Part 1: Childhood, Section 10
Part 1: Childhood, Section 10
IT was in August, 1857, when I was nearly fifteen, that my turn came to enter the corps of pages, and I was taken to St. Petersburg. When I left home I was still a child; but human character is usually settled in a definite way at an earlier age than is generally supposed, and it is evident to me that under my childish appearance I was then very much what I was to be later on. My tastes, my inclinations, were already determined.
The first impulse to my intellectual development was given, as I have said, by my Russian teacher. It is an excellent habit in Russian families --- a habit now, unhappily, on the decline --- to have in the house a student who aids the boys and the girls with their lessons, even when they are at a gymnasium. For a better assimilation of what they learn at school, and for a widening of their conceptions about what they learn, his aid is invaluable. Moreover, he introduces an intellectual element into the family, and becomes an elder brother to the young people, --- often something better than an elder brother, because the student has a certain responsibility for the progress of his pupils; and as the methods of teaching change rapidly, from one generation to another, he can assist his pupils much better than the best educated parents could.
Nikolái Pávlovich Smirnóff had literary tastes. At that time, under the wild censorship of Nicholas I., many quite inoffensive works by our best writers could not be published; others were so mutilated as to deprive some passages in them of any meaning. In the genial comedy by Griboyédoff, "Misfortune from Intelligence," which ranks with the best comedies of Molière, Colonel Skalozúb had to be named "Mr. Skalozúb," to the detriment of the sense and even of the verses; for the representation of a colonel in a comical light would have been considered an insult to the army. Of so innocent a book as Gógol's "Dead Souls" the second part was not allowed to appear, nor the first part to be reprinted, although it had long been out of print. Numerous verses of Púshkin, Lérmontoff, A. K. Tolstói, Ryléeff, and other poets were not permitted to see the light; to say nothing of such verses as had any political meaning or contained a criticism of the prevailing conditions. All these circulated in manuscript, and Smirnóff used to copy whole books of Gógol and Púshkin for himself and his friends, a task in which I occasionally helped him. As a true child of Moscow he was also imbued with the deepest veneration for those of our writers who lived in Moscow, --- some of them in the Old Equerries' Quarter. He pointed out to me with respect the house of the Countess Saliàs (Eugénie Tour), who was our near neighbor, while the house of the noted exile Alexander Hérzen always was associated with a certain mysterious feeling of respect and awe. The house where Gógol lived was for us an object of deep respect, and though I was not nine when he died (in 1851), and had read none of his works, I remember well the sadness his death produced at Moscow. Turguéneff well expressed that feeling in a note, for which Nicholas I. ordered him to be put under arrest and sent into exile to his estate.
Púshkin's great poem, "Evghéniy Onyéghin," made but little impression upon me, and I still admire the marvelous simplicity and beauty of his style in that poem more than its contents. But Gógol's works, which I read when I was eleven or twelve, had a powerful effect on my mind, and my first literary essays were in imitation of his humorous manner. An historical novel by Zagóskin, "Yuriy Miloslávskiy," about the times of the great uprising of 1612, Púshkin's "The Captain's Daughter," dealing with the Pugachóff uprising, and Dumas's "Queen Marguerite" awakened in me a lasting interest in history. As to other French novels, I have only begun to read them since Daudet and Zola came to the front. Nekrásoff's poetry was my favorite from early years; I knew many of his verses by heart.
Nikolái Pávlovich early began to make me write, and with his aid I wrote a long "History of a Sixpence," for which we invented all sorts of characters, into whose possession the sixpence fell. My brother Alexander had at that time a much more poetical turn of mind. He wrote most romantic stories, and began early to make verses, which he did with wonderful facility and in a most musical and easy style. If his mind had not subsequently been taken up by natural history and philosophical studies, he undoubtedly would have become a poet of mark. In those years his favorite resort for finding poetical inspiration was the gently slooping roof underneath our window. This aroused in me a constant desire to tease him. "There is the poet sitting under the chimney-pot, trying to write his verses," I used to say; and the teasing ended in a fierce scrimmage, which brought our sister Hélène to a state of despair. But Alexander was so devoid of revengefulness that peace was soon concluded, and we loved each other immensely. Among boys, scrimmage and love seem to go hand in hand.
I had even then taken to journalism. In my twelfth year I began to edit a daily journal. Paper was not to be had at will in our house, and my journal was in 32¡ only. As the Crimean war had not yet broken out, and the only newspaper which my father used to receive was the Gazette of the Moscow police, I had not a great choice of models. As a result my own Gazette consisted merely of short paragraphs announcing the news of the day: as, "Went out to the woods. N. P. Smirnóff shot two thrushes," and so on.
This soon ceased to satisfy me, and in 1855 I started a monthly review, which contained Alexander's verses, my novelettes, and some sort of "varieties." The material existence of this review was fully guaranteed, for it had plenty of subscribers; that is, the editor himself and Smirnóff, who regularly paid his subscription, of so many sheets of paper, even after he had left our house. In return, I accurately wrote out for my faithful subscriber a second copy.
When Smirnóff left us, and a student of medicine, N. M. Pávloff, took his place, the latter helped me in my editorial duties. He obtained for the review a poem by one of his friends, and --- still more important --- the introductory lecture on physical geography by one of the Moscow professors. Of course this had not been printed before: a reproduction would never have found its way into the review.
Alexander, I need not say, took a lively interest in the paper, and its renown soon reached the corps of cadets. Some young writers on the way to fame undertook the publication of a rival. The matter was serious: in poems and novels we could hold our own; but they had a "critic," and a "critic" who writes, in connection with the characters of some new novel, all sorts of things about the conditions of life, and touches upon a thousand questions which could not be touched upon anywhere else, makes the soul of a Russian review. They had a critic, and we had none! He wrote an article for the first number, and his article was shown to my brother. It was rather pretentious and weak. Alexander at once wrote an anti-criticism, ridiculing and demolishing the critic in a violent manner. There was great consternation in the rival camp when they learned that this anti-criticism would appear in our next issue; they gave up publishing their paper, their best writers joined our staff, and we triumphantly announced the future "exclusive collaboration" of so many distinguished writers.
In August, 1857, the review had to be suspended, after nearly two years' existence. New surroundings and a quite new life were before me. I went away from home with regret, the more so because the whole distance between Moscow and St. Petersburg would be between me and Alexander, and I already considered it a misfortune that I had to enter a military school.
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