the
national spirit, nor drown the popular voice,--the _duma_, or
meditation, the religious canticle, the satire, and especially the
incessant reiteration of the _bilinas_, which were now devoted to
relating the heroic conquests of the Cossacks. The impulse communicated
to Russian thought by Peter the Great at last obliterated the chasm
between popular and written literature. Peter established in Russia a
school of translators; whatever he thought useful and beneficial he had
correctly translated, and then he established the academy. He set up the
first regular press and founded the first periodical paper. Not having
much confidence in ecclesiastical literature, he commanded that the
monks should be deprived of pen, ink, and paper; and on the other hand
he revived the theatre, which was apparently dead, and under the
influence of his reforms there arose the first Russian writer who can
properly be called such,--Lomonosof, the personification of academical
classicism, who wrote because he thought it his business, in a
well-ordered State, to write incessantly, to polish and perfect the
taste, the speech, and even the characters of his fellow-countrymen; he
was always a rhetorician, a censor, a corrector, and we seem to see him
always armed with scissors and rule, pruning and shaping the myrtles in
the garden of literature. The Czar pensioned this ornamental poet, after
the fashion of French monarchs, and he in turn bequeathed to his
country, of course, a heroic poem entitled "Petriada." His best service
to the national literature was in the line of philology; he found a
language unrefined and hampered by old Sclavonic forms, and he refined
it, softened it, made it more flexible, and ready to yield sweeter
melody to those who played upon it thereafter.

Semiramis, in her turn, was not less eager to forward the cause of
letters; she had also her palace poet, Derjavine, the Pindar of her
court; and not being satisfied with this, her imperial hands grasped the
foils and fought out long arguments in the periodicals, to which she
contributed for a long time. Woman, just at that time emerging from
Oriental seclusion, as during the Renaissance in Europe, manifested an
extraordinary desire to learn and to exercise her mind. Catherine became
a journalist, a satirist, and a dramatic author; and a lady of her
court, the Princess Daschkof, directed the Academy of Sciences, and
presided over the Russian Academy founded by Catherine for the
improvement and purification of the language, while three letters in the
new dictionary are the exclusive work of this learned princess.

Catherine effectively protected her literary men, being convinced that
letters are a means of helping the advancement of a barbarous people, in
fact the highways of communication; and under her influence a literary
Pleiad appeared, among whom were Von-Vizine, the first original Russian
dramatist; Derjavine, the official bard and oracle; and Kerakof, the
pseudo-classic author of the "Rusiada." Court taste prevailed, and
Montesquieu, Voltaire, Rousseau, and Diderot ruled as intellectual
masters of a people totally opposed to the French in their inmost

The thing most grateful to the Russian poet in Catherine's time was to
be called the Horace or the Pindar of his country; the nobles hid their
Muscovite ruggedness under a coat of Voltairian varnish, and even the
seminaries resounded with denunciations of _fanaticism_ and _horrid
superstition_. Other nations have been known to go thus masked unawares.
But new currents were undermining the possessions of the Encyclopedists.
During the last years of Catherine's reign the theosophical doctrines
from Sweden and Germany infiltrated Russia; mysticism brought
free-masonry, which finally mounted the throne with Alexander I., the
tender friend of the sentimental Valeria; and even had Madame Krudener
never appeared to shape in her visions the protest of the Russian soul
against the dryness and frivolity of the French philosophers, the fresh
lyric quality of Rousseau, Florian, and Bernardin Saint-Pierre would
still have flowed in upon the people of the North by means of that
eminent man and historian, Karamzine.

Before achieving the title of the Titus Livius of Russia, Karamzine,
being a keen intellectual observer of what was going on abroad, founded,
by means of a novel, the _emotional school_, declaring that the aim of
art is "to pour out floods of grateful impressions upon the realms of
the sentimental." This sounds like mere jargon, but such was their mode
of speech at the time; and that their spirits demanded just such food is
proved by the general use of it, and by the tears that rained upon the
said novel, in which the Russian _mujik_ appears in the disguise of a
shepherd of Arcadia. These innocent absurdities, which were the delight
of our own grandmothers, prepared the way for Romanticism, and the
appearance of Lermontof and Puchkine.


Russian Romanticism.--the Lyric Poets.

The period of lyric poetry represented by these two excellent poets,
Lermontof and Puchkine, was considered the most glorious in Russian
literature, and there are yet many who esteem it as such in spite of the
contemporary novel. Undoubtedly rhyme can do wonders with this rich
tongue in which words are full of color, melody, and shape, as well as
ideas. A fine critic has said that Russian poetry is untranslatable, and
that one must feel the beauty of certain stanzas of Lermontof and
Puchkine sensually, to realize why they are beyond even the most
celebrated verses in the world.

At the beginning of the century classicism was in its decline; Russia
was leaving her youth behind her, and after 1812 she became totally
changed. The Napoleonic wars caused the alliance with Germany, and
secret societies of German origin flourished under the favor of the
versatile Alexander I. Weary of the artificial literature imposed by
the iron will of Peter the Great, and stirred by a great desire for
independence, like all the other nations awakened by Napoleon, Russia
held her breath and listened to the birdlike song of the harbingers of a
new era, to the great romantic poets who, almost simultaneously and with
marvellous accord, burst forth in England, Italy, France, Spain, and
Russia. The air was full of melody like the sudden twang of harp-strings
in the darkness of the night; and perhaps the autocratic severity of
Nicholas I. by forcing attention from public affairs and concentrating
it upon literature, was a help rather than a hindrance to this
revelation and development.

Alexander Puchkine, the demi-god of Russian verse, carried African as
well as Sclavonic blood in his veins, being the grandson of an
Abyssinian named Abraham Hannibal, a sort of Othello upon whom Peter the
Great bestowed the rank of general and married him to a lady of the
court. During the poet's childhood an old servant beguiled him with
legends, fables, and popular tales, and the seed fell upon good ground.
He left home at the age of fourteen, having quarrelled with all his
family and become an out-and-out Voltairian; his professor at the
Lyceum--of whom no more needs be said than that he was a brother of
Marat--had instilled into his youthful mind the superficial atheism then
the fashion; his other tutors declared that this impetuous and fanciful
child was throwing away body and soul; yet, when the occasion came,
Puchkine remembered all that his old nurse had told him, and found
himself with an exquisite æsthetic instinct, in touch with the popular

When Nicholas I., in December, 1825, mounted the throne vacated by the
death of Alexander I. and the renunciation of the Grand-Duke
Constantine, Puchkine, then scarcely more than twenty-six years of age,
found himself in exile for the second time. His first appearance in
public life coincided with the reactionary mood of Alexander I. and the
favoritism of the retrogressive minister, Count Arakschef; and the young
men from the Lyceum, who had been steeping their souls in liberalism,
found themselves defrauded of their expectations of active life,
discussions closed, meetings prohibited, and Russia again in a trance of
Asiatic immobility. The young nobility began to entertain themselves
with conspiracy; and those who had no talent for that, spent their time
in drinking and dissipation. Puchkine was as much inclined toward the
one as the other. His passionate temperament led him into all sorts of
adventures; his eager imagination and his literary tastes incited him to
political essays, though under pain of censure. Living amid a whirl of
amusement, and coveting an introduction to aristocratic circles, he
launched his celebrated poem of "Russia and Ludmilla," which placed him
at once at the head of the poets of his day, who had formed themselves
into a society called "Arzamas," which was to Russian Romanticism what
the Cénacle was to the French,--a centre of attack and defence against
classicism; but at length their literary discussions overstepped the
forbidden territory of politics, and certain ideas were broached which
ended in the conspiracy of December. If Puchkine was not himself a
conspirator, he was at least acquainted with the movement; his ode to
liberty alarmed the police, and the Czar said to the director of the
Lyceum, "Your former pupil is inundating Russia with revolutionary
verses, and every boy knows them by heart." That same afternoon the Czar
signed the order for Puchkine's banishment,--a great good-fortune for
the poet; for had he not been banished he might have been implicated in
the conspiracy about to burst forth, and sent to Siberia or to the
quicksilver mines. He was expelled from Odessa, which was his first
place of confinement, because his Byronic bravado had a pernicious
influence upon the young men of the place, and he was sent home to his
father, with whom he could come to no understanding whatever. While
there he heard of the death of Alexander and the events of December.
Upon knowing that his friends were all compromised and under arrest, he
started for St. Petersburg, but having met a priest and seen a hare
cross his path, he considered these ill omens, and, yielding to
superstition, he turned back. Soon afterward he wrote to the new Czar
begging reprieve of banishment, which was granted. The Iron Czar sent
for him to come to the palace, and held with him a conversation or
dialogue which has become famous in the annals of the historians:

"If you had found yourself in St. Petersburg on the 25th of December,
where would you have been?" asked Nicholas.

"Among the rebels," answered the poet.

Far from being angry, the sovereign was pleased with his reply, and he
embraced Puchkine, saying: "Your banishment is at an end; and do not let
fear of the censors spoil your poetry, Alexander, son of Sergius, for I
myself will be your censor."

This is not the only instance of this inflexible autocrat's
warm-heartedness. More than once his imperial hand stayed the sentence
of the censors and gave the wing to genius. Nicholas was not afraid of
art, and was, besides, an intelligent amateur of literature. We shall
see how he protected even the satire of Gogol. And so, with a royal
suavity which softens the most selfish character, Nicholas gained to his
side the first poet of Russia, and forever alienated him from the cause
for which his friends suffered in gloomy fortresses and in exile, or
perished on the scaffold. Puchkine had no other choice than to accept
the situation or forfeit his freedom,--to make peace with the emperor or
to go and vegetate in some village and bury his talent alive. He chose
his vocation as poet, accepted the imperial favor, and returned to St.
Petersburg, where he found a remnant of the Arzamas, but now languid and
without creative fire. Being restored to his place in high society, he
tasted the delights of living in a sphere with which his refined and
aristocratic nature was in harmony. He was a poet; he enjoyed the
privileges and immunities of a demi-god, the just tribute paid to the
productive genius of beauty. And yet at times the pride and independence
hushed within his soul stirred again, and he thought with horror upon
the hypocrisy of his position as imperial oracle. But he found himself
at the height of his glory, doing his best work, seldom annoyed by the
censorial scissors, thanks to the Czar; and so, flattered by the throne,
the court, and the public, he led to the altar his "brown-skinned
virgin," his beautiful Natalia, with whom he was so deeply in love.
Having satisfied every earthly desire, he must needs, like Polycrates,
throw his ring into the sea.

All his happiness came to a sudden end, and not only his happiness, but
his life, went to pay his debt to that high society which had received
him with smiles and fair promises. Puchkine's end is as dramatic as any
novel. A certain French Legitimist who had been well received by the
nobility at St. Petersburg took advantage of the chivalrous customs then
in vogue there, to pay court to the poet's beautiful wife, electing her
as the lady of his thoughts without disguise. Society protected this
little skirmish, and assisted the gallant to meet his lady at every
entertainment and in every _salon_; and as Puchkine, though quite
unsuspicious, showed plainly that he did not enjoy the game, they amused
themselves with exciting and annoying him, ridiculing him, and making
him the butt of epigrams and anonymous verses. The marriage of
"Dante"--as the adorer of his wife was called--with his wife's sister,
far from calming his nerves, only irritated him the more, and he
believed it to be a stratagem on the lover's part, a means of
approaching the nearer to his desires. Becoming desperate, he sought and
obtained a challenge to a duel, and fell mortally wounded by a ball from
his adversary. Two days later he died, having just received a letter
from the emperor, saying:--

     "Dear Alexander, Son of Sergius,--If it is the will of
     Providence that we should never meet again in this world, I
     counsel you to die like a Christian. Give yourself no
     anxiety for your wife and children; I will care for them."

Russia cried out with indignation at the news of his death, accusing
polite society in round terms of having taken the part of the
professional libertine against the husband,--of the French adventurer
against their illustrious compatriot; and Lermontof voiced the national
anger in some celebrated lines to this effect:--

     "Thy last days were poisoned by the vicious ridicule of low
     detractors; thou hast died thirsting for vengeance, moaning
     bitterly to see thy most beautiful hopes vanished; none
     understood the deep emotion of thy last words, and the last
     sigh of thy dying lips was lost."

But I agree with those who, in spite of this fine elegy, do not regret
the premature end of the romantic poet. His life, exuberant, brilliant,
fecund, passionate, like that of Byron, could have no more appropriate
termination than a pistol-shot. He died before the end of
romanticism--his tragic history lent him a halo which lifts his figure
above the mists of time. I have seen Victor Hugo and our own Zorilla in
their old age, and I was not guilty of wishing them anything but long
life and prosperity; but, æsthetically speaking, it seemed to me that
both of them had lived forty years too long, and that Alfred de Musset,
Espronceda, and Byron were well off in their glorious tombs.

Puchkine belongs undeniably to the great general currents of European
literature; only now and then does he manifest the peculiar genius of
his country which was so strongly marked in Gogol. But it would be
unjust to consider him a mere imitator of foreign romanticists, and some
even claim that he always had one foot upon the soil of classicism,
taking the phrase in the Helenic sense, as particularly shown in his
"Eugene Oneguine," and that, were he to live again, his talents would
undergo a transformation and shine forth in the modern novel and the
national theatre. Besides being a lyric poet of first rank, Puchkine
must also be considered a superb prose writer, having learned from
Voltaire a harmony of arrangement, a discreet selection of details, and
a concise, clear, and rapid phrasing. His novel, "The Captain's
Daughter," is extremely pretty and interesting, at times amusing, or
again very touching, and in my opinion preferable in its simplicity to
the interminable narratives of Walter Scott. But Puchkine has one
remarkable peculiarity, which is, that while he had a keen sympathy
with the popular poetry, and was fully sensible of the revelation of it
by Gogol, which he applauded with all his heart, yet the author of
"Boris Godonof" was so caught in the meshes of romanticism that he never
could employ his faculties in poetry of a national character. Puchkine's
works have no ethnical value at all. His melancholy is not the
despairing sadness of the Russian, but the romantic _morbidezza_
expressed often in much the same words by Byron, Espronceda, and de
Musset. The phenomenon is common, and easily explained. It lies in the
fact that romanticism was always and everywhere prejudicial to the
manifestation of nationality, and made itself a nation apart, composed
of half-a-dozen persons from every European country. Realism, with its
principles--whether tacitly or explicitly accepted--of human verities,
heredity, atavism, race and place influences, etc., became a necessity
in order that writers might follow their natural instincts and speak in
their own mother tongue.

Within the restricted circle of poets who hovered around Puchkine, one
deserves especial mention, namely, Lermontof. He is the second lyric
poet of Russia, and perhaps embodies the spirit of romanticism even more
than Puchkine; he is the real Russian Byron. His life is singularly like
that of Puchkine, he having also been banished to the Caucasus, and for
the very reason of having written the elegy upon Puchkine's death; like
him he was also killed in a duel, but still earlier in life, and before
he had reached the plenitude of his powers.

Lermontof became the singer of the Caucasian region. At that time it was
really a great favor to send a poet to the mountains, for there he came
in contact with things that reclaimed and lifted his fancy,--air, sun,
liberty, a wooded and majestic landscape, picturesque and charming
peasant-maidens, wild flowers full of new and virginal perfume like the
Haydees and Fior d'Alizas sung of by our Western poets. There they
forgot the deceits of civilization and the weariness of mind that comes
of too much reading; there the brain was refreshed, the nerves calmed,
and the moral fibre strengthened. Puchkine, Lermontof, and Tolstoï, each
in his own way, have lauded the regenerative virtue of the snow-covered
mountains. But Lermontof in particular was full of it, lived in it, and
died in it, after his fatal wound at the age of twenty-six, when public
opinion had just singled him out as Puchkine's successor. He had drunk
deeply of Byron's fountain, and even resembled Byron in his discontent,
restlessness, and violent passions, which more than Byron's were tinged
with a stripe of malice and pride, so that his enemies used to say that
to describe Lucifer he needed only to look at himself in the glass.
There is an unbridled freedom, a mocking irony, and at times a deep
melancholy at the bottom of his poetic genius; it is inferior to
Puchkine's in harmony and completeness, but exceeds it in an almost
painful and thrilling intensity; there was more gall in his soul, and
therefore more of what has been called subjectivity, even amounting to
a fierce egoism. Lermontof is the high-water mark of romanticism, and
after his death it necessarily began to ebb; it had exhausted curses,
fevers, complaints, and spleens, and now the world of literature was
ready for another form of art, wider and more human, and that form was

I am sorry to have to deal in _isms_, but the fault is not mine; we are
handling ideas, and language offers no other way. The transition came by
means of satire, which is exceptionally fertile in Russia. A genius of
wonderful promise arose in Griboiëdof, a keen observer and moralist, who
deserves to be mentioned after Puchkine, if only for one comedy which is
considered the gem of the Russian stage, and is entitled (freely
rendered) "Too Clever by Half." The hero is a misanthropic patriot who
sighs for the good old times and abuses the mania for foreign education
and imitation. This shows the first impulse of the nation to know and to
assert itself in literature as in everything else. Being prohibited by
the censor, the play circulated privately in manuscript; every line
became a proverb, and the people found their very soul reflected in it.
Five years later, when Puchkine was returning from the Caucasus, he met
with a company of Georgians who were drawing a dead body in a cart: it
was the body of Griboiëdof, who had been assassinated in an

Between the decline of the romantic period and the appearance of new
forms inspired by a love of the truth, there hovered in other parts of
Europe undefined and colorless shapes, sterile efforts and shallow
aspirations which never amounted to anything. But not so in Russia.
Romanticism vanished quickly, for it was an aristocratic and artificial
condition, without root and without fruit conducive to the well-being of
a nation which had as yet scarcely entered on life, and which felt
itself strong and eager for stimulus and aim, eager to be heard and
understood; realism grew up quickly, for the very youth of the nation
demanded it. Russia, which until then had trod with docile steps upon
the heels of Europe, was at last to take the lead by creating the
realistic novel.

She had not to do violence to her own nature to accomplish this. The
Russian, little inclined to metaphysics, unless it be the fatalist
philosophy of the Hindus, more quick at poetic conceptions than at
rational speculations, carries realism in his veins along with
scientific positivism; and if any kind of literature be spontaneous in
Russia it is the epic, as shown now in fragmentary songs and again in
the novels. Before ever they were popular in their own country, Balzac
and Zola were admired and understood in Russia.

The two great geniuses of lyric poetry, Puchkine and Lermontof, confirm
this theory. Though both perished before the descriptive and observing
faculties of their countrymen were matured, they had both instinctively
turned to the novel, and perhaps the possible direction of their genius
was thus shadowed forth as by accident. Puchkine seems to me endowed
with qualities which would have made him a delightful novel-writer. His
heroes are clearly and firmly drawn and very attractive; he has a
certain healthy joyousness of tone which is quite classic, and a
brightness and freedom of coloring that I like; in the short historic
narrative he has left us we never see the slightest trace of the lyric
poet. As to Lermontof, is it not marvellous that a man who died at the
age of twenty-six years should have produced anything like a novel? But
he left a sort of autobiography, which is extremely interesting,
entitled "A Contemporary Hero," which hero, Petchorine by name, is
really the type of the romantic period, exacting, egotistical, at war
with himself and everybody else, insatiable for love, yet scorning life,
a type that we meet under different forms in many lands; now swallowing
poison like De Musset's Rolla, now refusing happiness like Adolfo, now
consumed with remorse like Réné, now cocking his pistol like Werther,
and always in a bad humor, and to tell the truth always intolerable. "My
hero," writes Lermontof, "is the portrait of a generation, not of an
individual." And he makes that hero say, "I have a wounded soul, a fancy
unappeased, a heart that nothing can ease. Everything becomes less and
less to me. I have accustomed myself to suffering and joy alike, and I
have neither feelings nor impressions; everything wearies me." But there
are many fine pages in the narratives of Lermontof besides these
poetical declamations. Perhaps the novel might also have offered him a
brilliant future.

The sad fate of the writers during the reign of Nicholas I. is
remarkable, when we consider how favorable it was to art in other
respects. Alexander Herzen calculated that within thirty years the three
most illustrious Russian poets were assassinated or killed in a duel,
three lesser ones died in exile, two became insane, two died of want,
and one by the hand of the executioner. Alas! and among these dark
shadows we discern one especially sad; it is that of Nicholas Gogol, a
soul crushed by its own greatness, a victim to the noblest infirmity and
the most generous mania that can come upon a man, a martyr to love of


Russian Realism: Gogol, its Founder.

Gogol was born in 1809; he was of Cossack blood, and first saw the light
of this world amid the steppes which he was afterward to describe so
vividly. His grandfather, holding the child upon his knee, amused him
with stories of Russian heroes and their mighty deeds, not so very long
past either, for only two generations lay between Gogol and the Cossack
warriors celebrated in the _bilinas_. Sometimes a wandering minstrel
sang these for him, accompanying himself on the _bandura_. In this
school was his imagination taught. We may imagine the effect upon
ourselves of hearing the Romance of the Cid under such circumstances.
When Gogol went to St. Petersburg with the intention of joining the
ranks of Russian youth there, though ostensibly to seek employment, he
carried a light purse and a glowing fancy. He found that the great city
was a desert more arid than the steppes, and even after obtaining an
office under the government he endured poverty and loneliness such as no
one can describe so well as himself. His position offered him one
advantage which was the opportunity of studying the bureaucratic world,
and of drawing forth from amid the dust of official papers the material
for some of his own best pages. On the expiration of his term of office
he was for a while blown about like a dry leaf. He tried the stage but
his voice failed him; he tried teaching but found he had no vocation for
it. Nor had he any aptitude for scholarship. In the Gymnasium of Niejine
his rank among the pupils was only medium; German, mathematics, Latin,
and Greek were little in his line; he was an illiterate genius. But in
his inmost soul dwelt the conviction that his destiny held great things
in store for him. In his struggle with poverty, the remembrance of the
hours he had passed at school reading Puchkine and other romantic poets
began to urge him to try his fortune at literature. One day he knocked
with trembling hand at Puchkine's door; the great poet was still asleep,
having spent the night in gambling and dissipation, but on waking, he
received the young novice with a cordial welcome, and with his
encouragement Gogol published his first work, called "Evenings at the
Farm." It met with amazing success; for the first time the public found
an author who could give them a true picture of Russian life. Puchkine
had hit the mark in advising him to study national scenes and popular
customs; and who knows whether perhaps his conscience did not reproach
him with shutting his own eyes to his country and the realities she
offered him, and stopping his ears against the voice of tradition and
the charms of Nature?

Gogol's "Evenings at the Farm" is the echo of his own childhood; in
these pages the Russia of the people lives and breathes in landscapes,
peasants, rustic customs, dialogues, legends, and superstitions. It is a
bright and simple work, not yet marked with the pessimism which later on
darkened the author's soul; it has a strong smell of the soil; it is
full of dialect and colloquial diminutive and affectionate terms, with
now and then a truly poetical passage. Is it not strange that the
intellect of a nation sometimes wanders aimlessly through foreign lands
seeking from without what lies handier at home, and borrowing from
strangers that of which it has a super-abundance already? And how sweet
is the surprise one feels at finding so beautiful the things which were
hidden from our understanding by their very familiarity!

"The Tales of Mirgorod," which followed the "Evenings at the Farm,"
contain one of the gems of Gogol's writings, the story of "Taras
Boulba." Gogol has the quality of the epic poet, though he is generally
noted only for his merits as a novelist; but judging from his greatest
works, "Taras Boulba" and "Dead Souls," I consider his epic power to be
of the first class, and in truth I hold him to be, rather more than a
modern novelist, a master poet who has substituted for the lyric poetry
brought into favor by romanticism the epic form, which is much more
suited to the Russian spirit. He is the first who has caught the
inspiration of the _bilinas_, the hero-songs, the Sclavonic poetry
created by the people. The novel, it is true, is one manifestation of
epic poetry, and in a certain way every novelist is a rhapsodist who
recites his canto of the poem of modern times; but there are some
descriptive, narrative fictions, which, imbued with a greater amount of
the poetic element united to a certain large comprehensive character,
more nearly resemble the ancient idea of the epopee; and of this class I
may mention "Don Quixote," and perhaps "Faust," as examples. By this I
do not mean to place Gogol on the same plane as Goethe and Cervantes;
yet I associate them in my mind, and I see in Gogol's books the
transition from the lyric to the epic which is to result in the true
novel that begins with Turguenief.

All the world is agreed that "Taras Boulba" is a true prose poem,
modelled in the Homeric style, the hero of which is a people that long
preserved a primitive character and customs. Gogol declared that he
merely allowed himself to reproduce the tales of his grandfather, who
thus becomes the witness and actor in this Cossack Iliad.

One charming trait in Gogol is his love for the past and his fidelity
to tradition; they have as strong an attraction for him certainly as the
seductions of the future, and both are the outcome of the two sublime
sentiments which divide every heart,--retrospection and anticipation.
Gogol, who is so skilful in sketching idyllic scenes of the tranquil
life of country proprietors, clergy, and peasants, is no less skilful in
his descriptions of the adventurous existence of the Cossack; sometimes
he is so faithful to the simple grandeur of his grandfather's style,
that though the action in "Taras Boulba" takes place in recent times, it
seems a tale of primeval days.

The story of this novel--I had almost said this poem--unfolds among the
Cossacks of the Don and the Dnieper, who were at that time a
well-preserved type of the ancient warlike Scythians that worshipped the
blood-stained sword. Old Taras Boulba is a wild animal, but a very
interesting wild animal; a rude and majestic warrior-like figure cast in
Homeric mould. There is, I confess, just a trace of the leaven of
romanticism in Taras. Not all in vain had Gogol hidden Puchkine's works
under his pillow in school-days; but the whole general tone recalls
inevitably the grand naturalism of Homer, to which is added an Oriental
coloring, vivid and tragical. Taras Boulba is an Ataman of the Cossacks,
who has two young sons, his pride and his hope, studying at the
University of Kief. On a declaration of war between the savage Cossack
republic and Poland, the old hawk calls his two nestlings and commands
them to exchange the book for the sword. One of the sons, bewitched by
the charms of a Polish maiden, deserts from the Cossack camp and fights
in the ranks of the enemy; he at length falls into the power of his
enraged father, who puts him to death in punishment for his treason.
After dreadful battles and sieges, starvation and suffering, Taras dies,
and with him the glory and the liberty of the Cossacks. Such is the
argument of this simple story, which begins in a manner not unlike the
Tale of the Cid. The two sons of Taras arrive at their father's house,
and the father begins to ridicule their student garb.

     "'Do not mock at us, father,' says the elder.

      "'Listen to the gentleman! And why should I not mock at
      you, I should like to know?'

      "'Because, even though you are my father, I swear by the
      living God, I will smite you.'

      "'Hi! hi! What? Your father?' cries Taras, receding a step
      or two.

      "'Yes, my own father; for I will take offence from nobody
      at all.'

      "'How shall we fight then,--with fists?' exclaims the
      father in high glee.

      "'However you like.'

      "'With fists, then,' answers Taras, squaring off at him.
      'Let us see what sort of fellow you are, and what sort of
      fists you have.'"

And so father and son, instead of embracing after a long absence, begin
to pommel one another with naked fists, in the ribs, back, and chest,
each advancing and receding in turn.

     "'Why, he fights well,' exclaims Taras, stopping to take
     breath. 'He is a hero,' he adds, readjusting his clothes. 'I
     had better not have put him to the proof. But he will be a
     great Cossack! Good! my son, embrace me now.'"

This is like the delight of Diego Lainez in the Spanish Romanceros, when
he says, "Your anger appeases my own, and your indignation gives me

Could Gogol have been acquainted with the Tale of the Cid and the other
Spanish Romanceros? I do not think it too audacious to believe it
possible, when we know that this author was a delighted reader of "Don
Quixote," and really drew inspiration from it for his greatest work. But
let us return to "Taras Boulba." Another admirable passage is on the
parting of the mother and sons. The poor wife of Taras is the typical
woman of the warlike tribes, a gentle and miserable creature amid a
fierce horde of men who are for the most part celibates,--a creature
once caressed roughly for a few moments by her harsh husband, and then
abandoned, and whose love instincts have concentrated themselves upon
the fruits of his early fugitive affection. She sees again her beloved
sons who are to spend but one night at home,--for at break of day the
father leads them forth to battle, where perhaps at the first shock some
Tartar may cut off their heads and hang them by the hair at his
saddle-girths. She watches them while they sleep, kept awake herself by
hope and fear.

     "'Perhaps,' she says to herself, 'when Boulba awakes he will
     put off his departure one or two days; perhaps he was drunk,
     and did not think how soon he was taking them away from

But at dawn her maternal hopes vanish; the old Cossack makes ready to
set off.

     "When the mother saw her sons leap to horse, she rushed
     toward the younger, whose face showed some trace of
     tenderness; she grasped the stirrup and the saddle-girth,
     and would not let go, and her eyes were wide with agony and
     despair. Two strong Cossacks seized her with firm but
     respectful hands, and bore her away to the house. But
     scarcely had they released her upon the threshold, when she
     sprang out again quicker than a mountain-goat, which was the
     more remarkable in a woman of her age; with superhuman
     effort she held back the horse, gave her son a wild,
     convulsive embrace, and again was carried away. The young
     Cossacks rode off in silence, choking their tears for fear
     of their father; and the father, too, had a queer feeling
     about his heart, though he took care that it should not be

In another place I have translated his magnificent description of the
steppe, and I should like to quote the admirable paragraphs on
starvation, on the killing of Ostap Boulba, and the death of Taras. As
an example of the extreme simplicity with which Gogol manages his most
dramatic passages and yet obtains an intense and powerful effect, I will
give the scene in which Taras takes the life of his son by his own
hand,--a scene which Prosper Mérimée imitated in his celebrated sketch
of "Mateo Falcone."

Andry comes out of the city, which was attacked by the Cossacks.

     "At the head of the squadron galloped a horseman, handsomer
     and haughtier than the others. His black hair floated from
     beneath his bronze helmet; around his arm was bound a
     beautifully embroidered scarf. Taras was stupefied on
     recognizing in him his son Andry. But the latter, inflamed
     with the ardor of combat, eager to merit the prize which
     adorned his arm, threw himself forward like a young hound,
     the handsomest, the fleetest, the strongest of the pack....
     Old Taras stood a moment, watching Andry as he cut his way
     by blows to the right and the left, laying the Cossacks
     about him. At last his patience was exhausted.

      "'Do you strike at your own people, you devil's whelp?' he

      "Andry, galloping hard away, suddenly felt a strong hand
      pulling at his bridle-rein. He turned his head and saw
      Taras before him. He grew pale, like a child caught idling
      by his master. His ardor cooled as though it had never
      blazed; he saw only his terrible father, motionless and
      calm before him.

      "'What are you doing?' exclaimed Taras, looking at the
      young man sharply. Andry could not reply, and his eyes
      remained fixed upon the ground.

      "'How now, my son? Have your Polish friends been of much
      use to you?' Andry was dumb as before.

      "'You commit felony, you barter your religion, you sell
      your own people.... But wait, wait.... Get down.' Like an
      obedient child Andry alighted from his horse, and, more
      dead than alive, stood before his father.

      "'Stand still. Do not move. I gave you life, I will take
      your life away,' said Taras then; and going back a step he
      took the musket from his shoulder. Andry was white as wax.
      He seemed to move his lips and to murmur a name. But it
      was not his country's name, nor his mother's, nor his
      brother's; it was the name of the beautiful Polish maiden.
      Taras fired. As the wheat-stalk bends after the stroke of
      the sickle, Andry bent his head and fell upon the grass
      without uttering a word. The man who had slain his son
      stood a long time contemplating the body, beautiful even in
      death. The young face, so lately glowing with strength and
      winsome beauty, was still wonderfully comely, and his
      eyebrows, black and velvety, shaded his pale features.

      "'What was lacking to make him a true Cossack?' said
      Boulba. 'He was tall, his eyebrows were black, he had a
      brave mien, and his fists were strong and ready to fight.
      And he has perished, perished without glory, like a
      cowardly dog.'"

In the opinion of Guizot there is perhaps no true epic poem in the
modern age besides "Taras Boulba," in spite of some defects in it and
the temptation to compare it with Homer to its disadvantage. But Gogol's
glory is not derived solely from his epopee of the Cossacks. His
especial merit, or at least his greatest service to the literature of
his country, lies in his having been what neither Lermontof nor Puchkine
could be; namely, the centre at which romanticism and realism join
hands, the medium of a smooth and easy transition from lyric poetry,
more or less imported from abroad, and the national novel; the founder
of the _natural school_, which was the advance sentinel of modern art.

This tendency is first exhibited in a little sketch inserted in the same
volume with Taras Boulba, and entitled "The Small Proprietors of Former
Times," also translated as "Old-fashioned Farmers," or "Old-time
Proprietors,"--a story of the commonplace, full of keen observations and
wrought out in the methods of the great contemporary novelists. About
the year 1835, at the height of the romantic period, Gogol gave up his
official employment forever, exclaiming, "I am going to be a free
Cossack again; I will belong to nobody but myself." He then published a
little volume of _Arabesques_,--a collection of disconnected articles,
criticisms, and sketches, chiefly interesting because by him. His short
stories of this period are the stirrings of his awakening realism; and
among them the one most worthy of notice is "The Cloak," which is filled
with a strain of sympathy and pity for the poor, the ignorant, the
plain, and the dull people,--social zeros, so different from the proud
and aristocratic ideal of romanticism, and who owe their title of
citizenship in Russian literature to Gogol. The hero of the story is an
awkward, half-imbecile little office-clerk, who knows nothing but how to
copy, copy, copy; a martyr to bitter cold and poverty, and whose dearest
dream is to possess a new cloak, for which he saves and hoards sordidly
and untiringly. The very day on which he at last fulfils his desire,
some thieves make off with his precious cloak. The police, to whom he
carries his complaint, laugh in his face, and the poor fellow falls a
victim to the deepest melancholy, and dies of a broken heart shortly

     "And," says Gogol, "St. Petersburg went on its way without
     Acacio, son of Acacio, just exactly as though it had never
     dreamed of his existence. This creature that nobody cared
     for, nobody loved, nobody took any interest in,--not even
     the naturalist who sticks a pin through a common fly and
     studies it attentively under a microscope,--this poor
     creature disappeared, vanished, went to the other world
     without anything in particular ever having happened to him
     in this.... But at least once before he died he had welcomed
     that bright guest, Fortune, whom we all hope to see; to his
     eyes she appeared under the form of a cloak. And then
     misfortune fell upon him as suddenly and as darkly as it
     ever falls upon the great ones of the earth."

"The Cloak" and his celebrated comedy, "The Inspector," also translated
as "The Revizor," are the result of his official experiences. Men who
have been a good deal tossed about, who have drunk of life's cup of
bitterness, who have been bruised by its sharp corners and torn by its
thorns, if they have an analytical mind and a magnanimous heart, human
kindness and a spark of genius, become the great satirists, great
humorists, and great moralists. "The Inspector" is a picture of Russian
public customs painted by a master hand; it is a laugh, a fling of
derision, at the baseness of a society and a political regimen under
which bureaucracy and official formalism can descend to incredible vice
and corruption. It seems at first a mere farce, such as is common enough
on the Russian or any stage; but the covert strength of the satire is so
far-reaching that the "Inspector" is a symbolical and cruel work. The
curtain rises at the moment when the officials of a small provincial
capital are anxiously awaiting the Inspector, who is about to make them
a visit incognito. A traveller comes to the only hotel or inn of the
town, and all believe him to be the dreaded governmental attorney. It
turns out that the traveller who has given them such a fright is neither
more nor less than an insignificant employee from St. Petersburg, a
madcap fellow, who, having run short of money, is obliged to cut his
vacation journey short. When he is apprised of a visit from the
governor, he thinks he is about to be arrested. What is his astonishment
when he finds that, instead of being put in prison, a purse of five
hundred rubles is slipped into his hand, and he is conducted with great
ceremony to visit hospitals and schools. As soon as he smells the _quid
pro quo_ he adapts himself to the part, dissimulates, and plays the
protector, puts on a majestic and severe demeanor, and after having
fooled the whole town and received all sorts of obsequious attentions,
he slips out with a full purse. A few minutes afterward the real
Inspector appears and the curtain falls.

Gogol frankly confesses that in this comedy he has tried to put together
and crystallize all the evil that he saw in the administrative affairs
of Russia. The general impression it gave was that of a satire, as he
desired; the nation looked at itself in the glass, and was ashamed. "In
the midst of my own laughter, which was louder than ever," says Gogol,
"the spectator perceived a note of sorrow and anger, and I myself
noticed that my laugh was not the same as before, and that it was no
longer possible to be as I used to be in my works; the need to amuse
myself with innocent fictions was gone with my youth." This is the
sincere confession of the humorist whose laughter is full of tears and

This rough satire on the government of the autocrat Nicholas, this
terrible flagellation of wickedness in high places raised to a venerated
national institution, was represented before the court and applauded by
it, and the satirical author of it was subjected to no censor but the
emperor himself, who read the play in manuscript, burst into roars of
laughter over it, and ordered his players to give it without delay; and
on the first night Nicholas appeared in his box, and his imperial hands
gave the signal for applause. The courtiers could not do otherwise than
swallow the pill, but it left a bad taste and a bitter sediment in their
hearts, which they treasured up against Gogol for the day of revenge.

On this occasion the terrible autocrat acted with the same exquisite
delicacy and truly royal munificence which he had shown toward Puchkine.
On allowing Gogol a pension of five thousand rubles, he said to the
person who presented the petition, "Do not let your protégé know that
this gift is from me; he would feel obliged to write from a government
standpoint, and I do not wish him to do that." Several times afterward
the Emperor secretly sent him such gifts under cover of his friend
Joukowsky the poet, by which means he was able to defray his journeys to

Without apparent cause Gogol's character became soured about the year
1836; he became a prey to hypochondria, probably, as may be deduced
from a passage in one of his letters, on account of the atmosphere of
hostility which had hung over him since the publication of "The
Inspector." "Everybody is against me," he says, "officials, police,
merchants, literary men; they are all gnashing and snapping at my
comedy! Nowadays I hate it! Nobody knows what I suffer. I am worn out in
body and soul." He determined to leave the country, and he afterward
returned to it only occasionally, until he went back at last to languish
and die there. Like Turguenief, and not without some, truth, he declared
that he could see his country, the object of his study, better from a
distance; it is the law of the painter, who steps away from his picture
to a certain distance in order to study it better. He went from one
place to another in Europe, and in Rome he formed a close friendship
with the Russian painter Ivanof, who had retired to a Capuchin convent,
where he spent twenty years on one picture, "The Apparition of Christ,"
and left it at last unfinished. Some profess to believe that Gogol was
converted to Catholicism, and with his friend devoted himself to a life
of asceticism and contemplation of the hereafter, toward which vexed and
melancholy souls often feel themselves irresistibly drawn.

Gogol felt a strong desire to deal with the truth, with realities; he
longed to write a book that would tell _the whole truth_, which should
show Russia as she was, and which should not be hampered by influences
that forced him to temporize, attenuate, and weigh his words,--a book
in which he might give free vent to his satirical vein, and put his
faculties of observation to consummate use. This book, which was to be a
_résumé_ of life, a _chef d'oeuvre_, a lasting monument (the
aspiration of every ambitious soul that cannot bear to die and be
forgotten), at last became a fixed idea in Gogol's mind; it took
complete possession of him, gave him no repose, absorbed his whole life,
demanded every effort of his brain, and finally remained unfinished. And
yet what he accomplished constitutes the most profoundly human book that
has ever been written in Russia; it contains the whole programme of the
school initiated by Gogol, and compels us to count the author of it
among the descendants of Cervantes. "Don Quixote" was in fact the model
for "Dead Souls," which put an end to romanticism, as "Quixote" did to
books of chivalry. That none may say that this supposition is dictated
by my national pride, I am going to quote literally two paragraphs, one
by Gogol himself, the other by Melchior de Voguié, the intelligent
French critic whose work on the Russian novel has been so useful to me
in these studies.

     "Puchkine," says Gogol, "has been urging me for some time to
     undertake a long and serious work. One day he talked to me
     of my feeble health, of the frequent attacks which may cause
     my premature death; he mentioned as an example Cervantes,
     the author of some short stories of excellent quality, but
     who would never have held the place he is awarded among the
     writers of first rank, had he not undertaken his 'Don
     Quixote.' And at last he suggested to me a subject of his
     own invention on which he had thought of making a poem, and
     said he would tell it to nobody but me. The subject was 'The
     Dead Souls.' Puchkine also suggested to me the idea of 'The

      "In spite of this frank testimony," adds Voguié, "equally
      honorable to both friends, I must continue to believe that
      the true progenitor of 'Dead Souls' was Cervantes himself.
      On leaving Russia Gogol turned toward Spain, and studied at
      close quarters the literature of this country, especially
      'Don Quixote,' which was always his favorite book. The
      Spanish humorist held up to him a subject marvellously
      suited to his plans, the adventures of a hero with a mania
      which leads him into all regions of society, and who serves
      as the pretext to show to the spectator a series of
      pictures, a sort of human magic-lantern. The near
      relationship of these two works is indicated at all
      points,--the cogitative, sardonic spirit, the sadness
      underlying the laughter, and the impossibility of
      classifying either under any definite literary head. Gogol
      protested against the application of the word 'novel' to
      his book, and himself called it a poem, dividing it, not
      into chapters but into cantos. Poem it cannot be called in
      any rigorous sense of the term; but classify 'Don Quixote,'
      and Gogol's masterpiece will fall into the same category."

I read "Dead Souls" before reading Voguié's criticism, and my impression
coincided exactly with his. I said to myself, "This book is the nearest
like 'Don Quixote' of any that I have ever read." There are important
differences--how could it be otherwise?--and even discounting the loss
to Gogol by means of translation, a marked inferiority of the Russian
to Cervantes; but they are writers of the same species, and even at the
distance of two centuries they bear a likeness to each other. And the
intention to take "Don Quixote" as a model is evident, even though Gogol
had never set foot in Spain, as some of his compatriots affirm.

"Dead Souls" may be divided into three parts: the first, which was
completed and published in 1842; the second, which was incomplete and
rudimentary, and cast into the flames by the author in a fit of
desperation, but published after his death from notes that had escaped
this holocaust; and the third, which never took shape outside the
author's mind.

Even the contrast between the heroes of Cervantes and Gogol--the
Ingenious Knight Avenger of Wrongs, and the clever rascal who goes from
place to place trying to carry out his extravagant schemes--illustrates
still more clearly the Cervantesque affiliation of the book. Undoubtedly
Gogol purposely chose a contrast, because he wished to embody in the
story the wrath he felt at the social state of Russia, more lamentable
and hateful even than that of Spain in Cervantes' time. No more profound
diatribe than "Dead Souls" has ever been written in Russia, though it is
a country where satire has flourished abundantly. Sometimes there is a
ray of sunshine, and the poet's tense brows relax with a hearty laugh.
In the first chapter is a description of the Russian inns, drawn with no
less graceful wit than that of the inns of La Mancha. It is not
difficult to go on with the parallel.

In "Dead Souls," as in "Don Quixote," the hero's servants are important
personages, and so are their horses, which have become typical under the
names of Rocinante and Rucio; the dialogues between the coachman Selifan
and his horses remind one of some of the passages between Sancho and his
donkey. As in "Don Quixote," the infinite variety of persons and
episodes, the physiognomy of the places, the animated succession of
incidents, offer a panorama of life. As in "Don Quixote," woman occupies
a place in the background; no important love-affair appears in the whole
book. Gogol, like Cervantes, shows less dexterity in depicting feminine
than masculine types, except in the case of the grotesque, where he also
resembles the creator of Maritornes and Teresa Panza. As in "Don
Quixote," the best part of the book is the beginning; the inspiration
slackens toward the middle, for the reason, probably, that in both the
poetic instinct supersedes the prudent forecasting of the idea, and
there is in both something of the sublime inconsistency common to
geniuses and to the popular muse. And in "Don Quixote," as in "Dead
Souls," above the realism of the subject and the vulgarity of many
passages there is a sort of ebullient, fantastic life, something
supersensual, which carries us along under full sail into the bright
world of imagination; something which enlivens the fancy, takes hold
upon the mind, and charms the soul; something which makes us better,
more humane, more spiritual in effect.

The subject of "Dead Souls"--so strange as never to be forgotten--gives
Gogol a wide range for his pungent satire. Tchitchikof--there's a name,
indeed!--an ex-official, having been caught in some nefarious affair,
and ruined and dishonored by the discovery, conceives a bright idea as
to regaining his fortune. He knows that the serfs, called in Russia by
the generic name of _souls_, can be pawned, mortgaged, and sold; and
that on the other hand the tax-collector obliges the owners to pay a
_per capita_ tax for each soul. He remembers also that the census is
taken on the Friday before Easter, and in the mean time the lists are
not revised, seeing that natural processes compensate for losses by
death. But in case of epidemic the owner loses more, yet continues to
pay for hands that no longer toil for him; so it occurs to Tchitchikof
to travel over the country buying at a discount a number of _dead souls_
whose owners will gladly get rid of them, the buyer having only to
promise to pay the taxes thereon; then, having provided these dead souls
(though to all legal intents still living) with this extraordinary
nominal value, he will register them as purchased, take the deed of sale
to a bank in St. Petersburg, mortgage them for a good round sum, and
with the money thus obtained, buy real live serfs of flesh and blood,
and by this clever trick make a fortune. No sooner said than done. The
hero gives orders to harness his _britchka_, takes with him his coachman
and his lackey,--two delicious characters!--and goes all over Russia,
ingratiating himself everywhere, finding out all about the people and
the estates, meeting with all sorts of proprietors and functionaries,
and falling into many adventures which, if not quite as glorious as
those of the Knight of La Mancha, are scarcely less entertaining to read
about. And where is such another diatribe on serfdom as this lugubrious
burlesque furnishes, or any spectacle so painfully ironical as that of
these wretched corpses, who are neither free nor yet within the narrow
liberty of the tomb,--these poor bones ridiculed and trafficked for even
in the precincts of death?

This remarkable book, which contains a most powerful argument against
the inveterate abuses of slavery, unites to its value as a social and
humanitarian benefactor that of being the corner-stone of Russian
realism,--the realism which, though already perceptible in the prose
writings of the romantic poets, appears in Gogol, not as a confused
precursory intuition, nor as an instinctive impulsion of a national
tendency, but as a rational literary plan, well based and firmly
established. A few quotations from "Dead Souls," and some passages also
from Gogol's Letters, will be enough to prove this.

     "Happy is the writer,"[1] he says sarcastically, "who
     refrains from depicting insipid, disagreeable, unsympathetic
     characters without any charms whatever, and makes a study of
     those more distinguished, refined, and exquisite; the writer
     who has a fine tact in selecting from the vast and muddy
     stream of humanity, and devoting his attention to a few
     honorable exceptions to the average human nature; who never
     once lowers the clear, high tone of his lyre; who never puts
     his melodies to the ignoble use of singing about folk of no
     importance and low quality; and who, in fact, taking care
     never to descend to the too commonplace realities of life,
     soars upward bright and free toward the ethereal regions of
     his poetic ideal!... He soothes and flatters the vanity of
     men, casting a veil over whatever is base, sombre, and
     humiliating in human nature. All the world applauds and
     rejoices as he passes by in his triumphal chariot, and the
     multitude proclaims him a great poet, a creative genius, a
     transcendent soul. At the sound of his name young hearts
     beat wildly, and sweet tears of admiration shine in gentle
     eyes.... Oh, how different is the lot of the unfortunate
     writer who dares to present in his works a faithful picture
     of social realities, exactly as they appear to the naked
     eye! Who bade him pay attention to the muddy whirlpool of
     small miseries and humiliations, in which life is perforce
     swallowed up, or take notice of the crowd of vulgar,
     indifferent, bungling, corrupt characters, that swarm like
     ants under our feet? If he commit a sin so reprehensible,
     let him not hope for the applause of his country; let him
     not expect to be greeted by maidens of sixteen, with heaving
     bosom and bright, enthusiastic eyes.... Nor will he be able
     to escape the judgment of his contemporaries, a tribunal
     without delicacy or conscience, which pronounces the works
     it devours in secret to be disgusting and low, and with
     feigned repugnance enumerates them among the writings which
     are hurtful to humanity; a tribunal which cynically imputes
     to the author the qualities and conditions of the hero whom
     he describes, allowing him neither heart nor soul, and
     belittling the sacred flame of talent which is his whole

      "Contemporary judgment is not yet able or willing to
      acknowledge that the lens which discloses the habits and
      movements of the smallest insect is worthy the same
      estimation as that which reaches to the farthest limits of
      the firmament. It seems to ignore the fact that it needs a
      great soul indeed to portray sincerely and accurately the
      life that is stigmatized by public opinion, to convert clay
      into precious pearls through the medium of art.
      Contemporary judgment finds it hard to realize that frank,
      good-natured laughter may be as full of merit and dignity
      as a fine outburst of lyric passion. Contemporary judgment
      pretends ignorance, and bestows only censure and
      depreciation upon the sincere author,--knows him not,
      disdains him; and so he is left wretched, abandoned,
      without sympathy, like the lonely traveller who has no
      companion but his own indomitable heart.

      "I understand you, dear readers; I know very well what you
      are thinking in your hearts; you curse the means that shows
      you palpable, naked human misery, and you murmur within
      yourselves, 'What is the use of such an exhibition? As
      though we did not already know enough of the absurd and
      base actions that the world is always full of! These things
      are annoying, and one sees enough of them without having
      them set before us in literature. No, no; show us the
      beautiful, the charming; that which shall lift us above the
      levels of reality, elevate us, fill us with enthusiasm.'
      And this is not all. The author exposes himself to the
      anger of a class of would-be patriots, who, at the least
      indication of injury to the country's decorum, at the first
      appearance of a book that dwells on some bitter truths,
      raise a dreadful outcry. 'Is it well that such things
      should be brought to light?' they say; 'this description
      may apply to a good many people we know; it might be you,
      or I, or our friend there. And what will foreigners say? It
      is too bad to allow them to form so poor an opinion of us.'
      Hypocrites! The motive of their accusations is not
      patriotism, that noble and beautiful sentiment; it is mean,
      low calculation, wearing the mask of patriotism. Let us
      tear off the mask and tread it under foot. Let us call
      things by their names; it is a sacred duty, and the author
      is under obligation to tell the truth, the whole truth."

These passages just quoted are sufficiently explicit; but the following,
taken from one of Gogol's letters concerning "Dead Souls," is still more

     "Those who have analyzed my talents as a writer have not
     been able to discover my chief quality. Only Puchkine
     noticed it, and he used to say that no author had, so much
     as I, the gift of showing the reality of the trivialities of
     life, of describing the petty ways of an insignificant
     creature, of bringing out and revealing to my readers
     infinitesimal details which would otherwise pass unnoticed.
     In fact, there is where my talent lies. The reader revolts
     against the meanness and baseness of my heroes; when he
     shuts the book he feels as though he had come up from a
     stifling cellar into the light of day. They would have
     forgiven me if I had described some picturesque theatrical
     knave, but they cannot forgive my vulgarity. The Russians
     are shocked to see their own insignificance."

      "My friend," he writes again, "if you wish to do me the
      greatest favor that I can expect from a Christian, make a
      note of every small daily act and fact that you may come
      across anywhere. What trouble would it be to you to write
      down every night in a sort of diary such notes as
      these,--To-day I heard such an opinion expressed, I spoke
      with such a person, of such a disposition, such a
      character, of good education or not; he holds his hands
      thus, or takes his snuff so,--in fact, everything that you
      see and notice from the greatest to the least?"

What more could the most modern novelist say,--the sort that carries a
memorandum-book under his arm and makes sketches, after the fashion of
the painters?

Thus we see that a man gifted with epic genius became in 1843, before
Zola was dreamt of, and when Edmond de Goncourt was scarcely twenty, the
founder of realism, the first prophet of the doctrine not inexactly
called by some the doctrine of literary microbes, the poet of social
atoms whose evolution at length overturns empires, changes the face of
society, and weaves the subtle and elaborate woof of history. I will not
go so far as to affirm with some of the critics that this light
proceeded from the Orient, and that French realism is an outcome of
distant Russian influence; for certainly Balzac had a large influence in
his turn upon his Muscovite admirers. But it is undeniable that Gogol
did anticipate and feel the road which literature, and indeed all forms
of art, were bound to follow in the latter half of the nineteenth

Certain critics see, in this doctrine of literary microbes preached by
Gogol in word and deed, nothing less than an immense evolution,
characteristic of and appropriate to our age. It is the advent of
literary democracy, which was perhaps foreseen by the subtle genius of
those early novelists who described the beggar, the lame, halt, and
blind, thieves and robbers, and creatures of the lowest strata of
society; with the difference that to-day, united to this spirit of
æsthetic demagogy, there is a shade of Christian charity, compassion,
and sympathy for wretchedness and misery which sometimes degenerates, in
less virile minds than Gogol's, into an affected sentimentality. George
Eliot, that great author and great advocate of Gogol's own theories, and
the patroness of realism of humblest degree, speaks in words very like
those used by the author of "Taras," of the strength of soul which a
writer needs to interest himself in the vulgar commonplaces of life, in
daily realities, and in the people around us who seem to have nothing
picturesque or extraordinary about them. If there be any who could carry
out this rehabilitation of the miserable with charity and tenderness, it
would be the Saxon and the Sclav rather than the refined and haughty
Latin, and in both these the seed scattered by Gogol has brought forth
fruit abundantly. Modern Russian literature is filled with pity and
sincere love toward the poorer classes; one might almost term it
evangelical unction; at the voice of the poet (I cannot refuse this
title to the author of "Taras") Russia's heart softened, her tears fell,
and her compassion, like a caressing wave, swept over the toiling
_mujik_, the ill-clad government clerk, the ragged, ignorant beggar, the
political convict in the grasp of the police, and even the criminal, the
vulgar assassin with shaven head, mangled shoulders, blood-stained
hands, and manacled wrists. And more; their pity extends even to the
dumb beasts, and the death of a horse mentioned by one great Russian
novelist is more touching than that of any emperor.

Gogol is the real ancestor of the Russian novel; he contained the germs
of all the tendencies developed in the generation that came after him;
in him even Turguenief the poet and artist, Tolstoï the philosopher, and
Dostoiëwsky the visionary, found inspiration. There are writers who seem
possessed of the exalted privilege of uniting and accumulating all the
characteristics of their race and country; their brain is like a cave
filled with wonderful stalactites formed by the deposits of ages and
events. Gogol is one of these. The peculiarities of the Russian soul,
the melancholy dreaminess, the satire, the suppressed and resigned
soul-forces, are all seen in him for the first time.

To quote from "Dead Souls" would be little satisfaction. One must read
it to understand the deep impression it made in Russia. After looking it
through, Puchkine exclaimed, "How low is our country fallen!" and the
people, much against their will, finally acknowledged the same
conviction. After a hard fight with the censors, the work of art came
off at last victorious; it captured all classes of minds, and became,
like "Don Quixote," the talk of every drawing-room, the joke of every
meeting-place, and a proverb everywhere. The serfs were now virtually
set free by force of the opinion created, and the whole nation saw and
knew itself in this æsthetic revelation.

But the man who dares to make such a revelation must pay for his
temerity with his life. Gogol returned from Rome intent upon the
completion of the fatal book; but his nerves, which were almost worn
out, failed him utterly at times, his soul overflowed with bitterness
and gall, and at last in a fit of rage and desperation he burned the
manuscript of the Second Part, together with his whole library. His
darkened mind was haunted by the question in Hamlet's monologue, the
problem concerning "that bourn from which no traveller returns;" his
meditations took a deeply religious hue, and his last work, "Letters to
my Friends," is a collection of edifying epistles, urging the necessity
of the consideration of the hereafter. To these exhortations he added
one on Sclavophile nationalism, exaggerated by a fanatical devotion; and
in the same breath he heralds the spirit of the Gospels and
anathematizes the theories imported from the Occident, and declares that
he has given up writing for the sake of dedicating his time to
self-introspection and the service of his neighbor, and that henceforth
he recognizes nothing but his country and his God. The public was
exasperated; it was Gogol's fate to rouse the tiger. Who ever heard of a
satirist turning Church father? It began to be whispered that Gogol had
become a devotee of mysticism; and it is quite true that on his return
from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem he lived miserably, giving all he had to
the poor. He was hypochondriac and misanthropic, excepting when with
children, whose innocent ways brought back traces of his former
good-nature. His death is laid to two different causes. The general
story is that during the Revolution of 1848 he lost what little
intelligence remained to him, under the conviction that there was no
remedy for his country's woes; and at last, weighed down by an incurable
melancholy and despair, and terrified by visions of universal
destruction and other tremendous catastrophes, he fell on his knees and
fasted for a whole day before the holy pictures that hung at the head of
his bed, and was found there dead. Recent writers modify this statement,
and claim to know on good authority that Gogol died of a typhoid fever,
which, with his chronic infirmities, was a fatal complication. Whatever
may have been the illness which took him out of the world, it is certain
that the part of Gogol most diseased was his soul, and his sickness was
a too intense love of country, which could not see with indifferent
optimism the ills of the present or the menace of the future. Gogol had
no heart-burdens except the suffering he endured for the masses; he was
unmarried, and was never known to have any passion but a love of country
exaggerated to a dementia.

It is a strange thing that Gogol--the sincere reactionist, the admirer
of absolutism and of autocracy, the Pan-Sclavophile, the habitual enemy
of Western paganism and liberal theories--should have been the one to
throw Russian letters into their present mad whirl, into the path of
nihilism and into the currents of revolution,--a course which he seems
to have described once in allegory, in one of the most admirable pages
of "Dead Souls," where he compares Russia to a _troïka_. I will quote
it, and so take my farewell of this Russian Cervantes:--

     "Rapidity of motion [in travel] is like an unknown force, a
     hidden power which seizes us and carries us on its wings; we
     skim through the air, we fly, and everything else flies too;
     the verst-stones fly; the tradesmen's carts fly past on one
     side and the other; forests with dark patches of pines rush
     by, and the noise of destroying axes and the cawing of
     hungry crows; the road flies by and is lost in the distance
     where we can distinguish neither object nor form nor color,
     unless it be a bit of the sky or the moon continually
     crossed by patches of flying cloud. O troïka, troïka,
     bird-troïka! There is no need to ask who invented thee! Thou
     couldst not have been conceived save in the breast of a
     quick, active people, in the midst of a gigantic territory
     that covers half the globe, and where nobody dares count the
     verst-stones on the roads for fear of vertigo! Thou art not
     graceful in thy form, O telega, rustic britchka, kibitka,
     thou carriage for all roads in winter or summer! No, thou
     art not an object of art made to please the eye; dry wood, a
     hatchet, a chisel, a clever arm,--with these thou art set
     up; there is not a peasant in Yaroslaf that knows not how to
     construct thee. Now the troïka is harnessed. And where is
     the man? What man? The driver? Aha! it is this same peasant!
     Very well, let him put on his boots and get up on his seat.
     Did you say his boots? This is no German postilion; he needs
     no boots nor any foot-gear at all. All that he needs is
     mittens for his hands and a beard on his chin! See him
     balancing himself; hear him sing. Now he pulls away like a
     whirlwind; the wheels seem a smooth circle from centre to
     circumference, and the tires are invisible; the ground
     rushes to meet the clattering hoofs; the foot-traveller
     leaps to one side with a cry of fright, then stops and opens
     his mouth in astonishment; but the vehicle has passed, and
     on it flies, on it flies, and far away a little whirl of
     dust rises, spreads out, divides, and disappears in gauzy
     patches, falling gently upon the sides of the road. It is
     all gone; nothing remains of it.

      "Thou art like the troïka, O Russia, my beloved country!
      Dost thou not feel thyself carried onward toward the
      unknown like this impetuous bird which nobody can overtake?
      The road is invisible under thy feet, the bridges echo and
      groan, and thou leavest everything behind thee in the
      distance. Men stop and gaze surprised at this celestial
      portent. Is it the lightning? Is it the thunderbolt from
      heaven itself? What causes this movement of universal
      terror? What mysterious and incomprehensible force spurs on
      thy steeds? They are Russian steeds, good steeds. Doth the
      whirlwind sometimes nestle in their manes? The signal is
      given: three bronze breasts expand; twelve ready feet start
      with simultaneous impetus, their light hoofs scarce
      striking the ground; three horses are changed before, our
      very eyes into three parallel lines which fly like a streak
      through the tremulous air. The troïka flies, sails, bright
      as a spirit of God. O Russia, Russia! whither goest thou?
      Answer! But there is no response; the bell clangs with a
      supernatural tone; the air, beaten and lashed, whistles and
      whirls, and rushes off in wide currents; the troïka cuts
      them all on the wing, and nations, monarchies, and empires
      stand aside and let her pass."

[1] I could take this passage bodily from the translation of "Dead
Souls" made by Isabella Hapgood directly from the Russian, but there are
some discrepancies in which the Spanish writer seems to be in the right,
as in the use of the word _writer_ for _reader_.--Tr.

Book IV.



Turguenief, Poet and Artist.

In reviewing the development of the School of Realists founded by
Nicholas Gogol, I shall begin with the one among his followers and
descendants who is not merely the first in chronological order, but the
most intelligible and sympathetic of the Russian novelists, Ivan

The name of Turguenief has long been well known in Russia. In 1854,
before the novelist made his appearance, Humboldt said to a member of
this family, "The name you bear commands the highest respect and esteem
in this country." Alexander Turguenief was a savant, and the originator
of a new style of historiography, in which he revealed traces of the
communicative and cosmopolitan instincts that distinguish his nephew
beyond other novelists of his country, for he--the uncle--courted
acquaintance with many of the most eminent men of Europe, among them
Walter Scott. Another member of the family, Nicholaï Turguenief, was a
statesman who found himself obliged to reside in foreign lands on
account of political vicissitudes; he had the honor of preceding his
nephew Ivan in the advocacy of serf-emancipation.

Ivan was the son of a country gentleman, and his real education began
among the heathery hills and in the company of indefatigable hunters,
whose stories, colored by the blaze of the camp-fire, were transcribed
afterward by Ivan's wonderful pen. His intellect was awakened and formed
in Berlin, where he ranged through the philosophies of Kant and Hegel,
and, as he expresses it, threw himself head-first into the ocean of
German thought and came out purified and regenerated for the rest of his
life. Is it not wonderful,--the power of this German philosophy, which,
though it seems but a chilly and lugubrious labyrinth, gives a new
temper to a mind of fine and artistic quality, like the Toledo blade
thrust into the cold bath, or Achilles after washing in the waters of
the Styx? As scholasticism gave a strange power to the poetry of Dante,
so German metaphysics seems to give wings to the imagination in our
times. Those artist writers (like Zola, for example) who have not
wandered through this dark forest seem to lack a certain tension in
their mental vigor, a certain tone in their artistic spectrum!

Russian youth, about the year 1838, had their Mecca in the Faculty of
Philosophy at Berlin, of which Hegel held one chair; and there the
future celebrities of Russia were wont to meet. On leaving that radiant
atmosphere of ideas and returning to his country home in Russia,
Turguenief was overcome by the inevitable melancholy which attacks the
man who leaves civilization behind with its intellectual brightness and
activity, and enters a land where, according to the words of the hero of
"Virgin Soil," "everything sleeps but the wine-shop." This feeling of
nostalgia the novelist has analyzed with a master hand in the pages of
"The Nobles' Nest."[1]

Hungry for wider horizons and for a literary life and atmosphere,
Turguenief went to St. Petersburg. All the intellect of the time was
grouped about Bielinsky, who was a rare critic, and its sentiments were
voiced by a periodical called the "Contemporary." Bielinsky, who had
adopted the pessimist theory that Russian art could never exist until
there was political emancipation, was obliged to acknowledge the
indisputable worth of Turguenief's first efforts, and encouraged him to
publish some excellent sketches in a collection entitled "Papers of a
Sportsman." Contrary to Bielinsky's prediction, Turguenief's success was
the greater because, with that exquisite artistic intuition which he
alone of all Russian writers possesses, he preached no moral and taught
no lesson in it, which was the fashion or rather the pest of the novel
in those days.

Turguenief again went abroad soon after and spent some time in Paris,
where he finished the "Diary" and wrote "The Nobles' Nest." On his
return to Russia he wrote a clever criticism on the "Dead Souls," of
Gogol, whom he ventured to call a great man; and this called down upon
his head the ire of the police and banishment to his estates, which
punishment was not reprieved until the death of Nicholas and the war of
the Crimea changed the aspect of everything in Russia.

Notwithstanding the unjustifiable severity with which he was treated on
this occasion, Turguenief cherished no grievance or thought of revenge
in his heart. It is one of the most beautiful and attractive traits in
the amiable character of this man, that he could always preserve his
serenity of soul in the midst of the distractions occasioned him by two
equally violent parties each equally determined to embitter his life if
he did not consent to embrace it. He stood in the gulf that separates
the two halves of Russia, yet he maintained that contemplative and
thoughtful attitude which Victor Hugo ascribes to all true thinkers and
poets. Urged by family traditions and by the natural equilibrium of his
mind to give the preference (in comparing Russia with the rest of
Europe) to Western civilization, he protested, with the courage born of
conviction, against the blind vanity of the so-called National Party of
Moscow, which, while it demanded the liberation of the serfs, was
determined to create a new national condition which should be wholly
Sclavonic, and would tread under foot every vestige of foreign culture.
With equal vigor, but with a fine tact and nothing of effeminacy or
æsthetic repugnance, he protested also against the vandalism of the
nihilists, whose propositions were set forth in a clever caricature in a
satirical paper shortly after the explosion in the Winter Palace at St.
Petersburg. It represented the meeting of two nihilists amid a heap of
ruins. One asks, "Is everything gone up?" "No," replies the other, "the
planet still exists." "Blow it to pieces, then!" exclaims the first. Yet
Turguenief, who was by no means what we should call a conservative,
seeing that he lent his aid to the emancipation of the serfs, was far
from approving the new revolutionary barbarism.

Those of Turguenief's works which are best known and most discussed are
consequently those which attack the ignominy of serfdom or the threats
of revolutionary terror. In the first category may be mentioned "The
Diary of a Hunter" and most of his exquisite short stories; in the
second, "Fathers and Sons," a view of speculative nihilism, "Virgin
Soil," the active side of the same, and "Smoke," a harsh satire on the
exclusiveness and fanaticism of the Nationals, which cost him his
popularity and made him innumerable enemies. I will speak more at length
of each of these, and it is in no sense a digression from Turguenief's
biography to do so; for the life of this amiable dreamer and delicate
poet is to be found in his books, and in the trials which he endured on
their account.

The first lengthy novel of Turguenief is "Demetrius Rudine," a type
which might have served as the model for Alphonse Daudet's "Numa
Roumestan," a study of one of those complex characters, endowed with
great aspirations and apparently rich faculties, but who lack force of
will, and have no definite aim or career in view. "The Nobles' Nest" is
to the rest of Turguenief's works what the hour of supreme and tenderest
emotion that even the hardest hearts must bow to some time is to human
life as a whole; in none of his works, save perhaps in "Living Relics,"
has Turguenief shown more depth of sentiment. The latter is a tear of
compassion crystallized and set in gold; the former is a tragedy of
happiness held before the eyes and then lost sight of, like the blue sky
seen through a rent in the clouds and then covered over with a leaden
and interminable veil. The hero is a Russian gentleman or small
proprietary nobleman, named Lawretsky, who, deceived and betrayed by his
wife, returns to his patrimonial estates, there to hide his dejection
and loneliness. Amid these scenes of honest, simple provincial life he
meets with a cousin who is young, beautiful, and open-hearted, and who
captures his heart. There is a rumor that his wife has died, and a hope
of future happiness begins to revive in him; but the aforesaid deceased
lady resuscitates, and makes her appearance, demanding with hypocritical
humility her place beneath the conjugal roof, and the other poor girl
retires to a convent. It is almost a sacrilege to extract the bare plot
of the story in this way, for it is thus made to seem a mere vulgar
complication, feeble and colorless. But the charm lies in the manner of
presenting this simple drama; the novelist seems to hold a glass before
our eyes through which we see the palpitations of these bruised and
suffering hearts. The background is worthy of the figures on it. The
description of provincial customs, the country, and the last chapter
especially, are the perfection of art in the way of novel-writing. It is
said that "The Nobles' Nest" produced in Russia an effect comparable
only to that of "Paul and Virginia" in France.

Then came the great change in Russia: serfdom was no more! and
Turguenief, leaving these touching love-stories, threw himself into the
new turmoil, and gave himself up to the study of the struggle between
the new state of society and the old, which resulted in the novel,
"Fathers and Sons." This book contains the pictures of two generations,
and each one, says Mérimée, shrewdly, found the portrait of the other
well drawn, but called Heaven to witness that that of himself was a
caricature; and the cry of the fathers was exceeded by that of the sons,
personified in the character of the positivist, Bazarof.

Two old country gentlefolk, a physician and his wife, represent the
elder generation, the society of yesterday, and two students the society
and generation of to-day. Bazarof is the leader, the ruling spirit of
the two latter; the novelist has given him so much vivacity that we seem
to hear him, to see his long, withered face, his broad brows, his great
greenish eyes, and the prominent bulges on his heavy skull. I have seen
such types as this many a time in the streets and alleys of the Latin
Quarter, which is the lurking-place of Russian refugees in Paris, and I
have said to myself, "There goes a Bazarof, exiled and half dead with
hunger, and yet perhaps more eager to set off a few pounds of dynamite
under the Grand Opera-House than to breakfast!"

Bazarof, however, is not yet the nihilist who wishes to make a political
system out of robbery and assassination, and to defend his theory in
learned treatises; he is a young fellow smarting and burning under the
contemplation of his country's sad state, and whom the knowledge got by
his studies in medicine, natural sciences, and German materialist dogmas
has made the bitterest and most intolerable of mortals, throwing away
his gifts of intellect and his heart's best and most generous impulses.
By reason of his energy of character and intellectual force, he takes
the lead over his companion Arcadio, an enthusiastic and unsophisticated
boy; and the novel begins with the return of the latter to his father's
country-house in company with his adored leader. The two generations
then find themselves face to face, two atheistical and demagogic young
students, and Arcadio's father and uncle, conservative and ceremonious
old men; the shock is immediate and terrible. Bazarof, with his mania
for dissecting frogs, his negligent dress, his harsh and dogmatic
replies, his coarse frankness, and his odor of drugs and cheap tobacco,
inspires antipathy from the first moment, and he is himself made more
captious than usual by the appearance of the uncle, Paul, an elegant and
distinguished-looking man, who preserves the traditions of French
culture, dresses with the utmost care, has a taste for all that is
refined and poetical, and wears such finger-nails as, says Bazarof,
"would be worth sending to the Exposition." The contrast is as lively as
it is curious; every motion, every breath, produces conflict and
augments the discord. Arcadio, under his friend's influence, finds a
thousand ways to annoy his elders; he sees his father reading a volume
of Puchkine, and snatches it out of his hands, giving him instead the
ninth edition of "Force and Matter." And after all the poor boy really
cannot follow the hard, harsh ideas of Bazarof; but he is so completely
under the latter's control, and looks upon him with so much respect and
awe, and stands in such fear of his ridicule, that he hides his most
innocent and natural sentiments as though they were sinful, and dares
not even confess the pleasure he feels at sight of the country and his
native village.

"What sort of fellow is your friend Bazarof?" Arcadio's father and uncle
inquire of him.

"He is a nihilist," is the response.

"That word must come from the Latin _nihil_," says the father, "and must
mean a man that acknowledges and respects nothing."

"It means a man who looks at everything from a critical point of view,"
says Arcadio, proudly.

Criticism, pitiless analysis, barren and overwhelming,--this is an
epitome of Bazarof, the spirit of absolute negation, the contemporary
Mephistopheles who begins by taking himself off to the Inferno.

The punishment falls in the right place. Consistently with his
physiological theories, Bazarof denies the existence of love, calls it a
mere natural instinct, and women _females_; but scarcely does he find
himself in contact with a beautiful, interesting, clever woman--somewhat
of a coquette too, perhaps--than he falls into her net like a clumsy
idealogue that he is, and suffers and curses his fate like the most
ardent romanticist. Quite as curious as the antithesis of the two
generations in the house of Arcadio's aristocratic father, is the
contrast shown in that of the more humble village physician, the father
of Bazarof, who is an altogether pathetic personage. He, too, is
possessed of a certain pedantic and antiquated culture, and an
excellent, kind heart; he adores his son, thinks him a demi-god, and yet
cannot by any means understand him. Arcadio's father, on hearing an
exposition of the new theories, shrugs his shoulders and exclaims, "You
turn everything inside out nowadays. God give you health and a general's
position!" The physician, quite non-plussed, murmurs sadly, "I confess
that I idolize my son, but I dare not tell him so, for he would be
displeased;" and he adds with ridiculous pathos, "What comforts me most
is to think that some day men will read in the biography of my son these
lines: 'He was the son of an obscure regiment physician who nevertheless
had the wisdom to discern his talents from the first, and spared no
pains to give him an excellent education.' Here the voice of the old man
died away," says the writer. Such details bespeak the great poet. Again
when Bazarof is seized with typhus fever and dies, it is not his fate
which affects us, but the grief of his old father and mother, who
believe that one light of their country has been put out, and that they
have lost the best treasure of their uncontaminated and tender old
hearts. The death of this atheist makes an admirable page. When, as he
is losing consciousness, extreme unction is administered to him, the
shudder of horror that passes over his face at sight of the priest in
his robes, the smoking incense, the candles burning before the images,
is communicated to our own souls.

From 1860 Turguenief remained in France, bound by ties that shaped his
course of life. He enjoyed there a reputation not inferior to that which
he possessed in his own country; his works were all translated, and his
soul was soothed by an almost fraternal intimacy with the greatest
French writers, notably Gustave Flaubert and George Sand; and yet his
thoughts were never absent from his far-away fatherland, and as a
reproof to his fruitless longings he wrote "Smoke," which put the
capital of Russia almost in revolt. But Turguenief was no bilious
satirist after the style of Gogol, much less a habitual vilifier of
existing classes and institutions like Tchedrine; on the contrary, he
had a keen observation like Alphonse Daudet, and the sweeping
artist-glance which takes in the moral weaknesses as well as physical
deformities. The scene of "Smoke" is laid in Baden-Baden, the resort of
rich people who go there to enjoy themselves, to gossip, to intrigue,
and to throw themselves aimlessly into the maelstrom of frivolous and
idle life. The Russian world passes rapidly before our eyes, and last of
all the hero, weary and blasé, who with bitter words compares his
country to the thin, feathery smoke that rises in the distance.
Everything in Russia is smoke,--smoke, and nothing more!

Turguenief was one of those who loved his country well enough to tell
her the truth, and to warn her--in an indirect and artistic manner, of
course--persistently and incessantly. His was the jealous love of the
master for the favorite pupil, of the confessor for the soul under his
guidance, of the ardent patriot for his too backward and unambitious
nation. Turguenief compared himself, away from his country, to a dead
fish kept sound in the snow, but spoiling in time of thaw. He said that
in a strange land one lives isolated, without any real props or profound
relation to anything whatever, and that he felt his own creative
faculties decay for lack of inspiration from his native air; he
complained of feeling the chill of old age upon him, and an incurable
vacuity of soul. While he thus pined with homesickness, in Russia his
books wrought a wholesome change in criticism; the new generation turned
its back upon him, and after a general scandal followed an oblivious
silence, of the two perhaps the harder to bear.

In 1876 the novel "Virgin Soil" appeared, first in French in the columns
of "Le Temps," and then in Russian. It dealt with the same ideas as
"Fathers and Sons," save that the nihilism described in it was of the
active rather than the speculative sort. It was said at the time that
as Turguenief had been fifteen years away from his own country, he was
not capable of seeing the nihilist world in its true aspect, a thing to
be felt rather than seen, difficult enough to describe near at hand, and
much more difficult at a distance; but one must not expect of the
novelist what would be impossible even to the political student. To us
who are not too learned in revolutionary mysteries, Turguenief's novel
is delightful. I believe that there is more or less of political warmth
in the judgments expressed upon this "Virgin Soil," and that if the book
errs in any particular, it is on the side of the truthfulness of its
representative and symbolic qualities. Otherwise, how explain the fact
that certain nihilists thought themselves personally portrayed in the
character of the hero, or that Turguenief was accused of having received
notices and information provided by the police? Yet it seems to me that
this book, which gave such offence to the nihilists, shows a lively
sympathy with them. All the revolutionary characters are grand,
interesting, sincere, and poetic; on the other hand, the official world
is made up of egoists, hypocrites, knaves, and fools. In reality,
"Virgin Soil," like all the other writings of Turguenief, is the product
of a gentle and serene mind, independent of political bias, although
both his artistic and his Sclavonic nature weigh the balance in favor of
the visionaries who represent the spirit rather than the letter.

"Virgin Soil" was the last of Turguenief's long novels. Another Russian
novelist, Isaac Paulowsky, who knew him intimately, has given us some
curious information concerning one he had in project, and which he
believed would be found among his papers; but it has not yet come to
light, and there remains only to speak of his short stories. Perhaps his
best claim to reputation and glory rests upon these admirable sketches;
and it is Zola's opinion that Turguenief depreciated and wasted his
proper talent when he left off making these fine cameo-like studies.
Perhaps this is true, as it is certainly undeniable that Turguenief had
a master touch in delicate work of this sort, and it suited his
intensity of sentiment, his graceful style, and his skill in shading,
which distinguish him above his contemporaries. Of his short stories,
his episodes of Russian life, I know not which to select; they are
filigree and jewels, wrought by the Benvenuto of his trade; brass is
gold in his hands, and his chisel excels at every point. But I must
mention a few of the most important.

"The Knight of the Steppes," in which the horse tells the story of the
love and disappointment which leads his master to despair and suicide,
is one of my favorites. The hero resembles Taras Boulba, perhaps, in his
savage grandeur; he is a remnant of Asiatic times, brave, proud,
generous, uncultured; ruined, thirsting for battle, and perhaps for
pillage, bloodshed, and violence.

Beside this I would put the first one in the collection translated and
published under the title of "Strange Stories." It is a sketch of
mysticism and religious mania peculiar, though not too common, to the
Russian temperament. Sophia, a young girl at a ball, while dancing the
mazurka with a stranger, speaks to him seriously concerning miracles,
ghosts, the immortality of the soul, and the theory of Quietism, and
manifests a wish to mortify and subdue her nature and taste martyrdom;
next day she carries out her desires by running away,--not with her
partner in the dance, but with a demented fanatic, a man of the lowest
condition, with whom she lives in chastity, and to whose infirmities she
ministers like a mother, and serves him like a slave. Such a picture
could only have been conceived in a land that cradled the heroine of
"The Threshold," and many another enthusiastic nihilist girl who was
ready to lay down her life for her ideals.

The whole volume of "Strange Stories" fascinates us with a superstitious
horror. Elias Teglevo, the hero of one of the best of these tales,
although a pronounced sceptic, yet believes in the influence of his
star, thinks he is predestined to a tragic death, and under this
persuasion works himself into a state of mind and body that becomes a
hallucination strong enough to lead to suicide, in obedience to what he
considers a supernatural mandate. In another tale, "King Lear of the
Steppes," the gigantic Karlof has a presentiment of his death on seeing
a black colt in his dreams. The great artist reproduced the souls of his
characters with laudable fidelity. If supernatural terror is a real and
genuine sentiment, the novel should not overlook it in its delineations
of the truth.

But perhaps the jewel of Turguenief's narratives is that entitled
"Living Relics." In this simple story he excels himself. The novel has
no plot, and is nothing more than a silver lake which reflects a
beautiful soul, calm and clear as the moon; and the crippled form of
Lukeria is only the pretext for the detention of such a soul in this
world. Who has not sometimes entered a convent church on leaving a
ball-room,--in the early morning hours of Ash-Wednesday, for instance?
The ears still echo the voluptuous and stirring sounds of the military
band; one is ready to drop with fatigue, dizziness, glare of lights, and
the unseasonable hour. But the church is dark and empty; the nuns in the
choir are chanting the psalms; above the altar flickers a dim light, by
whose aid one discerns a picture or a statue, though at a distance one
cannot make out details of face or figure, only an expression of vague
sweetness and mysterious peace. After a moment's contemplation of it,
the body forgets its weariness and the soul is rocked in tranquillity.
Read some novel of the world's life, and then read "Living Relics": it
is like going from the ball-room to the chapel of a convent.

This faculty of putting the reader in contact with the invisible world
is not the talent of Turguenief exclusively, for all the great Russian
novelists possess it in some degree; but Turguenief uses it with such
exquisite tact and poetic charm that he seems to look serenely upon the
strange psychical phenomenon he has produced in the soul of the reader,
who is roused to a state of excitement that reflects the vision evoked
by the artist's words. Other instances of his power in this direction
are "The Dog," "Apparitions," and "Clara Militch," a confession from
beyond the tomb.

The last page written by Turguenief bore the title of "Despair,"--the
voice of the Russian soul whose depths he had searched for forty years,
says Voguié. He was then laboring under an incurable disease, cancer of
the brain, which, after causing him horrible sufferings, ended his life.
But though worn-out, dying, and stupefied by doses of opium and
injections of morphine, his artistic faculties died hard; and he related
his dreams and hallucinations with wonderful vividness, only regretting
his lack of strength to put them on paper. It is said that some of these
feverish visions are preserved in his "Prose Poems," which are examples
of the adaptability of Turguenief's talent to miniature, condensed,
bird's-eye pictures. Like Meissonier, Turguenief saw the light upon
small surfaces, enhanced rather than lessened in brilliancy. I will
translate one of these prose-poems, so that the reader may see how
Turguenief cuts his medallions. This one is entitled "Macha":--

     "When I was living in St. Petersburg, some time ago, I was
     in the habit of entering into conversation with the
     sleigh-driver, whenever I hired one.

      "I particularly liked to chat with those who were engaged
      at night,--poor peasants from the surrounding country, who
      came to town with their old-fashioned rattling vehicles,
      besmeared with yellow mud and drawn by one poor horse, to
      earn enough for bread and taxes.

      "On a certain day I called one of these to me. He was a lad
      of perhaps twenty years, strong and robust-looking, with
      blue eyes and red cheeks. Ringlets of reddish hair escaped
      from under his patched cap, which was pressed down over his
      eyebrows, and a torn caftan, too small for him, barely
      covered his broad shoulders.

      "It seemed to me that this handsome, beardless young
      driver's face was sad and gloomy; we fell to chatting, and
      I noticed that his voice had a sorrowful tone.

      "Why so sad, brother?' I asked. 'Are you in trouble?'

      "At first he did not reply.

      "'Yes, barino, I am in trouble,' he said at last,--'a
      trouble so great that there is no other like it,--my wife
      is dead.'

      "'By this I judge that you were very fond of her.'

      "The lad, without turning, nodded his head.

      "'Barino, I loved her. It is now eight months, and I cannot
      get my thoughts away from her. There is something gnawing
      here at my heart continually. I do not understand why she
      died; she was young and healthy. In twenty-four hours she
      was carried off by the cholera.'

      "'And was she good?'

      "'Ah, barino!' the poor fellow sighed deeply, 'we were such
      good friends! And she died while I was away. As soon as I
      heard up here that--that they had buried her--that very
      moment I started on foot to my village, to my home. I
      arrived; it was past midnight. I entered my _isba_; I stood
      still in the middle of it, and called very low, "Macha, oh
      Macha!" No answer,--nothing but the chirp of a cricket in a
      corner. Then I burst into tears; I sat down on the ground
      and beat it with my hand, saying, "O thou greedy earth,
      thou hast swallowed her! thou must swallow me too! Macha,
      oh Macha!" I repeated hoarsely.'

      "Without loosening his hold on the reins, he caught a
      falling tear on his leather glove, shook it off at one
      side, shrugged his shoulders, and said not another word.

      "On alighting from the sleigh I gave him a good fee; he
      bowed himself to the ground before me, taking off his cap
      with both hands, turned again to his sleigh, and started
      off at a weary trot down the frozen and deserted street,
      which was fast filling with a cold, gray, January fog."

Is it a mistake to say that in this commonplace little episode there is
more of poetry than in many elegies and innumerable sonnets? I believe
there is no Spanish or French writer who would know how to gather up and
thread like a pearl the tear of a common coachman. There is something in
the Latin character that makes us hard toward the lower classes and the
vulgar professions.

Like many another author, Turguenief was not a good judge of his own
merits, and gave great importance to his longer novels in preference to
his admirable shorter ones, in which he scarcely has a rival. He had
great expectations of "Smoke," and the dislike it met with in Russia
surprised him painfully. So keen was his disappointment that he
determined to write no more original novels, but devote himself to his
early cherished plan of translating "Don Quixote." He also suffered in
one way like most souls who hang upon the lips of public opinion,--the
slightest censure hurt him like a mortal wound. The cordial and
enthusiastic reception which, in spite of past indignation, he was
accorded in Russia in 1878, and the homage and attentions of the
students of Moscow, renewed his courage and reanimated his soul.... But
his strong constitution failed him at last, and his physical and mental
abilities weakened. "The saddest thing that has happened to me," he said
to Paulowsky, "is that I take no more pleasure in my work. I used to
love literary labor, as one loves to caress a woman; now I detest it. I
have many plans in my head, but I can do nothing at all with them." But
after all, what posthumous work of Turguenief would bear with a deeper
meaning on his literary life than the admirable words of his letter to
Count Léon Tolstoï:--

     "It is time I wrote you; for, be it said without the least
     exaggeration, I have been, I am, on my death-bed. I have no
     false hopes. I know there is no cure. Let this serve to tell
     you that I rejoice to have been your contemporary, and to
     make of you one supreme last request to which you must not
     turn a deaf ear. Go back, dear friend, to your literary
     work. The gift you have is from above, whence comes every
     good gift we possess. How happy I should be if I could
     believe that my entreaty would have the effect I desire!

      "As for myself, I am a drowning man. The physicians have
      not come to any conclusion about my disease. They say it
      may be gouty neuralgia of the stomach. I cannot walk, nor
      eat, nor sleep; but it would be tiresome to enter into
      details. My friend, great and beloved writer in Russian
      lands, hear my prayer. With these few lines receive a warm
      embrace for yourself, your wife, and all your family. I
      can write no more. I am tired."

This pathetic document contains the essence of the writer's life, the
synthesis of a soul that loved art above all things else, and believed
that of the three divine attributes, truth, goodness, and beauty, the
last is the one especially revealed to the artist, and the one it is his
especial duty to show forth; and that he who allows his sacred flame to
go out, commits a sin which is great in proportion to his talents, and a
sin incalculable when commensurate with the genius of Tolstoï.

Turguenief is the supreme type of the artist, for he had the
tranquillity and equipoise of soul, the bright serenity, and the
æsthetic sensibility which should distinguish it. According to able
critics, such as Taine, Turguenief was one of the most artistic natures
that has been born among men since classic times. Those who can read his
works in the Russian sing marvellous praises of his style, and even
through the haze of translation we are caught by its charms. Let me
quote some lines of Melchior de Voguié:

     "Turguenief's periods flow on with a voluptuous languor,
     like the broad expanse of the Russian rivers beneath the
     shadows of the trees athwart them, slipping melodiously
     between the reeds and rushes, laden with floating blossoms
     and fallen bird's-nests, perfumed by wandering odors,
     reflecting sky and landscape, or suddenly darkened by a
     lowering cloud. It catches all, and gives each a place; and
     its melody is blended with the hum of bees, the cawing of
     the crows, and the sighing of the breeze. The most fugitive
     sounds of Nature's great organ he can echo in the infinite
     variety of the tones of the Russian speech,--flexible and
     comprehensive epithets, words strung together to please a
     poet's fancy, and bold popular sallies."

Such is the effect produced by a thorough reading of Turguenief's works;
it is a symphony, a sweet and solemn music like the sounds of the
forest. Turguenief is, without exaggeration, the best word-painter of
landscape that ever wrote. His descriptions are neither very long nor
very highly colored; there is a charming sobriety about them that
reminds one of the saving strokes with which the skilful painter puts
life into his trees and skies without stopping over the careful
delineation of leaf and cloud after the manner of the Japanese. The
details are not visible, but felt. He rarely lays stress on minor
points; but if he does so, it is with the same sense of congruity that a
great composer reiterates a motive in music. Turguenief's enemies make
ground of this very dexterity, which is displayed in all his works, for
denying him originality,--as though originality must need be independent
of the eternal laws of proportion and harmony which are the natural
measures of beauty.

Ernest Renan pronounced quite another opinion, however, when, according
to the custom of the French, he delivered a discourse over the tomb that
was about to receive the mortal remains of Turguenief, on the 1st of
October, 1883. He said that Turguenief was not the conscience of one
individual, but in a certain sense that of a whole people,--the
incarnation of a race, the voice of past generations that slept the
sleep of ages until he evoked them. For the multitude is silent, and the
poet or the prophet must serve as its interpreter; and Turguenief holds
this attitude to the great Sclavonic race, whose entrance upon the
world's stage is the most astounding event of our century. Divided by
its own magnitude, the Sclav race is united in the great soul and the
conciliatory spirit of Turguenief, Genius having accomplished in a day
that which Time could not do in ages. He has created an atmosphere of
beautiful peace, wherein those who fought as mortal enemies may meet and
clasp each other by the hand.

It was just this impartiality and universality, which Renan praises so
highly, that alienated from Turguenief many of his contemporaries and
compatriots. Where ideas are at war, whoever takes a neutral position
makes himself the enemy to both parties. Turguenief knew this, and he
used sometimes to say, on hearing the bitter judgments passed upon him,
"Let them do what they like: my soul is not in their hands." Not only
the revolutionaries took it ill that he did not explicitly cast his
adhesion with them, but the country at large, whose national pride
spurned foreign civilization, was offended at the candor and realism of
his observations. And Turguenief, though Russian every inch of him,
loved Latin culture, and had developed and perfected by association with
French writers, such as Prosper Mérimée and Gustave Flaubert, those
qualities of precision, clearness, and skill in composition, which
distinguish him above all his countrymen; yet this was a serious
offence to the most of these latter.

Among modern French novelists, those who, to my mind, most resemble
Turguenief in the nature of their talents, are, first, Daudet, for
intensity of emotion and richness of design, and then the brothers
Goncourt in some, though not very many, pages. Yet there is a notable
difference in all. Daudet is less the epic poet than Turguenief, because
he devotes himself to the study of certain special aspects of Parisian
fife, while Turguenief takes in the whole physiognomy of his immense
country. From the laboring peasants and the nihilist students to the
generals and government clerks, he depicts every condition,--except the
highest society, which has been reserved for Léon Tolstoï. And
everything is vivid, interesting, fascinating,--the poor paralytic of
"Living Relics," as well as the courageous heroine of "Virgin
Soil,"--everything is real as well as poetical. Truth and poetry are
united in him as closely as soul and body. Though he is an indefatigable
observer, he never tires the reader; his heart overflowed with
sentiment, yet his good taste never permitted him to utter a false note
either of brutality or cant; he was a most eloquent advocate of
emancipation, moderation, and peace, yet no diatribe of either a social
or political character ever ruffled the celestial calm of his muse.
Puchkine and Turguenief are, to my mind, the two Russian spirits worthy
to be called _classic_.

Those who knew him and associated with him speak of his goodness as one
speaks of a mountain's height when gazing upward from its foot. Voguié
calls him a heavenly soul, one of the poor in spirit burning with the
fire of inspiration, one who seemed, amid the hard and selfish world,
the vain and jealous world of French letters, a visionary with gaze
distraught and heart unsullied, a member of some shepherd tribe or
patriarchal family. Every Russian that arrived penniless in Paris went
straight to his house for protection and assistance.

[1] This work is better known to American readers in a translation
entitled "Lisa."--Tr.


Gontcharof and Oblomovism.

The rival and competitor of Turguenief--not in Europe, but in
Russia--was a novelist of whom I must say something at least, though I
do not consider that he holds a place among the great masters; I mean
Gontcharof. This author's talents were fostered under the influence of
the famous critic Bielinsky, who professed and taught the principles
promulgated by Gogol,--demanded that art should be a faithful
representation of life, and its principal object the study of the

Ivan Gontcharof was not of the nobility, like Turguenief, but came of a
family of traders, and was born in the critical year of 1812. His life
was humble and laborious; he was a tutor, and then a government
employee, and made a tour of the world aboard the frigate "Pallas." He
began his literary career in the middle of that most glorious decade for
Russian letters known as "the forties." His first novel, entitled "A
Vulgar History," attracted public attention, and it is said that a
secret notice from the imperial censor in consequence was the cause of
the long silence of twelve years which the author maintained until the
time when he wrote "Oblomof," which is, to my mind, one of the most
pleasing and characteristic Russian novels. I must admit that I am
acquainted with only the first volume of it, for the simple reason that
it is the only one translated; and I must add that this volume begins
with the moment when the hero awakes from sleep, and ends with his
resolve to get up and dress and go out into the street! Yet this odd
little volume has an indescribable charm, an intensity of feeling which
takes the place of action, and incidents as easily invented by the
idealist as observed by the realist. In these days the art of
story-telling has undergone a great change; the hero no longer keeps a
dagger, a cup of poison, rope-ladders, and rivals at hand, but he runs
to the other extreme, not less trivial and puerile perhaps, of
exaggerating small incidents that are uninteresting, and irrelevant to
the subject or the essential thought of the work from an artistic point
of view. But in "Oblomof," whose hero does nothing but lie still in bed,
there is not a detail or a line that is superfluous to the harmonious
effect of the whole. Of course I can only speak of the one volume I have
read. One may imagine that the author would like to portray the state
of enervation and disorganization to which the essence of autocratic
despotism had brought Russian society; or perhaps it is one aspect of
the Russian soul, the dreamy indolence and insuperable apathy of the
body, which weighs down the active work of the imagination. It is only a
study of a psychical condition, yet what intense life throbs in its

Perhaps this admirable and original novel was not translated in its
entirety for fear of offending French taste, which demands more
excitement, and could not stand a long analytical narrative full of
detail, mere intellectual filigree. Turguenief was undeniably a greater
artist than his rival; but he never attained to the precision, lucidity,
and singular strength of "Oblomof" in any of his novels.

As the character of the hero was drawn to the life, the nation
recognized it at once, and the word _oblomovism_ became incorporated
into the language, implying the typical indolence of the Sclav. On some
accounts I find Turguenief's "Living Relics" more comparable to this
novel than any others of his. Both present one single phase or state of
the soul; both are purely psychological studies; the chief character of
both does not change position, the position in which he has been fixed
by the will of the novelist,--I had almost said the dissecting surgeon.

"Oblomof" is in reality a type of the Sclav who chases the butterfly of
his dreams through the still air. Study he regards, from his pessimist
point of view, as useless, because it will not lead him to earthly
happiness; and yet his soul is full of poetry and his heart of
tenderness; he reaches out toward illimitable horizons, and his
imagination is hard at work, but all his other faculties are asleep.


Dostoiëwsky, Psychologist and Visionary.

Now let us turn to that visionary novelist whom Voguié introduces to his
readers in these words:

     "Here comes the Scythian, the true Scythian, who puts off
     the habiliments of our modern intellect, and leads us by the
     hand to the centre of Moscow, to the monstrous Cathedral of
     St. Basil, wrought and painted like a Chinese pagoda, built
     by Tartar architects, and yet consecrated to the God whom
     the Christians adore. Dostoiëwsky was educated at the same
     school, led by the same current of thought, and made his
     first appearance in the same year as Turguenief and Tolstoï;
     but the latter are opposite poles, and have but one ground
     in common, which is the sympathy for humanity, which was
     incarnate and expanded in Dostoiëwsky to the highest degree
     of piety, to pious despair, if such a phrase is possible."

Dostoiëwsky is really the barbarian, the primitive type, whose
heart-strings still reverberate certain motive tones of the Russian soul
that were incompatible with the harmonious and tranquil spirit of
Turguenief. Dostoiëwsky has the feverish, unreasoning, abnormal
psychological intensity of the cultivated minds of his country. Let no
one of tender heart and weak nerves read his books; and those who cling
to classic serenity, harmony, and brightness should not so much as touch
them. He leads us into a new region of æsthetics, where the horrible is
beautiful, despair is consoling, and the ignoble has a halo of
sublimity: where guilty women teach gospel truths, and men are
regenerated by crimes; where the prison is the school of compassion, and
fetters are a poetic element. Much against our will we are forced to
admire a novelist whose pages almost excite to assassination and
nightmare horrors, this Russian Dante who will not allow us to omit a
single circle of the Inferno.

Feodor, son of Michael Dostoiëwsky, was born in Moscow in 1821, in a
hospital at which his father was a medical attendant. There is
frequently a strange connection between the environment of great writers
and the development and direction of their genius, not always evident to
the general public, but apparent to the careful critic; in Dostoiëwsky's
case it seems plain enough to all, however. His family belonged to the
country gentlefolk from whom the class of government employees are
drawn; Feodor, with his brother Alexis, whom he dearly loved, entered
the school of military engineers, though his tastes were rather for
belles-lettres and the humanities than for dry and unartistic details.
His literary education was therefore reduced to fitful readings of
Balzac, Eugene Sue, George Sand, and especially of Gogol, whose works
first inspired him with tenderness toward the humble, the outcast, and
the miserable. Shortly after leaving college he abandoned his career
for a literary life, and began the usual struggle with the difficulties
of a young writer's precarious condition. The struggle lasted almost to
the end of his life; for forty years he was never sure of any other than
prison bread. Proud and suspicious by nature, the humiliations and
bitterness of poverty must have contributed largely to unsettle his
nerves, disconcert his mind, and undermine his health, which was so
precarious that he used sometimes to leave on his table before going to
sleep a paper with the words: "I may fall into a state of insensibility
to-night; do not bury me until some days have passed." He was sometimes
afflicted with epilepsy, cruelly aggravated later in Siberia under the
lashes laid upon his bleeding shoulders.

Like one of his own heroes he dreamed of fame; and without having read
or shown his manuscripts to any one, alone with his chimeras and
vagaries, he passed whole nights in imaginary intercourse with the
characters he created, loving them as though they had been his relatives
or his friends, and weeping over their misfortunes as though they had
been real. These were hours of pure emotion, ideal love, which every
true artist experiences some time in his life. Dostoiëwsky was hen
twenty-three years old. One day he begged a friend to take a few
chapters of his first novel called "The Poor People" to the popular poet
Nekrasof; his friend did so, and in the early hours of the morning the
famous poet called at the door of the unknown writer and clasped him in
his arms under the excitement of the emotion caused by perusal of the
story. Nekrasof did not remit his attentions; he at once sought the
dreaded critic Bielinsky, the intellectual chief and lawgiver of the
glorious company of writers to which Turguenief, Tolstoï, and Gontcharof
belonged, the Russian Lessing, who died of consumption at the age of
thirty-eight years, just when others are beginning to acquire
discernment and tranquillity,--the great Bielinsky, who had formed two
generations of great artists and pushed forward the national literature
to a complete development. A man in his position, more prone to meet
with the sham than the genuine in art, would naturally be not
over-delighted to receive people armed with rolls of manuscript. When
Nekrasof entered his room exclaiming, "A new Gogol is born to us!" the
critic replied in a bad humor, "Gogols are born nowadays as easily as
mushrooms in a cellar." But when the author came in a tremor to learn
the dictum of the judge, the latter cried out impetuously, "Young man,
do you understand how much truth there is in what you have written? No,
for you are scarcely more than twenty years old, and it is impossible
that you should understand. It is a revelation of art, a gift of Heaven.
Respect this gift, and you will be a great writer!" The success achieved
by this novel on its publication in the columns of a review did not
belie Bielinsky's prophecy.

It is easy to understand the surprise of the critic on reading this work
of a scarcely grown man, who yet seemed to have observed life with a
vivid and deep sense of realism, and an unequivocal minuteness that is
generally learned only through the bitter experience of prosaic
sufferings, and comes forth after the illusions and vague
sentimentalities of youth have been dispelled and practical life has
begun. I said once, and I repeat it, that a true artist under
twenty-five would be a marvel; Dostoiëwsky was indeed such a marvel.

This first novel was the humble drama of two lonely souls, wounded and
ground down by poverty, but not spoiled by it; a case such as one might
meet with on turning the very next corner, and never think worthy of
attention or study, and which, even in the midst of modern currents of
thought, the novelist is quite likely to pass by. Yet the book is a work
of art,--of the new and the old art compounded, classic art infused with
the new warm blood of truth. This work of Dostoiëwsky, this touching,
tearful story, had a model in Gogol's "The Cloak," but it goes beyond
the latter in energy and depth of sadness. If Dostoiëwsky ever invoked a
muse, it must have been the muse of Hypochondria.

It was not likely that Dostoiëwsky would escape the political fatality
which pursued the generality of Russian writers. During those memorable
_forties_ the students were wont to meet more or less secretly for the
purpose of reading and discussing Fourier, Louis Blanc, and Proudhon.
About 1847 these circles began to expand, and to admit public and
military men; they were moved by one desire, and what began as an
intellectual effervescence ended in a conspiracy. Dostoiëwsky was good
material for any revolutionary cabal, being easily disposed thereto by
his natural enmity to society, his continuous poverty, his nervous
excitement, his Utopian dreams, and his inordinate and fanatical
compassion for the outcast classes. The occasion was ill-timed, and the
hour a dangerous one, being just at the time of the French outbreak,
which seemed a menace to every throne in Europe. The police got wind of
it, and on the 23rd of April, 1849, thirty-four suspected persons were
arrested, the brothers Feodor and Alexis Dostoiëwsky among them. The
novelist was thrown into a dungeon of the citadel, and when at last he
came forth, it was to mount the scaffold in a public square with some of
his companions. They stood there in shirt-sleeves, in an intense cold,
expecting at first only to hear read the sentence of the Council of War.
While they waited, Dostoiëwsky began to relate to a friend the plan of a
new novel he had been thinking about in prison; but he suddenly
exclaimed, as he heard the officer's voice, "Is it possible we are to be
executed?" His friend pointed to a car-load of objects which, though
covered with a cloth, were shaped much like coffins. The suspicion was
soon confirmed; the prisoners were all tied to posts, and the soldiers
formed in line ready to fire. Suddenly, as the order was about to be
given, word arrived from the emperor commuting the death-sentence to
exile to Siberia. The prisoners were untied. One of them had lost his

Dostoiëwsky and the others then set out upon their sad journey; on
arriving at Tobolsk they were each shaved, laden with chains, and sent
to a different station. During this painful experience a pathetic
incident occurred which engraved itself indelibly upon the mind of the
novelist, and is said to have largely influenced his works. The wives of
the "Decembrists" (conspirators of twenty-five years before), most of
them women of high rank who had voluntarily exiled themselves in order
to accompany their husbands, came to visit in prison the new generation
of exiles, and having nothing of material value to offer them, they gave
each one a copy of the Gospels. During his four years of imprisonment,
Dostoiëwsky never slept without this book under his pillow; he read it
incessantly, and taught his more ignorant fellow-prisoners to read it

He now found himself among outcasts and convicts, and his ears were
filled with the sounds of unknown languages and dialects, and speech
which, when understood, was profane and abhorrent, and mixed with yells
and curses more dreadful than all complaints. What horrible martyrdom
for a man of talent and literary vocation,--reckoned with evil-doers,
compelled to grind gypsum, and deprived of every means of satisfying the
hunger and activity of his mind! Why did he not go mad? Some may answer,
because he was that already,--and perhaps they would not be far wrong;
for no writer in Russia, not excepting even Gogol and Tolstoï, so
closely approaches the mysterious dividing line, thin as a hair, which
separates insanity and genius. The least that can be said is, that if
Dostoiëwsky was not subject to mental aberration from childhood, he had
a violent form of neurosis. He was a bundle of nerves, a harp with
strings too tense; he was a victim of epilepsy and hallucinations, and
the results are apparent in his life and in his books. But it is a
strange fact that he himself said that had it not been for the terrible
trials he endured, for the sufferings of the prison and the scaffold, he
certainly _would have gone mad_, and he believed that these experiences
fortified his mind; for, the year previous to his captivity, he declared
that he suffered a terrible temptation of the Devil, was a victim to
chimerical infirmities, and overwhelmed with an inexplicable terror
which he calls _mystic fear_, and thus describes in one of his novels:
"On the approach of twilight I was attacked by a state of soul which
frequently comes upon me in the night; I will call it _mystic fear_. It
is an overwhelming terror of _something_ which I can neither define nor
imagine, which has no existence in the natural order of things, but
which I feel may at any moment become real, and appear before me as an
inexorable and horrible _thing_." It seems then quite possible that the
writer was cured of his imaginary ills by real ones.

I have remarked that Gogol's "Dead Souls" reminded me of "Don Quixote"
more than any book I know; let me add that the book inspired by the
prison-life of Dostoiëwsky--"The Dead House"--reminds me most strongly
of Dante's Inferno. There is no exact likeness or affinity of literary
style; for "The Dead House" is not a poem, but a plain tale of the
sufferings of a few prisoners in a miserable Siberian fort. And yet it
is certainly _Dantesque_. Instead of the laurel-crowned poet in
scholar's gown, led by the bright genius of antiquity, we see the
wistful-eyed, tearful Sclav, his compressed lips, his attitude of
resignation,--and in his hands a copy of the Gospels; but the Florentine
and the Russian manifest the same melancholy energy, use the same burin
to trace their burning words on plates of bronze, and unite a prophetic
vision with a brutal realism of miserable and sinful humanity.

"The Dead House" also has the merit of being perhaps the most profound
study written in Europe upon the penitentiary system and criminal
physiology; it is a more powerful teacher of jurists and legislators
than all didactic treatises. Dostoiëwsky shows especially, and with
implacable clearness, the effect produced on the minds of the prisoners
by the cruel penalty of the lash. The complacency of narration, the
elaborateness of detail, the microscopic precision with which he notes
every phase of this torture, inflict positive pain upon the nervous
system of the reader. It is fascinating, it is the refinement of
barbarism, but it was also a work of charity, for it finally brought
about the abolition of that kind of punishment, and wiped out a foul
stain upon the Russian Code. It makes one turn cold and shudder to read
those pages which describe this torture,--so calmly and carefully
related without one exclamation of pity or comment, and even sometimes
painfully humorous. The trepidation of the condemned for days before it
is inflicted, his frenzy after it is over, his subterfuges to avoid it,
the blind fury with which sometimes he yields to it, throwing himself
under the painful blows as a despairing man throws himself into the
sea,--these are word-pictures never to be forgotten.

Voguié makes a striking comparison of the different fates awarded to
certain books, and says that while "My Prisons," by Silvio Pellico, went
all over the world, this autobiographical fragment by Dostoiëwsky was
unknown to Europe until very recently; yet it is far superior in
sincerity and energy to that of the Italian prisoner. The most
interesting and moving stories of captivity that I know of are Russian,
and chief among them I would mention "Memories of a Nihilist," by
Paulowsky. The tone of resignation, of melancholy simplicity, in all
these tales, however, is sure to touch all hearts. I will not quote a
line from "The Dead House;" it must be read, attentively and patiently,
and, like most Russian books, it has not the merit of brevity. But the
style is so shorn of artifice and rhetorical pretension, and the story
runs along so unaffectedly, that I cannot select any one page as an
example of excellence; for the excellence of the book depends on the
whole,--on the accumulated force of observation, on the complete aspect
of a soul that feels deeply and sees clearly,--and we must not break the
icy ring of Siberian winter which encloses it. It is enhanced by the
apparent serenity of the writer, by his sweetness, his half-Christian,
half-Buddhist resignation. With the Gospels in his hand, Dostoiëwsky at
last leaves his house of pain, without rancor or hatred or choleric
protests; more than this, he leaves it declaring that the trial has been
beneficial to him, that it has regenerated body and soul; that in prison
he has learned to love the brethren, and to find the spark of goodness
and truth lighted by God's hand even in the souls of reprobates and
criminals; to know the charity that passes understanding and the pity
that is foolishness to the wise; he has learned, in fact, _to
love_,--the only learning that can redeem the condemned.

Although he had been (at the time of writing this) four years released
from prison, he delayed still six years longer before returning to
Europe to publish his works. When he began his labors for the press, he
did not unite himself to the liberal party, but, erratic as usual, he
turned to the Sclavophiles,--the blind lovers of old usages and customs,
the bitter enemies of the civilization of the Occident. Fate was not yet
weary in persecuting him. After the death of his wife and brother he was
obliged to flee the country on account of his creditors. His sorrows
were not exactly of the sublime nature of Puchkine's and the melancholy
poet's; they were on the contrary very prosaic,--lack of money, combined
with terrible fits of epilepsy. To understand the mortifications of
poverty to a proud and sensitive man, one must read Dostoiëwsky's
correspondence,--so like Balzac's in its incessant complaints against
pecuniary affairs. He exclaims, "The details of my poverty are shameful.
I cannot relate them. Sometimes I spend the whole night walking my room
like a caged beast, tearing my hair in despair. I must have such or such
a sum to-morrow, without fail!" Gloomy and ill, he wandered through
Germany, France, and Italy, caring nothing for the wonders of
civilization, and impressed by no sights except the guillotine. He wrote
during this time his three principal novels, whose very names are
nightmares,--"Possessed with Devils," "The Idiot," and "Crime and

I know by experience the diabolical power of Dostoiëwsky's psychological
analysis. His books make one ill, although one appear to be well. No
wonder that they exercise a perturbing influence on Russian
imaginations, which are only too prone to hallucination and mental
ecstasy. I will briefly mention his best and most widely known book,
"Crime and Punishment," of which the following is the argument: A
student commits a crime, and then voluntarily confesses it to the
magistrate. This seems neither more nor less than an ordinary notice in
the newspaper, but what an analysis is conveyed by means of it! It is
horrible to think that the sentiments so studiously wrought out can be
human, and that we all carry the germs of them hidden in some corner of
the soul; and not only human, but possessed even by a person of great
intellectual culture, like the hero, whose crime is the result of great
reading reduced to horrible sophisms. Those two Parisian students who,
after saturating their minds with Darwin and Haeckel, cut a woman to
pieces with their histories, must have been prototypes of Rodion
Romanovitch, the hero of this novel of Dostoiëwsky. This young man is
not only clever, but possesses really refined sentiments; one of the
motives that lead to his crime is that one of his sisters, the most
dearly loved, may have to marry an unworthy man in order to insure the
welfare of the family. Such a _sale_ as this poor girl's marriage would
be seems to the student a greater wrong than the assassination of the
old money-lender. The first seed of the crime falls upon his soul on
overhearing at a wine-shop a dialogue between another student and an
officer. "Here you have on the one hand," says the student, "an old
woman, sick, stupid, wicked, useful to nobody, and only doing harm to
all the world about her, who does not know what she lives for, and who,
when you least expect it, will die a natural death; you have on the
other hand a young creature whose strength is being wasted for lack of
sustenance, a hundred lives that might be guided into a right path,
dozens of families that might be saved from destitution, dissolution,
ruin, and vice if that old woman's money were only available. If
somebody were to kill her and use her fortune for the good of humanity,
do you not think that a thousand good deeds would compensate for the
crime? It is a mathematical question. What weight has a stupid,
evil-minded old shrew in the social scale? About as much as a bed-bug."

"Without doubt," replies the officer, "the old woman does not deserve to
live. But--what can you do? Nature--"

"My friend," the other replies, "Nature can be corrected and amended.
If it were not so we should all be buried to the neck in prejudices, and
there would not be a great man amongst us."

This atrocious ratiocination takes hold upon Rodion's mind, and he
carries it out to terribly logical consequences. Napoleon sacrificed
thousands of men on the altar of his genius; why had he not the right to
sacrifice one ridiculous old woman to his own great needs? The ordinary
man must not infringe the law; but the extraordinary man may authorize
his conscience to do away with certain obstacles in his path.

It has been said that Dostoiëwsky's talents were influenced in some
measure by the fascinating personality of Edgar Poe. The analogies are
apparent; but the author of "The Gold Beetle," with all his suggestive
intensity and his feverish imagination, never achieved any such
tremendous psychological analyses as those of "Crime and Punishment." It
is impossible to select an example from it; every page is full of it.
The temptation that precedes the assassination, the horrible moment of
committing it, the manner of disposing of the traces of it, the
agonizing terror of being discovered, the instinct which leads him back
to the scene of the crime with no motive but to yield to a desire as
irresistible as inexplicable, his fearful visit to the place where he
lives over again the moment when he plunged the knife into the old
woman's skull,--examining all the furniture, laying his hand upon the
bell again, with a fiendish enjoyment of the sound of it, and looking
again for the marks of blood on the floor,--it is too well done; it
makes one excited, nervous, and ill.

"Is this beautiful?" some will ask. All that Dostoiëwsky has written
bears the same character; it wrings the soul, perverts the imagination,
overturns one's ideas of right and wrong to an incredible degree.
Sometimes one is lost in abysms of gloomy uncertainty, like Hamlet;
again one sees the struggle of the evil genius against Providence, like
Faust, or a soul lacerated by remorse like Macbeth; and all his heroes
are fools, madmen, maniacs, and philosophers of hypochondria and
desperation. And yet I say that this is beauty,--tortured, twisted,
Satanic, but intense, grand, and powerful. Dostoiëwsky's are bad books
to read during digestion, or on going to bed at night, when every dim
object takes an unusual shape, and every breath stirs the window
curtains; they are not good books to take to the country, where one sits
under the spreading trees with a fresh and fragrant breeze and a soul
expanded with contentment, and one thanks God only to be alive. But they
are splendid books for the thinker who devours them with reflective
attention,--his brow furrowed under the light of the student-lamp, and
feeling all around him the stir and excitement of a great city like
Paris or St. Petersburg.

But there is a drop of balm in the cup of absinthe to which we may liken
Dostoiëwsky's books; it is the Christianity which appears in them when
and where its consoling presence is least expected. Face to face with
the student who becomes a criminal through pride and injudicious
reading, we see the figure of a pure, modest, pious girl, who redeems
him by her love. This unfortunate girl is a flower that fades before its
time; it is she who, being sacrificed to provide bread for her family,
comes in time to convince the criminal of his sin, enlightens his mind
with the lamp of the Gospels, and brings him to repentance, resignation,
and the joy of regeneration, in the expiation of his crime by
chastisement and the dungeon.

There is one marked difference between "Crime and Punishment" and "The
Dead House." The novel is feverish, the autobiography is calm.
Dostoiëwsky is a madman who owes his lucid intervals to tribulations and
torture. Suffering clears his mind and alleviates his pain; tears
sweeten his bitterness, and sorrow is his supreme religion; like his
student hero, he prostrates himself before human suffering.

The best way of taking the measure of Dostoiëwsky's personality is to
compare him with his competitor and rival, and perhaps his enemy, Ivan
Turguenief. There could be no greater contrast. Turguenief is above all
an artist, almost classic in his serenity, master of the arts of form,
delicate, refined, exquisite, a perfect scene-painter, an always
interesting narrator, reasonable and temperately liberal in his
opinions, optimist, or, if I may be allowed the word, Olympic, to the
extent that he could boast of being able to die tranquilly because he
had enjoyed all that was truly beautiful in life. Dostoiëwsky is a rabid
psychologist, almost an enemy to Nature and the sensuous world, a
furious and implacable painter of prisons, hospitals, public houses and
by-streets of great cities, awkward in his style, taking only a
one-sided view of character, a revolutionary and yet a reactionary in
politics, and not only adverse to every sort of paganism, but hazily
mystical,--the apostle of redemption through suffering, and of the
compassion which seeks wounds to cure with its healing lips. Their two
lives are correlative to their characters,--Turguenief in the Occident,
famous and fortunate; Dostoiëwsky in the Orient, a barbarian, the
plaything of destiny, fighting with poverty shoulder to shoulder. It was
only natural that sooner or later the two novelists should know each
other as enemies. It is sad to relate that Dostoiëwsky attacked
Turguenief in so furious a manner that it can only be attributed to envy
and malice.

In his own country, however, and in respect to his popularity and
influence with young people, the author of "Crime and Punishment" ranked
higher than the author of "Virgin Soil." Just in proportion as
Turguenief was attractive to us in the West, Dostoiëwsky fascinated the
people of his country. "Crime and Punishment" was an event in Russia.
Dostoiëwsky had the honor--if honor it may be called--of dealing a blow
upon the soul of his compatriots, and on this account, as he himself
used sometimes to say, especially after his epileptic attacks, he felt
himself to be a great criminal, and the guilt of a villanous act weighed
upon his soul; and it happened that a certain student, after reading his
book, thought himself possessed by the same impulses as the hero, and
committed a murder with the same circumstances and details.

After writing "Crime and Punishment," Dostoiëwsky's talent declined; his
defects became more marked, his psychology more and more involved and
painful, his heroes more insensate, lunatic, epileptic, and overwrought,
absorbed in inexplicable contemplations, or wandering, rapt in delirious
dreams, through the streets. His novels are, in fact, the antechamber to
the madhouse. But we may once more notice the influence of Cervantes on
Russian minds; for the most important character created by Dostoiëwsky,
after the hero of "Crime and Punishment," is a type, imitated after
Quixote, in "The Idiot,"--a righter of wrongs, a fool, or rather a
sublime innocent.

As much as Dostoiëwsky excels in originality, he lacks in rhythm and
harmony. His way of looking at the world is the way of the
fever-stricken. No one has carried realism so far; but his may be called
a mystic realism. Neither he nor his heroes belong to our light-loving
race or our temperate civilization; they are the outcome of Russian
exuberance, to us almost incomprehensible. He is at one moment an
apostle, at another a maniac, now a philosopher, then a fanatic. Voguié,
in describing his physiognomy, says: "Never have I seen in any other
face such an expression of accumulated suffering; all the agonies of
flesh and spirit were stamped upon it; one read in it, better than in
any book, the recollection of the prison, the long habits of terror,
torture, and anguish. When he was angry, one seemed to see him in the
prisoner's dock. At other times his countenance had the sad meekness of
the aged saints in Russian sacred pictures."

In his last years Dostoiëwsky was the idol of the youth of Russia, who
not only awaited his novels most eagerly, but ran to consult him as they
would a spiritual director, entreating his advice or consolation. The
prestige of Turguenief was for the moment eclipsed. Tolstoï found his
audience chiefly among _the intelligence_, and Dostoiëwsky of the
lacerated heart was the object of the love and devotion of the new
generation. When the monument to Puchkine was unveiled, in 1880, the
popularity of Dostoiëwsky was at its height; when he spoke, the people
sobbed in sympathy; they carried him in triumph; the students assaulted
the drawing-rooms that they might see him near by, and one even fainted
with ecstasy on touching him.

He died, February 10, 1881, almost crazed with patriotic love and
enthusiasm, like Gogol. The multitudes fought for the flowers that were
strewn over his grave, as precious relics. His obsequies were an
imposing manifestation. In a land without liberty this novelist was the
Messiah of the new generations.


Tolstoï, Nihilist and Mystic.

The youngest of the four great Russian novelists, the only one living
to-day, and in general opinion the most excellent, is Léon, son of
Nicholas Count Tolstoï. His biography may be put into a few lines; it
has no element of the dramatic or curious. He was born in 1828; he was
brought up, like most Russian noblemen of his class, in the country, on
his patrimonial estates; he pursued his studies at the University of
Kazan, receiving the cosmopolitan education--half French, half
German--which is the nursery of the Russian aristocracy; he entered the
military career, spent some years in the Caucasus attached to a regiment
of artillery, was transferred to Sevastopol at his own desire, and
witnessed there the memorable siege, the heroes of which he has
immortalized in three of his volumes; on the conclusion of the peace he
dedicated some time to travel; he resided by turns at both Russian
capitals, frequenting the best society, his congenial atmosphere, yet
without being captivated by it; he finally renounced the life of the
world, married in 1860, and retired to his possessions near Toula, where
he has lived in his own way for twenty-five years or more, and where
to-day the famous novelist, the gentleman, the scholar, the
sceptic,--after falling like Saul on the road to Damascus, blinded by a
heavenly vision, and being converted, as he himself says,--shows
himself, to all who go to visit him, dressed in peasant's garb, swinging
the scythe or drawing the sickle.

The more important biography of Count Tolstoï is that which pertains to
his soul, always restless, always in pursuit of absolute truth and the
divine essence,--a noble aspiration which ameliorates even error. There
is no book of Tolstoï's but reveals himself, particularly so the
autobiography entitled "My Memories," and certain passages of his
novels, and lastly, his theologico-moral works. Tolstoï belongs to the
class of souls that without God lose their hold on life; and yet, by his
own confession, the novelist lived without any sort of faith or creed
from his youth to maturity.

Ever since the time when Tolstoï saw the dreams of his childhood
vanish,--began to think for himself, and to experience the religious
crisis which usually arrives between the ages of fifteen and
twenty-five,--his soul, like a storm-tossed bark, has oscillated between
pantheism and the blackest pessimism. What depths of despair a soul like
that of Tolstoï can know, unable to rest upon the pillow of doubt, when
it abnegates the noblest of human faculties,--thought and
intelligence,--and makes choice of a merely vegetative life in
preference to that of the rational being! Lost in the gloom of this dark
wilderness, he falls into the region of absolute nihilism. He admits
this in his confessions ("My Religion") when he says: "For thirty-five
years of my life I have been a nihilist in the rigorous acceptation of
the term; that is to say, not merely a revolutionary socialist, but a
man who believes in nothing whatever."

In fact, since the age of sixteen, as we read in his "Memoirs," his mind
summoned to judgment all accepted and consecrated doctrines and
philosophical opinions, and that which most suited the boy was
scepticism, or rather a sort of transcendental egoism; he allows himself
to think that nothing exists in the world but himself; that exterior
objects are vain apparitions, no longer real to his mind; impressed and
persuaded by this fixed idea, he believes he sees, materially, behind
and all around him, the abyss of nothingness, and under the effect of
this hallucination he falls into a state of mind that might be called
truly motor madness, though it was transitory and momentary,--a state
proper to the visionary peoples of the North, and to which they give an
involved appellation difficult to pronounce; to translate it exactly,
with all its shades of signification, I should have to mix and mingle
together many words of ours, such as despair, fatalism, asceticism,
intractability, brief delirium, lunacy, mania, hypochondria, and
frenzy,--a species of dementia, in fine, which, snapping the mainspring
of human will, induces inexplicable acts, such as throwing one's self
into an abyss, setting fire to a house for the pleasure of it, holding
the muzzle of a pistol to one's forehead and thinking, "Shall I pull the
trigger?" or, on seeing a person of distinction, to pull him by the nose
and shake him like a child. This momentary but real dementia--from which
nobody is perhaps entirely exempt, and which Shakespeare has so
admirably analyzed in some scenes of "Hamlet"--is to the individual what
panic is to the multitude, or like _epidemia chorea_, or a suicidal
monomania which sometimes seems to be in the air; its origin lies deep
in the mysterious recesses of our moral being, where other strange
psychical phenomena are hidden, such as, for example, the fascination of
seeing blood flow, and the innate love of destruction and death.

But let us turn to the real literary work of Tolstoï before referring to
the actual cause of his perturbed conscience. After the beautiful story
called "The Cossacks," he prepared himself, by other short novels, for
works of larger importance. Among the former should be mentioned the
sweet story of "Katia," which already reveals the profound reader of the
human heart and the great realist writer. For Tolstoï, who knows how to
cover vast canvases with vivid colors, is no less successful in small
pictures; and his short novels, "The Death of Ivan Illitch" and the
first part of "The Horse's Romance," for example, are hardly to be
excelled. But his fame was chiefly assured by two great works,--"War and
Peace" and "Anna Karénina." The former is a sort of cosmorama of Russian
society before and during the French invasion, a series of pictures that
might be called Russian national episodes. Like our own Galdos, Tolstoï
studied the formative epoch of modern society, the heroic age in which
the Great Captain of the century awoke in the nations of Europe, while
endeavoring to subjugate them, a national conscience, just as he
transmitted to them, though unwittingly, the impetus of the French
Revolution. Russia heroically resisting the outsider is Tolstoï's hero.

The action of the novel merely serves as a pretext to intertwine
chapters of history, politics, and philosophy; it is rather a general
panorama of Russian life than an artistic fiction. "War and Peace" is a
complement to the poetic satire of Gogol, delineating the new society
which was to rise upon the ruins of the past. If we apply the rules of
composition in novel-writing, "War and Peace" cannot be defended; there
is neither unity, nor hero, nor hardly plot; so loose and careless is
the thread that binds the story together, and so slowly does the
argument develop, that sometimes the reader has already forgotten the
name of a character when he meets with it again ten chapters farther on.
The vast incoherence of the Russian soul, its lack of mental discipline,
its vagueness and liking for digressions, could have no more complete
personification in literature.

One therefore needs resolution to plunge into the perusal of works in
which art mimics Nature, copying the inimitable extension of the Russian
plains. I once asked a very clever friend how she was occupying herself.
She replied, "I have fallen to the bottom of a Russian novel, and I
cannot get out!" But scarcely has one finished the first two hundred
pages, as a first mouthful, when one's interest begins to awaken,--not a
mere vulgar curiosity as to events, but a noble interest of mind and
heart. It is the stream of life, grand and majestic, which passes before
our eyes like the expanse of a mighty flowing river. Tolstoï--more than
Turguenief, who is always and first of all the artist, and more than
Dostoiëwsky, who sees humanity from the point of view of his own
turbulent mind and confused soul--Tolstoï produces a supreme and
absolute impression of the truth, although, in the light of his
harmonious union of faculties, it is impossible to say whether he hits
the mark by means of external or internal realism,--whether he is more
perfect in his descriptions, his dialogues, or his studies of character.
In reading Tolstoï, we feel as though we were looking at the spectacle
of the universe where nothing seems to us unreal or invented.

Tolstoï's fictitious characters are not more vivid than his historical
ones,--Napoleon or Alexander I., for example; he is as careful in the
expression of a sublime sentiment as in a minute and vulgar detail.
Every touch is wonderful. His description of a battle is amazing (and
who else can describe a battle like Tolstoï!), but he is charming when
he gives us the day-dreams and love-fancies of a child still playing
with her dolls. And what a clear intuition he has of the motives of
human actions! What a penetrating, unwavering, scrutinizing glance that
"trieth the hearts and the reins," as saith the Scripture! Tolstoï does
not exhaust his perspicacity in the study of instinct alone; with eagle
eye he pierces the most complex souls, refined and enveloped in the veil
of education,--courtiers, diplomats, princes, generals, ladies of high
rank, and famous statesmen. No one else has described the drawing-room
so exquisitely and so truly as Tolstoï; and it must be admitted that
the picture of official good society is terribly embarrassing. Some
chapters of "Anna Karénina" and "War and Peace" seem to exhale the warm
soft air that greets us as we enter the door of a luxurious,
aristocratic mansion. The master-painter controls the collectivity as
well as the individual; he dissects the soul of the multitude, the
spirit of the nation, with the same energy and dexterity as that of one
man. The wonderful pictures of the invasion and burning of Moscow are
continual examples of this.

Is "War and Peace" a historical novel in the limited, archæological,
false, and conventional conception? Certainly not. Tolstoï's historical
novel has realized the conjunction of the novel and the epic, with the
good qualities of both. In this novel--so broad, so deep, so human, and
at times so patriotic, as Tolstoï understands patriotism--there is a
subtle breath of nihilism, an essence of euphorbia, a poison of
_ourare_, which colors the whole drift of Russian literature. This
tendency is personified in the hero (if the book may be said to have one
at all), Pierre Besukof, a true Sclavonic soul, expansive, full of
unrest and disquietude, passionate, unstable, the character of a child
united to the investigating intelligence of a philosopher,--a
pre-nihilist (to coin a word) who goes in search of certainty and
repose, and finds them not until he meets at last with one "poor in
spirit," a wretched common soldier, a type of meek resignation and
inconsequent fatalism, who shows him how to attain to his desires
through a mystic indifferentism, a voluntary abrogation of the body,
and a vegetative form of existence, in fact, a form of quietism, of
Indian Nirvana.

This same philosophical concept inspires all of Tolstoï's writings. Once
a nihilist and now converted, culture and the exercise of reason are to
him lamentable gifts; his ideal is not progression, but retrogression;
the final word of human wisdom is to return to pure Nature, the eternal
type of goodness, beauty, and truth. The Catholic Church has also
honored the saintly lives of the poor in spirit, such as Pascual Bailon
and Fray Junipero, _the Idiot_; but assuredly it has never presented
them as models worthy of imitation in general, only as living examples
of grace; and on the contrary, it is the intelligence of great thinkers,
like Augustine, Thomas, and Buenaventura, that is revered and written
about. In the whole catalogue of sins there is perhaps none more
blasphemous than that of spurning the light given by the Creator to
every creature. But to return to Tolstoï.

His literary testament is to be found in "Anna Karénina," a novel but
little less prolix than "War and Peace," published in 1877. While "War
and Peace" pictured society at the beginning of the century, "Anna
Karénina" pictures contemporary society,--a more difficult task, because
it lacks perspective, yet an easier one, because one can better
understand the mode of thought of one's contemporaries; therefore in
"Anna Karénina" the epic quality is inferior to the lyric. The principal
character is amply developed, and the study of passion is complete and

The argument in "Anna Karénina" is upon an illicit love, young, sincere,
and overpowering. Tolstoï does not justify it; the whole tone of the
book is austere. It would seem as though he proposed to
demonstrate--indirectly, and according to the demands of art--that a
generous soul cannot live outside the moral law; and that even when
circumstances seem entirely favorable, and those obstacles which society
and custom oppose to his passion have disappeared, the discord within
him is enough to poison happiness and make life intolerable.

In both of Tolstoï's novels there is much insistence on the necessity of
believing and contemplating religious matters, the thirst of faith.
Although Tolstoï observes the canon of literary impersonality with a
rigorous care that is equal to that of Flaubert himself, yet it is
plainly to be seen that Pierre Besukof in "War and Peace," and Levine in
"Anna Karénina" are one and the same with the author, with his doubts,
his painful anxiety to get away from indifferentism and to solve the
eternal problem whose explanation Heine demanded of the waves of the
North Sea. Tolstoï cannot consent to the idea of dying an atheist and a
nihilist, or to living without knowing why or for what.

Referring to the autobiography called "Memoirs," we see that from
childhood he was troubled and tortured by the mystery of things about
him and the hereafter. He tells there how his mind reasoned with,
penetrated, and passed in review the diverse solutions offered to the
great enigma; once he thought, like the Stoics, that happiness depends
not upon circumstances, but upon our manner of accepting them, and that
a man inured to suffering could not be afflicted by misfortunes;
possessed with this idea he held a heavy dictionary upon his
outstretched hand for five minutes, enduring frightful pains; he
disciplined himself with a whip until his tears started. Then he turned
to Epicurus; he remembered that life is short; that to man belongs only
the disposition of the present; and under the influence of these ideas
he abandoned his lessons for three days, and spent the time lying on his
bed reading novels or eating sweets. He sees a horse, and at once
inquires, "When this animal dies, where will his spirit go? Into the
body of another horse? Into the body of a man?" And he wearies himself
with questionings, with struggling over knotty problems, with thoughts
upon thoughts, and all the while his ardent imagination conjures before
him dreams of love, happiness, and fame.

Beneath the restless effervescence of fancy and youth the religious
sentiment was pulsating,--the strongest and most deeply rooted sentiment
in his soul. One episode from the "Memoirs" will prove to us the innate
religious nature of the novelist. He tells us that once, when he was
still a child in his father's country-house, a certain beggar came to
the door, a poor vagabond, one-eyed and pock-marked, half idiot and
foolish,--one of those coarse clay vessels in which, according to
contemporaneous Russian literature, the divine light is wont to be
enclosed. He was offered shelter and hospitality, though none knew
whence he came, nor why he followed a mysterious wandering life, always
going from place to place, barefooted and poor, visiting the convents,
distributing religious objects, murmuring incoherent words, and sleeping
wherever a handful of straw was thrown down for him. Within the house,
at supper-time, they fall to discussing him. Tolstoï's mother pities
him, his father abuses him; the latter thinks him little better than a
cheat and a sluggard, the former reveres him as one inspired of God, a
holy man, who earns glory and reward every minute by wearing around his
body a chain sixty pounds in weight. Nevertheless, the vagabond obtains
shelter and food, and the children, whose curiosity has been excited by
the discussion, go and hide in a dark room next to his, so as "to see
Gricha's chain." Tolstoï was filled with awe in his dark corner to hear
the beggar pray, to see him throw himself upon the floor and writhe in
mystic transports amid the clanking of his chain. "Many things have
happened since then," he exclaims, "many other memories have lost all
importance for me; Gricha, the wanderer, has long since reached the end
of his last journey, but the impression which he produced upon me will
never fade; I shall never forget the feelings that he awoke in my soul.
O Gricha! O great Christian! Thy faith was so ardent that thou couldst
feel God near; thy love was so great that the words flowed of themselves
from thy lips, and thou hadst not to ask thy reason for an examination
of them. And how magnificently didst thou praise the Almighty when,
words failing to express the feelings of thy heart, thou threwest
thyself weeping upon the floor!" This episode of childhood will indeed
never fade from the memory or the heart of Tolstoï. After seeking
conviction and repose in arrogant human science and in philosophy,
Tolstoï, like his two heroes, finds them at last in the meekness and
simplicity of the most abject classes. Like his own Pierre Besukof, who
receives the mystic illumination at the mouth of a common soldier who is
to be shot by the French, or like his own Levine, who gets the same from
a poor laboring peasant stacking hay, Tolstoï was converted by one
Sutayef, one of those innumerable _mujiks_ who go about the country
announcing the good tidings of the day of communist fraternity. "Five
years ago," says Tolstoï in "My Religion," "my faith was given to me; I
believed in the teachings of Jesus, and my whole life suddenly changed;
I abhorred what I had loved, and loved what I had abhorred; what before
seemed bad to me, now seemed good, and _vice versa_."

It was a sad day for art when this change of spirit came upon Count
Tolstoï. Its immediate effect was to suspend the publication of a novel
he had begun, to make him despise his master-works, call them empty
vanities, and accuse himself of having speculated with the public in
arousing evil passions and fanning the fires of sensuality. A heretic
and a rationalist (Tolstoï is clearly both; for what he calls his
conversion is neither to Catholicism nor to the Greek Church), he now
abuses the novel, like some persons nearer home with better intentions
than intelligence, as being an incentive to loose actions, the Devil's
bait, and agrees with Saint Francis de Sales that "novels are like
mushrooms,--the best of them are good for nothing." Tolstoï has not cast
aside the pen; he continues to write, but no more such superb pages as
we find in "War and Peace" and "Anna Karénina," no more masterly
silhouettes of fine society or the high ranks of the military, not the
imperial profile of Alexander I. or the charming figure of the Princess
Marie; he writes edifying apologies, Biblical parables dedicated to the
enlightenment of village-folk; exegeses and religious controversies,
professions of faith and dramas for the people. Has the great writer
died? Nay, I believe that he still lives and breathes beneath the coarse
tunic and rope girdle of the peasant-dress he wears, and which I have
seen in his portraits; for in these same books, written with a moral and
religious purpose, such as, for instance, that called "What to do?" in
which he has endeavored to dispense with elegance and suppress beauty of
rhetoric and style, the grace of the artist flows from his pen in spite
of him; his descriptions are word-paintings, and the hand of the master
is revealed in the admirable conciseness of diction; he controls every
resource of art, and is inspired, will-he, nill-he. Tolstoï was right in
reminding himself that genius is a divine gift, and there is no law that
can annul it or cast it out.

I cannot believe that Count Tolstoï will persevere in his present path.
In the first place, I have little confidence in conversion to a
rationalist faith; in the second place, from what I have heard of the
disposition of the incomparable novelist, I think it impossible that he
should long remain stationary and satisfied. In his vigorous, passionate
nature imagination has the strongest part; he is enthusiastic, and given
to extremes, like Prince Besukof in "War and Peace;" he is like a fiery
charger dashing on at full gallop, that leaps and plunges, and stays not
even upon the edge of the precipice. To-day, under the influence of an
unbridled sentiment of compassion, he is playing the part of redeemer
and apostle; he imitates in his proprietary mansion and in the
neighboring towns the primitive fraternal customs of the early
Christians; he follows the plough and swings the scythe, and waits on
himself, rejecting every offer of service and everything that refines
life. To-morrow, perhaps, his lofty understanding will tell him that he
was not born to make shoes but novels, and he will perhaps regret having
thrown away his best years, the prime of life and creative activity.

At present, he has abandoned himself to the grace of God; and to those
of us who are interested in intellectual phenomena, his religious ideas,
which are closely interwoven with his imaginative creations, are
extremely attractive. "My Religion" contains the fullest exposition of
them. He states in it that the whole teaching of Jesus Christ is
revealed in one single principle,--that of non-resistance to evil; it is
to turn the other cheek, not to judge one's neighbor, not to be angry,
not to kill. Tolstoï's experience with the Gospels is like that of the
uninitiated who goes into a physical laboratory, and without having any
previous instruction wishes to understand at once the management of this
or that apparatus or machinery. The sublime and compendious message of
the Son of Man has been for nineteen hundred years explained and defined
by the loftiest minds in theology and philosophy, who have elucidated
every real and profound phase of it as far as is compatible with human
needs and laws; but Tolstoï, extracting at pleasure that passage from
the sacred Book which most strikes his poetic imagination, deduces
therefrom a social state impossible and superhuman; declares tribunals,
prisons, authorities, riches, art, war, and armies, iniquitous and

In his earliest years Tolstoï dwelt much on thoughts of the tragedy of
war, and in "War and Peace" he gives utterance to some very original and
extraordinary, and sometimes even most ingenious opinions concerning it.
No historian that I know of can be compared to Tolstoï on this point;
none has succeeded in putting in relief the mysterious moral force, the
blind and irresistible impulse which determines the great collisions
between two peoples independently of the external and trivial causes to
which history attributes them. Nor has any one else brought out as
clearly as Tolstoï the part played in war by the army, the anonymous
mass always sacrificed to the personality of two or three celebrated
chiefs,--not only in the campaign bulletins but in the narratives of
Clio herself. I believe it will be long before such another man as
Tolstoï will arise, not only in the realms of the art of depicting great
battle-scenes, but so rich in the gifts of military psychology and
physiology; one who can describe the trembling fear in the recruit as
well as the strategic calculations of the commander; one who can
transfer the impression made upon the soul by the whistling of the bombs
carrying death through the air, as well as the sudden impulse that at a
certain decisive moment seizes upon thousands of souls that were before
vacillating and unstable, lifts them up to a heroic temperature, and
decides, in spite of all strategic combinations, the fate of the battle.
Though the strenuous enemy of war, Tolstoï is perhaps the man who has
written about it better than any other in the world; in every other
respect I can compare him to some one else, but not in this. In French
writings I recall only one page that could be placed beside Tolstoï's;
it is the admirable description of the battle of Waterloo, by Stendhal.

In the name of his own gospel Tolstoï condemns not only human
institutions in general, but the Church in particular (the Greek Church,
of course), accusing it of having substituted the letter for the spirit,
the word of the world for the word of God.

It is not to our purpose to point out Tolstoï's theological errors, but
his artistic and social errors fall within the scope of our
investigations. We know that, applying the principle of non-resistance
in the most rigorous acceptation, he proscribes war, and, as a logical
consequence, he disapproves the sacred love of country, which he
qualifies as an absurd prejudice, and reproaches himself whenever his
own instincts lead him to wish for the triumph of Russia over other
nations. In the light of his theory of non-resistance he condemns the
revolution, and yet he is forwarding it all the while by his own radical
socialism. Tolstoï's social ideal is, not to lift up and instruct the
ignorant, nor even to suppress pauperism, but to create a state entirely
composed of the poor, to annihilate wealth, luxury, the arts, all
delicacy and refinement of custom, and lastly--the lips almost refuse to
utter it--even cleanliness and care of the body. Yes, cleanliness and
instruction, to wash and to learn, are, in Tolstoï's eyes, great sins,
the cause of separation and estrangement among mankind.

Besides this book in which he has set forth his religious ideas, he has
written another called "My Confession" and "A Commentary on the
Gospels." In "My Confession" he says that having lost faith when very
young and given himself up for a time to the vanities of life, and to
making literature in which he taught others what he himself knew nothing
about, and then turning to science for light upon the enigma of life, he
became at last inclined to suicide, when it suddenly occurred to him to
look and see how the humbler classes lived, who suffer and toil and know
the object of life; and it was borne in upon him that he must follow
their example and embrace their simple faith.

Thus Tolstoï formulated the principle enunciated by Gogol, and which is
dominant in Russian literature,--the principle of a return to Nature,
for which the way was prepared by Schopenhauer, and the sort of modern
Buddhism which leads to a subjection of the reason to the animal and the
idiot, and a feeling of unbounded tenderness and reverence for inferior

I have devoted thus much attention to Tolstoï's social and religious
ideas, not only because they are interlaced with his novels, and to a
certain extent complement and explain them, but because Tolstoï, though
he has allied himself with no political party, not even with the
Sclavophiles, like Dostoiëwsky, is yet a representative of an order of
ideas and sentiments common in his country and proper to it; he is the
supreme artist of nihilism and pessimism, and at the same time the
apostle of a Christian socialism newly derived from certain theories,
dear to the Middle Ages, concerning the eternal Gospels; he is the
interpreter, to the world of culture, society, letters, and arts, of
that feverish mysticism which manifests itself in more violent forms
among certain Russian sects, independent preachers, voluntary mortifiers
of the body, the direct inheritors of those who, in dark ages past,
declared themselves under the influence of spirits. The spectacle of the
socialist fanatic united to the great writer, of the Quietist almost
exceeding the limits of evangelical charity joined to the novelist of
realism almost _à la_ Zola, is so interesting from an intellectual point
of view, that it is hard to say which most attracts the attention,
Tolstoï or his books.

He has made great mistakes, not the least of which is his renunciation
of novel-writing, if indeed that be his intention, though I have heard
some Russians affirm the contrary. By condemning the arts and luxuries
of urban life, and admitting only the good of the agricultural, for the
sake of its simplicity and laboriousness, instead of helping on the
Golden Age, he compels a retrogression to the age of the animal, as
described by the Roman poet,--"the troglodyte snores, being satisfied
with acorns." By anathematizing letters, poetry, theatres, balls,
banquets, and all the pleasures of intelligence and civilization, he
condemns the most delicate instincts that we possess, sanctions
barbarism, justifies a new irruption of Huns and Vandals, and endeavors
to arrest the faculty of the perception of the Beautiful, which is a
glorious attribute of God himself. And all this for what? To find at the
end of this harsh penance not the love of Jesus Christ, who bids us lean
on his breast and rest after our labors, but a pantheistic numen, a
blind and deaf deity hidden behind a gray mist of abstractions. With
sorrow we hear Tolstoï, the great artist, blaspheme when he would pray;
hear him spurn the gifts of Heaven, condemn that form of art in which
his name shone brightest and shed lustre on his country and all the
world,--calling the novel oil poured upon the flames of sensual love, a
licentious pastime, food for the senses, and a noxious diversion. We see
him, under the hallucination of his mysticism, making shoes and drawing
water with the hands that God gave him for weaving forms and designs of
artistic beauty into the texture of his marvellous narratives.


French Realism and Russian Realism.

The Russian naturalistic school seems to have reached its culmination in
Tolstoï. Concerning Russian naturalism I would say a few words more
before leaving the subject. The opinions expressed are impartial, though
long confirmed in my own mind.

In recapitulating half a century of Russian literature, we see that this
_natural school_ followed close upon an imitation of foreign style and
an effervescence of romanticism; it was founded by Gogol, and defended
by Bielinsky, the estimable critic who did for Russia what Lessing did
for Germany. The _natural school_ professed the principle of adhering
with strict fidelity to the reality, and of copying life exactly in all
its humblest and most trivial details. And this new school, born before
romanticism was well worn-out, grew and prospered quickly, producing a
harvest of novelists even more fertile than the poets of the antecedent
school. The date of its appearance was the period denominated _the
forties_,--the decade between 1840 and 1850.

The general European political agitation, not being able to manifest
itself in Russia by means of insurrections, tumults, and proclamations,
took an intellectual form; and young Russia, returning from German
universities intoxicated with metaphysics, saturated with liberalism and
philanthropy, was eager to pour out its soul, and give vent to its
plethora of ideas. A country without lecture-halls, free-press, or
political liberty of any sort, had to recur to art as the only refuge.
And making use of the sort of subterfuge that love employs when it hides
itself under the veil of friendship, the political radical called
himself in Russia a sort of left-handed Hegelian, to invent a phrase.

Thus Russian letters, in assuming a national character, showed a strong
social and political bias, which contains the clew to its qualities and
defects, and especially to its originality. The academic idea of
literature as a gentle solace and noble recreation has been for the last
half-century less applicable in Russia than anywhere else in the world;
never has literature in Russia become a profession as in France, where
the writer is prone to become more or less the skilful artisan, quick to
observe the variations of public taste, what sort of condiment most
tickles its palate, and straightway takes advantage of it,--an artisan
satisfied, with honorable exceptions, to sell his wares, and to snap his
fingers at the world, at humanity, at France, and even at Paris,
exclusive of that strip of asphalt which runs from the Madeleine to the
Porte St. Martin. Russian literature stands for more than this;
persuaded of the importance of its task, and that it is charged with a
great social work and the conduct of the progress of its country,--Holy
Russia, which is itself called to regenerate the world,--neither glory
nor gold will satisfy it; its object is to enlighten and to teach the
generations. It is but a short step from this to an admonitory and
directive literature; and the noblest Russian geniuses have stumbled
over this propensity at the end of their literary career. Gogol finished
by publishing edificatory epistles, believing them more advantageous
than "Dead Souls;" an analogous condition has to-day befallen Tolstoï.

In spite of the severity of Nicholas I., literature enjoyed a relative
ease and freedom under his sceptre, either because the Autocrat had a
fondness for it, or was not afraid of it. Under the shelter afforded by
literature, political Utopias, nihilistic germs, subversive
philosophies, and dreams of social regeneration were fostered. The
novel--more directly, actively, and efficaciously than the most careful
treatises or occasional articles--propagated the seeds of revolution,
and being filled with sociological ideas, was devoted to the study of
the poor and humble classes, and was marked by realism and sincerity of
design; while the flood of indignation consequent upon repressive and
violent measures broke forth into copious satire.

In this development of a literature aspiring to transform society, the
love of beauty for beauty's sake plays a secondary part, though it is
the proper end and aim of all forms of art. Therefore that which
receives least attention in the Russian novel is perfection of
form,--plot and method best revealing the æsthetic conception. It
abounds in superb pages, admirable passages, prodigies of observation,
and truth; but, except in the case of Turguenief, the composition is
always defective, and there is a sort of incoherence, of palpable and
fearful obscurity, amid which we seem to discover gigantic shapes,
vaguer but grander than those we are accustomed to see about us.

During a period of twenty or thirty years the novel and the critic were
everything to Russia; the national intelligence lived in them, and
within their precincts it elaborated a free world after its own heart.
Like a maiden perpetually shut away from the outside world, dreaming of
some romantic lover whom she has never known or seen, consoling herself
with novels, and fancying that all the fine adventures in them have
happened to herself, Russia has written into the national novel her own
visionary nature, her thirst for political adventures, and her eagerness
for transcendental reforms. One most important reform may be said to be
directly the work of the novel, namely, the emancipation of the serfs.

When the more clement Alexander II. succeeded the austere Nicholas I.,
and the restraints laid upon the political press were loosened so that
it could spread its wings, the novel suffered in consequence. The hope
of great events to come, the approaching liberation of the serfs, the
formation of a sort of liberal cabinet, the efflorescence of new
illusions that bud under every new régime, concurred to infuse the
literature with civic and social tendencies. Beautiful and bright and
poetical is art for art's sake, and as Puchkine understood it; but at
the hour of doubt and strife we ask even art for positive service and
practical solutions. Who stops to see whether the life-preservers thrown
to drowning men struggling with death are of elegant workmanship?

In speaking of nihilism I have mentioned the most important one of the
directive Russian novels, called "What to Do?" by the martyr
Tchernichewsky,--a work of no great literary merit, but which was the
gospel of young Russia. In his wake followed a host of novelists of this
tendency, but inferior, obscure, and without even the inventive power of
their leader in dressing up their ideas as symbolic personages, like his
ascetic socialist Rakmetof, who laid himself down upon a board stuck
through with nail-points. In their turn came the reactionaries, or
rather the conservatives, and in novels as absurd as those of their
predecessors they clothed the nihilists in purple and gold; it finally
resulted that everybody was as ready to produce a novel as to write a
serious article, or to handle a gun at a barricade. If any one of the
neophytes of the school of directive novels possessed genius, it was
swallowed up in the froth of political passion.

As an accomplice in guilt, criticism did not weigh these works of art in
the golden scales of Beauty, but in the leaden ones of Utility. There
were critics who went so far as to declare war upon art, undertaking to
ruin the fame of great authors, because they wrought not in the
interests of transcendentalism; their motive was like that which
impelled the early Christians to destroy the great works of paganism.
The popular novelists condemned the verses of Puchkine and the music of
Glinka, in the name of the down-trodden and suffering people, just as
Tolstoï, in remembrance of the hungry family he had just visited,
refused to partake of the appetizing meal offered him by servants in
livery. As art had not achieved the amelioration of the people's
condition, they considered it not merely a futile recreation, but
actually an obnoxious thing. Bielinsky, with a taint of this same mania,
at last entertained scruples against the pure pleasure enjoyed in
contemplation of the beautiful, and was almost inclined to stop his ears
and shut his eyes so as not to fall into æsthetic sins.

Are the authors and critics the only ones responsible for this directive
character of most Russian novels? No. Two factors are requisite to the
work of art,--the artist and the public. The Russians exact more of the
novel than we; the Latins, at least, regard the novel as a means of
beguiling a few evening hours, or a summer siesta,--a way to kill time.
Not so the Russians. They demand that the novelist shall be a prophet, a
seer of a better future, a guide of new generations, a liberator of the
serf, able to face tyranny, to redeem the country, to reveal the ideal,
in fine, an evangelist and an apostle. Given this conception, it ought
not to astonish us that the students drag Turguenief's carriage through
the streets, that they faint with emotion at Dostoiëwsky's touch, nor
that the enthusiasm of the multitude--in itself contagious--should
sometimes fill the heads of the novelists themselves. The novelists are,
in reality and truth, a faithful echo of the aspirations and needs of
the souls that feed upon their works. The Occidentalism of Turguenief,
the mysticism of Dostoiëwsky, the pessimism of Tolstoï, the charity, the
revolutionary spirit,--each is a manifestation of the national
atmosphere condensed in the brains of two or three foremost geniuses.
Who can doubt the reflex action which the anonymous multitude exercises
on eminent persons, when he contemplates the great Russian novelists?

There is a difference, however, between the novel which is purposely
directive, the novel with a moral, so to speak, and the novel which is
guided by a social drift, by "the spirit of the times." The former is
liable to mediocrity and flatness, the latter is the patrimony of the
loftiest minds. This spirit, this social sympathy, issued from every
pore of Ivan Turguenief, the most able and exquisite of them all,
indirectly and without detriment to his impersonality, and with the full
conviction that it ought to be so; and novel-writing is useful in this
way and no other. He says as much in a sort of autobiographical
fragment, in which he explains how and why he left his country: "I felt
that I must at all costs get away from my enemy in order the better to
deal him a telling blow. And my enemy bore a well-known name; it was
serfdom, slavery. Under the name of slavery I included everything that I
proposed to fight without truce and to the death. This was my oath, and
I was not alone in subscribing thereto. And in order to be faithful to
it I came to the Occident."

If I am not mistaken, the great difference between French and Russian
naturalism lies in this predominant characteristic of social expression.
The defects and merits of French naturalism are bound up with its
condition as a purely literary insurrection and protest against the
rhetoric of romanticism. In vain Zola exerts his Titanic energies to
impress on his works this social significance, whose invigorating power
is not unheeded by his perspicacious mind. He fights against egoism
without and perhaps within; but only in the two which he conceives to be
his master works, "L'Assommoir" and "Germinal," has he approached the
desired mark.

The condition of France is diametrically opposed to that of Russia. I am
only repeating the opinion of a large number of illustrious Frenchmen
who have judged themselves without any great amount of optimism. They
say, "We are an old people, depraved and worn-out, our illusions
vanished, our hopes faded. We have proved all things, and now we cannot
be moved either by military glory which has undone and ruined us, or by
revolutions which have discredited us and made Europe look upon us with
suspicion. We have no religious faith, nor even social faith. We desire
peace, and, if possible, that industry and commerce may flourish; we are
not yet bereft of patriotism, and we expect art to entertain us, which
is difficult,--for what new thing remains for the artist to discover?
Criticism, spread abroad among the multitudes, has killed inspiration;
the generative forces are exhausted. We demand so much of the novelists
that they are at a loss how to whet our appetites, and neither ugliness,
nor unnatural crime, nor monstrous aberrations are sufficient to
stimulate our cloyed palates. They are touched with our coldness, and,
like ourselves, spiritless and inert, sick and disgusted, they feel
beforehand the irremediable and fatal decadence that is coming upon us,
and they believe that art in the Latin races will die with the century."
Thus mourn some of the men of France, and to my mind they have a basis
of truth.

The artist never goes beyond the line marked out by his epoch. And how
should he? Of course there is, in every work of art, something that is
the exclusive property of the individual, something of his own genius;
but as the nature of the fish is to swim, but swim it cannot out of the
water, and the nature of the bird is to fly, but lacking air it flies
not, so, given a social atmosphere, the artist modifies and adapts
himself to it. The novelist cannot have an ideal different from the
society which reads him; and if one but perceives the rigor and
inflexibility of this law, one may avoid many foolish sentiments
expressed with the intent to censure the immorality of the novel. Take
any one of them, Tolstoï's, Zola's, Goncourt's, Dostoiëwsky's, look at
it well, study it closely, and you will find in it the exact expression
and even the artistic interpretation of a tendency of his epoch, his
nation, and his race. This is as evident as that two and two make four.
Novelists are what they must be rather than what they would be, and it
is not in their power to make a world after their own hearts or
according to any ideal pattern.

Melchior de Voguié, it seems to me, has not recognized this truth in
accusing French novelists of materialism, dryness, egoism, and paganism,
and has not taken into account the fact that the reflex action of the
public upon the novelist is greater than that of the latter upon the
former, or at least that the novelist is the first to be influenced,
although afterward his works have an influence in turn, and in lesser

"The French realists," says Voguié, "ignore the better part of humanity,
which is the spirit." This is true; and I have said and thought for a
long time that realism, to realize to the full its own program, must
embrace matter and spirit, earth and heaven, human and superhuman. I
entirely agree with Voguié in believing that naturalism--or to call it
by a more comprehensive name, the School of Truth or Realism--should not
close its eyes to the mystery that is beyond rational explanations, nor
deny the divine as a known quantity. And so entirely is this my opinion,
that I could never consent to the narrow and short-sighted idea of some
who imagine that a Catholic, by the act of admitting the supernatural,
the miraculous, and the verity of revelation, is incapacitated for
writing a profound, serious, and good novel, a realistic novel, a novel
that shall breathe a fragrant essence of truth. Aside from the fact that
literary as well as scientific methods do not presuppose a negation of
religion, when did it ever happen that Catholicism, in the days of
liveliest faith, impeded the production of the best of realist novels,
as for example "Don Quixote"? The truth is that the novel, given the
epic element, will be neither Catholic nor religious in those societies
which are neither one nor the other. The lyric element does not demand
this harmony with society: a great Catholic poet may be found in a most
agnostic country, but not a Catholic novelist.

The novel is a clear mirror, a faithful expression of society, and the
actual conditions of the novel in Europe are a proof of it. I think I
have shown that the Russian novel reflects the dreams, sentiments, and
changes of that country; it appears revolutionary and subversive,
because the spirit of both Russian _intelligence_ and Russian educated
people is so. In France, where to-day, in spite of the efforts of the
spiritual and eclectic school, the traditions of the Encyclopædia have
prevailed together with a frivolous sensualist materialism, the novel
follows this road also, and without meaning to strike up Béranger's
famous refrain,--

    "C'est la faute de Rousseau,
     C'est la faute de Voltaire,"

I affirm that _animalism_, determined materialism, pessimism, and
_decadentism_ may be explained by the light of the great writers of the
eighteenth century, not only through their literary influence, but
because the society which pores over the novels of the present day is
the daughter of the French Revolution, and the latter is the daughter of
the Encyclopædia. Who does not know the relation which exists between
the novel and the fashion in England, and how the former is conditioned,
shaped, and limited exclusively by the latter? In Germany another
curious phenomenon is apparent. The novel in vogue is historical,--a
condition appropriate to a country where everybody is interested only in
epic life and the contingency of war.

On account of this interdependence, or, in fact, unity, of the novel and
society, I cannot agree with Voguié when he says that the books that are
influencing and stimulating the multitudes, the general ideas that are
transforming Europe, are proceeding nowadays not from France but from
Russia. It may be true of the Northern races, but of Latin races it
cannot be more than partially and indirectly so. Does Voguié find in the
French novel as in the Russian the latent fermentation of the
evangelical spirit, or are the currents of mysticism that impregnate
Russia circulating through France?

Russia is Christian, in spite of German materialist philosophers who for
a time set her brains in a whirl, but whom she has finally rejected, as
the sea gives up a dead body; and if I have succeeded in showing clearly
the forms adopted by the social revolution in Russia, and the strange
analogies these sometimes bear to the actions of the early Christians,
if I have shown the love of sacrifice, the ardent charity, the
sympathetic pity and tenderness not only toward the oppressed but toward
even the criminal, the despised, the idiot, and the outcast, which
characterize this society and this literature; if I have shown the
degrees of mystic fervor by which it is permeated and consumed,--no one
need be surprised at my statement and conclusion that although Buddha
and Schopenhauer have a goodly share in the present condition of Russian
thought, the larger part is nevertheless Christian. It is my opinion
that the world is more Christian now than in the Middle Ages, not as to
faith, but as to sentiments and customs; and if in hours of despondency
I were sometimes inclined to doubt the efficiency of the word of Christ,
the sight of its prodigious effects in Russia would certainly correct my
doubts. The heterodox nature of the Russian faith is not a nullification
of it. The most heretical heretic, if he be a sincere Christian, has
more of truth than error in his faith. But error is like sin: one drop
of poison is enough to permeate a glass of pure water; yet it is certain
that there is more water than poison in the glass.

To return to the literary question, the Russian novel demonstrates, if
such demonstration be necessary, the futility of the censures directed
against naturalism, and which confound general principles with the
circumstances and social conditions which environ the novelist. The
Russian novel proves that all the precepts of the art of naturalism may
be realized and fulfilled without committing any of those sins of which
it is accused by those who know it through the medium of half a dozen
French novels. The charge that is oftenest made against the French
realist is the having painted pictures of passion and vice too nakedly
and with too much candor,--and the charge is certainly not without
foundation; and it may be added that some novelists overload the canvas
and go to the extreme of making humanity out to be more sinful than even
physical possibilities admit; but they must not be made to bear the
responsibility alone; the public that gloats and feeds on these comfits,
and grumbles when they are not provided,--the public, I say, must share
it. In Russia, where the readers do not ask the novelist for intricate
plot or high-colored sketches, the novel is chaste: I do not mean in the
English sense of being moral with an air of affectation, and frowns and
false modesty; I mean chaste without effort, like an ancient marble
statue. In "Anna Karénina" Tolstoï depicts an illicit passion,
extravagant, vehement, full of youthful ardor; yet there is not a page
of "Anna Karénina" which cannot be read aloud and without a blush. In
"War and Peace" the most candid pages are models of decorum, of true
decorum, such as education, reason, and the dignity of man approve. In
"Crime and Punishment" Dostoiëwsky introduces the character of a
prostitute; but this character is no such romantic creature as Marie
Gautier or Nana. She is not made poetical, nor is she embellished or
exaggerated; yet she produces an impression (let him read the novel who
doubts) of purity, of suffering, of austerity. In Turguenief, by far the
most sensual of the great Russian novelists, and in Pisemsky, of
secondary rank, there is so much art in the disposition and harmony of
detail and description, that the definitive impression, while less
severe than in the case of the two others mentioned, is equally noble
and lofty.

Are they any the less Realists for this? They are rather more so, in my
opinion. In order to carry out the great precept of modern art, the
novelist must copy life,--the life that we live and that unfolds about
us every day. But life does not unfold as it is represented in many
novels that are the product of French naturalism. The Zola school makes
use of abstraction and accumulation in uniting in one scene and one
character all the aberrations, abominations, and vices that only a
collection of profligates could be capable of, with the result offered
us in pictures such as the house in "Pot-Bouille," that should be
handled with tongs for fear of soiling one's fingers. We turn to the
reality, and we find that all these colors exist, that all these vices
are actual,--yes, but one at a time, intermingled with a thousand good
or commonplace things; then we are in a rage with the novelist, and ever
after bear him a grudge for having a mania for ugliness. The impression
which life makes upon us is quite different; the alternative of good is
evil, of poetry is vulgarity; we demand a recognition of this from the
novelist, and this the Russian novelists have given us, yet without
leaving the firm ground of realist art. They present the material, the
bestial, the trivial, the vile, the obscene, the passionate, as they
appear in life, in due proportion and no more.

We have also to thank them for having recognized the psychical life, and
the spiritual, moral, and religious needs of mankind. And I would make a
distinction between the moral spirit of the English novel and the
Russian. The English judge of human actions according to preconceived
notions derived from a general standard accepted by society and
officially imposed by custom and the Protestant religion. The Russian
moralist feels deeper and thinks higher; morality is not for him a
system of narrow and inalterable rules, but the aspiration of a creature
advancing toward a higher plane, and learning his lessons in the hard
school of truth and the great theatre of art.

The spiritual element in the Russian novel is to me one of its most
singular merits. The novel should not teach the supernatural, nor be the
instrument of any religious propaganda. But from this premise to a
condition of mutilation and mere dry chronicle of physiological
functions is a long way. There are countless facts of our existence that
cannot be explained by the most determined materialist; it is not the
duty of art to explain them, but art cannot justly ignore them. Émile
Zola is both a thinker and an artist. As an artist he is admirable, and
is hardly behind Tolstoï either in poetic or descriptive faculties; but
with the artist he combines the philosopher--may I call it so?--the
philosopher of the lowest and coarsest fibre, whose influence upon
French naturalism has been most pernicious, and has greatly limited the
scope of the novel in his country.

       *       *       *       *       *

In conclusion, it is my opinion that the only way to understand the
naturalistic movement is in connection with its social environment; the
impulse of our age toward a representation of truth in art everywhere
prevails, and everywhere the novel has become a result of observation,
an analytical study, as we notice in a general view of European
literature for the last forty years. The century which began with lyric
poetry is closing with a triumphant novel.

But the great principle of reality is differently applied in different
countries. Why was romanticism so much the same in England, Germany,
Spain, and Russia? Because it was chiefly rhetoric,--a literary protest,
an artistic insurrection. And why the differences between French
naturalism, the Russian _natural school_, English and Spanish realism,
and Italian _verismo_? Because each one of these phases of the religion
of truth is adequate to the country that conceived it, and to the hour
and the occasion upon which it is focused. It is no objection that
between these various forms there is close communication and relation.
Edmund de Goncourt once remarked to me that the Russian novel is not so
original as people think, for besides the marked influence of Hoffmann
and Edgar Poe upon the genius of Dostoiëwsky, it would not be difficult
to trace in the other great writers the inspiration of Balzac, Flaubert,
Stendhal, and George Sand. Pie was right; and yet Russian literature is
not the less indigenous.

I should always prefer the art that is disinterested, that carries
within itself its aim and object, to the art that is directive, with a
moral purpose; between the art that is pagan and the art that is
imbecile, I should choose the pagan. If we Spaniards, who are like the
Russians, at once an ancient and a young people, still ignorant of what
the future may lead us to, and never able to make our traditions
harmonize with our aspirations,--if we could succeed in incorporating in
our novel not merely bits of fragmentary reality, artistic
individualisms, but the spirit, the heart, the blood of our country,
what we are doing, what we are feeling as a whole,--it would indeed be
well. Yet I think this impossible, not for lack of talent but for lack
of preparation on the part of the public, upon whom at present the novel
exercises no influence at all. The novel is read neither quantitatively
nor qualitatively in Spain. As to quantity, let the authors who publish,
and the booksellers who sell, speak what they know; of the quality, let
the numerous lovers of Montepin and the eager readers of the
translations in the _feuilletines_ tell us. The serious and profound
novel dies here without an echo; criticism makes no comment upon it, and
the public ignores its appearance. Is there a single modern novel that
is popular, in the true meaning of the word, among us? Has any novel had
any influence at all in Spanish political, social, or moral life?

On coming from France, I have often noticed a significant fact, which
is, that at the French station of Hendaye there is a stand for the sale
of all the popular and celebrated novels; while at Irun, just across the
frontier, only a few steps away, but Spanish, there is nothing to be had
but a few miserable, trashy books, and not a sign of even our own best
novelists' works. From the moment we set foot on Spanish soil the
novel, as a social element, disappears. It is sad to say, but it is so
true that it would be madness to build any illusions on this matter. And
yet the instinct, the desire, the inexplicable anxiety of the artist to
embody and transmit the great truths of life, the impulse that lifts men
to great deeds, and to desire to be the voice of the people, is secretly
stimulating the Spanish novelists to break the ice of general
indifference, to put themselves in communication with the sixty million
souls and intelligences that to-day speak our language. Is the goal
which we desire to attain inaccessible? Perhaps; but as the immense
difficulties in the way of penetrating to the Arctic regions and the
discovery of the open Polar Sea are but an incentive to the explorer, so
the impossible in this undertaking should incite and spur on the masters
of the Iberian novel.

A few words of humble confession, and I have done.

I feel that there is a certain indecision and ambiguity running through
these essays of mine. I could not quite condemn the revolution in
Russia, nor could I altogether approve its doctrines and discoveries. A
book must reflect an intellectual condition which, in my case, is one of
uncertainty, vacillation, anxiety, surprise, and interest. My vision has
not been perfectly clear, therefore I have offered no conclusive
judgments,--for conviction and affirmation can only proceed from the
mind they have mastered. Russia is an enigma; let those solve it who
can,--I could not. The Sphinx called to me; I looked into the depths of
her eyes, I felt the sweet and bewildering attraction of the unknown, I
questioned her, and like the German poet I wait, with but moderate hope,
for the answer to come to me, borne by voices of the ocean of Time.

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