Ideals and Realities in Russian Literature : Chapter 8 : Political Literature: Satire; Art-Criticism; Contemporary Novelists
(1842 - 1921) ~ Russian Father of Anarcho-Communism : As anarchism's most important philosophers he was in great demand as a writer and contributed to the journals edited by Benjamin Tucker (Liberty), Albert Parsons (Alarm) and Johann Most (Freiheit). Tucker praised Kropotkin's publication as "the most scholarly anarchist journal in existence." (From : Spartacus Educational Bio.)
• "The communes of the next revolution will proclaim and establish their independence by direct socialist revolutionary action, abolishing private property. When the revolutionary situation ripens, which may happen any day, and governments are swept away by the people, when the middle-class camp, which only exists by state protection, is thus thrown into disorder, the insurgent people will not wait until some new government decrees, in its marvelous wisdom, a few economic reforms." (From : "The Commune of Paris," by Peter Kropotkin, Freedo....)
• "...let us remember that if exasperation often drives men to revolt, it is always hope, the hope of victory, which makes revolutions." (From : "The Spirit of Revolution," by Peter Kropotkin, fi....)
• "...outside of anarchism there is no such thing as revolution." (From : "Revolutionary Government," by Peter Kropotkin, 18....)
To speak of political literature in a country which has no political liberty, and where nothing can be printed without having been approved by a rigorous censorship, sounds almost like irony. And yet, notwithstanding all the efforts of the Government to prevent the discussion of political matters in the Press, or even in private circles, that discussion goes on, under all possible aspects and under all imaginable pretexts. As a result it would be no exaggeration to say that in the necessarily narrow circle of educated Russian "intellectuals" there is as much knowledge, all round, of matters political as there is in the educated circles of any other European country, and that a certain knowledge of the political life of other nations is wide-spread among the reading portion of Russians.
It is well known that everything that is printed in Russia, even up to the present time, is submitted to censorship, either before it goes to print, or afterwards. To found a review or a paper the editor must offer satisfactory guarantees of not being "too advanced" in his political opinions, otherwise he will not be authorized by the Ministry of the Interior to start the paper or the review and to act in the capacity of its editor. In certain cases a paper or a review, published in one of the two capitals but never in the provinces, may be allowed to appear without passing through the censor's hands before going to print; but a copy of it must be sent to the censor as soon as the printing begins, and every number may be stopped and prevented from being put into circulation before it has left the printing office, to say nothing of subsequent prosecution. The same condition of things exists for books. Even after the paper or the book has been authorized by the censor it may be subject to a prosecution. The law of 1864 was very definite in stating the conditions under which such prosecution could take place; namely, it had to be made before a regular court, within one month after publication; but this law was never respected by the Government. Books were seized and destroyed-reduced to pulp-without the affair ever being brought before a Court, and I know editors who have been plainly warned that if they insisted upon this being done, they would simply be exiled, by order of the administration, to some remote province. This is not all, moreover. A paper or a review may receive a first, a second, and a third warning, and after the third warning it is suspended, by virtue of that warning. Besides, the Ministry of the Interior may at any time prohibit the sale of the paper in the streets and the shops, or deprive the paper of the right of inserting advertisements.
The arsenal of punishments is thus pretty large; but there is still something else. It is the system of ministerial circulars. Suppose a strike takes place, or some scandalous bribery has been discovered in some branch of the administration. Immediately all papers and reviews receive a circular from the Ministry of the Interior prohibiting them to speak of that strike, or that scandal. Even less important matters will be tabooed in this way. Thus a few years ago an anti-Semitic comedy was put on the stage at St. Petersburg. It was imbued with the worst spirit of national hatred towards the Jews, and the actress who was given the main part in it refused to play, She preferred to break her agreement with the manager rather than to play in that comedy. Another actress was engaged. This became known to the public, and at the first representation a formidable demonstration was made against the actors who had accepted parts in the play, and also against the author. Some eighty arrests-chiefly of students and other young people and of litterateurs-were made from among the audience, and for two days the St. Petersburg papers were full of discussions of the incident; but then came the ministerial circular prohibiting any further reference to the subject, and on the third day there was not a word said about the matter in all the Press of Russia.
Socialism, the social question altogether, and the labor movement are continually tabooed by ministerial circulars-to say nothing of Society and Court scandals, or of the thefts which may be discovered from time to time in the higher administration. At the end of the reign of Alexander II. the theories of Darwin, Spencer, and Buckle were tabooed in the same way, and their works were prevented from being kept by the circulating libraries.
This is what censorship means nowaday. As to what was formerly, a very amusing book could be made of the antics of the different censors, simply by utilizing Skabitchévskiy's History of Censorship. Suffice it to say that when Púshkin, speaking of a lady, wrote: "Your divine features," or mentioned "her celestial beauty," the censorship would cross out these verses and write, in red ink on the MS., that such expressions were offensive to divinity and could not be allowed. Verses were mutilated without any regard to the rules of versification; and very often the censor introduced, in a novel, scenes of his own.
Under such conditions political thought had continually to find new channels for its expression. Quite a special language was developed therefore in the reviews and papers for the treatment of forbidden subjects and for expressing ideas which censorship would have found objectionable; and this way of writing was resorted to even in works of art. A few words dropped by a Rúdin, or by a Bazároff in a novel by Turguéneff, conveyed quite a world of ideas. However, other channels besides mere allusion were necessary, and therefore political thought found its expression in various other ways: first of all, in literary and philosophical circles which impressed their stamp on the entire literature of a given epoch; then, in art-criticism, in satire, and in literature published abroad, either in Switzerland or in England.
It was especially in the forties and fifties of the nineteenth century that "the circles" played an important part in the intellectual development of Russia. No sort of expression of political thought in print was possible at that time. The two or three semiofficial newspapers which were allowed to appear were absolutely worthless; the novel, the drama, the poem, had to deal with the most superficial matters only, and the heaviest books of science and philosophy were as liable to be prohibited as the lighter sort of literature. Private intercourse was the only possible means of exchanging ideas, and therefore all the best men of the time joined some "circle," in which more or less advanced ideas were expressed in friendly conversation. There are even men like STANKÉVITCH (1917-1840) who are mentioned in every course of Russian literature, although they have never written anything, simply for the moral influence they exercised within their circle. (Turguéneff's Yákov Pásynkoff was inspired by such a personality.)
It is quite evident that under such conditions there was no room for the development of political parties properly speaking. However, from the middle of the nineteenth century two main currents of philosophical and social thought, which took the name of "Western" and "Slavophile," were always apparent. The Westerners were, broadly speaking, for Western civilization. Russia-they maintained-is no exception in the great family of European nations. She will necessarily pass through the same phases of development that Western Europe has passed through, and consequently her next step will be the abolition of serfdom and, after that, the evolution of the same constitutional institutions as have been evolved in Western Europe. The Slavophiles, on the other side, maintained that Russia has a mission of her own. She has not known foreign conquest like that of the Normans; she has retained still the structure of the old clan period, and therefore she must follow her own quite original lines of development, in accordance with what the Slavophiles described as the three fundamental principles of Russian life: the Greek Orthodox Church, the absolute power of the Czar, and the principles of the patriarchal family.
These were, of course, very wide programs, which admitted of many shades of opinion and gradations. Thus, for the great bulk of the Westerners, Western liberalism of the Whig or the Guizot type was the highest ideal that Russia had to strive for. They maintained moreover that everything which has happened in Western Europe in the course of her evolution-such as the depopulation of the villages, the horrors of freshly developing capitalism (revealed in England by the Parliamentary Commissions of the forties), the powers of bureaucracy which had developed in France, and so on, must necessarily be repeated in Russia as well: they were unavoidable laws of evolution. This was the opinion of the rank-and-file "Westerner."
The more intelligent and the better educated representatives of this same party-Byelínskiy, Hérzen, Turguéneff, Tchernyshévskly, who were all under the influence of advanced European thought, held quite different views. In their opinion the hardships suffered by workingmen and agricultural laborers in Western Europe from the unbridled power won in the parliaments, by both the landlords and the middle classes, and the limitations of political liberties introduced in the continental States of Europe by their bureaucratic centralization, were by no means "historical necessities." Russia-they maintained-need not necessarily repeat these mistakes; she must on the contrary, profit by the experience of her elder sisters, and if Russia succeeds in attaining the era of industrialism without having lost her communal land-ownership, or the autonomy of certain parts of the Empire, or the self-government of the mir in her villages, this will be an immense advantage. It would be therefore-the greatest political mistake to go on destroying her village community, to let the land concentrate in the hands of a landed aristocracy, and to let the political life of so immense and varied a territory be concentrated in the hands of a central governing body, in accordance with the Prussian, or the Napoleonic ideals of political centralization-especially now that the powers of Capitalism are so great.
Similar gradations of opinion prevailed among the Slavophiles. Their best representatives-the two brothers AKSÁKOFF, the two brothers KIRÉEVSKIY, HOMYAKÓFF, etc., were much in advance of the great bulk of the party. The average Slavophile was simply a fanatic of absolute rule and the Orthodox Church, to which feelings he usually added a sort of sentimental attachment to the "old good times," by which he understood all sorts of things: patriarchal habits of the times of serfdom, manners of country life, folk songs, traditions, and folk-dress. At a time when the real history of Russia had hardly begun to be deciphered they did not even suspect that the federalist principle had prevailed in Russia down to the Mongol invasion; that the authority of the Moscow Czars was of a relatively late creation (15th, 16th and 17th centuries); and that autocracy was not at all an inheritance of old Russia, but was chiefly the work of that same Peter I. whom they execrated for having violently introduced Western habits of life. Few of them realized also that the religion of the great mass of the Russian people was not the religion which is professed by the official "Orthodox" Church, but a thousand varieties of "Dissent." They thus imagined that they represented the ideals of the Russian people, while in reality they represented the ideals of the Russian State, and the Moscow Church, which are of a mixed Byzantine, Latin, and Mongolian origin. With the aid of the fogs of German metaphysics-especially of Hegel -which were in great vogue at that time, and with that love of abstract terminology which prevailed in the first half of the nineteenth century, discussion upon such themes could evidently last for years without coming to a definite conclusion.
However, with all that, it must be owned that, through their best representatives, the Slavophiles powerfully contributed towards the creation of a school of history and law which put historical studies in Russia on a true foundation, by making a sharp distinction between the history and the law of the Russian State and the history and the law of the Russian people. KOSTOMÁROFF (1818-1885), ZABYÉLIN (born 1820) and BYELÁEFF (1810-1873), were the first to write the real history of the Russian people, and of these three, the two last were Slavophiles; while the former-an Ukrainian nationalist-had also borrowed from the Slavophiles their scientific ideas. They brought into evidence the federalistic character of early Russian history. They destroyed the legend, propagated by Karamzín, of an uninterrupted transmission of royal power, that was supposed to have taken place for a thousand years, from the times of the Norman Rurik till to-day. They brought into evidence the violent means by which the princes of Moscow crushed the independent city-republics of the pre-Mongolian period, and gradually, with the aid of the Mongol Khans, became the Czars of Russia; and they told (especially Byeláeff, in his History of the Peasants in Russia) the gruesome tale of the growth of serfdom from the seventeenth century, under the Moscow Czars. Besides, it is mainly to the Slavophiles that we owe the recognition on of the fact that two different codes exist in Russia-the Code of the Empire, which is the code of the educated classes, and the Common Law, which is (like the Norman law in Jersey) widely different from the former, and very often preferable, in its conceptions of landownership, inheritance, etc., and is the law which prevails among the peasants, its details varying in different provinces. The recognition of this fact has already had far-reaching consequences in the whole life of Russia and her colonies.
In the absence of political life the philosophical and literary struggles between the Slavophiles and the Westerners absorbed the minds of the best men of the literary circles of St. Petersburg and Moscow in the years 1840-1860. The question whether or not each nationality is the bearer of some pre-determined mission in history, and whether Russia has some such special mission, was eagerly discussed in the circles to which, in the forties, belonged Bakúnin, the critic Byelínskiy, Hérzen, Turguéneff, the Aksákoffs and the Kiréevskiys, Kavélin, Bótkin, and, in fact, all the best men of the time. But when later on serfdom was being abolished (in 1857-63) the very realities of the moment established upon certain important questions the most remarkable agreement between Slavophiles and Westerners, the most advanced socialistic Westerners, like Tchernyshévskiy, joining hands with the advanced Slavophiles in their desire to maintain the really fundamental institutions of the Russian peasants: the village community, the common law, and the federalistic principles; while the more advanced Slavophiles made substantial concessions as regards the "Western" ideals embodied in the Declaration of Independence, and the Declaration of the Rights of Man. It was to these years (1861) that Turguéneff alluded when he said that in A Nobleman's Retreat, in the discussion between Lavrétskiy and Pánshin, he-"an inveterate Westerner"-had given the superiority in argument to the defender of Slavophile ideas because of the deference to them then in real life.
At present the struggle between the Westerners and the Slavophiles has come to an end. The last representative of the Slavophile school, the much-regretted philosopher, V. SOLOVIOFF (1853-1900), was too well versed in history and philosophy, and had too broad a mind to go to the extremes of the old Slavophiles. As to the present representatives of this school, having none of the inspiration which characterized its founders, they have sunk to the level of mere Imperialistic dreamers and warlike Nationalists, or of Orthodox Ultramontanes, whose intellectual influence is nil. At the present moment the main struggle goes on between the defenders of autocracy and those of freedom; the defenders of capital and those of labor; the defenders of centralization and bureaucracy, and those of the republican federalistic principle, municipal independence, and the independence of the village community.
One great drawback in Russia has been that no portion of the Slavonian countries has ever obtained political freedom, as did Switzerland or Belgium, so as to offer to Russian political refugees an asylum where they would not feel quite separated from their mother country. Russians, when they have fled from Russia, have had therefore to go to Switzerland or to England, where they have remained, until quite lately, absolute strangers. Even France, with which they had more points of contact, was only occasionally open to them; while the two countries nearest to Russia-Germany and Austria-not being themselves free, remained closed to all political refugees. In consequence, till quite lately political and religious emigration from Russia has been insignificant, and only for a few years in the nineteenth century has political literature published abroad ever exercised a real influence in Russia. This was during the times of Hérzen and his paper The Bell.
HÉRZEN (1812-1870) was born in a rich family at Moscow-his mother, however, being a German-and he was educated in the old-nobility quarter of the "Old Equerries." A French emigrant, a German tutor, a Russian teacher who was a great lover of freedom, and the rich library of his father, composed of French and German eighteenth century philosophers-these were his education. The reading of the French encyclopedists left a deep trace in his mind, so that even later on, when he paid, like all his young friends, a tribute to the study of German metaphysics, he never abandoned the concrete ways of thought and the naturalistic turn of mind which he had borrowed from the French eighteenth century philosophers.
He entered the Moscow university in its physical and mathematical department. The French Revolution of 1830 had just produced a deep impression on thinking minds all over Europe; and a circle of young men, which included Hérzen, his intimate friend, the poet Ogaryóff, Pássek, the future explorer of folklore, and several others, came to spend whole nights in reading and discussing political and social matters, especially Saint-Simonism. Under the impression of what they knew about the Decembrists, HÉrzen and Ogaryóff, when they were mere boys, had already taken "the Hannibal oath" of avenging the memory of these forerunners of liberty. The result of these youthful gatherings was that at one of them some song was sung in which there was disrespectful allusion to Nicholas I. This reached the ears of the State police. Night searchings were made at the lodgings of the young men, and all were arrested. Some were sent to Siberia, and the others would have been marched as soldiers to a battalion, like Polezháeff and Shevtchénko, had
it not been for the interference of certain persons in high places. Hérzen was sent to a small town in the Uráls, Vyátka, and remained full six years in exile.
When he was allowed to return to Moscow, in 1840, he found the literary circles entirely under the influence of German philosophy, losing themselves in metaphysical abstractions. "The absolute" of Hegel, his triad-scheme of human progress, and his assertion to the effect that "all that exists is reasonable" were eagerly discussed. This last had brought the Hegelians to maintain that even the despotism of Nicholas I. was "reasonable," and even the great critic Byelinskly had been smitten with that recognition of the "historical necessity" of absolutism. Hérzen too had, of course, to study Hegel; but this study brought him, as well as his friend MIKHAIL BAKÚNIN (1824-1876), to quite different conclusions. They both acquired a great influence in the circles, and directed their studies toward the history of the struggles for liberty in Western Europe, and to a careful knowledge of the French Socialists, especially Fourier and Pierre Leroux. They then constituted the left wing of "the Westerners," to which Turguéneff, Kavélin and so many of our writers belonged; while the Slavophiles constituted the right wing which has already been mentioned on a preceding page.
In 1842 Hérzen was exiled once more-this time to Nóvgorod, and only with great difficulties could he obtain permission to go abroad. He left Russia in 1847, never more to return. Bakúnin and Ogaryóff were already abroad, and after a journey to Italy, which was then making heroic efforts to free itself from the Austrian yoke, he soon joined his friends in Paris, which was then on the eve of the Revolution Of 1848.
He lived through the youthful enthusiasm of the movement which embraced all Europe in the spring of 1848, and he also lived through all the subsequent disappointments and the massacre of the Paris proletarians during the terrible days of June. The quarter where he and Turguéneff stayed at that time was surrounded by a chain of police-agents who knew them both personally, and they could only rage in their rooms as they heard the volleys of rifle-shots, announcing that the vanquished workingmen who had been taken prisoners were being shot in batches by the triumphing bourgeoisie. Both have left most striking descriptions of those days-Hérzen's June Days being one of the best pieces of Russian literature.
Deep despair took hold of Hérzen when all the hopes raised by the revolution had so rapidly come to naught and a fearful reaction had spread all over Europe, reestablishing Austrian rule over Italy and Hungary, paving the way for Napoleon III. at Paris, and sweeping away everywhere the very traces of a wide-spread Socialistic movement. Hérzen then felt a deep despair as regards Western civilization altogether, and expressed it in most moving pages, in his book From the other Shore. It is a cry of despair-the cry of a prophetic politician in the voice of a great poet.
Later on Hérzen founded, at Paris, with Proudhon, a paper, L'Ami du Peuple, of which almost every number was confiscated by the police of Napoleon the Third. The paper could not live, and Hérzen himself was soon expelled from France. He was naturalized in Switzerland, and finally, after the tragic loss of his mother and his son in a shipwreck, he definitely settled at London in 1857. Here the first leaf of a free Russian Press was printed that same year, and very soon Hérzen became one of the strongest influences in Russia. He started first a review, the name of which, The Polar Star, was a remembrance of the almanac published under this name by Ryléeff (see Ch. 1.) ; and in this review he published, besides political articles and most valuable material concerning the recent history of Russia, his admirable memoirs-Past Facts and Thoughts.
Apart from the historical value of these memoirs-Hérzen knew all the historical personages of his time-they certainly are one of the best pieces of poetical literature in any language. The descriptions of men and events which they contain, beginning with Russia in the forties and ending with the years of exile, reveal at every step an extraordinary, philosophical intelligence; a profoundly sarcastic mind, combined with a great deal of good-natured humor; a deep hatred of oppressors and a deep personal love for the simple-hearted heroes of human emancipation. At the same time these memoirs contain such fine, poetical scenes from the author's personal life, as his love of Nathalie-later his wife-or such deeply impressive chapters as Oceano Nox, where he tells about the loss of his son and mother. One chapter of these memoirs remains still unpublished, and from what Turguéneff told me about it, it must be of the highest beauty. "No one has ever written like him," Turguéneff said: "it is all written in tears and blood."
A paper, The Bell, soon followed the Polar Star, and it was through this paper that the influence of H&ecute;rzen became a real power in Russia. It appears now, from the lately published correspondence between Turguéneff and Hérzen, that the great novelist took a very lively part in The Bell. It was he who supplied his friend Hérzen with the most interesting material and gave him hints as to what attitude he should take upon this or that subject.
These were, of course, the years when Russia was on the eve of the abolition of serfdom and of a thorough reform of most of the antiquated institutions of Nicholas I., and when everyone took interest in public affairs. Numbers of memoirs upon the questions of the day were addressed to the Czar by private persons, or simply circulated in private, in MS.; and Turguéneff would get hold of them, and they would be discussed in The Bell. At the same time The Bell was revealing such facts of mal-administration as it was impossible to bring to public knowledge in Russia itself, while the leading articles were written by Hérzen with a force, an inner warmth, and a beauty of form which are seldom found in political literature. I know of no West European writer with whom I should be able to compare Hérzen. The Bell was smuggled into Russia in large quantities and could be found everywhere. Even Alexander II. and the Empress Marie were among its regular readers.
Two years after serfdom had been abolished, and while all sorts of urgently needed reforms were still under discussion-that is, in 1863-began, as is known, the uprising of Poland; and this uprising, crushed in blood and on the gallows, brought the liberation movement in Russia to a complete end. Reaction got the upper hand; and the popularity of Hérzen, who had supported the Poles, was necessarily gone. The Bell was read no more in Russia, and the efforts of Hérzen to continue it in French brought no results. A new generation came then to the front-the generation of Bazároff and of "the populists," whom Hérzen did not understand from the outset, although they were his own intellectual sons and daughters, dressed now in a new, more democratic and realistic garb. He died in isolation in Switzerland, in 1870.
The works of Hérzen, even now, are not allowed to be circulated in Russia, and they are not sufficiently known to the younger generation. It is certain, however, that when the time comes for them to be read again Russians will discover in Hérzen a very profound thinker, whose sympathies were entirely with the working classes, who understood the forms of human development in all their complexity, and who wrote in a style of unequaled beauty-the best proof that his ideas had been thought out in detail and under a variety of aspects.
Before he had emigrated and founded a free press at London, Hérzen had written in Russian reviews under the name of ISKANDER, treating various subjects, such as Western politics, socialism, the philosophy of natural sciences, art, and so on. He also wrote a novel, Whose Fault is it? which is often spoken of in the history of the development of intellectual types in Russia. The hero of this novel, Béltoff, is a direct descendant from Lérmontoff's Petchórin, and occupies an intermediate position between him and the heroes of Turguéneff.
The work of the poet OGARYÓFF (1813-1877) was not very large, and his intimate friend, Hérzen, who was a great master in personal characteristics, could say of him that his chief life-work was the working out of such an ideal personality as he was himself. His private life was most unhappy, but his influence upon his friends was very great. He was a thorough lover of freedom, who, before he left Russia, set free his ten thousand serfs, surrendering all the land to them, and who, throughout all his life abroad remained true to the ideals of equality and freedom which he had cherished in his youth. Personally, he was the gentlest imaginable of men, and a note of resignation, in the sense of Schiller's, sounds throughout his poetry, among which fierce poems of revolt and of masculine energy are few.
As to MIKHAIL BAKÚNIN (1824-1876), the other great friend of Hérzen, his work belongs chiefly to the International Working Men's Association, and hardly can find a place in a sketch of Russian literature; but his personal influence on some of the prominent writers of Russia was very great. Suffice it to say that Byelínskiy distinctly acknowledged in his letters that Bakúnin was his "intellectual father," and that it was in fact he who infused the Moscow circle, of which I have just spoken, and the St. Petersburg literary circles with socialistic ideas. He was the typical revolutionist, whom nobody could approach without being inspired by a revolutionary fire. Besides, if advanced thought in Russia has always remained true to the cause of the different nationalities-Polish, Finnish, Little Russian, Caucasian-oppressed by Russian czardom, or by Austria, it owes this to a very great extent to Ogaryóff and Bakúnin. In the international labor movement Bakúnin became the soul of the left wing of the great Working Men's Association, and he was the founder of modern Anarchism, or anti-State Socialism, of which he laid down the foundations upon his wide historical and philosophical knowledge.
Finally I must mention among the Russian political writers abroad, PETER LAVRÓFF (1823-1901). He was a mathematician and a philosopher who represented, under the name of "anthropologism," a reconciliation of modern natural science materialism with Kantianism. He was a colonel of artillery, a professor of mathematics, and a member of the St. Petersburg newly-formed municipal government, when he was arrested and exiled to a small town in the Uráls. One of the young Socialist circles kidnapped him from there and shipped him off to London, where he began to publish in the year 1874 the Socialist review Forward. Lavró was an extremely learned encyclopedist who made his reputation by his Mechanical Theory of the Universe and by the first chapters of a very exhaustive history of mathematical sciences. His later work, History of Modern Thought, of which unfortunately only the four or five introductory volumes have been published, would certainly have been an important contribution to evolutionist philosophy, if it had been completed. In the socialist movement he belonged to the social-democratic wing, but was too widely learned and too much of a philosopher to join the German social-democrats in their ideals of a centralized communistic State, or in their narrow interpretation of history, However, the work of Lavróff which gave him the greatest notoriety and best expressed his own personality was a small work, Historical Letters, which he published in Russia under the pseudonym of MÍRTOFF and which can now be read in a French translation. This little work appeared at the right moment-just when our youth, in the years 1870-73, were endeavoring to find a new program of action among the people. Lavróff stands out in it as a preacher of activity among the people, speaking to the educated youth of their indebtedness to the people, and of their duty to repay the debt which they had contracted towards the poorer classes during the years they had passed in the universities-all this, developed with a profusion of historical hints, of philosophical deductions, and of practical advice. These letters had a deep influence upon our youth. The ideas which Lavróff preached in 1870 he confirmed by all his subsequent life. He lived to the age of 82, and passed all his life in strict conformity with his ideal, occupying at Paris two small rooms, limiting his daily expenses for food to a ridiculously small amount, earning his living by his pen, and giving all his time to the spreading of the ideas which were so dear to him.
NICHOLAS TURGUÉNEFF (1789-1871) was a remarkable political writer, who belonged to two different epochs. In 1818 he published in Russia a Theory of Taxation-a book, quite striking for its time and country, as it contained the development of the liberal economical ideas of Adam Smith; and he was already beginning to work for the abolition of serfdom. He made a practical attempt by partly freeing his own serfs, and wrote on this subject several memoirs for the use of Emperor Alexander I. He also worked for constitutional rule, and soon became one of the most influential members of the secret society of the Decembrists; but he was abroad in December, 1825, and therefore escaped being executed with his friends. After that time N. Turguéneff remained in exile, chiefly at Paris, and in 1857, when an amnesty was granted to the Decembrists, and he was allowed to return to Russia, he did so for a few weeks only.
He took, however, a lively part in the emancipation of the serfs, which he had preached since 1818 and which he had discussed also in his large work, La Russie et les Russes, published in Paris in 1847. Now he devoted to this subject several papers in The Bell and several pamphlets. He continued at the same time to advocate the convocation of a General Representative Assembly, the development of provincial self-government, and other urgent reforms. He died at Paris in 1871, after having had the happiness which had come to few Decembrists-that of taking, towards the end of his days, a practical part in the realization of one of the dreams of his youth, for which so many of our noblest men had given their lives.
I pass over in silence several other writers, like PRINCE DOLGORÚKIY, and especially a number of Polish writers, who emigrated from Russia for the sake of free speech.
I omit also quite a number of socialistic and constitutional papers and reviews which have been published in Switzerland or in England during the last twenty years, and will only mention, and that only in a few words, my friend STEPNIAK (1852-1897). His writings were chiefly in English, but now that they are translated into Russian they will certainly win for him an honorable place in the history of Russian literature. His two novels, The Career of a Nihilist (Andréi Kozhuhóff in Russian) and The Stundist Pável Rudénko, as also his earlier sketches, Underground Russia, revealed his remarkable literary talent, but a stupid railway accident put an end to his young life, so rich in vigor and thought and so full of promises. It must also be mentioned that the greatest Russian writer of our own time, LEO TOLSTÓY, cannot have many of his works printed in Russia, and that therefore his friend, V. TCHERTKÓFF, has started in England a regular publishing office, both for publishing Tolstóy's works and for bringing to light the religious movements which are going on now in Russia, and the prosecutions directed against them by the Government.
The most prominent among political writers in Russia itself has undoubtedly been TCHERNYSHÉVSKIY (1828-1889), whose name is indissolubly connected with that of the review, Sovreménnik (The Contemporary). The influence which this review exercised on public opinion in the years of the abolition of serfdom ( 1857-62) was equal to that of Hérzen's Bell, and this influence was mainly due to Tchernyshévskiy, and partly to the critic Dobrolúboff.
Tchernyshévskiy was born in Southeastern Russia, at Sarátoff-his father being a well educated and respected priest of the cathedral-and his early education he received, first at home, and next in the Sarátoff seminary. He left the seminary, however, in 1844, and two years later entered the philological department of the St. Petersburg University.
The quantity of work which Tchernyshévskiy performed during his life, and the immensity of knowledge which he acquired in various branches, was simply stupendous. He began his literary career by works on philology and literary criticism; and he wrote in this last branch three remarkable works, The Æsthetical Relations between Art and Reality, Sketches of the Gógol period, and Lessing and his Time, in which he developed a whole theory of esthetics and literary criticism. His main work, however, was accomplished during the four years, 1858-62, when he wrote in The Contemporary, exclusively on political and economical matters. These were the years of the abolition of serfdom, and opinion, both in the public at large and in the Government spheres, was quite unsettled even as to the leading principles which should be followed in accomplishing it. The two main questions were: should the liberated serfs receive the land which they were cultivating for themselves while they were serfs, and if so-on what conditions? And next-should the village community institutions be maintained and the land held, as of old, in common-the village community becoming in this case the basis for the future self-government institutions? All the best men of Russia were in favor of an answer in the affirmative to both these questions, and even in the higher spheres opinion went the same way; but all the reactionists and "esclavagist" serf-owners of the old school bitterly opposed this view. They wrote memoirs upon memoirs and addressed them to the Emperor and the Emancipation Committees, and it was necessary, of course, to analyze their arguments and to produce weighty historical and economical proofs against them. In this struggle Tchernyshévskiy, who was, of course, as was Hérzen's Bell, with the advanced party, supported it with all the powers of his great intelligence, his wide erudition, and his formidable capacity for work; and if this party carried the day and finally converted Alexander II. and the official leaders of the Emancipation Committees to its views, it was certainly to a great extent owing to the energy of Tchernyshévskiy and his friends.
It must also be said that in this struggle The Contemporary and The Bell found a strong support in two advanced political writers from the Slavophile camp: KÓSHELEFF (1806-1883) and YÚRIY SAMARIN (1819-1876). The former had advocated, since 1847-both in writing and in practice-the liberation of the serfs "with the land," the maintenance of the village community, and peasant self-government, and now Kósheleff and Samarin, both influential landlords, energetically supported these ideas in the Emancipation Committees, while Tchernyshévskly fought for them in The Contemporary and in his Letters without an Address (written apparently to Alexander II and published only later on in Switzerland).
No less a service did Tchernyshévskiy render to Russian Society by educating it in economical matters and in the history of modern times. In this respect he acted with a wonderful pedagogical talent. He translated Mill's Political Economy, and wrote Notes to it, in a socialistic sense; moreover, in a series of articles, like Capital and Labor, Economical Activity and the State, he did his best to spread sound economic ideas. In the domain of history he did the same, both in a series of translations and in a number of original articles upon the struggle of parties in modern France.
In 1863 Tchernyshévskiy was arrested, and while he was kept in the fortress he wrote a remarkable novel, What is to be Done? From the artistic point of view this novel leaves much to be desired; but for the Russian youth of the times it was a revelation, and it became a program. Questions of marriage, and separation after marriage in case such a separation becomes necessary, agitated Russian society in those years. To ignore such questions was absolutely impossible. And Tchernyshévskiy discussed them in his novel, in describing the relations between his heroine, Vyéra Pávlovna, her husband Lopukhóff and the young doctor with whom she fell in love after her marriage-indicating the only solutions which perfect honesty and straightforward common sense could approve in such a case. At the same time he preached-in veiled words, which were, however, perfectly well understood-Fourierism, and depicted in a most attractive form the communistic associations of, of producers. He also showed in his novel what true "Nihilists" were, and in what they differed from Turguéneff's Bazároff. No novel of Turguéneff and no writings of Tolstóy or any other writer have ever had such a wide and deep influence upon Russian Society as this novel had. It became the watchword of Young Russia, and the influence of the ideas it propagated has never ceased to be apparent since.
In 1864 Tchernyshévskiy was exiled to hard labor in Siberia, for the political and socialist propaganda which he had been making; and for fear that he might escape from Transbaikália he was soon transported to a very secluded spot in the far North of Eastern Siberia-Vilúisk-where he was kept till 1883. Then only was he allowed to return to Russia and to settle at Astrakhan. His health, however, was already quite broken. Nevertheless, he undertook the translation of the Universal History of Weber, to which he wrote long addenda, and he had translated twelve volumes of it when death overtook him in 1889. Storms of polemics have raged over his grave, although his name, even yet, cannot be pronounced, nor his ideas discussed, in the Russian Press. No other man has been so much hated by his political adversaries as Tchernyshévskiy. But even these are bound to recognize now the great services he rendered to Russia during the emancipation of the serfs, and his immense educational influence.
With all the restrictions imposed upon political literature in Russia, the satire necessarily became one of the favorite means of expressing political thought. It would take too much time to give even a short sketch of the earlier Russian satirists, as in order to do that one would have to go back as far as the eighteenth century. Of Gógol's satire I have already spoken; consequently I shall limit my remarks under this head to only one representative of modern satire, SALTYKÓFF, who is better known under his nom-de-plume Of SCHÉDRIN (1826-1889).
The influence of Saltykóff in Russia was very great, not only with the advanced section of Russian thought, but among the general readers as well. He was perhaps one of Russia's most popular writers. Here I must make, however, a personal remark. One may try as much as possible to keep to an objective standpoint in the appreciation of different writers, but a subjective element will necessarily interfere, and I personally must say that although I admire the great talent of Saltykóff, I never could become as enthusiastic over his writings as the very great majority of my friends did. Not that I dislike satire: on the contrary; but I like it much more definite than it is in Saltykóff. I fully recognize that his remarks were sometimes extremely deep, and always correct, and that in many cases he foresaw coming events long before the common reader could guess their approach; I fully admit that the satirical characterizations he gave of different classes of Russian society belong to the domain of good art, and that his types are really typical—and yet, with all this, I find that these excellent characterizations and these acute remarks are too much lost amid a deluge of insignificant talk, which was certainly meant to conceal their point from the censorship, but which mitigates the sharpness of the satire and tends chiefly to deaden its effect. Consequently, I prefer, in my appreciation of Saltykóff to follow our best critics, and especially K. K. ARSÉNIEFF, to whom we owe two volumes of excellent Critical Studies.
Saltykóff began his literary career very early and, like most of our best writers, he knew something of exile. In 1848 he wrote a novel, A Complicated Affair, in which some socialistic tendencies were expressed in the shape of a dream of a certain poor functionary. It so happened that the novel appeared in print just a few weeks after the February revolution of 1848 had broken out, and when the Russian Government was especially on the alert. Saltykóff was thereupon exiled to Vyátka, a miserable provincial town in East Russia, and was ordered to enter the civil service. The exile lasted seven years, during which he became thoroughly acquainted with the world of functionaries grouped around the Governor of the Province. Then in 1857 better times came for Russian literature, and Saltykóff, who was allowed to return to the capitals, utilized his knowledge of provincial life in writing a series of Provincial Sketches.
The impression produced by these Sketches was simply tremendous. All Russia talked of them. Saltykóff's talent appeared in them in its full force, and with them was opened quite a new era in Russian literature. A great number of imitators began in their turn to dissect the Russian administration and the failure of its functionaries. Of course, something of the sort had already been done by Gógol, but Gógol, who wrote twenty years before, was compelled to confine himself to generalities, while Saltykóff was enabled to name things by their names and to describe provincial society as it was—denouncing the venal nature of the functionaries, the rottenness of the whole administration, the absence of comprehension of what was vital in the life of the country, and so on.
When Saltykóff was permitted to return to St. Petersburg, after his exile, he did not abandon the service of the State, which he had been compelled to enter at Vyátka. With but a short interruption he remained a functionary till the year 1868, and twice during that time he was Vise-Governor, and even Governor of a province. It was only then that he definitely left the service, to act, with Nekrásoff, as coeditor of a monthly review, Otéchestvennyia Zapíski, which became after The Contemporary had been suppressed, the representative of advanced democratic thought in Russia, and retained this position till 1884, when it was suppressed in its turn. By that time the health of Saltykóff was broken down, and after a very painful illness, during which he nevertheless continued to write, he died in 1889.
The Provincial Sketches determined once for all the character of Saltykóff's work. His talent only deepened as he advanced in life, and his satires went more and more profoundly into the analysis of modern civilized life, of the many causes which stand in the way of progress, and of the infinity of forms which the struggle of reaction against progress is taking nowadays. In his Innocent Tales he touched upon some of the most tragic aspects of serfdom. Then, in his representation of the modern knights of industrialism and plutocracy, with their appetites for money making and enjoyments of the lower sort, their heartlessness, and their hopeless meanness, Saltkóff attained the heights of descriptive art; but he excelled perhaps even more in the representation of that "average man" who has no great passions, but for the mere sake of not being disturbed in the process of enjoyment of his philistine well-being will not recoil before any crime against the best men of his time, and, if need be, will lend a ready hand to the worst enemies of progress. In flagellating that "average man," who, owing to his unmitigated cowardice, has attained such a luxurious development in Russia, Saltykóff produced his greatest creations. But when he came to touch those who are the real geniuses of reaction—those who keep "the average man" in fear, and inspire reaction, if need be, with audacity and ferocity—then Saltykóff's satire either recoiled before its task, or the attack was veiled in so many funny and petty expressions and words that all its venom was gone.
When reaction had obtained the upper hand, in 1863, and the carrying out of the reforms of 1861 and of those still to be undertaken fell into the hands of the very opponents of these reforms, and the former serf-owners where doing all they could in order to recall serfdom once again to life, or, at least, so to bind the peasant by over-taxation and high rents as to practically enthralled him once more, Saltykóff brought out a striking series of satires which admirably represented this new class of men. The History of a City, which is a comic history of Russian, full of allusions to contemporary currents of thought. The Diary of a Provincial in St. Petersburg, Letters from the Provinces, and The Pompadours belong to this series; while in Those Gentlemen of Tashkent he represented all that crowd which hastened now to make fortunes by railway building, advocacy in reformed tribunals, and annexation of new territories. In these sketches, as well as in those which he devoted to the description of the sad and sometimes psychologically unsound products of the times of serfdom (The Gentlemen Golovlóffs, Poshekhónsk Antiquity), he created types, some of which, like Judushka have been described as almost Shakespearian.
Finally, in the early eighties, when the terrible struggle of the terrorists against autocracy was over, and with the advent of Alexander III reaction was triumphant, the satires of Schedrín became a cry of despair. At times the satirist becomes great in his sad irony, and his Letters to my Aunt will live, not only as an historical but also as a deeply human document.
It is also worthy of note that Saltykóff had a real talent for writing tales. Some of them, especially those which dealt with children under serfdom, were of great beauty.
The main channel through which political thought found its expression in Russia during the last fifty years was literary criticism, which consequently has reached with us a development and an importance that it has in no other country. The real soul of a Russian monthly review is its art-critic. His article is a much greater event than the novel of a favorite writer which may appear in the same number. The critic of a leading review is the intellectual leader of the younger generation; and it so happened that throughout the last half-century we have had in Russia a succession of art-critics who have exercised upon the intellectual aspects of their own times a far greater, and especially a far more wide influence than any novelist or any writer in any other domain. It is so generally true that the intellectual aspect of a given epoch can be best characterized by naming the art-critic of the time who exercised the main influence. It was Byelínskiy in the thirties or forties, Tchernyshévskiy and Dobrolúboff in the fifties and the, early sixties, and Písareff in the later sixties and seventies, who were respectively the rulers of thoughts in their generation of educated youth. It was only later on, when real political agitation began—taking at once two or three different directions, even in the advanced camp—that Mihailóvskiy, the leading critic from the eighties until the present time, stood not for the whole movement but more or less for one of its directions.
This means, of course, that literary criticism has in Russia certain special aspects. It is not limited to a criticism of works of art from the purely literary or æsthetic point of view. Whether a Rúdin, or a Katerína are types of real, living beings, and whether the novel or the drama is well built, well developed, and well written—these are, of course, the first questions considered. But they are soon answered; and there are infinitely more important questions, which are raised in the thoughtful mind by every work of really good art: the questions concerning the position of a Rúdin or a Katerína in society; the part, bad or good, which they play in it; the ideas which inspire them, and the value of these ideas; and then—the actions of the heroes, and the causes of these actions, both individual and social. In a good work of art the actions of the heroes are evidently what they would have been under similar conditions in reality; otherwise it would not be good art. They can be discussed as facts of life.
But these actions and their causes and consequences open the widest horizons to a thoughtful critic, for an appreciation of both the ideals and the prejudices of society, for the analysis of passions, for a discussion of the types of men and women which prevail at a given moment. In fact, a good work of art gives material for discussing nearly the whole of the mutual relations in a society of a given type. The author, if he is a thoughtful poet, has himself either consciously or often unconsciously considered all that. It is his life-experience which he gives in his work. Why, then, should not the critic bring before the reader all those thoughts which must have passed through the author's brain, or have affected him unconsciously when he produced these scenes, or pictured that corner of human life?
This is what Russian literary critics have been doing for the last fifty years; and as the field of fiction and poetry is unlimited, there is not one of the great social and human problems which they must not thus have discussed in their critical reviews. This is also why the works of the four critics just named are as eagerly read and re-read now at this moment as they were twenty or fifty years ago: they have lost nothing of their freshness and interest. If art is a school of life—the more so are such works.
It is extremely interesting to note that art-criticism in Russia took from the very outset (in the twenties) and quite independently of all imitation of Western Europe, the character of philosophical æsthetics. The revolt against pseudo-classicism had only just begun under the banner of romanticism, and the appearance of Púshkin's Ruslán and Ludmíla had just given the first practical argument in favor of the romantic rebels, when the poet VENEVÍTINOFF (see Ch. II.), soon followed by NADÉZHDIN (1804-1856) and POLEVÓY (1796-1846)—the real founder of serious journalism in Russia—laid the foundations of new art-criticism. Literary criticism, they maintained, must analyze, not only the æsthetic value of a work of art, but, above all, its leading idea—its "philosophical,"—its social meaning.
Venevítinoff, whose own poetry bore such a high intellectual stamp, boldly attacked the absence of higher ideas among the Russian romantics, and wrote that "the true poets of all nations have always been philosophers who reached the highest summits of culture." A poet who is satisfied with his own self, and does not pursue aims of general improvement, is of no use to his contemporaries.*
Nadézhdin followed on the same lines, and boldly attacked Púshkin for his absence of higher inspiration and for producing a poetry of which the only motives were "wine and women." He reproached our romantics with an absence of ethnographical and historic truth in their work, and the meanness of the subjects they chose in their poetry. As to Polevóy, he was so great an admirer of the poetry of Byron and Victor Hugo that he could not pardon Púshkin and Gógol the absence of higher ideas in their work. Having nothing in it that might raise men to higher ideas and actions, their work could stand no comparison whatever with the immortal creations of Shakespeare, Hugo, and Goethe. This absence of higher leading ideas in the work of Púshkin and Gógol so much impressed the last two critics that they did not even notice the immense service which these founders of Russian literature were rendering to us by introducing that sound naturalism and realism which have become since such a distinctive feature of Russian art, and the need of which both Nadézhdin and Polevóy were the first to recognize. It was Byelínskiy who had to take up their work, to complete it, and to show what was the technique of really good art, and what its contents ought to be.
To say that BYELÍNSKIY (1810-1848) was a very gifted art-critic would thus mean nothing. He was in reality, at a very significant moment of human evolution, a teacher and an educator of Russian society, not only in art—its value, its purport, its comprehension—but also in politics, in social questions, and in humanitarian aspirations.
He was the son of an obscure army-surgeon, and spent his childhood in a remote province of Russia. Well prepared by his father, who knew the value of knowledge, he entered the University of St. Petersburg, but was excluded from it in 1832 for a tragedy which he wrote, in the style of Schiller's Robbers, and which was an energetic protest against serfdom. Already he had joined the circle of Hérzen, Ogaryóff, Stankévitch, etc., and in 1834 he began his literary career by a critical review of literature which at once attracted notice. From that time till his death he wrote critical articles and bibliographical notes for some of the leading reviews, and he worked so extremely hard that at the age of thirty-eight he died from consumption. He did not die too soon. The revolution had broken out in Western Europe, and when Byelínskiy was on his deathbed an agent of the State-police would call from time to time to ascertain whether he was still alive. The order was given to arrest him, if he should recover, and his fate certainly would have been the fortress and at the best—exile.
When Byelínskiy first began to write he was entirely under the influence of the idealistic German philosophy. He was inclined to maintain that Art is something too great and too pure to have anything to do with the questions of the day. It was a reproduction of "the general idea of the life of nature." Its problems were those of the Universe—not of poor men and their petty events. It was from this idealistic point of view of Beauty and Truth that he exposed the main principles of Art, and explained the process of artistic creation. In a series of articles on Púshkin he wrote, in fact, a history of Russian literature down to Púshkin, from that point of view.
Holding such abstract views, Byelínskiy even came, during his stay at Moscow, to consider, with Hegel, that "all that which exists is reasonable," and to preach "reconciliation" with the despotism of Nicholas I. However under the influence of Hérzen and Bakúnin he soon shook off the fogs of German metaphysics, and, removing to St. Petersburg, opened a new page of his activity.
Under the impression produced upon him by the realism of Gógol, whose best works were just appearing, he came to understand that true poetry is real: that it must be a poetry of life and of reality. And under the influence of the political movement which was going on in France he arrived at advanced political ideas. He was a great master of style, and whatever he wrote was so full of energy, and at the same time bore so truly the stamp of his most sympathetic personality, that it always produced a deep impression upon his readers. And now all his aspirations towards what is grand and high, and all his boundless love of truth, which he formerly had given in the service of personal self-improvement and ideal Art, were given to the service of man within the poor conditions of Russian reality. He pitilessly analyzed that reality, and wherever he saw in the literary works which passed under his eyes, or only felt, insincerity, haughtiness, absence of general interest, attachment to old-age despotism, or slavery in any form—including the slavery of woman—he fought these evils with all his energy and passion. He thus became a political writer in the best sense of the word at the same time that he was an art-critic; he became a teacher of the highest humanitarian principles.
In his Letter to Gógol concerning the latter's Correspondence with Friends (See Ch. III.) he gave quite a program of urgent social and political reforms; but his days were numbered. His review of the literature for the year 1847, which was especially beautiful and deep, was his last work. Death spared him from seeing the dark cloud of reaction in which Russia was wrapped from 1848 to 1855.
VALERIÁN MÁYKOFF (1823-1847), who promised to become a critic of great power on the same lines as Byelínskiy, died unfortunately too young, and it was Tchernyshévskiy, soon followed by Dobrolúboff, who continued and further developed the work of Byelínskiy and his predecessors.
The leading idea of TCHERNYSHÉVSKIY was that art cannot be its own aim; that life is superior to art; and that the aim of art is to explain life, to comment upon it, and to express an opinion about it. He developed these ideas in a thoughtful and stimulating work, The Æsthetic Relations of Art to Reality, in which he demolished the current theories of æsthetics, and gave a realistic definition of the Beautiful. The sensation—he wrote—which the Beautiful awakens in us is a feeling of bright happiness, similar to that which is awakened by the presence of a beloved being. It must therefore contain something dear to us, and that dear something is life. "To say that that which we name 'Beauty' is life; that that being is beautiful in which we see life—life as it ought to be according to our conception—and that object is beautiful which speaks to us of life—this definition, we should think, satisfactorily explains all cases which awaken in us a feeling of the beautiful." The conclusion to be drawn from such a definition was that the beautiful in art, far from being superior to the beautiful in life, can only represent that conception of the beautiful which the artist has borrowed from life. As to the aim of art it is much the same as that of science, although its means of action are different. The true aim of art is to remind us of what is interesting in human life, and to teach us how men live and how they ought to live. This last part of Tcherny shévskiy teachings was especially developed by Dobrolúboff.
DOBROLÚBOFF (1836-1861) was born in Nízhniy Nóvgorod, where his father was a parish priest, and he received his education first in a clerical school, and after that in a seminarium. In 1853 he went to St. Petersburg and entered the Pedagogical Institute. His mother and father died the next year, and he had then to maintain all his brothers and sisters. Lessons, for which he was paid ridiculously low prices, and translations, almost equally badly paid—all that in addition to his student's duties—meant working terribly hard, and this broke down his health at an early age. In 1855 he made the acquaintance of Tchernyshévskiy and, having finished in 1857 his studies at the Institute, he took in hand the critical department of The Contemporary, and again worked passionately. Four years later, in November, 1861, he died, at the age of twenty-five, having literally killed himself by overwork, leaving four volumes of critical essays, each of which is a serious original work. Such essays as The Kingdom of Darkness, A Ray of Light, What is Oblómovism? When comes the Real Day? had especially a profound effect on the development of the youth of those times.
Not that Dobrolúboff had a very definite criterion of literary criticism, or that he had a very distinct program as to what was to be done. But he was one of the purest and the most solid representatives of that type of new men—the realist-idealist, whom Turguéneff saw coming by the end of the fifties. Therefore, in whatever he wrote one felt the thoroughly moral and thoroughly reliable, slightly ascetic "rigorist" who judged all facts of life from the standard of—"What good will they bring to the toiling masses?" or, "How will they favor the creation of men whose eyes are directed that way?" His attitude towards professional esthetics was most contemptuous, but he felt deeply himself and enjoyed the great works of art. He did not condemn Púshkin for his levity, or Gógol for his absence of ideals. He did not advise anyone to write novels or poems with a set purpose: he knew the results would be poor. He admitted that the great geniuses were right in creating unconsciously, because he understood that the real artist creates only when he has been struck by this or that aspect of reality. He asked only from a work of art, whether it truly and correctly reproduced life, or not? If not, he passed it by; but if it did truly represent life, the he wrote essays about this life; and his articles were essays on moral, political or economical matters—the work of art yielding only the facts for such a discussion. This explains the influence Dobrolúboff exercised upon his contemporaries. Such essays written by such a personality were precisely what was wanted in the turmoil of those years for preparing better men for the coming struggles. They were a school of political and moral education.
PÍSAREFF (1841-1868), the critic who succeeded, so to speak, Dobrolúboff, was a quite different man. He was born in a rich family of landlords and had received an education during which he had never known what it meant to want anything; but he soon realized the drawbacks of such a life, and when he was at the St. Petersburg university he abandoned the rich house of his uncle and settled with a poor student comrade, or lived in an apartment with a number of other students—writing amid their noisy discussions or songs. Like Dobrolúboff, he worked excessively hard, and astonished everyone by his varied knowledge and the facility with which he acquired it. In 1862, when reaction was begin permitted a comrade to print in a secret printing office an article of his—the criticism of some reactionary political pamphlet --- which article had not received the authorization of the censorship. The secret printing office was seized, and Písareff was locked for four years in the fortress of St. Peter and St. Paul. There he wrote all that made him widely known in Russia. When he came out of prison his health was already broken, and in the summer of 1868 he was drowned while bathing in one of the Baltic sea-side resorts.
Upon the Russian youth of his own time, and consequently on whatever share, as men and women later on, they brought to the general progress of the country, Písareff exercised an influence which was as great as that of Byelínskiy, Tchernyshévskiy, and Dobrolúboff. Here again it is impossible to determine the character and the cause of this influence by merely referring to Písareff's canons in art criticism. His leading ideas on this subject can be explained in a few words; his ideal was "the thoughtful realist "—the type which Turguéneff had just represented in Bazároff, and which Písareff further developed in his critical essays. He shared Bazároff's low opinion of art, but, as a concession, demanded that Russian art should, at least, reach the heights which art had reached with Goethe, Heine and Borne in elevating mankind—or else that those who are always talk ing of art, but can produce nothing approaching it, should rather give their forces to something more within their reach. This is why he devoted most elaborate articles to depreciating the futile poetry of Púshkin. In ethics he was entirely at one with the "Nihilist" Bazároff, who bowed before no authority but that of his own reason. And he thought (like Bazároff in a conversation with Pável Petróvitch) that the main point, at that given moment, was to develop the thorough, scientifically-educated realist, who would break with all the traditions and mistakes of the olden time, and would work, looking upon human life with the sound common-sense of a realist. He even did something himself to spread the sound natural science knowledge that had suddenly developed in those years, and wrote a most remarkable exposition of Darwinism in a series of articles entitled Progress in the World of Plants and Animals.
But—to quote the perfectly correct estimate of Skabitchévskiy—"all this does not, however, determine Písareff's position in Russian literature. In all this he only embodied a certain moment of the development of Russian youth, with all its exaggerations." The real cause of Písareff's influence was elsewhere, and may be best explained by the following example. There appeared a novel in which the author had told how a girl, good-hearted, honest, but quite uneducated, quite commonplace as to her conceptions of happiness and life, and full of the current society-prejudices, fell in love, and was brought to all sorts of mis fortunes. This girl—Písareff at once understood—was not invented. Thousands upon thousands of like girls exist, and their lives have the same run. They are—he said—"Muslin Girls." Their conception of the universe does not go much beyond their muslin dresses. And he reasoned, how with their "muslin education" and their "muslin-girl conceptions," they must unavoidably come to grief. And by this article, which every girl in every educated family in Russia read, and reads still, he induced thousands upon thousands of Russian girls to say to themselves: "No, never will I be like that poor muslin girl. I will conquer knowledge; I will think; and I will make for myself a better future." Each of his articles had a similar effect. It gave to the young mind the first shock. It opened the young man's and the young woman's eyes to those thousands of details of life which habit makes us cease to perceive, but the sum of which makes precisely that stifling atmosphere under which the heroines of " Krestóvskiy-pseudonym " used to wither. From that life, which could promise only deception, dullness and vegetative existence, he called the youth of both sexes to a life full of the light of knowledge, a life of work, of broad views and sympathies, which was now opened for the “thoughtful realist."
The time has not yet come to fully appreciate the work of MIHAILÓVSKIY (1842-1904), who in the seventies became the leading critic, and remained so till his death. Moreover, his proper position could not be understood without my entering into many details concerning the character of the intellectual movement in Russia for the last thirty years, and this movement has been extremely complex. Suffice it to say that with Mihailóvskiy literary criticism took a philosophical turn. Within this period Spencer's philosophy had produced a deep sensation in Russia, and Mihailóvskiy submitted it to a severe analysis from the anthropological standpoint, showing its weak points and working out his own Theory of Progress, which will certainly be spoken of with respect in Western Europe when it becomes known outside Russia. His very remarkable articles on Individualism, on Heroes and the Crowd, on Happiness, have the same philosophical value; while even from the few quotations from his Left and Right Hand of Count Tolstóy, which were given in a preceding chapter, it is easy to see which way his sympathies go.
Of the other critics of the same tendencies I shall only name SKABITCHÉVSKIY (born 1838), the author of a very well written history of modern Russian literature, already mentioned in these pages; K. ARSÉNIEFF (born 1837), whose Critical Studies (1888) are the more interesting as they deal at some length with some of the less known poets and the younger contemporary writers; and P. POLEVÓY (1839-1903), the author of many historical novels and of a popular and quite valuable History of the Russian Literature; but I am compelled to pass over in silence the valuable critical work done by DRUZHÍNIN (1824-1864) after the death of Byelínskiy, as also A. GRIGÓRIEFF ( 1822-1864), a brilliant and original critic from the Slavophile camp. They both took the "æsthetical" point of view and combated the utilitarian views upon Art, but had no great success.
It is thus seen that for the last eighty years, beginning with Venevítinoff and Nadézhdin, Russian art-critics have worked to establish the idea that art has a raison d'être only when it is "in the service of society" and contributes towards raising society to higher humanitarian conceptions —by those means which are proper to art, and distinguish it from science. This idea which so much shocked Western readers when Proudhon developed it has been advocated in Russia by all those who have exercised a real influence upon critical judgment in art matters. And they were supported de facto by some of our greatest poets, such as Lérmontoff and Turguéneff. As to the critics of the other camp, like Druzhínin, Annenkoff and A. Grigórieff, who took either the opposite view of "art for art's sake," or some intermediate view—who preached that the criterium of art is "The Beautiful" and clung to the theories of the German æsthetical writers—they have had no hold upon Russian thought.
The metaphysics of the German æsthetical writers was more than once demolished in the opinion of Russian readers —especially by Byelínskiy, in his Review of Literature for 1847, and by Tchernyshévskiy in his Æsthetic Relations of Art to Reality. In this Review Byelínskiy fully developed his ideas concerning Art in the service of mankind, and proved that although Art is not identical with Science, and differs from it by the way it treats the facts of life, it nevertheless has with it a common aim. The man of science demonstrates—the poet shows; but both convince; the one by his arguments, the other—by his scenes from life. The same was done by Tchernyshévskiy when he maintained that the aim of Art is not unlike that of History: that it explains to us life, and that consequently Art which should merely reproduce facts of life without adding to our compensation of it would not be Art at all.
These few remarks will explain why Tolstóy's What is Art? produced much less impression in Russia than abroad. What struck us in it was not its leading idea, which was quite familiar to us, but the fact that the great artist also made it his own, and was supporting it by all the weight of his artistic experience; and then, of course, the literary form he gave the idea. Moreover, we read with the greatest interest his witty criticisms of both the "decadent" would-be poets and the librettos of Wagner's operas; to which latter, let me add by the way, Wagner wrote, in places, wonderfully beautiful music, as soon as he came to deal with the universal human passions,—love, compassion, envy, the joy of life, and so on, and forgot all about his fairy-tale background.
What is Art? offered the more interest in Russia because the defenders of pure Art and the haters of the "nihilists in Art" had been accustomed to quote Tolstóy as of their camp. In his youth indeed he seems not to have had very definite ideas about Art. At any rate, when, in 1859, he was received as a member of the Society of Friends of Russian Literature, he pronounced a speech on the necessity of not dragging Art into the smaller disputes of the day, to which the Slavophile Homyakóff replied in a fiery speech, contesting his ideas with great energy.
"There are moments—great historic moments"—Homyakóff said—"when self-denunciation (he meant on the part of Society) has especial, incontestable rights....The 'accidental' and the 'temporary' in the historical development of a nation's life acquire then the meaning of the universal and the broadly human, because all generations and all nations can understand, and do understand, the painful moans and the painful confessions of a given generation or a given nation."..."An artist"—he continued—"is not a theory; he is not a mere domain of thought and cerebral activity. He is a man—always a man of his own time—usually one of its best representatives...Owing to the very impressionability of his organism, without which he would not have been an artist, he, more than the others, receives both the painful and the pleasant impressions of the Society in the midst of which he was born."
Showing that Tolstóy had already taken just this stand point in some of his works; for example, in describing the death of the horse-driver in Three Deaths, Homyakóff concluded by saying: "Yes, you have been, and you will be one of those who denounce the evils of Society. Continue to follow the excellent way you have chosen."*
At any rate, in What is Art? Tolstóy entirely breaks with the theories of "Art for Art's sake," and makes an open stand by the side of those whose ideas have been expounded in the preceding pages. He only defines still more correctly the domain of Art when he says that the artist always aims at communicating to others the same feelings which he experiences at the sight of nature or of human life. Not to convince, as Tchernyshévskiy said, but to infect the others with his own feelings, which is certainly more correct. However, "feeling" and "thought" are inseparable. A feeling seeks words to express itself, and a feeling expressed in words is a thought. And when Tolstóy says that the aim of artistic activity is to transmit "the highest feelings which humanity has attained" and that Art must be "religious"—that is, wake up the highest and the best aspirations—he only expresses in other words what all our best critics since Venevítinoff, Nadézhdin and Polevóy have said. In fact, when he complains that nobody teaches men how to live, he overlooks that that is precisely what good Art is doing, and what our art-critics have always done. Byelínskiy, Dobrolúboff and Písareff, and their continuators have done nothing but to teach men how to live. They studied and analyzed life, as it had been understood by the greatest artists of each century, and they drew from their works conclusions as to "how to live."
More than this. When Tolstóy, armed with his powerful criticism, chastises what he so well describes as “counterfeits of Art," he continues the work that Tchernyshévskiy, Dobrolúboff and especially Písareff had done. He sides with Bazároff. Only, this intervention of the great artist gives a more deadly blow to the "Art for Art's sake" theory still in vogue in Western Europe than anything that Proudhon or our Russian critics, unknown in the West, could possibly have done.
As to Tolstóy's idea concerning the value of a work of Art being measured by its accessibility to the great number, which has been so fiercely attacked on all sides, and even ridiculed—this assertion, although it has perhaps not yet been very well expressed, contains, I believe, the germs of a great idea which sooner or later is certain to make its way. It is evident that every form of art has a certain conventional way of expressing itself—its own way of "infecting others with the artist's feelings," and therefore requires a certain training to understand it. Tolstóy is hardly right in overlooking the fact that some training is required for rightly comprehending even the simplest forms of art, and his criterion of "universal understanding" seems therefore far-fetched.
However, there lies in what he says a deep idea. Tolstóy is certainly right in asking why the Bible has not yet been superseded, as a work of Art accessible to everyone. Michelet had already made a similar remark, and had said that what was wanted by our century was Le Livre, The Book, which shall contain in a great, poetical form accessible to all, the embodiment of nature with all her glories and of the history of all mankind in its deepest human features. Humboldt had aimed at this in his Cosmos; but grand though his work is, it is accessible to only the very few. It was not he who should transfigure science into poetry. And we have no work of Art which even approaches this need of modern mankind.
The reason is self-evident: Because Art has become too artificial; because, being chiefly for the rich, it has too much specialized its ways of expression, so as to be understood by the few only. In this respect Tolstóy is absolutely right. Take the mass of excellent works that have been mentioned in this book. How very few of them will ever become accessible to a large public! The fact is, that a new Art is indeed required. And it will come when the artist, having understood this idea of Tolstóy's, shall say to himself: "I may write highly philosophical works of art in which I depict the inner drama of the highly educated and refined man of our own times; I may write works which contain the highest poetry of nature, involving a deep knowledge and comprehension of the life of nature; but, if I can write such things, I must also be able, if I am a true artist, to speak to all: to write other things which will be as deep in conception as these, but which everyone, including the humblest miner or peasant, will be able to understand and enjoy!" To say that a folk-song is greater Art than a Beethoven sonata is not correct: we cannot compare a storm in the Alps, and the struggle against it, with a fine, quite mid-summer day and hay-making. But truly great Art, which, notwithstanding its depth and its lofty flight, will penetrate into every peasant's hut and inspire everyone with higher conceptions of thought and life—such an Art is really wanted.
It does not enter into the plan of this book to analyze contemporary Russian writers. Another volume would be required to do them justice, not only on account of the literary importance of some of them, and the interest of the various directions in Art which they represent, but especially because in order to properly explain the character of the present literature, and the different currents in Russian Art, it would be necessary to enter into many details concerning the unsettled conditions under which the country has been living during the last thirty years. Moreover, most of the contemporary writers have not yet said their last word, and we can expect from them works of even greater value than any they have hitherto produced. I am compelled, therefore, to limit myself to brief remarks concerning the most prominent living novelists of the present day.
OERTEL (born 1855) has unfortunately abandoned literature during the last few years, just at a time when his last novel, Smyéna (Changing Guards), had given proofs of a further development of his sympathetic talent. He was born in the borderland of the Russian Steppes, and was brought up on one of the large estates of this region. Later on he went to the university of St. Petersburg and, as a matter of fact, was compelled to leave it after some "students' disorders," and was interned in the town of Tver. He soon returned, however, to his native Steppe region, which he cherishes with the same love as Nikítin and Koltsóff.
Oertel began his literary career by short sketches which are now collected in two volumes under the name of Notebook of a Prairie-Man, and whose manner suggests Turguéneff's Sportsman's Notebook. The nature of the prairies is admirably described in these little stories, with great warmth and poetry, and the types of peasants who appear in the stories are perfectly true to nature, without any attempts at idealization, although one feels that the author is no great admirer of the "intellectuals" and fully appreciates the general ethics of rural life. Some of these sketches, especially those which deal with the growing bougeoisie du village, are highly artistic. Two Couples (1887), in which the parallel stories of two young couples in love—one of educated people and the other of peasants—are given, is a story evidently written under the influence of the ideas of Tolstóy, and bearing traces of a preconceived idea, which spoils in places the artistic value of the novel. There are nevertheless admirable scenes, testifying to very fine powers of observation.
However, the real force of Oertel is not in discussing psychological problems. His true domain is the description of whole regions, with all the variety of types of men which one finds amid the mixed populations of South Russia, and this force appears at its best in The Gardénins, their Retainers, their Followers, and their Enemies, and in Changing Guards. Russian critics have, of course, very seriously and very minutely discussed the young heroes, Efrem and Nicholas, who appear in The Gardénins, and they have made a rigorous inquiry into the ways of thinking of these young men. But this is of a quite secondary importance, and one almost regrets that the author, paying a tribute to his times, has given the two young men more attention than they deserve, being only two more individuals in the great picture of country life which he has drawn for us. The fact is, that just as we have in Gógol's tales quite a world opening before us—a Little Russian village, or provincial life—so also here we see, as the very title of the novel suggests, the whole life of a large estate at the times of serfdom, with its mass of retainers, followers and foes, all grouped round the horse-breeding establishment which makes the fame of the estate and the pride of all connected with it. It is the life of that crowd of people, the life at the horse-fairs and the races, not the discussions or the loves of a couple of young men, which makes the main interest of the picture; and that life is really reproduced in as masterly a manner as it is in a good Dutch picture representing some village fair. No writer in Russia since Serghéi Aksákoff and Gógol has so well succeeded in painting a whole corner of Russia with its scores of figures, all living and all placed in those positions of relative impor tance which they occupy in real life.
The same power is felt in Changing Guards. The subject of this novel is very interesting. It shows how the old noble families disintegrate, like their estates, and how another class of men—merchants and unscrupulous adventurers--get possession of these estates, while a new class made up of the younger merchants and clerks, who are beginning to be inspired with some ideas of freedom and higher culture, constitutes already the germ of a new stratum of the educated classes. In this novel, too, some critics fastened their atten tion chiefly on the undoubtedly interesting types of the aristocratic girl, the Non-conformist peasant whom she begins to love, the practical Radical young merchant—all painted quite true to life; but they overlooked what makes the real importance of the novel. Here again we have quite a region of South Russia (as typical as the Far West is in the United States), throbbing with life and full of living men and women, as it was some twenty years after the libera tion of the serfs, when a new life, not devoid of some American features, was beginning to appear. The contrast between this young life and the decaying mansion is very well reproduced, too, in the romances of the young people—the whole bearing the stamp of the most sympathetic individuality of the author.
KOROLÉNKO was born (in 1853) in a small town of West ern Russia, and there he received his first education. In 1872 he was at the Agricultural Academy of Moscow, but was compelled to leave after having taken part in some students' movement. Later on he was arrested as a "political," and exiled, first to a small town of the Uráls, and then to Western Siberia, and from there, after his refusal to take the oath of allegiance to Alexander III., he was transported to a Yakút encampment several hundred miles beyond Yakútsk. There he spent several years, and when he returned to Russia in 1886, not being allowed to stay in University towns, he settled at Nízhniy Nóvgorod.
Life in the far north, in the deserts of Yakútsk, in a small encampment buried for half the year in the snow, produced upon Korolénko an extremely deep impression, and the little stories which he wrote about Siberian subjects (The Dream of Makár, The Man from Sakhalin, etc.), were so beautiful that he was unanimously recognized as a true heir to Turguéneff. There is in the little stories of Korolénko a force, a sense of proportion, a mastery in depicting the characters, and an artistic finish, which not only distinguish him from most of his young contemporaries, but reveal in him a true artist. What the Forest Says, in which he related a dramatic episode from serfdom times in Lithuania, only further confirmed the high reputation which Korolénko had already won. It is not an imitation of Turguéneff, and yet it at once recalled, by its comprehension of the life of the forest, the great novelist's beautiful sketch, The Woodlands (Polyesie). In Bad Society is evidently taken from the author's childhood, and this idyll among tramps and thieves who concealed themselves in the ruins of some tower is of such beauty, especially in the scenes with children, that everyone found in it a truly "Turguéneff charm." But then Korolénko came to a halt. His Blind Musician was read in all languages, and admired—again for its charm; but it was felt that the over-refined psychology of this novel is hardly correct; and no greater production worthy of the extremely sympathetic and rich talent of Korolénko has appeared since, while his attempts at producing a larger and more elaborate romance were not crowned with success.
This is somewhat striking, but the same would have to be said of all the contemporaries of Korolénko, among whom there are men and women of great talent. To analyze the causes of this fact, especially with reference to so great an artist as Korolénko, would certainly be a tempting task. But this would require speaking at some length of the change which took place in the Russian novel during the last twenty years or so, in connection with the political life of the country. A few hints will perhaps explain what is meant. In the seventies quite a special sort of novel had been created by a number of young novelists—mostly contributors of the review, Rússkoye Slóvo. The "thoughtful realist"—such as he was understood by Písareff—was their hero, and however imperfect the technique of these novels might have been in some cases, their leading idea was most honest, and the influence they exercised upon Russian youth was in the right direction. This was the time when Russian women were making their first steps towards higher education, and trying to conquer some sort of economical and intellectual independence. To attain this, they had to sustain a bitter struggle against their elders. "Madame Kabanóva" and "Dikóy" (see Ch. VI.) were alive then in a thousand guises, in all classes of society, and our women had to struggle hard against their parents and relatives, who did not understand their children; against "Society" as a whole, which hated the "emancipated woman"; and against the Government, which only too well foresaw the dangers that a new generation of educated women would represent for an autocratic bureaucracy. It was of the first necessity, then, that at least in the men of the same generation the young fighters for women's rights should find helpers, and not that sort of men about whom Turguéneff's heroine in Correspondence wrote (see Ch. IV.). In this direction—especially after the splendid beginning that was made by two women writers, SOPHIE SMIRNÓVA (The Little Fire, The Salt of the Earth) and OLGA SHAPÍR—our men-novelists have done good service, both in maintaining the energy of women in their hard struggle and in inspiring men with respect towards that struggle and those who fought in it.
Later on a new element became prominent in the Russian novel. It was the "populist" element—love to the masses of toilers, work among them in order to introduce, be it the slightest spark of light and hope, into their sad existence. Again the novel contributed immensely to maintain that movement and to inspire men and women in that sort of work, an instance of which has been given on a preceding page, in speaking of The Great Bear. The workers in both these fields were numerous, and I can only name in passing MORDÓVTSEFF (in Signs of the Times), SCHELLER, who wrote under the name of A. MIKHÁILOFF, STANUKÓVITCH, NOVODVÓRSKIY, BARANTSVITCH, MATCHTÉTT, MÁMIN, and the poet, NÁDSON, who all, either directly or indirectly, worked through the novel and poetry in the same direction.
However, the struggle for liberty which was begun about 1857, after having reached its culminating point in 1881, came to a temporary end, and for the next ten years a com plete prostration spread amid the Russian "intellectuals." Faith in the old ideals and the old inspiring watchwords --- even faith in men—was passing away, and new tendencies began to make their way in Art—partly under the influence of this phase of the Russian movement, and partly also under the influence of Western Europe. A sense of fatigue became evident. Faith in knowledge was shaken. Social ideals were relegated to the background. "Rigorism" was condemned, and popularist" began to be represented as ludicrous, or, when it reappeared, it was in some religious form, as Tolstóyism. Instead of the former enthusiasm for "mankind," the "rights of the individual" were proclaimed, which "rights" did not mean equal rights for all, but the rights of the few over all the others.
In these unsettled conditions of social ideas our younger novelists—always anxious to reflect in their art the questions of the day—have had to develop; and this confusion necessarily stands in the way of their producing anything as definite and as complete as did their predecessors of the previous generation. There have been no such complete indi vidualities in society; and a true artist is incapable of inventing what does not exist.
DMITRIY MERZHKÓVSKIY (born 1866) may be taken to illustrate the difficulties which a writer, even when endowed with a by no means ordinary talent, found in reaching his full development under the social and political conditions which prevailed in Russia during the period just mentioned. Leaving aside his poetry—although it is also very characteristic—and taking only his novels and critical articles, we see how, after having started with a certain sympathy, or at least with a certain respect, for those Russian writers of the previous generation who wrote under the inspiration of higher social ideals, Merezhkóvskiy gradually began to suspect these ideals, and finally ended by treating them with contempt. He found that they were of no avail, and he began to speak more and more of "the sovereign rights of the individual," but not in the sense in which they were understood by Godwin and other eighteenth century philosophers, nor in the sense which Písareff attributed to them when he spoke of the " thoughtful realist"; Merezhóvskiy took them in the sense—desperately vague, and narrow when not vague— attributed to them by Nietzsche. At the same time he began to speak more and more of "Beauty" and "the worship of the Beautiful," but again not in the sense which idealists attributed to such words, but in the limited, erotic sense in which "Beauty" was understood by the "Æsthetics" of the leisured class in the forties.
The main work which Merezhkóvskiy undertook offered great interest. He began a trilogy of novels in which he intended to represent the struggle of the antique pagan world against Christianity: on the one hand, the Hellenic love and poetic comprehension of nature, and its worship of sound, exuberant life; and on the other, the life-depressing influences of Judaic Christianity, with its condemnation of the study of nature, of poetry, art, pleasure, and sound, healthy life altogether. The first novel of the trilogy was Julian the Apostate, and the second, Leonardo da Vinci (both have been translated into English). They were the result of a careful study of the antique Greek world and the Renaissance, and notwithstanding some defects (absence of real feeling, even in the glorification of the worship of Beauty, and a certain abuse of archaeological details), both contained really beautiful and impressive scenes; while the fundamental idea—the necessity of a synthesis between the poetry of nature of the antique world and the higher humanizing ideals of Christianity—was forcibly impressed upon the reader.
Unfortunately, Merezhkóvskiy's admiration of antique "Naturism" did not last. He had not yet written the third novel of his trilogy when modern "Symbolism" began to penetrate into his works, with the result that notwithstanding all his abilities the young author seems now to be drifting straight towards a hopeless mysticism, like that into which Gógol fell towards the end of his life.
It may seem strange to the West Europeans, and especially to English readers, to hear of such a rapid succession of different moods of thought in Russian society, sufficiently deep to exercise such an influence upon the novels as has just been mentioned. And yet so it is, in consequence of the historical phase which Russia is living through. There is even a very gifted novelist, BOBORYKIN (born 1836), who has made it his peculiar work to describe in novels the prevailing moods of Russian educated society in their rapid succession for the last thirty years. The technique of his novels is always excellent (he is also the author of a good critical work, just published, on the influences of Western romance upon the Russian novel). His observations are always correct; his personal point of view is that of an honest advanced progressive; and his novels can always be taken as true and good pictures of the tendencies which prevailed at a given moment among the Russian "intellectuals." For the history of thought in Russia they are simply invaluable; and they must have helped many a young reader to find his or her way amid the various facts of life; but the variety of currents which have been chronicled by Boborykin would appear simply puzzling to a Western reader.
Boborykin has been reproached by some critics with not having sufficiently distinguished between what was important in the facts of life which he described and what was irrelevant or only ephemeral, but this is hardly correct. The main defect of his work lies perhaps elsewhere; namely, in that the individuality of the author is hardly felt in it at all. He seems to record the kaleidoscope of life without living with his heroes, and without suffering or rejoicing with them. He has noticed and perfectly well observed those persons whom he describes; his judgment of them is that of an intelligent, experienced man; but none of them has impressed him enough to become part of himself. Therefore they do not strike the reader with any sufficient depth of impression.
One of our contemporary authors, also endowed with great talent, who is publishing a simply stupefying quantity of novels, is POTÁPENKO. He was born in 1856, in South Russia, and after having studied music, he began writing in 1881, and although his later novels bear traces of too hasty work, he still remains a favorite writer. Amid the dark colors which prevail now among the Russian novelists, Potápenko is a happy exception. Some of his novels are full of highly comic scenes, and compel the reader to laugh heartily with the author. But even when there are no such scenes, and the facts are, on the contrary, sad, or even tragical, the effect of the novel is not depressing—perhaps because the author never departs from his own point of view of a satisfied optimist. In this respect Potápenko is absolutely the opposite of most of his contemporaries, and especially of Tchéhoff.
Of all the contemporary Russian novelists A. P. Tchéhoff (1860-1904) was undoubtedly the most deeply original. It was not a mere originality of style. His style, like that of every great artist, bears of course the stamp of his personality; but he never tried to strike his readers with some style-effects of his own: he probably despised them, and he wrote with the same simplicity as Púshkin, Turguéneff and Tolstóy have written. Nor did he choose some special contents for his tales and novels, or appropriate to himself some special class of men. Few authors, on the contrary, have dealt with so wide a range of men and women, taken from all the layers, divisions and subdivisions of Russian society as Tchéhoff did. And with all that, as Tolstóy has remarked, Tchéhoff represents something of his own in art; he has struck a new vein, not only for Russian literature, but for literature altogether, and thus belongs to all nations. His nearest relative is Guy de Maupassant, but a certain family resemblance between the two writers exists only in a few of their short stories. The manner of Tchéhoff, and especially the mood in which all the sketches, the short novels, and the dramas of Tchéhoff are written, are entirely his own. And then, there is all the difference between the two writers which exists between contemporary France and Russia at that special period of development through which our country has been passing lately.
The biography of Tchéhoff can be told in a few words. He was born in 186o, in South Russia, at Taganróg. His father was originally a serf, but he had apparently exceptional business capacities, and freed himself early in his life. To his son he gave a good education—first in the local gymnasium (college), and later on at the university of Moscow. "I did not know much about faculties at that time," Tchéhoff wrote once in a short biographical note, "and I don't well remember why I chose the medical faculty; but I never regretted that choice later on." He did not become a medical practitioner; but a year's work in a small village hospital near Moscow, and similar work later on, when he volunteered to stand at the head of a medical district during the cholera epidemics of 1892, brought him into close contact with a wide world of men and women of all sorts and characters; and, as he himself has noticed, his acquaintance with natural sciences and with the scientific method of thought helped him a great deal in his subsequent literary work.
Tchéhoff began his literary career very early. Already during the first years of his university studies—that is, in 1879, he began to write short humorous sketches (under the pseudonym of Tchehónte) for some weeklies. His talent developed rapidly; and the sympathy with which his first little volumes of short sketches was met in the Press, and the interest which the best Russian critics (especially Mikhailóvskiy) took in the young novelist, must have helped him to give a more serious turn to his creative genius. With every year the problems of life which he treated were deeper and more complicated, while the form he attained bore traces of an increasingly fine artistic finish. When Tchéhoff died last year, at the age of only forty-four, his talent had already reached its full maturity. His last production—a drama—contained such fine poetical touches, and such a mixture of poetical melancholy with strivings towards the joy of a well-filled life, that it would have seemed to open a new page in his creation if it were not known that consumption was rapidly undermining his life.
No one has ever succeeded, as Tchéhoff has, in representing the failures' of human nature in our present civilization, and especially the failure, the bankruptcy of the educated man in the face of the all-invading meanness of everyday life. This defeat of the "intellectual" he has rendered with a wonderful force, variety, and impressiveness. And there lies the distinctive feature of his talent.
When you read the sketches and the stories of Tchéhoff in chronological succession, you see first an author full of the most exuberant vitality and youthful fun. The stories are, as a rule, very short; many of them cover only three or four pages; but they are full of the most infecting merriment. Some of them are mere farces; but you cannot help laughing in the heartiest way, because even the most ludicrous and impossible ones are written with an inimitable charm. And then, gradually, amid that same fun, comes a touch of heartless vulgarity on the part of some of the actors in the story, and you feel how the author's heart throbs with pain. Slowly, gradually, this note becomes more frequent; it claims more and more attention; it ceases to be accidental, it becomes organic—till at last, in every story, in every novel, it stifles everything else. It may be the reckless heartlessness of a young man who, "for fun," will make a girl believe that she is loved, or the heartlessness and absence of the most ordinary humanitarian feeling in the family of an old professor—it is always the same note of heartlessness and meanness which resounds, the same absence of the more refined human feelings, or, still worse—the complete intellectual and moral bankruptcy of "the intellectual."
Tchéhoff's heroes are not people who have never heard better words, or never conceived better ideas than those which circulate in the lowest circles of the Philistines. No, they have heard such words, and their hearts have beaten once upon a time at the sound of such words. But the common-place everyday life has stifled all such aspirations, apathy has taken its place, and now there remains only a haphazard existence amid a hopeless meanness. The meanness which Tchéhoff represents is the one which begins with the loss of faith in one's forces and the gradual loss of all those brighter hopes and illusions which make the charm of all activity, and, then, step by step, this meanness destroys the very springs of life: broken hopes, broken hearts, broken energies. Man reaches a stage when he can only mechanically repeat certain actions from day to day, and goes to bed, happy if he has "killed" his time in any way, gradually falling into a complete intellectual apathy, and a moral indifference. The worst is that the very multiplicity of samples which Tchéhoff gives, without repeating himself, from so many different layers of society, seems to tell the reader that it is the rottenness of a whole civilization, of an epoch, which the author divulges to us.
Speaking of Tchéhoff, Tolstóy made the deep remark that he was one of those few whose novels are willingly re-read more than once. This is quite true. Every one of Tchéhoff's stories—it may be the smallest bagatelle or a small novel, or it may be a drama—produces an impression which cannot easily be forgotten. At the same time they contain such a profusion of minute detail, admirably chosen so as to increase the impression, that in re-reading them one always finds a new pleasure. Tchéhoff was certainly a great artist. Besides, the variety of the men and women of all classes which appear in his stories, and the variety of psychological subjects dealt in them, is simply astounding. And yet every story bears so much the stamp of the author that in the most insignificant of them you recognize Tchéhoff, with his proper individuality and manner, with his conception of men and things.
Tchéhoff has never tried to write long novels or romances. His domain is the short story, in which he excels. He certainly never tries to give in it the whole history of his heroes from their birth to the grave: this would not be the proper way in a short story. He takes one moment only from that life, only one episode. And he tells it in such a way that the reader forever retains in memory the type of men or women repre sented; so that, when later on he meets a living specimen of that type, he exclaims: "But this is Tchéhoff's Ivánoff, or Tchéhoff's Darling!" In the space of some twenty pages and within the limitations of a single episode there is revealed a complicated psychological drama—a world of mutual relations. Take, for instance, the very short and impressive sketch, From a Doctor's Practice. It is a story in which there is no story after all. A doctor is invited to see a girl, whose mother is the owner of a large cotton mill. They live there, in a mansion close to, and within the enclosure of, the immense buildings. The girl is the only child, and is worshiped by her mother. But she is not happy. Indefinite thoughts worry her: she is stifled in that atmosphere. Her mother is also unhappy on account of her darling's unhappiness, and the only happy creature in the household is the ex-governess of the girl, now a sort of lady-companion, who really enjoys the luxurious surroundings of the mansion and its rich table. The doctor is asked to stay over the night, and tells to his sleepless patient that she is not bound to stay there: that a really well-intentioned person can find many places in the world where she would find an activity to suit her. And when the doctor leaves next morning the girl has put on a white dress and has a flower in her hair. She looks very earnest, and you guess that she meditates already about a new start in her life. Within the limits of these few traits quite a world of aimless philistine life has thus been unveiled before your eyes, a world of factory life, and a world of new, longings making an irruption into it, and finding support from the outside. You read all this in the little episode. You see with a striking distinctness the four main personages upon whom light has been focused for a short moment. And in the hazy outlines which you rather guess than see on the picture round the brightly lighted spot, you discover quite a world of complicated human relations, at the present moment and in times to come. Take away anything of the distinctness of the figures in the lighted spot, or anything of the haziness of the remainder—and the picture will be spoiled.
Such are nearly all the stories of Tchéhoff. Even when they cover some fifty pages they have the same character.
Tchéhoff wrote a couple of stories from peasant life. But peasants and village life are not his proper sphere. His true domain is the world of the "intellectuals"—the educated and the half-educated portion of Russian society—and these he knows in perfection. He shows their bankruptcy, their inaptitude to solve the great historical problem of renovation which fell upon them, and the meanness and vulgarity of everyday life under which an immense number of them succumb. Since the times of Gógol no writer in Russia has so wonderfully represented human meanness under its varied aspects. And yet, what a difference between the two! Gógol took mainly the outer meanness, which strikes the eye and often degenerates into farce, and therefore in most cases brings a smile on your lips or makes you laugh. But laughter is always a step towards reconcilation. Tchéhoff also makes you laugh in his earlier productions, but in proportion as he advances in age, and looks more seriously upon life, the laughter disappears, and although a fine humor remains, you feel that he now deals with a kind of meanness and philistinism which provokes, not smiles but suffering in the author. A "Tchéhoff sorrow" is as much characteristic of his writings as the deep furrow between the brows of his lively eyes is characteristic of his good-natured face. Moreover, the meanness which Tchéhoff depicts is much deeper than the one which Gógol knew. Deeper conflicts are now going on in the depths of the modern educated men, of which Gógol knew nothing seventy years ago. The "sorrow" of Tchéhoff is also that of a much more sensitive and a more refined nature than the "unseen tears" of Gógol's satire.
Better than any Russian novelist, Tchéhoff understands the fundamental vise of that mass of Russian " intellectuals," who very well see the dark sides of Russian life but have no force to join that small minority of younger people who dare to rebel against the evil. In this respect, only one more writer —and this one was a woman, Hvóschinskaya ("Krestóvskiy - pseudonyme"), who can be placed by the side of Tchéhoff. He knew, and more than knew—he felt with every nerve of his poetical mind—that, apart from a handful of stronger men and women, the true curse of the Russian "intellectual" is the weakness of his will, the insufficient strength of his desires. Perhaps he felt it in himself. And when he was asked once (in 1894) in a letter—"What should a Russian desire at the present time?" he wrote in return: "Here is my reply: desire! He needs most of all desire—force of character. We have enough of that whining shapelessness."
This absence of strong desire and weakness of will he continually, over and over again, represented in his heroes. But this predilection was not a mere accident of temperament and character. It was a direct product of the times he lived in.
Tchéhoff, we saw, was nineteen years old when he began to write in 1879. He thus belongs to the generation which had to live through, during their best years, the worst years which Russia has passed through in the second half of the nineteenth century. With the tragic death of Alexander II, and the advent to the throne of his son, Alexander III, a whole epoch—the epoch of progressive work and bright hopes had come to a final close. All the sublime efforts of that younger generation which had entered the political arena in the seventies, and had taken for its watchword the symbol: "Be with the people!" had ended in a crushing defeat—the victims moaning now in fortresses and in the snows of Siberia. More than that, all the great reforms, including the abolition of serfdom, which had been realized in the sixties by the Hérzen, Turguéneff, and Tchernyshévskiy generation, began now to be treated as so many mistakes, by the reactionary elements which had now rallied round Alexander III. Never will a Westerner understand the depth of despair and the hopeless sadness which took hold of the intellectual portion of Russian society for the next ten or twelve years after that double defeat, when it came to the conclusion that it was incapable to break the inertia of the masses, or to move history so as to fill up the gap between its high ideals and the heartrending reality. In this respect "the eighties" were perhaps the gloomiest period that Russia lived through for the last hundred years. In the fifties the intellectuals had at least full hope in their forces; now—they had lost even these hopes. It was during those very years that Tchéhoff began to write; and, being a true poet, who feels and responds to the moods of the moment, he became the painter of that break-down—of that failure of the "intellectuals" which hung as a nightmare above the civilized portion of Russian society. And again, being a great poet, he depicted that all-invading philistine meanness in such features that his picture will live. How superficial, in comparison, is the phílistinism described by Zola. Perhaps, France even does not know that disease which was gnawing then at the very marrow of the bones of the Russian "intellectual."
With all that, Tchéhoff is by no means a pessimist in the proper sense of the word; if he had come to despair, he would have taken the bankruptcy of the "intellectuals" as a necessary fatality. A word, such as, for instance, "fin de siècle," would have been his solace. But Tchéhoff could not find satisfaction in such words because he firmly believed that a better existence was possible—and would come. "From my childhood"—he wrote in an intimate letter—"I have believed in progress, because the difference between the time when they used to flog me, and when they stopped to do so [in the sixties] was tremendous."
There are three dramas of Tchéhoff—Ivánoff, Uncle Ványa (Uncle John), and The Cherry-Tree Garden, which fully illustrate how his faith in a better future grew in him as he advanced in age. Ivánoff, the hero of the first drama, is the personification of that failure of the "intellectual" of which I just spoke. Once upon a time he had had his high ideals and he still speaks of them, and this is why Sásha, a girl, full of the better inspirations—one of those fine intellectual types in the representation of which Tchéhoff appears as a true heir of Turguéneff—falls in love with him. But Ivánoff knows himself that he is played out; that the girl loves in him what he is no more; that the sacred fire is with him a mere reminiscence of the better years, irretrievably past; and while the drama attains its culminating point, just when his marriage with Sásha is going to be celebrated, Ivánoff shoots himself. Pessimism is triumphant.
Uncle Ványa ends also in the most depressing way; but there is some faint hope in it. The drama reveals an even still more complete breakdown of the educated "intellectual," and especially of the main representative of that class—the professor, the little god of the family, for whom all others have been sacrificing themselves, but who all his life has only written beautiful words about the sacred problems of art, while all his life he remained the most perfect egotist. But the end of this drama is different. The girl, Sónya, who is the counterpart of Sásha, and has been one of those who sacrificed themselves for the professor, remains more or less in the background of the drama, until, at its very end she comes forward in a halo of endless love. She is neglected by the man whom she loves. This man—an enthusiast—prefers, however, a beautiful woman (the second wife of the professor) to Sónya, who is only one of those workers who bring life into the darkness of Russian village life, by helping the dark mass to pull through the hardships of their lives.
The drama ends in a heart-rending musical accord of devotion and self-sacrifice on behalf of Sónya and her uncle. "It cannot be helped"—Sónya says—"we must live! Uncle John, we shall live. We shall live through a long succession of days, and of long nights; we shall patiently bear the sufferings which fate will send upon us; we shall work for the others—now, and later on, in old age, knowing no rest; and when our hour shall have come, we shall die without murmur, and there, beyond the grave * * * we shall rest!"
There is, after all, a redeeming feature in that despair. There remains the faith of Sónya in her capacity to work, her readiness to face the work, even without personal happiness.
But in proportion as Russian life becomes less gloomy; in proportion as hopes of a better future for our country begin to bud once more in the youthful beginnings of a move ment among the working classes in the industrial centers, to the call of which the educated youth answer immediately; in proportion as the "intellectuals" revive again, ready to sacrifice themselves in order to conquer freedom for the grand whole—the Russian people—Tchéhoff also begins to look into the future with hope and optimism. The Cherry-Tree Garden was his last swan-song, and the last words of this drama sound a note full of hope in a better future. The cherry-tree garden of a noble landlord, which used to be a true fairy garden when the trees were in full bloom, and nightingales sang in their thickets, has been pitilessly cut down by the money-making middle class man. No blossom, no nightingales—only dollars instead. But Tchéhoff looks further into the future: he sees the place again in new hands, and a new garden is going to grow instead of the old one—a garden where all will find a new happiness in new surroundings. Those whose whole life was for themselves alone could never grow such a garden; but some day soon this will be done by beings like Anya, the heroine, and her friend, "the perpetual student." . . .
The influence of Tchéhoff, as Tolstóy has remarked, will last, and will not be limited to Russia only. He has given such a prominence to the short story and its ways of dealing with human life that he has thus become a reformer of our literary forms. In Russia he has already a number of imitators who look upon him as upon the head of a school; but—will they have also the same inimitable poetical feeling, the same charming intimacy in the way of telling the Stories, that special form of love of nature, and above all, the beauty of Tchéhoff's smile amid his tears?—all qualities inseparable from his personality.
As to his dramas, they are favorites on the Russian stage, both in the capitals and in the provinces. They are admirable for the stage and produce a deep effect; and when they are played by such a superior cast as that of the Artistic Theater at Moscow—as the Cherry-Tree Garden was played lately—they become dramatic events.
In Russia Tchéhoff is now perhaps the most popular of the younger writers. Speaking of the living novelists only, he is placed immediately after Tolstóy, and his works are read immensely. Separate volumes of his stories, published under different titles—In Twilight, Sad People and so on —ran each through ten to fourteen editions, while full editions of Tchéhoff's Works in ten and fourteen volumes, sold in fabulous numbers : of the latter, which was given as a supplement to a weekly, more than 200,000 copies were circulated in one single year.
In Germany Tchéhoff has produced a deep impression; his best stories have been translated more than once, so that one of the leading Berlin critics exclaimed lately: "Tschéchoff, Tschéchoff, and kein Ende!" (Tchéhoff, Tchéhoff, and no end) In Italy he begins to be widely read. And yet it is only his stories which are known beyond Russia. His dramas seem to be too "Russian," and they hardly can deeply move audiences outside the borders of Russia, where such dramas of inner contradiction are not a characteristic feature of the moment.
If there is any logic in the evolution of societies, such a writer as Tchéhoff had to appear before literature could take a new direction and produce the new types which already are budding in life. At any rate, an impressive parting word had to be pronounced, and this is what Tchéhoff has done.
*Note: I borrow these remarks about the predecessors of Byelínskiy from an article on Literary Criticism in Russia, by Professor Ivánoff, in the Russian Encyclopædic Dictionary, Vol. 32, 771.
*Note: The speech of Homyakóff is reproduced in Skabitchévskiy's History (1. c.). I was very anxious to get Tolstóy's speech, because I think that the ideas he expressed about "the permanent in Art, the universal" hardly did exclude the denunciation of the ills from which a society suffers at a given moment. Perhaps he meant what Nekrásoff also meant when he described the literature to which Schédrin's Provincial Sketches had given origin as "a flagellation of the petty thieves for the pleasure of the big ones." Unfortunately, this speech was not printed, and the manuscript of it could not be found.
While this book was being prepared for print a work of great value for all the English-speaking lovers of Russian literature appeared in America. I mean the Anthology of Russian Literature from the earliest Period to the present Time, by Leo Wiener, assistant professor of Slavic languages at Harvard University, published in two stately volumes by Messrs. Putnam's Sons at New York. The first volume (400 pages) contains a rich selection from the earliest documents of Russian literature—the annals, the epic songs, the lyric folk-songs, etc., as also from the writers of the seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries. It contains, moreover, a general short sketch of the literature of the period and a mention is made of all the English translations from the early Russian literature. The second volume (500 pages) contains abstracts, with short introductory notes and a full bibliography, from all the chief authors of the nineteenth century, beginning with Karamzín and ending with Tchéhoff, Górkiy, and Merezhkóvskiy. All this has been done with full knowledge of Russian literature and of every author; the choice of characteristic abstracts hardly could be better, and the many translations which Mr. Wiener himself has made are very good. In this volume, too, all the English translations of Russian authors are mentioned, and we must hope that their number will now rapidly increase. Very many of the Russian authors have hardly been translated at all, and in such cases there is nothing else left but to advise the reader to peruse French or German translations. Both are much more nu merous than the English, a considerable number of the German translations being embodied in the cheap editions of Reklam.
A work concerning Malo-Russian (Little-Russian) litera ture, on lines similar to those followed by Mr. Wiener, has appeared lately under the title, Vik; the Century, a Collection of Malo-Russian Poetry and Prose published from 1708 to 1898, 3 vols. (Kiev, Peter Barski) ; (analyzed in Atheneum, January 1o, 1903.)
Of general works which may be helpful to the student of Russian literature I shall name Ralston's Early Russian History, Songs of the Russian People, and Russian Folk Tales (1872-1874), as also his translation of Afanásieff's Legends; Rambaud's La Russie épique (1876) and his excellent History of Russia (Engl. trans.) ; Le roman russe, by Vogue; Impressions of Russia, by George Brandes (translated by Eastman ; Boston, 1889), and hís Moderne Geister, which contains an admirable chapter on Turguéneff.
Of general works in Russian, the following may be named: History of Russian Literature in Biographies and Sketches, by P. Polevóy, 2 vols., illustrated (1883; new edition, enlarged, in 1903) ; and history of the New Russian Literature from 1848 to 1898, by A. Skabitchévskiy, 4th ed., 1900, with 52 portraits. Both are reliable, well written, and not bulky works—the former being rather popular in character, while the second is a critical work which goes into the analysis of every writer. The recently published Gallery of Russian Writers, edited by I. Ignátoff (Moscow, 1901), contains over 250 good portraits of Russian authors, accompanied by one page notices, quite well written, of their work. A very exhaustive work is History of the Russian Literature by A. Ppin, in 4 vols., (1889), beginning with the earliest times and ending with Púshkin, Lérmontoff, Gógol, and Koltsóff. The same author has written a History of Russian Ethnography, also in 4 vols. Among works dealing with portions only of the Russian literature the following may be mentioned: Tchernyshévskiy's Critical Articles, St. Petersburg, 1893 ; Annenkoff's Púshkin and His Time; 0. Miller's Russian Writers after Gógol; Merezhkóvskiy's books on Púshkin and another on Tolstóy; and Arsénieff's Critical Studies of Russian Literature, 2 vols., 1888 (mentioned in the text) ; and above all, of course, the collections of Works of our critics: Byelínskiy (12 vols.) ; Dobrolúboff (4 vols.), Písareff (6 vols.), and Mihailóvskiy (6 vols.), completed by his Literary Reminiscences.
A work of very great value, which is still in progress, is the Biographic Dictionary of Russian Writers, published and nearly entirely written by S. Venguéroff, who is also the editor of new, scientifically prepared editions of the complete works of several authors (Byelínskiy is now published). Excellent biographies and critical sketches of all Russian writers will be found in the Russian Encyclopædia Dictionary of Brockhaus-Efron. The first two volumes of this Dictionary (they will be completed in an Appendix) were brought out as a translation of the Lexikon of Brockhaus; but the direction was taken over in good time by a group of Russian men of science, including Mendeléeff, Woiéikoff, V. Solovióff, etc., who have made of the 82 volumes of this Dictionary, completed in 1904 (at 6 sh. the volume)—one of the best encyclopædias in Europe. Suffice it to say that all articles on chemistry and chemical technics have been either written or carefully revised by Mendeléeff.
Complete editions of the works of most of the Russian writers have lately been published, some of them by the editor Marks, in connection with his weekly illustrated paper, at astoundingly low prices, which can only be explained by a circulation which exceeds 200,000 copies every year. The work of Gógol, Turguéneff, Gontcharóff, Ostróvskiy, Boborykin, Tchéhoff, and some minor writers, like Danilévskiy and Lyeskóff, are in this case.
From : Anarchy Archives
No comments so far. You can be the first!
<< Last Work in Ideals and Realities in Russian Literature
Current Work in Ideals and Realities in Russian Literature
Next Work in Ideals and Realities in Russian Literature >>
This is the last lesson.
All Nearby Works in Ideals and Realities in Russian Literature