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Title: The Russian novelists

Author: vicomte de Eugène-Melchior Vogüé

Translator: Jane Loring Edmands

Release date: November 30, 2023 [eBook #72271]

Language: English

Original publication: Boston: D. Lothrop company, 1887

Credits: Carol Brown, Peter Becker and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at (This file was produced from images generously made available by The Internet Archive)










Copyright, 1887,

By C. J. Peters and Son, Boston.



The spelling of Russian names is a matter of peculiar difficulty, and no fixed usage in regard to it has as yet been established. I have tried to follow the system presented in the Proceedings of the American Library Association for 1885, but it has been in some cases impossible for me to go back to the original Russian form as a starting-point. I have found it necessary to abridge M. de Vogüé’s work somewhat, in order to bring it within certain prescribed limits.

J. L. E.



In offering this book to the constantly increasing class of persons interested in Russian literature, I owe them a little explanation in regard to the unavoidable omissions in these essays, as well as to their object and aim. The region we are approaching is a vast, almost unexplored one; we can only venture upon some of its highways, selecting certain provinces, while we neglect others.

This volume does not claim to give a complete history of Russian literature, or a didactic treatise upon it. Such a work does not yet exist in Russia, and would be premature even in France.

My aim is quite a different one. To do justice to both the dead and the living, in a history of the literature of only the past hundred years, I should but accumulate a quantity of names foreign to our ears, and a list of works which have never been translated. The entire political and social history of the three preceding reigns should be written, to properly explain the last.

It appears to me better to proceed as a naturalist 6 would do in his researches in a foreign country. He would collect specimens peculiarly characteristic of the climate and soil, and choose from among them a few individual types which are perfectly developed. He draws our attention to them, as best revealing to us the actual and peculiar conditions of life in this particular corner of the earth.

This is my plan. I shall briefly touch upon the earliest Russian literature, and show how it became subjected to foreign influences, from which it was finally emancipated in the present century.

From this time, I am embarrassed in choosing from such a rich supply of material, but I shall confine myself to a few individual types. This method is, besides, even more legitimate in Russia than in more recently settled countries. If you go through one hundred different villages between St. Petersburg and Moscow, you will see that, in feature, bearing, and costume the people seem to be remarkably similar; so that a few portraits, chosen at random, will describe the whole race, both as to physical and moral traits.

This series of studies is principally devoted to the four distinguished contemporary writers, already well known in Europe by their translated works. I have tried to show the man as well as his work; and both, as illustrating the Russian national character. Without paying much attention to the rules of literary composition, I have 7 been glad to make use of everything which would help me to carry out my design: of biographical details, personal recollections, digressions upon points of historical and political interest, without which the moral evolutions of a country so little known would be quite unintelligible. There is but one rule to be followed; to use every means of illuminating the object you wish to exhibit, that it may be thoroughly understood in all its phases. To this end, I have used the method of comparison between the Russian authors and those of other countries more familiar to us, as the surest and most rapid one.

Some persons may express surprise that it is of her novelists that I demand the secret of Russia.

It is because poetry and romance, the modes of expression most natural to this people, are alone compatible with the exigencies of a press-censure which was formerly most severe, and is even now very suspicious. There is no medium for ideas save through the supple meshes of fiction; so that the fiction which shields yet conveys these ideas assumes the importance of a doctrinal treatise.

Of these two leading forms of literature, the first, poetry, absorbed the early part of the present century; the other, the novel, has superseded poetry, and monopolized the attention of the whole nation for the last forty years.

8 With the great name of Pushkin at the head of the list, the Russians consider the romantic period as the crowning point of their intellectual glory. I once agreed with them, but have had two motives for changing my opinion.

In the first place, it would be quite useless to discuss works which we could not quote from; for the Russian poets have never been and never will be translated. The life and beauty of a lyric poem is in its arrangement of words and its rhythm; this beauty cannot be transferred into a foreign form. I once read a very admirable and exact Russian translation of Alfred de Musset’s “Nights”; it produced the same sensation as when we look upon a beautiful corpse; the soul had fled, like the divine essence which was the life of those charming verses.

The task is yet more difficult when you attempt to transfer an idea from the most poetical language in Europe into one which possesses the least of that quality. Certain verses of Pushkin and Lermontof are the finest I know in any language. But in the fragment of French prose they are transferred into, you glean but a commonplace thought. Many have tried, and many more will continue to try to translate them, but the result is not worth the effort. Besides, it does not seem to me that this romantic poetry expresses what is most typical of the Russian spirit. By giving poetry the first rank 9 in their literature, their critics are influenced by the prestige of the past and the enthusiasm of youth; for the passage of time adds lustre to what is past, to the detriment of the present.

A foreigner can perhaps judge more truly in this case; for distance equalizes all remote objects on the same plane. I believe that the great novelists of the past forty years will be of more service to Russia than her poets. For the first time she is in advance of Western Europe through her writers, who have expressed æsthetic forms of thought which are peculiarly her own. This is why I choose these romances as illustrative of the national character. Ten years’ study of these works has suggested to me many thoughts relative to the character of this people, and the part it is destined to fill in the domain of intellect. As the novelist undertakes to bring up every problem of the national life, it will not be a matter of surprise if I make use of works of fiction in touching upon grave subjects and in the weaving together of some abstract thoughts.

We shall see the Russians plead the cause of realism with new arguments, and better ones, in my opinion, than those of their rivals in the West.

This work is an important one, and is the foundation of all the contests of ideas in the civilized world; revealing, moreover, the most characteristic conceptions of our contemporaries.

10 In all primitive literature, the classical hero was the only one considered worthy of attention, representing in action all ideas on religions, monarchical, social, and moral subjects, existing from time immemorial. In exaggerating the qualities of his hero, either for good or evil, the classic poet took for his model what he deemed should or should not be expected of him, rather than what such a character would be in reality.

For the last century, other views have gradually prevailed. Observation, rather than imagination, has been employed. The writer constantly gives us a close analysis of actions and feelings, rather than the diversion and excitement of intrigues and the display of passions. Classic art was like a king who has the right to govern, punish, reward, and choose his favorites from an aristocracy, obliging them to adopt conventional rules as to manners, morals, and modes of speech. The new art tries to imitate nature in its unconsciousness, its moral indifference. It expresses the triumph of the masses over the individual, of the crowd over the solitary hero, of the relative over the absolute. It has been called natural, realistic; would the word democratic suffice to define it, or not? It would be short-sighted in us not to perceive that political changes are only episodes in the great and universal change which is taking place.

Man has undertaken to explain the Universe, 11 and perceives that the existence itself, the greatness and the dangers of this Universe are the result of the incessant accumulation of infinitesimal atoms. While institutions put the ruling of states into the hands of the multitude, science gave up the Universe to the control of the atoms of which it is composed. In the analysis of all physical and moral phenomena, the ancient theories as to their origin are entirely displaced by the doctrine of the constant evolution of microscopic and invisible beings. The moral sciences feel the shock communicated by the discoveries in natural science. The psychologist, who studies the secrets of the soul, finds that the human being is the result of a long series of accumulated sensations and actions, always influenced by its surroundings, as the sensitive strings of an instrument vary according to the surrounding temperature.

Are not these tendencies affecting practical life as well, in the doctrines of equality of classes, division of property, universal suffrage, and all the other consequences of this principle, which are summed up in the word democracy, the watchword of our times? Sixty years ago, the tide of the stream of democracy ran high, but now the stream has become an ocean, which is seeking its level over the entire surface of Europe. Here and there, little islets remain, solid rocks upon which thrones still stand, occasional fragments of feudal governments, with a clinging remnant of 12 caste privileges; but the most far-seeing of these monarchs and of these castes know well that the sea is rising. Their only hope is that a democratic organization may not be incompatible with a monarchical form; we shall find in Russia a patriarchal democracy growing up within the shadow of an absolute power.

Literature, which always expresses the existing condition of society, could not escape this general change of base; at first instinctively, then as a doctrine, it regulated its methods and its ideals according to the new spirit. Its first efforts at reformation were awkward and uncertain; romanticism, as we know to-day, was but a bastard production. It was merely a reaction against the classic hero, but was still unconsciously permeated by the classic spirit. Men soon tired of this, and demanded of authors more sincerity, and representations of the world more conformable to the teachings of the positive sciences, which were gaining ground day by day. They demanded to know more of human life, of ideas, and the relations of human beings to each other. Then it was that realism sprung into existence, and was adopted by all European literature, and is still reigning, with the various shades of difference that we shall allude to. A path was prepared for it by the universal revolution I have spoken of; but a realization of the general causes of this revolution could alone give to literature a philosophical turn.

13 These great changes in men’s ideas were thought to be due to the advancement in scientific knowledge, and the resulting freedom of thought, which for a time inaugurated the worship of reason. But beyond the circle of truth already conquered appeared new and unknown abysses, and man found himself still a slave, oppressed by natural laws, in bondage to his passions. Then his presumption vanished. He fell back into uncertainty and doubt. Better armed and wiser, undoubtedly, but his necessities increased with the means of satisfying them. Disenchanted, his old instincts came back to him; he sought a higher Power,—but could find none. Everything conspired to break up the traditions of the past; the pride of reason, fully persuaded of its own power, as well as the aggravating stubbornness of orthodoxy. By a strange contradiction, the pride of intelligence increased with universal doubt which shattered all opinions.

All the Sages having declared that the new theories regarding the universe were contrary to religious explanations, pride refused to make further researches. The defenders of orthodoxy have done little to facilitate matters. They did not understand that their doctrine was the fountain-head of all progress, and that they turned that stream from its natural direction by opposing the discoveries of science and all political changes.

The strongest proof of the truth of a doctrine 14 is the faculty of accommodating itself to all human developments, without changing itself, because it contains the germ of all the developments. The remarkable power of religion over men arises from this faculty; when orthodoxy does not recognize this gift, it depreciates its own strength.

By reason of this misunderstanding, the responsibility of which should be shared by all parties, it has taken a long time to come to a perception of this simple truth. The world has been for eighteen centuries in a state of fermentation, through the gospel. Bossuet, one of those rare spirits which prophesy truly, realized this. He said:

“Jesus Christ came into the world to overthrow all that pride has established in it; thence it is that his policy is in direct opposition to that of the age.”

But this constant, active work of the gospel, although formerly acknowledged, is now denied by many; this gives to realism the harshness of its methods. The realist should acknowledge the present, abiding influence of the spirit of the gospel in the world. He should, above all, possess the religious sentiment; it will give him the charity he needs. The spirit of charity loses its influence in literature the moment it withdraws from its true source.

To sum up what realism should be, I must seek 15 a general formula, which will express both its method and the extent of its creative power. I can find but one, and it is a very old one; but I know of none better, more scientific, or which approaches nearer the secret of all creation:—

“And the Lord formed man of the dust of the ground.”—But, to complete the formula, and account for the dual nature of our humanity, we must add the text: “And breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul—”

This divine spark, derived from the source of universal life, is the spirit, the active and mysterious and incomprehensible element of our being, which baffles all our explanations, and without which we are nothing. At the point where life begins, there do we cease to comprehend.

The realist is groping his way, trying his experiments in the creations of his brain, which breathe the spirit of truth, and speak with at least the accent of sincerity and sympathy.



Translator’s Note 3
Preface 5
I. Epochs in Russian Literature 19
II. Romanticism.—Pushkin and Poetry 44
III. The Evolution of Realism in Russia.—Gogol 56
IV. Turgenef 88
V. The Religion of Endurance.—Dostoyevski 141
VI. Nihilism and Mysticism.—Tolstoï 209






Before studying those contemporary writers who alone will reveal to us the true Russian spirit and character, we must devote a little attention to their predecessors, in order to understand the Russian literature in its prolonged infancy, and its bearing upon that of the present day. We shall see how everything conspired to retard its development. Russian literature may be divided into four distinct epochs. The first, ending with the accession of Peter the Great, was in fact its mediæval age. In this epoch a wealth of national traditions had accumulated in its popular poetry and barbarous essays. The second period embraces the last century, from Peter the Great to Alexander I., and, although seemingly progressive, was the least fruitful one, because its literature was but a servile imitation of that of the Occident. The third, the short epoch of romanticism, produced a brilliant set of poets, whose 20 works were of value to the general world of letters. But they were hot-house blooms, produced by a culture imported from abroad, and give but little idea of the true properties of their native soil.

Forty years ago a new epoch began. Russia has finally produced something spontaneous and original. In the realistic novel, Russian genius has at last come to a realizing sense of its own existence; and, while bound indissolubly to the past, it already lisps and stammers the programme of its future. We shall see how this genius has soared from darkness and obscurity, acting already a part in history, although continually repressed by history’s cruel wrongs and injustice and its brusque changes of situation. We must recall too the intellectual origin of this race and its moral peregrinations, and then we can make more allowance for what there is of gloom, irresolution, and obscurity in its literature.

The Russian people are afflicted with a national, a historical malady, which is partly hereditary, partly contracted during the course of its existence. The hereditary part is that proclivity of the Slavonic mind towards that negative doctrine which to-day we call Nihilism, and which the Hindu fathers called Nirvâna. In fact, if we would understand Russia well, we must recall to our minds what she has learned from ancient India.

21 Many philosophers of the present day in Russia fully accept the doctrines of Buddha, and boast with pride of the purity of their Aryan blood, bringing forward many arguments in support of this claim. First, there is the fact that the physical type is very marked in families in which the Tartar blood has never mingled. Many a Moscow student or peasant from certain provinces might, except for his light complexion, easily pass in a street of Lahore or Benares for a native of the valley of the Ganges. Moreover, they have strong philological arguments. The old Slavonic dialect is declared by linguists to more nearly approach the Sanscrit than does the Greek of the very earliest epochs. The grammatical rules are identical. Speak of the Vêda to any Russian peasant, and you will find he needs no explanation; the verb vêdat is one in constant use by him. If he should mention the word “fire,” it will be the original one used by his ancestors who worshipped that element. Numberless examples could be quoted to prove this close relation to the original Sanscrit; but this is still more strongly shown by an analytical study of the Russian mind and character. The Hindu type of mind may be easily recognized in the Slavonic intellectual type. By studying the revolutions of India one could easily understand possible convulsions in Russia. The most able authors state the Buddhist revolution to have arisen from a social rather than a religious 22 reaction of the popular sentiment against the spirit of caste, against the fixed organizations of society. Like Christianity in the West, Buddhism was in the extreme East the revelation, the personification of charity and meekness, of moral and social freedom, which were to render life more tolerable to multitudes of human beings bowed under the yoke of an implacable theocracy.

The best doctrines, in order to succeed, must permit certain exaggerations for the fanciful and imaginative, and tolerate certain errors which attract minds warped by prolonged sufferings. To the latter, Christianity offers asceticism; Buddhism promises them the joys of annihilation, the Nirvâna. Nihilism is the word invented by Burnouf as a translation of Nirvâna. Max Müller says that the Sanscrit word really means “the action of extinguishing a light by blowing it out.” Will not this definition explain Russian Nihilism, which would extinguish the light of civilization by stifling it, then plunge back into chaos.

Undoubtedly, numerous and more recent causes have acted upon the national mind producing this peculiar state of discouragement, which in violent natures has developed into a furious desire to destroy every existing condition, because all are bad. Moreover, Christianity has lent a new formula to what there was of good in the old instincts. Its influence has been profound, 23 accounting for the spirit of fraternity and self-sacrifice so admirable in this people. But I cannot help thinking that with this stolid race we must go back to the habits of thought of very ancient times in order to realize what their natural inclinations and difficulties would be.

We shall now see how these have been aggravated or modified by a series of accidents. I know of no people which has been so overwhelmed by its own fate; like a river which has changed its course over and over again, or the life of one of those men who seem fated to begin several different careers in life and succeed in none.

The Western nations have developed under much more favorable conditions. After the forced establishment and final withdrawal of Islamism, they enjoyed a long period of comparative peace, several centuries in which they could work out the problem of life. Constant revolutions and wars did not wholly throw them off the track which they had marked out for themselves from the outset.

Russia, on the contrary, seems to have offered a free field for the most radical experiments, in which its poor people have been involved every two or three hundred years, just as they were well started in a new direction. Plunged into the most barbarous and heathenish anarchy, different tribes waged war there for two or three 24 centuries after these had wholly ceased in France. Then Christianity came, but from a Byzantine, the least pure source; a vitiated Christianity, enervated by oriental corruption. The Russian people were fated to become wholly Greek in religion, laws, and government, thus commencing a new epoch in history. Would this germ of a new life have time to develop?

Two hundred years after the baptisms at Kiev, Russia was overwhelmed by the Mongolian invasion. Asia returned to demand its prey and to seize the young Christian territory, which was already gravitating toward Europe. Pagans from the beginning, the Tartars became Mohammedans, remained wholly Asiatic, and introduced oriental customs among their Russian subjects. Not until the fifteenth century, when the Renaissance was dawning upon western Europe, did Russia begin to throw off this Tartar yoke. They freed themselves by a succession of strong efforts, but very gradually. The Crescent did not disappear from the Volga until 1550, leaving behind it traces of the oriental spirit for all time.

The Russian people were now crushed by an iron despotism, made up of Mongolian customs and Byzantine ceremonies. Just emancipated from foreign oppression, they were forced to cultivate the soil. Boris Godunof condemned them to serfdom, by which their whole social condition was changed in one day, with one stroke of the 25 pen,—that unfortunate St. George’s day which the muzhik would curse for three hundred years to come.

In the next century Russia was invaded from the Occident. Poland obtained one-half of its territory and ruled at Moscow. The Poles were afterwards expelled, when the nation could take time to breathe and assert itself again. Naturally, it then turned toward Asia and its own traditions.

Now appeared upon the scene a rough pilot in the person of Peter the Great, to guide the helm of this giant raft which was floating at random, and direct it toward Europe. At this epoch occurred the strangest of all the experiments tried by history upon Russia. To continue the figure, imagine a ship guided towards the West by the captain and his officers, while the entire crew were bent upon sailing for the East. Such was the strange condition of affairs for one hundred and fifty years, from the accession of Peter to the death of the Emperor Nicholas; the consequences of which condition are still observable. The sovereign and a few men he called to his aid abjured oriental life entirely, and became Europeans in ideas, politics, language, and dress. Little by little, the upper classes followed this example during the latter part of the last century.

During the first half of the present one, the influence of Europe became still stronger, affecting 26 administration, education, etc., drawing a small part of the masses with it; but the nation remained stolid, rebellious, with its eyes turned toward the East, as were the prayers of their Tartar masters. Only forty years ago the Western light illumined the highest peaks alone, while the broad valleys lay buried in the shadows of a past which influences them still.

This entire period presents a condition of affairs wholly unique. An immense population was led by a small class which had adopted foreign ideas and manners, and even spoke a strange language; a class which received its whole intellectual, moral, and political food and impetus from Germany, England, or France, as the case might be;—always from outside. The management of the land itself was frequently confided to foreigners—“pagans,” as the Russian peasants called them. Naturally, these foreigners looked upon this country as a vast field open to them for the collection of taxes and recruits; and whose destiny it was to furnish them with everything necessary in carrying out their projects,—their diplomatic combinations on the chess-board of all Europe.

There were, of course, some exceptions—some attempts at restoring national politics and interior reform; but total ignorance of the country as well as of its language was the rule. Grandparents are still living in Russia, who, while they 27 speak French perfectly, are quite incapable of speaking, or at least of writing, in the language of their grandchildren.

Since the time of Catherine, a series of generations living in the Parisian elegance and luxury of the days of Louis XV., of the Empire, and the Restoration, have suffered with the French all their revolutionary shocks, shared in all their aspirations, been influenced by all their literature, sympathized in all their theories of administration and political economy;—and these do not even trouble themselves to know how a muzhik of the provinces lives, or what he has to endure. These political economists do not even know how Russian wheat is raised, which Pushkin declares to grow differently from the English wheat.

So the people, left to themselves, merely vegetated, and developed according to the obscure laws of their oriental nature. We can imagine what disorder would arise in a nation so formed and divided.

In France, historical events have gradually formed a middle class; a natural connecting link between the two extremes of society. In Russia this middle class did not exist, and is still wanting, there being nothing to fill the intervening space. The whole depth of the abyss was realized by those Russians who became enlightened enough to understand the state of their country during the latter years of the reign of Alexander I.

28 A national fusion was developed, as it usually is on the battle-fields, where the Russians fell side by side before the invader. This movement, however, was very gradual, and Russia was virtually divided into two distinct classes until the death of the Emperor Nicholas, when the necessity of a more orderly condition of affairs was universally felt, giving rise to a social revolution which resulted in the emancipation of the serfs.

For the last quarter of a century, every conscientious and strong-minded man has worked to perform his part towards the common object: the establishment of a solid and united country. But they met with terrible obstacles; for they must abolish the past, heal all differences, and conciliate all parties.

As a world travelling through space, drawn by opposite attractions, is divided, bursts asunder, one fragment rushing to join the distant star which calls it, while the greater portion of the planet continues to gravitate towards the nearer spheres; and as, in spite of all opposing forces, these two separated fragments of a world tend to re-unite, no matter what spaces divide them, or with what a shock they must meet, having acquired such increased velocity;—so was it with Russia, made up of so many dissimilar elements, attracted at different times by opposite poles; now tossed from Europe to Asia, and back again from Asia to Europe, and finally divided against itself.

29 This condition is what I called the Russian national malady, which has plunged this people into the deepest discouragement and confusion. To historical misfortunes, we may add the peculiarities of soil and climate in which the Russian drama has been enacted. The severe, interminable winter interrupts man’s work and depresses his spirit. In the southern part, the scanty vegetation does not incite him to wrestle with nature and vie with her in energy and devotion. Is it not true that man’s mind is modelled according to the nature of his abiding-place? Must not a country having a limited horizon, and forms strongly and sharply defined, tend to the development of individuality, to clearness of conception, and persevering effort? The larger portion of Russia has nothing analogous to this; only, as Tacitus says, a “monotonous alternation of wild wood and reeking marsh.” (“Aut silvis horrida, aut paludibus fœda”); endless plains with no distinct horizon, no decisive outlines, only a mirage of snow, marsh, or sand. Everywhere the infinite, which confuses the mind and attracts it hopelessly. Tolstoï has well described it as “that boundless horizon which appeals to me so strongly.”

The souls of this people must resemble those who sail on a long voyage; self-centered, resigned to their situation, with impulses of sudden, violent longing for the impossible. Their land is made for a tent-life, rather than for dwelling in houses; 30 their ideas are nomadic, like themselves. As the winds bear the arctic cold over the plains from the White Sea to the Black, without meeting any resisting obstacle, so invasions, melancholy, famine, servitude, seize and fill these empty stretches rapidly and without hindrance. It is a land which is calculated to nourish the dim, hereditary, confused aspirations of the Russian heart, rather than those productions of the mind which give an impetus to literature and the arts.

Nevertheless, we shall see how the persistent seed will develop under this severe sky and amid such untoward influences, saved by the eternal spring which exists in all human hearts of every climate.


The middle age of Russian literature, or the period ending with the accession of Peter the Great, produced first: ecclesiastical literature, comprising sermons, chronicles, moral and instructive treatises. Secondly: popular literature, consisting of epic poems, characteristic sonnets and legends. The former resembles that of western Europe, being in the same vein, only inferior to it.

Throughout Christendom, the Church was for a long time the only educator; monk and scholar being almost synonymous words; while 31 outside the pale of the Church all was barbarism. At first, the writer was a mere mechanical laborer, or Chinese scribe, who laboriously copied the Gospels and the ancient Scriptures. He was respected as possessing one of the arcana of life, and as specially gifted through a miracle from on high. Many generations of monks passed away before the idea occurred to these humble copyists to utilize their art in recording their own personal impressions. At first there were homilies, mere imitations of those of the Byzantine fathers; then lives of saints; and the legendary lore of the monastery of Kiev, the great centre of prayer and holy travail of the whole Slavonic world. Here originated the first approach to romance of that time, its Golden Legend, the first effort of the imagination towards the ideal which is so seductive to every human soul. Then came the chronicles of wars, and of their attendant and consequent evils. Nestor, the father of Russian history, noted down his impressions of what he saw, in a style similar to that of Gregory of Tours.

From the thirteenth to the fifteenth century, these feeble germs of culture were nearly crushed out of existence by the Tartar invasion; and even the translation of the Bible into the Slavonic language was not accomplished until the year 1498.

In 1518, Maximus, a Greek monk, who had lived in Florence with Savonarola, came to Moscow, bringing with him the first specimens of 32 printing. He reformed the schools, and collected around him a group of men eager for knowledge. About this time the so-called civil deacons, the embryo of future tchinovnism,[A] began to assist the students of Latin and Greek in their translations.

Father Sylvester also wrote the “Domostroi,” a treatise on morals and domestic economy; a practical encyclopædia for Russians of the sixteenth century.

In the second half of this century Ivan the Terrible introduced printing into Russia. A part of the venerable building he erected at Moscow for a printing establishment is still standing. He tried to obtain from Germany skilful hands in the new art, but they were refused him. Each sovereign jealously guarded every master of the great secret, as they did good alchemists or skilful workers in metals.

A Moscow student, Ivan Fedorof, cast some Slavonic characters, and used them in printing the Acts of the Apostles, in 1564. This is the most ancient specimen of typography in Russia. He, the first of Russian printers, was accused of heresy, and obliged to fly for his life. His wretched existence seemed a prophetic symbol of the destiny reserved for the development of thought in his native country. Fedorof took refuge with some magnates of Lithuania, and 33 printed some books in their castles; but his patrons and protectors tore him from his beloved work, and forced him to cultivate the land. He wrote of himself:—“It was not my work to sow the grain, but to scatter through the earth food for the mind, nourishment for the souls of all mankind.” He fled to Lemberg, where he died in extreme poverty, leaving his precious treasure to a Jew.

The seventeenth century produced a few specimens of secular literature. But it was an unfavorable time, a time of anxiety, of usurpations; and afterwards came the Polish invasion. When intellectual life again awoke, theological works were the order of the day; and even up to the time of Peter the Great, all the writers of note were theologians.

The development of general literature in Russia was precisely analogous to that of Western Europe, only about two centuries later, the seventeenth century in Russia corresponding to the fifteenth in France. With popular literature, or folk-lore, however, the case is quite otherwise; nowhere is it so rich and varied as with the Slavonians.

Nature and history seem to have been too cruel to this people. Their spirits rise in rebellion against their condition, and soar into that fantastic realm of the imagination, above and outside the material world; a realm created by the 34 Divine Being for the renewal of man’s spirit, and giving him an opportunity for the play of his fancy. According to the poet Tutschef, “Our earthly life is bathed in dreams, as the earth by ocean’s waves.” Their songs and myths are the music of history, embracing their whole national life, and changing it into dreams and fancies. The Cossack fisher-folk have sung them upon their mighty rivers for more than eight centuries.

When, in the future, Russia shall produce her greatest and truest poets, they have only to draw from these rich sources, an inexhaustible store. Never can they find better material; for the imagination of that anonymous author, the people, is the more sublime, and its heart more truly poetical, because of its great faith, simplicity, and many sorrows. What poem can compare with that description of the universe in a book, written in the fifteenth century, called “Book of the Dove”?—

“The sun is the fire of love glowing in the Lord’s face; the stars fall from his mantle…. The night is dark with his thoughts; the break of day is the glance of his eye….”

And where can the writers of the modern realistic Russian novel find tenderer touches or more sharply bitter allusions than in the old dramatic poem, “The Ascension of Christ”? Jesus, as he is about to rise to heaven, thus 35 consoles the sorrowing crowd clustered around him:—

“Weep not, dear brethren! I will give you a mountain of gold, a river of honey; I will leave you gardens planted with vines, fruits, and manna from heaven.” But the Apostle John interrupts him, saying:—

“Do not give them the mountain of gold, for the princes and nobles will take it from them, divide it among themselves, and not allow our brothers to approach. If thou wishest these unfortunates to be fed, clothed, and sheltered, bestow upon them Thy Holy Name, that they may glorify it in their lives, on their wanderings through the earth.”

The song of “The Band of Igor,” an epic poem, describing the struggle with the pagan hordes from the south-west, and supposed by some authors to have been inspired by Homer, is the most ancient, and the prototype of all others of the Middle Age. The soul of the Slavonic poet of this time is Christian only in name. The powers he believes in are those of nature and the universe. He addresses invocations to the rivers, to the sea, to darkness, the winds, the sun. The continual contrast between the beneficent Light and the evil Darkness recalls the ancient Egyptian hymns, which always describe the eternal contest between day and night.

Pushkin says of the “Song of Igor,” the origin of 36 which is much disputed among scholars: “All our poets of the eighteenth century together had not poetry enough in them to comprehend, still less to compose, a single couplet of this ‘Song of Igor.’”

This epic poetry of Russia strikes its roots in the most remote antiquity of Asia, from Hindu and Persian myths, as well as from those of the Occident. It resembles the race itself in its growth and mode of development, oscillating alternately between the east and the west. Thus has the Russian mind oscillated between the two poles of attraction. In this period of its growth, it remembers and imitates more than it creates; but the foreign images it receives and reflects assume larger contours and more melancholy colors; a tinge of plaintiveness, as well as of brotherly love and sympathy.

Not so with the period we now enter. Literature is now reduced to a restricted form, like the practice of an art, cultivated for itself and following certain rules. It is an edifice constructed by Peter the Great, in which the author becomes a servant of the state, with a set task like the rest of the government officials. All must study in the school of Western Europe, and must accomplish in the eighteenth century what France did in the sixteenth. Even the Slavonic language itself must suffer innovations and adopt foreign terms. Before this, all books were written in 37 the Old Slavonic language of the church, which influenced also all scientific and poetical productions.

The change which came about naturally in France, as the result of an intellectual revolution, for which the minds of the people were already ripe, was in Russia brought about by a single will; being the artificial work of one man who aroused the people from slumber before their time.

A new style of literature cannot be called into being, as an army can be raised, or a new code of laws established, by an imperial order or decree. Let us imagine the Renaissance established in France by Philippe le Bel! Such an attempt was now made in Russia, and its unsatisfactory results are easily accounted for.

Peter established an Academy of Science at St. Petersburg, sending its members abroad for a time at first to absorb all possible knowledge, and return to use it for the benefit of the Russian people. This custom prevailed for more than a century. The most important of these scholars was Lomonosof, the son of a poor fisherman of the White Sea. Having distinguished himself at school, he was taken up by the government and sent into Germany. Returning to supplant the German professors, whom he found established at St. Petersburg, he bequeathed to his country a quite remarkable epic poem on Peter the Great, 38 called “La Pétriade,” for which his name is revered by his countrymen.

The glorious reign of Catherine II. should have added something to the literary world. She was a most extraordinary woman. She wrote comedies for her own theatre at the Hermitage, as well as treatises on education for the benefit of her grandchildren, and would gladly have been able to furnish native philosophers worthy to vie with her foreign courtiers; but they proved mere feeble imitators of Voltaire. Kheraskof wrote the “Rossiade” and Sumarokof, called by his contemporaries the Russian Racine, furnished the court with tragedies. But two comedies, “Le Brigadier,” and “Le Mineur,” by Von Vizin, have more merit, and are still much read and highly appreciated. These form a curious satire on the customs of the time. But the name of Derzhavin eclipses all others of this epoch. His works were modelled somewhat after Rousseau and Lefranc de Pompignan, and are fully equal to them.

Derzhavin had the good-fortune to live to a ripe old age, and in court life through several reigns; thus having the best of opportunities to utilize all striking events. Each new accession to the throne, victories, anniversaries, all contributed to inflate his national pride and inspire his muse.

But his high-flown rhetoric is open to severe criticism, and his works will be chiefly valued as illustrative of a glorious period of Russian 39 history, and as a memorial of the illustrious Catherine. Pushkin says of him:—

“He is far inferior to Lomonosof.—He neither understood the grammar nor the spirit of our language; and in time, when his works will have been translated, we shall blush for him. We should reserve only a few of his odes and sketches, and burn all the rest.”

Krylof, the writer of fables in imitation of La Fontaine, deserves mention. He had talent enough to show some originality in a style of literature in which it is most difficult to be original; and wrote with a rude simplicity characteristically Russian, and in a vein much more vigorous than that of his model.

Karamzin inaugurated a somewhat novel deviation in the way of imitation. He was an enthusiastic admirer of Rousseau. He was poet, critic, political economist, novelist, and historian; and bore a leading part in the literature of the latter part of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth; a time including the end of Catherine’s reign and the early part of Alexander’s. It was a transition period between the classic and romantic schools of literature. Karamzin might be called the Rousseau and the Chateaubriand of his country. His voluminous history of Russia is of great merit, although he is sufficiently blinded by his patriotism to cause him to present a too flattering picture of a most 40 cruel despotism; so that his assertions are often challenged by later writers. But the work is of great value as a most conscientious compilation of events and quotations, and the only one written up to the last twenty years; and in this respect Karamzin has no rival.

He owed his renown, before writing his history, to a few little romances of a sentimental turn. The romantic story of “La pauvre Lise” especially was received with a furor quite out of proportion to its merit. Its popularity was such that it became the inspiration of artists and of decorators of porcelain. Lakes and ponds innumerable were baptized with the name of Lise, in memory of her sad fate. Such enthusiasm seems incredible; but we can never tell what literary effort may be borne on to undying fame by the wheel of fashion!

The successive efforts of these secondary writers have contributed much to form the language of Russian literature as it now exists; Karamzin for its prose, Derzhavin for its poetry. In less than one hundred years the change was accomplished, and the way prepared for Pushkin, who was destined to supply an important place in Russian literature.

Karamzin’s part in politics was quite at variance with his position in the world of letters. Although an imitator of Rousseau, he set himself against the liberal ideas of Alexander. He 41 was opposed to the emancipation of the serfs, and became the champion of the so-called Muscovitism, which, forty years later, became Slavophilism. He lived in Moscow, where the conservative element was strongest, acting in opposition to Speranski, the prime minister.

In 1811, Karamzin wrote a famous paper, addressed to his sovereign, called, “Old and New Russia,” which so influenced Alexander’s vacillating mind that it gave the death-blow to Speranski. In this paper he says: “We are anticipating matters in Russia, where there are hardly one hundred persons who know how to spell correctly. We must return to our national traditions, and do away with all ideas imported from the Occident. No Russian can comprehend any limitation of the autocratic power. The autocrat draws his wisdom from a fountain within himself, and from the love of his people,” etc.

This paper contained the germ of every future demand of the Muscovite party.

Karamzin is the pioneer of the Slavophile party, which would do away with all the reforms of Peter the Great, and reconstruct the original Russia as an ideal government, entirely free from any European ideas. As this political programme became a literary one, it is important to note its first appearance.

Freemasonry, that embodiment of the spirit of mysticism, worked its way into Russia, brought 42 from Sweden and Germany, during the reign of Catherine; and was at once taken up by the literary world, then led by Novikof. The greater part of the distinguished scholars and statesmen under Alexander, Karamzin among them, were interested in it, and spread through the country the philosophical works which deluged Europe.

The French Revolution now broke out; and Catherine, becoming alarmed at the rapid spread of the new philosophy, ordered the lodges closed, had the suspicious books seized, and Novikof tried and condemned.

But the new doctrines assumed greater force under Alexander, who encouraged them. The infatuation for this mysticism spread among all intelligent people. The state of mind of the upper classes has been faithfully depicted in the character of Pierre Bezushof, in “War and Peace,” the historical novel of Leon Tolstoï. (See the chapter which describes Pierre’s initiation into Freemasonry.) This condition of mind is not peculiar to the Russians. All Europe was obscured by it at the end of the eighteenth century; but in Russia it found free scope in the unsettled and confused state of affairs, where the thinking mind struggled against the influx of rationalism, while unwilling to accept the negative philosophy of the learned class. On this account, among others, the reign of Alexander I. presents a curious subject for study and contemplation. 43 It offered a point of meeting for every new current of thought which agitated Russia, as well as for everything that had been repressed throughout the reign of Nicholas. The Masonic lodges insensibly became a moving power in politics, which led to the liberal conspiracy crushed out in 1825. A horror of the revolutionary ideas of France, and the events of 1812, had produced a great change in the Russian mind; besides, Russia, now temporarily estranged from France, became more influenced by Germany; which fact was destined to have a considerable effect upon their literature. During the whole of the eighteenth century, France tutored the Russian mind in imitation of the classics. It now became inculcated with the romanticism of Germany.


[A] Official rank.




Russia—all Europe, in fact—was now enjoying a period of peace. A truce of twenty-five years lay between the great political wars and the important social struggles to come. During these years of romanticism, so short and yet so full, between 1815 and 1840 only, all intelligent minds in Russia seemed given up to thought, imagination, and poetry.

Everything in this country develops suddenly. Poets appear in numbers, just as the flowers of the field spring forth after the sun’s hot rays have melted the snow. At this time poetry seemed to be the universal language of men. Only one of this multitude of poets, however, is truly admirable, absorbing all the rest in the lustrous rays of his genius,—the glorious Pushkin.

He was preceded by Zhukovski, who was born twenty years earlier, and who also survived him. No critic can deny that Zhukovski was the real originator of romanticism in Russian literature; or that he was the first one to introduce it from Germany. His works were numerous. Perfectly acquainted with the Greek language, his version 45 of Homer is most admirable. He also wrote several poems in the style of Schiller, Goethe, and Uhland; and many compositions, ballads, etc., all in the German style. He touched upon many Russian subjects, themes which Pushkin afterwards took up. In fact, he was to Pushkin what Perugino was to Raphael; yet every Russian will declare that the new romanticism of that time dates from Pushkin, and is identified with him.

Zhukovski was one of those timid spirits which are born to be satellites, even though they rise before the sun in the pale dawn; but they only shine with reflected light, and their lustre becomes wholly absorbed in the rays of the rising luminary which replaces them.


To realize the importance of the part the poets of this period were destined to play, we must remember what a very small part of the population of this vast country could be called the educated class. At the beginning of the century, the education of the Muscovite aristocracy was confided entirely to the Jesuits, who had been powerfully supported by the Emperor Paul. In 1811, Alexander I. replaced these foreign educators by native Russians, and founded the Lyceum of Tsarskoe-Selo, after the model of the Paris Lyceums.

46 Students were admitted according to birth and merit only. Pushkin and Gortchakof were the two who most distinguished themselves. The course of study was rather superficial. The students were on intimate terms with the soldiers of the Imperial Guard, and quartered in the imperial palace with them. Politics, patriotism, poetry, all together fomented an agitation, which ended with the conspiracy of December, 1825.

Pushkin was at once recognized as a master in this wild throng, and was already famous as a poet. The old Derzhavin cast his own mantle upon Pushkin’s shoulders and pronounced him his heir. Pushkin possessed the gift of pleasing; but to understand his genius, we must not lose sight of his origin. His maternal grandfather was an Abyssinian negro, who had been a slave in the Seraglio of Constantinople, was stolen and carried to Russia by a corsair, and adopted by Peter the Great, who made him a general, and gave him in marriage to a noble lady of the court. The poet inherited some of his grandfather’s features; his thick lips, white teeth, and crisp curly hair. This drop of African blood, falling amid Arctic snows, may account for the strong contrasts and exaggerations of his poetic nature, which was a remarkable union of impetuosity and melancholy.

His youth was passed in a wild whirl of pleasure and excess. He incurred while still young the imperial anger, by having written some insolent 47 verses, as well as by committing some foolish pranks with some of the saints’ images; and was banished for a time to the borders of the Black Sea, where, enchanted by the delicious climate and scenery, his genius developed rapidly.

He returned not much the wiser, but with his genius fully matured at the age of twenty-five. For a few short years following his return, he produced his greatest masterpieces with astonishing rapidity, and died at thirty-seven in a duel, the victim of an obscure intrigue. He had married a very beautiful woman, who was the innocent cause of his death. Lending an ear to certain calumnies concerning her, he became furiously jealous, and fought the fatal duel with an officer of the Russian guard.

While we lament his sad fate, we can but reflect that the approach of age brings sadness with it, and most of all to a poet. He died young, in the prime of life and in the plenitude of his powers, giving promise of future possible masterpieces, with which we always credit such geniuses.

It is impossible to judge of this man’s works from a review of his character. Though his heart was torn by the stormiest passions, he possessed an intellect of the highest order, truly classic in the best sense of the word. When his talent became fully matured, form took possession of him rather than color. In his best poems, intellect presides over sentiment, and the soul of the artist is laid bare.

48 To attempt to quote, to translate his precious words, would be a hopeless task. He himself said: “In my opinion, there is nothing more difficult, I might say impossible, than to translate Russian poetry into French; concise as our language is, we can never be concise enough.”

In Latin one might possibly be able to express as many thoughts in as few words, and as beautifully. The charm vanishes with the translator’s touch; besides, the principal object of this book is to show how the peculiar type of Russian character is manifested in the works of the Russian writers. Neither do I think that Pushkin could aid us much in this study; although he was no servile imitator, like so many of his predecessors, it is none the less true that he drew his material from the great sources of European literature. He was educated from a child in French literature. His father knew Molière by heart, and his uncle was a great admirer of Béranger. When he entered the Lyceum he could scarcely speak his mother-tongue, but he had been fed with Voltaire from early childhood. His very first verses were written in French, and his first Russian rhymes were madrigals on the same themes. In the “Prisoner of the Caucasus,” written in 1824, we can feel the influence of Byron, whom he calls the “master of his thoughts.” Gradually he acquired more originality, but it is quite certain that but for Byron some of the most important 49 of his poems, such as “Onyegin,” “The Bohemians,” several of his oriental poems, and even his admirable “Poltava,” would never have existed.

During the latter years of his life, he had a passion for history, when he studied the historical dramas of Shakespeare. This he himself acknowledges in the preface to “Boris Godunof,” which is a Shakespearian drama on a Muscovite subject. In certain prose works he shows unmistakable proofs of the influence of Voltaire, as they are written in a style wholly dissimilar to anything in Russian prose.

The Slavophile party like to imagine that Pushkin, in his “Songs of the Western Slavs,” has evoked the ancient Russian spirit; while he has merely translated some French verses into Russian. We must acknowledge the truth that his works, with the exception of “Onyegin,” and a few others, do not exhibit any peculiar ethnical stamp. He is influenced at different times, as the case may be, by his contemporaries in Germany, England, and France. He expresses universal sentiments, and applies them to Russian themes; but he looks from outside upon the national life, like all his contemporaries in letters, artistically free from any influence of his own race. Compare his descriptions of the Caucasus with those of Tolstoï in “The Cossacks.” The poet of 1820 looks upon nature and the Orientals with 50 the eye of a Byron or a Lamartine; while the observer of 1850 regards that spot of Asia as his ancestral mother-country, and feels that it partly belongs to him.

We shall find that Pushkin’s successors possess none of his literary qualities. He is as concise as they are diffuse; as clear as they are involved. His style is as perfect, elegant, and correct as a Greek bronze; in a word, he has style and good taste, which terms cannot be applied to any of his successors in Russian literature. Is it taking away anything from Pushkin to remove him from his race and give him to the world and humanity at large? Because he was born in Russia, there is nothing whatever to prove that his works were thereby modified. He would have sung in the self-same way for England, France, or Italy.

But, although he resembles his country so little, he served it well. He stirred its intellectual life more effectively than any other writer has done; and it is not too much to call him the Peter the Great of Russian literature. The nation gratefully recognizes this debt. To quote one of his own verses:—“The monument I have erected for myself is made by no mortal hand; and the grass will not have time to grow in the path that leads to it.”



Among the group of poets contemporaries of Pushkin only two are really worthy of mention, viz.: Griboyedof and Lermontof; but these two, although they died young, gave promise of great genius. The first of these left only one comedy, but that is the masterpiece of the Russian drama (“le Mal de Trop d’Esprit”). The author, unlike Pushkin, disdained all foreign literature, took pride in all the ancient Muscovite customs, and was Russian to the backbone. He painted the people and the peculiarities of his own country only, and so wonderfully well that his sayings have become proverbs. The piece is similar to the “Revizor” of Gogol, but, in my opinion, superior to it, being broader in spirit and finer in sentiment. Moreover, its satire never will grow old, for it is as appropriate to the present day as to the time for which it was written.

Returning from Persia, where he had been sent as Russian minister to the Shah, he was murdered by a party of robbers, at the age of thirty four.

Lermontof was the poet of the Caucasus, which he made the scene of all his poems. His short life of twenty-six years was spent among those mountains; and he was, like Pushkin, killed in a duel, just as he was beginning to be recognized 52 as a worthy successor to him. Byron was also his favorite model, whom he, unhappily, strongly resembled in character. His most celebrated poem was “The Demon”; but he wrote many most picturesque and fascinating stanzas and short pieces, which are full of tenderness and melancholy. Though less harmonious and perfect than Pushkin’s, his verses give out sometimes a sadder ring. His prose is equal to his poetry, and many of his short sketches, illustrative of Caucasian life, possess a subtle charm.


Lermontof was the last and most extreme of the poets of the romantic period. The Byronic fever, now at its height, was destined soon to die out and disappear. Romanticism sought in history some more solid aliment than despair. A reaction set in; and writers of elegies and ballads turned their attention to historical dramas and the picturesque side of human life. From Byron they turned back to Shakespeare, the universal Doctor. Pushkin, in his “Boris Godunof,” and in the later poems of his mature period, devoted himself to this resurrection of the past; and his disciples followed in his wake. The rhetoric of the new school, not wholly emancipated from romanticism, was naturally somewhat conventional. 53 But Pushkin became interested in journalism; and polemics, social reforms, and many other new problems arising, helped to make romanticism a thing of the past. The young schools of philosophy found much food for thought and controversy. The question of the emancipation of the serfs, raised in the court of Alexander I., weighed heavily upon the national conscience. A suffering people cannot be fed upon rhetoric.

In 1836, Tchadayef published his famous “Lettre Philosophique.” He was a man of the world, but a learned man and a philosopher. The fundamental idea of his paper was that Russia had hitherto been but a parasite, feeding upon the rest of Europe, and had contributed of itself nothing useful to civilization; had established no religious reforms, nor allowed any scope for free thought upon the leading questions of modern society. He said:—

“We have in our blood a principle which is hostile to civilization.”

These were strong sentiments coming from the mouth of a Russian; but they afterwards found many echoing voices, which never before had put such crude truths into words. Tchadayef was claimed by the liberals as their legitimate father, his “Lettre Philosophique” was made a political pamphlet, and he himself was regarded as a revolutionary leader.

Just at this time, Kant, Schelling, and Hegel 54 were translated, and a great many young Russians now studied rationalism at its fountain-heads, in the different German universities. The preceding generation, which had become intoxicated with sentiment, was followed by a generation devoted to metaphysics. This new hobby was ridden with the enthusiasm peculiar to the Russians, and hairs which in Germany were split into four parts were subdivided in Moscow into eight.

A writer nourished on the new doctrines, and who soon became leader of the liberal school, appeared at this time, and exercised a strong influence upon literature. It was the critic Bielinski. He was, perhaps, the only critic of his country really worthy of the name. He left a voluminous work, a perfect encyclopædia of Russian literature; rich in wisdom and in ideas, giving a fine historical account of the ancient literature, and defining with rare sagacity the tendencies of the new. He threw down many old idols, and ridiculed the absurd confidence in the writers of the classic period. In spite of his admiration for Pushkin, he points out many of the weak points of romanticism, and seems to fully realize the intellectual necessities of his time. The great novelists of modern Russia have been encouraged by his advice, and he has certainly shown himself to be a critic in advance of his own time, and the only one Russia has produced. The 55 first sketches and tales of Gogol revealed to Bielinski the birth of this new art. He declared the age of lyric poetry was past forever, and that the reign of Russian prose romance had begun. Everything has justified this great writer’s prophecy. Since the time of Pushkin, their literature has undergone wonderful developments. The novelists no longer draw from outside sources, but from the natal soil, and it is they who will show us what a rich verdure can be produced from under those Arctic snows.




The first Russian tale or romance was published in 1799, but nothing of note appeared before 1840; although we have seen what success Karamzin obtained with his touching romances, especially with “La Pauvre Lise.” Several historical romances also appeared about this time, (1820), inspired, no doubt, by the unprecedented popularity and success of those of Sir Walter Scott. But lyric poetry and romanticism had not lost their influence, and even Pushkin’s little historical tales savor more of the classic period, and are rather works of the imagination than studies from real life. The historical and so-called popular novel, however, with its superhuman heroes, was now becoming tedious; and authors were already appearing who had begun to observe the life around them attentively, and to take pleasure in studying something outside of themselves. The same causes conspired to produce, almost simultaneously, three writers destined to accomplish the same task: Dickens in England, Balzac in France, and Gogol in Russia. Gogol developed 57 his work more slowly than the others at first, but collected rich materials for his successors. He may be called the first of Russian prose writers; and we shall see by a study of his character and works, what a foundation he laid for future progress in prose literature in his country, and what stirring controversies his books called forth.


Gogol was a Cossack, from Little Russia or Ukraine. For Russian readers, that is quite enough to explain the peculiar qualities of his mind and its productions, which were characterized by keen but kindly satire, with a tinge of melancholy ever running through and underneath it. He is the natural product of the land which gave him birth. This frontier country is subject to the contending influences of both north and south. For a few short months the sun revels there and accomplishes an almost miraculous work—an oriental brilliancy of light by day, and soft, enchanting nights under a sky resplendent with stars. Magnificent harvests from the fertile soil ensure an easy, joyous life; all trouble and sadness vanish with the melting snow, and spirits rise to general gayety and enthusiasm.

But the boundless spaces, the limitless horizons of these sunny plains overwhelm the spirit; one cannot long feel joyous in the presence of Infinity. 58 The habit of thought becomes like that of the eye; is lost in space, develops an inclination to revery, which causes the mind to fall back upon itself, and the imagination is, so to speak, thrown inward.

Winter transforms the Russian. Upon the Dnieper the winter is nearly as severe as on the Neva. There is nothing to check the icy winds from the north. Death comes suddenly to claim its reign. Both earth and man are paralyzed. Just as Ukraine was subjugated by the armies of Moscow, so it is taken possession of by the climate of Moscow. On this great battle-field nature carries out the plan of this country’s political history, the vicissitudes of which have no doubt contributed, as well as those of climate, to form its own peculiar physiognomy.

Little Russia was at one time overrun by the Turks; and derived from its long association with them many oriental traits. Then it was subdued by Poland, which has transmitted something of its savage luxury to its vassal. Afterwards the Cossack leagues established there their republican spirit of independence. The traditions of this epoch are dearest of all to the heart of the Little Russian, who claims from them his inheritance of wild freedom and prowess. An ancient order of Cossack chivalry, the Zaporovian League, recruited from brigands and fugitive serfs, had always been in constant warfare, obeying no law but that of 59 the sword. Families who were descended directly from this stock (Gogol’s was one of them) inherited this spirit of revolt, as well as wandering instincts, and a love of adventure and the marvellous. The complex elements of this character, which is more free, jovial, and prompt in action than that of the native of Russia proper, have strongly influenced the literature of Russia through Gogol, whose heart clung with tenacity to his native soil. In fact, the first half of his life’s work is a picture of life in Ukraine, with its legends.

Gogol (Nikolai Vasilievitch) was born near Poltava in 1809, in the very heart of the Cossack country. His grandfather, who was his first teacher, was regimental scribe to the Zaporovian League.[B] The child listened from infancy to the tales of this grandfather, inexhaustible tales of heroic deeds during the great wars with Poland, as well as thrilling exploits of these Corsairs of the Steppes. His young imagination was fed with these stories, tragedies of military life, and rustic fairy-tales and legends, which are given to us almost intact in his “Evenings at the Farm,” and in his poem of “Taras Bulba.” His whole surroundings spoke to him of an age of fable not long past; of a primitive poetry still alive in the customs of the people. This condensed poetry 60 reaches us after passing through two prisms; the recollections of old age, which recalls while it regrets the past; and the impressions of a child’s fancy, which is dazzled by what it hears. This was the first and perhaps the most profitable part of the young boy’s education. He was afterwards put into an institution, where he was taught Latin and other languages; but, according to his biographers, he never excelled in scholarship. He must have made up for lost time later on; for all his contemporaries speak of his extensive reading and his perfect familiarity with all the literature of the Occident.

His letters written to his mother before leaving school show already the bent of his mind. Keen, observant, and satirical, his wit is sometimes exercised at the expense of his comrades. He already showed signs of a deeply religious nature, and was ambitious too of a great career. His high hopes are sometimes temporarily crushed by a sudden depression or feeling of discouragement, and in his letters he declaims against the injustice of men. He feels the pervading influence of the Byronism of that time. “I feel as if called,” cries the young enthusiast, “to some great, some noble task, for the good of my country, for the happiness of my fellow-citizens and of all mankind. My soul feels the presence of an angel from heaven, calling, impelling me towards the lofty aim I aspire to.”

61 A Russian who lived under the rule of the Emperor Nicholas, and was eager to work for the happiness of his fellow-men, had no choice of means. He must enter the government service, and laboriously climb the steps of the administrative hierarchy, which appropriates to itself every force of the community and nation. Having completed his studies, Gogol set out for St. Petersburg. It was in the year 1829, and he was twenty years of age. With empty pockets, but rich in illusions, he approached the capital just as his Cossack ancestors had entered the cities they conquered; thinking he had only to walk boldly forward and claim everything he desired. But the future author, destined to play so prominent a part in the life and literature of his country, must now put aside his dreams and taste the stern reality of life. A few weeks’ experience taught him that the great capital was for him more of a desert than his native steppe. He was refused everything he applied for; for a provincial with no letters of introduction could expect nothing else. In a fit of despair, he determined to leave St. Petersburg. One day, having received a small sum from his mother, which she had saved to pay off a mortgage on their house, instead of depositing the money in a bank, he jumped on board a ship to go—somewhere, anywhere—forward, into the great world; like a child who had become imbued with the spirit of adventure, from reading Robinson 62 Crusoe. He left the boat at her first landing-place, which was Lubeck. Having wandered about the city for three days, he returned to St. Petersburg, cured of his folly, and resigned to bear patiently whatever was in store for him.

With great difficulty he obtained a modest position in an office connected with the government, where he only remained one year, but where he received impressions which were to haunt his whole future life. It was here that he studied the model of that wretched hero of his work, “Le Manteau,” in flesh and blood.

Becoming weary of his occupation, he attempted acting, but his voice was not thought strong enough. He then became a tutor in families of the aristocracy of St. Petersburg; and finally was appointed to a professorship in the University. But although he made a brilliant opening address, his pupils soon complained that he put them to sleep, and he lost the situation. It was at this juncture that he took refuge in literature. He published at first a few modest essays in the leading journals, which attracted some attention, and Zhukovski had introduced him to Pushkin. Gogol has related with what fear and trembling he rung one morning at the door of the great poet. Pushkin had not yet risen, having been up all night, as his valet said. When Gogol begged to be excused for disturbing one so occupied with his literary labors, the servant informed him that 63 his master had passed the night playing cards. What a disenchantment for an admirer of the great poet!

But Gogol was warmly welcomed. Pushkin’s noble heart, too great for envy, enjoyed the success of others. His eager sympathy, lavish praise, and encouragement have produced legions of authors. Gogol, among them all, was his favorite. At first he advised him to write sketches descriptive of the national history and the customs of the people. Gogol followed his advice and wrote his “Evenings at a Farm near Dikanka.”[C]


This book is a chronicle of scenes of the author’s childhood; and all his love and youthful recollections of the country of the Cossacks are poured from his heart into this book.

A certain old man, whose occupation is that of raising bees, is the story-teller of the party. He relates tales of Little Russia, so that we see it under every aspect; and gives glimpses of scenery, rustic habits and customs, the familiar dialogues of the people, and all sorts of legends, both terrible and grotesque. The gay and the supernatural are strangely blended in these recitals, but the gay element predominates; for Gogol’s smile has as yet no bitterness in it. His laugh is the 64 hearty, frank laugh of the young Cossack who enjoys life. All this is related in racy, expressive language, full of words peculiar to Little Russia, curious local expressions, and those affectionate diminutives quite impossible to translate or express in a more formal language. Sometimes the author bursts forth in a poetical vein, when certain impressions or scenes of his native country float before his eyes. At the beginning of his “Night in May” is this paragraph:—“Do you know the beauty of the nights of Ukraine? The moon looks down from the deep, immeasurable vault, which is filled to overflowing and palpitating with its pure radiance. The earth is silver; the air is deliciously cool, yet almost oppressive with perfume. Divine, enchanting night! The great forest trees, black, solemn, and still, reposing as if oppressed with thought, throw out their gigantic shadows. How silent are the ponds! Their dark waters are imprisoned within the vine-laden walls of the gardens. The little virgin forest of wild cherry and young plum-trees dip their dainty roots timidly into the cold waters; their murmuring leaves angrily shiver when a little current of the night wind stealthily creeps in to caress them. The distant horizon sleeps, but above it and overhead all is palpitating life; august, triumphal, sublime! Like the firmament, the soul seems to open into endless space; silvery visions of grace and beauty arise before it. Oh! the charm of this divine night!

65 “Suddenly life, animation, spreads through forest, lake, and steppe. The nightingale’s majestic trill resounds through the air; the moon seems to stop, embosomed in clouds, to listen. The little village on the hill is wrapt in an enchanted slumber; its cluster of white cottages gleam vividly in the moonlight, and the outlines of their low walls are sharply clear-cut against the dark shadows. All songs are hushed; silence reigns in the homes of these simple peasants. But here and there a twinkling light appears in a little window of some cottage, where supper has waited for a belated occupant.”

Then, from a scene like this, we are called to listen to a dispute and quarrel between two soldiers, which ends in a dance. Now the scene changes again. The lady of the lake, the Fate lady, rises from her watery couch, and by her sorceries unravels the web of fortune. Again, between the uproarious bursts of laughter, the old story-teller heaves a melancholy sigh, and relates a bit of pathos,—for a vein of sadness is always latent in the gay songs and legends of this people. These sharp contrasts fill this work with life and color. The book excited considerable attention, and was the more welcome as it revealed a corner of Russia then hardly known. Gogol had struck the right chord. Pushkin, who especially enjoyed humor, lauded the work to the skies; and it is still highly appreciated by Russians.

66 As for us, while we recognize its high qualities, the work does not wholly please us. Perhaps we are too old or morose to appreciate and enjoy these rustic jokes, and the comic scenes are perhaps a little coarse for our liking. It may be, too, that the enthusiastic readers of 1832 looked upon life with different eyes from ours; and that it is only the difference in time that biases our opinion. To them this book was wonderfully in advance of its time; to us it seems perhaps somewhat behind. Nothing is more difficult than to estimate what effect a work which is already old (especially if it be written in a foreign language) will produce on our readers of to-day. Are we amused by the legend of “La Dame Blanche”? Certainly we are, for everybody enjoys it. Then perhaps the “Ladies of the Lake” of Gogol’s book will be amusing.

In 1834 Gogol published his “Evenings near Mirgorod,” including a veritable ghost story, terror-inspiring enough to make the flesh creep.

The principal work of this period of the author’s career, however, and the one which established his fame, was “Taras Bulba,” a prose epic, a poetical description of Cossack life as it was in his grandfather’s time. Not every writer of modern epics has been so fortunate as Gogol; to live at a time when he could apply Homer’s method to a subject made to his hand; only repeating, as he himself said, the narratives of his grandfather, an 67 actual witness and actor in this Iliad. It was scarcely more than half a century since the breaking-up of the Zaporovian camps of the corsairs and the last Polish war, in which Cossack and Pole vied with each other in ferocious deeds of valor, license, and adventure. This war forms the subject of the principal scenes of this drama, which also gives a vivid picture of the daily life of the savage republic of the Zaporovian Cossacks. The work is full of picturesque descriptions, and possesses every quality belonging to an epic poem.

M. Viardot has given us an honest version of “Taras Bulba,” giving more actual information about this republic of the Dnieper than any of the erudite dissertations on the subject. But what is absolutely impossible to render in a translation is the marvellous beauty of Gogol’s poetic prose. The Russian language is undoubtedly the richest of all the European languages. It is so very clear and concise that a single word is often sufficient to express several different connected ideas, which, in any other language, would require several phrases. Therefore I will refrain from giving any quotations of these classic pages, which are taught in all the Russian schools.

The poem is very unequal in some respects. The love passages are inferior and commonplace, and the scenes of passion decidedly hackneyed in style and expression. In regard to epic poems, the truth is that the mould is worn out; it has 68 been used too long; although Guizot, one of the best judges of this sort of composition, said that in his opinion “Taras Bulba” was the only modern epic poem worthy of the name.

Even the descriptions of scenery in “Taras” do not seem to us wholly natural. We must compare them with those of Turgenef to realize how comparatively inferior they are. Both were students and lovers of nature: but the one artist placed his model before his easel in whatever attitude he chose; while to the other she was a despotic mistress, whose every fancy he humbly obeyed. This can be readily understood by a comparison of some of their works. Although I am not fond of epics, I have called particular attention to “Taras Bulba,” knowing what pride the Russians take in the work.


In 1835, Nikolai Vasilievitch (Gogol) gave up his position in the University, and left the public service for good. “Now I am again a free Cossack!” he wrote at this time, which was the time of his greatest literary activity.

His novels now show him groping after realism, rather than indulging his fancy. Among the unequal productions of the transition period, “Le Manteau” is the most notable one. A late Russian politician and author once said to me: “Nous sommes tous sortis du manteau de Gogol.”

69 “Le Manteau” (as well as the “Revizor,” “Inspector-General”) was the outgrowth of his one year’s experience in the government offices; and the fulfilment of a desire to avenge his life of a galley slave while there. These works were his first blows aimed at the administrative power. Gogol had always had a desire to write for the stage; and produced several satirical comedies; but none of them, except the “Revizor,” had any success. The plot of the piece is quite simple. The functionaries of a provincial government office are expecting the arrival of an inspector, who was supposed to come incognito to examine their books and accounts. A traveller chances to alight at the inn, whom they all suppose to be the dreaded officer of justice. Their guilty consciences make them terribly anxious. Each one attacks the supposed judge, to plead his own cause, and denounce a colleague, slipping into the man’s hand a generous supply of propitiatory roubles. Amazed at first, the stranger is, however, astute enough to accept the situation and pocket the money. The confusion increases, until comes the crash of the final thunderbolt, when the real commissioner arrives upon the scene.

The intention of the piece is clearly marked. The venality and arbitrariness of the administration are exposed to view. Gogol says, in his “Confessions of an Author”: “In the ‘Revizor,’ 70 I tried to present in a mass the results arising from the one crying evil of Russia, as I recognized it in that year; to expose every crime that is committed in those offices, where the strictest uprightness should be required and expected. I meant to satirize the great evil. The effect produced upon the public was a sort of terror; for they felt the force of my true sentiments, my real sadness and disgust, through the gay satire.”

In fact, the disagreeable effect predominated over the fun, especially in the opinion of a foreigner; for there is nothing of the French lightness and elegance of diction in the Russian style. I mean that quality which redeems Molière’s “Tartuffe” from being the blackest and most terrible of dramas.

When we study the Russian drama, we can see why this form of art is more backward in that country than in any other. Poetry and romance have made more rapid strides, because they are taken up only by the cultivated class. There is virtually no middle class; and theatrical literature, the only diversion for the people, has remained in its infancy.

There is an element of coarseness in the drollery of even the two masterpieces: the comedy by Griboyedof, “Le Mal de Trop d’Esprit,” and the “Revizor” by Gogol. In their satire there is no medium between broad fun and bitterness. The subtle wit of the French author 71 ridicules without wounding; his keen witticism calls forth laughter; while the sharp, cutting satire of the Russian produces bitter reflection and regret. His drollery is purely national, and is exercised more upon external things and local peculiarities; while Molière rails at and satirizes humanity and its ways and weaknesses. I have often seen the “Revizor” performed. The amiable audience laugh immoderately at what a foreigner cannot find amusing, and which would be utterly incomprehensible to one not well acquainted with Russian life and customs. On the contrary, a stranger recognizes much more keenly than a Russian the undercurrent of pathos and censure. Administrative reform is yet too new in Russia for the public to be as much shocked as one would expect at the spectacle of a venal administration. The evil is so very old!

Whoever is well acquainted with the Oriental character knows that their ideas of morality are broader, or, rather, more lax, than ours, because their ideas of the rights of the government are different. The root of these notions may be traced to the ancient principle of tribute money; the old claim of the powerful over the weak, whom they protect and patronize.

What strikes us as the most astonishing thing in regard to this comedy is that it has been tolerated at all. We cannot understand, from 72 what we know of the Emperor Nicholas, how he could have enjoyed such an audacious satire upon his government; but we learn that he himself laughed heartily, giving the signal for applause from his royal box. His relations with Gogol are very significant, showing the helplessness of the absolute power against the consequences of its own existence. No monarch ever did more to encourage talent, or in a more delicate way. Some one called his attention to the young author’s poverty.

“Has he talent?” asked the Czar. Being assured that he had, the Emperor immediately placed the sum of 5000 roubles[D] at his disposition, saying, with the greatest delicacy: “Do not let your protégé know that the gift comes from me; he would be less independent in the exercise of his talents.” The Emperor continued therefore in future to supply him incognito, through the poet Zhukovski. Thanks to the imperial munificence, this incorrigible traveller could expatriate himself to his heart’s content, and get rest and refreshment for future labors.

The year 1836 was a critical one for Gogol. He became ill in body and mind, and the melancholy side of his nature took the ascendency. Although his comedy had been a great success at St. Petersburg and at court, such a work could not but excite rancor and raise up enemies for its author. He became morbidly sensitive, and 73 considered himself the object of persecution. A nervous disease, complicated with hypochondria, began to undermine his constitution. A migratory instinct, which always possessed him in any crisis of his life, now made him resolve to travel; “to fly,” as he said. But he never returned to his country for any length of time, and only at long intervals; declaring, as Turgenef did some years later, that his own country, the object of his studies, was best seen from afar.

After travelling extensively, Gogol finally settled at Rome, where he formed a strong friendship with the painter Ivanof, who for twenty years had been in retirement in a Capuchin monastery, working upon his picture, which he never finished, “The Birth of Christ.” The two friends became deeply imbued with an ascetic piety; and from this time dates the mysticism attributed to Gogol. But before his mind became obscured he collected his forces for his last and greatest effort. He carried away with him from Russia the conception of this work, which excluded all other thoughts from his mind. It ruled his whole existence, as Goethe was for thirty years ruled by his “Faust.”

Gogol gave Pushkin the credit of having suggested the work to him, which never was finished, but which he wrestled with until he finally succumbed, vanquished by it. Pushkin had spoken to him of his physical condition, fearing a premature death; and urged him to undertake a great 74 work, quoting the example of Cervantes, whose works previous to “Don Quixote” would never have classed him among the great authors. He suggested a subject, which he said he never should have given to any other person. It was the subject of “Dead Souls.” In spite of the statement, I cannot help feeling that “Dead Souls” was inspired by Cervantes; for, on leaving Russia, Gogol had gone at once to Spain, where he studied the literature of that country diligently; especially “Don Quixote,” which had always been his favorite book. It furnished a theme just suited to his plan; the adventures of a hero impelled to penetrate into every strange region and into every stratum of society; an ingenious excuse for presenting to the world in a series of pictures the magic lantern of humanity. Both works proceed from a satirical and meditative mind, the sadness of which is veiled under a smile, and both belong to a style unique in itself, entirely original. Gogol objected to his work being called a romance. He called it a poem, and divided it into songs instead of chapters. Whatever title may be bestowed upon Cervantes’ masterpiece may just as appropriately be applied to “Dead Souls.”

His “poem” was to be in three parts. The first part appeared in 1842; the second, unfinished and rudimentary, was burned by the author in a frenzy of despair; but after his death it was printed from a copy which escaped destruction. 75 As to the third, it is perhaps interred with his bones, which repose in the cemetery at Moscow under the block of marble which bears his name.


It is well known that the Russian peasants or serfs, “Souls” as they were popularly called, were personal property, and to be traded with in exactly the same way as any other kind of property. A proprietor’s fortune was reckoned according to the number of male serfs he owned. If any man owned, for instance, a thousand of them, he could sell or exchange them, or obtain loans upon them from the banks. The owner was, besides, obliged to pay taxes upon them at so much a head. The census was taken only at long intervals, during which the lists were never examined. The natural changes of population and increase by births being supposed to make up for the deaths. If a village was depopulated by an epidemic, the ruling lord and master sustained the loss, continuing to pay taxes for those whose work was done forever.

Tchitchikof, the hero of the book, an ambitious and evil-minded rascal, made this proposition to himself: “I will visit the most remote corners of Russia, and ask the good people to deduct from the number on their lists every serf who has died since the last census was taken. They will 76 be only too glad, as it will be for their interest to yield up to me a fictitious property, and get rid of paying the tax upon it. I shall have my purchases registered in due form, and no tribunal will imagine that I require it to legalize a sale of dead men. When I have obtained the names of some thousands of serfs, I shall carry my deeds to some bank in St. Petersburg or Moscow, and raise a large sum on them. Then I shall be a rich man, and in condition to buy real peasants in flesh and blood.”

This proceeding offers great advantages to the author in attaining his ends. He enters, with his hero, all sorts of homes, and studies social groups of all classes. The demand the hero makes is one calculated to exhibit the intelligence and peculiar characteristics of each proprietor. The trader enters a house and makes the strange proposition: “Give me up the number of your dead serfs,” without explaining, of course, his secret motives. After the first shock of surprise, the man comprehends more or less quickly what is wanted of him, and acts from instinct, according to his nature. The simple-minded give willingly gratis what is asked of them; the distrustful are on their guard, and try to penetrate the mystery, and gain something for themselves by the arrangement; the avaricious exact an exorbitant price. Tchitchikof finds some wretches more evil than himself. The only case which 77 never occurs is an indignant refusal, or a denunciation; the financier well knew how few scruples he should have to contend with in his fellow-countrymen.

The enterprise supplied Gogol with an inexhaustible source of both comic and touching incidents and situations. The skilful author, while he apparently ignores, under an assumption of pleasantry, the lugubrious element in what he describes, makes it the real background of the whole narrative, so that it reacts terribly upon the reader.

The first readers of this work, and possibly even the author himself, hardly appreciated the force of these contrasts; because they were so accustomed to the horrors of serfdom that an abuse of this nature seemed to them a natural proceeding. But with time the effect of the book increases; and the atrocious mockery of using the dead as articles of merchandise, which seems to prolong the terrors of slavery, from which death has freed them, strikes the reader with horror.

The types of character created by Gogol in this work are innumerable; but that of the hero is the most curious of all, and was the outgrowth of laborious study. Tchitchikof is not a Robert Macaire, but rather a serious Gil Blas, without his genius. The poor devil was born under an unlucky star. He was so essentially bad that he carried on his enterprise without seeming to realize 78 the enormous immorality of it. In fact, he was wronging no one, in his own opinion.

Gogol makes an effort to broaden this type of character, and include in it a greater number of individuals; and we can see thereby the author’s intention, which is to show us a type, a collective image of Russia herself, irresponsible for her degradation, corrupted by her own social condition.

This is the real, underlying theory of “Dead Souls,” and of the “Revizor,” as well as of Turgenef’s “Annals of a Sportsman.” In all the moralists of this time we recognize the fundamental sophistry of Rousseau, who poisoned the reasoning faculties of all Europe.

At the end of the first part the author attempts a half-ironical, half-serious defence of Tchitchikof. After giving an account of his origin, he says: “The wise man must tolerate every type of character; he must examine all with attention, and resolve them into their original elements…. The passions of man are as numberless as the sands upon the sea-shore, and have no points of resemblance; noble or base, all obey man in the beginning, and end by obtaining terrible power over him…. They are born with him, and he is powerless to resist them. Whether sombre or brilliant, they will fulfil their entire career.”…

From this analysis, this argument of psychological positivism, the writer, in a roundabout way, goes back ingeniously to the designs of 79 Providence, which has ordered all for the best, and will show the right path out of this chaos.[E]

What is after all most remarkable about the book is that it is the reservoir of all contemporary literature, the source of all future inventions.

The realism, which is only instinctive in Gogol’s preceding works, is the main doctrine in “Dead Souls”; and of this he is fully conscious. The author thus apologizes for bringing the lower classes so constantly before the reader:—

“Thankless is the task of the writer who dares reproduce what is constantly passing before the eyes of all, unnoticed by our distracted gaze: all the disgusting little annoyances and trials of our every-day lives; the ordinary, indifferent characters we must constantly meet and put up with. How they hinder and weary us! Such a writer will not have the applause of the masses; contemporary critics will consider his creations both low and useless, and will assign him an inferior place among those writers who scoff at humanity. He will be declared wanting in heart, soul, and talent. For his critic will not admit those instruments to be equally marvellous, one of which reveals the sun and the other the motions of invisible animalculæ; neither will he admit what depth of thought is required to 80 make a masterpiece of a picture, the subject of which is drawn from the darker side of human life.”….

Again, in one of his letters, he says:—

“Those who have analyzed my powers as a writer have not discerned the important element of my nature, or my peculiar bent. Pushkin alone perceived it. He always said that I was especially endowed to bring into relief the trivialities of life, to analyze an ordinary character, to bring to light the little peculiarities which escape general observation. This is, I think, my strong point. The reader resents the baseness of my heroes; after reading the book he returns joyfully to the light of day. I should have been pardoned had I only created picturesque villains; their baseness is what will never be pardoned. A Russian shrinks before the picture of his nothingness.”

We shall see that the largest portion of the later Russian novels were all generated by the spirit of this initiative book, which gives to the Slav literature its peculiar physiognomy, as well as its high moral worth. We find in many a passage in “Dead Souls,” breathing through the mask of raillery and sarcasm, that heavenly sentiment of fraternity, that love for the despised and pity for the suffering, which animate all Dostoyevski’s writing. In another letter he says:—

81 “Pity for a fallen human creature is a strong Russian trait. There is no spectacle more touching than our people offer when they go to assist and cheer on their way those who are condemned to exile in Siberia. Every one brings what he can; provisions, money, perhaps only a few consoling words. They feel no irritation against the criminal; neither do they indulge in any exaggerated sentiment which would make a hero of him. They do not request his autograph or his likeness; neither do they go to stare at him out of curiosity, as often happens in more civilized parts of Europe. There is here something more; it is not that they wish to make excuses for the criminal, or wrest him from the hands of justice; but they would comfort him in his fallen condition; console him as a brother, as Christ has told us we should console each other.”

In “Dead Souls,” the true sentiment is always masked, which makes it the more telling; but when the first part appeared, in 1842, it was received by some with stupefaction, by others with indignation. Were their countrymen a set of rascals, idiots, and poor wretches, without a single redeeming quality? Gogol wrote: “When I read the first chapters of my book to Pushkin, he was prepared to laugh, as usual whenever he heard anything of mine. But his brow soon clouded, and his face gradually grew serious. When I had finished, he cried, with a choking voice: ‘Oh, God! poor Russia!’”

82 Many accused the writer of having judged his fellow-countrymen from a sick man’s point of view; and considered him a traducer of mankind. They reminded him that, in spite of the evils of serfdom and the corruption of the administration, there were still plenty of noble hearts and honest people in the empire of Nicholas. The unfortunate author found that he had written too strongly. He must now make explanations, publish public letters and prefaces imploring his readers to suspend their judgment until he produced the second part of the poem, which would counteract the darkness of the first. But such was not the case. No bright visions proceeded from the saddened brain of the caricaturist.

However, every one read the work; and its effect has never ceased increasing as a personification of the Russia of former times. It has for forty years been the foundation of the wit of the entire nation. Every joke has passed into a proverb, and the sayings of its characters have become household words. The foreigner who has not read “Dead Souls” is often puzzled in the course of conversation, for he is ignorant of the family traditions and the ideal ancestors they are continually referring to. Tchitchikof, his coachman Seliphan, and their three horses are, to a Russian, as familiar friends as Don Quixote, Sancho, and Rosinante can be to a Spaniard.



Gogol returned from Rome in 1846. His health rapidly declined, and attacks of fever made any brain-work difficult for him. However, he went on with his work; but his pen betrayed the condition of his nerves. In a crisis of the disease he burned all his books as well as the manuscript of the second part of the poem. He now became absorbed in religious meditations; and, desiring to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, he published his last work, “Letters to my Friends,” in order to raise the necessary funds, and to “entreat their prayers for him,” as he said in his preface. These letters were written in a religious vein, but intermingled with literary arguments; and not one of his satirical works raised up for him so many enemies and such abuse as this religious treatise. It is difficult to account for the intense excitement it produced, and the lengthy arguments it called forth. The second half of the reign of Nicholas is a period but little understood. In the march of ideas of that time, there were already indications of the coming revolutionary movement among the young men, which was entirely opposed to the doctrines brought forward by Gogol. These contained a good deal of philosophy, as well as ancient truths, mingled with some 84 new ideas, which are exactly those of the present day. But these, because they were new, were just what met with the strongest opposition; and he was now accused of taking upon himself the direction of consciences, and of arrogating to himself the right to do so by dint of his intellectual superiority. His letters present a curious combination of Christian humility and literary pride. He was declared to have fallen into mysticism; but any one who now reads his letters carefully cannot call him a mystic. The fact that he gave up writing to recover his health would only be considered at any other epoch reasonable and natural. Tolstoï, who has acted in a similar manner, protests against this epithet being applied to him. He, however, proposes to us a new theology, while Gogol clung to the established dogmas. Possibly what would have been called “mysticism” in 1840 would not have been looked upon as such two centuries earlier, any more than it is a half-century later.

But what became of the poor author in the midst of the tempest he himself had raised? He went to Jerusalem and wandered for a time among its ancient ruins; hardly a wholesome sphere for a sick and morbid soul. Returning to Moscow, he was made welcome in the homes of friends. But the Cossack nature could not rest in any fixed spot. He had no money, for he had given everything he had to the poor. Since 85 1844 the whole receipts from his works he gave to poor students. He brought with him only a small valise, which was crammed with newspaper articles, criticisms, and pamphlets written against him. This was all he possessed.

A person who lived in a house which he often visited thus described him: “He was short, but the upper part of his body was too long; he walked with an uneven gait, was awkward and ungainly; his hair fell over his forehead in thick locks, and his nose was long and prominent. He conversed but little, and not readily. Occasionally a touch of his old gayety returned, especially when with children, whom he passionately loved. But he soon fell back into his hypochondria.” This description agrees with what Turgenef wrote of him, after his first visit to him. “There was a slight gleam of satire in his heavy eyes, which were small and dark. His expression was somewhat like that of a fox. In his general appearance there was something of the provincial schoolmaster.” Gogol had always been awkward and plain, which naturally produced in him a habitual timidity. This is perhaps why, according to his biographers, no woman ever crossed his path. We can therefore understand why he so rarely wrote of women.

It is almost universally believed that he died from the effects of his excessive fastings and mortification of the flesh; but I have learned 86 from reliable sources that an aggravation of his disease, with typhoid symptoms, caused his death. But little is known of his latter years. He aged rapidly, as Russians do, and ended his work at the time of life when others begin theirs. A mysterious fatality has attended nearly all the writers of his time, who have all died at about the age of forty. The children of Russia develop as her vegetation does. It grows quickly and matures young, but its magnificent growth is soon cut off, benumbed while still in perfection. At the age of thirty-three, after the publication of “Dead Souls,” the productive brain-power of Nikolai Vasilievitch was wellnigh ruined. At forty-three he died, on the 21st of February, 1852. The event of his death made but little sensation. The imperial favor had quite forgotten this writer. Even the governor of Moscow was criticized for putting on the regalia of his order to attend the funeral. Turgenef was exiled to his own distant estates as a punishment for having written a letter in which he called the deceased author “a great man.” Posterity, however, has ratified this title. Gogol may now be ranked, according to some critics, with the best English humorists; but I should place him rather between Cervantes and Le Sage. Perhaps it may be too soon to judge him. Should we appreciate “Don Quixote” now if Spanish literature had not been known for three hundred years? When we 87 were children we laughed whenever an alguazil or an alcalde was mentioned.

Gogol introduces us to an untried world. I must warn the reader that he will at first find difficulties—the strangest customs; an array of characters not in any way connected; names as strange as the people who bear them. He must not expect the attractive style or class of subjects of Tolstoï and Dostoyevski. They show us results, not principles; they tell of what we can better apprehend; for what they have studied is more common to all Europe. Gogol wrote of more remote times, and, besides, he and his work are thoroughly and exclusively Russian. To be appreciated by men of letters, then, his works must be admirably translated; which, unfortunately, has never yet been done. We must leave him, therefore, in Russia, where all the new authors of any distinction recognize in him their father and master. They owe to him their very language. Although Turgenef’s is more subtile and harmonious, its originator has more life, variety, and energy.

One of the last sentences that fell from his pen, in his “Confessions of an Author,” was this:—

“I have studied life as it really is—not in dreams of the imagination; and thus have I come to a conception of Him who is the source of all life.”


[B] Zaporovian commonwealth, so-called from “Zaporozhtsi,” meaning those who live beyond the rapids.

[C] “Veillées dans un hameau près de Dikanka.”

[D] About $4000.

[E] The quotation of this paragraph in full should be given here, in order to obtain a clear understanding of Gogol’s thought; but the French translator has omitted too much.





While the name of Gogol was temporarily lost in oblivion during the years preceding the Crimean war, his spirit was shedding its ripening influences upon the thinking minds of his country. I know of no parallel example in the history of literature, of an impulse so spontaneous and vigorous as this. Every author of note since 1840 has belonged to the so-called “school of nature.” The poets of 1820 had drawn their inspiration from their own personality. The novel-writers of 1840 found theirs in the spirit of humanity, which might be called social sympathy.

Before studying the great writers of this epoch, we must take note of the elements which produced them, and glance for a moment at the curious movement which ripened them.

Russia could not escape the general fermentation of 1848; although this immense country seemed to be mute, like its frozen rivers, an intense life was seething underneath. The rivers are seemingly motionless for six months of the year; but under the solid ice is running water, and the 89 phenomena of ever-increasing life. So it was with the nation. On the surface it seemed silent and inert under the iron rule of Nicholas. But European ideas, creeping in, found their way under the great walls, and books passed from hand to hand, into schools, literary circles, and even into the army.

The Russian Universities were then very insufficient. Their best scholars quitted them unsatisfied, and sought more substantial nourishment in Germany. Besides, it being the fashion to do so, there was also a firm conviction that this was really necessary. The young men returned from Berlin or Göttingen crammed with humanitarian philosophy and liberal notions; armed with ideas which found no response in their own country, full, as it was, of malcontents and fault-finders. These suspicious missionaries from western Europe were handed over to the police, while others continued to study in the self-same school. These young fellows, returning from Germany with grapes from the promised land, too green as yet for their countrymen, formed a favorite type with authors. Pushkin made use of it, and Turgenef afterwards gave us some sketches from nature made during his stay in Berlin. On their return, these students formed clubs, in which they discussed the foreign theories in low and impassioned voices, and initiated their companions who had remained at home. These young thinkers embraced a transcendental 90 philosophy, borrowed from Hegel, Stein, and Feuerbach, as well as from Saint-Simon, Fourier and Proudhon in France. These metaphysics, of course, were a mask which covered more concrete objects and more immediate interests. Two great intellectual schools divided Russia, and took the place of political parties.

The Slavophile party adhered to the views of Karamzin and protested against the unpatriotic blasphemies of Tchadayef. For this party nothing whatever existed outside of Russia, which was to be considered the only depository of the true Christian spirit, and chosen to regenerate the world.

In opposition to these Levites, the liberal school of the West had appeared; a camp of Gentiles, which breathed only of reforms, audacious arguments, and coming revolutions; liberalism developing into radicalism. But, as all social and political discussions were prohibited in Russia, these must be concealed under the disguise of philosophy, and be expressed in its hieroglyphics. The metaphysical subtleties in these literary debates did little to clear up the obscurity of the ideas themselves, which are very difficult to unravel and comprehend. In attempting to understand the controversies in Russia at this time, you feel as if watching the movements of a complicated figure in the ballet; where indistinct forms are seen moving behind a veil of black 91 gauze, intended to represent clouds, which half conceal the dancers.

The liberals of 1848 carried on the ideas of the revolutionaries of December, 1825; as the Jacobins developed those of the Girondists. But the difference between the ideals of the two generations is very marked, showing the march of time and of ideas. The revolutionists of 1825 were aristocrats, who coveted the elegant playthings fashionable in London and Paris—a charter and a Parliament. They were ambitious to place their enormous, unwieldy country under a new and fragile government. They played the conspirator like children, but their game ended tragically; for they were all exiled to Siberia or elsewhere.

When this spirit awoke twenty years after, it had dreamed new dreams. This time it aimed at the entire remodelling of our poor old world. The Russians now embraced the socialist and democratic ideas of Europe; but, in accepting these international theories, they did not see how inapplicable they were to Russia at this time. Penetrated as they were with the rationalistic and irreligious spirit of the eighteenth century, they have nothing in common with the grave sympathy of such men as Dostoyevski and Tolstoï. These are realists that love humanity; but the others were merely metaphysicians, whose love for humanity has changed into hatred of society.

92 Every young writer of the “school of nature” produced his socialistic romance, bitterly satirical, and showing the influence of George Sand and Eugène Sue. But an unsuccessful conspiracy headed by Petrachevski put an end temporarily to this effervescence of ideas. Russia became calm again, while every sign of intellectual life was pitilessly repressed, not to stir again until after the death of the Emperor Nicholas. The most violent of the revolutionists had secured their property in foreign lands; and all authors were either condemned or exiled. Many of them followed Petrachevski to Siberia. Turgenef was among the most fortunate, having been exiled to his own estates in the country. The Slavophile party itself did not wholly escape punishment and exile. Even the long beards, which formed a part of their patriotic programme, had no better fate than their writings. All were forbidden to wear them. The government now suppressed all the scientific missions and pilgrimages to the German Universities, which had produced such bad results. While Peter the Great drove his subjects out of the Empire to breathe the air of Europe, Nicholas forced his to remain within it. Passports could only be obtained with great difficulty, and at the exorbitant price of 500 roubles. In every University and seminary of learning in the Empire, the teaching of philosophy was forbidden, as well as the classics; and all historical 93 publications were subject to a severe control, which was almost equivalent to a prohibition. There were now but seven small newspapers printed in all Russia, and these were filled with the most insignificant facts. The wars in Hungary and in the East were hardly alluded to. The first article of any consequence appeared in 1857. The absurd severity exercised towards the press furnished material for a long and amusing article in the leading journal. The word liberty was underscored wherever and in whatever sense it occurred, as the word King was, during the reign of Terror in France.

These years of “terror” have since furnished much amusement for the Russians; but those who passed through them, warmed by the enthusiasm and illusions of youth, have always retained, together with the disinclination to express themselves frankly, a vein of pathos throughout their writings. Besides, the liberty granted to authors in the reign of Alexander II. was only a relative one; which explains why they returned instinctively to novel-writing as the only mode of expression which permitted any undercurrent of meaning. In this agreeable form we must seek for the ideas of that time on philosophy, history, and politics; for which reason I have dwelt on the importance of studying the Russian novelists attentively. In their romances, and only in them, shall we find a true history of the last 94 half-century of their country, and form a just idea of the public for which the works were written.

This people’s way of reasoning and their demands are peculiar to themselves. In France, we expect of a romance what we expect of any work of art, according to the degree of civilization we have reached; something to afford us a refined amusement; a diversion from the serious interests of life; merely a passing impression. We read books as a passing pedestrian looks at a picture displayed in some shop window, casually, on his way to his business. They regard the masters of their language quite otherwise in Russia. What for us is a temporary gratification is to them the soul’s daily bread; for they are passing through the golden age of their literature. Their authors are the guides of the race, almost the creators of their language; their poets are such according to the ancient and full sense of the word—vates, poet, prophet.

In Russia, the small educated class have perhaps surpassed us in cultivation; but the lower classes are just beginning to read with eagerness, faith, and hope; as we read Robinson Crusoe at twelve years of age. Their sensitive imaginations are alive to the full effect these works are calculated to produce. Journalism has not scattered their ideas and lessened their power of attention. They draw no comparisons, and therefore believe.

95 We consider “Fathers and Sons,” and “War and Peace” merely novels. But to the merchant of Moscow, the son of the village priest, the country proprietor, either of these works is almost like a national Bible, which he places upon the shelf holding the few books which represent to him an encyclopædia of the human mind. They have the importance and signification for him that the story of Esther had for the Jews, and the adventures of Ulysses for the Athenians.

Our readers will pardon these general considerations, which seemed to us necessary before approaching the three most prominent figures of this period, which we choose from among many others as the most original of the two groups they divide into. Dostoyevski will represent to us the opinions of the Slavophile or national school; Turgenef will show us how many can remain thoroughly Russian without breaking off their connections with the rest of Europe; and how there can be realists with a feeling for art and a longing to attain a lofty ideal. He belonged to the liberal party, which claims him as its own; but this great artist, gradually freeing himself from all bounds, soars far above the petty bickerings of party strife.



Turgenef’s talent, in the best of his productions, draws its inspiration directly from his beloved father-land. We feel this in every page we read. This is probably why his contemporaries long preferred him to any of his rivals. In letters, as well as in politics, the people instinctively follow the leaders whom they feel belong to them; and whose spirit and qualities, even whose failings, they share in common. Ivan Sergievitch Turgenef possessed the dominant qualities of every true Russian: natural kindness of heart, simplicity, and resignation. With a remarkably powerful brain, he had the heart of a child. I never met him without realizing the true meaning of the gospel words, ‘poor in spirit’; and that that quality can be the accompaniment of a scientific mind and the soul of an artist. Devotion, generosity, brotherly love, were perfectly natural to him. Into the midst of our busy and complicated civilization he seemed to drop down as if from some pastoral tribe of the mountains; and to carry out his ideas under our sky as naturally as a shepherd guides his flocks in the steppe.

As to his personal appearance, he was tall, with a quiet dignity in his manner, features somewhat coarse; and his finely formed head and searching glance brought to mind some Russian patriarch of the peasant class; only ennobled and transfigured 97 by intellectual cultivation, like those peasants of old who became monks and perhaps saints. He gave me the impression of a person possessing the native frankness of the peasant, while endowed with the inspiration of genius; and who had reached a high intellectual elevation without having lost anything of his natural simplicity and candor. Such a comparison could not, surely, offend one who so loved his people!

Now, when the time has come to speak of his work, my heart fails me, and I feel disposed to throw down my pen. I have spoken of his virtues; why should we say more, or dwell upon the brilliant qualities of his mind, adding greater eulogies? But those who know him well are few, and they will soon die and be forgotten. We must then try to show to others what that great heart has left of itself in the works of his imagination. These are not few, and show much persevering labor. The last complete edition of his works comprises not less than ten volumes: romances, novels, critical and dramatic essays. The most notable of these have been carefully translated into French, under the direction of the author himself; and no foreigner’s work has ever been as much read and appreciated in Paris as his.

The name of Turgenef was well known, and had acquired a literary reputation in Paris, at the beginning of the present century; for a cousin of the author’s, Nikolai Ivanovitch (Turgenef),98 after having distinguished himself in the government service under Alexander I., was implicated in the conspiracy of December, 1825, and exiled by the Emperor Nicholas. He spent the remainder of his life in Paris, where he published his important work, “Russia and the Russians.” He was a distinguished man and an honest thinker, if perhaps a little narrow, and one of the most sincere of those who became liberals after 1812. Faithful to his friends who were exiled to Siberia, he became their advocate, and also warmly pleaded the cause of the emancipation of the serfs; so that his young cousin continued a family tradition when he gave the death-blow to slavery with his first book.

Turgenef was born in 1818, on the family estate in Orel, and his early years were passed in this solitary place, in one of those “Nests of Nobles” which are so often the scene of his novels. According to the fashion of that time, he had both French and German tutors, which were considered a necessary appendage in every nobleman’s household. His mother-tongue was held in disrepute; so his first Russian verses were read in secret, with the help of an old servant. Fortunately for him, he acquired the best part of his education out on the heaths with the huntsmen, whose tales were destined to become masterpieces, transformed by the great author’s pen. Passing his time in the woods, and running over 99 the marshes in pursuit of quail, the poet laid in a rich stock of imagery and picturesque scenes with which he afterwards clothed his ideas. In the imagination of some children, while thought is still sleeping, impressions accumulate, one by one, like the night-dew; but, in the awakening dawn, the first ray of the morning sun will reveal these glittering diamonds.

After going to school at Moscow, and through the University at St. Petersburg, he went, as others did, to conclude his course of study in Germany. In 1838, he was studying the philosophy of Kant and Hegel at Berlin. He said of himself later in regard to this: “The impulse which drew the young men of my time into a foreign land reminds me of the ancient Slavs going to seek for chiefs from beyond the seas. Every one felt that his native country, morally and intellectually considered, was great and rich, but ill regulated.[F] For myself, I fully realized that there were great disadvantages in being torn from one’s native soil, where one had been brought up; but there was nothing else to be done. This sort of life, especially in the sphere to which I belonged, of landed proprietors and serfdom, offered me nothing attractive. On the contrary,100 what I saw around me was revolting—in fact, disgusting—to me. I could not hesitate long. I must either make up my mind to submit, and walk on quietly in the beaten track; or tear myself away, root and branch, even at the risk of losing many things dear to my heart. This I decided to do. I became a cosmopolitan, which I have always remained. I could not live face to face with what I abhorred; perhaps I had not sufficient self-control or force of character for that. At any rate, it seemed as if I must, at all hazards, withdraw from my enemy, in order to be able to deal him surer blows from a distance. This mortal enemy was, in my eyes, the institution of serfdom, which I had resolved to combat to the last extremity, and with which I had sworn never to make peace. It was in order to fulfil this vow that I left my country….”

The writer will now become a European; he will uphold the method of Peter the Great, against those patriots who have entrenched themselves behind the great Chinese wall. Reason, good laws, and good literature have no fixed country. Every one must seize his treasure wherever he can find it, in the common soil of humanity, and develop it in his own way. In reading the strong words of his own confession we are led to a feeling of anxiety for the poet’s future. Will politics turn him from his true course? Fortunately they did not. Turgenef had too literary 101 and contemplative a nature to throw himself into that vortex. But he kept his vow of taking his aim—and a terrible one it was—at the institution of serfdom. The contest was fierce, and the war was a holy one.

Returning to Russia, Turgenef published some poems and dramatic pieces; but he afterward excluded all these from the complete edition of his works; and, leaving Russia again, he sent his first prose work, “Annals of a Sportsman,” which was to contribute greatly to his fame as a novelist, to a St. Petersburg review. He continued to send various little bombshells, from 1847 to 1851, in the form of tales and sketches, hiding their meaning under a veil of poetry. The influence of Gogol was perceptible in his work at this time, especially in his comprehension of nature. His scenes were always Russian, but the artist’s interpretation was different from Gogol’s, having none of his rough humor and enthusiasm, but more delicacy and ideality. His language too is richer, more flowing, more picturesque and expressive than any Russian author had yet attained to; and it perfectly translates the most fugitive chords of the grand harmonious register of nature. The author carries us with him into the very heart of his native country.

The “Annals of a Sportsman” have charmed many French readers, much as they must lose through the double veil of translation and our 102 ignorance of the country. Indeed we must have lived in the country described by Turgenef to fully appreciate the way in which he presents on every page the exact copy of one’s personal impressions; even bringing to the senses every delicate odor breathed from the earth. Some of his descriptions of nature have the harmonious perfection of a fantastic symphony written in a minor key.

In the “Living Relics,” he wakes a more human, more interior chord. On a hunting expedition, he enters by chance an abandoned shed, where he finds a wretched human being, a woman, deformed, and unable to move. He recognizes in her a former serving-maid of his mother’s, once a gay, laughing girl, now paralyzed, stricken by some strange and terrible disease. This poor creature, reduced to a skeleton, lying forgotten in this miserable shed, has no longer any relations with the outside world. No one takes care of her; kind people sometimes replenish her jar with fresh water. She requires nothing else. The only sign of life, if life it can be called, is in her eyes and her faint respiration. But this hideous wreck of a body contains an immortal soul, purified by suffering, utterly resigned, lifted above itself, this simple peasant nature, into the realms of perfect self-renunciation.

Lukeria relates her misfortune; how she was seized with this illness after a fall in the dark; how she had gone out one dark evening to listen 103 to the songs of the nightingales; how gradually every faculty and every joy of life had forsaken her.

Her betrothed was so sorry; but, then, afterwards he married; what else could he do? She hopes he is happy. For years her only diversion has been to listen to the church-bells and the drowsy hum of the bees in the hives of the apiary near by. Sometimes a swallow comes and flutters about in the shed, which is a great event, and gives her something to think about for several weeks. The people that bring water to her are so kind, she is so grateful to them! And gradually, almost cheerfully, she goes back with the young master to the memories of old days, and reminds him how vain she was of being the leader in all the songs and dances; at last, she even tries to hum one of those songs.

“I really dreaded to have this half-dead creature try to sing. Before I could speak, she uttered a sound very faintly, but the note was correct; then another, and she began to sing, ‘In the Fields’ … as she sang there was no change of expression in her paralyzed face or in her fixed eyes. This poor little forced voice sounded so pathetically, and she made such an effort to express her whole soul, that my heart was pierced with the deepest pity.”

Lukeria relates her terrible dreams, how Death has appeared before her; not that she dreads his 104 coming, but he always goes away and refuses to deliver her. She refuses all offers of assistance from her young master; she desires nothing, needs nothing, is perfectly content. As her visitor is about to leave her, she calls him back for a last word. She seems to be conscious (how feminine is this!) of the terrible impression she must have made upon him, and says:—

“Do you remember, master, what beautiful hair I had? you know it reached to my knees…. I hesitated a long time about cutting it off; but what could I do with it as I am? So—I cut it off…. Adieu, master!”

All this cannot be analyzed any more than the down on a butterfly’s wing; and yet it is such a simple tale, but how suggestive! There is no exaggeration; it is only one of the accidents of life. The poor woman feels that if one believes in God, there are things of more importance than her little misfortune. The point which is most strongly brought forward, however, in this tale, and in nearly all the others, is the almost stoical resignation, peculiar to the Russian peasant, who seems prepared to endure anything. This author’s talent lies in his keeping the exquisite balance between the real and the ideal; every detail is strikingly and painfully real, while the ideal shines through and within every thought and fact. He has given us innumerable pictures of master, overseer, and serf; clothing every repulsive fact with 105 a grace and charm, seemingly almost against his will, but which are born of his own poetical nature.

It is not wholly correct to say that Turgenef attacked slavery. The Russian writers never attack openly; they neither argue nor declaim. They describe, drawing no conclusions; but they appeal to our pity more than to our anger. Fifteen years later Dostoyevski published his “Recollections of a Dead-House.” He took the same method—without expressing a word of indignation, without one drop of gall; he seems to think what he describes quite natural, only somewhat pathetic. This is a national trait.

Once I stopped for one night at an inn in Orel, our author’s native place. Early in the morning, I was awakened by the beating of drums. I looked down into the market-place, which was full of soldiers drawn up in a square, and a crowd of people stood looking on. A pillory had been erected in the square, a large, black, wooden pillar, with a scaffolding underneath. Three poor fellows were tied to the pillar, and had parchments on their backs, giving an account of their misdeeds. These thieves seemed very docile, and almost unconscious of what was being done to them. They made a picturesque group, with their handsome Slavonic heads, and bound to this pillar. The exhibition lasted long; the priests came to bless them; and when the cart 106 came to carry them back to prison, both soldiers and people rushed after them, loading them with eatables, small coins, and words of sympathy.

The Russian writer who aims to bring about reforms, in like manner displays his melancholy picture, with spasms of indulgent sympathy for the evils he unveils. The public needs but a hint. This time it understood. Russia looked upon serfdom in the mirror he showed her, and shuddered. The author became celebrated, and his cause was half gained. The censorship, always the last to become convinced, understood too, at last. Serfdom was already condemned in the heart of the Emperor Nicholas, but the censorship does not always agree with the Emperor; it is always procrastinating; sometimes it is left far behind, perhaps for a whole reign. It will not condemn the book, but keeps its eye upon the author.

Gogol died at this time, and Turgenef wrote a strong article in praise of the dead author. This article appears to-day entirely inoffensive, but the author himself thus speaks of it:—

“In regard to my article on Gogol, I remember one day at St. Petersburg, a lady in high position at court was criticizing the punishment inflicted upon me, as unjust and undeserved, or, at least, too severe. Some one replied: ‘Did you not know that he calls Gogol “a great man” in that article?’ ‘That is not possible.’ ‘I assure you he 107 did.’ ‘Ah! in that case, I have no more to say; I am very sorry for him, but now I understand their severity.’”

This praise, justly accorded to a great author, procured for Turgenef a month of imprisonment and banishment to his own estates. But this tyranny was, perhaps, a blessing in disguise. Thirty years before, Pushkin had been torn from the dissipations of the gay capital, where his genius would have been lost, and was exiled to the Orient, where it developed into a rich bloom. If Turgenef had remained at this time in St. Petersburg, he might have been drawn, in his hot-headed youth, by compromising friendships, into some fruitless political broil; but, exiled to the solitude of his native woods, he spent several years there in literary work; studying the humble life around him, and collecting materials for his first great novels.


Turgenef always declared himself as no admirer of Balzac. This was, no doubt, true; for they had no points of resemblance in common. Still I cannot but think that that sworn disciple of Gogol and of the “school of nature” must have received some suggestions from our great author. Turgenef, like Balzac, gave us the comedy of human life in his native country; but to this 108 great work he gave more heart and faith, and less patience, system, and method, than the French writer. But he possessed the gift of style, and a racy eloquence, which are wanting in Balzac.

If one must read Balzac in France in order to retrace the lives of our predecessors, this is all the more true of Turgenef in Russia.

This author sharply discerned the prevailing current of ideas which were developed in that period of transition,—the reign of Nicholas and the first few years of the reign of Alexander II. It required a keen vision to apprehend and describe the shifting characters and scenes of that period, vivid glimpses of which we obtain from his novels written at that time.

His first one of this period is “Dimitri Roudine.” The hero of the story is an eloquent idealist, but practically inefficient in action. His liberal ideas are intoxicating, both to himself and others; but he succumbs to every trial of life, through want of character. With the best principles and no vices whatever, except, perhaps, an excess of personal vanity, he commits deeds in which he is his own dupe. He is at heart too honest to profit by offered opportunities, which would give him advantage over others; and, with no courage either for good or evil undertakings, he is always unsuccessful, and always in want of money. He finally realizes his inefficiency, in old age, and dies in extreme poverty.

109 The characters of the prosaic country life in which the hero’s career is pictured are marvellously well drawn. These practical people, whose ideas are nearly on a level with the earth which yields them their livelihood, prosper in all things. They have comfortable incomes, good wives, and congenial friends; while the enthusiastic idealist, in spite of his intellectual superiority, falls even lower. It is the triumph of prosaic fact over idealism. In this introductory work, the author touched keenly upon one of the greatest defects of the Russian character, and gave a useful lesson to his fellow-countrymen; showing them that magnificent aspirations are not all-sufficient, but they must be joined to practical common-sense, and applied to self-government. “Dimitri Roudine” is a moral and philosophical study, inciting to thought and interesting to the thinking mind. It was a question whether the author would be as skilful in the region of sentiment, whether he would succeed in moving the heart.

His “Nest of Nobles”[G] was his response; and it was, perhaps, his greatest work, although not without defects. It is less interesting than the other, as the development of the plot drags somewhat; but when once started, and fully outlined, it is carried out with consummate skill.

The “Nest of Nobles” is one of the old provincial, 110 ancestral mansions in which many generations have lived. In this house the young girl is reared, who will serve as a prototype for the heroine of every Russian novel. She is simple and straightforward, not strikingly beautiful or gifted, but very charming, and endowed with an iron will,—a trait which the author invariably refuses to men, but he bestows it upon every young heroine of his imagination. This trait carries them through every variety of experience and the most extreme crises, according as they are driven by fate.

Liza, a girl of twenty, has been thus far wholly insensible to the attractions of a handsome government official, whose attentions her mother has encouraged. Finally, weary of resistance, the young girl consents to an engagement with him, when Lavretski, a distant relative, appears upon the scene. He is a married man, but has long been separated from his wife, who is wholly unworthy of him. She is an adventuress, who spends her time at the various Continental watering-places. There is nothing whatever of the hero of romance about him; he is a quiet, kind-hearted, and unhappy being, serious-minded and no longer young. Altogether, a man such as is very often to be met with in real life. He and the young heroine are drawn together by a mysterious attraction; and, just as the man, with his deeper experience of life, recognizes with terror 111 the nature of their mutual feelings, he learns of the death of his wife, through a newspaper article. He is now free; and, that very evening, in the old garden, both hearts, almost involuntarily, interchange vows of eternal affection. The description of this scene is beautiful, true to nature, and exceedingly refined. The happiness of the lovers lasts but a single hour; the news was false, and the next day Lavretski’s wife herself appears most unexpectedly upon the scene.

We can easily see what an opportunity the author here has for the delineation of the inevitable revulsion and tumult of feeling called forth; but with what delicacy he leads those two purest of souls through such peril! The sacrifice is resolutely made by the young girl; but only after a fearful struggle by the lover. The annoying and hated wife disappears again, while the reader fondly hopes the author will bring about her speedy death. Here again those who wish only happy dénouements must close the book. Mme. Lavretski does not die, but continues the gayest kind of a life, while Liza, who has known of life only the transient promise of a love, which lasted through the starry hours of one short evening in May, carries her wounded heart to her God, and buries herself in a convent.

So far, this is a virtuous and rather old-fashioned story, suitable for young girls. But we must read the farther development of the tale, to see with 112 what exquisite art and love for truth the novelist has treated his subject. There is not the slightest approach to insipid sentimentality in this sad picture; no outbursts of passion; but, with a chaste and gentle touch, a restrained and continually increasing emotion is awakened, which rends the heart. The epilogue of this book, only a few pages in length, is, and will always be, one of the gems of Russian literature.

Eight years have passed in the course of the story; Lavretski returns one morning in spring to the old mansion. It is now inhabited by a new generation, for the children have become young men and women, with new sentiments and interests. The new-comer, hardly recognized by them, finds them in the midst of their games. The story opened in the same way, and we seem to have gone back to the beginning of it. Lavretski seats himself upon the same spot where he once pressed for a moment in his the hand of the dear one, who ever since that blissful hour has been counting the beads of her rosary in a cloister.

The young birds of the old nest can give no answer to the questions he longs to ask, for they have quite forgotten the vanished one; and they return to their game, in which they are quite absorbed. He reflects, in his desolation, how the self-same words describe the same scene of other days: nature’s smile is quite the same; the same joys are new to other children; just as, in a sonata 113 of Chopin’s, the original theme of the melody recurs in the finale.

In this romance, the melancholy contrast between the perennity of nature and the change and decay of man through the cruel and pitiless work of time is very strikingly portrayed. We have become so attached to the former characters painted by our author, that these children, in the heyday of their lives, are almost hateful to us.

I am strongly tempted to quote these pages in full, but they would lose too much in being separated from what precedes them; and, unwillingly leaving the subject, I can only apply to Turgenef his own words in regard to one of his heroes:—

“He possessed the great secret of that divine eloquence which is music; for he knew a way to touch certain chords in the heart which would send a vibrating thrill through all the others.”

The “Nest of Nobles” established the author’s renown. Such a strange world is this that poets, conquerors, women also, gain the hearts of men the more effectually by making them suffer and weep. All Russia shed tears over this book; and the unhappy Liza became the model for all the young girls. No romantic work since “Paul and Virginia” had produced such an effect upon the people. The author seems to have been haunted by this type of woman. His Ellen in “On the Eve” has the same indomitable will. She has a 114 serious, reserved, and obstinate nature, has been reared in solitude; and, free from all outside influences, and scorning all obstacles, she is capable of the most complete self-renunciation. But in this instance the circumstances are quite different. The beloved one is quite free, but cast out by his family. As Liza fled to the cloister in spite of the supplications of her friends, so Ellen joins her lover and devotes herself to him, not suspecting for a moment her act to be in any way a criminal one; but it is redeemed, in any case, by her devoted constancy through a life of many trials. These studies of character show a keen observation of the national temperament. The man is irresolute, the woman decided; she it is who rules fate, knows what she wants to do, and does it. Everything which, with our ideas, would seem in a young girl like boldness and immodesty, is pictured by the artist with such simplicity and delicacy that we are tempted to see in it only the freedom of a courageous, undaunted spirit. These upright and passionate natures which he creates seem capable of anything but fear, treachery, and deceit.

The poet seems to have poured the accumulated emotion of his whole youth into the “Nest of Nobles” as a vent to the long repressed sentiment of his inmost heart. He now set himself to study the social conditions of the life around him; and in the midst of the great intellectual movement 115 of 1860, on the eve of the emancipation, he wrote “Fathers and Sons.” This book marks a date in the history of the Russian mind. The novelist had the rare good-fortune to recognize a new growth of thought, and to give it a fixed form and name, which no other had been able to do.

In “Fathers and Sons,” an old man of the past generation, discussing his character of Bazarof, asked: “What is your opinion of Bazarof?”—“What is he?—he is a nihilist,” replied a young disciple of the terrible medical student.—“What do you say?”—“I say he is a nihilist!”—“Nihilist?” repeated the old man. “Ah, yes! that comes from the Latin word nihil, and our Russian word nitchevo; as well as I can judge, that must be a man who will neither acknowledge nor admit anything.”—“Say, rather,” added another, “who respects nothing.”—“Who considers everything from a critical point of view,” resumed the young man.—“That is just the same thing.”—“No, it is not the same thing; a nihilist is a man who bows to no authority, and will admit no principle as an article of faith, no matter how deeply respected that principle may be.”

We must go back still farther than the Latin to find the root of the word and the philosophy it expresses; to the old Aryan stock, of which the Slavonic race is one of the main branches. Nihilism is the Hindu nirvâna; the yielding of the primitive man before the power of matter and 116 the obscurity of the moral world; and the nirvâna necessarily engenders a furious reaction in the conquered being, a blind effort to destroy that universe which can crush and circumvent him. But I have already touched upon this subject, which is too voluminous to dwell upon here. So Nihilism, as we understand it, is only in its embryo state in this famous book of Turgenef’s. I would merely call the attention of the reader to another passage in this book which reveals a finer understanding of the word than volumes written upon the subject. It is in another discussion of Bazarof’s character, this time between an intelligent young girl and a young disciple of Bazarof, who honestly believes himself a nihilist. She says:—

“Your Bazarof you cannot understand, neither can he understand you.”—“How so?”—“How can I explain it?… He is a wild animal, and we, you and I, are tamed animals.”

This comparison shows clearly the shade of difference between Russian Nihilism and the similar mental maladies from which human nature has suffered from time immemorial down to the present day.

This hero of Turgenef’s has many traits in common with the Indian heroes of Fenimore Cooper, who are armed with a tomahawk, instead of a surgeon’s knife. Bazarof’s sons seem, at first sight, much like our revolutionists; but examine 117 them more closely, and you will discover the distinction between the wild and the tamed beast. Our worst revolutionists are savage dogs, but the Russian nihilist is a wolf; and we now know that the wolf’s rage is the more dangerous of the two.

See how Bazarof dies! He has contracted blood-poison by dissecting the body of a typhoid subject. He knows that he is lost. He endures his agony in mute, haughty, stolid silence; it is the agony of the wild beast with a ball in his body. The nihilist surpasses the stoic; he does not try to complete his task before death; there is nothing that is worth doing.

The novelist has exhausted his art to create a deplorable character, which, however, is not really odious to us, excepting as regards his inhumanity, his scorn for everything we venerate. These seem intolerable to us. With the tamed animal, this would indicate perversion, disregard of all rules; but in the wild beast it is instinct, a resistance wholly natural. Our moral sense is ingeniously disarmed by the author, before this victim of fate.

Turgenef’s creative power and minute observation of details in this work have never been excelled by him at any period of his literary career. It is very difficult, however, to quote passages of his, because he never writes single pages or paragraphs for their individual effect; but every detail is of value to the ensemble of the 118 work. I will merely quote a passing sketch of a character, which seems to me remarkably true to life; that of a man of his own country and his own time; a high functionary of St. Petersburg; a future statesman, who had gone into one of the provinces to examine the petty government officials.

“Matthew Ilitch belonged to what were called the younger politicians. Although hardly over forty years of age, he was already aiming to obtain a high position in the Government, and wore two orders on his breast. One of them, however, was a foreign, and quite an ordinary one. He passed for one of the progressive party, as well as the official whom he came to examine. He had a high opinion of himself; his personal vanity was boundless, although he affected an air of studied simplicity, gave you a look of encouragement, listened with an indulgent patience. He laughed so good-naturedly that, at first, you would take him for a ‘good sort of fellow.’ But, on certain occasions, he knew how to throw dust in your eyes. ‘It is necessary to be energetic,’ he used to say; ‘energy is the first quality of the statesman.’ In spite of all, he was often duped; for any petty official with a little experience could lead him by the nose at will.

“Matthew Ilitch often spoke of Guizot with admiration; he tried to have every one understand 119 that he did not belong to the category of those who followed one routine; but that he was attentive to every phase and possible requirement of social life. He kept himself familiar with all contemporary literature, as he was accustomed to say, in an off-hand way. He was a tricky and adroit courtier, nothing more; he really knew nothing of public affairs, and his views were of no value whatever; but he understood managing his own affairs admirably well; on this point he could not be duped. Is not that, after all, the principal thing?”

In the intervals of these important works, Turgenef often wrote little simple sketches, in the style of his “Annals of a Sportsman.” There are more than twenty of these exquisitely delicate compositions. One of them, entitled “Assia,”[H] of about sixty pages, is a perfect gem in its way, and is a souvenir of his student-life in Germany, and of a love-passage experienced there.

The young student loves a young Russian girl without being quite conscious of his passion. His love being evidently reciprocated, the young girl, wounded by his hesitation, suddenly disappears, and he knows too late what he has lost. I will quote at hazard a few lines of this poem in prose, which is only the prelude of this unconscious passion.

120 The two young people are walking, one summer evening, on the banks of the Rhine.

“I stood and looked upon her, bathed as she was in the bright rays of the setting sun. Her face was calm and sweet. Everything around us was beaming with intensity of light; earth, air, and water.

“‘How beautiful it is!’ I said, involuntarily lowering my voice.

“‘Yes,’ she said, in the same tone, without raising her eyes. ‘If we were birds, you and I, would we not soar away and fly? … we should be lost in those azure depths…. But—we are not birds.’

“‘Our wings may grow,’ I replied. ‘Only live on and you will see. There are feelings which can raise us above this earth. Fear not; you will have your wings.’

“‘And you,’ she said; ‘have you ever felt this?’

“‘It seems to me that I never did, until this moment,’ I said.

“Assia was silent, and seemed absorbed in thought. I drew nearer to her. Suddenly she said:—

“‘Do you waltz?’ ‘Yes,’ I replied, somewhat perplexed by this question.

“‘Come, then,’ she said; ‘I will ask my brother to play a waltz for us. We will imagine we are flying, and that our wings have grown….’

121 “It was late when I left her. On recrossing the Rhine, when midway between the two shores, I asked the ferryman to let the boat drift with the current. The old man raised the oars, and the royal stream bore us on. I looked around me, listened, and reflected. I had a feeling of unrest, and felt a sudden pang at my heart. I raised my eyes to the heavens; but even there there was no tranquillity. Dotted with glittering stars, the whole firmament was palpitating and quivering. I leaned over the water; there were the same stars, trembling and gleaming in its cold, gloomy depths. The agitation of nature all around me only increased my own. I leaned my elbows upon the edge of the boat; the night wind, murmuring in my ears, and the dull plashing of the water against the rudder irritated my nerves, which the cool exhalations from the water could not calm. A nightingale was singing on the shore, and his song seemed to fill me with a delicious poison. Tears filled my eyes, I knew not why. What I now felt was not that aspiration toward the Infinite, that love for universal nature, with which my whole being had been filled of late; but I was consumed by a thirst, a longing for happiness,—I could not yet call it by its name, but for a happiness beyond expression, even if it should annihilate me. It was almost an agony of mingled joy and pain.

“The boat floated on, while the old boatman sat and slept, leaning forward upon his oars.”



The emancipation of the serfs, the dream of Turgenef’s life, had become an accomplished fact, and was, moreover, the inaugurator of other great reforms. There was a general joyous awakening of secret forces and of hopes long deferred. The years following 1860, which were so momentous for Russia, wrought a change in the interior life of the poet and author. Torn from his native land by the ties of a deathless friendship, to which he unreservedly devoted the remainder of his life, he left Russia, never to return except at very rare intervals. He established himself first at Baden, afterwards settled permanently in Paris. Every desire of his heart as man, author, and patriot had been gratified. He had helped to bring about the emancipation. His literary fame followed him, and his works were translated into many languages.

But, after some years of silence and repose, this poet’s soul, which through youth had rejoiced in its dreams and anticipations, suffered the change which must come to our poor human nature. He was not destined in his old age to realize his ideals.

In 1868 his great novel “Smoke” appeared. It exhibited the same talent, riper than ever with the maturity of age; but the old faith and candor 123 were wanting. Were we speaking of any other man, we should say that he had become bitter; but that would be an exaggeration in speaking of Turgenef, for there was no gall in his temperament. But there are the pathetic touches of a disenchanted idealist, astonished to find that his most cherished ideas, applied to men, cannot make them perfect. This sort of disappointment sometimes carries an author to injustice; his pencil shades certain characters too intensely, so that they are less true to nature than those of his older works. The phase of society described in “Smoke” exhibits a class of Russians living abroad, who do not, perhaps, retain in their foreign home the best qualities of their native soil: noble lords and questionable ladies, students and conspirators. The scene is laid at Baden, where the author could study society at his leisure. Of this confusing throng of army officers, rusticating princesses, boastful Slavophiles, and travelling clerks, he has given us many a vivid glimpse. But the book, as a whole, is an exaggeration; and this impression is all the stronger as the author evidently does not consider his characters of an exceptional type, but intends to faithfully represent Russian society, both high and low. Moreover, the artist has modified his style. He formerly presented his array of ideas, and left his readers to judge of them for themselves; but now he often puts himself in the reader’s place, and expresses his own opinion very freely.

124 For the novelist or dramatist there are two ways of presenting moral theses; with or without his personal intervention. We will take the most familiar examples. In Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables,” there are two conceptions of duty and virtue, which are perfectly antagonistic, personified by Jean Valjean and Javert. They are so perfectly drawn that we might almost hesitate between them; but the author throws the whole weight of his eloquence on the one; he deifies one and depreciates the other, so that he forces the verdict from us. But in “Le Gendre de M. Poirier,” on the contrary, there are two conceptions of honor; two sets of irreconcilable ideas; those of the Marquis de Presle, and those of his father-in-law. The author keeps himself in the background. He presents his two characters with the same clear analyses of their merits and absurdities; and shows both the weak and the strong points of their arguments. Even to the very end we hesitate to judge between them; and it is this conflict of ideas which keeps up the interest of the drama.

For myself, I prefer the second method. Besides being more artistic, it seems to approach nearer to real life, in which we can never see truth clearly, and in which good and evil are always so closely allied. Turgenef embraced this method in all his first studies of social life, and they were more just and true, in my opinion, than 125 his later ones. In the last two, “Smoke” and “Virgin Soil,” he interferes noticeably, bringing forward his own opinions; but I acknowledge that these books contain many passages overflowing with vivid fancy and strong common-sense. He satirizes everything he disapproves, the Slavophile party, all the national peculiarities, especially that mania for declaring everything perfect that springs from Russian soil. His shafts of wit, which he employs to illustrate this infatuation, are very keen; for example, when he speaks of the “literature which is bound in Russia leather”; and when he says, “in my country two and two make four, but with more certainty than elsewhere.”

After emptying his quiver, the author describes a love intrigue, in which he shows as ever his marvellous knowledge of the human heart. But here again his style has changed. Formerly he wrote of youthful affection, a loyal emotion, frank and courageous enough to brave the whole world; and woman seemed to interest him only in her early youth. But he depicts in “Smoke” and “Spring Floods” the most cruel passions, with their agonies, deceptions, and bottomless abysses. The virtuous young girl invariably comes in, but as if held in reserve to save the repentant sinner at the end. Some may prefer these tempestuous compositions to the delicious poetic harmonies of his first romances. It is a matter of taste, and I 126 would not decry the real merit of “Smoke,” which is a masterpiece in its way. I only affirm that on the approach of the evening of life the translucent soul of the poet has given us glimpses of sombre clouds and stormy skies. At the end of “Spring Floods,” after that wonderful scene, so true to life, exhibiting the weakness of the man and the diabolical power of the woman, there follow a few pages so full of rancor that you can but feel pity for the writer who can express such bitterness.

In 1877, “Virgin Soil,” the last long important work, appeared: first in French, in a Paris journal, as if to feel its way; then the original could be risked in Russia with impunity, and had a free circulation. What a marked change the march of ideas had produced since the appearance of Turgenef’s article on Gogol! In this new work the author traversed a road which once would have led directly to Siberia. He had the ambition to describe the subterranean world which at that time was beginning to threaten the peace of the Empire. Having studied for twenty-five years every current of thought springing from Russian soil, the student thought to perfect his task by showing us the natural outgrowth of these currents. Since they disappeared under the earth, they must be investigated and attacked with a bold front.

Turgenef was incited to the work partly from the appearance of a rival, who had already preceded 127 him in this line. We shall see that “Virgin Soil” was an indirect response to “Les Possédés” of Dostoyevski. The effort was not wholly successful; as Turgenef had been away from his native land for fifteen years, he had not been able to watch narrowly enough the incessant transformation of that hidden, almost inaccessible world. Without the closest study from nature the artist’s work cannot produce striking results. The novelist intended to present the still unsettled tendencies of the nihilists in a characteristic and fixed form; but he failed to give clearness and outline to the work; the image refused to reflect its true form. This is why there is something vague and indistinct about the first part of “Virgin Soil,” which contrasts unfavorably with the clear-cut models of his early works.

The author introduces us into the circle of conspirators at St. Petersburg. One of the young men, Neshdanof, has been engaged as a tutor in the house of a rich government official, in a distant province. He there meets a young girl of noble family, who is treated as a poor relation in the house. She is embittered by a long series of humiliations, and is struck with admiration for the ideas of the young apostle, more than for his personal attractions. They escape together, and form a Platonic union, working together among the common people, at the great cause of socialism. But Neshdanof is not fitted for the terrible 128 work; he is a weak character, and a dreamer and poet. Distracted with doubts, and wholly discouraged, he soon discovers that all is chaos within his soul. He does not love the cause to which he is sacrificing himself, and he knows not how best to serve it. Neither does he love the woman who has sacrificed herself for him, and he feels that he has lowered himself in her esteem. Weary of life, too proud to withdraw, and generous enough to wish to save his devoted companion before her reputation is lost, Neshdanof takes his life. He has found out that one of his friends, with more character than himself, has a secret attachment for Marianne. Before dying he joins the hands of those two enthusiastic beings. The romance ends with a fruitless conspiracy, which shows the utter uselessness of attempting to stir the people to revolution.

Other revolutionary characters dimly float before the reader’s vision, who whisper unintelligible words. Those from among the higher classes are treated even more harshly than in “Smoke.” They have the same self-sufficiency, and are equally absurd without a single merit; and you feel that they are presented in a false light. Hence the work is abounding in caricatures, and shows a want of balance as a whole.

On the other hand, the apostles of the new faith are surrounded with a halo of generosity and devotion. Between extreme egotism on one 129 side, and stern faith and utter self-abnegation on the other, the idealist’s choice must fall. Naturally, the poet’s warm heart draws him to the most disinterested party of the two. He invests these rude natures with delicate sentiments, which clothe them with poetry; concealing from us, and even from himself, the revolting contrasts they present, and their brutal instincts. The wolfish, energetic Bazarof was of a type more true to nature.

I think that Turgenef’s sensibility led him astray in his conception of the nihilists; while his good-sense did justice to their ideas, exhibited the puerility of their discourses and the uselessness of their blind hopes. The most valuable part of the book is where the writer demonstrates by facts the utter impossibility of uniting the propagandists and the people. Abstract arguments make no impression upon the peasant’s dull brain. Neshdanof attempts an harangue in an ale-house; the peasants force him to drink. The second glass of vodka intoxicates him completely, and he staggers away amid jeers and shouts. Another man, who tries to stir a village to revolt, is bound and given over to justice.

At times Turgenef strikes exactly at the root of the evil, shows up the glaring faults of the revolutionary spirit, and exposes its weakness. Assuming too much responsibility, the nihilists wish to raise an ignorant populace at once to the 130 intellectual heights they have themselves reached; forgetting that time alone can accomplish such a miracle. They have recourse to cabalistic formulas, but their efforts are fruitless. The poet sees and explains all this; but, being a poet, he allows himself to be seduced by the sentimental beauty of the sacrifice, losing sight of the object; while the proved uselessness of the sacrifice only redoubles his indulgence towards the victims.

This brings me to a point where I am obliged to touch upon a delicate subject. Certain political claims, discussed over the author’s tomb, have caused much anxiety in Russia; and bitter resentment threatened to mingle with the national grief. The Moscow papers published several severe articles about him before his death, in consequence of the appearance of his “Memoirs of a Nihilist” in a French paper. This autobiographical sketch is not a work of the imagination, for he obtained the story from the lips of a fellow-countryman who had escaped from a prison in Russia.

This curious essay has the ring of truth about it, and no attempt at recrimination; giving an example of that strange psychological peculiarity of the Russian, who studies so attentively the moral effect of suffering upon his soul that he forgets to accuse the authors of his suffering. The sketch recalls vividly certain pages of Dostoyevski’s. But Turgenef’s ideas were not, at this time, well received by the Russians. They resented 131 the too indulgent tone of his writings, and accused him of complicity with the enemies of the Empire. The radicals wished to claim him for their own; and it was hinted that he subscribed to support a seditious journal. This is, however, entirely improbable. Turgenef was open-hearted and generous to a fault. He gave freely and indiscriminately to any one that was suffering. His door and his purse were open to any fellow-countryman without reserve, and kind words were ever ready to flow from his lips. But, though always ready to help others, he certainly never gave his aid to any political intriguer. Was it natural that a man of his refinement and high culture should have aided the schemes of wild and fruitless political conspiracies? With the liberal ideas he adopted during his university life in Germany, in early youth, he was more inclined to cherish political dreams than to put his liberalism into practice. In fact, it is only necessary to read “Virgin Soil” attentively, to understand the position he proposed to maintain.

But I am dwelling too long upon the political standing of a poet. This man, who was honest and true in the highest degree in all relations of life, must have been the same as to his politics. Those who questioned the colors he bore could ill afford to criticise him.

About this time, Turgenef wrote five or six tales; one of which (“A Lear of the Steppe”), 132 for its intensity of feeling, recalls the most beautiful parts of “The Annals of a Sportsman.” But I must not dwell upon these, but give a little attention to the productions of our author as a whole.


Ivan Sergievitch (Turgenef) has given us a most complete picture of Russian society. The same general types are always brought forward; and, as later writers have presented exactly similar ones, with but few modifications, we are forced to believe them true to life. First, the peasant; meek, resigned, dull, pathetic in suffering, like a child who does not know why he suffers; naturally sharp and tricky when not stupefied by liquor; occasionally roused to violent passion. Then, the intelligent middle class; the small landed proprietors of two generations. The old proprietor is ignorant and good-natured, of respectable family, but with coarse habits; hard, from long experience of serfdom, servile himself, but admirable in all other relations of life.

The young man of this class is of quite a different type. His intellectual growth having been too rapid, he sometimes plunges into Nihilism. He is often well educated, melancholy, rich in ideas but poor in executive ability; always preparing 133 and expecting to accomplish something of importance, filled with vague and generous projects for the public good. This is the chosen type of hero in all Russian novels. Gogol introduced it, and Tolstoï prefers it above all others.

The favorite hero of young girls and romantic women is neither the brilliant officer, the artist, nor rich lord, but almost universally this provincial Hamlet, conscientious, cultivated, intelligent, but of feeble will, who, returning from his studies in foreign lands, is full of scientific theories about the improvement of mankind and the good of the lower classes, and eager to apply these theories on his own estate. It is quite necessary that he should have an estate of his own. He will have the hearty sympathy of the reader in his efforts to improve the condition of his dependents.

The Russians well understand the conditions of the future prosperity of their country; but, as they themselves acknowledge, they know not how to go to work to accomplish it.

In regard to the women of this class, Turgenef, strange to say, has little to say of the mothers. This probably reveals the existence of some old wound, some bitter experience of his own. Without a single exception, all the mothers in his novels are either wicked or grotesque. He reserves the treasures of his poetic fancy for the young girls of his creation. To him the young girl of the country province is the corner-stone of the 134 fabric of society. Reared in the freedom of country life, placed in the most healthy social conditions, she is conscientious, frank, affectionate, without being romantic; less intelligent than man, but more resolute. In each of his romances an irresolute man is invariably guided by a woman of strong will.

Such are, generally speaking, the characters the author describes, which bear so unmistakably the stamp of nature that one cannot refrain from saying as he closes the book, “These must be portraits from life!” which criticism is always the highest praise, the best sanction of works of the imagination.

But something is wanting to fully complete the picture of Russian life. Turgenef never has written of the highest class in society except incidentally and in his later works, and then in his bitterest vein. He was never drawn to this class, and was, besides, prejudiced against it. The charming young girl, suddenly raised to a position in this circle, becomes entirely perverted—is changed into a frivolous woman, with most disagreeable peculiarities of mind and temperament. The man, elevated to the new dignities of a high public position, adds to his native irresolution ostentatious pride and folly. We are forced to question these hasty and extreme statements. We must wait for Leo Tolstoï before forming our opinions. He will give us precisely 135 the same types of the lower and middle classes as his predecessor; but he will also give a most complete analysis of the statesman, the courtier, and the noble dames of the court. He will finish the edifice, the foundations of which Turgenef has so admirably laid. Not that we expect of our author the complicated intrigues and extraordinary adventures of the old French romances. He shows us life as it is, not through a magic lantern. Facts interest him but little, for he only regards them as to their influence on the human soul. He loved to study character and sentiment, to seek the simplest personages of every-day life; and the great secret of his power lies in his having felt such deep interest in his models that his characters are never prosaic, while absolutely true to life. He says of Neshdanof, in “Virgin Soil”: “He makes realism poetic.” These, his own words, may be justly applied to himself. In exquisite and good taste he has, in fact, no rival. On every page we find a tender grace like the ineffable freshness of morning dew. A phrase of George Eliot’s, in “Adam Bede,” may well apply to him: “Words came to me as tears come when the heart is full and we cannot prevent them.”

No writer ever had more sentiment or a greater horror of sentimentality; none could better express in a single phrase such crises, such remarkable situations. This reserve power makes his 136 work unique in Russian literature, which is always diffuse and elaborate. In his most unimportant productions there is an artistic conciseness equal to that of the great masters of the ancient classics. Such qualities, made still more effective by a perfection of style and a diction always correct and sometimes most exquisite, give to Turgenef a very high position in contemporary literature. Taine considered him one of the most perfect artists the world has produced since the classic period. English criticism, generally considered somewhat cold, and not given to exaggeration, places him among writers of the very first rank.

I subscribe to this opinion whenever I take up any of his works to read once again; then I hesitate when I think of that marvellous Tolstoï, who captivates my imagination and makes me suspend my judgment. We must leave these questions of precedence for the future to decide.

After the appearance of “Virgin Soil,” although Turgenef’s talent suffered no change, and his intelligence was as keen as ever, his mind seemed to need repose, and to be groping for some hidden path, as is often the case with young authors at the beginning of their career. There were good reasons for this condition of discouragement. Turgenef reaped many advantages, and some disadvantages, from his prolonged sojourn in our 137 midst. At first, the study of new masters and the friendships and advice of Mérimée, were of great use to him. To this literary intercourse may be attributed the rare culture, clearness, and precision of his works, as distinguished from any other prose writer of his country. Later on he became an enthusiastic admirer of Flaubert, and made some excellent translations of his works. Then, next to the pioneers of the “School of Nature,” he adhered to their successors, fondly imagining himself to be one of them, giving ear to their doctrines, and making frantic efforts to conciliate these with his old ideals. Moreover, he felt himself more and more widely separated from his native land, the true source of all his ideas. He was sometimes reproached as a deserter. The tendencies of his last novels had aroused recrimination and scandal. Whenever he occasionally visited St. Petersburg or Moscow, he was received with ovations by the young men, but with extreme coldness in some circles. He was destined to live to see a part of his former adherents leave him and run to worship new idols. On his last appearance in Russia for the fêtes in honor of Pushkin, the Moscow students rushed to take him from his carriage, and bear him in their arms; but I remember that one day at St. Petersburg, returning from a visit to one of the nobility, Ivan Sergievitch (Turgenef) said to us, in a jesting tone, not quite free from bitterness: 138 “Some one called me Ivan Nikolaievitch.”[I] This little inadvertency would to us seem quite pardonable, for here we are, fortunately, not obliged to know every one’s father’s name. But, considering Russian customs, this oversight in the case of a national celebrity was an offence, and showed that he was already beginning to be forgotten.

About this time I had the good-fortune to pass an evening with Turgenef and Skobelef. The young general spoke with his habitual eloquence and warmth of his hopes for the future, and expressed many great thoughts. The old author listened in silence, studying him meanwhile with that pensive, concentrated expression of the artist when he wishes to reproduce an image in form and color. The model was posing for the painter, who meant to engraft this remarkable character into one of his books; but Death did not permit the hero to live out his romance, nor the poet to write it.

One day in the spring of 1883, the last time I had the honor of seeing Ivan Sergievitch, we spoke of Skobelef. He said: “I shall soon follow him.”

It was too true. He was suffering terribly from the mortal illness of which he died soon after—a cancer in the spinal marrow. His eyes 139 rested upon a landscape of Rousseau, his favorite painter, which represented an ancient oak, torn by the storms of many winters, now shedding its last crimson leaves in a December gale. There was an affinity between the noble old man and this picture which he enjoyed looking upon, a secret and mutual understanding of the decrees of Nature.

He published three tales after being attacked with this fatal disease. It is an example of the irony of fate that the last of these was entitled “Despair.” This was his last analysis of the Russian character, which he had made his study for so many years, and reproduced in all his works.

A few days before his death he took up his pen to write a touching epistle to his friend, Leo Tolstoï. In this farewell the dying author bequeathed the care and honor of Russian literature to his friend and rival. I give the closing words of this letter:—

“My very dear Leo Nikolaievitch, I have not written to you for a long time, for I have long been upon my death-bed. There is no chance for recovery; it is not to be thought of. I write expressly to tell you how very happy I am to have been a contemporary of yours; and to express a last, urgent request.

“My friend, return to your literary labors. This gift has come to you from whence come 140 all our gifts. Oh! how happy I should be could I feel that you will grant this request!…

“My dear friend, great author of our beloved Russia, let me entreat you to grant me this request! Reply if this reaches you. I press you and yours to my heart for the last time. I can write no more…. I am weary!…”

We can only hope that this exhortation will be obeyed by the only author worthy to take up the pen dropped by those valiant hands.

Turgenef has left behind a rich legacy; for every page he ever wrote, with but very few exceptions, breathes a noble spirit; and his works will continue to elevate and warm the hearts of thousands.


[F] “Grande et riche, mais désordonnée.” This historical phrase has become proverbial in Russia. It was used by the deputies of the Slavs when they demanded foreign chiefs to govern them.

[G] Published in English under the name of “Liza.”

[H] An English translation was published in 1884 under the title “Annouchka,” a tale.

[I] (V)itch added to the father’s name (meaning son of) is the masculine termination of proper names.



With Dostoyevski, that true Scythian, who will revolutionize all our previous habits of thought, we now enter into the heart of Moscow, with its giant cathedral of St. Basil, like a Chinese pagoda as to form and decoration, and built by Tartar architects; but dedicated to the worship of the Christian’s God.

Turgenef and Dostoyevski, although contemporaries, belonging to the same school, and borne on by the same current of ideas, present in their respective works many sharply defined contrasts; still, they possess one quality in common, the outgrowth of the period in which they lived—sympathy for humanity. In Dostoyevski, this sympathy has developed into an intense pity for the humbler class, which regards him and believes in him as its master.

All contemporary forms of art have secret bonds in common. The same causes and sentiments which inclined these Russian authors to the study of real life attracted the great French landscape-painters of the same epoch to a closer 142 observation of nature. The works of Corot, Rousseau, and Millet present to me a perfect idea of the common tendencies and personal peculiarities of the three types of talent I am attempting to analyze. Whichever of these painters we prefer, we shall be likely to be attracted by the corresponding writer. I would not force such a comparison; but to me Turgenef has the grace and poetry of Corot; Tolstoï, the simple grandeur of Rousseau; Dostoyevski, the tragic severity of Millet.

Dostoyevski’s romances have been translated into French, and, to my astonishment, they are greatly enjoyed by the French. This places me at ease in discussing him. I should never have been believed, in attempting to present an analysis of this strange character, if these books, which reflect and typify their author, had not been well known among us. At the same time, the books can scarcely be understood without some knowledge of the life of him who created them. I had almost said, whose life and sufferings were portrayed in them; but the one expression partly implies the other.

On entering into an examination of the life and works of this man, I must present to the reader scenes invariably sad, sometimes terrible, sometimes funereal. Those persons should not attempt to read them who object to visiting hospitals, courts of justice, or prisons; or who have 143 a horror of visiting graveyards at night. I cannot conscientiously throw a cheerful glamour upon what both destiny and character have made sombre throughout. Some will, at least, follow me with confidence. At all events, the Russia of the past twenty years will remain an inexplicable enigma to those who ignore the work which has made the most lasting impression upon this country, and shaken it to its foundations. We must, then, examine the books which have performed such a work, and, first of all, and more dramatic than all, the life of him who conceived them.


He was born at Moscow, in 1821, in the charity hospital. Destiny decreed that his eyes should first open upon the sad spectacle which was to be ever before them, and upon the most terrible forms of misery. His father, a retired military surgeon, was attached to this establishment. His family belonged to one of those lower orders of the nobility from which minor functionaries are generally chosen, and possessed a small estate and a few serfs in the province of Tula. The child was sometimes taken out to this country place; and these first visions of country life occasionally reappear in his works, but very rarely. Contrary to the habit of the other Russian 144 authors, who adore nature, and especially love the place where they were reared, Dostoyevski is not attracted in this direction. He is a psychologist; the human soul absorbs his entire vision; the scenes of his choice are the suburbs of large cities, and miserable alleys. In his childish recollections, which almost invariably give their coloring to an author’s mind, you never feel the influence of peaceful woods and broad, open skies. The source from whence his imagination draws its supplies will give you glimpses of hospital courts, pallid faces under the regulation white cap, and forms clothed in brown robes; and you will encounter the timid gaze of the “Degraded” and “Insulted.”

Dostoyevski was one of a numerous family of children, and his life as a child was not one of luxury. After leaving a Moscow school, his father procured admission for the two elder sons, Alexis and Feodor, to the military engineering school at St. Petersburg. The two brothers, bound together by a common aptitude for literature, were always deeply attached to each other, and greatly depended, in all the crises of life, upon each other’s mutual support. We gain much knowledge of the interior life of Feodor Mikhailovitch, (Dostoyevski) through his letters to his brother Alexis in his “Correspondence.” Both felt themselves out of place in this school, which, for them, took the place of a University training. A 145 classical education was just what Dostoyevski needed; it would have given him that refinement and balance which is gained by an early training in the best literature. He made up for the want of it as best he could, by reading Pushkin and Gogol, and the French romance-writers, Balzac, Eugene Sue, and George Sand, who seems to have had a strong influence upon his imagination. But Gogol was his favorite master. The humble world which attracted him most was revealed to him in “Dead Souls.”

Leaving the school in 1843 with the grade of sub-lieutenant, he did not long wear his engineer’s uniform. A year later he sent in his resignation, to devote himself exclusively to literary occupations. From this day, the fierce struggle of our author with poverty began which was to last forty years. After the father’s death the meagre patrimony was divided among the children, and it quickly vanished. The young Feodor undertook translations for journals and publishers. For forty years his correspondence, which recalls that of Balzac, was one long agonizing lament; a recapitulation of debts accumulating and weighing upon him, a complaint of the slavish life he led. For years he is never sure of his daily bread, except in the convict prison.

Although Dostoyevski became hardened to material privations, he was not proof against the moral wounds which poverty inflicts; the pitiable 146 pride which formed the foundation of his character suffered terribly from everything which betrayed his poverty. You feel the existence of this open wound in his letters; and all his heroes, the real incarnations of his own soul, suffer the same torture. Moreover, he was really ill, a victim of shattered nerves; and he became so visionary that he believed himself threatened with every imaginable disease. He left on his table sometimes, before retiring for the night, a paper upon which he wrote: “I may to-night fall into a lethargic sleep; be careful not to bury me before a certain number of days.” This was no trick of the imagination, but a presentiment of the fatal malady, of which he then felt the first symptoms. It has been stated that he contracted it in Siberia later than this; but a friend of his youth assures me that at this very time he was in the habit of falling down in the street foaming at the mouth. He always was, what he seemed to us to be in his latter years, but a frail bundle of irritable nerves; a feminine soul in the frame of a Russian peasant; reserved, savage, full of hallucinations; while the deepest tenderness filled his heart when he looked upon the sufferings of the lower classes.

His work was his sole consolation and delight. He narrates in his letters projected plots for his romances with the most genuine enthusiasm; and the recollection of these first transports makes 147 him put into the mouth of one of his characters, drawn from himself, the novelist who figures in “The Degraded and Insulted,”[J] the following expressions:—

“If I ever was happy, it was not during the first intoxicating moments of success, but at the time when I had never read nor shown my manuscript to any one; during those long nights, passed in enthusiastic dreams and hopes, when I passionately loved my work; when I lived with my fancies, with the characters created by me, as with real relatives, living beings. I loved them; I rejoiced or mourned with them, and I have actually shed bitter tears over the misfortunes of my poor hero.”

His first tale, “Poor People,” contained the germ of all the rest. He wrote it at the age of twenty-three. During the latter years of his life, he used to relate the story of this first venture. The poor little engineer knew not a single soul in the literary world, or what to do with his manuscript. One of his comrades, Grigorovitch, who became a man of considerable literary reputation, has confirmed this anecdote. He carried the manuscript to Nekrasof, the poet, and friend of poor authors.

At three o’clock in the morning, Dostoyevski heard a knock at his door. It was Grigorovitch, 148 who brought Nekrasof in with him. The poet threw himself upon the young stranger’s neck, showing strong emotion. He had been up the whole night, reading the tale, and was perfectly carried away with it. He too lived the cautious and hidden life which at that time was the lot of every Russian writer. These two repressed hearts, mutually and irresistibly attracted to each other, now overflowed with all the generous enthusiasm of youth. The dawn of day found the three enthusiasts still absorbed in an exalted conversation and an interchange of thoughts, hopes, and artistic and poetical dreams.

On leaving his protégé, Nekrasof went directly to Bielinski, the oracle of Russian literature, the only critic formidable to young beginners. “A new Gogol is born to us!” cried the poet, as he entered his friend’s house. “Gogols sprout up nowadays like mushrooms,” replied the critic, with his most forbidding air, as he took up the manuscript, handling it as if it were something poisonous, in the same way that all great critics of every country treat new manuscripts. But when Bielinski had read the manuscript through, its effect upon him was magical; so that when the trembling young man presented himself before his judge, the latter cried out excitedly:—

“Do you comprehend, young man, all the truth that you have described? No! at your age, that is quite impossible. This is a revelation of art, 149 an inspiration, a gift from on high. Reverence, preserve this gift! and you will become a great writer!”

A few months later “Poor People” appeared in periodical review, and Russia ratified the verdict of its great critic. Bielinski’s astonishment was justifiable; for it seems incredible that any person of twenty could have produced a tragedy at once so simple and so heart-rending. In youth, happiness is our science, learned without a master, and we invent grand, heroic, showy misfortunes, and anguish which blazons its own sublimity. But how had this unhappy genius learned the meaning of that hidden, dumb, wearing misery before his time?

It is but an ordinary story, told in a correspondence between two persons. An inferior clerk in a court of chancery, worn with years and toil, is passing on toward the decline of life, in a continual struggle with poverty and the accompanying tortures of wounded self-love. This ignorant and honest clerk, the butt of his comrades’ ridicule, ordinary in conversation, of only medium intelligence, whose whole ambition is to be a good copyist, possesses, under an almost grotesque exterior, a heart as fresh, open, and affectionate as that of a little child; and I might almost say, sublimely stupid, indifferent to his own interests, in his noble generosity. This is the chosen type of all the best Russian authors, the 150 one which exemplifies what is noblest in the Russian character; as, for example, Turgenef’s Lukeria in the “Living Relics,” and the Karatayef of Tolstoï in “War and Peace.” But these are of the peasant class, whereas the character of Dievushkin, in “Poor People,” is raised some degrees higher in the intellectual and social scale.

In this life, dark and cold as the long December night in Russia, there is one solitary ray of light, one single joy. In another poor lodging, just opposite the loft where the clerk copies his papers, lives a young girl, a distant relative, a solitary waif like himself, who can claim nothing in the world but the feeble protection of this friend. Both isolated, crushed by the brutal pressure of circumstances, these two unfortunates depend upon each other for mutual affection, as well as aid to keep them from starving. In the man’s affection there is a tender self-sacrifice, a delicacy, so much the more charming in that it accords not at all with the habitual bungling awkwardness of his ways and ideas; like a flower growing in sterile soil, among brambles, and betrayed only by its perfume. He imposes upon himself privations truly heroic, for the sake of comforting and gladdening the existence of his dear friend. These are, moreover, so well concealed that they are only discovered through some awkwardness on his part; as for him, they seem to him a matter of course. His sentiments are by turns those of 151 a father, a brother, a good faithful dog. He would define them thus himself if called upon to analyze them. But although we well know a name for this feeling, let us not even whisper it to him; he would be overcome with shame at the mere mention of it.

The woman’s character is drawn with marvellous art. She is very superior to her friend in mind and education; she guides him in all intellectual things, which are quite new to him. She is weak by nature, and tender-hearted, but less faithful and resigned than he. She has not wholly given up a desire for the good things of life. She continually protests against the sacrifices which Dievushkin imposes upon himself, she begs him not to trouble himself for her; but sometimes a longing cry for something she feels the deprivation of escapes her, or perhaps a childish desire for some trifle or finery. The two neighbors can only see each other occasionally, that they may give no occasion for malicious gossip, and an almost daily correspondence has been established between them. In these letters we read of their past, the hard lives they have lived, the little incidents of their every-day life, their disappointments; the terrors of the young girl, pursued by the vicious, who try to entrap her; the agonies of the poor clerk, working for his daily bread, trying so pitifully to preserve the dignity of his manhood through the cruel treatment of those who would strip him of it.

152 Finally, the crisis comes; Dievushkin loses his only joy in life. You think, perhaps, that a young lover comes to steal her from him, that love will usurp in her heart the place of sisterly affection. Oh, no! the tale is much more human, far sadder.

A man who had once before sought out this young girl, with possibly doubtful intentions, offers her his hand. He is middle-aged, rich, of rather questionable character; but his proposition is an honorable one. Weary of wrestling against fate, persuaded perhaps also that she may thereby lighten some of the burdens of her friend, the unfortunate girl accepts the offer. Here the study of character is absolutely true to nature. The young girl, going suddenly from extreme poverty to luxury, is intoxicated for a moment by this new atmosphere, fine dresses, and jewels! In her cruel ingenuousness, she fills the last letters with details upon these grave subjects. From force of habit, she asks this kind Dievushkin, who always made all her purchases, to do an errand at the jeweller’s for her. Can her soul be really base, unworthy of the pure sentiment she had inspired? Not for a moment does the reader have such an impression, the writer knows so well how to maintain true harmony in his delineation of character. No, it is only that a little of youth and human nature have come to the surface in the experience of this long repressed soul. How can we grudge her such a trifling pleasure?

153 Then this cruelty is explained by the complete misapprehension of their reciprocal feelings. With her it is only a friendship, which will ever be faithful, grateful, if perhaps a little less single; how can she possibly understand that for him it is nothing short of despair?

It had been arranged that the wedded pair should start immediately after the marriage for a distant province. Up to the very last hour, Dievushkin replies to her letters, giving her the most minute details of the shopping that he has done for her, making great efforts to become versed in the subject of laces and ribbons. He only occasionally betrays a hint of the terror which seizes him at the thought of the near separation; but finally, in the last letter, his wounded heart breaks; the unhappy man sees before him the blank desolation of his future life, solitary, empty; he is no longer conscious of what he writes; but, in spite of all, his utter distress is kept back; he himself seems hardly yet to realize the secret of his own agony. The drama ends with an agonizing wail of despair, when he is left standing alone, behind the departing train.

I should like to quote many passages; I hesitate, and find none. This is the highest eulogium that can be bestowed upon a romance. The structure is so solid, the materials so simple, and so completely sacrificed to the impression of the 154 whole, that a detached fragment quite loses its effect; it means no more than a single stone torn from a Greek temple, whose beauty consists in its general lines. This is the peculiar attribute of all the great Russian authors.

Another trait is also common to them, in which Turgenef excelled, and in which perhaps Dostoyevski even surpassed him: the art of awaking with a single line, sometimes with a word, infinite harmonies, a whole series of sentiments and ideas. “Poor People” is a perfect specimen of this art. The words you read upon the paper seem to produce reverberations, as, when touching the key-board of an organ, the sounds produced awake, through invisible tubes, the great interior heart of harmony within the instrument, whence come its deepest tones of thunder.

When you have read the last page you feel that you know the two characters as perfectly as if you had lived with them for years; moreover, the author has not told us a thousandth part of what we know of them, his mere indications are such revelations; for it seems he is especially effective in what he leaves unsaid, but merely suggests, and we are grateful to him for what he leaves us to imagine.

Into this tender production Dostoyevski has poured his own nature, all his sensibility, his longing for sympathy and devotion, his bitter conception of life, his savage, pitiable pride. His 155 own letters of this period are like Dievushkin’s, where he speaks of his inconceivable mortification on account of his “wretched overcoat.”

In order to understand the high estimation of this work held by Bielinski and Nekrasof, and to realize its remarkable originality, we must remember its time and place in Russian literature. The “Annals of a Sportsman” did not appear until five years later. True, Gogol had furnished the theme in “Le Manteau,” but Dostoyevski substituted a suggestive emotion in place of his master’s fancy.

He continued to write essays in the same vein, but they were less remarkable, and he even tried his hand at writing a farce; but destiny rudely led him back into his true path, and gave the man his peculiarly tragic physiognomy among writers.


About the year 1847 the students’ clubs already mentioned, which assembled to discuss the doctrines of Fourier and others, opened to receive political writers and army officers, and were at this time under the direction of a former student, the political agitator Petrachevski. The conspiracy headed by this man is still imperfectly understood, as well as the general history of that time. It is, however, certain that two different currents 156 of ideas divided these circles. One embraced those of their predecessors, the revolutionists of December, 1825, who went no farther than to indulge in dreams of the emancipation and of a liberal government. The other set went far beyond their successors, the present nihilists, for they desired the total ruin of the entire social edifice.

Dostoyevski’s character, as we have seen, made him an easy prey to radical ideas through his generosity as well as his hardships and his rebellious spirit. He has related how he was attracted toward socialism by the influence of his learned protector, Bielinski, who tried also to convert him to atheism.

Our author soon became an enthusiastic member of the reunions inspired by Petrachevski. He was, undoubtedly, among the more moderate, or rather one of the independent dreamers. Mysticism, sympathy for the unfortunate, these must have been what attracted him in any political doctrine; and his incapacity for action made this metaphysician altogether harmless. The sentence pronounced upon him charged him with very pardonable errors: participation in the reunions; also in the discussions on the severity of the press censure; the reading or listening to the reading of seditious pamphlets, etc. These crimes seem very slight when compared with the severe punishment they provoked. The police force was then so inefficient that it for 157 two years remained ignorant of what was going on in these circles; but finally they were betrayed by an unfaithful member.

Petrachevski and his friends also betrayed themselves at a banquet in honor of Fourier, where they were discussing the destruction of family ties, property, kings, and deities. Dostoyevski took no part in these social banquets, that occurred just after those days of June in France which spread terror throughout all Europe, and only one year after other banquets which had overturned a throne. The Emperor Nicholas, although naturally humane, now forced himself to be implacable, entertaining the firm conviction that he was the chosen servant of God to save a sinking world. He was already meditating the emancipation of the serfs; by a fatal misunderstanding he was now going to strike down men, some of whom had committed no crime but that of desiring the same reform. History is only just when she seeks the motives of all consciences and the springs of their actions. But this was not a favorable time for explanations or cool judgments.

On the 23d of April, 1849, at five o’clock in the morning, thirty-three persons looked upon as suspicious characters were arrested, the Dostoyevski brothers being among the number. The prisoners were carried to the citadel, and placed in solitary confinement in the gloomy casemates, which were 158 haunted by the most terrible associations. They remained there eight months, with no distractions except the visits of the examining commissioners; finally, they were allowed the use of a few religious books. Feodor Mikhailovitch wrote once to his brother, who had been soon released through the want of sufficient evidence against him: “For five months I have lived upon my own substance; that is, upon my own brain alone…. To think constantly, and receive no outside impression to renew and sustain thought, is wearing…. I was as if placed under a receiver from which all the pure air was extracted….”

On the 22d of December the prisoners were led out, without being informed of the sentence which had been pronounced upon them. There were now only 21, the others having been discharged. They were conducted to a square where a scaffold had been erected. The cold was intense; the criminals were ordered to remove all their clothing, except their shirts, and listen to the reading of the sentence, which would last for a half-hour. When the sheriff began to read, Dostoyevski said to the prisoner next him: “Is it possible that we are going to be executed?” The idea seemed to have occurred to him for the first time. His companion pointed to a cart, loaded with what appeared to be coffins covered over with a cloth. The last words of the sentence were: “They are condemned to death, and are to be shot.”

159 The sheriff left the scaffold, and a priest mounted upon it with a cross in his hand, and exhorted the prisoners to confess. Only one responded to this exhortation; all the others kissed the cross. Petrachevski and two of the principal conspirators were bound to the pillar. The officer ordered the company of soldiers drawn up for the purpose to charge their weapons. As they were taking aim, a white flag was hoisted in front of them, when the twenty-one prisoners heard that the Emperor had commuted their penalty to exile in Siberia. The leaders were unbound; one of them, Grigoref, was struck with sudden insanity, and never recovered.

Dostoyevski, on the contrary, has often assured me, as if he were really convinced of it, that he should inevitably have gone mad if he had not been removed by this and following disasters from the life he was leading. Before his imprisonment he was beset by imaginary maladies, nervous depression, and “mystic terrors,” which condition would certainly have brought about mental derangement, from which he was only saved by this sudden change in his way of life, and by the necessity of steeling himself against his overwhelming trials,—which may have been true, for it is said that imaginary evils are best cured by real ones; still, I cannot but think that there was some degree of pride in this affirmation.

In each of his books he depicts a scene similar 160 to what he himself experienced, and he has labored to make a perfect psychological study of the condemned prisoner who is about to die. You feel that these pages are the result of a nightmare, proceeding from some hidden recess of the author’s own brain.

The imperial decree, which was less severe for him than for any of the rest, reduced his punishment to four years of hard labor, after which he was to serve as a common soldier, losing his rank among the nobles as well as all civil rights.

The exiled prisoners started immediately in sledges for Siberia. At Tobolsk, after one night passed together, when they bade each other farewell, they were put in irons, their heads shaved, and they were then sent to their several destinations. It was at that temporary prison that they were visited by the wives of the revolutionists of December. These brave women had set a noble example. Belonging to the upper class, and accustomed to a life of luxury, they had renounced everything to follow their exiled husbands into Siberia, and for twenty-five years had haunted the prison gates. Learning now of the arrival of another set of refugees, they came to visit them, warned these young men of what was in store for them, and counselled them how best to support their hardships, offering to each of them all that they had to give, the Gospel.

Dostoyevski accepted his, and throughout the 161 four years always kept it under his pillow. He read it every evening under the lamp in the dormitory, and taught others to read in it. After the hard day’s work, while his companions in chains were restoring their wasted energies in sleep, he obtained from his book a consolation more necessary still for a thinking man, a renewal of moral strength, and a support in bearing his trials. How can we imagine this intellectual man, with his delicate nervous organization, his overweening pride, his sensitive imagination, prone to exaggeration of every dreaded evil, condemned to the companionship of these low wretches in such a monotonous existence, forced to daily labor; and for the slightest negligence, or at the caprice of his keepers, threatened with a flogging by the soldiers! He was inscribed among the worst set of malefactors and political criminals, who were kept under military surveillance.

They were employed in turning a grindstone for marble works, in demolishing old boats on the ice in winter, and other rough and useless labor.

How well he has described the weariness of being forced to labor merely for the sake of being employed, feeling that his task is nothing but a gymnastic exercise. He has also said the severest trial of all, was never being allowed to be alone for a single moment for years. But the greatest torture of all for this writer, now at the height of 162 his powers, incessantly haunted by images and ideas, was the impossibility of writing, of alleviating his lot by absorbing himself in some literary work. But he survived, and was strengthened and purified, and the personal history of this martyr can be read in his “Recollections of a Dead House,”[K] which he wrote after he left the prison. How unjust is literary fame, and what a thing of chance it is! The name and work of Silvio Pellico are known throughout the civilized world. In France the book is one of the classics; and yet there, on the great highway of all fame and of all great thoughts, even the title of this tragic work of Dostoyevski’s was but yesterday quite unknown,—a book as superior to that of the Lombard prisoner, as the tales exceed his in horror.

No work was ever more difficult to accomplish. Siberia, that mysterious land which was then only mentioned with extreme caution, must be freely described. It was, too, a former political prisoner who now undertook to walk over these burning coals and brave this cruel press-censure. He was successful; and he made us realize what exquisite refinement of suffering a man of the upper class, thrown amid such surroundings, was capable of enduring.

He gives us the biography of such a man, who had been through many years of hard labor, the penalty of some small crime. This man, who is, 163 in reality, no other than Dostoyevski himself, occupies himself in psychological studies of these unfortunates, aiming constantly to show the divine spark always existing even in the most degraded. Many of them relate the story of their lives to him; with some he seeks to know nothing of their past, but contents himself with describing their moral natures in his broad, vague manner, which is also common to all the great Russian writers. These portraits, with their indistinct outlines, melting as into the grayness of the early dawn, recall Henner’s portraits when compared with those of Ingres. The language, too, which Dostoyevski purposely employs, of a popular type, is marvellously well fitted for his purpose.

The greater part of these natures belong to a type of character which Dostoyevski seems peculiarly to enjoy analyzing; those natures which are subject to attacks of caprice, almost amounting to sudden or temporary insanity. In a romance of his, called “The Idiot,” he quotes an example of this kind, which he declares to be strictly true:—“Two peasants, of middle age and friends of long standing, arrived at an inn. Neither of them was at all intoxicated. They took their tea and ordered a bedroom, which they shared together. One of them had noticed that within the last few days his companion had worn a silver watch, which he never had seen him wear before. The man was no thief; he was an honest 164 man, and, moreover, in very comfortable circumstances for a peasant. But this watch so struck his fancy that he conceived a most inordinate desire to possess it, which he could not repress. He seized a knife, and, as soon as his friend’s back was turned, he approached him noiselessly, raised his eyes to heaven, crossed himself, and devoutly murmured this prayer: ‘Lord, forgive me, through Jesus Christ!’ He then killed his friend with as much ease as he would a sheep, and took the watch.”

Those persons who conceive a desire, when on the top of a high tower, to throw themselves into the abyss below, he says are often of a mild, peaceable, and quite ordinary type. Some natures apparently enjoy the anticipation of the horror they can inspire in others, and, in a fit of desperation, seem to court punishment as a solution of their condition of mind. Sometimes in these attacks of madness is mingled a vein of asceticism. Dostoyevski introduces an instance of this kind in “Crime and Punishment,” which illustrates the strange sense which the Russian peasant attaches to the idea of punishment, sought for itself, for its propitiatory virtue:—

“This prisoner was quite different from all the rest. He was a little pale thin man, about 60 years of age. I was struck with his appearance the first time I saw him, there was so much calmness and repose about him. I particularly liked 165 his eyes, which were clear and intelligent. I often talked with him, and have seldom met with so kindly a nature, so upright a soul. He was expiating in Siberia an unpardonable crime. In consequence of several conversions in his parish, a movement towards the old orthodoxy, the government, wishing to encourage these good tendencies, had an orthodox church built. This man, together with a few other fanatics, determined to ‘resist for his faith’s sake,’ and set fire to the church. The instigators of the crime were all condemned to hard labor in Siberia. He had been a very successful tradesman at the head of a flourishing business. Leaving his wife and children at home, he accepted his sentence with firmness, in his blindness considering his punishment as a ‘witness to his faith.’ He was mild and gentle as a child, and one could not but wonder how he could have committed such a deed. I often conversed with him on matters of faith. He yielded up none of his convictions, but never in argument betrayed the least hatred or resentment; nor did I ever discover in him the least indication of pride or braggadocio. In the prison he was universally respected, and did not show a trace of vanity on this account. The prisoners called him ‘our little uncle,’ and never disturbed him in any way. I could realize what sway he must have had over his companions in the faith.

“In spite of the apparent courage with which 166 he bore his fate, a secret constant pain, which he tried to hide from all eyes, seemed at times to consume him. We slept in the same dormitory. I waked one morning at four o’clock, and heard what sounded like stifled sobbing. The old man was sitting on the porcelain stove reading in a manuscript prayer-book. He was weeping bitterly, and I heard him murmur from time to time: ‘O Lord! do not forsake me! Lord, give me strength! My little children, my dearest little ones, we shall never see each other again!’ I felt such inexpressible pity for him!”

I must also translate a terrible piece of realism, the death of Mikhailof: “I knew him but slightly; he was a young man about twenty-five years of age, tall, slender, and had a remarkably fine form. He belonged to the section in which the worst criminals were placed, and was always extremely reticent and seemed very sad and depressed. He had literally wasted away in prison. I remember that his eyes were very fine, and I know not why his image so often comes before me. He died in the afternoon of a fine, clear, frosty day. I remember how the sun shone obliquely through our greenish window-panes, thickly covered with frost. The bright shaft of sunlight shone directly upon this poor unfortunate, as he lay dying. Though he might have been unconscious, he had a hard struggle, the death agony lasting many hours. He had recognized 167 no one since morning. We tried to relieve his suffering, which evidently was intense; he breathed with great difficulty, with a rattling sound, and his chest labored heavily. He threw off all his coverings and tore his shirt, as if the weight of it was insupportable. We went to his aid and took the shirt off. That emaciated body was a terrible sight, the legs and arms wasted to the bone, every rib visible like those of a skeleton. Only his chains and a little wooden cross remained upon him. His wasted feet might almost have escaped through the rings of the fetters.

“For a half-hour before his death all sounds ceased in our dormitory, and no one spoke above a whisper, and all moved as noiselessly as possible. Finally his hand, wavering and uncertain, sought the little cross, and tried to tear it off, as if even that was too heavy a weight and was stifling him. They took it away, and ten minutes after he expired. They went to inform the guard, who came and looked indifferently upon the corpse, then went to call the health officer, who came immediately, approached the dead man with a rapid step which resounded in the silent chamber, and with a professional air of indifference, assumed for the occasion, felt his pulse, made a significant gesture as if to say that all was over, and went out. One of the prisoners suggested that the eyes should be closed, which was done by one of the others, who also, seeing the cross 168 lying on the pillow, took it up, looked at it, and put it around Mikhailof’s neck; then he crossed himself. The face was already growing rigid, the mouth was half open, showing the handsome white teeth under the thin lips, which closely adhered to the gums. Finally, the second officer of the guard appeared in full uniform and helmet, followed by two soldiers. He slowly advanced, looking hesitatingly at the solemn circle of prisoners standing about him. When he drew near the body, he stopped short as if nailed to the spot. The spectacle of this wasted, naked form in irons evidently shocked him. He unfastened his helmet, took it off, which no one expected of him, and crossed himself reverentially. He was a gray-haired veteran officer, and a severe disciplinarian. One of the soldiers with him seemed much affected, and, pointing to the corpse, murmured as he left: ‘He, too, once had a mother!’ These words, I remember, shot through me like an arrow…. They carried away the corpse, with the camp bed it lay upon; the straw rustled, the chains dragged clanking against the floor, breaking the general silence. We heard the second officer in the corridor sending some one for the blacksmith. The corpse must be unfettered….”

This gives an example of Dostoyevski’s method, showing his persistence in giving all the minutiæ of every action. He shows us, how, sometimes, 169 among these tragic scenes, kind souls come to bring consolation to the exiles, as in the case of a widow who came daily to bring little gifts or a bit of news, or at least to smile upon the wretched creatures. “She could give but little, for she was very poor; but we prisoners felt that we had at least, close by the walls of our prison, one being wholly devoted to us,—and that was something.”

On opening this book, the key-note from the very beginning has a tone so melancholy, so harrowing, that you wonder how long the author can continue in this vein, and how he can ever manage the gradation into another. But he is successful in this, as those will see who have the courage to go on as far as the chapter on corporal punishments, and the description of the hospital, to which the prisoners afterwards come to recover from the effects of these chastisements. It is impossible to conceive of sufferings more horrible than these, or more graphically portrayed.

Nevertheless, Dostoyevski does not properly belong to the “natural school.” The difference is not easily explained, but there is a difference. Everything depends upon the master’s intention, which never deceives the reader. When the realistic writer only seeks to awake a morbid curiosity, we inwardly condemn him; but when it is evident that he is aiming to develop some moral idea, or impress a lesson the more strongly upon our 170 minds, we may criticize the method, but we must sympathize with the author. His portrayals, even when disgusting to us, are ennobled, like the loathsome wound under the hands of the gentle Sister of Charity. This is the case with Dostoyevski. His object in writing was reform. With a cautious but pitiless hand, he has torn away the curtain which concealed this distant Siberian hell from the eyes of the Russians themselves. The “Recollections of a Dead House” gave the death-blow to the sentence of exile, as “Annals of a Sportsman” gave the signal for the abolition of serfdom. To-day I am thankful to say these repulsive scenes belong only to the history of the past; corporal punishment has been abolished, and the prisons in Siberia are regulated with as much humanity as with us. We can then pardon the tortures this author has inflicted upon us in his graphic recitals of these scenes of martyrdom. We must persevere and continue to the end, and we shall realize better than from a host of philosophical dissertations what things are possible in such a country, what has taken place there so recently, and how this writer could calmly relate such horrors without a single expression of revolt or astonishment. This reserved impartiality is, I know, partly his own peculiar style, and partly the result of the severe press-censure; but the fact that the writer can speak of these horrors as natural phenomena of social life, reminds us that 171 we are looking into a different world from ours, and must be prepared for all extremes of evil and good, barbarism, courage, and sacrifice. Those men who carried the Testament into the prison with them, those extreme souls are filled with the spirit of a Gospel which has passed through Byzantium, written for the ascetic and the martyr; their errors as well as their virtues are all derived from that same source. I almost despair of making this world intelligible to ours, which is haunted by such different images, moulded by such different hands.

Dostoyevski has since said, many times, that the experience in Siberia was beneficial to him, that he had learned to love his brothers of the lower classes, and to discover nobleness even among the very worst criminals. “Destiny,” he said, “in treating me with the severity of a step-mother, became a true mother to me.”

The last chapter of this work might be entitled: “A Resurrection.” In it are described, with rare skill, the sentiments of a prisoner as he approaches the time of his liberation. During the last few weeks, his hero has the privilege of obtaining a few books, and occasionally an odd number of a review. For ten years he had read nothing but his Gospel, had heard nothing of the outside world.

In taking up the thread of life among his contemporaries, he experiences unusual sensations; 172 he enters into a new universe; he cannot explain many simple words and events; he asks himself, almost with terror, what giant strides his generation has made without him; these feelings must resemble those of a man who has been resuscitated.

At last the solemn hour has come. He tenderly bids his companions farewell, feeling real regret at parting with them; he leaves a portion of his heart wherever he goes, even in a prison. He goes to the forge, his fetters fall, he is a free man!


The freedom which Dostoyevski entered into was, however, only a relative one. He entered a Siberian regiment as a common soldier. The new reign, two years after, in 1856, brought him pardon. At first he was promoted to the rank of officer, and his civil rights restored to him, and then authorized to send in his resignation. But it was a long time before he could obtain permission to leave the country, or to publish anything. At last, in 1859, after ten years of exile, he recrossed the Ural mountains and returned to a country which he found greatly changed, and at that moment palpitating with impatience and hope, on the eve of the Emancipation. He brought a companion with him from Siberia, the widow of one of his old comrades in the conspiracy of Petrachevski, whom he there met, fell in love with, and married. But, as in every 173 phase of his life, this romantic marriage too was destined to be crossed by misfortune and ennobled by self-sacrifice. The young wife conceived a stronger attachment for another man, whom she threatened to join. For a whole year Dostoyevski’s letters prove that he was working to secure the happiness of his wife and his rival, writing constantly to his friends at St. Petersburg to help him to remove all obstacles to their union. “As for me,” he added, at the close of one of those letters, “God knows what I shall do! I shall either drown myself or take to drinking.”

It was this page of his personal history which he reproduced in “The Degraded and Insulted,” the first of his romances which was translated into French, but not the best. The position of the confidant favoring a love affair which only brought despair for himself, was true to nature, for it was his own experience. Whether it was not skilfully presented, or whether we ourselves are more selfish by nature, I cannot say, but it is hard for us to accept such a situation, or not to see a ridiculous side to it. The general public cannot appreciate such subtleties. His characters are too melodramatic. On the very rare occasions when he draws his types from the upper classes, he always makes a failure, for he understands nothing of the complex and restrained passions of souls hardened by intercourse with the world. Natasha’s lover, the giddy creature for whom she 174 has sacrificed everything, is not much better. I know that we must not expect lovers to be reasonable beings, and that it is more philosophical to admire the power of love, irrespectively of its object; but the general novel-reader is not supposed to be a philosopher; he would like the adored hero to be interesting at least, and would prefer even a rascal to an idiot. In France, at all events, we cannot endorse such a spectacle, although it is both true to nature and consoling; an exquisite type of woman devoted to a fool. Our gallantry, however, forces us to admit that a man of genius may be permitted to adore a foolish woman, but that is all we are willing to concede. Dostoyevski himself has surpassed the most severe criticisms of this work in his article on the “Degraded and Insulted”: “I realize that many of the characters in my book are puppets rather than men.”

With these exceptions, we must acknowledge that we recognize the hand of a master in the two female characters. Natasha is the very incarnation of intense, jealous passion; she speaks and acts like a victim of love in a Greek tragedy. Nelly, a charming and pathetic little creature, resembles one of Dickens’ beautiful child characters.

After his return to St. Petersburg, in 1865, Dostoyevski became absorbed in journalism. He conceived an unfortunate passion for this form of literature, and devoted to it the best years of his 175 life. He edited two journals to defend the ideas which he had adopted. I defy any one to express these ideas in any practical language. He took a position between the liberal and the Slavophile parties, inclining more toward the latter. It was a patriotic form of religion, but somewhat mysterious, with no precise dogmas, and lending itself to no rational explanation. One must either accept or reject it altogether. The great error of the Slavophile party has been to have filled so many pages of paper for twenty-five years, in arguing out a mere sentiment. Whoever questions their arguments is considered incapable of understanding them; while those who do not enter into the question at all are despised, and taxed with profound ignorance.

At this time of transition, during the first years following the Emancipation, men’s ideas, too long repressed, were in a state of vertigo, of chaotic confusion. Some were buoyed up with the wildest hopes; others felt the bitterness of disenchantment, and many disappointed enthusiasts embraced Nihilism, which was taken up at this time by romance writers as well as by politicians. Dostoyevski abandoned his purely artistic ideals, withdrew from the influence of Gogol, and consecrated himself to the study of this new doctrine.

From 1865, our author experienced a series of unfortunate years. His second journal was unsuccessful, 176 failed, and he was crushed under the burden of heavy debts incurred in the enterprise. He afterwards lost his wife, as related above, and also his brother Alexis, his associate in his literary labors. He fled to escape his creditors, and dragged out a miserable existence in Germany and Italy. Attacks of epilepsy interrupted his work, and he only returned home from time to time to solicit advance pay from his editors. All that he saw in his travels seems to have made no impression upon him, with the exception of an execution he witnessed at Lyons. This spectacle was retained in his memory, to be described in detail by characters of his future romances.

In spite of his illness and other troubles, he wrote at this time three of his longest novels,—“Crime et Châtiment,” “l’Idiot,” and “Les Possédés.” “Crime and Punishment” was written when he was at the height of his powers. It has been translated, and can therefore be criticised. Men of science who enjoy the study of the human soul, will read with interest the profoundest psychological study which has been written since Macbeth. The curious of a certain type will find in this book the entertaining mode of torture which is to their taste; but I think it will terrify the greater number of readers, and that very many will have no desire to finish it. We generally read a novel for pleasure, and not for punishment. This book has a powerful effect 177 upon women, and upon all impressionable natures. The writer’s graphic scenes of terror are too much for a nervous organization. I have myself seen in Russia numerous examples of the infallible effect of this romance upon the mind. It can be urged that the Slav temperament is unusually susceptible, but I have seen the same impression made upon Frenchmen. Hoffmann, Edgar Poe, Baudelaire, all writers of this type, are mere mystics in comparison with Dostoyevski. In their fictions you feel that they are only pursuing a literary or artistic venture; but in “Crime and Punishment,” you are impressed with the fact that the author is as much horrified as you are yourself by the character that he has drawn from the tissue of his own brain.

The subject is very simple. A man conceives the idea of committing a crime; he matures it, commits the deed, defends himself for some time from being arrested, and finally gives himself up to the expiation of it. For once, this Russian artist has adopted the European idea of unity of action; the drama, purely psychological, is made up of the combat between the man and his own project. The accessory characters and facts are of no consequence, except in regard to their influence upon the criminal’s plans. The first part, in which are described the birth and growth of the criminal idea, is written with consummate skill and a truth and subtlety of analysis beyond 178 all praise. The student Raskolnikof, a nihilist in the true sense of the word, intelligent, unprincipled, unscrupulous, reduced to extreme poverty, dreams of a happier condition. On returning home from going to pawn a jewel at an old pawnbroker’s shop, this vague thought crosses his brain without his attaching much importance to it:—

“An intelligent man who had that old woman’s money could accomplish anything he liked; it is only necessary to get rid of the useless, hateful old hag.”

This was but one of those fleeting thoughts which cross the brain like a nightmare, and which only assume a distinct form through the assent of the will. This idea becomes fixed in the man’s brain, growing and increasing on every page, until he is perfectly possessed by it. Every hard experience of his outward life appears to him to bear some relation to his project; and by a mysterious power of reasoning, to work into his plan and urge him on to the crime. The influence exercised upon this man is brought out into such distinct relief that it seems to us itself like a living actor in the drama, guiding the criminal’s hand to the murderous weapon. The horrible deed is accomplished; and the unfortunate man wrestles with the recollection of it as he did with the original design. The relations of the world to the murderer are all changed, through 179 the irreparable fact of his having suppressed a human life. Everything takes on a new physiognomy and a new meaning to him, excluding from him the possibility of feeling and reasoning like other people, or of finding his own place in life. His whole soul is metamorphosed and in constant discord with the life around him. This is not remorse in the true sense of the word. Dostoyevski exerts himself to distinguish and explain the difference. His hero will feel no remorse until the day of expiation; but it is a complex and perverse feeling which possesses him; the vexation at having derived no satisfaction from an act so successfully carried out; the revolting against the unexpected moral consequences of that act; the shame of finding himself so weak and helpless; for the foundation of Raskolnikof’s character is pride. Only one single interest in life is left to him: to deceive and elude the police. He seeks their company, their friendship, by an attraction analogous to that which draws us to the extreme edge of a dizzy precipice; the murderer keeps up interminable interviews with his friends at the police office, and even leads on the conversation to that point, when a single word would betray him; every moment we fear he will utter the word; but he escapes and continues the terrible game as if it were a pleasure.

The magistrate Porphyre has guessed the student’s secret; he plays with him like a tiger 180 with its prey, sure of his game. Then Raskolnikof knows he is discovered; and through several chapters a long fantastic dialogue is kept up between the two adversaries; a double dialogue, that of the lips, which smile and wilfully ignore; and that of the eyes which know and betray all. At last when the author has tortured us sufficiently in this way, he introduces the salutary influence which is to break down the culprit’s pride and reconcile him to the expiation of his crime. Raskolnikof loves a poor street-walker. The author’s clairvoyance divines that even the sentiment of love was destined in him to be modified, like every other, to be changed into a dull despair.

Sonia is a humble creature, who has sold herself to escape starvation, and is almost unconscious of her dishonor, enduring it as a malady she cannot prevent. She wears her ignominy as a cross, with pious resignation. She is attached to the only man who has not treated her with contempt; she sees that he is tortured by some secret, and tries to draw it from him. After a long struggle the avowal is made, but not in words. In a mute interview, which is tragic in the extreme, Sonia reads the terrible truth in her friend’s eyes. The poor girl is stunned for a moment, but recovers herself quickly. She knows the remedy; her stricken heart cries out:—

“We must suffer, and suffer together … we must pray and atone … let us go to prison!…”

181 Thus are we led back to Dostoyevski’s favorite idea, to the Russian’s fundamental conception of Christianity: the efficacy of atonement, of suffering, and its being the only solution of all difficulties.

To express the singular relations between these two beings, that solemn, pathetic bond, so foreign to every pre-conceived idea of love, we should make use of the word compassion in the sense in which Bossuet used it: the suffering with and through another being. When Raskolnikof falls at the feet of the girl who supports her parents by her shame, she, the despised of all, is terrified at his self-abasement, and begs him to rise. He then utters a phrase which expresses the combination of all the books we are studying: “It is not only before thee that I prostrate myself, but before all suffering humanity.” Let us here observe that our author has never yet once succeeded in representing love in any form apart from these subtleties, or the simple natural attraction of two hearts toward each other. He portrays only extreme cases; either that mystic state of sympathy and self-sacrifice for a distressed fellow-creature, of utter devotion, apart from any selfish desire: or the mad, bestial cruelty of a perverted nature. The lovers he represents are not made of flesh and blood, but of nerves and tears. Yet this realist evokes only harrowing thoughts, never disagreeable images. I 182 defy any one to quote a single line suggestive of anything sensual, or a single instance where the woman is represented in the light of a temptress. His love scenes are absolutely chaste, and yet he seems to be incapable of portraying any creation between an angel and a beast.

You can imagine what the dénouement will be. The nihilist, half conquered, prowls for some time around the police office; and finally he acknowledges his guilt, and is condemned. Sonia teaches him to pray, and the wretched creatures go to Siberia. Dostoyevski gladly seizes the opportunity to rewrite, as a sort of epilogue, a chapter of his “Recollections of a Dead House.”

Apart from the principal characters of this book, there are secondary characters and scenes which are impossible to forget, such is the impression they leave upon you after one reading. There is one scene where the murderer, always mysteriously attracted back to the fatal spot, tries to recall every detail of his crime; he even goes to pull the cracked bell of the apartment, in order to recall more vividly by this sound the impression of the terrible moment. Detached fragments of this work seem to lose their signification, and if you skip a few pages the whole thing becomes unintelligible. One may feel impatient with the author’s prolixity, but if he omits anything the magnetic current is interrupted. This I have been told by those who have tried the experiment. 183 The reader requires as much of an effort of concentration and memory as for a philosophical treatise. This is a pleasure or a penalty according to the reader. Besides, a translation, however good, cannot possibly render the continuous smooth course of the original text, or give its under-currents of meaning.

We cannot but pity the man who has written such a book, so evidently drawn from the substance of his own brain. To understand how he was led so to write, we must note what he once said to a friend in regard to his mental condition, after one of his severe attacks of illness:—“The state of dejection into which they plunge me makes me feel in this way: I seem to be like a criminal who has committed some terrible deed which weighs upon his conscience.” The review which published Dostoyevski’s novels often gave but a few pages at a time, followed by a brief note of apology. Every one understood that Feodor Mikhailovitch had had one of his severe attacks of illness.

“Crime and Punishment” established the author’s popularity. Its appearance was the great literary event of the year 1866. All Russia was made ill by it, so to speak. When the book first appeared, a Moscow student murdered a pawnbroker in almost precisely the way described by the novelist; and I firmly believe that many subsequent attempts, analogous to this, may have 184 been attributable to the influence of this book. Dostoyevski’s intention, of course, was undoubtedly to dissuade men from such acts by representing their terrible consequences; but he did not foresee that the intensity of his portrayals might act in an opposite sense, and tempt the demon of imitation existing in a certain type of brain. I therefore hesitate to pronounce upon the moral value of the work. Our writers may say that I am over-scrupulous. They may not admit that the moral value of a work of art is a thing to be taken into account in regard to the appreciation of it as a work of art. But does anything exist in this world wholly independent of a moral value?

The Russian authors claim that they aim to nourish souls, and the greatest offence you could offer them would be to accuse them of making a collection of purposeless words. Dostoyevski’s novels will be judged either as useful or harmful according as one decides for or against the morality of public executions and sentences. It is an open question. For myself, I should decide against them.


In this work Dostoyevski’s talent had reached its culminating point. In “The Idiot,” “The Possessed,” and especially in “The Karamazof 185 Brothers,” many parts are intolerably tedious. The plot amounts to nothing but a framework upon which to hang all the author’s favorite theories, and display every type of his eccentric fancy. The book is nearly filled with conversations between two disputants, whose ideas are continually clashing, each trying to worm out the other’s secrets with the most cunning art, and expose some secret intrigue either of crime or of love. These interviews recall the terrible trials under Ivan the Terrible, or Peter the First; there is the same combination of terror, duplicity, and obstinacy still existing in the race. Sometimes the disputants attempt to penetrate the labyrinth of each other’s religious or philosophical beliefs. They vie with each other in the use of arguments, now fine-spun, now eccentric, like a pair of scholastic doctors of the Sorbonne. Some of these conversations recall Hamlet’s dialogues with his mother, Ophelia, or Polonius. For more than two hundred years critics have discussed the question whether Hamlet was mad when he thus spoke. When that question has been settled, the decision may be applied to Dostoyevski’s heroes. It has been said more than once that this writer and the heroes of his creation are simply madmen. They are mad in the same degree that Hamlet was. For my own part, I consider this statement neither an intelligent nor reasonable one. Such an opinion must be held only by those very short-sighted 186 people who refuse to admit the existence of states of mind different from those they know from personal experience.

In studying Dostoyevski and his work, we must keep in mind one of his favorite phrases, which he often repeats: “Russia is a freak of nature.” A strange anomaly exists in some of these lunatics he describes. They are absorbed in the contemplation of their own minds, intent upon self-analysis. If the author leads them into action, they throw themselves into it impetuously, obedient to the irregular impulses of their nerves, giving free rein to their unbridled wills, which are uncontrollable as are elementary forces. Observe how minutely he describes every physical peculiarity. The condition of the body explains the perturbation of the soul. Whenever a character is introduced to us, he is never by any chance sitting comfortably by a table or engaged in any occupation. “He was extended upon a divan, with his eyes closed, although he was not asleep…. He walked along the street without having any idea where he was…. He was motionless, his eyes absently fixed upon space.”…

These people never eat; they drink tea through the night. Many are given to strong drink. They rarely sleep, and when they do they dream. There are more dreams described in Dostoyevski’s works than in the whole of our classic literature. They are nearly always in a “feverish condition.” 187 Whenever any of these creatures come into relations with their fellow-beings, you meet with such expression as these in almost every line:—“He shuddered … he sprang up with a bound … his features contracted … he became ashy pale … his lower lip trembled … his teeth chattered….” Sometimes there are long pauses in a conversation, when the disputants look fixedly into each other’s eyes.

The writer’s most elaborate creation, and evidently his favorite one, the analysis of which fills a large volume, is “The Idiot.” Feodor Mikhailovitch has described himself in this character, in the way that many authors do: certainly not as he was, but what he wished to be considered. In the first place, “The Idiot” is subject to epilepsy; his attacks furnish a most convenient and effective climax for all emotional scenes. The author evidently greatly enjoys describing these; he assures us that the whole being is bathed in an ecstasy, for a few seconds preceding the attack. We are quite willing to take his word for this. The nickname “Idiot” becomes fixed upon the hero, Prince Myshkin, because his malady produced such an effect upon his faculties in childhood that he has always been eccentric. Starting with this pathological idea, this fictitious character is persistently developed with an astonishing consistency.

Dostoyevski at first had the idea of producing 188 another Don Quixote, the ideal redresser of wrongs. Occasionally you feel the impress of this idea; but soon the author is carried away by his own creation; his aim is loftier, he creates in the soul in which he sees himself mirrored the most sublime, Christ-like qualities, he makes a desperate effort to elevate the character to the moral proportions of a saint. Imagine, if you can, an exceptional being, possessing the mind and reasoning faculties of a man, while his heart retains the simplicity of a child, who, in short, can personify the gospel precept: “Be as little children.” Such a character is Prince Myshkin, the “Idiot.” The nervous disease has, by a happy chance, produced this phenomenon; it has destroyed that part of the intellect which is the seat of all our defects: irony, arrogance, selfishness, avarice; while the noble qualities are largely developed. On leaving the hospital, this extraordinary young man is thrown into the current of ordinary life. It would seem that he must perish in such an atmosphere, not having the weapons of defence that others are armed with. Not so; his simple straightforwardness is stronger than any of the malicious tricks practised upon him; it carries him through every difficulty, saves him from every snare. His innocent wisdom has the last word in all discussions; he utters phrases proceeding from a profound asceticism, such as this, addressed to a dying man:—“Pass on before us, and forgive us our happiness.”—Elsewhere 189 he says: “I fear I am unworthy of my sufferings—” and many similar expressions. He lives among a set of usurers, liars, and rascals. These people treat him as they would an idiot, but respect and venerate him; they feel his influence, and become better men. The women also laugh at the idiot at first, but they all end by falling desperately in love with him; while he responds to their adoration only by a tender pity, a compassionate love, the only sort that Dostoyevski permits his favorite characters to indulge in.

The writer constantly returns to his ruling idea, the supremacy of the suffering and poor in spirit. Why do all the Russian idealists, without exception, cry out against prosperity in life? What I believe to be the secret, unconscious solution of this unreasonable feeling is this: they feel the force of that fundamental truth, that the life of a living, acting, thinking being must perforce be a mixture of good and evil. Whoever acts, creates and destroys at the same time, makes for himself a place in the world at the expense of some other person or thing. Therefore, if one neither acts nor thinks, this fatality must naturally be suppressed,—this production of evil as well as of good; and, as the evil he does has more effect than the good, he takes refuge in a non-existence. So these writers admire and sanctify the idiot,—the neutral, inactive being. It is true, he does no 190 good, but then he can do no evil: therefore, from the point of view of pessimists, in their conception of the world, he is the most admirable.

As I read, I am overwhelmed by the number of these moral giants and monsters around me; but I cannot pass by one of the most striking of them, Rogozhin, the merchant, a very forcibly drawn figure. The twenty pages descriptive of the workings of passion in the heart of this man are written by the hand of a great master. Passion, in this strange nature, has developed to such intensity, and bestows upon the man such a gift of fascination, that the woman he loves accepts, in spite of herself, this savage whom she abhors, and moreover with the certainty that he will murder her. So he does; and, throughout an entire night, beside the bed where lies the body of his strangled victim, he calmly discusses philosophy with his friend. There is nothing melodramatic about this scene. It is simple as possible; to the author, at least, it appears quite natural; and this is why it makes us shiver with terror. I must also mention,—there are so few such touches in the work—the little drunken money-lender who “offers a prayer every night for the repose of the soul of Mme. du Barry.” Do not suppose that Dostoyevski means to enliven us with anything approaching a joke. Through the lips of this character, he seriously indulges in compassionate sympathy for the martyrdom 191 endured by Mme. du Barry during the
long passage of the cart through the streets and the struggle with the executioner. He evidently has always before him that half-hour of the 22d December, 1849.

“Les Possédés” is a description of the revolutionary world of the Nihilists. This title is a slight modification of the Russian title, “The Demons,” which is too obscure. All Dostoyevski’s characters might be said to be possessed, as the word was understood in the Middle Ages. A strange, irresistible will urges them on, in spite of themselves, to commit atrocious deeds. Natasha, in “The Degraded and Insulted,” is an example; as also Raskolnikof, in “Crime and Punishment,” and Rogozhin, in “The Idiot,” besides all the conspirators who commit murder or suicide without any definite aim or motive. The history of the origin of “Les Possédés” is rather curious. Dostoyevski was always opposed to Turgenef in politics and even more seriously through literary jealousy. At this time, Tolstoï had not yet established his reputation; and the other two were the only competitors in the field ready to dispute empire over the imaginations of their countrymen. The inevitable rivalry between them amounted, on Dostoyevski’s part, to hatred. He was always the wronged party; and into this volume he most unjustifiably introduced his brother author under the guise of a ridiculous actor. But his secret, unpardonable 192 grievance was that Turgenef was the first to take up and treat the subject of Nihilism, introducing it into his celebrated novel, “Fathers and Sons.” Since 1861 Nihilism had, however, developed from a metaphysical doctrine into practical action. Dostoyevski wrote “Les Possédés” out of revenge; three years after, Turgenef accepted the challenge, by publishing “Virgin Soil.” The theme of both romances is the same—a revolutionary conspiracy in a small provincial town.

The prize in this tilting match must be adjudged to the dramatic psychologist rather than to the gentle artist who created “Virgin Soil.” Dostoyevski lays bare the inmost recesses of those intricate natures more completely; the scene of Shatof’s murder is rendered with a diabolical power which Turgenef was utterly incapable of. Still, it must be admitted that Bazarof, the cynic in “Fathers and Sons,” was the imperishable prototype of all Nihilists who came after him. Dostoyevski felt this, and keenly regretted it. His book, however, may be called a prophecy as well as an explanation. It was truly prophetic; for in 1871, when anarchy was still in the process of fermentation, he looked deeply enough into the future to relate facts precisely analogous to what we have since seen developed. I attended the trials of the Nihilists and can testify that many of the men and the conspiracies 193 that were judged at that time were exact reproductions of those the novelist had previously created.

The book is also an explanation; for the world will understand from it the true face of the problem, which is even to-day imperfectly understood, because its solution is sought only in politics. Dostoyevski presents to us the various classes of minds from which the sect is recruited. First, the simple unbeliever, who devotes all his capacity for religious fervor to the service of atheism.—The author illustrates this type by the following anecdote (in every Russian’s bedroom stands a little altar, with its holy images of the saints): “Lieutenant Erkel, having thrown down the images and broken them in pieces with an axe, arranged upon the tablets three atheistic books; then he lighted some church tapers and placed one before each volume.”—Secondly, there is the weak class, who feel the magnetism of the strong, and blindly follow their chiefs. Then the logical pessimists, among whom the engineer Kirilof is an example. These are inclined toward suicide, through moral inability to live. Their party takes advantage of these yielding natures; for a man without principles, who decides to die because he can settle upon no principles, is one who will easily lend himself to whatever is exacted of him. Finally, the worst class: those who will not hesitate to 194 commit murder, as a protest against the order of the world, which they do not comprehend, and in order to make a singular and novel use of their will power, to enjoy inspiring terror in others, and satisfy the animal cravings within them.

The greatest merit of this confusing book, which is badly constructed, often ridiculous, and loaded with doubtful theories, is that it gives us, after all, a clear idea of what constitutes the real power of the Nihilists. This does not lie in the doctrines in themselves, nor in the power of organization of this sect, which is certainly overrated; it lies simply and only in the character of a few men. Dostoyevski thinks, and the revelations brought to light in the trials have justified his opinion, that the famous organization may be reduced to only a few local circles, badly organized; and that all these phantoms, central committees and executive committees, exist only in the imaginations of the adepts. On the other hand, he brings into bold relief those iron wills, those souls of frozen steel, in striking contrast with the timidity and irresolution of the legal authorities. Between these two poles he shows us the mass of weak natures, attracted toward that pole which is most strongly magnetized. It is, indeed, the force of character of these resolute men, and not their ideas, which has acted upon the Russian people; and here the piercing eye of the philosopher is keener than that of Russia herself. 195 Men become less and less exacting in regard to ideas, and more and more skeptical as to the way of carrying them out. Those who believe in the absolute virtue of doctrines are becoming every day more rare; but what is seductive to them is force of character, even if its energy be applied to an evil cause,—because it promises to be a guide, and guarantees a strong leadership, the very first requisition of any association of men. Man is the born slave of every strong will which he comes in contact with.

The last period of Dostoyevski’s life, after the publication of this book, and his return to Russia, was somewhat easier and less melancholy. He had married an intelligent and courageous woman, who helped him out of his pecuniary embarrassments. His popularity increased, while the success of his books freed him from debt. Taking up journalism again, he established a paper in St. Petersburg, and finally an organ peculiarly his own, which he conducted quite by himself. It was called the “Note-book of an Author” (Carnet d’un Ecrivain), and it appeared—whenever he chose. It did not at all resemble what we call a journal or review, but might have been called something similar to the Delphic oracle. Into this encyclopædia, the principal work of his latter years, he poured all the political, social, and literary ideas which beset him, and related anecdotes and reminiscences of his life. I have already 196 stated what his politics were; but the obscure productions of this period can neither be analyzed nor controverted. This periodical, which first appeared just before the war with Turkey, reflected the states of enthusiasm and discouragement of Russia through those years of feverish patriotism. Everything could be found in this summary of dreams, in which every question relating to human life was mooted. Only one thing was wanting: a solid basis of doctrine that the mind could take hold of. There were occasionally some touching episodes and artistic bits of composition recalling the great novelist. The “Note-book of an Author” was in fact a success, although the public now really cared less for the ideas than for the person, and were, besides, so accustomed to and fond of the sound of his voice. His last book, “The Karamazof Brothers,” was so interminably long that very few Russians had patience to read it to the end. But it contains some scenes equal to his best of early days, especially that of the death of the child. The French novel grows ever smaller, is easily slipped into a travelling-bag, to while away a few hours on a journey; but the heavy Russian romance reigns long upon the family table in country homes, through the long winter evenings. I well remember seeing Dostoyevski entering a friend’s house, on the day his last novel appeared, with the heavy volumes under his arm; and his saying with pride: “They 197 weigh, at least, five pounds”;—a fact he should rather have regretted than have taken pride in.

I should say here that the three books which best show the different phases of his talent are: “Poor People,” “Recollections of a Dead House,” and “Crime and Punishment.” As to the criticism of his works as a whole, every one will have to use his own judgment. We must look upon Dostoyevski as a phenomenon of another world, an abnormal and mighty monster, quite unique as to originality and intensity. In spite of his genius, you feel that he lacks both moderation and breadth. The world is not composed of shadows and tears alone. Even in Russia there is light and gayety, there are flowers and pleasures. Dostoyevski has never seen but one half of life; for he has never written any books except either sad or terrible ones. He is like a traveller who has seen the whole universe, and described what he has seen, but who has never travelled except by night. He is an incomparable psychologist when he studies souls either blackened by crime or wounded by sorrow; and as skilful a dramatist, but limited to scenes of terror and of misery. No one has carried realism to such an extreme point as he. He depicts real life, but soars above reality in a superhuman effort toward some new consummation of the Gospel. He possesses a double nature, from whatever side you view him: the heart of a Sister of Charity and the spirit of a 198 Grand Inquisitor. I think of him as belonging to another age, to the time of great sacrifices and intense devotion, hesitating between a St. Vincent de Paul and a Laubardemont, preceding the first in his search for destitute children, lingering behind the other, unwilling to lose the last crackling of the funeral pile.

According as we are affected by particular examples of his talent, we call him a philosopher, an apostle, a lunatic, a consoler of the afflicted, or the torturer of a tranquil mind; the Jeremiah of the prison or the Shakespeare of the mad-house. Every one of these appellations belongs to him; but no one of them, taken alone, will suffice. What he himself said of his race, in “Crime and Punishment,” we may say of him:—

“The soul of the Russian is great, like his vast country; but terribly prone to everything fantastic and excessive; it is a real misfortune to be great without any special genius.”

I subscribe to this; but also to the opinion that I have heard expressed upon this book by one of our masters of psychology: “This author opens up unknown horizons, and discloses souls different from ours; he reveals to us a new world of beings, with stronger natures, both for good and evil, having stronger wills and greater endurance.”



I must apologize for returning to personal recollections in order to make this sketch complete, and must therefore recall the man himself, and give some idea of his extraordinary influence. By chance I met Feodor Mikhailovitch many times during the last three years of his life. The impression he made upon you was as profound as was that of the most striking scenes of his romances; if you had once seen him, you would never forget him. His appearance exactly corresponded with his life and its work. He was short and spare, and seemed to be all nerves; worn and haggard at the age of sixty. He was, in fact, prematurely old, and looked ill, with his long beard and blond hair, but, in spite of all, as vivacious as ever. His face was of the true peasant type of Moscow: the flat nose; the small, twinkling eyes, full of fire and tenderness; the broad forehead, all seamed with wrinkles, and with many indentations and protuberances; the sunken temples, and, most noticeable of all, a mouth of inexpressible sadness. I never saw in any human face such an expression of accumulated sorrow—as if every trial of soul and body had left its imprint upon it. You could read in his face better than in any book his recollections of the dead house, and his long experience of terror, mistrust, and 200 martyrdom. His eyelids, lips, and every fibre of his face quivered with nervous contractions. His features would grow fierce with anger when excited over some subject of discussion, and at another time would wear the gentle expression of sadness you so often see in the saints on the ancient Slavonic altar-pieces, so venerated by the Slav nation. The man’s nature was wholly plebeian, with the curious mixture of roughness, sagacity, and mildness of the Russian peasant, together with something incongruous—possibly an effect of the concentration of thought illumining this beggar’s mask. At first he rather repelled you, before his strange magnetism had begun to act upon you. He was generally taciturn, but when he spoke it was in a low tone, slow and deliberate, growing gradually more earnest, and defending his opinions without regard to any one. While sustaining his favorite theme of the superiority of the Russian lower classes, he often observed to ladies in the fashionable society he was drawn into, “You cannot pretend to compare with the most inferior peasant.”

There was not much opportunity for literary discussion with Dostoyevski. He would stop you with one word of proud disdain. “We possess the best qualities of every other people, and our own peculiar ones in addition; therefore we can understand you, but you are not capable of understanding us.”

201 May I be forgiven, but I shall now attempt to prove the contrary. In spite of his assertion, his views on European life were laughably ingenuous. I remember well one of his tirades against the city of Paris, one evening when the inspiration seized him. He spoke of it with fiery indignation, as Jonah would have spoken concerning Nineveh. I remember the very words:—

“Some night a prophet will appear in the ‘Café Anglais’! He will write on the wall the three words of fire; that will be the signal for the end of the old world, and Paris will be destroyed in fire and blood, in all its pride, with its theatres and its ‘Café Anglais.’” In the seer’s imagination, this inoffensive establishment represented the heart of Sodom, a den of enticing and infernal orgies, which he thought it his duty to call down curses upon. He enlarged long and eloquently upon this theme.

He often reminded me of J. J. Rousseau. That pedantic genius has often come before me since I have studied the character and works of this distrustful philanthropist of Moscow. Both entertained the same notions, had the same combination of roughness and ideality, of sensibility and ill-humor, as well as the same deep sympathy for humanity which compels the attention of their contemporaries. After Rousseau, no man had greater literary defects than Dostoyevski: boundless self-love, over-sensitiveness, jealousy, and 202 spite, none knew better how to win the hearts of his fellow-men by showing them how they filled his heart. This writer, so forbidding in society, was the idol of a large proportion of the young men of Russia, who awaited with feverish impatience the appearance of his novels, as well as his periodical; who consulted him as they would a spiritual adviser and director, and sought his help in all moral questions.

The most important work of the latter years of his life was to reply to the scores of letters which brought to him the echo of strangers’ grievances. One must have lived in Russia during those troublous times, to understand the ascendancy he obtained over the world of “Poor People” in their search for a new ideal, as well as over the class just above the very poor. The influence of Turgenef’s literary and artistic work was most unjustly eclipsed; Tolstoï with his philosophy influenced only the most intellectual minds, but Dostoyevski won all hearts and obtained a most powerful sway over them. In 1880, at the time of the inauguration of the monument to Pushkin, when all the Russian authors assembled in full force to celebrate the fête, Dostoyevski’s popularity entirely obliterated that of all his rivals. The audience sobbed when he addressed them. They bore him in triumph in their arms; the students crowded upon the platform and took possession of it, that they might see and be near him and 203 touch him; and one of these young enthusiasts swooned from emotion when he had succeeded in reaching him. The current of feeling ran so high that had he lived a few years longer he would have found himself in a very difficult position. In the official hierarchy of the empire there is no place for plants of such exuberant growth; no field for the influence of a Goethe or a Voltaire. In spite of his consistency in politics and his perfect orthodoxy, the old exile would have seriously risked being compromised by his blind partisans, and even considered dangerous. They only realized on the day of his death how dangerous he was.

Although I regret to finish this sombre sketch with a funereal scene, I cannot refrain from speaking of the apotheosis accorded to him, and the impression it made upon me, for it will show, more than any extended criticism, what this man was to his native country. On the 10th of February, 1881, some friends of Dostoyevski told me that he had died the preceding night, after a short illness. We went to his house to attend the service which the Russian Church holds twice a day over the remains of the dead, from the time of the decease until the burial. He lived in a populous quarter of St. Petersburg. We found an immense crowd before the door and on the staircase, and with great difficulty threaded our way to the study, where the great author lay. It was 204 a small apartment, strewn with papers and pamphlets, and crowded by the visitors, who filed around the coffin, which rested upon a little table at one end of the room. I saw that face for the first time at peace, utterly free from pain. He seemed to be happily dreaming under the profusion of roses, which quickly disappeared, divided among the crowd as relics. The crowd increased every moment, all the women were in tears, the men boisterously pushing and crowding, eager to see his face. The temperature of the room became suffocating, being closed quite tightly from the air, as Russian rooms are in winter. Suddenly the air seemed to be exhausted, all the candles went out, and only the little flickering lamp before the holy images remained. Just at this moment, in the darkness, there was a terrible rush from the staircase, bringing a new influx of people. It seemed as if the whole crowd outside were mounting the stairs; the first comers were hurled against the coffin, which tottered—the poor widow, crowded, with her two children, between the table and the wall, threw herself over the body of her husband, and held it, screaming with terror. For a few moments we thought the corpse would be crushed under foot by the crowd. It oscillated, pressed upon by this mass of humanity, by the ardent and brutal affection of the rushing throngs below. At this moment there came before me a rapid vision of 205 the author’s whole work, with all the cruelty, terror, and tenderness he tried to portray in it. This throng of strangers seemed to assume names and forms quite familiar to me. Fancy had sketched them in books, but now they stood living before me, taking part in a similar scene of horror. His characters seemed to have come to torment him, even after death, to bring him their rough homage, even to the profanation of the object of it. He would have appreciated just such exaggerated homage.

Two days after, this vision was repeated more completely, and on a larger scale. The 12th February, 1881, was a memorable day in Russia. Except on the occasion of the death of Skobelef, there were never seen in St. Petersburg such significant and imposing obsequies. From an early hour the whole population were standing in the street, one hundred thousand persons along the line where the procession was to pass. More than twenty thousand persons followed it. The government was alarmed, fearing some serious disturbance. They thought the corpse might be seized, and they had to repress the students who wanted to have the chains of the Siberian prisoner carried behind the funeral car. The timorous officials insisted upon preventing all risk of a revolutionary uprising. This was at the time of the most important of the Nihilist conspiracies, only one month previous to that one 206 which cost the Tsar his life, during the time of that experiment of the liberal leader, Loris Melikof. Russia was at this moment in a state of fermentation, and the most trifling incident might produce an explosion. Loris thought it wiser to associate himself with the popular sentiment than to try to crush it out. He was right; the wicked designs of a few men were absorbed in the general grief. Through one of those unexpected combinations, of which Russia alone possesses the secret, all parties, all adversaries, all the disjointed fragments of the empire, now came together, through the death of this man, in a general communion of grief and enthusiasm. Whoever witnessed this funeral procession saw this country of contrasts illustrated in all its phases; the priests who chanted the service, the students of the universities, the school children, the young female students from the medical schools, the Nihilists, easily recognized by their peculiarities of dress and bearing, the men wearing a plaid over the shoulder, the spectacles and closely cut hair of the women; all the literary and scientific societies, deputations from every part of the empire, old Muscovite merchants, peasants, lackeys, and beggars. In the church waited the official dignitaries, the minister of public instruction, and the young princes of the imperial family.

A forest of banners, crosses, and wreaths were 207 borne by that army, which was made up of such various elements, and produced in the spectator such a medley of impressions. To me everything that passed seemed an illustration of the author’s work, formed of elements both formidable and restless, with all their folly and grandeur. In the first rank, and most numerous, were those he loved best, the ‘poor people,’ the ‘degraded,’ the ‘insulted,’ the ‘possessed’ even, glad to take part in leading the remains of their advocate over this path of glory;—but accompanying and surrounding all were the uncertainty and confusion of the national life, as he had painted it, filled with all the vague hopes that he had stirred.

The crowd pressed into the little church, decked with flowers, and into the cemetery around it. Then there was a Babel of words. Before the altar the high-priest discoursed of God and of eternity, while others took the body to carry it to the grave, and discoursed of glory. Official orators, students, Slavophile and liberal committees, men of letters and poets,—every one came there to set forth his own ideal, to claim the departed spirit for his cause, and parade his own ambition over this tomb.

While the winter wind bore away all this eloquence with the rustling leaves and the snow-dust raised by the spades of the grave-diggers, I made an effort to make, in my own mind, a fair estimate of the man’s moral worth and of his life’s work. 208 I felt as much perplexed as when I had to pronounce judgment upon his literary merit. He had sympathized with the people, and awakened sympathy, and even piety, in them. But what excessive ideas and what moral convulsions he engendered! He had given his heart to the cause, it is true; but unaccompanied by reason, that inseparable companion of the heart. I reviewed the whole course of that strange life;—born in a hospital, to a youth of poverty, illness, and trial, exiled to Siberia, then sent to the barracks, ever pursued by poverty and distress, always crushed, and yet ennobled by a labor which was his salvation. I now felt that this persecuted life should not be judged by our standards, which may not apply to his peculiar case, and that I must leave him to Him who judges all hearts according to their true merits. When I bent over his grave, covered with laurel wreaths, the farewell words which came to my lips were those of the student to the poor abandoned girl, and which express Dostoyevski’s entire creed: “It is not only before thee that I prostrate myself, but before all suffering humanity!”


[J] An English translation was published in 1886, under the title, “Injury and Insult.”

[K] Published also under the title “Buried Alive.”




In Turgenef’s artistic work, illustrative of the national characteristics, we have witnessed the birth of the Russian romance, and how it has naturally tended toward the psychological classification of a few general types; or, perhaps, more justly, toward the contemplation of them, when we consider with what serenity this artist’s moral investigations were conducted. Dostoyevski has shown a spirit quite contrary to this, uncultured and yet subtile, sympathetic, tortured by tragic visions, morbidly preoccupied by exceptional and perverted types. The first of these two writers was constantly coquetting, so to speak, with liberal doctrines: the second was a Slavophile of the most extreme type.

In Tolstoï, other surprises are reserved for us. Younger by ten years than his predecessors, he hardly felt the influences of 1848. Attached to no particular school, totally indifferent to all political parties, despising them in fact, this solitary, meditative nobleman acknowledges no master and no sect; he is himself a spontaneous phenomenon. 210 His first great novel was contemporary with “Fathers and Sons”, but between the two great novelists there is a deep abyss. The one still made use of the traditions of the past, while he acknowledged the supremacy of Western Europe, and appropriated to himself and his work what he learned of us; the other broke off wholly with the past and with foreign bondage; he is a personification of the New Russia, feeling its way out of the darkness, impatient of any tendency toward the adoption of our tastes and ideas, and often incomprehensible to us. Let us not expect Russia to do what she is incapable of, to restrict herself within certain limits, to concentrate her attention upon one point, or bring her conception of life down to one doctrine. Her literary productions must reflect the moral chaos which she is passing through. Tolstoï comes to her aid. More truly than any other man, and more completely than any other, he is the translator and propagator of that condition of the Russian mind which is called Nihilism. To seek to know how far he has accomplished this, would be to turn around constantly in the same circle. This writer fills the double function of the mirror which reflects the light and sends it back increased tenfold in intensity, producing fire. In the religious confessions which he has lately written, the novelist, changed into a theologian, gives us, in a few lines, the whole history of his soul’s experience:—

211 “I have lived in this world fifty-five years; with the exception of the fourteen or fifteen years of childhood, I have lived thirty-five years a Nihilist in the true sense of the word,—not a socialist or a revolutionist according to the perverted sense acquired by usage, but a true Nihilist—that is, subject to no faith or creed whatever.”

This long delayed confession was quite unnecessary; the man’s entire work published it, although the dreadful word is not once expressed by him. Critics have called Turgenef the father of Nihilism because he had given a name to the malady, and described a few cases of it. One might as well affirm the cholera to have been introduced by the first physician who gave the diagnosis of it, instead of by the first person attacked by the scourge. Turgenef discovered the evil, and studied it objectively; Tolstoï suffered from it from the first day of its appearance, without having, at first, a very clear consciousness of his condition; his tortured soul cries out on every page he has written, to express the agony which weighs down so many other souls of his own race. If the most interesting books are those which faithfully picture the existence of a fraction of humanity at a given moment of history, this age has produced nothing more remarkable, in regard to its literary quality, than his work. I do not hesitate in giving my opinion that this writer, when considered merely as a novelist, is one of 212 the greatest masters in literature our century has produced. It may be asked how we can venture to express ourselves so strongly of a still living contemporary, whose overcoat and beard are familiar objects in every-day life, who dines, reads the papers, receives money from his publishers and invests it, who does, in short, just what other men do. How can we thus elevate a man before his body has turned to ashes, and his name become transfigured by the accumulated respect of several generations? As for me, I cannot help seeing this man as great as he will appear after death, or subscribing voluntarily to Flaubert’s exclamation, as he read Turgenef’s translation of Tolstoï, and cried in a voice of thunder, while he stamped heavily upon the ground:—

“He is a second Shakespeare!”

Tolstoï’s troubled, vacillating mind, obscured by the mists of Nihilism, is by a singular and not infrequent contradiction endowed with an unparalleled lucidity and penetration for the scientific study of the phenomena of life. He has a clear, analytical comprehension of everything upon the earth’s surface, of man’s internal life as well as of his exterior nature: first of tangible realities, then the play of his passions, his most volatile motives to action, the slightest disturbances of his conscience. This author might be said to possess the skill of an English chemist with the soul of a Hindu Buddhist. Whoever will undertake 213 to account for that strange combination will be capable of explaining Russia herself.

Tolstoï maintains a certain simplicity of nature in the society of his fellow-beings which seems to be impossible to the writers of our country; he observes, listens, takes in whatever he sees and hears, and for all time, with an exactness which we cannot but admire. Not content with describing the distinctive features of the general physiognomy of society, he resolves them into their original elements with the most assiduous care; always eager to know how and wherefore an act is produced; pursuing the original thought behind the visible act, he does not rest until he has laid it bare, tearing it from the heart with all its secret roots and fibres. Unfortunately, his curiosity will not let him stop here. Of those phenomena which offer him such a free field when he studies them by themselves, he wishes to know the origin, and to go back to the most remote and inaccessible causes which produced them. Then his clear vision grows dim, the intrepid explorer loses his foothold and falls into the abyss of philosophical contradictions. Within himself, and all around him he feels nothing but chaos and darkness; to fill this void and illuminate the darkness, the characters through which he speaks have recourse to the unsatisfactory explanations of metaphysics, and, finally, irritated by these pedantic sophistries, they suddenly steal away, and escape from their own explanations.

214 Gradually, as Tolstoï advances in life and in his work, he is more and more engulfed in doubt; he lavishes his coldest irony upon those children of his fancy who try to believe and to discover and apply a consistent system of morality. But under this apparent coldness you feel that his heart sobs out a longing for what he cannot find, and thirsts for things eternal. Finally, weary of doubt and of search, convinced that all the calculations of reason end only in mortifying failure, fascinated by the mysticism which had long lain in wait for his unsatisfied soul, the Nihilist suddenly throws himself at the feet of a Deity,—and of what a Deity we shall see hereafter.

In finishing this chapter, I must speak of the singular phase into which the writer’s mind has fallen of late. I hope to do this with all the reserve due to a living man, and all due respect for a sincere conviction. There is nothing to me more curious than his statement of the actual condition of his own soul. It is a picture of the crisis which the Russian conscience is now passing through, seen in full sunlight, foreshortened, and upon a lofty height. This thinker is the perfect type of a multitude of minds, as well as their guide; he tries to say what these minds confusedly feel.



Leo Nikolaievitch (Tolstoï) was born in the year 1828. The course of his external life has offered nothing of interest to the lovers of romance, being quite the same as that of Russian gentlemen in general. In his father’s house in the country, and afterwards at the University of Kazan, he received the usual education from foreign masters which gives to the cultivated classes in Russia their cosmopolitan turn of mind. He then entered the army and spent several years in the Caucasus in a regiment of artillery, and was afterwards transferred at his request to Sebastopol. He went through the famous siege in the Crimean War, which he has illustrated by three striking sketches: “Sebastopol in December, in May, and in August.” Resigning his position when peace was declared, Count Tolstoï first travelled extensively, then settled at St. Petersburg and Moscow, living in the society of his own class. He studied society and the court as he had studied the war—with that serious attention which tears away the masks from all faces and reads the inmost heart. After a few winters of fashionable life, he left the capital, partly, it is said, to escape from the different literary circles which were anxious to claim him among their votaries. In 1860, he married and retired to his 216 ancestral estate, near Tula, where he has remained almost constantly for twenty-five years. The whole history of his own life is hardly disguised in the autobiography he wrote, entitled, “Childhood, Boyhood, and Youth.” The evolution of his inward experience is further carried out in the two great novels, “War and Peace” and “Anna Karenina,” and ends, as might have been foreseen, with the theological and moral essays which have for some years quite absorbed his intellectual activity.

I believe the author’s first composition, while he was an officer in the army of the Caucasus, must have been the novelette published later under the title, “The Cossacks.” This is the least systematic of all his works, and is perhaps the one which best betrays the precocious originality of his mind, and his remarkable power of seeing and representing truth. This book marks a date in literature: the definite rupture of Russian poetry with Byronism and romanticism in the very heart of their former reign. The influence of Byron was so strong that the prejudiced eyes of the poets saw the Orient in which they lived through their poetical fancy, which transfigured both scenery and men. Attracted like so many other writers toward this region, Tolstoï, or, rather, Olenin, the hero of the Cossacks (I believe them to be one and the same), leaves Moscow one beautiful evening, after a farewell 217 supper with his young friends. Weary of civilization, he throws off his habitual thoughts as he would a worn-out garment; his troïka bears him away to a strange country; he longs for a primitive life, new sensations, new interests.

Our traveller installs himself in one of the little Cossack settlements on the river Terek; he adopts the life of his new friends, takes part in their expeditions and hunts; an old mountaineer, who somewhat recalls Fenimore Cooper’s “Leatherstocking,” undertakes to be his guide. Olenin quite naturally falls in love with the lovely Marianna, daughter of his host. Tolstoï will now show us the Orient in a new light, in the mirror of truth. For the lyric visions of his predecessors he substitutes a philosophical view of men and things. From the very first this acute observer understood how puerile it is to lend to these creatures of instinct our refinement of thought and feeling, our theatrical way of representing passion. The dramatic interest of his tale consists in the fatal want of mutual understanding that must, perforce, exist between the heart of a civilized being and that of a wild, savage creature, and the total impossibility of two souls of such different calibre blending in a mutual passion. Olenin tries in vain to cultivate simplicity of feeling. Because he dons a Circassian cap, he cannot at the same time change his nature and become primitive. His 218 love cannot separate itself from all the intellectual complications which our literary education lends to this passion. He says:—

“What there is terrible and at the same time interesting in my condition is that I feel that I understand Marianna and that she never will be able to understand me. Not that she is inferior to me,—quite the contrary; but it is impossible for her to understand me. She is happy; she is natural; she is like Nature itself, equable, tranquil, happy in herself.”

The character of this little Asiatic, strange and wild as a young doe, is beautifully drawn. I appeal to those who are familiar with the East and have proved the falsity of those Oriental types invented by European literature. They will find in the “The Cossacks,” a surprising exposure of the falsity of that other moral world. Tolstoï has brought this country before us by his vivid and picturesque descriptions of its natural features. The little idyl serves as a pretext for magnificent descriptions of the Caucasus; steppe, forest, and mountain stand before us as vividly as the characters which inhabit them. The grand voices of Nature join in with and support the human voices, as an orchestra leads and sustains a chorus. The author, absorbed as he was afterwards in the study of the human soul, never again expressed such a profound sympathy with nature as in this work. At this time Tolstoï 219 was inclined to be both pantheist and pessimist, vacillating between the two. “Trois Morts,” a fragment of his, contains the substance of this philosophy:—

“The happiest man, and the best, is he who thinks the least and who lives the simplest life and dies the simplest death. Accordingly, the peasant is better than the lord, the tree is better than the peasant, and the death of an oak-tree is a greater calamity to the world than the death of an old princess.”

This is Rousseau’s doctrine exaggerated: the man who thinks is not only a depraved animal but an inferior plant. But Pantheism is another attempt at a rational explanation of the universe: Nihilism will soon replace it. This monster has already devoured the inmost soul of the man, without his even being conscious of it. It is easy to be convinced of this when we read his “Childhood, Boyhood, and Youth.” It is the journal of the gradual awakening of an intelligence to life; it lays before us the whole secret of the formation of Tolstoï’s moral character. The author subjects his own conscience to that penetrating, inexorable analysis, which later he will use upon society; he tries his hand upon himself first of all. It is a singular book, lengthy, and sometimes trivial; Dickens is rapid and sketchy in comparison with him. In relating the course of a most ordinary journey from the country into Moscow, he counts 220 every turn of the wheels, notes every passing peasant, every guide-post. But this fastidious observance of details, applied to trivial facts, becomes a wonderful instrument when applied to human nature and to psychological researches. It throws light upon the man’s own inner conscience, without regard to his self-love; he sees himself as he is, and lays bare his soul with all its petty vanities, and the ingratitude and mistrust of an ill-humored child. We shall recognize this same child in the principal characters of his great novels, with its nature quite unchanged. I will quote two passages which show us the very foundation of Nihilism in the brain of a lad of sixteen:—

“Of all philosophical doctrines, the one which attracted me most strongly was skepticism; for a time it brought me to a condition verging upon madness. I would imagine that nothing whatever existed in the world except myself; that all objects were only illusions, evoked by myself just at the moment I gave attention to them, and which vanished the moment I ceased to think of them…. There were times when, possessed by this idea, I was brought into such a bewildered state that I would turn quickly around and look behind me, hoping to be able to pierce through the chaos which lay beyond me. My enfeebled mind could not penetrate through the impenetrable, and would lose by degrees in this wearisome 221 struggle the certainties which for the sake of my own happiness, I ought never to have sought. I reaped nothing from all this intellectual effort but an activity of mind which weakened my will-power, and a habit of incessant moral analysis which robbed every sensation of its freshness and warped my judgment on every subject….”

Such a cry might have been uttered by a disciple of Schelling. But listen to what follows from the heart of a Russian, who speaks for his countrymen as well as himself:—

“When I remember how young I was, and the state of mind I was in, I realize perfectly how the most atrocious crimes might be committed without reason or a desire to injure any one, but, so to speak, from a sort of curiosity or an unconscious necessity of action. There are times when the future appears to a man so dark that he fears to look into it; and he totally suspends the exercise of his own reason within himself, and tries to persuade himself that there is no future and that there has been no past. At such moments, when the mind no longer controls the will, when the material instincts are the only springs of life left to us,—I can understand how an inexperienced child can, without hesitation or fear, and with a smile of curiosity, set fire to his own house, in which all those he loves best—father, mother, and brothers—are sleeping. Under the influence 222 of this temporary eclipse of the mind, which I might call a moment of aberration or distraction,—a young peasant lad of sixteen stands looking at the shining blade of an axe just sharpened, which lies under the bench upon which his old father has fallen asleep: suddenly he brandishes the axe, and finds himself looking with stupid curiosity, upon the stream of blood under the bench which is flowing from the aged head he has just cleft. In this condition of mind, a man likes to lean over a precipice and think: ‘What if I should throw myself over head first!’ or to put a loaded pistol to his forehead and think: ‘Suppose I should pull the trigger!’ or when he sees a person of dignity and consequence surrounded by the universal respect of all, and suddenly feels impelled to go up to him and take him by the nose, saying: ‘Come along, old fellow!’”

This is pure childishness, you will say! So it would be in our steadier brains and more active lives, rarely disturbed by these attacks of nightmare. Turgenef has touched upon this national malady of his fellow-countrymen in his last tale, “Despair,” as well as Dostoyevski in many of his. There are several cases in “Recollections of a Dead House,” identical with those described by Tolstoï, although the two authors’ treatment of this theme are so unlike. The word in their language which expresses this condition is quite untranslatable. Despair approaches it nearest; 223 but the condition is a mixture also of fatalism, barbarism, asceticism, and other qualities, or want of them. It may describe, perhaps, Hamlet’s mental malady or attack of madness, at the moment he ran his sword through Polonius, father of his Ophelia. It seems to be a sort of horrible fascination which belongs to cold countries, to a climate of extremes, where they learn to endure everything better than an ordinary fate, and prefer annihilation to moderation.

Poor Russia! a tempest-tossed sea-gull, hovering over an abyss!

Nihilist and pessimist,—are not these synonymous words, and must they not both exist in the same person? From this time, all Tolstoï’s productions would argue this to be the fact. A few short tales are a prelude to his two great novels, which we must now make a study of, as to them he devoted his highest powers and concentrated upon them his profoundest thought. His talent heretofore had produced but fragmentary compositions and sketches.


“War and Peace” is a picture of Russian society during the great Napoleonic wars, from 1805 to 1815. We question whether this complicated work can be properly called a novel. “War and Peace” is a summary of the author’s observations 224 of human life in general. The interminable series of episodes, portraits, and reflections which Tolstoï presents to us are introduced through a few fictitious characters; but the real hero of this epic is Russia herself, passing through her desperate struggle against the foreign invader. The real characters, Alexander, Napoleon, Kutuzof, Speranski, occupy nearly as much space as the imaginary ones; the simple and rather slack thread of romance serves to bind together the various chapters on history, politics, philosophy, heaped pell-mell into this polygraph of the Russian world. Imagine Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables” being re-written by Dickens in his untiring, exhaustless manner, then re-constructed by the cold, searching pen of Stendhal, and you may possibly form an idea of the general arrangement and execution of the work, and of that curious union of epic grandeur and infinitesimal analytical detail. I try to fancy M. Meissonier painting a panorama; I doubt if he could do it, but if he could his twofold talent would illustrate the double character of Tolstoï’s work.

The pleasure to be derived from it resembles that from mountain-climbing; the way is often rough and wild, the path, as you ascend, difficult to find, effort and fatigue are indispensable; but when you reach the summit and look around you the reward is great. Magnificent vistas stretch beneath you; he who has never accomplished the 225 ascent will never know the true face of the country, the course of its rivers or the relative situation of its towns. A stranger, therefore, who would understand Russia of the nineteenth century, must read Tolstoï; and whoever would undertake to write a history of that country would utterly fail in his task if he neglected to consult this exhaustless repository of the national life. Those who have a passion for the study of history will not, perhaps, grow impatient over this mass of characters and succession of trivial incidents with which the work is loaded down. Will it be the same with those who seek only amusement in a work of fiction? For these, Tolstoï will break up all previous habits. This incorrigible analyst is either ignorant of or disdains the very first method of procedure employed by all our writers; we expect our novelist to select out his character or event, and separate it from the surrounding chaos of beings and objects, making a special study of the object of his choice. The Russian, ruled by the sentiment of universal dependence, is never willing to cut the thousand ties which bind men, actions, thoughts, to the rest of the universe; he never forgets the natural mutual dependence of all things. Imagine the Latin and the Slav before a telescope. The first arranges it to suit himself; that is, he voluntarily foreshortens his range of vision, to make more distinct what he sees, and diminish the extent of it; the second requires the 226 full power of the instrument, enlarges his horizon, and sees a confused picture, for the sake of seeing farther.

In a passage in “Anna Karenina,” Tolstoï well defines the contrast between two such natures, and the mutual attraction they exert upon each other. Levin, the dreamer, meets one of his friends, who is of a methodical turn of mind.

“Levin imagined that Katavasof’s clearness of conception came from the poverty and narrowness of his nature; Katavasof thought that Levin’s incoherency of ideas arose from the want of a well disciplined mind; but the clearness of Katavasof pleased Levin, and the natural richness of an undisciplined mind in the latter was agreeable to the other.”

These lines sum up all the grounds of complaint that the Russians have to reproach us with in our literature, and those we have against theirs; which differences explain the pleasure the two races find in an interchange of their literary productions.

It is easy to predict what impressions all readers of “War and Peace” and “Anna Karenina” will receive. I have seen the same effect invariably produced upon all who have read those books. At first, for some time, the reader will hardly find his bearings; not knowing whither he is being led, he will soon grow weary of the task that lies before him. But little by little he will 227 be drawn on, captivated by the complex action of all these characters, among whom he will find himself, as well as some of his friends, and will become most anxious to unravel the secret of their destinies. On closing the book, he feels a sense of regret, as if parting with a family with which he has been for years on terms of familiar intercourse. He has passed through the experience of the traveller thrown into the novelty of new society and surroundings; he feels annoyance and fatigue at first, then curiosity, and finally has formed deeply rooted attachments.

What seems to me the distinction between the classic author and a conscientious painter of life as it is, like Tolstoï, is this: a book is like a drawing-room filled with strangers; the first type of author voluntarily presents you to this company at once, and unveils to you the thousand intertwining combinations, incidents, and intrigues going on there; with the second you must go forward and present yourself, find out for yourself the persons of mark, the various relations and sentiments of the entire circle, live, in fact, in the midst of this fictitious company, just as you have lived in society, among real people. To be able to judge of the respective merit of the two methods, we must interrogate one of the fundamental laws of our being. Is there any pleasure worth having which does not cost some little trouble? Do we not prefer what we have acquired 228 by an effort all our own? Let us reflect upon this. Whatever may be our individual preferences in regard to intellectual pleasure, I think we can agree on one point: in the old, well worn paths of literature, mediocrity may be tolerated; but when an author strikes out in a new path we cannot tolerate a partial success; he must write dramas equal to Shakespeare, and romances as good as Tolstoï’s, to give us a true picture of life as it is. This we have in “War and Peace,” and the question of its success has been decided in the author’s favor. When I visit with him the soldiers in camp, the court, and court society, which has hardly changed in the last half-century, and see how he lays bare the hearts of men, I cry out at every page I read: “How true that is!” As we go on, our curiosity changes into astonishment, astonishment into admiration, before this inexorable judge, who brings every human action before his tribunal, and forces from every heart its secrets. We feel as if drawn on with the current of a tranquil, never-ending stream, the stream of human life, carrying with it the hearts of men, with all their agitated and complicated movements and emotions.

War is one of the social phenomena which has strongly attracted our author and philosopher. He is present at the Council of Generals and at the soldiers’ bivouac; he studies the moral condition of each; he understands the orders, and why 229 they should be obeyed. He presents to us the whole physiognomy of the Russian army. A minute description which he gives of a disorderly retreat is second only to Schiller’s “Camp of Wallenstein.” He describes the first engagement, the first cannon-shot, the fall of the first soldier, the agony of that long-dreaded moment.

In the course of these volumes the imperial battles are portrayed; Austerlitz, Friedland, Borodino. Tolstoï talks of war like a man who has taken part in it; he knows that a battle is never witnessed by the participants. The soldier, officer, or general which the writer introduces never sees but a single point of the combat; but by the way in which a few men fight, think, talk, and die on that spot, we understand the entire action, and know on what side the victory will be.

When Tolstoï wishes to give us a general description of anything, he ingeniously makes use of some artifice; as, for example, in the engagement at Schöngraben he introduces an aide-de-camp who carries an order the whole length of the line of battle. Then the corps commanders bring in their reports, not of what has taken place, but of what naturally ought to have taken place. How is this? “The colonel had so strongly desired to execute this movement, he so regretted not having been able to carry it out, that it seemed to him that all must have taken place as he wished. Perhaps it really had! Is it ever possible in such 230 confusion to find out what has or has not occurred?”—How perfect is this ironical explanation! I appeal to any soldier who has ever taken part in any action in war, and heard an account given of it by the other participants.

We do not demand of this realistic writer the conventional ideas of the classic authors;—an entire army heroic as its leaders, living only for the great causes it accomplishes, wholly absorbed in its lofty aim. Tolstoï reveals human nature: the soldier’s life, careless, occupied with trifling duties; the officers, with their pleasures or schemes of promotion; the generals, with their ambitions and intrigues; all these seeming quite accustomed and indifferent to what to us appears extraordinary and imposing. However, the author, by dint of sheer simplicity, sometimes draws tears of sympathy from us for those unconscious heroes, such as, for example, the pathetic character of Captain Touchino, which recalls Renault, in “Servitude et Grandeur Militaires.”[L] Tolstoï is severe upon the leaders of the Russian army; he reminds us of the councils of war after the late trials; he satirizes the French and German strategists by whom Alexander was surrounded; and, with his Nihilistic ideas, he thoroughly enjoys describing this Babel of tongues and opinions. With one man alone he secretly sympathizes—with the commander-in-chief, 231 Kutuzof. And why?—Because he gave no orders, and went to sleep during the council, giving up everything to fate. All these descriptions of military life converge toward this idea, which is developed in the philosophical appendix to the novel; all action on the part of the commanders is vain and useless; everything depends upon the fortuitous action of small divisions, the only decisive factor being one of those unforeseen impulses or inspirations which at certain times impels an army. As regards battle array, who thinks of it on the spot when thousands of possible combinations arise? The military genius in command sees only the smoke; he invariably receives his information and issues his orders too late. Can the commander carry out any general plan who is leading on his troops, which number ten, fifty, or one hundred men out of one hundred thousand, within a small radius? The rest of the account you may find in the next day’s bulletins! Over the three hundred thousand combatants fighting in the plains of Borodino blows the wind of chance, bringing victory or defeat.

Here is the same mystic spirit of Nihilism which springs up before every problem of life.

After war, the study which Tolstoï loves best, come the intrigues of the higher classes of society and its centre of gravitation, the court. As differences of race grow less distinct as we approach the higher classes of society, the novelist creates 232 no longer merely Russian types, but general, human, universal ones. Since St. Simon, no one has so curiously unveiled the secret mechanism of court life. We are very apt to distrust writers of fiction when they attempt to depict these hidden spheres; we suspect them of listening behind doors and peeping through key-holes. But this Russian author is in his native element; he has frequented and studied the court as he has the army; he talks of his peers in their own language, and has had the same education and culture; therefore his information is copious and correct, like what you obtain from the comedian who divulges the secrets of the boards.

Go with the author into the salons of certain ladies of the court; listen to the tirades of refugees, the opinions expressed upon Buonaparte, the intrigues of the courtiers, and that peculiar accent when they mention any member of the imperial family. Visit with him a statesman’s home; sit down at Speranski’s table (the man who “laughs a stage laugh”); mark the sovereign’s passage through a ball-room by the light which is visible upon every face from the moment he enters the apartment; above all, visit the death-bed of old Count Bezushof, and witness the tragedy which is being acted under the mask of etiquette; the struggle of base instincts around that speechless, expiring old man, and the general agitation. Here a sinister element, as elsewhere 233 a lofty one, lends marvellous force to the simple sincerity of the picture and to the restraint which propriety imposes upon faces and tongues.

Every passage in which the Emperors Napoleon and Alexander appear in action or speech should be read in order to understand the place that Nihilism occupies in the Russian mind so far as regards the denial of the grandeur and respect accorded by general consent to such potentates. The writer speaks in a deferential tone, as if he would in no wise curtail the majesty of power; but by bringing it down to the most trivial exigencies of life he utterly destroys it. Scattered through the tale we find ten or twelve little sketches of Napoleon drawn with great care, without hostility or an approach to caricature; but merely by withdrawing him from the legendary halo surrounding him, the man’s greatness crumbles away. It is generally some physical peculiarity or trivial act, skilfully introduced, which seems quite incompatible with the sceptre and the imperial robes. With Napoleon, Tolstoï evidently takes great liberties; but it is curious to note these descriptive touches when applied to his own sovereign. With infinite precautions and perfect propriety, the spell of majesty is broken through the incongruity of the man’s actual habits and the formidable rôle he plays. I will quote one of the many examples of this kind (Alexander is at Moscow, in 1812; he receives the ovations 234 of his people at the Kremlin, at the solemn hour when war is proclaimed): “When the Tzar had dined, the master of ceremonies said, looking out of the window, ‘The people are hoping to see your Majesty.’ The emperor, who was eating a biscuit, rose and went out on the balcony. The people rushed towards the terrace. ‘Our emperor! Our father! Hurrah! Hurrah!’ cried the people. Many women and a few men actually wept for joy. Quite a large piece of the biscuit the emperor held in his hand broke off and fell upon the balustrade, and from that to the ground. The man nearest to it was a cab-driver, in a blouse, who made a rush for the piece and seized it. Others rushed upon the coachman; whereupon the emperor had a plateful of biscuit brought, and began to throw them from the balcony to the crowd. Pierre’s eyes became blood-shot; the danger of being crushed only excited him the more, and he pressed forward through the crowd. He could not have told why he felt that he positively must have one of those biscuit thrown by the hand of the Tzar….”

Again, there is nothing more true to nature than the account of the audience granted by the Emperor of Austria to Bolkonski, who had been despatched as a courier to Brünn with the news of a victory of the allies. The writer describes so well the gradual disenchantment of the young officer, who sees his great battle vanish before his 235 eyes in the opinion of men. He quitted the scene of the exploit expecting to astonish the world with the announcement he now brings; but on his arrival at Brünn a bucket of cold water has been thrown over his dreams by the “polite” aide-de-camp, the minister of war, the emperor himself, who addresses a few words to him in an absent way—the ordinary questions as to the time of day, the particular spot where the affair took place, and the usual indispensable compliments. When he takes his leave, after reflecting upon the subject from the point of view of other men, according to their respective interests, poor Bolkonski finds his battle much diminished in grandeur, and also a thing of the past.

“Andé felt that his whole interest and joy over the victory was sinking away from him into the indifferent hands of the minister of war and the ‘polite’ aide-de-camp. His whole train of thought had become modified; there seemed to be nothing left to him but a dim, distant recollection of the battle.”

This is one of the phenomena most closely analyzed by Tolstoï—this variable influence exerted upon man by his surroundings. He likes to plunge his characters successively into different atmospheres,—that of the soldier’s life, the country, the fashionable world,—and then to show us the corresponding moral changes in them. When a man, after having for some time been under the 236 empire of thoughts and passions previously foreign to him, returns into his former sphere, his views on all subjects change at once. Let us follow young Nikolai Rostof when he returns from the army to his home, and back again to his cavalry regiment. He is not the same person, but seems to be possessed of two souls. On the journey back and forth to Moscow, he gradually lays aside or resumes the one which his profession requires.

It is useless to multiply examples of Tolstoï’s psychological curiosity, which is ever awake. It forms the principal feature of his genius. He loves to analyze the human puppet in every part. A stranger enters the room; the author studies his expression, voice, and step; he shows us the depths of the man’s soul. He explains a glance interchanged between two persons, in which he discovers friendship, fear, a feeling of superiority in one of them; in fact, a perfect knowledge of the mutual relations of these two men. This relentless physician constantly feels the pulse of every one who crosses his path, and coolly notes down the condition of his health, morally speaking. He proceeds in an objective manner, never directly describing a person except by making him act out his characteristics.

This fundamental precept of classic art has been adopted by this realistic writer in his desire to imitate real life, in which we learn to comprehend 237 people by trivial indications and by points of resemblance, without any information as to their position or qualities. A good deal of art is required to discern clearly in this apparent chaos, and you have a large choice in the formidable accumulation of details. Observe how, in the course of a conversation or the narration of some episode, Tolstoï makes the actors visibly present before us by calling our attention to one of their gestures, or some little absurd, peculiar habit, or by interrupting their conversation to show us the direction of their glances. This occurs constantly.

There is also a good deal of wit in this serious style; not the flashes and sallies of wit that we are familiar with, but of a fine, penetrating quality, with subtle and singularly apt comparisons.


Among the numerous characters in “War and Peace,” the action is concentrated upon two only—Prince André Bolkonski and Pierre Bezushof. These remarkable types of character are well worthy of attention. In them the double aspect of the Russian soul, as well as of the author’s own, is reflected with all its harassing thoughts and contradictions. Prince André is a nobleman of high rank, looking down from his lofty position upon the life he despises; proud, cold, sceptical, 238 atheistic, although at times his mind is tortured with anxiety concerning great problems. Through him the author pronounces his verdicts upon the historical characters of the time, and discourses of the various statesmen and their intrigues.

André is received at Speranski’s. We know the wonderful influence acquired by this man, who almost established a new constitution in Russia. Speranski’s most striking trait, in Prince André’s opinion, was his absolute, unshaken faith in the force and legitimacy of reason. This trait was what particularly attracted André to him, and explains the ascendency that Speranski acquired over his sovereign and his country. André, having been seriously wounded at Austerlitz, lies on the battle-field, his eyes raised to heaven. The dying man exclaims:—

“Oh, could I now but say, ‘Lord, have pity upon me!’ But who will hear me? Shall I address an indefinite, unapproachable Power, which cannot itself be expressed in words, the great All or Nothing, or that image of God which is within the amulet that Marie gave me?… There is nothing certain except the nothingness of everything that I have any conception of, and the majesty of something beyond my conception!”

Pierre Bezushof is more human in character, but his intelligence is of quite as mysterious a 239 quality. He is a stout man, of lymphatic temperament, absent-minded; a man who blushes and weeps easily, susceptible to love, sympathetic with all suffering. He is a type of the kind-hearted Russian noblemen, nervous, deficient in will, a constant prey to the ideas and influence of others; but under his gross exterior lives a soul so subtle, so mystic, that it might well be that of a Hindu monk. One day, after Pierre had given his word of honor to his friend André that he would not go to a midnight revel of some of his young friends, he hesitated when the hour of meeting came.

“‘After all,’ he thought, ‘all pledges of words are purely conventional, without definite meaning, when you reflect about it. I may die to-morrow, or some extraordinary event take place, in consequence of which the question of honor or dishonor will not even arise.’

“Reflections of this sort—destructive of all resolve or method—often occupied Pierre’s mind….” Tolstoï has skilfully made use of this weak nature, which is as receptive of all impressions as a photographer’s plate, to give us a clear conception of the chief currents of ideas in Russia in the reign of Alexander I.; these successively influence this docile adept with all their changes. We see the liberal movement of the earlier years of that reign developed in the mind of Bezushof, as afterwards the mystic and theosophic 240 maze of its later years. Pierre personifies
the sentiments of the people in 1812, the national revolt against foreign intervention, the gloomy madness of conquered Moscow, the burning of which has never been explained, nor is it known by whose hands it was kindled. This destruction of Moscow is the culminating point of the book. The scenes of tragic grandeur, simple in outline, sombre in color, are superior, I must acknowledge, to anything of the kind in literature. He pictures the entrance of the French into the Kremlin, the prisoners and lunatics roaming by night in freedom about the burning city, the roads filled with long columns of fugitives escaping from the flames, beside many other very striking episodes.

Count Pierre remains in the burning city. He leaves his palace in plebeian guise, in a peasant’s costume, and wanders off like a person in a trance; he walks on straight before him, with a vague determination to kill Napoleon and be an expiatory victim and martyr for the people. “He was actuated by two equally strong impulses. The first was the desire to take his part of the self-sacrifice and universal suffering—a feeling which, at Borodino, had impelled him to throw himself into the thick of the battle, and which now drove him out of the house, away from the luxury and habitual refinements of his daily life, to sleep on the ground and eat the coarsest of 241 food. The second came from that indefinable, exclusively Russian sentiment of contempt for everything conventional and artificial, for all that the majority of mankind esteem most desirable in the world. Pierre experienced this strange and intoxicating feeling on the day of his flight, when it had suddenly been impressed upon him that wealth, power, life itself, all that men seek to gain and preserve with such great effort, were absolutely worthless, or, at least, only worth the luxury of the voluntary sacrifice of these so-called blessings.” And through page after page the author unfolds that condition of mind that we discovered in his first writings, that hymn of the Nirvâna, just as it must be sung in Ceylon or Thibet.

Pierre Bezushof is certainly the elder brother of those rich men and scholars who will some day “go among the people,” and willingly share their trials, carrying a dynamite bomb under their cloaks, as Pierre carries a poniard under his, moved by a double impulse: to share the common suffering, and enjoy the anticipated annihilation of themselves and others. Taken prisoner by the French, Bezushof meets, among his companions in misfortune, a poor soldier, a peasant, with an uncultivated mind, one, indeed, rather beneath the average. This man endures the hardships on the march, through these terrible days, with the humble resignation of a beast of burden. He 242 addresses Count Pierre with a cheerful smile, a few ingenuous words, popular proverbs with but a vague meaning, but expressing resignation, fraternity, and, above all, fatalism. One evening, when he can keep up with the others no longer, the soldiers shoot him under a pine-tree, on the snow, and the man receives death with the same indifferent tranquillity that he does everything else, like a wounded dog—in fact, like the brute. At this time a moral revolution takes place in Pierre’s soul. Here I do not expect to be intelligible to my fellow-countrymen; I only record the truth. The noble, cultured, learned Bezushof takes this primitive creature for his model; he has found at last his ideal of life in this man, who is “poor in spirit,” as well as a rational explanation of the moral world. The memory and name of Karatayef are a talisman to him; thenceforward he has but to think of the humble muzhik, to feel at peace, happy, ready to comprehend and to love the entire universe. The intellectual development of our philosopher is accomplished; he has reached the supreme avatar, mystic indifference.

When Tolstoï related this episode, he was twenty-five years of age. Had he then a presentiment that he should ever find his Karatayef, that he would pass through the same crisis, experience the same discipline, and come out of it regenerated? We shall see later on how he had actually prophesied his own experience, and that 243 from this time he, together with Dostoyevski, was destined to establish the ideal of nearly all contemporaneous literature in Russia. Karatayef’s name is legion; under different names and forms, this vegetative form of existence will be presented for our admiration. The perfection of human wisdom is the sanctification, deification of the brute element, which is kind and fraternal in a certain vague way. The root of the idea is this:—

The cultured man finds his reasoning faculties a hindrance to him, because useless, since they do not aid him to explain the object of his life; therefore it is his duty to make an effort to reject them, and descend from complications to simplicity, in life and thought. This is the aim and aspiration, under various forms, of Tolstoï’s whole work.

He has written a series of articles on popular education. The leading idea is this:—

“I would teach the children of the common people to think and to write; but I ought rather to learn of them to write and to think. We seek our ideal beyond us, when it is in reality behind us. The development of man is not the means of realizing that idea of harmony which we bear within us, but, on the contrary, it is an obstacle in the way of its realization. A healthy child born into the world fully satisfies that ideal of truth, beauty, and goodness, which, day by day, he will 244 constantly continue to lose; he is, at birth, nearer to the unthinking beings, to the animal, plant, nature itself, which is the eternal type of truth, beauty, and goodness.”

You can catch the thread of the idea, which is much like the contemplative mistiness of the ancient oriental asceticism. The Occident has not always been free from this evil; in its ascetic errors and deviations, it has ennobled the brute, and falsified the divine allegory of the “poor in spirit.” But the true source of this contagious spirit of renunciation is in Asia, in the doctrines of India, which spring up again, scarcely modified, in that frenzy which is precipitating a part of Russia toward an intellectual and moral abnegation, sometimes developing into a stupid quietism, and again to sublime self-devotion, like the doctrine of Buddha. All extremes meet.

I will dwell no longer upon these scarcely intelligible abstractions, but would say a word concerning the female characters created by Tolstoï. They are very similar to Turgenef’s heroines, treated, perhaps, with more depth but less of tender grace. Two characters call for special attention. First, that of Marie Bolkonski, sister of André, the faithful daughter, devoted to the work of cheering the latter years of a morose old father; a pathetic figure, as pure in outline, under the firm touch of this artist, are the works of the old painters. Of quite another type is Natasha Rostof, 245 the passionate, fascinating young girl, beloved by all, enslaving many hearts, bearing with her an exhalation of love through the whole thread of this severe work. She is sweet-tempered, straightforward, sincere, but the victim of her own extreme sensibility.

Racine might have created a Marie Bolkonski; the Abbé Prévost would have preferred Natasha Rostof. Betrothed to Prince André, the only man she truly loves, Natasha yields to a fatal fancy for a miserable fellow. Disenchanted finally, she learns that André is wounded and dying, and goes to nurse him in a mute agony of despair. This part of the book presents the inexorableness of real life in its sudden calamities. After André’s death, Natasha marries Pierre, who has secretly loved her. French readers will be horror-stricken at these convulsions in the realms of passion; but it is like life, and Tolstoï sacrifices conventionality to the desire to paint it as it is. Do not imagine he sought a romantic conclusion. The young girl’s fickleness ends in conjugal felicity and the solid joys of home life. To these the writer devotes many pages, too many, perhaps, for our taste. He loves to dwell upon domestic life and joys; all other affections are in his eyes unwholesome exceptions—exciting his curiosity but not his sympathy. Thus he analyzes with a skilful pen, but with visible disgust, the flirtations and coquetry carried on in the salons of St. Petersburg. 246 Like Turgenef, Tolstoï does not hold the ladies of court circles in high estimation.

He has added a long philosophical appendix to his romance, in which he brings up again, in a doctrinal form, the metaphysical questions which have tormented him the most, and once more repeats that he is a fatalist. This appendix has not been translated in the French edition, and this is well, for no reader would voluntarily undergo the useless fatigue of wading through it. Tolstoï is unwise in pressing ideas by abstract reasoning which he is so skilful in illustrating through his characters; he does not realize how much more clearly his ideas are expressed in their language and action than in any of his own arguments.


“Anna Karenina,” which appeared periodically in a Moscow review, was the result of many years’ study. The work was not published in full until 1877, and its appearance was a literary event in Russia. I happened to be a witness of the curiosity and interest it excited there.

The author intended this book to be a picture of the society of the present day, as “War and Peace” illustrated that of its time. The task offered the author more difficulties, for many reasons. In the first place, the present does not belong to us, as does the past; it deceives us, not having become 247 firmly established, so that we cannot get in all the necessary lines and figures to emphasize it, as we could a half-century later. Besides, the liberties that Tolstoï could take with deceased potentates and statesmen, as well as with ideas of the past, he could not allow himself with contemporary ideas and with living men. This second book on Russian life is not as much in the style of an epic, neither is it as strong or as complex, as the first; on the other hand, it is more agreeable to us, as having more unity of subject and more continuity of action; the principal character, too, is more perfectly developed. Although there are two suicides and a case of adultery, Tolstoï has in this work undertaken to write the most strictly moral book in existence, and he has succeeded. The main idea is duty accomplished uninfluenced by the passions. The author portrays an existence wholly outside of conventional lines of conduct; and, as a contrast, the history of a pure, legitimate affection, a happy home, and wholesome labor. He is too much of a realist, however, to picture an earthly paradise under any human conditions.

Karenina, a statesman in the highest circles of St. Petersburg society, is a husband so greatly absorbed in the study of political economy as to be easily blinded and deceived in other matters. Vronski, the seducer of his wife’s affections, is a sincere character, devoted and self-sacrificing. Anna is a very charming woman, tender and faithful 248 where her affections are enlisted. Tolstoï has recourse neither to hysteria nor any nervous ailment whatever, to excuse her fall. He is sagacious enough to know that every one’s feelings are regulated by his or her peculiar organism; that conscience exerts contrary influences, and that it really exists, because it speaks and commands. Take, for example, the description of Anna’s first anxieties, during the night-journey between Moscow and St. Petersburg, when she first comprehends the state of her heart. These pages you can never forget. She discovers Vronski in the train, knows that he is following her, then listens to his avowal of love. The intoxicating poison steals into every vein, her will is no longer her own, the dream has begun.

The writer takes advantage of every outward circumstance to illustrate and color this dream in his inimitable manner, according to his usual method. He describes the poor woman making an effort to fix her thoughts upon an English novel, the snow and hail rattling against the window-panes; then the sketches of fellow-travellers, the various sounds and rushing of the train through the night,—all assume a new and fantastic meaning, as accompaniments of the agony of love and terror which are struggling within that woman’s soul. When, the next morning, Anna leaves the train and steps upon the platform where her husband is awaiting her, she says to herself: 249 “Good heavens! how much longer his ears have grown!” This exclamation reveals to us the change that has taken place within her. How well the author knows how to explain a whole situation with a single phrase!

From the first flutter of fear to the last contortions of despair, which lead the unhappy woman to suicide, the novelist exposes her inmost heart, and notes each palpitation. There is no necessity for any tragic complication to bring about the catastrophe. Anna has given up everything to follow her lover; she has placed herself in such a fatal predicament that life becomes impossible, which is sufficient to explain her resolve.

In contrast with this wrecked life, the innocent affection of Kitty and Levin continues its smooth course. First, it is a sweet idyl, drawn with infinite grace; then the home, the birth of children, bringing additional joys and cares. This is the highly moral and dull theme of the English novel, one may say. It is similar, and yet not the same. The British tale-writer is almost always something of a preacher; you feel that he judges human actions according to some preconceived rule, from the point of view of the Established Church or of puritanic ideas. But Tolstoï is entirely free from all prejudices. I might almost say he has little anxiety as to questions of morality; he constructs his edifices according to his own idea of the best method; the moral lesson springs only from facts 250 and results, both bitter and wholesome. This is no book for the youth of twenty, nor for a lady’s boudoir,—a book containing no charming illusions; but a man in full maturity relates what experience has taught him, for the benefit of mankind.

These volumes present an exception in regard to what is thought to guarantee the permanent success of a literary work. They will be read, and then reflected upon; we shall apply the observations to our own souls and to others’ (the most unimportant as well as the most general ones); then we shall go back to his model, which will invariably verify them. Years may pass after the first reading, notes accumulate on the margins of the leaves, as in many masterpieces of the classics you find at the bottom of the pages the explanatory remarks of generations of commentators. In this case, they need merely to say: “Confer vitam.”

Tolstoï’s style is in this work the same as in “War and Peace.” He is like a scientific engineer who visits some great establishment where machines are manufactured. He studies the mechanism of every engine, examines the most trifling parts, measures the degree of steam-pressure, tries the balance-valves, studies the action of the pistons and gearing; he seeks eagerly to discover the central motive power, the invisible reservoir of force. While he is experimenting 251 with the machinery, we, outside spectators, see only the results of all this labor, the manufactures of delicate fabrics with infinite variety of designs—life itself.

Tolstoï shows the same qualities and defects as in “War and Peace,” and gives the same tediously long descriptions. The parts devoted to the pictures of country life and rural occupations will seem, in France, a little dull. Unfortunately, in one sort of realistic description, we must know the locality to appreciate the artist’s effort and the resemblance of the picture. The description, for instance, of the races at Tsarskoe-Selo, so appreciated by Russian readers, could not have any more interest for us than the brilliant account of le grand prix de Paris in “Nana” would have for the Muscovites; on the other hand, the portraits of Oblonski and Karenina will always retain their power, because they express human sentiments common to all countries and all times. I will carry the analysis of these novels no farther, for they will hardly admit of it; we could scarcely choose a path in this labyrinth for the reader; we must leave him the pleasure of losing himself in it.

Tolstoï belongs to the “school of nature,” if extreme realism of description entitles him to that honor. He carries this tendency sometimes to great excess, even to coarseness. I might quote many examples of this kind, but they 252 would hardly bear translation, and might, occasionally, be almost revolting to us. He is also an impressionist, for his phrases often bring to us every material sensation produced by a sight, object, or sound.

Finally, his being both pessimist and Nihilist gives him, as a narrator, almost the impassibility of a stoic. Persuaded of the vanity of all human action, he can maintain his own coolness in all his delineations, his condition resembling that of a man awaking from sleep at dawn, in the middle of a ball-room, who looks upon the whirling dancers around him as lunatics; or the man who, having eaten to repletion, enters a hall where people are dining, and upon whom the mechanical movements of the mouths and forks make a grotesque impression. In short, a writer who is a pessimist must assume the superiority of an inexorable judge over the characters he has created. Tolstoï employs all these methods, which he carries as far as any of our novelists do. Why is it, then, that he produces such a different impression upon the reader? The question as to how far he is both realist and impressionist in comparison with our authors is the important one. The whole secret is a question of degree. The truth is that what others have sought he has found and adopted. He leaves a large space for trifling details, because life is made up of them, and life is his study; but 253 as he never attacks subjects trifling in themselves, he after all gives to trifles only the secondary place which they hold in everything that demands our attention.

As an impressionist he well knows how to produce certain rapid and subtle sensations, while he is never obscene or unhealthy in tone. “War and Peace” is put into the hands of all young girls in Russia. “Anna Karenina,” which touches upon a perilous subject, is considered a manual of morals.

As to Tolstoï’s impassibility, though his coldness almost approaches irony, we feel, behind and within the man, the shadow of the Infinite, and bow before his right to criticise his fellow-man. Moreover, unlike our own authors, he is never preoccupied with himself or the effect he wishes to produce. He is more logical; he sacrifices style that he himself may be eclipsed, put aside entirely in his work. In his earlier years he was more solicitous in regard to his style; but of late he has quite renounced this seductive temptation. We need not expect of him the beautiful, flowing language of Turgenef. An appropriate and clear form of expression of his ideas is all we shall have. His phraseology is diffuse, sometimes fatiguing from too much repetition; he makes use of a great many adjectives, of all he needs to add the smallest touches of color to a portrait; while incidents rapidly accumulate, from the inexhaustible fund 254 of thought in the farthest recesses of his mind. From our point of view, this absence of style is an unpardonable defect; but to me it appears a necessary consequence of realism which does away with all conventionality. If style is a conventionality, might it not warp our judgment of facts presented to us? We must acknowledge that this contempt of style, if not to our taste, contributes to the impression of sincerity that we receive. Tolstoï, in Pascal’s way, “has not tried to show to us himself, but our own selves; we find in ourselves the truths presented, which before were utterly unknown to us, as in ourselves; this attracts us strongly to him who has enlightened us.”

There is still another difference between Tolstoï’s realism and ours: he applies his, by preference, to the study of characters difficult to deal with, those made more inaccessible to the observer by the refinements of education and the mask of social conventionalities. This struggle between the painter and his model is deeply interesting to me and to many others.

Count Tolstoï would no doubt commiserate us if he found us occupied in discussing his works; for the future he wishes to be only a philosopher and reformer. Let us, then, return to his philosophy. I have said already that the composition of “Anna Karenina,” written at long intervals, occupied many years of the author’s life, the 255 moral fluctuations of which are reflected in the character of Constantin Levin, the child and confidant of his soul. This new incarnation of Bezushof, in “War and Peace,” is the usual hero of modern romance in Russia, the favorite type with Turgenef and with all the young girls. He is a country gentleman, intelligent, educated, though not brilliant, a speculative dreamer, fond of rural life, and interested in all the social questions and difficulties arising from it. Levin studies these questions, and takes his part in all the liberal emotions his country has indulged in for the last twenty years. Of course, his illusions and chimeras vanish, one after another, and his Nihilism triumphs bitterly over their ruins. His Nihilism is not of so severe a kind as that of Pierre Bezushof and Prince André. He drops the most cruel problems and takes up questions of political economy. A calm and laborious country life, with family joys and cares, has strangled the serpent. Years pass, and the tale goes on toward its close.

But suddenly, through several moral shocks in his experience, Levin awakes from his religious indifference, and is tormented by doubts. He becomes overwhelmed with despair, when the muzhik appears who proves his saviour and instructor. His mind becomes clear through some of the aphorisms uttered by this wise peasant. He declares that “every evil comes from the 256 folly, the wickedness of reason. We have only to love and believe, and there is no further difficulty.” Thus ends the long intellectual drama, in a ray of mystic happiness, a hymn of joy, proclaiming the bankruptcy and the downfall of reason.

Reason has but a narrow sphere of its own, is only useful in a limited horizon, as the rag-picker’s lantern is merely of use to light up the few feet of space immediately around him, the heap of rubbish upon which he depends for subsistence. What folly it would be for the poor man to turn those feeble rays toward the starry heavens, seeking to penetrate the inscrutable mysteries of those fathomless spaces!


The consolation of the doctrines of Quietism, the final apotheosis of Tolstoï’s entire literary work, was yet in reserve for him, revealed through an humble apostle of these doctrines. He too was destined to find his Karatayef.

After the appearance of “Anna Karenina,” a new production from this author was impatiently anticipated. He undertook a sequel to “War and Peace,” and published the first three chapters of the work, which promised to be quite equal to his preceding novels; but he soon abandoned the undertaking. Only a few stories for children 257 now appeared, some of which were exquisitely written. In them, however, you could but feel that the soul of the author had already soared above terrestrial aims. At last, the report spread that the novelist had renounced his art, even wishing no allusion made to his former works, as belonging to the vanities of the age, and had given himself up to the care of his soul and the contemplation of religious themes. Count Tolstoï had met with Sutayef, the sectary of Tver. I will not here dwell upon this original character—a gentle idealist, one among the many peasants who preached among the Russian people the gospel of the Communists. The teachings and example of this man exerted a strong influence upon Tolstoï, according to his own statement, and caused him to decide what his true vocation was.

We could have no excuse for intruding upon the domain of conscience, had not the author, now a theologian, invited us so to do, by publishing his late works, “My Confession,” “My Religion,” and “A Commentary on the Gospel.” Although, in reality, the press-censorship has never authorized the publication of these books, there are several hundred autographic copies of them in circulation, spread among university students, women, and even among the common people, and eagerly devoured by them. This shows how the Russian soul hungers for spiritual food. As Tolstoï 258 has expressed the desire that his work should be translated into French, we have every right to criticise it. But I will not abuse the privilege. The only books which can interest us as an explanation of his mental state are the first two.

Even “My Confession” is nothing new to me. In his “Childhood, Boyhood, and Youth” we have the same revelation in advance, as well as from the lips of Bezushof and Levin. This is, however, a new and eloquent variation in the same theme, the same wail of anguish from the depths of a human soul. I will give a quotation:—

“I became sceptical quite early in life. For a time I was absorbed, like every one else, in the vanities of life. I wrote books, teaching, as others did, what I knew nothing of myself. Then I became thirsty for more knowledge. The study of humanity furnished no response to the constant, sole question of any importance to me—‘What is the object of my existence?’ Science responded by teaching me other things which I was not anxious to learn. I could but join in the cry of the preacher, ‘All is vanity!’ I would gladly have taken my life. Finally I determined to study the lives of the great majority of men who have none of our anxieties—those classes which you might say are superior to abstract speculations of the mind, but that labor and endure, and yet live tranquil lives and seem to have 259 no doubts as to the end and aim of life. Then I understood that, to live as they did, we must go back to our primitive faith. But the corrupt teachings which the church distributed among the lowly could not satisfy my reason; then I made a closer study of those teachings, in order to distinguish superstition from truth.”

The result of this study is the doctrine brought forth under the title of “My Religion.” This religion is precisely the same as that of Sutayef, but explained with the aid of the theological and scientific knowledge of a cultivated scholar. It is, however, none the clearer for that. The gospel is subjected to the broadest rationalistic interpretation. In fact, Tolstoï’s interpretation of Christ’s doctrine of life is the same as the Sadducees’—that is, of life considered in a collective sense. He denies that the gospel makes any allusion to a resurrection of the body, or to an individual existence of the soul. In this unconscious Pantheism, an attempt at a conciliation between Christianity and Buddhism, life is considered as an indivisible entirety, as one individual soul of the universe, of which we are but ephemeral particles. One thing only is of consequence—morality; which is all contained in the precepts of the gospel, “Be ye perfect…. Judge not…. Thou shalt not kill, …” etc. Therefore there must be no tribunals, no armies, no prisons, no right of retaliation, either public or 260 private, no wars, no trials. The universal law of the world is the struggle for existence; the law of Christ is the sacrifice of one’s life for others. Neither Turkey nor Germany will attack us, if we are true Christians, if we study their advantage. Happiness, the supreme end of a life of morality, is possible only in the union of all men in believing the doctrine of Jesus Christ—that is, in Tolstoï’s version of it, not in that of the church; in the return to a natural mode of life, to communism, giving up cities and all business, as incompatible with these doctrines, and because of the difficulty of their application in such a life. To support his statements, the writer presents to us, with rare eloquence and prophetic vividness, a picture of a life of worldliness from birth to death. This life is more terrible in his eyes than that of the Christian martyrs.

The apostle of the new faith spares not the established church; but, after relating his vain search for comfort in the so-called true orthodoxy, violently attacks this church from Sutayef’s point of view. He declares that she substitutes rites and formalities for the true spirit of the gospel; that she issues catechisms filled with false doctrines; that since the time of Constantine she has ruined herself by deviating from the law of God to follow that of the age; that she has now, in fact, become pagan. Finally, and this is the key-note and the most delicate point of 261 all, no attention should be paid to the commands and prohibitions of any temporal power as long as it ignores the truth. Here I will quote an incident illustrative of this idea:—

“Passing recently through the Borovitzki gate at Moscow, I saw an aged beggar seated in the archway, who was a cripple and had his head bound with a bandage. I drew out my purse to give him alms. Just then a fine-looking young grenadier came running down towards us from the Kremlin. At sight of him, the beggar rose terrified, and ran limping away until he reached the foot of the hill into the Alexander garden. The grenadier pursued him a short distance, calling after him with abusive epithets, because he had been forbidden to sit in the archway. I waited for the soldier, and then asked him if he could read.—‘Yes,’ he replied: ‘why do you ask?’—‘Have you read the Gospel?’—‘Yes.’—‘Have you read the passage in regard to giving bread to the hungry?’—I quoted the whole passage. He knew it, and listened attentively, seeming somewhat confused. Two persons, passing by, stopped to listen. Evidently, the grenadier was ill at ease, as he could not reconcile the having done a wrong act, while strictly fulfilling his duty. He hesitated for a reply. Suddenly his eyes lighted up intelligently, and, turning toward me, he said: ‘May I ask you if you have read the military regulations?’ I acknowledged that I had not.—‘Then 262 you have nothing to say,’ replied the grenadier, nodding his head triumphantly, as he walked slowly away.”

I have, perhaps, said enough respecting “My Religion”; but must give a literal translation of a few lines which show the superb self-confidence always latent in the heart of every reformer:—

“Everything confirmed the truth of the sense in which the doctrine of Christ now appeared to me. But for a long time I could not take in the strange thought that, after the Christian faith had been accepted by so many thousands of men for eighteen centuries, and so many had consecrated their lives to the study of that faith, it should be given to me to discover the law of Christ, as an entirely new thing. But, strange as it was, it was indeed a fact.”

We can now judge what his “Commentary on the Gospel” would be. God forbid that I should disturb the new convert’s tranquillity! Fortunately, that would be impossible, however. Tolstoï joyously affirms, and with perfect sincerity, that his soul has at last found repose, as well as the true object of his life and the rock of his faith. He invites us to follow him, but I fear the hardened sceptics of Western Europe will refuse to enter into any discussion with him upon the new religion, which seems, moreover, almost daily to undergo modifications, according to its founder’s 263 new flights of thought. It eliminates gradually, more and more, the doctrine of a Divine Providence overruling all, and concentrates all duty, hope, and moral activity upon a single object, the reform of all social evils through Communism.

This idea exclusively inspires the last treatise of Tolstoï which I read; it is entitled: “What, then, must be done?” This title is significant enough, and has been used many times in Russia since the famous novel by Tchernishevski was written. It expresses the anxious longing of all these men, and there is something touchingly pathetic in its ingenuousness. What, then, must be done? First of all, quit the populous cities and towns, and disband the work-people in the factories; return to country life and till the ground, each man providing for his own personal necessities. The author first draws a picture of wretchedness in a large capital, as he himself studied it in Moscow. Here his admirable powers of description reappear, together with the habit, peculiar to himself, of looking within his own soul, to discover and expose the little weaknesses and base qualities common to all of us; and he takes the same pleasure in the observation and denunciation of his own as men generally do in criticising those of others. He gives us all a side thrust when he says of himself:—

“I gave three roubles to that poor creature; and, beside the pleasure of feeling that I had done 264 a kind deed, I had the additional one of knowing that other people saw me do it….”

The second part of the treatise is devoted to theory. We cannot relieve the poor and unfortunate for many reasons; First, in cities poverty must exist, because an overplus of workmen are attracted to them; secondly, our class gives them the example of idleness and of superfluous expenditure; thirdly, we do not live according to the doctrine of Christ: charity is not what is wanted, but an equal division of property in brotherly love. Let him who has two cloaks give to him who has none. Sutayef carries out this theory.

Those who draw salaries are in a state of slavery, and an aggravated form of it; and the effect of the modern system of credit continues this slavery into their future. The alms we give are only an obligation we owe to the peasants whom we have induced to come and work in our cities to supply us with our luxuries. The author concludes by giving as the only remedy, a return to rural life, which will guarantee to every laborer all that is necessary to support life.

He does not see that this principle involves, necessarily and logically, a return to an animal state of existence, a general struggle for shelter and food, instead of a methodical system of labor; and that in such a company there must be both wolves and lambs. He sees but one side of the question, the side of justice; he loses sight of the 265 intellectual side, the necessity for mental development, which involves a division of labor.

All this has no great attraction for us. We can obtain no original ideas from this apostle’s revelation; only the first lispings of rationalism in the religious portion, and in the social the doctrine of Communism; only the old dream of the millennium, the old theme, ever renewed since the Middle Ages, by the Vaudois, the Lollards and Anabaptists. Happy Russia! to her these beautiful chimeras are still new! Western Europe is astonished only, to meet them again in the writings of such a great author and such an unusually keen observer of human nature.

But would not the condition of this man’s soul be the result of the natural evolution of his successive experiences? First, a pantheist, then nihilist, pessimist, and mystic. I have heard that Leo Nikolaievitch has defended himself energetically against being thought to have assumed the title of a mystic; he feels its danger, and does not think it applicable to one who believes that the heavenly kingdom is transferred to earth. Our language furnishes us no other word to express his condition; may he pardon us what seems to us the truth. I know that he would prefer to have me praise his doctrines and decry his novels. This I cannot do. I am so enraptured with the novels that I can only feel that the doctrines but deprive me of masterpieces which might have given me 266 additional enjoyment in the future. I have been lavish of praise, but only because of my thorough and sincere appreciation of the books. Now, however, that the author has reached a state of perfect happiness, he needs no more praise, and must be quite indifferent to criticism.

We must, at least, recognize in Tolstoï one of those rare reformers whose actions conform to their precepts. I am assured that he exerts around him a most salutary influence, and has actually returned to the life of the primitive Christians. He daily receives letters from strangers, revenue officers, dishonest clerks, publicans of every type, who put into his hands the sums they have dishonestly acquired; young men asking his advice as well as fallen women who need counsel. He is settled in the country, gives away his wealth, lives and labors with his peasant neighbors. He draws water, works in the fields, and sometimes makes his own boots. He does not wish his novels alluded to. I have seen a picture of him in a peasant’s costume working with a shoemaker’s awl in his hand. Should not this creator of masterpieces feel that the pen is the only tool he should wield? If the inspiration of great thoughts is a gift we have received from Heaven as a consolation for our fellow-beings, it seems to me an act of impiety to throw away this talent. The human soul is the author’s field of action, which he is bound to cultivate and fertilize.

267 From Paris, where Tolstoï is so highly appreciated, comes back to him again the touching, last request of his dying friend which to me was inspired by a higher religious sentiment than that of Sutayef:—

“This gift comes to you from whence come all our gifts. Return to your literary labors, great author of our beloved Russia!”

I shall not pretend to draw any definite or elaborate conclusions from these initiatory explorations into Russian literature. To make them complete, we should study the less prominent writers, who have a right to bear their testimony as to the actual condition of the nation. If, moreover, the writer of this book has succeeded in presenting his own ideas clearly, the reader should draw his own conclusions from the perusal of it; if the author has failed, any added defence of his ideas would be superfluous, and have little interest or value for the reader.

We have witnessed the at first artificial growth of this literature, for a long time subjected to foreign influence; a weak and servile type of literature, giving us no enlightenment whatever as to the actual interior condition of its own country, which it voluntarily ignored. Again, when turning to its natal soil to seek its objects of study it has become vigorous. Realism is the proper and perfect instrument which it has employed, applied with equal success to material 268 and spiritual life. Although this realism may occasionally lack method and taste, and is at the same time both diffuse and subtile, it is invariably natural and sincere, ennobled by moral sentiments, aspirations toward the Divine, and sympathy for humanity. Not one of these novelists aims merely at literary fame, but all are governed by a love of truth as well as of justice,—a combination of great importance, and well worth our serious reflection, betraying and explaining to us, moreover, the philosophical conceptions of this race.

The Russians seek religious truth because they find the formulas of their doctrines insufficient for them, and the negative arguments which satisfy us would be entirely opposed to all their instincts. Their religious doubts govern, cause, and characterize all their social and political questions and difficulties. The Slav race, under the guise of its apparent orthodoxy, has not yet found its true path, but seeks it still in every grade of society. The formula they are looking forward to must comprise and answer to their double ideal of truth and justice. Moreover, the people still feel the influence of the old Aryan spirit; the cultivated classes also feel that of the teachings of the contemporaneous sciences; hence the resurrection of Buddhism which we now witness in Russia; for I cannot otherwise qualify these tendencies. We see in them the 269 condition of the ancient Hindus vacillating between an extremely high morality and Nihilism, or a metaphysical Pantheism.

The spirit of Buddhism in its great efforts toward the extension of evangelical charity has penetrated the Russian character, which naturally has such intense sympathy for human nature, for the humblest creatures, for the forsaken and unfortunate. This spirit decries reason and elevates the brute, and inspires the deepest compassion in the heart. Moreover, this simple love of the neighbor and infinite tenderness for the suffering gives a peculiarly pathetic quality to their literary works. The initiators of this movement, after having written for the benefit of their peers and the cultivated classes, are strongly drawn toward the people. Gogol with his bitter irony devoted himself to the study of suffering humanity. Turgenef pictured it from his own artistic standpoint rather than from that of an apostle. Tolstoï, his sceptical investigations being over, has become the most determined of the apostles of the unfortunate.

But beyond these mental tortures, beneath the extreme Nihilism of a Tolstoï and the intellectual morbidness of a Dostoyevski, we feel that there is a rich fund of vitality, a fountain of truth and justice, which will surely triumph in the future.


[L] By Alfred de Vigny, author of “Cinque-Mars.”







Buried Alive; Ten Years Penal Servitude in Siberia. Trans. from the Russian by Marie von Thilo; 8vo, London, 1881.

Same, 12mo, New York, 1881.

Crime and Punishment; a Russian Realistic Novel; 8vo, London, 1886.

Same, 12mo, New York, 1886.

Injury and Insult; trans. by F. Whishaw; 8vo, London, 1886.


Cossack Tales, trans. by Geo. Tolstoy; 8vo, London, 1860.

St. John’s Eve, and Other Stories; from the Russian, by Isabel F. Hapgood; 12mo, New York, 1886. Selected from “Evenings at the Farm” and “St. Petersburg Stories.”

Contents:—St. John’s Eve, related by the sacristan of the Dikanka Church.—Old-Fashioned Farmers.—The Tale of How Ivan Ivanovitch Quarrelled with Ivan Nikiforovitch.—The Portrait.—The Cloak.

Taras Bulbá; a Tale of the Cossacks; from the Russian, by Isabel F. Hapgood; 12mo, New York, 1886.

Tchitchikoff’s Journeys, or Dead Souls; from the Russian, by Isabel F. Hapgood; 2 vols., 12mo, New York, 1886.


Captain’s Daughter; from the Russian; 4to, New York, 1884.

Eugene Onéguine, a romance of Russian life, in verse; trans, by Lt.-Col. Spalding; 8vo, London and New York, 1881.

Marie, a Story of Russian Love; from the Russian, by Marie H. de Zielinska; sq. 16mo, Chicago, 1876 (also 1880). (Same as the “Captain’s Daughter.”)

Russian Romance; trans. by Mrs. J. B. Telfer; 8vo, London, 1875.

Same, 8vo, London, 1880.

Contents:—The Captain’s Daughter.—The Lady-Rustic.—The Pistol-Shot.—The Snow-Storm.—The Undertaker.—The Station-Master.—The Moor of Peter the Great.


Anna Karenina; from the Russian, by N. H. Dole; 12mo, New York, 1886.

Same, London, 1886.

Childhood, Boyhood, Youth: Reminiscences; from the Russian, by Isabel F. Hapgood; 12mo, New York, 1886. (An earlier translation seems to have been published in London, in 1862, under the title “Childhood and Youth.”)

Christ’s Christianity; trans. from the Russian; 8vo, London, 1885.

Contents:—How I Came to Believe.—What I Believe.—The Spirit of Christ’s Teaching.

The Cossacks; from the Russian, by Eugene Schuyler; 2 vols., 8vo, London, 1878.

Same, 16mo, New York, 1878.

My Religion; trans. from the French by W. Huntington Smith; 12mo, New York, 1885. (The same as his “What I Believe.”)

War and Peace; from the French, by Clara Bell; 3 vols., 8vo, London, 1886.

Same, 6 vols., 16mo, New York, 1886.

What I Believe; from the Russian, by Constantine Popoff; 8vo, London, 1885.

Same, 12mo, New York, 1886. (A translation from the French was published under the title “My Religion.”)

What People Live By; trans. by Aline Delano; 8vo, Boston, 1887. (A story of peasant life.)


Annals of a Sportsman; from the authorized French translation, by Franklin P. Abbott; 16mo, New York, 1885.

Annouchka: a Tale; from the French of the author’s own translation, by Franklin P. Abbott; 16mo, Boston, 1884.

Daughter of Russia; trans. by G. W. Scott; 4to, New York, 1882.

Dimitri Roudine; trans. from the French and German versions for “Every Saturday”; 16mo, New York, 1873.

Same, 12mo, London, 1883.

Fathers and Sons; from the Russian, by Eugene Schuyler; 16mo, New York, 1867 and 1883.

Same, London, 1883.

First Love, and Punin and Baburin; trans. from the Russian, by W. Ralston; 12mo, London, 1884.

Liza; trans. by W. R. S. Ralston; 2 vols., 8vo, London, 1869.

Same, New York, 1872.

Same, London, 1884.

(The title of the original and of the French translation is “A Nest of Nobles.”)


Mumu, and The Diary of a Superfluous Man; from the Russian, by Henry Gersoni; 12mo, New York, 1884.

On the Eve; from the Russian, by C. E. Turner; 12mo, London, 1871.

Same, American ed., with amendments; 16mo, New York, 1873.

Poems in Prose; trans. by Lilla C. Perry; 16mo, Boston, 1883.

Punin and Baburin; trans. by G. W. Scott; 4to, New York, 1882.

Russian Life in the Interior; 12mo, London, 1855.

Smoke, or Life at Baden; 2 vols., 8vo, London, 1868.

Smoke, or Life at Baden; from the author’s French version, by W. F. West; 16mo, New York, 1872.

Same, 12mo, London, 1883.

Song of Triumphant Love; 4to, New York, 1883.

Spring Floods, trans. by Sophie Mitchell; also A Lear of the Steppe, trans. by W. H. Browne; 16mo, New York, 1874.

An Unfortunate Woman; also Ass’ya; from the Russian, by H. Gersoni; 12mo, New York, 1886. (“Ass’ya” is the same as “Annouchka.”)

Virgin Soil; from the French, by T. S. Perry; 16mo, New York, 1877.

Same, 12mo, London, 1883.

Virgin Soil; trans. by A. W. Dilke; 8vo, London, 1878.



Let the school of home be a good one. Let reading be such as to quicken the mind for better reading still; for the school at home is progressive.

The baby is to be read to. What shall mother and sister and father and brother read to the baby?

Babyland. Babyland rhymes and jingles; great big letters and little thoughts and words out of Babyland. Pictures so easy to understand that baby quickly learns the meaning of light and shade, of distance, of tree, of cloud. The grass is green; the sky is blue; the flowers—are they red or yellow? That depends on mother’s house-plants. Baby sees in the picture what she sees in the home and out of the window.

Babyland, mother’s monthly picture-and-jingle primer for baby’s diversion, and baby’s mother-help; 50 cents a year.

What, when baby begins to read for herself? Our Little Men and Women is made to go on with. Babyland forms the reading habit. Think of a baby with the reading habit! After a little she picks up the letters and wants to know what they mean. The jingles are jingles still; but the tales that lie under the jingles begin to ask questions.

What do Jack and Jill go up the hill after water for? Isn’t water down hill? Baby is outgrowing Babyland.

No more nonsense. There is fun enough in sense. The world is full of interesting things; and, if they come to a growing child not in discouraging tangles but an easy one at a time, there is fun enough in getting hold ii of them. That is the way to grow. Our Little Men and Women helps such growth as that. Beginnings of things made easy by words and pictures; not too easy. The reading habit has got to another stage.

A dollar for such a school as that for a year.

Then comes The Pansy with stories of child-life, travel at home and abroad, adventure, history old and new, religion at home and over the seas, and roundabout tales on the International Sunday School Lesson.

Pansy the editor; The Pansy the magazine. There are thousands and thousands of children and children of larger growth all over the country who know about Pansy the writer, and The Pansy the magazine. There are thousands and thousands more who will be glad to know.

A dollar a year for The Pansy.

The reading habit is now pretty well established; not only the reading habit, but liking for useful reading; and useful reading leads to learning.

Now comes Wide Awake, vigorous, hearty, not to say heavy. No, it isn’t heavy, though full as it can be of practical help along the road to sober manhood and womanhood. Full as it can be! There is need of play as well as of work; and Wide Awake has its mixture of work and rest and play. The work is all toward self-improvement; so is the rest; and so is the play. $2.40 a year.

Specimen copies of all the Lothrop magazines for fifteen cents; any one for five—in postage stamps.

Address D. Lothrop Company, Boston.


You little know what help there is in books for the average housewife.

Take Domestic Problems, for instance, beginning with this hard question: “How may a woman enjoy the delights of culture and at the same time fulfil her duties to family and household?” The second chapter quotes from somebody else: “It can’t be done. I’ve tried it; but, as things now are, it can’t be done.”

Mrs. Diaz looks below the surface. Want of preparation and culture, she says, is at the bottom of a woman’s failure, just as it is of a man’s.

The proper training of children, for instance, can’t be done without some comprehension of children themselves, of what they ought to grow to, their stages, the means of their guidance, the laws of their health, and manners. But mothers get no hint of most of these things until they have to blunder through them. Why not? Isn’t the training of children woman’s mission? Yes, in print, but not in practice. What is her mission in practice? Cooking and sewing!

Woman’s worst failure then is due to the stupid blunder of putting comparatively trivial things before the most important of all. The result is bad children and waste of a generation or two—all for putting cooking and sewing before the training of children.

Now will any one venture to say that any particular mother, you for instance, has got to put cooking and sewing before the training of children?

Any mother who really makes up her mind to put her children first can find out how to grow tolerable children at least.


And that is what Mrs. Diaz means by preparation—a little knowledge beforehand—the little that leads to more.

It can be done; and you can do it! Will you? It’s a matter of choice; and you are the chooser.

Domestic Problems. By Mrs. A. M. Diaz. $1. D. Lothrop Company, Boston.

We have touched on only one subject. The author treats of many.

Dr. Buckley the brilliant and versatile editor of the Christian Advocate says in the preface of his book on northern Europe “I hope to impart to such as have never seen those countries as clear a view as can be obtained from reading” and “My chief reason for traveling in Russia was to study Nihilism and kindred subjects.”

This affords the best clue to his book to those who know the writer’s quickness, freshness, independence, force, and penetration.

The Midnight Sun, the Tsar and the Nihilist. Adventures and Observations in Norway, Sweden and Russia. By J. M. Buckley, LL. D. 72 illustrations, 376 pages. $3. D. Lothrop Company, Boston.

Just short of the luxurious in paper, pictures and print.

The writer best equipped for such a task has put into one illustrated book a brief account of every American voyage for polar exploration, including one to the south almost forgotten.

American Explorations in the Ice Zones. By Professor J. E. Nourse, U. S. N. 10 maps, 120 illustrations, 624 pages. Cloth, $3, gilt edges $3.50, half-calf $6. D. Lothrop Company, Boston.

Not written especially for boys; but they claim it.


The wife of a U. S. lighthouse inspector, Mary Bradford Crowninshield, writes the story of a tour of inspection along the coast of Maine with two boys on board—for other boys of course. A most instructive as well as delightful excursion.

The boys go up the towers and study the lamps and lanterns and all the devices by which a light in the night is made to tell the wary sailor the coast he is on; and so does the reader. Stories of wrecks and rescues beguile the waiting times. There are no waiting times in the story.

All Among the Lighthouses, or Cruise of the Goldenrod. By Mary Bradford Crowninshield. 32 illustrations, 392 pages. $2.50. D. Lothrop Company, Boston.

There’s a vast amount of coast-lore besides.

Mr. Grant Allen, who knows almost as much as anybody, has been making a book of twenty-eight separate parts, and says of it: “These little essays are mostly endeavors to put some of the latest results of science in simple, clear and intelligible language.”

Now that is exactly what nine hundred and ninety-nine in a thousand of us want, if it isn’t dry. And it isn’t dry. Few of those who have the wonderful knowledge of what is going on in the learned world have the gift of popular explanation—the gift of telling of it. Mr. Allen has that gift; the knowledge, the teaching grace, the popular faculty.

Common Sense Science. By Grant Allen. 318 pages. $1.50. D. Lothrop Company, Boston.

By no means a list of new-found facts; but the bearings of them on common subjects.


We don’t go on talking as if the earth were the centre of things, as if Galileo never lived. Huxley and Spencer have got to be heard. Shall we wait two hundred and fifty years?

The book is simply an easy means of intelligence.

There is nothing more dreary than chemistry taught as it used to be taught to beginners. There is nothing brighter and fuller of keen delight than chemistry taught as it can be taught to little children even.

Real Fairy Folks. By Lucy Rider Meyer, A. M. 389 pages. $1.25. D. Lothrop Company, Boston.

“I’ll be their teacher—give them private scientific lectures! Trust me to manage the school part!” The book is alive with the secrets of things.

It takes a learned man to write an easy book on almost any subject.

Arthur Gilman, of the College for Women, at Cambridge, known as the “Harvard Annex,” has made a little book to help young people along in the use of the dictionary. One can devour it in an hour or two; but the reading multiplies knowledge and means of knowledge.

Short Stories from the Dictionary. By Arthur Gilman, M. A. 129 pages. 60 cents. D. Lothrop Company, Boston.

An unconscious beginning of what may grow to be philology, if one’s faculty lies that way. Such bits of education are of vastly more importance than most of us know. They are the seeds of learning.


Elizabeth P. Peabody at the age of eighty-four years has made a book of a number of essays, written during fifty years of a most productive life, on subjects of lasting interest, published forgotten years ago in Emerson’s Magazine, The Dial, Lowell’s Pioneer, etc.

Last Evening with Allston and Other Papers. 350 pages. $1.50. D. Lothrop Company, Boston.

The wife of Frémont, the Pathfinder of forty years ago and almost President thirty years ago, has written a bookful of reminiscences.

Souvenirs of My Time. By Jessie Benton Frémont. 393 pages. $1.50. D. Lothrop Company, Boston.

Mrs. Frémont has long been known as a brilliant converser and story-teller. Her later years have been given to making books; and the books have the freshness and sparkle of youth.

The literary editor of the Nation gathers together nearly a hundred poems and parts of poems to read to children going to sleep.

Bedside Poetry, a Parents’ Assistant in Moral Discipline. 143 pages. Two bindings, 75 cents and $1. D. Lothrop Company, Boston.

The poems have their various bearings on morals and graces; and there is an index called a key to the moralities. The mother can turn, with little search, to verses that put in a pleasant light the thoughts the little one needs to harbor. Hence the sub-title.


Readers of poetry are almost as scarce as poetry—Have you noticed how little there is in the world? how wide the desert, how few the little oases?

Through the Year with the Poets. Edited by Oscar Fay Adams. 12 bijou books of the months, of about 130 pages each. 75 cents each. D. Lothrop Company, Boston.

Is it possible? Is there enough sweet singing ringing lustrous verse between heaven and earth to make twelve such books? There is indeed; and heaven and earth are in it!

Ginx’s Baby, a burlesque book of most serious purpose, made a stir in England some years ago; and, what is of more account, went far to accomplish the author’s object.

Evolution of Dodd. By William Hawley Smith. 153 pages. $1. D. Lothrop Company, Boston.

Dodd is the terrible schoolboy. How he became so; who is responsible; what is the remedy—such is the gist of the book.

As bright as Ginx’s Baby. A bookful of managing wisdom for parents as well as teachers.

Questions such as practical boys and girls are asking their mothers all the year round about things that come up. Not one in ten of the mothers can answer one in ten of the questions.

Household Notes and Queries, A Family Reference-Book. By the Wise Blackbird. 115 pages. 60 cents.

It is handy to have such a book on the shelf, and handier yet to have the knowledge that’s in it in one’s head.


Classified List.—Pansy.


There are substantial reasons for the great popularity of the “Pansy Books,” and foremost among these is their truth to nature and to life. The genuineness of the types of character which they portray is indeed remarkable.

“Her stories move alternately to laughter and tears.”…
“Brimful of the sweetness of evangelical religion.”…
“Girl life and character portrayed with rare power.”…
“Too much cannot be said of the insight given into the true way of studying and using the word of God.”… These are a few quotations from words of praise everywhere spoken. The “Pansy Books” may be purchased by any Sunday-school without hesitation as to their character or acceptability.

Each volume 12mo, $1.50.


Classified List.—Poetry.

THROUGH THE YEAR WITH THE POETS.—December, January, February, March, April, May. Arranged and compiled by Oscar Fay Adams. Each 75 cents.

The cream of English literature, past and current, has been skimmed with a judicious and appreciative hand.—Boston Transcript.

WAIFS AND THEIR AUTHORS. By A. A. Hopkins. A collection of poems many of which are now for the first time published with the names of the authors. Quarto, cloth, gilt, $2.00; quarto, full gilt, gilt edges, $2.50.

WHEN I WAS A CHILD. By Ernest W. Shurtleff. Illustrated, $1.00.

A simple, graceful poem, fresh with memories of school and vacation days, of games and sports in the country.—Chicago Advance.


Nothing more exquisite in the way of a presentation book.—B. B. Bulletin.

WOMAN IN SACRED SONG. Compiled and edited by Mrs. George Clinton Smith. With an introduction by Frances E. Willard. Illustrated. $3.50.

It gives a very full representation of the contributions of woman to sacred song, though of course the main bulk of this has been in modern times.—Illustrated Weekly.

YOUNG FOLKS’ POETRY. By A. P. and M. T. Folsom. A choice selection of poems. 16mo, $1.00.

YOUNG FOLKS’ SPEAKER. A collection of Prose and Poetry for Declamations, Recitations and Elocutionary Exercises. Selected and arranged by Carrie Adelaide Cooke. 12mo, cloth, illustrated, $1.00.

It deserves to become a standard in the schools of the country.—B. B. Bulletin.


Classified List.—Standard Micellaneous.

THE TRIPLE “E.” By Mrs. S. R. Graham Clark. 12mo, paper, illustrated, 25 cts. Cloth, $1.50.

It cannot fail to make a strong impression on the minds of those who read it.—B. B. Bulletin.

THUCYDIDES. Translated into English with marginal analysis and index. By B. Jowett, M. A., Master of Balliol College, Professor of Greek in the University of Oxford, Doctor of Theology in the University of Leyden. Edited with introduction to American edition by Andrew P. Peabody, D. D. LL. D. 8vo, $3.50. Half calf, $6.00.

WARLOCK O’ GLENWARLOCK. By George MacDonald. 12mo, fully illustrated, $1.50.

At his best, there are few contemporary novelists so well worth reading as MacDonald.—Boston Journal.

WEIGHED AND WANTING. By George MacDonald. 12mo, cloth, $1.50.

WHAT’S MINE’S MINE. By George MacDonald. $1.50.

Let all who enjoy a book full of fire and life and purpose read this capital story.—Woman’s Journal.

WILD FLOWERS, AND WHERE THEY GROW. By Amanda B. Harris. 8vo, extra cloth, beautifully bound, gilt edges, $3.00.

It is a book in which all true lovers of nature will delight.—B. B. Bulletin,.

WONDER STORIES OF SCIENCE. Uniform with “Plucky Boys,” 12mo, cloth, $1.50.

To improve as well as to amuse young people is the object of these twenty-one sketches, and they fill this purpose wonderfully well.—Texas Siftings.

WITHIN THE SHADOW. By Dorothy Holroyd. 12mo, cloth, $1.25.

“The author has skill in invention with the purest sentiment and good natural style.”—Boston Globe.


HOLD UP YOUR HEADS, GIRLS! By Annie H. Ryder. $1.00.

It is a book for study, for companionship, and the girl who reads it thoughtfully and with an intent to profit by it will get more real help and good from it than from a term at the best boarding-school in the country.—Boston Transcript.

HONOR BRIGHT (the story of). By Charles R. Talbot, author of Royal Lowrie. 12mo, illustrated, $1.25.

A charming story full of intense life.

HOW TO LEARN AND EARN. Half Hours in some Helpful Schools. By American authors. One hundred original illustrations, 12mo, extra cloth, $1.50.

The book treats largely of public institutions, training schools, etc., and shows what may be accomplished by patient concentrated effort.—Farm and Fireside.

HOW WE ARE GOVERNED. By Anna Laurens Dawes, 12mo, $1.50.

An explanation of the constitution and government of the United States, national, State, and local.

A concise, systematic, and complete study of the great principles which underlie the National existence.—Chicago Inter-Ocean.

IN LEISLER’S TIMES. A story-study of Knickerbocker New York. By E. S. Brooks. With twenty-four drawings by W. T. Smedley. $1.50.

Though designedly for young folks’ reading, this volume is a very careful and minute study of a hitherto half-obscured and neglected phase of American history, and will be given a permanent place in historical literature.—American Bookseller.

JOSEPHUS FLAVIUS, (the Works of). A new edition of William Whiston’s Famous Translations. 8vo, cloth, gilt, 100 illustrations, $3.00. Household Edition. 12mo, cloth, gilt top, illustrated, $2.00.

This edition is admirable and will make new friends for the easy and conceited old chronicler.—B. B. Bulletin.

Transcriber’s Note:

This book was written in a period when many words had not become standardized in their spelling. Words may have multiple spelling variations or inconsistent hyphenation in the text. These have been left unchanged. Obsolete and alternative spellings were left unchanged.

Footnotes were lettered sequentially and were moved to the end of the chapter. Obvious printing errors, such as backwards, upside down, reversed order, or partially printed letters and punctuation, were corrected. Final stops missing at the end of sentences and abbreviations were added. Missing or duplicate letters at line endings were added or removed, as appropriate. Extraneous punctuation was removed.

The following were changed: