Several years ago I was in Dresden. I stopped in the hotel. As I was
running about the town from early morning until late at night, I did not
consider it necessary to make acquaintance with my neighbours; at last,
accidentally, it came to my knowledge that there was a sick Russian in
the house. I went to him, and found a man in the last stage of
consumption. Dresden was beginning to pall upon me; I settled down with
my new acquaintance. It is wearisome to sit with an invalid, but even
boredom is agreeable sometimes; moreover, my invalid was not dejected,
and liked to chat. We endeavoured, in every way, to kill time: we played
“fool” together, we jeered at the doctor. My compatriot narrated to that
very bald German divers fictions about his own condition, which the
doctor always “had long foreseen”; he mimicked him when he was surprised
at any unprecedented attack, flung his medicine out of the window and so
Nevertheless I repeatedly remarked to my friend that it would not be a
bad idea to send for a good physician before it was too late, that his
malady was not to be jested with, and so forth. But Alexyéi (my
acquaintance’s name was Alexyéi Petróvitch S***) put me off every time
with jests about all doctors in general, and his own in particular, and
at last, one stormy autumn evening, to my importunate entreaties, he
replied with such a dejected glance, he shook his head so sadly, and
smiled so strangely, that I felt a certain surprise. That same night
Alexyéi grew worse, and on the following day he died. Just before his
death his customary cheerfulness deserted him: he tossed uneasily in the
bed, sighed, gazed anxiously about … grasped my hand, whispered with
an effort: “‘Tis difficult to die, you know,” … dropped his head on
the pillow, and burst into tears. I did not know what to say to him, and
sat silently beside his bed. But Alexyéi speedily conquered this last,
belated compassion…. “Listen,” he said to me:–“our doctor will come
to-day, and will find me dead…. I can imagine his phiz” … and the
dying man tried to mimic him…. He requested me to send all his things
to Russia, to his relatives, with the exception of a small packet, which
he presented to me as a souvenir.
This packet contained letters–the letters of a young girl to Alexyéi
and his letters to her. There were fifteen of them in all. Alexyéi
Petróvitch S*** had known Márya Alexándrovna B*** for a long time–from
childhood, apparently. Alexyéi Petróvitch had a cousin, and Márya
Alexándrovna had a sister. In earlier years they had all lived together,
then they had dispersed, and had not met again for a long time; then
they had accidentally all assembled again in the country, in summer, and
had fallen in love–Alexyéi’s cousin with Márya Alexándrovna, and
Alexyéi himself with the latter’s sister. Summer passed and autumn came;
they parted. Alexyéi being a sensible man, speedily became convinced
that he was not in the least beloved, and parted from his beauty very
happily; his cousin corresponded with Márya Alexándrovna for a couple of
years longer … but even he divined, at last, that he was deceiving
both her and himself in the most unconscionable manner, and he also fell
I should like to tell you a little about Márya Alexándrovna, dear
reader, but you will learn to know her for yourself from her letters.
Alexyéi wrote his first letter to her soon after her definitive breach
with his cousin. He was in Petersburg at the time, suddenly went abroad,
fell ill in Dresden and died. I have decided to publish his
correspondence with Márya Alexándrovna, and I hope for some indulgence
on the part of the reader, because these are not love-letters–God
forbid! Love-letters are generally read by two persons only (but, on the
other hand, a thousand times in succession), and are intolerable, if not
ridiculous, to a third person.
_From Alexyéi Petróvitch to Márya Alexándrovna_
ST. PETERSBURG, March 7, 1840.
MY DEAR MÁRYA ALEXÁNDROVNA!
I have never yet written to you a single time, I think, and here I am
writing now…. I have chosen a strange time, have I not? This is what
has prompted me to it: _Mon cousin Théodore_ has been to see me to-day,
and–how shall I say it?… and has informed me, in the strictest
privacy (he never imparts anything in any other way), that he is in love
with the daughter of some gentleman here, and this time is bent on
marrying without fail, and that he has already taken the first step–he
has explained his intentions! As a matter of course, I hastened to
congratulate him on an event so pleasant for him; he has long stood in
need of an explanation … but inwardly I was, I confess, somewhat
amazed. Although I knew that everything was over between you, yet it
seemed to me…. In a word, I was amazed. I was preparing to go out
visiting to-day, but I have remained at home, and intend to have a
little chat with you. If you do not care to listen to me, throw this
letter into the fire immediately. I declare to you that I wish to be
frank, although I feel that you have a perfect right to take me for a
decidedly-intrusive man. Observe, however, that I would not have taken
pen in hand if I had not known that your sister is not with you:
Théodore told me that she will be away all summer visiting your aunt,
Madame B***. May God grant her all good things!
So, then, this is the way it has all turned out…. But I shall not
offer you my friendship, and so forth; in general, I avoid solemn
speeches, and “intimate” effusions. In beginning to write this letter, I
have simply obeyed some momentary impulse: if any other feeling is
hiding within me, let it remain hidden from sight for the present.
Neither shall I attempt to console you. In consoling others, people
generally desire to rid themselves, as speedily as possible, of the
unpleasant feeling of involuntary, self-conceited compassion…. I
understand sincere, warm sympathy … but such sympathy is not to be got
from every one…. Please be angry with me…. If you are angry, you
will probably read my epistle to the end.
But what right have I to write to you, to talk about my friendship, my
feelings, about consolation? None whatever–positively, none whatever;
and I am bound to admit that, and I rely solely upon your kindness.
Do you know what the beginning of my letter resembles? This: a certain
Mr. N. N. entered the drawing-room of a lady who was not in the least
expecting him,–who, perhaps, was expecting another man…. He divined
that he had come at the wrong time, but there was nothing to be done….
He sat down, and began to talk…. God knows what about: poetry, the
beauties of nature, the advantages of a good education … in a word, he
talked the most frightful nonsense…. But in the meanwhile the first
five minutes had elapsed; he sat on; the lady resigned herself to her
fate, and lo! Mr. N. N. recovered himself, sighed, and began to
converse–to the best of his ability.
But, despite all this idle chatter, I feel somewhat awkward,
nevertheless. I seem to see before me your perplexed, even somewhat
angry face: I feel conscious that it is almost impossible for you not to
assume that I have some secret intentions or other, and therefore,
having perpetrated a piece of folly, like a Roman I wrap myself in my
toga and await in silence your ultimate condemnation….
But, in particular: Will you permit me to continue to write to you?
I remain sincerely and cordially your devoted servant–
_From Márya Alexándrovna to Alexyéi Petróvitch_
VILLAGE OF … NO, March 22, 1840.
I have received your letter, and really, I do not know what to say to
you. I would even not have answered you at all had it not seemed to me
that beneath your jests was concealed a decidedly-friendly sentiment.
Your letter has produced an unpleasant impression on me. In reply to
your “idle chatter,” as you put it, permit me also to propound to you
one question: To what end? What have you to do with me, what have I to
do with you? I do not assume any evil intentions on your part, … on
the contrary, I am grateful to you for your sympathy, … but we are
strangers to each other, and I now, at all events, feel not the
slightest desire to become intimate with any one whomsoever.
With sincere respects I remain, and so forth,
_From Alexyéi Petróvitch to Márya Alexándrovna_
ST. PETERSBURG, March 30.
I thank you, Márya Alexándrovna, I thank you for your note, curt as it
is. All this time I have been in a state of great agitation; twenty
times a day I have thought of you and of my letter. You can imagine how
caustically I have laughed at myself; but now I am in a capital frame of
mind, and am patting myself on the head. Márya Alexándrovna, I am
entering into correspondence with you! Confess that you could not
possibly have expected that after your reply; I am amazed at my own
audacity … never mind! But calm yourself: I want to talk to you not
about myself, but about you. Here, do you see: I find it imperatively
necessary–to speak in antiquated style–to express myself to some one.
I have no right to select you for my confidante–I admit that; but
hearken: I demand from you no reply to my epistles; I do not even wish
to know whether you will peruse my “idle chatter,” but do not send me
back my letters, in the name of all that is holy!
Listen–I am utterly alone on earth. In my youth I led a solitary life,
although, I remember, I never pretended to be a Byron; but, in the
first place, circumstances, in the second place, the ability to dream
and a love for reverie, rather cold blood, pride, indolence–in a word,
a multitude of varied causes alienated me from the society of men. The
transition from a dreamy to an active life was effected in me late …
perhaps too late, perhaps to this day not completely. So long as my own
thoughts and feelings diverted me, so long as I was capable of
surrendering myself to causeless silent raptures, and so forth, I did
not complain of my isolation. I had no comrades–I did have so-called
friends. Sometimes I needed their presence as an electrical machine
needs a discharger–that was all. Love … we will be silent on that
subject for the present. But now, I confess, now loneliness weighs upon
me, and yet I see no escape from my situation. I do not blame Fate; I
alone am to blame, and I am justly chastised. In my youth one thing
alone interested me: my charming ego; I took my good-natured self-love
for shyness; I shunned society, and lo! now I am frightfully bored with
myself. What is to become of me? I love no one; all my friendships with
other people are, somehow, strained and false; and I have no memories,
because in all my past life, I find nothing except my own self. Save me!
I have not made you enthusiastic vows of love; I have not deafened you
with a torrent of chattering speeches; I have passed you by with
considerable coldness, and precisely for that reason I have made up my
mind now to have recourse to you. (I had thought of this even earlier,
but you were not free then….) Out of all my self-made joys and
sufferings, the sole genuine feeling was the small, but involuntary
attraction to you, which withered then, like a solitary ear of grain
amid worthless weeds…. Allow me, at least, to look into another face,
another soul,–my own face has grown repugnant to me; I am like a man
who has been condemned to live out his entire life in a room with walls
made of mirrors…. I do not demand any confessions from you–oh,
heavens, no! Grant me the speechless sympathy of a sister, or at least
the simple curiosity of a reader–I will interest you, really, I will.
At any rate, I have the honour to be your sincere friend,
_From Alexyéi Petróvitch to Márya Alexándrovna_
PETERSBURG, April 7th.
I write again to you, although I foresee that, without your approval, I
shall speedily hold my peace. I must admit that you cannot fail to feel
a certain distrust of me. What of that? Perhaps you are right. Formerly
I would have declared to you (and, probably, would have believed my own
words) that, since we parted, I had “developed,” had advanced; with
condescending, almost affectionate scorn I would have referred to my
past; with touching boastfulness I would have initiated you into the
secrets of my present, active life … but now, I assure you, Márya
Alexándrovna, I consider it shameful and disgusting to allude to the way
in which my vile self-love once on a time fermented and amused itself.
Fear not: I shall not force upon you any great truths, any profound
views; I have none–none of those truths and views. I have become a nice
fellow,–truly I have. I’m bored, Márya Alexándrovna–so bored that I
can endure it no longer. That is why I am writing to you…. Really, it
seems to me that we can come to an agreement….
However, I positively am in no condition to talk to you until you
stretch out your hand to me, until I receive from you a note with the
one word “Yes.”–Márya Alexándrovna, will you hear me out?–that is the
_From Márya Alexándrovna to Alexyéi Petróvitch_
VILLAGE OF … NO, April 14.
What a strange man you are! Well, then–“yes.”
_From Alexyéi Petróvitch to Márya Alexándrovna_
PETERSBURG, May 2, 1840.
Hurrah! Thanks, Márya Alexándrovna, thanks! You are a very kind and
I begin, according to my promise, to speak of myself, and I shall speak
with pleasure, verging on appetite…. Precisely that. One may talk of
everything in the world with fervour, with rapture, with enthusiasm, but
only of one’s self can one talk with appetite.
Listen: an extremely strange incident happened to me the other day: I
took a glance at my past for the first time. You will understand me:
every one of us frequently recalls the past–with compunction or with
vexation, or simply for the lack of something to do; but only at a
certain age can one cast a cold, clear glance at his whole past life–as
a traveller, turning round, gazes from a lofty mountain upon the plain
which he has traversed … and a secret chill grips the heart of a man
when this happens to him for the first time. At any rate, my heart
contracted with pain. So long as we are young, that sort of looking
backward is impossible. But my youth is over–and, like the traveller on
the mountain, everything has become clearly visible to me….
Yes, my youth is gone, gone irrevocably!… Here it lies before me, all
of it, as though in the palm of my hand….
’Tis not a cheerful spectacle! I confess to you, Márya Alexándrovna,
that I am very sorry for myself. My God! My God! Is it possible that I
myself have ruined my own life to such a degree, have so ruthlessly
entangled and tortured myself?… Now I have come to my senses, but it
is too late. Have you ever rescued a fly from a spider? You have? Do you
remember, you placed it in the sunshine; its wings, its legs were stuck
together, glued fast…. How awkwardly it moved, how clumsily it tried
to clean itself!… After long-continued efforts, it got itself to
rights, after a fashion; it crawled, it tried to put its wings in order
… but it could not walk as it formerly did; it could not buzz,
care-free, in the sunshine, now flying through an open window into a
cool room, again fluttering freely out into the hot air…. It, at all
events, did not fall into the dreadful net of its own free will … but
I was my own spider.
And, nevertheless, I cannot blame myself so very much. Yes, and
who–tell me, for mercy’s sake–who ever was to blame for
anything–alone? Or, to put it more accurately, we are all to blame, yet
it is impossible to blame us. Circumstances settle our fate: they thrust
us into this road or that, and then they punish us. Every man has his
fate…. Wait, wait! There occurs to my mind on this score an
artfully-constructed but just comparison. As clouds are first formed by
the exhalations from the earth, rise up from its bosom, then separate
themselves from it, withdraw from it, and bear over it either blessings
or ruin, just so around each one of us and from us ourselves is
formed–how shall I express it?–is formed a sort of atmosphere which
afterward acts destructively or salutarily upon us ourselves. This I
call Fate…. In other words, and to put it simply: each person makes
his own fate, and it makes each person….
Each person makes his own fate–yes!… but our brethren make it far too
much–which constitutes our calamity! Consciousness is aroused in us too
early; too early do we begin to observe ourselves…. We Russians have
no other life-problem than the cultivation of our personality, and here
we, barely adult children, already undertake to cultivate it, this our
unhappy personality! Without having received from within any definite
direction, in reality respecting nothing, believing firmly in nothing,
we are free to make of ourselves whatsoever we will…. But it is
impossible to demand of every man that he shall immediately comprehend
the sterility of a mind, “seething in empty activity” … and so, there
is one more monster in the world, one more of those insignificant beings
in which the habits of self-love distort the very striving after truth,
and ridiculous ingenuousness lives side by side with pitiful guile …
one of those beings to whose impotent, uneasy thought there remains
forever unknown either the satisfaction of natural activity, or the
genuine suffering, or the genuine triumph of conviction…. Combining in
itself the defects of all ages, we deprive each defect of its good, its
redeeming side…. We are as stupid as children, but we are not sincere
like them; we are as cold as old men, but the common sense of old age is
not in us…. On the other hand, we are psychologists. Oh, yes, we are
great psychologists! But our psychology strays off into pathology; our
psychology is an artful study of the laws of a diseased condition and a
diseased development, with which healthy people have no concern…. But
the chief thing is, we are not young,–in youth itself we are not young!
And yet–why calumniate one’s self? Have we really never been young?
Have the vital forces never sparkled, never seethed, never quivered in
us? Yet we have been in Arcadia, and we have roved its bright meads!…
Have you ever happened, while strolling among bushes, to hit upon those
dark-hued harvest-flies, which, springing out from under your very feet,
suddenly expand their bright red wings with a clatter, flutter on a few
paces, and then tumble into the grass again? Just so did our dark youth
sometimes expand its gaily-coloured little wings for a few moments, and
a brief flight…. Do you remember our silent evening rambles, the four
of us together, along the fence of your park, after some long, warm,
animated conversation? Do you remember those gracious moments? Nature
received us affectionately and majestically into her lap. We entered,
with sinking heart, into some sort of blissful waves. Round about the
glow of sunset kindled with sudden and tender crimson; from the
crimsoning sky, from the illuminated earth, from everywhere, it seemed
as though the fresh and fiery breath of youth were wafted abroad, and
the joyous triumph of some immortal happiness; the sunset glow blazed;
like it, softly and passionately blazed our enraptured hearts, and the
tiny leaves of the young trees quivered sensitively and confusedly above
us, as though replying to the inward tremulousness of the indistinct
feelings and anticipations within us. Do you remember that purity, that
kindness and trustfulness of ideas, that emotion of noble hopes, that
silence of plenitude? Can it be that we were not then worthy of
something better than that to which life has conducted us? Why have we
been fated only at rare intervals to catch sight of the longed-for
shore, and never to stand thereon with firm foothold, never to touch
Not to weep sweetly, like the first of the Jews
On the borders of the Promised Land?
These two lines of Fet have reminded me of others,–also by him….
Do you remember how one day, as we were standing in the road, we beheld
in the distance a cloud of rosy dust, raised by a light breeze, against
the setting sun? “In a billowy cloud” you began, and we all fell silent
on the instant, and set to listening:
In a billowy cloud
The dust rises in the distance….
Whether horseman or pedestrian–
Cannot be descried for the dust.
I see some one galloping
On a spirited steed….
My friend, my distant friend–
You ceased…. All of us fairly shuddered, as though the breath of love
had flitted over our hearts, and each one of us–I am convinced of
that–longed inexpressibly to flee away in the distance, that unknown
distance, where the apparition of bliss rises up and beckons athwart the
mist. And yet, observe this odd thing: why should we reach out into the
distance?–we thought. Were not we in love with each other? Was not
happiness “so near, so possible”? And I immediately asked you: “Why have
not we gained the shore we long for?” Because falsehood was walking hand
in hand with us; because it was poisoning our best sentiments; because
everything in us was artificial and strained; because we did not love
each other at all, and only tried to love, imagined that we did love….
But enough, enough! Why irritate one’s wounds? Moreover, all that is
past irrevocably. That which was good in our past has touched me, and on
this good I bid you farewell for the time being. And it is time to end
this long letter. I will go and inhale the May air here, in which,
through the winter’s stern fortress, the spring is forcing its way with
a sort of moist and keen warmth. Farewell.
_From Márya Alexándrovna to Alexyéi Petróvitch_
VILLAGE OF … NO, May 20, 1840.
I have received your letter, Alexyéi Petróvitch, and do you know what
feeling it aroused in me?–Indignation … yes, indignation … and I
will immediately explain to you why it aroused precisely that feeling in
me. One thing is a pity: I am not a mistress of the pen–I rarely write.
I do not know how to express my thoughts accurately and in a few words;
but you will, I hope, come to my aid. You yourself will try to
understand me: if only for the sake of knowing why I am angry with you.
Tell me–you are a clever man–have you ever asked yourself what sort of
a creature a Russian woman is? What is her fate, her position in the
world–in short, what her life is like? I do not know whether you have
ever had time to put that question to yourself; I cannot imagine how you
would answer it…. I might, in conversation be able to communicate to
you my ideas on that subject, but I shall hardly manage it on paper.
However, it makes no difference. This is the point: you surely will
agree with me that we women–at all events, those of us who are not
satisfied with the ordinary cares of domestic life–receive our final
education, all the same, from you–from the men: you have a great and
powerful influence on us. Look, now, at what you do with us. I shall
speak of the young girls, especially of those who, like myself, dwell in
the dull places, and there are many such in Russia. Moreover, I do not
know others, and cannot judge with regard to them. Figure to yourself
such a young girl. Here, now, her education is finished; she is
beginning to live, to amuse herself. But amusement alone is not enough
for her. She demands a great deal from life; she reads, dreams … of
love:–“Always of love alone!” you will say…. Let us assume that that
word means a great deal to her. I will say again that I am not talking
of the sort of girl who finds it burdensome and tiresome to think….
She looks about her, waits for the coming of him for whom her soul
pines…. At last he makes his appearance: she is carried away; she is
like soft wax in his hands. Everything–happiness, and love, and
thought–everything has invaded her together with him, all at once; all
her tremors are soothed, all her doubts are solved by him; truth itself
seems to speak by his mouth; she worships him, she is ashamed of her
happiness, she learns, she loves. Great is his power over her at this
period!… If he were a hero, he would kindle her to flame, he would
teach her to sacrifice herself, and all sacrifices would be easy to
her! But there are no heroes in our day…. Nevertheless, he guides her
whithersoever he will; she devotes herself to that which interests him,
his every word sinks into her soul: at that time, she does not know, as
yet, how insignificant and empty and false that word may be, how little
it costs him who utters it, and how little faith it merits! These first
moments of bliss and hope are followed, generally–according to
circumstances–(circumstances are always to blame)–are followed by
parting. It is said that there have been cases where two kindred souls,
on recognising each other, have immediately united indissolubly; I have
heard, also, that they are not always comfortable as a result…. But I
will not speak of that which I have not myself beheld–but that the very
pettiest sort of calculation, the most woful prudence, may dwell in a
young heart side by side with the most passionate rapture,–that is a
fact which, unhappily, I know by my own experience. So, then, parting
comes…. Happy is that young girl who instantly recognises that the end
of all has come, who does not comfort herself with expectation! But you
brave, just men, in the majority of cases, have neither the courage nor
the desire to tell us the truth … you find it more easy to deceive
us…. I am ready to believe, however, that you deceive yourselves along
with us…. Parting! It is both difficult and easy to endure parting.
If only faith in him whom one loves were intact and unassailed, the soul
would conquer the pain of parting…. I will say more: only when she is
left alone does she learn the sweetness of solitude, not sterile but
filled with memories and thoughts. Only then will she learn to know
herself–will she come to herself, will she grow strong…. In the
letters of the distant friend she will find a support for herself; in
her own she will, perhaps, for the first time, express her mind
fully…. But as two persons who have started from the source of a river
along its different banks can, at first, clasp hands, then hold
communication only with the voice, but ultimately lose sight of each
other: so also two beings are ultimately disjoined by separation. “What
of that?” you will say: “evidently they were not fated to go
together….” But here comes in the difference between a man and a
woman. It signifies nothing to a man to begin a new life, to shake far
from him the past; a woman cannot do that. No, she cannot cast aside her
past, she cannot tear herself away from her roots–no, a thousand times
no! And so, a pitiful and ridiculous spectacle presents itself….
Gradually losing hope and faith in herself,–you can form no idea of how
painful that is,–she will pine away and fade alone, obstinately
clinging to her memories, and turning away from everything which life
around her offers…. And he?… Seek him! Where is he? And is it worth
while for him to pause? What time has he for looking back? All this is a
thing of the past for him, you see.
Or here is another thing which happens: it sometimes happens that he
will suddenly conceive a desire to meet the former object of his
affections, he will even deliberately go to her…. But, my God! from
what a motive of petty vain-glory he does it! In his polite compassion,
in his counsels which are intended to be friendly, in his condescending
explanations of the past, there is audible such a consciousness of his
own superiority! It is so agreeable and cheerful a thing for him to let
himself feel every minute how sensible and kind he is! And how little he
understands what he is doing! How well he manages not even to guess at
what is going on in the woman’s heart, and how insultingly he pities
her, if he does guess it!…
Tell me, please, whence are we to get the strength to endure all this?
Remember this, too: in the majority of cases, a girl who, to her
misfortune, has an idea beginning to stir in her head, when she begins
to love, and falls under the influence of a man, involuntarily separates
herself from her family, from her acquaintances. Even previously she has
not been satisfied with their life, yet she has walked on by their side,
preserving in her soul all her intimate secrets…. But the breach
speedily makes itself visible…. They cease to understand her, they are
ready to suspect every movement of hers…. At first she pays no heed
to this, but afterward, afterward … when she is left alone, when that
toward which she has been striving and for which she has sacrificed
everything escapes her grasp, when she has not attained to heaven, but
when every near thing, every possible thing, has retreated far from
her–what shall uphold her? Sneers, hints, the vulgar triumph of coarse
common sense she can still bear, after a fashion … but what is she to
do, to what is she to have recourse, when the inward voice begins to
whisper to her that all those people were right, and that she has been
mistaken; that life, of whatever sort it may be, is better than dreams,
as health is better than disease … when her favourite occupations, her
favourite books, disgust her, the books from which one cannot extract
happiness,–what, say you,–what shall uphold her? How is she to help
succumbing in such a struggle? How is she to live and to go on living in
such a wilderness? Confess herself vanquished, and extend her hand like
a beggar to indifferent people? Will not they give her at least some of
that happiness with which the proud heart once imagined that it could
dispense–all that is nothing as yet! But to feel one’s self ridiculous
at the very moment when one is shedding bitter, bitter tears … akh!
God forbid that you should go through that experience!…
My hands are trembling, and I am in a fever all over…. My face is
burning hot. It is time for me to stop…. I shall send off this letter
as speedily as possible, while I am not ashamed of my weakness. But, for
God’s sake, not a word in your reply–do you hear me?–not a word of
pity, or I will never write to you again. Understand me: I should not
like to have you take this letter as the outpouring of a misunderstood
soul which is making complaint…. Akh! it is all a matter of
indifference to me! Farewell.
_From Alexyéi Petróvitch to Márya Alexándrovna_
ST. PETERSBURG, May 28, 1840.
Márya Alexándrovna, you are a fine creature … indeed you are … your
letter has disclosed to me the truth at last! O Lord my God! what
torture! A man is constantly thinking that now he has attained
simplicity, no longer shows off, puts on airs, or lies … but when you
come to look at him more attentively, he has become almost worse than he
was before. And this must be noted: the man himself, alone that is to
say, will never attain to that consciousness, bestir himself as he may!
his eye will not discern his own defects, just as the blunted eye of
the printer will not detect errors: another, a fresher eye is required.
I thank you, Márya Alexándrovna…. You see, I am speaking to you of
myself; I dare not speak of you…. Akh, how ridiculous my last letter
seems to me now,–so eloquent and sentimental! Go on, I beg of you, with
your confession; I have a premonition that you will be relieved thereby,
and it will be of great benefit to me. Not without cause does the
proverb say: “A woman’s wit is better than many thoughts”; and a woman’s
heart is far more so–God is my witness that it is so! If women only
knew how much better, and more magnanimous, and clever–precisely
that–clever they are than the men, they would grow puffed up with
pride, and get spoiled: but, fortunately, they do not know that; they do
not know it because their thoughts have not become accustomed to
returning incessantly to themselves, as have the thoughts of us men.
They think little about themselves–that is their weakness and their
strength; therein lies the whole secret–I will not say of our
superiority, but of our power. They squander their souls, as a lavish
heir squanders his father’s gold, but we collect interest from every
look…. How can they enter into rivalry with us?… All this is not
compliments, but the simple truth, demonstrated by experience. Again I
entreat you, Márya Alexándrovna, to continue writing to me…. If you
only knew all that comes into my mind!… But now I do not want to talk,
I want to listen to you…. My speech will come later on. Write, write.
_From Márya Alexándrovna to Alexyéi Petróvitch_
VILLAGE OF … NO, June 12, 1840.
No sooner had I despatched my last letter to you, Alexyéi Petróvitch,
than I repented of it; but there was no help for it. One thing somewhat
soothed me: I am convinced that you have understood under the influence
of what long-suppressed feelings it was written, and have forgiven me. I
did not even read over at the time what I had written to you; I remember
that my heart was beating so violently that my pen trembled in my hand.
However, although I probably should have expressed myself differently if
I had given myself time to think it over, still I have no intention of
disclaiming either my words or the feelings which I have imparted to you
to the best of my ability. To-day I am much more cool-headed, and have
far better control over myself….
I remember that I spoke toward the end of my letter about the painful
situation of the young girl who recognises the fact that she is isolated
even among her own people…. I will not enlarge further on that point,
but rather will I communicate to you a few details; it seems to me that
I shall bore you less in that way.
In the first place, you must know that throughout the whole country-side
I am not called anything but “the female philosopher”; the ladies, in
particular, allude to me by that name. Some assert that I sleep with a
Latin book in my hands and in spectacles; others, that I know how to
extract some cubic roots or other: not one of them cherishes any doubt
that I wear masculine attire on the sly, and that instead of “good
morning,” I say abruptly: “Georges Sand!”–and indignation against “the
female philosopher” is on the increase. We have a neighbour, a man of
five-and-forty, a great wit, … at least, he has the reputation of
being a great wit, … and for him my poor person is an inexhaustible
subject for jeers. He has related, concerning me, that as soon as the
moon rises in the sky, I cannot take my eyes from it, and he shows how I
look; that I even drink coffee not with cream but with the moon, that is
to say, I set my cup in its rays. He swears that I use phrases in the
nature of the following: “That is easy because it is difficult;
although, on the other hand, it is difficult because it is easy.”…
He declares that I am always seeking some word or other, always yearning
“thither,” and he inquires, with comic indignation: “Whither is thither?
Whither?” He has also set in circulation about me a rumour to the effect
that I ride by night on horseback back and forth through the ford of the
river, singing the while Schubert’s “Serenade,” or simply moaning:
“Beethoven, Beethoven!” as much as to say–“She’s such a fiery old
woman!” and so forth, and so forth. Of course, all this immediately
reaches my ears. Perhaps this may surprise you; but do not forget that
four years have elapsed since you have sojourned in these parts.
Remember how every one gazed askance at us then…. Now their turn has
come. And all this is nothing. I sometimes happen to hear words which
pierce my heart much more painfully. I will not mention the fact that my
poor, good mother cannot possibly pardon me for your cousin’s
indifference; but all my life runs through the fire, as my old nurse
expresses it. “Of course,”–I hear constantly,–“how are we to keep up
with thee? We are plain folks, we are guided only by common sense; but,
after all, when one comes to think of it, to what have all these
philosophisings and books and acquaintances with learned people brought
thee?” Perhaps you remember my sister–not the one to whom you were
formerly not indifferent, but the other, the elder, who is married. Her
husband, you will remember, is a decidedly-ridiculous man; you often
used to make fun of him in those days. Yet she is happy: the mother of a
family, she loves her husband, and her husband adores her…. “I am like
all the rest,”–she says to me sometimes;–“but how about thee?” And she
is right: I envy her….
And nevertheless I feel that I should not like to change places with
her. Let them call me “a female philosopher,” “an eccentric,” whatever
they choose–I shall remain faithful to the end … to what?–to an
ideal, pray? Yes, to an ideal. Yes, I shall remain faithful to the end
to that which first made my heart beat,–to that which I have
acknowledged and do acknowledge to be the true, the good. If only my
strength does not fail me, if only my idol does not prove a soulless
If you really do feel friendship for me, if you really have not
forgotten me, you must help me; you must disperse my doubts, strengthen
But what aid can you render me? “All this is nonsense, like the useless
running of a squirrel on a wheel,” said my uncle to me yesterday–I
think you do not know him–a retired naval officer, and a far from
stupid man. “A husband, children, a pot of buckwheat groats: to tend
husband and children, and look after the pot of groats–that’s what a
woman needs.”… Tell me, he is right, is he not?
If he really is right, I can still repair the past, I can still get into
the common rut. What else is there for me to wait for? What is there to
hope for? In one of your letters, you spoke of the wings of youth. How
often, how long they remain fettered! And then comes a time, when they
fall off; and it is no longer possible to raise one’s self above the
earth, to soar heavenward. Write to me.
_From Alexyéi Petróvitch to Márya Alexándrovna_
ST. PETERSBURG, June 16, 1840.
I hasten to answer your letter, my dear Márya Alexándrovna. I will
confess to you that if it were not for…. I will not say business–I
have none–if it were not for my being so stupidly habituated to this
place, I would go again to you and would talk my fill, but on paper all
this comes out so coldly, in such a dead manner….
I repeat to you, Márya Alexándrovna: women are better than men, and you
ought to demonstrate that in deed. Let us men fling aside our
convictions, like a worn-out garment, or barter them for a morsel of
bread, or, in conclusion, let them fall into the sleep which knows no
waking, and place over them, as over one formerly beloved, a tombstone,
to which one goes only now and then to pray–let us men do all that; but
do not you women be false to yourselves, do not betray your ideal….
That word has become ridiculous…. To be afraid of the ridiculous is
not to love the truth. It does happen, it is true, that a stupid laugh
will make the stupid man, even good people, renounce a great deal …
take for example the defence of an absent friend…. I am guilty in that
respect myself. But, I repeat it, you women are better than we are….
In trifles you are inclined to yield to us; but you understand better
than we do how to look the devil straight in the eye. I shall give you
neither aid nor advice–how can I? and you do not need it; but I do
stretch forth my hand to you, and I do say to you: “Have patience; fight
until the end; and know that, as a feeling, the consciousness of a
battle honourably waged almost transcends the triumph of victory.”…
The victory does not depend upon us.
Of course, from a certain point of view, your uncle is right: family
life is everything for a woman; there is no other life for her.
But what does that prove? Only the Jesuits assert that every means is
good, if only one attains his end. It is not true! not true! It is an
indignity to enter a clean temple with feet soiled with the mire of the
road. At the end of your letter there is a phrase which I do not like:
you want to get into the common rut. Look out–do not make a misstep! Do
not forget, moreover, that it is impossible to efface the past; and
strive as you may, force yourself as you will, you cannot make yourself
your sister. You have ascended above her. But your soul is broken, hers
is intact. You can lower yourself, bend down to her, but nature will not
resign her rights, and the broken place will not grow together again….
You are afraid–let us speak without circumlocution–you are afraid of
remaining an old maid. I know that you are already twenty-six years old.
As a matter of fact, the position of old maids is not enviable: every
one so gladly laughs at them; every one notes their oddities and their
weaknesses with such unmagnanimous delight. But if you scan more closely
any elderly bachelor,–he deserves to have the finger of scorn pointed
at him also,–you will find in him cause to laugh your fill. What is to
be done? Happiness is not to be captured by battle. But we must not
forget that not happiness but human dignity is the chief goal of life.
You describe your position with great humour. I well understand all its
bitterness; your position may, I am sure, be called tragic. But you
must know that you are not the only one who finds herself in it: there
is hardly any man of the present day who does not find himself in it
also. You will say that that does not make it any the easier for you;
but what I think is that to suffer in company with thousands is quite a
different thing from suffering alone. It is not a question of egotism
here, but of a feeling of universal necessity.
“All this is very fine, let us assume,” you will say, … “but, in point
of fact, it is not applicable to the case.” Why is it not applicable? Up
to the present day I think, and I hope that I shall never cease to
think, that in God’s world everything honest, good, and true is
applicable, and sooner or later will be fulfilled; and not only will be
fulfilled, but is already being fulfilled, if each one will only hold
himself firmly in his place, will not lose patience, will not desire the
impossible, but will act, so far as his strength permits. But I think I
have given myself up too much to abstractions. I will defer the
continuation of my arguments until another letter; but I do not wish to
lay down my pen without having pressed your hand warmly, very warmly,
and wished you, with all my soul, everything that is good on earth.
Yours, A. S.
P.S. By the way, you say that you have nothing to look forward to,
nothing to hope for; how do you know that, allow me to ask?
_From Márya Alexándrovna to Alexyéi Petróvitch_
VILLAGE OF … NO, June 30, 1840.
How grateful I am to you for your letter, Alexyéi Petróvitch! How much
good it has done me! I see that you really are a good and trustworthy
man, and therefore I shall not dissimulate before you. I trust you. I
know that you will not make a bad use of my frankness and that you will
give me friendly advice. That is the point.
You noticed at the end of my letter a phrase which did not entirely
please you. This is what it referred to. There is a neighbour here …
he was not here in your day, and you have not seen him. He … I might
marry him, if I wished; he is a man who is still young, cultured,
wealthy. There are no obstacles on the side of my relatives; on the
contrary, they–I know this for certain–desire this marriage; he is a
fine man, and I think he loves me…. But he is so languid and petty,
all his desires are so narrow, that I cannot help recognising my
superiority over him; he feels this, and seems to take delight in it,
and precisely that repels me from him; I cannot respect him, although he
has an excellent heart. What am I to do, tell me? Think for me and
write me your opinion sincerely.
But how grateful I am to you for your letter!… Do you know, I have
sometimes been visited by such bitter thoughts…. Do you know, I have
gone so far as almost to feel ashamed of every–I will not say
exalted–but of every trustful feeling. I have shut my book in vexation
when it spoke of hope and happiness; I have turned away from the
cloudless sky, from the fresh verdure of the trees, from everything that
smiled and was glad. What a painful condition this was! I say “was” …
as though it had passed!
I do not know whether it has passed; I know that if it does not return I
shall be indebted to you for it. You see, Alexyéi Petróvitch, how much
good you have done, perhaps without yourself suspecting it! Now, in the
very heart of summer, the days are magnificent, the sky is blue,
bright…. It cannot be more beautiful in Italy. But you are sitting in
a stifling and dusty town, you are walking on the scorching pavements.
What possesses you to do it? You ought, at least, to remove to a villa
somewhere. They say that beyond Peterhoff, on the seashore, there are
I should like to write more to you, but it is impossible: such a sweet
perfume has been wafted up to me from the garden that I cannot remain
in the house. I shall put on my hat and go for a stroll…. Farewell
until another time, kind Alexyéi Petróvitch.
P.S. I have forgotten to tell you … just imagine: that wit, of whom I
recently wrote you,–just imagine: he has made me a declaration of love,
and in the most fiery terms! At first I thought that he was making fun
of me; but he wound up with a formal proposal. What do you think of
that, after all his calumnies? But he is positively too old. Last night,
to pique him, I sat down at the piano in front of the open window in the
moonlight, and played Beethoven. It was so delightful to me to feel its
cold light on my face, so consolatory to send forth upon the perfumed
night air the noble sounds of music, athwart which, at times, the song
of the nightingale was audible! It is a long time since I have been so
happy, but do you write to me concerning the thing I asked you about in
the beginning of my letter: it is very important.
_From Alexyéi Petróvich to Márya Alexándrovna_
ST. PETERSBURG, July 8, 1840.
My dear Márya Alexándrovna, here is my opinion in two words: throw both
the old bachelor and the young suitor overboard! There’s no use in
deliberating over this. Neither of them is worthy of you–that is as
clear as that twice two are four. The young neighbour may be a good man,
but I throw him over! I am convinced that you and he have nothing in
common, and you can imagine how cheerful it would be to live together!
And why be in a hurry? Is it possible that a woman like you–I have no
intention of paying compliments, and therefore will not enlarge
further–that such a woman as you should not meet some one who will know
how to appreciate her? No, Márya Alexándrovna; heed me if you really
think that my advice is beneficial.
But confess that you found it pleasant to behold that old calumniator at
your feet!… If I had been in your place, I would have made him sing
Beethoven’s “Adelaïda” the whole night through, staring at the moon the
But God be with them, with your admirers! It is not of them that I wish
to talk with you to-day. I am in a sort of half-irritated,
half-agitated condition to-day, as the result of a letter which I
received yesterday. I send you a copy of it. This letter was written by
one of my very old friends and comrades in the service, a kind-hearted
but rather narrow-minded man. A couple of years ago he went abroad, and
up to the present he has not written to me a single time. Here is his
letter. N.B. He is very far from bad-looking.
“I am in Naples. I am sitting in my chamber on the Chiaja at the window.
The weather is wonderful. At first I gazed a long time at the sea, then
impatience seized upon me, and the brilliant idea of writing a letter to
thee occurred to me. I have always felt an affection for thee, my dear
friend,–Heaven is my witness that I have! And now I should like to pour
myself into thy bosom…. I believe that is the way it is expressed in
our elevated language. And the reason I have been seized with impatience
is that I am expecting a woman; together we shall go to Baiæ to eat
oysters and oranges, to watch the dark-brown shepherds in red nightcaps
dance the tarantella, to broil ourselves in the sunshine, to watch the
lizards–in a word, to enjoy life to the full. My dear friend, I am so
happy that I am unable to express it to you. If I possessed thy power
with the pen, oh, what a picture I would draw before thine eyes! But,
unfortunately, as thou knowest, I am an illiterate man. The woman for
whom I am waiting, and who has already made me constantly start and
glance at the door, loves me–and as for the way I love her, it seems to
me that even thou with thy eloquent pen couldst not describe that.
“I must tell thee that I have known her for the last three months, and
ever since the very first day of our acquaintance, my love has gone on
_crescendo_, in the shape of a chromatic scale, ever higher and higher,
and at the present moment it has already attained to the seventh heaven.
I am jesting, but, as a matter of fact, my attachment to that woman is
something extraordinary, supernatural. Just imagine: I hardly ever talk
with her, but I stare at her incessantly and laugh. I sit at her feet, I
feel that I am frightfully stupid and happy, simply unlawfully happy. It
sometimes happens that she lays her hand on my head…. And then, I must
tell thee, … but thou canst not understand it; for thou art a
philosopher, and have been a philosopher all thy life. Her name is Nina,
Ninetta–as thou wilt; she is the daughter of a wealthy merchant here.
Beautiful as all thy Raphaels; lively as powder, blithe, so clever that
it is positively amazing that she should have fallen in love with such a
fool as myself; she sings like a bird, and her eyes–
“Forgive me, pray, for this involuntary tirade…. I thought the door
creaked…. No, the rogue has not come yet! Thou wilt ask me how all
this is going to end, and what I mean to do with myself, and whether I
shall remain here long. I know nothing, and wish to know nothing, about
that, my dear fellow. What is to be will be…. For if one is to pause
and reason constantly….
“‘Tis she!… She is running up the stairs and singing…. She has
come…. Well, good-by, my dear fellow…. I’m in no mood for thee.
Pardon me–it is she who has spattered this letter all over: she struck
the paper with her damp nosegay. At first she thought I was writing to a
woman; but as soon as she found out that it was to a man-friend, she
bade me give you her compliments, and inquire whether there are any
flowers in your country, and whether they are fragrant. Well,
good-by…. If you could only hear how she laughs!… Silver rings just
like that: and what goodness in every sound!–One fairly wants to kiss
her feet. Let us go, let us go! Be not angry at this untidy scrawl, and
The letter actually was bespattered, and exhaled an odour of
orange-flowers … two white petals had adhered to the paper. This
letter has excited me…. I have called to mind my sojourn in
Naples…. The weather was magnificent then also; May was only just
beginning; I had recently completed my twenty-second year; but I did not
know any Ninetta. I roamed about alone, consumed with a thirst for
bliss, which was both painful and sweet,–sweet to the point where it
itself bore a sort of resemblance to bliss…. What a thing it is to be
young!… I remember I once went out for a row on the bay at night.
There were two of us: the boatman and I … but what was it you thought?
What a night it was, and what a sky, what stars–how they trembled and
crumbled in the waves! With what a liquid flame did the water flow over
and flash up under the oars, what perfume was wafted all over the
sea–it is not for me to describe, however “eloquent” my pen may be. A
French ship of the line lay at anchor in the roadstead. It glowed
obscurely red all over with lights; long streaks of red light, the
reflection of the illuminated windows, stretched across the dark sea.
Merry music reached me in occasional bursts; I recall, in particular,
the trill of a small flute amid the dull blaring of the horns; it seemed
to flutter like a butterfly around my boat. I ordered the man to row to
the ship; twice did we make the circuit of it. Women’s forms flitted
past the windows, borne smartly past on the whirlwind of the waltz…. I
ordered the boatman to put off, far away, straight out into the
darkness…. I remember that the sounds pursued me long and
importunately…. At last they died away. I stood up in the boat and
stretched out my arms over the sea in the dumb pain of longing…. Oh,
how my heart ached then! How oppressive was my loneliness! With what joy
would I have given myself at that moment wholly, wholly … wholly, if
only there had been any one to whom to give myself! With what a bitter
feeling in my soul did I fling myself, face down, in the bottom of the
boat and, like Repetíloff, request him to take me somewhere or other!
But my friend here experienced nothing of that sort. And why should he?
He has managed matters much more cleverly than I did. He is living …
while I … not without cause has he called me a philosopher…. ’Tis
strange! You, also, are called a philosopher…. Why should such a
calamity overtake us?…
I am not living…. But who is to blame for that? Why do I sit here in
Petersburg? What am I doing here? Why do I kill day after day? Why don’t
I go to the country? Are not our steppes beautiful? Or cannot one
breathe freely in them? Or is it stifling in them? What possesses me to
pursue dreams, when, perchance, happiness is within my reach? It is
settled: I am going away, I am going away to-morrow, if possible; I am
going home, that is, to you–it is all the same: for we live only
twenty versts apart. What’s the use, after all, in languishing here? And
why is it that this idea did not occur to me earlier? My dear Márya
Alexándrovna, we shall soon meet. But it is remarkable that this thought
did not enter my head until this moment! I ought to have gone away long,
long ago. Farewell until we meet, Márya Alexándrovna.
I have deliberately given myself twenty-four hours to think it over, and
now I am definitively convinced that there is no reason why I should
remain here. The dust in the streets is so biting that it makes one’s
eyes ache. To-day I shall begin to pack; on the day after to-morrow,
probably, I shall leave here; and ten days hence I shall have the
pleasure of seeing you. I hope you will receive me as of old. By the
way–your sister is still visiting your aunt, is she not?
Permit me, Márya Alexándrovna, to press your hand warmly, and to say to
you from my soul: farewell until a speedy meeting. I was preparing to
leave in any case, but this letter has precipitated my intention. Let us
assume that this letter proves nothing; let us even assume that Ninetta
would not please any one else–me, for example. Yet I am going, all the
same; there is no doubt about that. Farewell for the present.
Yours, A. S.
_From Márya Alexándrovna to Alexyéi Petróvitch_
VILLAGE OF … NO, July 16, 1840.
You are coming hither, you will soon be with us, will you not, Alexyéi
Petróvitch? I will not conceal from you that this news both delights and
agitates me…. How shall we meet? Will that spiritual bond be preserved
which, so it seems to me, has already begun to unite us? Will it not
break when we meet? I do not know; I am apprehensive, for some reason or
other. I will not answer your last letter, although I might say a good
deal; I will defer all this until we meet. My mother is greatly
delighted at your coming…. She has been aware that I was corresponding
with you. The weather is enchanting. We will walk a great deal; I will
show you the new places which I have discovered … one long, narrow
valley is particularly nice: it lies between hillocks, covered with
forest…. It seems to be hiding in their curves. A tiny brook blows
along it and can barely force its way through the grass and flowers….
You shall see. Come: perhaps you will not find it tedious.
P.S. You will not see my sister, I think: she is still visiting my aunt.
I believe (this is between ourselves) that she is going to marry a very
amiable young man–an officer. Why did you send me that letter from
Naples? The life here perforce seems dim and pale in comparison with
that luxury and that brilliancy. But Mademoiselle Ninetta is wrong:
flowers grow and are fragrant–even with us.
_From Márya Alexándrovna to Alexyéi Petróvitch_
VILLAGE OF … NO, January, 1841.
I have written to you several times, Alexyéi Petróvitch…. You have not
answered me. Are you alive? Or perhaps our correspondence has begun to
bore you; perhaps you have found for yourself a more agreeable diversion
than the letters of a rustic young lady can afford you? Evidently you
called me to mind for the lack of something to do. If that is the case,
I wish you happiness. If you do not answer me this time, I shall not
trouble you again; there will be nothing left for me to do but to regret
my imprudence, that I have unnecessarily permitted myself to be roused
up, have offered my hand and emerged, if only for a moment, from my
isolated nook. I ought to remain in it forever, lock myself in–that is
my portion, the portion of all old maids. I ought to accustom myself to
that thought. There is no necessity for coming out into God’s sunlight,
no necessity for craving fresh air, when the lungs will not bear it. By
the way, we are now blocked up with dead drifts of snow. I shall be more
sensible henceforth…. People do not die of boredom, but it is possible
to perish with melancholy, I suppose. If I am mistaken, prove it to me.
But I think I am not mistaken. In any case, farewell. I wish you
_From Alexyéi Petróvitch to Márya Alexándrovna_
DRESDEN, September, 1842.
I write to you, my dear Márya Alexándrovna, and I write only because I
do not wish to die without having taken leave of you, and without having
recalled myself to your mind. I am condemned by the doctors … and I
myself feel that my life is drawing to a close. On my table stands a
rose; before it fades I shall be no more. But that comparison is not
quite just. The rose is far more interesting than I am.
As you see, I am abroad. I have been in Dresden six months. I received
your last letters–I am ashamed to confess: I lost several of them more
than a year ago, and did not answer you…. I will tell you presently
why. But, evidently, you have always been dear to me: with the exception
of yourself, there is no one of whom I wish to take leave, and perhaps I
have no one to whom I could bid farewell.
Soon after my last letter to you (I was quite ready to set out for your
parts, and was making various plans in advance), there happened to me an
episode which had, I may say, a strong influence on my fate,–so strong
that here I am, dying, thanks to that event. To wit: I set out for the
theatre, to see the ballet. I have never liked the ballet, and have
always felt a secret disgust for all sorts of actresses, singers, and
dancers…. But, obviously, one cannot change his fate, neither does any
one know himself, and it is also impossible to foresee the future. In
point of fact, nothing happens in life except the unexpected, and we do
nothing all our life long but adjust ourselves to events…. But I
believe I am dropping into philosophy again. Old habit!… In a word, I
fell in love with a dancer.
This was all the more strange because she could not be called a beauty.
She had, it is true, wonderful golden hair, with an ash tinge, and
large, bright eyes, with a pensive and, at the same time, a bold
glance…. Haven’t I cause to know the expression of that glance? I
pined and languished for a whole year in its rays! She had a splendid
figure, and when she danced her folkdance, the spectators used to stamp
and shout with rapture…. But I do not think any one besides myself
fell in love with her–at all events, no one fell in love with her as I
did. From the very minute that I beheld her for the first time–(will
you believe it? all I have to do even now is to shut my eyes, and
immediately here stands before me the theatre, the almost empty stage,
representing the interior of a forest, and she runs out from behind the
side-scenes on the right, with a wreath of vine-leaves on her head and a
tiger-skin over her shoulders)–from that fatal minute I belonged to her
wholly,–just as a dog belongs to his master; and if now, when I am
dying, I do not belong to her, it is merely because she has cast me off.
To tell the truth, she never troubled herself especially about me. She
barely noticed me, although she good-naturedly made use of my money. I
was for her, as she expressed it in her broken French jargon, “_oun
Rousso buon enfan_,”–and nothing more. But I … I could no longer live
anywhere where she was not; I tore myself at one wrench from all that
was dear to me, from my native land itself, and set out in pursuit of
Perhaps you think that she was clever?–Not in the least! It sufficed to
cast a glance at her low brow, it sufficed to note, if only once, her
lazy, heedless smile, in order instantly to convince one’s self as to
the paucity of her mental abilities. And I never imagined her to be a
remarkable woman. On the whole, I did not deceive myself for a single
minute on her score. But that did not help matters in the least.
Whatever I thought of her in her absence, in her presence I felt nothing
but servile adoration…. In the German fairytales the knights often
fall into that sort of stupor. I could not tear my eyes from her
features; I could not hear enough of her remarks, or sufficiently watch
every movement of hers; to tell the truth, I actually breathed to her
breathing. However, she was good-natured, unconstrained–too
unconstrained even; she did not put on airs, as the majority of artists
do. She had a great deal of life, that is, a great deal of blood, of
that splendid Southern blood, into which the sun of their land must have
dropped a portion of his rays. She slept nine hours a day, was fond of
good eating, never read a single line of print, unless, perhaps, the
articles in the newspapers in which she was mentioned, and almost the
sole tender sentiment in her life was her attachment to il signore
Carlino, a small and greedy Italian who served as her secretary and whom
she afterward married. And with such a woman as this I, who have tasted
so many varied intellectual subtleties, I, already an old man, could
fall in love! Who could have expected it? I never expected it, at all
events. I did not anticipate the part which I should be compelled to
play. I did not expect that I should haunt rehearsals, freeze and get
bored behind the scenes, inhale the reek of the theatre, make
acquaintance with various unseemly individuals … what am I
saying?–make acquaintance–bow to them. I had not expected that I
should carry a dancer’s shawl, buy new gloves for her, clean her old
ones with white bread (but I did it, I take my oath!), cart home her
bouquets, run about to the anterooms of journalists and directors, wear
myself out, give serenades, catch cold, lose my strength…. I had not
expected that I should acquire at last in a certain little German town
the ingenious nickname of “_der Kunst-barbar_.”… And all this in
vain–in the fullest sense of the word, in vain! There, that is
precisely the state of the case….
Do you remember how you and I, orally and by letter, argued about love,
into what subtleties we entered? And when it is put to the proof, it
turns out that real love is a feeling not at all resembling that which
we imagined it to be. Love is not even a feeling at all; it is a malady,
a well-known condition of the soul and body. It does not develop
gradually; there is no possibility of doubting it; one cannot dodge it,
although it does not always manifest itself in identically the same
fashion. It generally takes possession of a man without being invited,
suddenly, against his will–precisely like the cholera or a fever…. It
lays hold upon him, the dear creature, as a hawk does upon a chicken;
and it will bear him off whithersoever it wishes, struggle and resist as
he may…. In love there is no equality, no so-called free union of
souls and other ideal things, invented at their leisure by German
professors…. No; in love one person is the slave, the other is the
sovereign, and not without cause do the poets prate of the chains
imposed by love. Yes, love is a chain, and the heaviest of chains at
that. At all events, I have arrived at that conviction, and have reached
it by the path of experience. I have purchased that conviction at the
price of my life, because I am dying a slave.
Alack, what a fate is mine! one thinks. In my youth I was resolutely
determined to conquer heaven for myself…. Later on, I fell to dreaming
about the welfare of all mankind, the prosperity of my fatherland. Then
that passed off: I thought only of how I might arrange my domestic, my
family life … and I tripped over an ant-hill–and flop! I went
headlong on the ground, and into the grave…. What master hands we
Russians are at winding up in that fashion!
However, it is high time for me to turn away from all this,–it was time
long ago! May this burden fall from my soul along with my life! I wish
for the last time, if only for a moment, to enjoy that good, gentle
feeling which is diffused within me like a tranquil light as soon as I
call you to mind. Your image is now doubly dear to me…. Along with it
there surges up before me the image of my native land, and I waft to it
and to you my last greeting. Live on, live long and happily, and
remember one thing: whether you remain in that remote nook of the
steppes, where you sometimes find things so painful, but where I should
so like to spend my last day, or whether you shall enter upon another
career, remember: life fails to disappoint him alone who does not
meditate upon it, and, demanding nothing from it, calmly accepts its
sparse gifts, and calmly makes use of them. Go forward, while you can:
but when your feet fail you,–sit down near the road, and gaze at the
passers-by without vexation and without envy: for they will not go far!
I have said this to you before, but death will teach any man whomsoever;
moreover, who shall say what is life, what is truth? Remember _who_ it
was that gave no answer to this question…. Farewell, Márya
Alexándrovna; farewell for the last time, and bear no ill will to poor–