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From Rosanov’s Note Book

ISSUE:  Spring 1927

(Fallen Leaves: Second Installment)

Of Ryleyev it is related that “whatever the weather might be” he walked every morning and prayed at the tomb of Alexander II, whose aide-decamp he had been. He was an ordinary man—he even had a Frenchwoman from the ballet with whom he had lived all his life. What then made him go to the tomb? Who made him? Even in the case of our parents, our children—(my daughter Nadya at the Smolensky Cemetery)—we do not go every day all our life, not even every week, nor—alas! alas!—even every month! When I heard that story (from Maslov?) in our editorial office, I was astonished, and for many years now I can’t forget it, and keep on recalling it to my mind. “A dead padishah is worth less than a live dog,” that is what I have read in an Arabian tale; and in the sense of adding to his welfare or “profit,” the dead Liberator could be of no use to him (Ryleyev). What sort of feeling is it then and wherefrom does it spring? Evidently, it is attachment, remembrance, gratitude. Let us attribute one half to the noble nature of the walker (Ryleyev died in 1903, and it was on the occasion of his death that we spoke of him in the editorial office); but the other half is evidently to be attributed to the Emperor. Hence the deduction: evidently, Emperors represent not only a “style of majesty,” a being “in uniform and toga,” but also something profoundly human and sublimely human, but which we do not know by virtue of our terrible remoteness from them—for the reason that apart from the “uniform” we have not been shown anything else. All the stories, for instance, about Napoleon III are antipathetic (i. e. he appears antipathetic in them). But he was not a “born one”—and the parvenu’s instinct of clinging to power divested him of all majesty, fascination, and truth. “He wanted to settle down”—with his wife and children. A “born one” has no such need; ever “recognised” absolutely undisputed, he has that peace and happiness, which was inherent in “that first fortunate” who was called Adam. “From his very birth” there grow round about him paradisiacal apples, and he has not even to stretch out his hand to reach them. That psyche is utterly beyond ours. Everyone loves him; he has everything; whatever he wants he can have. What then should he want? According to natural psychology he should desire happiness to people, happiness to all. When we are “at a feast,” when “we are in love”— how we spread happiness around, without counting to whom, without counting how much. Therefore the psychology of a “born one” is naturally kindness, which instantly disappears, when his title is disputed. Therefore for the Tsar’s title to be undisputed is the essence of sovereignty, regni et regis. It is surprising that all our cruel sovereigns were just those whose titles “were disputed:” Ivan the Terrible—by the boyards and by the pretenders; Anna— by the Supreme Council, and also because of the indefinite-ness of her title; Katherine II (in the case of Novikov, etc.) also because of the lack of clearness in her right of accession to the throne. All this instantly soils the essence and spoils the character. Therefore “to love the Tsar” (simply and clearly) is, indeed, the essence of the matter in a monarchy, and the first duty of a citizen. It cannot be performed by flattery and kneeling down, for otherwise the whole thing goes wrong—”the dish is not well-cooked,” “the cherries have been caught by the frost,” “the meadow has been ruined by the hail storm.” That all this is universal and omni-human is shown by the way in which men in “opposition” and “overthrowers”—that is, those who claim “power” and rush after power—will reconcile themselves to anything, but regard with great suspicion any resistance to themselves, any dispute of their title; and as to raillery—that they can’t bear at all. They swept away Strakhov (the critic), and Nezlobin-Dyakov they cursed with a vehemence which in “literary destiny” is equal to “deportation to hard labour.” “You must not offend the majesty of the opposition, nor its truth”—on this was based, with us, all the literary destinies of half a century, and owing to this literary arrivism with its passions sprang up. Everyone snatches ranks and titles, merely for their loyal feelings to the opposition and even for crude flattery of it. Such “loyal subjects,” passionate and ardent, were Pisariov, Saizev, Blagosvietlov: the latter, in life, was an indescribable blackguard, he kept a negro at the door of his study, he wallowed in luxury, and his intimates wallowed in “amours” and in money, for writing in his journals “daring,” coarse articles in the spirit of: “we will smash everything,” “Pushkin is s––t,” But blackguard, or no blackguard; having “doffed his hat” and “faced about” to the opposition—everything is “forgiven” to him, forgotten, and he gets “rewards,” promotions, etc. Well, what is it? It is the “Court personnel,” already formed and ready for the coming and expected power, for les rois in rags. Looking into it, we see the essence of the matter: “do not wake us from our dreams/’ “let us consider ourselves right, and eternally right, right in every, case—and we will overwhelm you with happiness” . . . “Speak to us, recognise us, love us as demi-gods: and we will be better than God Himself!!” There you have the Khlystovian sectarian element, the element of “living christs” and “living madonnas” in all this. . . . Vera Figner was clearly a revolutionary “madonna,” just as Katerina Breshkovsky or Sophie Perovsky were. They are “Johanites,” all “Johanites” grouped round “Father John of Kronstadt;” but Father John this time is the revolutionary Zheliabov. When I said once in the press that Zheliabov was a fool—even the cringing Struve attacked me with incredible spite, although at Mme. Vergezhsky’s he had been saying such things about the revolutionaries, as I had never allowed myself to say. “Within yourself you may think what you like—in the market place you must shout ‘hurrah’:” and Struve raised his voice against me, demanded my expulsion from the press, merely because I said that Zheliabov was a fool. “His Majesty is always sensible”—whether he is Louis XIV, or the dreamed-of, desirable “Cromwell,” exalted in advance. Turning this over in your head you can see: yes, it is a universal psychology, a universal need, a universal focus: that man only in happiness and in forgetfulness-of-self is genuinely blessed and benevolent, “doing mercy and truth.” Well, now: instead of the expected tomorrow, is it not better to bow to yesterday? Instead of taking the axe and planing wood to make a doll—a “doll” to the outer eye, but an “icon” to the heart of the believer—why should we not put in the “sacred corner” that which we found in the house, at our birth?

And particularly we, men of the bottom floor, who do not participate in power and do not wish to participate in it; we who love poems and the stars, the microscope and numismatics—to us it is perfectly clear that we must “leave everything as it is,” and not range ourselves with “the opposition” to le roi à présent, in the interests of le roi future, a “Zheliabov No. 1.”

“To us it makes no difference” . . . That is, let us keep quiet and do our work. That is why since December 14, 1825 [since the first revolutionary rising in Russia] up to now all our history has been a digression and a futility. “We’ve got into the wrong street and can’t find the right house,” and “let us go back, for our jaunt has been a failure.”

*  *  *  *

Don’t imagine that you are more “moral” than myself.

You are neither moral nor immoral. You’re merely manufactured articles. A shop of ready-made articles. Now, I’ll take my stick and smash those articles.

A China cup, is it moral or immoral? You can say that it is clean, that it is well painted, with “little flowers” and so on. But I prefer a mongrel in its kennel. And however dirty and filthy he may be, I’d rather play with him. With you— no.

(After receiving a letter from G––n, informing me that St––r had stopped coming to my house on account of my immorality—in my ideas? in my writings?)

*  *  *  *

“That’s sheer banality “

So said Tolstoy in a “conversation” he is reported to have had with some one about Gogol’s “Wedding.” For a whole year I have been carrying it in my soul and thinking: how stupendous! Not only true, but also complete so that there remains only to add a full stop and to say no more. And the whole of Gogol, the whole, with the exception of “Taras Bulba” and generally of his Little Russian stories—is banality in perception, in content. And yet he is a genius in form, in how he tells and narrates.

He wanted to show up “the banality of banal people.” Let us suppose so. Though, the theme is odd. Why not have occupied himself with something interesting? Is there really nothing interesting in the world? But he was occupied, and occupied for many years, throughout his mature years, with banality alone. . . . A wonderful vocation.

I was astounded by a story told me by Riepin (on our walk), who told it me at second or at third hand. Let us say at second (that is, he had heard it from a man who knew Gogol and even had the infliction of having been his “guest”); and he then told me almost literally the following:

“Out of us all, young men, who have not yet achieved anything and have not yet manifested ourselves in any way —Gogol, in Rome, was not only our senior in years, but he was more respected than we all, owing to the great fame which surrounded his name. We, therefore, our tiny colony and tiny brotherhood, used to gather in his rooms once a week (say, on a Sunday). But those meetings, a tribute of respect on our part, were unusually painful. Gogol used to receive us extraordinarily majestically and condescendingly; he poured out the tea and ordered something for us to eat. But the food would not go down because of his icy, affected attitude to every one of us. There used to take place an unpleasant ceremonious ritual of tea drinking, exactly as if we were a party of minor officials being entertained by a high state functionary. Yet his behaviour, though presumptuous and silent, was such that we felt bound to call again next week, to drink again the weak and cold tea and, after bowing again to the great luminary of understanding and of the word, to take ourselves off.”

I don’t remember Riepin’s words literally, but that was their meaning. When Riepin was telling it me (on our walk, in the country, it was windy), and pressing his light overcoat closer and closer to his body, I was as though frozen with fear, for I felt as though there was growing up before me from under the ground Gogol’s chief mystery. Indeed he was all formal, affected, solemn, like an “archbishop” of death celebrating “mass” with two and three-branched candlesticks, and genuflecting in various ways and uttering unusual “words” from his great mastery—yet, in its content, empty and senseless mastery. I dare not refrain from saying the final word: idiot. He was just as unshakable and fixed, just as “immovable,” as one deprived of any inner sense and understanding. “I write!” and “Sic!” Splendid. But what’s the idea? The idiot glares. He does not understand. His “words” are magnificent. “Words” such as no one else had. And he sees quite well that his “words” are unlike anyone else’s, and he is enraptured with senseless rapture and is also proud with as senseless a pride.

“Fy, you devil! Begone!”

But the manikin moves his eyes. Cold, glassy eyes. He does not understand that behind a word must be a something, that behind a word there must also be a deed: a fire, or flood, terror or joy. He does not understand this—and he gives the “final chasing” to the word, and takes round the last cup of disgusting cold tea to his “admirers,” who in his silly, banal head are presented as head-clerks, almost bound to sing a “cantata” to the Director of the Department. . . . I mean, to the creator of “Dead Souls.”

“Fy, devil! Fy, what a devil you are!! You cursed witch with a black spot on your soul, you witch all dead and all icy, all glassy and all transparent . . . who generally has nothing!”

Nothing!!!! Nihilism! “Begone, unclean one.”

With an old-old face he laughs from his grave:

“But I am not, I was not! I only seemed to be. . . .”

“Oh, you damned were-wolf! Begone! Curse thee! The holy power be with us, how shall I rid myself of thee?”

“By faith”—prompts the heart. In whom there is kindled a grain of “faith”—faith in the soul of man, faith in one’s country, faith in her future—to him, Gogol verily has not existed. Never has a more terrible man . . . simulacrum of man . . . descended on to our earth. . . .

*  *  *  *

Paganism is morning, Christianity—evening. Of each individual thing and of the whole world. Indeed will not morning come; indeed is this the last evening? . . .

*  *  *  *

The shovel is of iron. And only with it can you remove the weeds. Here is the foundation of punishment and prison. Only those who do not love man, who do not pity man, who do not intervene on behalf of man, can reject that iron shovel.

In all religions there is the conception and expectation of hell and of paradise, i. e. this is the inner voice of all mankind, the religious voice. “Hooliganism,” “throat cutting,” “robbery”—even Heaven does not defend that. Only “neo-Christians” and social-democrats, defend it while they are still being punished and while they have not enough to eat. But you wait: they will sit down to the table—and then they will order the removal to prison of everyone who might object even to their putting their feet on the table. (At work).

*  *  *  *

With a fortune of four millions he sat with his throat “cut” in a deep arm-chair.

It was like this: I came in, asked Vassili [the butler] “May I go in?” and, as he nodded his head. I walked into the study. He was not there. I went up to the writing table. He was not there. I looked into a couple of books, glanced at some papers, and turning back, I began slowly to walk out. . . . Eyes lifted on me: away from the blazing fire-place a chair was hidden among screens, and in the chair he sat unnoticed. . . . If he were to utter a word, an idea, a desire, next morning it would be heard all over Russia. And everyone would see his word, and pay attention to it.

But it is three years since he has uttered a single word. He is 78.

I kissed his head, his grey, lovely (to me) head. . . . In his look, in the movement of his head there was that kindliness and gentleness, that talent (strange!) which I have observed in him for twelve years. There were (probably) defects in him: but there was in him no lack of talent in anything, even in the way he turned his neck. He was all young and always young; and now, dying, he was as young and natural as ever.

Taking the note book, he scrawled down: “My treatment is sheer make-believe. I know that I shall die soon.”

We all shall die. But until our “throat is cut” we utter words; write; “do our best.”

He was perfectly calm. No pain at all. If he had pain, he would have cried out. Oh, then it would have been a different sight. But he was dying without pain and his look was perfectly calm. Taking the note book again, he wrote down:

“Tolstoy in my place would go on writing, but I cannot.”

He asked me of Tolstoy’s latest works. I said they were bad. He wrote down:

“Even Hadji-Murat. Compared with “The Captain’s Daughter” it is nothing. S––t.. . .”

This is his favourite word. He loved this racy Russian expression, but, in gentle moments, he also pronounced it with a charming, childlike smile. “The national treasure.”

He was wholly nationalist; oh, not in the present-day party sense. But he never forgot his Voronezh, from which as a country schoolmaster he came out, full of talent, jollity and hope—into Russia, into fame, and loving Russia’s fame, resolved to help her on. The period of his [radical] writing under the pseudonym “Stranger” is of little interest : we have had more than enough radical mockers. The moving and beautiful in him appeared when, like a mediaeval knight, he made a parcel of his “popularity” and “reputation,” left it in the little chapel by the roadside, and, with a prayer before the icons, came out with a new feeling. “I must live not for my name, but for the name of Russia.” And so he lived. I definitely remember fragmentary words, uttered aloud to himself, but in my presence, from which I have definitely formed this image of him. (About A. S, Souvorin, in May 1912; written on the back of a grey envelope. )

*  *  *  *

Russians, as is known, can reincarnate themselves into anything. Once upon a time they reincarnated themselves into Dumas-fils. And with the feeling of a real Frenchman he set off to study Russia and the strange Russian ways. At the frontier when asked his name, he modestly replied:

“I am Boborykin.”

*  *  *  *

The most important thing about Boborykin is that he never meets with any obstacle in anything. . . .

Boborykin “in difficulty”—I cannot imagine.

Everyone has a hard time, Boborykin alone has always an easy and successful time; and, I think, the most indigestible things are easily digested by him.

*  *  *  *

“I carry literature as my coffin, I carry literature as my sorrow, I carry literature as my disgust.”

*  *  *  *

No tragedy in his soul. . . . His mother and son were drowned. He might have gone out of his mind and have forgotten where the inkstand was. No, he only wrote a “tragic letter” to Proudhon. (About Hertzen.)

Proudhon to him after all was a “distinguished foreigner.” Just as he was to all unhappy Russia, who without a “foreigner” gets suffocated.

“Our sky is all overcast by Russia. Let us make an opening in the sky!”—Indeed, the “longing for something foreign”—is it not the result of the excessive pressure of the hugeness of the land, and of the civilization—”of the whole thing”—on the little soul of everyone.

“I’m drowning. Give me a German!”

Quite natural. “A foreigner” is our protest, he is our sigh, he is “our own face” in everyone, which one wants to preserve in boundless Russia.

“For the love of God, give me Buckle!! Quick!!!” It is just like asking for smelling salts in a faint. (In a tram.)

*  *  *  *

Generally, to pull writers by the hair is a very proper thing. They are just like children: but conceited and past forty.

*  *  *  *

The priests in the middle ages pulled writers by the hair rather roughly. It served them right.

Life is the centre, the firm land. . . . And writers only gold fish; or—darts playing round the bank. Surely the “firm land” ought not to be “moved” in accordance with the movement of the little goldfish’s tails. (In the morning, after reading the papers.)

*  *  *  *

What he asked for, choked him. When our simple Russia got to love him, for his “War & Peace,” with simple and glorious love, he said: “It isn’t enough. I want to be Buddha and Schopenhauer.” But instead of “Buddha and Schopenhauer,” there appeared only forty-two photographs, in which he is taken three quarter length, half length, full face, in profile, and, I believe, “from the legs”—sitting, standing, resting, in a blouse, in a smock, and in something else, at the plough, on horseback, in a cap, in a hat and “Just simply.” . . . Yes, the devil knows how to laugh at him who sells his soul to him (to fame).

“Which photograph shall we choose?” say two student girls and a student. And they buy three at once, paying threepence for all three. Sic transit gloria mundi.

*  *  *  *

Fame is not only not greatness: fame is indeed the beginning of the fall of greatness. . . .

Look at churches, at kingdoms and kings. (On a visitor’s card brought up to me.)


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