Memoirs of a Revolutionist : Part 1: Childhood, Section 7
(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 fatherland does not exist.... What fatherland can the international banker and the rag-picker have in common?" (From : "The Conquest of Bread," by Peter Kropotkin, 1906.)
• "To recognize all men as equal and to renounce government of man by man is another increase of individual liberty in a degree which no other form of association has ever admitted even as a dream." (From : "Communism and Anarchy," by Peter Kropotkin, 1901.)
• "...outside of anarchism there is no such thing as revolution." (From : "Revolutionary Government," by Peter Kropotkin, 18....)
Part 1: Childhood, Section 7
To maintain such numbers of servants as were kept in our house would have been simply ruinous, if all provisions had to be bought at Moscow; but in those times of serfdom things were managed very simply. When winter came, father sat at his table and wrote the following: --
"To the manager of my estate, Nikóskoye, situated in the government of Kalúga, district of Meschóvsk, on the river Siréna, from the Prince Alexéi Petróvich Kropótkin Colonel and Commander of various orders.
"On receipt of this, and as soon as winter communication is established, thou art ordered to send to my house, situated in the city of Moscow, twenty-five peasant-sledges, drawn by two horses each, one horse from each house, and one sledge and one man from each second house, and to load them with [so many] quarters of oats, [so many] of wheat, and [so many] of rye, as also with all the poultry and geese and ducks, well frozen, which have to be killed this winter, well packed and accompanied by a complete list, under the supervision of a well-chosen man;" and so it went on for a couple of pages, till the next full stop was reached. After this there followed an enumeration off the penalties which would be inflicted in case the provisions should not reach the house situated in such a street, number so and so, in due time and in good condition.
Some time before Christmas the twenty-five peasant-sledges really entered our gates, and covered the surface of the wide yard.
"Frol!" shouted my father, as soon as the report of this great event reached him. "Kiryúshka! Yegórka! Where are they? Everything will be stolen! Frol, go and receive the oats! Uliána, go and receive the poultry! Kiryúshka, call the princess!"
All the household was in commotion, the servants running wildly in every direction, from the hall to the yard, and from the yard to the hall, but chiefly to the maid-servants' room, to communicate there the Nikóskoye news: "Pásha is going to marry after Christmas. Aunt Anna has surrendered her soul to God," and so on. Letters had also come from the country, and very soon one of the maids would steal upstairs into my room.
"Are you alone? The teacher is not in?"
"No, he is at the university."
"Well, then, be kind and read me this letter from mother."
And I would read to her the naïve letter, which always began with the words, "Father and mother send you their blessings for ages not to be broken." After this came the news: "Aunt Eupraxie lies ill, all her bones aching; and your cousin is not yet married, but hopes to be after Easter; and Aunt Stepanída's cow died on All Saints' day." Following the news came the greetings, two pages of them: "Brother Paul sends you his greetings, and the sisters Mary and Dária send their greetings, and then Uncle Dmítri sends his many greetings," and so on. However, notwithstanding the monotony of the enumeration, each name awakened some remarks: "Then she is still alive, poor soul, if she sends her greetings; it is nine years since she has lain motionless." Or, "Oh, he has not forgotten me; he must be back, then, for Christmas; such a nice boy. You will write me a letter, won't you? and I must not forget him then." I promised, of course, and when the time came I wrote a letter in exactly the same style.
When the sledges had been unloaded, the hall filled with peasants. They had put on their best coats over their sheepskins, and waited until father should call them into his room to have a talk about the snow and the prospects of the next crops. They hardly dared to walk in their heavy boots on the polished floor. A few ventured to sit down on the edge of an oak bench; they emphatically refused to make use of chairs. So they waited for hours, looking with alarm upon every one who entered father's room or issued from it.
Some time later on, usually next morning, one of the servants would run slyly upstairs to the class-room.
"Are you alone?"
"Then go quickly to the hall. The peasants want to see you; something from your nurse."
When I went down to the hall, one of the peasants would give me a little bundle containing perhaps a few rye cakes, half a dozen hard-boiled eggs, and some apples, tied in a motley colored cotton kerchief. "Take that: it is your nurse, Vasilísa, who sends it to you. Look if the apples are not frozen. I hope not: I kept them all the journey on my breast. Such a fearful frost we had." And the broad, bearded face, covered with frost-bites, would smile radiantly, showing two rows of beautiful white teeth from beneath quite a forest of hair.
"And this is for your brother, from his nurse Anna," another peasant would say, handling me a similar bundle. "'Poor boy,' she says, 'he can never have enough at school.'"
Blushing and not knowing what to say, I would murmur at last, "Tell , Vasilísa that I kiss her, and Anna too, for my brother." At which all faces would become still more radiant.
"Yes, I will, to be sure."
Then Kiríla, who kept watch at father's door, would whisper suddenly, "Run quickly upstairs; your father may come out in a moment. Don't forget the kerchief; they want to take it back."
As I carefully folded the worn kerchief, I most passionately desired to send Vasilísa something. But I had nothing to send, not even a toy, and we never had pocketmoney.
Our best time, of course, was in the country. As soon as Easter and Whitsuntide had passed, all our thoughts were directed toward Nikóskoye. However, time went on, -- the lilacs must be past blooming at Nikóskoye, -- and father had still thousands of affairs to keep him in town. At last five or six peasant-carts entered our yard: they came to take all sorts of things which had to be sent to the country-house. The great old coach and the other coaches in which we were going to make the journey were taken out and inspected once more. The boxes began to be packed. Our lessons made slow progress; at every moment we interrupted our teachers, asking whether this or that book should be taken with us, and long before all others we began packing our books, our slates, and the toys that we ourselves had made.
Everything was ready: the peasant-carts stood heavily loaded with furniture for the country-house, boxes containing the kitchen utensils, and almost countless empty glass jars which were to be brought back in the autumn filled with all kinds of preserves. The peasants waited every morning for hours in the hall; but the order for leaving did not come. Father continued to write all the morning in his room, and disappeared at night. Finally, our stepmother interfered, her maid having ventured to report that the peasants were very anxious to return, as haymaking was near.
Next afternoon, Frol, the major-domo, and Mikhael Aléeff, the first violin, were called into father's room. A sack containing the "food money" -- that is, a few coppers a day -- for each of the forty of fifty souls who were to accompany the household to Nikóskoye, was handed to Frol, with a list. All were enumerated in that list: the band in full; then the cooks and the under-cooks, the laundresses, the under-laundress who was blessed with a family of six mites, "Polka Squinting," "Domna the Big One," "Domna the Small One," and the rest of them.
The first violin received an "order of march." I knew it well, because father, seeing that he never would be ready, had called me to copy it into the book in which he used to copy all "outgoing papers:" --
"To my house servant, Mikhael Aléeff, from Prince Alexéi Petróvich Kropótkin, Colonel and Commander.
"Thou art ordered, on May 29th, at six AM, to march out with my loads, from the city of Moscow, for my estate, situated in the government of Kalúga, district of Meschóvsk, on the river Siréna, representing a distance of one hundred and sixty miles from this house; to look after the good conduct of the men entrusted to thee, and if any one of them proves to be guilty of misconduct or of drunkenness or of insubordination, to bring the said man before the commander of the garrison detachment of the separate corps of the interior garrisons, with the enclosed circular letter, and to ask that he may be punished by flogging [the first violin knew who was meant], as an example to the others.
"Thou are ordered, moreover, to look especially after the integrity of the goods entrusted to thy care, and to march according to the following order: first day, stop at village So and So, to feed the horses; second day ,spend the night at the town of Podólsk;" and so on for all the seven or eight days that the journey would last.
Next day, at ten instead of at six, -- punctuality is not a Russian virtue ("Thank God, we are not Germans," true the Russians used to say), -- the carts left the house. The servants had to make the journey on foot; only the children were accommodated with a seat in a bath-tub or basket, on the top of a loaded cart, and some of the women might find an occasional resting-place on the rim of a cart. The others had to walk all the hundred and sixty miles. As long as they were marching through Moscow, discipline was maintained: It was peremptorily forbidden to wear top-boots, or to pass a belt over the coat. But when they were on the road, and we overtook them a couple of days later, and especially when it was known that father would stay a few days longer at Moscow, the men and women -- dressed in all sorts of impossible coats, belted with cotton handkerchiefs, burned by the sun or dripping under the rain, and helping themselves along with sticks cut in the woods -- certainly looked more like a wandering band of gypsies than the household of a wealthy landowner. Similar peregrinations were made by every household in those times, and when we saw a file of servants marching along one of our streets, we at once knew that the Apúkhtins or the Pryánishnikoffs were migrating.
The carts were gone, yet the family did not move. All of us were sick of waiting; but father still continued to write interminable orders to the managers of his estates, and I copied them diligently into the big "outgoing book." At last the order to start was given. We were called downstairs. My father read aloud the order of march, addressed to "the Princess Kropótkin, wife of Prince Alexéi Petróvich Kropótkin, Colonel and Commander," in which the halting-places during the five days' journey were duly enumerated. True, the order was written for May 30, and the departure was fixed for nine AM, though May was gone, and the departure took place in the afternoon: this upset all calculations. But, as is usual in military marching-orders, this circumstance had been foreseen, and was provided for in the following paragraph: --
"If, however, contrary to expectation, the departure of your highness does not take place at the said day and hour, you are requested to act according to the best of your understanding, in order to bring the said journey to its best issue."
Then, all present, the family and the servants, sat down for a moment, signed themselves with the cross, and bade my father good-by. "I entreat you Alexis, don't go to the club," our stepmother whispered to him. The great coach, drawn by four horses, with a postilion, stood at the door, with its little folding ladder to facilitate climbing in; the other coaches also were there. Our seats were enumerated in the marching-orders, but our stepmother had to exercise "the best of her understanding" even at that early stage of the proceedings, and we started to the great satisfaction of all.
The journey was an inexhaustible source of enjoyment for us children. The stages were short, and we stopped twice a day to feed the horses. As the ladies screamed at the slightest declivity of the road, it was found more convenient to alight each time the road went up or down hill, which it did continually, and we took advantage of this to have a peep into the woods by the roadside, or a run along some crystal brook. The beautifully kept highroad from Moscow to Warsaw, which we followed for some distance, was covered, moreover, with a variety of interesting objects: files of loaded carts, groups of pilgrims, and all sorts of people. Twice a day we stopped in big, animated villages, and after a good deal of bargaining about the prices to be charged for hay and oats, as well as for the samovárs, we dismounted at the gates of an inn. Cook Andreí bought a chicken and made the soup, while we ran in the meantime to the next wood, or examined the yard of the great inn.
At Máloyaroslávetz, where a battle was fought in 1812, when the Russian army vainly attempted to stop Napoleon in his retreat from Moscow, we usually spent the night. M. Poulain, who had been wounded in the Spanish campaign, knew, or pretend to know, everything about the battle at Máloyaroslávetz. He took us to the battlefield, and explained how the Russians tried to check Napoleon's advance, and how the Grande Armée crushed them and made its way through the Russian lines. He explained it as well as if he himself had taken part in the battle. Here the Cossacks attempted un mouvement tournant, but Davoust, or some other marshal, routed them and pursued them just beyond these hills on the right. There the left wing of Napoleon crushed the Russian infantry, and here Napoleon himself, at the head of the Old Guard, charged Kutúzoff's center, and covered himself and his Guard with undying glory.
We once took the old Kalúga route, and stopped at Tarútino; but her Poulain was much less eloquent. For it was at this place that Napoleon, who intended to retreat by a southern route, was compelled, after a bloody battle, to abandon that plan, and was forced to follow the Smolénsk route, which his army had laid waste during its march on Moscow. But still -- so it appeared in Poulain's narrative -- Napoleon was deceived by his marshals; otherwise he would have marched straight upon K&ieacute;ff and Odéssa, and his eagles would have floated over the Black Sea.
Beyond Kalúga we had to cross for a stretch of five miles a beautiful pine forest, which remains connected in my memory with some of the happiest reminiscences of my childhood. The sand in that forest was as deep as in the African desert, and we went all the way on foot, while the horses, stopping every moment, slowly dragged the carriages in the sand. When I was in my teens, it was my delight to leave the family behind, and to walk the whole distance by myself. Immense red pines, centuries old, rose on every side, and not a sound reached the ear except the voices of the lofty trees. In a small ravine a fresh crystal spring murmured, and a passerby had left in it, for the use of those who should come after him, a small funnel-shaped ladle, made of birch bark, with a split stick for a handle. Noiselessly a squirrel ran up a tree, and the underwood was as full of mysteries as were the trees. In that forest my first love of nature and my first dim perception of its incessant life were born.
Beyond the forest, and past the ferry which took us over the Ugrá, we left the highroad and entered narrow country lanes, where green ears of rye bent toward the coach, and the horses managed to bite mouthfuls of grass on either side of the way, as they ran, closely pressed to one another in the narrow, trenchlike road. At last we caught sight of the willows which marked the approach to our village, and all of a sudden we saw the elegant pale yellow bell tower of the Nikóskoye church.
For the quiet life of the landlords of those times Nikóskoye was admirably suited. There was nothing in it of the luxury which is seen in richer estates; but an artistic hand was visible in the planning of the buildings and gardens, and in general arrangement of things. Besides the main house, which father had recently built, there were, round a spacious and well-kept yard, several smaller houses, which, while they gave a greater degree of independence to their inhabitants, did not destroy the close intercourse of the family life. An immense "upper garden" was devoted to fruit trees, and through it the church was reached; the southern slope of the land, which led to the river, was entirely given up to a pleasure garden, where flower-beds were intermingled with alleys of lime-trees, lilacs, and acacias. From the balcony of the main house there was a beautiful view of the river, with the ruins of an old earthen fortress where the Russians offered a stubborn resistance during the Mongol invasion, and further on a great area of yellow grain-fields bordered on the horizon by woods.
In the early years of my childhood we occupied with M. Poulain one of the separate houses entirely by ourselves; and after his method of education was softened by the intervention of our sister Hèléne, we were on the best possible terms with him. Father was invariably absent from home in the summer, which he spent in military inspections, and our stepmother did not pay much attention to us, especially after her own child, Pauline, was born. We were thus always with M. Poulain, who thoroughly enjoyed the stay in the country, and let us enjoy it. The woods; the walks along the river; the climbing over the hills to the old fortress, which Poulain made alive for us as he told how it was defended by the Russians, and how it was captured by the Tartars; the little adventures, in one of which Poulain became our hero by saving Alexander from drowning; an occasional encounter with wolves, -- there was no end of new and delightful impressions.
Large parties were organized, also, in which all the family took part, sometimes picking mushrooms in the woods, and afterwards having tea in the midst of the forest, where a man a hundred years old lived alone with his little grandson, taking care of bees. At other times we went to one of father's villages where a big pond had been dug, in which golden carp were caught by the thousand, -- part of them being taken for the landlord and the remainder being distributed among all the peasants. My former nurse lived in that village. Her family was one of the poorest; besides her husband, she had only a small boy to help her, and a girl, my foster-sister, who became later on a preacher and a "virgin" in the Nonconformist sect to which they belonged. There was no bound to her joy when I cam to see her. Cream, eggs, apples, and honey were all that she could offer; but the way in which she offered them, in bright wooden plates, after having covered the table with a fine snow-white linen tablecloth of her own make (with the Russian Nonconformists absolute cleanliness is a matter of religion), and the fond words with which she addressed me, treating me as her own son, left the warmest feelings in my heart. I must say the same of the nurses of my elder brothers, Nicholas and Alexander, who belonged to prominent families of two other Nonconformist sects in Nikóskoye. Few knew what treasuries of goodness can be found in the hearts of Russian peasants, even after centuries of the most cruel oppression, which might well have embittered them.
On stormy days M. Poulain had an abundance of tales to tell us, especially about the campaign in Spain. Over and over again we induced him to tell us how he was wounded in battle, and every time by came to the point when he felt warm blood streaming into his boot, we jumped to kiss him and gave him all sorts of pet names.
Everything seemed to prepare us for the military career: the predilection of our father (the only toys that I remember his having bought for us were a rifle and a real sentry-box); the war tales of M. Poulain; nay, even the library which we had at our disposal. This library, which had once belonged to General Repnínsky, our mother's grandfather, a learned military man of the eighteenth century, consisted exclusively of books on military warfare, adorned with rich plates and beautifully bound in leather. It was our chief recreation, on wet days, to look over the plates of these books, representing the weapons of warfare since the times of the Hebrews, and giving plans of all the battles that had been fought since Alexander of Macedonia. These heavy books also offered excellent material for building out of them strong fortresses which would stand for some time the blows of a battering-ram, and the projectiles of an Archimedean catapult (which, however, persisted in sending stones into the windows, and was soon prohibited). Yet neither Alexander or I became a military man. The literature of the sixties wiped out the teachings of our childhood.
M. Poulain's opinions about revolutions were those of the Orleanist "Illustration Française," of which he received back numbers, and of which we knew all the woodcuts. For a long time I could not imagine a revolution otherwise than in the shape of Death riding on a horse, the red flag in one hand and a scythe in the other, moving down men right and left. So it was pictured in the "Illustration." But I now think that M. Poulain's dislike was limited to the uprising of 1848, for one of his tales about the Revolution of 1789 deeply impressed my mind.
The title of prince was used in our house with and without occasion. M. Poulain must have been shocked by it, for he began once to tell us what he knew of the great Revolution. I cannot now recall what he said, but one thing I remember, namely, that Count Mirabeau and other nobles one day renounced their titles, and that Count Mirabeau, to show his contempt for aristocratic pretensions, opened a shop decorated with a signboard which bore the inscription, "Mirabeau, tailor." (I tell the story as I had it from M. Poulain.) For a long time after that I worried myself thinking what trade I should take up so as to write, "Kropótkin, such and such a handicraft man." Later on, my Russian teacher, Nikolái Pávlovich Smirnóff, and the general republican tone of Russian literature influenced me in the same way; and when I began to write novels -- that is, in my twelfth year -- I adopted the signature P. Kropótkin, which I never have departed from, notwithstanding the remonstrances of my chiefs when I was in the military service.
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