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Contemporary Russian Novelists
by Serge Persky
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"Give him to me, Vassily! Give him back to me, I tell you...."

At last her desire is realized: a son is born to her; but the child, conceived in madness, is born half-witted. The mother takes to drink again, and the despair of Vassily increases. One day the unfortunate woman hangs herself. The pope comes in, however, in time to save her; but now another noose has tightened itself about the priest's heart. One question oppresses him:

"Why these sufferings? If God exists, and if God is love, how is such misery possible?"

Vassily's faith trembles. He decides to leave his cassock, to fly, to put his idiot son out to board and to start life over again. This resolution relieves him. His wife breathes easier. It seems to him that she also can begin a new life. But fate does not loosen its reins.

One day, on coming back from the harvest, he finds his house burned. His wife, in a drunken stupor, had probably set fire to it. She is dying of her burns. Vassily can only sigh. This new misfortune does not put an end to the priest, but rather inspires him. His old faith comes back, he sees in this supreme test a predestination. He kneels down and cries:

"I believe! I believe! I believe!"

From that time on he devotes himself entirely to prayer and macerations. He lives in perpetual ecstasy. The people around him understand nothing of this change and are astounded. Every one of them is waiting for something unusual. And their waiting is not in vain. One day, when he is delivering the funeral oration of a workingman, who has been suddenly killed, Vassily abruptly interrupts the ceremony, approaches the corpse, which has begun to decay, and addresses it thus three times:

"I tell you: arise!"

But the dead man does not move. Then the priest looks at this inert and deformed corpse. He notices the fetid odor that arises from it, the odor of the slow but sure decomposition, and he has a sort of sudden revelation. The scepticism which, for a long time, has been brooding in his heart suddenly is transformed into absolute negation, and addressing himself to Him in whom he had believed, Vassily cries out:

"Thou wishest to deceive me? Then why did I believe? Why hast Thou kept me in servitude, in captivity, all of my life? No free thought! No feeling! No hope! All with Thee! All for Thee! Thee alone! Well, appear! I am waiting! I am waiting!... Ah! Thou dost not want to? Very well...."

He does not finish. In a burst of savage madness he rushes forth from the now empty church. He rushes straight ahead and finally falls in the middle of the road. Death has put an end to his miseries.

"Silence" also shows us a priest, stubborn in his prejudices. This man, Father Ignatius by name, is a sort of rude and authoritative Hercules. All tremble before his stern air, except his daughter, who has decided to continue her studies in St. Petersburg, against the will of her father. Coming back to her home after a long absence, she wanders about, sad and silent. For days at a time she wanders about, pale and melancholy, speaking little, seeking solitude. She hides what oppresses her; she keeps her secret from all. One night, she throws herself under a train, taking her secret with her.

Her grief-stricken mother gets a paralytic stroke which transforms her into a sort of living corpse. The father, crushed by these two catastrophes, which have destroyed all the joy of his life, becomes the prey of a singular mental state: his conscience revolts against the severe maxims and the pitiless prejudices that he has always defended. Tender love, which he has hitherto concealed under his pride, now softens him; he needs affection, and a vague feeling suggests to him that he himself is to blame for all of these misfortunes. His past life, his daughter, and his wife appear to him as so many enigmas which raise anguishing questions in his heart. He calls out, but no one answers. A death-like silence has invaded the presbytery, and this silence is especially dreadful near the paralyzed wife, who is dying without speaking. Even her eyes do not betray a single thought. Gradually, a terrible desire to know why his daughter committed suicide seizes him. At twilight, softly, in his bare feet, he goes up to the room of his dead daughter and speaks to her. He entreats her to tell him the truth, to confess to him why she was always so sad, why she has killed herself. Only the silence answers him. Then he rushes to the cemetery, where his daughter's tomb irresistibly attracts him; again he implores, begs, threatens. For a moment he thinks that a vague answer arises from the earth; he places his ear on the rough turf.

"Vera, tell me!" he repeats in a loud and steady voice.

"And now Father Ignatius feels with terror that something sepulchrally cold is penetrating his ear and congealing his brain; it is Vera, who is continually answering him with the same prolonged silence. This silence becomes more and more sinister and restless, and when Father Ignatius arises with an effort, his face is as livid as death."

Crushed by the same blind destiny which annihilated the powerful personality of Father Ignatius, the piteous and tearful hero of "The Marseillaise" moves us even more than does the old priest. The poor fellow cannot grasp the reason for the ferocity of stupid fate, which unrelentingly preys upon him. Arrested by mistake as a revolutionist and condemned to deportation, he becomes an object of derision to his comrades. However, gradually, he finds the strength to share the severe privations of his companions who have sacrificed themselves to their ideal of justice and liberty. And, on his death-bed, he is elated by all that he has endured; he dreams of liberty, which, up to this time, had been indifferent to him, and asks them to sing the Marseillaise over his grave.

"He died, and we sang the Marseillaise. Our young and powerful voices thundered forth this majestic song of liberty, accompanied by the noise of the ocean which carried on the crests of its waves towards 'dear France,' pale terror and blood-red hope.

"It became our standard forever, the picture of this nonentity with the hare's body and the man's heart.

"On your knees to the hero, friends and comrades!

"We sang. The guns, with their creaking locks, were pointed menacingly at us; the steel points of the bayonets were pointed at our hearts. The song resounded louder and louder, with increasing joy. Held in the friendly hands of the 'strugglers,' the black coffin slowly sank into the earth.

"We sang the Marseillaise!"

* * * * *

The two main characters of "The Gulf," a student and a school-girl, are walking and discussing rather deep things, such as immortality and the beauty of pure and noble love. They feel some sadness in speaking about these things, but love appears more and more luminous to them. It rises before their eyes, as large as the world, bursting forth like the sun and marvelously beautiful, and they know that there is nothing so powerful as love.

"You could die for the woman you loved?" asked Zinochka.

"Of course," replies Nemovetsky unhesitatingly, in a frank and sincere voice, "and you?"

"I too!" She remains pensive a moment. "To die for the one you love, that is a great happiness! Would that that were to be my destiny!"

Gradually night falls. Nemovetsky and his companion lose their way in the woods; they finally arrive in a clearing, where three filthy-looking men are seated about an empty bottle. These intoxicated men, whose wicked eyes light up with a brutal envy of enjoyment and love of destruction, try to quarrel with Nemovetsky, and one of them ends by striking him full in the face with his fist. Zinochka runs away. His heart full of terror, Nemovetsky can hear the shrieks of his friend, whom the vagabonds have caught. Then a feeling of emptiness comes over him, and he loses consciousness. Two of the men throw him into a ravine.

An hour later, Nemovetsky regains consciousness; he gets up with great pain, for he is badly wounded. He remembers what has happened. Fright and despair seize him. He begins to run and call for help with all his strength, at the same time looking among all the bushes, when at his feet, he sees a dim, white form. It is his companion, who lies there motionless. He falls down on his knees and touches her. His hand encounters a nude body, damp and cold, but still living. It seems to grow warm at his touch. He pictures to himself with abominable clearness what the men have done. A feeling of strange strength circulates in his members. On his knees in front of the young girl, in the obscurity of the forest, he tries to bring her back to life, calling her sweet names, caressing her hair, rubbing her cold hands.

"With infinite precautions, but also with deep tenderness, he tries to cover her with the shreds of her torn dress, and the double sensation of the cloth and the nude body are as keen as a sword and as inconceivable as madness. And now he cries for help, now he presses the sweet and supple body to his breast. His unconscious abandonment unchains the savageness of his passion. He whispers in a low voice, 'I love you, I love you.' And throwing himself violently upon her lips, he feels his teeth entering her flesh.

"Then, in the sadness and impetuousness of the kiss, the last bit of his mind gives way. It seems to him that the lips of the young girl tremble. For an instant, a terrible terror fills his soul and he sees a horrible gulf yawning at his feet.... And he hurls himself into the mad throes of his insane passion."

The account of the collegian, which forms the plot of the story "In the Fog," is even more daring in its realism. It actually oppresses the reader, not so much by certain details that provoke disgust, as by the analysis of the sufferings of an unfortunate young man, whose mind is pure, but who has let himself be dragged into excesses which are followed by a sickness of ill name. Severely reprimanded by his father, the poor young fellow, overcome with sorrow, the victim of an instinct which he could not conquer, ends his days in a most horrible way: one evening, he leaves home and goes out into the streets in an adventuresome spirit. A half-intoxicated prostitute touches him in passing; he follows her. As they go along, a conversation starts up, and the young man, although she is repugnant to him, goes home with her. Once in her room, a violent quarrel starts up and he kills her, and then commits suicide.

These two stories, especially "The Gulf," caused many lively discussions on the part of the public, and then in the newspapers. Mr. Bourenine, the well-known critic of the "Novoye Vremya," says that he received from several correspondents a series of letters which blamed Andreyev vehemently and requested that this "skunk" of literature be called to order according to his deserts. These protestations were reenforced by an ardent letter from Countess Tolstoy, the wife of the great author, who reproached Andreyev for having so complacently painted such sombre pictures, with such low and violent scenes, all of which tended to pervert youth. The writers were not the only ones to take offence. Two important Russian newspapers organized a sort of inquiry, and they published many of the answers received from the young people of both sexes, but these were all favorable to Andreyev.

In truth, all these judgments are too passionate. It is true that "most of the critics have understood Andreyev only in a superficial manner," as Tolstoy rightfully asserted. The double impression, for instance, produced by "The Gulf," is the result of a simple misunderstanding. Those who think that the adventure of young Nemovetsky is a slice of life and characterizes certain psychological states, have, without a doubt, the right to judge this story as an indiscretion, and to reproach the author with a deviation from morality; but Andreyev has not taken his hero from reality; he has not tried to give us a picture of manners, but has expressed an idea, born in his brain under the influence of the philosophy of Nietzsche. It illustrates the terrible power and the brutality of a dormant instinct lurking in the purest minds.

* * * * *

Besides, "The Gulf" and "In the Fog" are compositions which are exceptional in the work of Andreyev. The idea that he mostly presents is not the power of bestial instincts, but rather the indestructible vitality of human feelings and aspirations towards a better existence, which sometimes comes to light among the most miserable and depraved people, and even among those who are in the most abject material condition.

In the destiny of these beings, there are, however, rays of hope. The slightest incident serves to transform them; suddenly their hearts begin to beat happily, tears of tenderness moisten their eyes, they vaguely feel the existence of something luminous and good. A profound sensibility, an ardent love of life bursts forth in their souls. This sensibility, this attachment to existence, form the theme of four touching stories: "He Was," "Petka in the Country," "The Cellar," and "The Angel."

The action of "He Was" takes place in a hospital, where a deacon, a foolishly debonair man, who is attached to his stunted existence, and a pessimistic merchant, thoroughly satiated, are at the point of death. The deacon has an incurable sickness, and his days are numbered. But he does not know it, and speaks with enthusiasm of the pilgrimage he is going to make after he is cured, and of the apple-tree in his garden, which he expects will bear a great deal of fruit. The fourth Friday of Lent he is taken into the amphitheatre. He comes back, very much moved and making the sign of the cross.

"Ah! my brothers," he says, "I am all upset. The doctor made me sit down in a chair and said to the students: 'Here you see a sick man.' Ah! how painful it was to hear him add: 'He was a deacon!'"

"The unfortunate man stopped, and continued in a choking voice: '"He was a deacon," the doctor told them. He told them the story of my whole life, he even spoke about my wife. It was terrible! One would have said that I was dead already, and that he was talking over my coffin.'

"And as the deacon is thus speaking, all of the others see clearly that he is going to die. They see it as clearly as if death itself was standing there, at the foot of the bed...."

The merchant is a very different sort of man: he does not believe in God; he has had enough of life and is not afraid of death. All of his strength he has spent unnecessarily, without any appreciable result, without joy. When he was young he had stolen meat and fruit from his master. Caught in the act, he had been beaten, and he detested those who had struck him. Later on, having become rich, he crushed the poor with his fortune and scorned those who, on falling into his hands, answered his hate with scorn. Finally, old age and sickness had come; people now began to steal from him, and he, in turn, beat those whom he caught terribly. And thus his life had been spent; it had been nothing but a series of transgressions and hatreds, where the flames of desire, in dying out, had left nothing but cold ashes in his soul. He refuses to believe that any one can love this existence, and he disdainfully looks at the sallow face of the deacon, and mutters: "Fool!" Then, he looks at the third man in the room, a young student who is asleep. This student never fails to embrace his fiancee, a pretty young girl, whenever she comes to see him. As he looks the merchant, more bitterly than before, repeats: "Fool!"

But death approaches; and this man who thinks himself superior and who scorns the deacon because he dreams of light and the sun, now feels disturbed in his turn. In making up the balance-sheet of this existence which, up to this time, he believed he hated, he remembers a stream of warm light which, during the day, used to come in through the window and gild the ceiling; and he remembers how the sun used to shine on the banks of the Volga, near his home. With a terrible sob, beating his hands on his breast, he falls back on his bed, right against the deacon, whom he hears silently weeping.

"And thus they wept together. They wept for the sun which they were never to see again, for the apple-tree with fruit which they were not going to eat, for the shadow that was to envelop them, for dear life and cruel death!"

* * * * *

Petka—the hero of "Petka in the Country"—is, at ten years of age, a barber's apprentice. He does not yet smoke as does his thirteen year old friend Nicolka, whom he wants to equal in everything. Petka's principal occupation, in the rare moments when the shop is empty, is to look out of the window at the poorly dressed men and women who are sitting on the benches of the boulevard. In the meantime, Nicolka goes through the streets of ill fame, and comes back and tells Petka all his experiences. The precocious knowledge of Nicolka astonishes the child, whose one ambition is to be like his friend one of these days. While waiting, he dreams of a vague country, but he cannot guess its location nor its character. And no one comes to take him there. From morning till evening he always hears the same jerky cry: "Some water, boy!"

But one morning his mother, the cook Nadezhda, tells the barber that her master and mistress have told her to take Petka to the country for a few days. Then begins for him an enchanted existence. He goes in bathing four times a day, fishes, goes on long walks, climbs trees, rolls in the grass. When, at the end of a week, the barber claims his apprentice, the child does not understand: he has completely forgotten the city and the dirty barber-shop; and the return is very sad. Again is heard the jerky cry: "Some water, boy!" followed by a menacing murmur of "Come! Come!" if the child spills any of the water, or has not understood the orders.

"And, during the night, in the place where Petka and Nicolka sleep side by side, a weak little voice speaks of the country, of things that do not exist, of things that no one has ever heard of or seen!..."

"The Cellar" is inhabited by absolutely fallen people. A baby has just been born there. With down-bent necks, their faces unconsciously lighted up by strangely happy smiles, a prostitute and a miserable drunkard look at the child. This little life, "weak as a fire in the steppe," calls to them vaguely, and it seems to promise them something beautiful, clear, and immortal. Among the inhabitants of this cellar, the most unfortunate of all, is a man named Kizhnakov; he is pale, sickly, worn by work, almost devoured by suffering and alcohol; death already lies in wait for him. The most terrible thing for this man is the necessity of having to begin to live again each day. He would like to lie down all day and think of suicide under the heap of rags that serve him as a covering. He would like best to have some one come up back of him, and shoot him. He fears his own voice and his own thoughts. And it is on him that the baby produces the deepest impression. Since the birth of the child Kizhnakov does not sleep any more; he tries to protect himself from the cold, and weeps softly, without sadness and without convulsions, like those who have pure and innocent hearts, like children.

"'Why do I weep?' he asks himself.

"Not finding a suitable answer, he replies: 'It is thus....'

"And the meaning of his words is so deep that a new flood of tears come to the eyes of the man whose life is so sad and solitary."

We find the same theme again in "The Angel." A child who also lives in a cellar comes back from a Christmas-tree; he brings with him a toy, and a pretty little wax angel, which he shows to his father. The latter has seen better days, but in the last few years he has been sick with consumption, and now he is awaiting death, silent and continually exasperated by the sight of social injustice. However, the delight of the child infects the father, and both of them have a feeling "of something that joins all hearts into one, and does away with the abyss which separates man from man, and makes him so solitary, unfortunate, and weak." The poor dying man seems to hear a voice from this better world, where he once lived and from which he had been sent forever.

But these are only the dreams of a dying man, the last rays of light of the life which is being extinguished. The ray, penetrating this sick soul, is like the weak sunlight which passes through the dirty windows of a dark hovel.

* * * * *

In his two stories, "The Stranger" and "The Obscure Future," Andreyev shows us two men of entirely different character, animated by generous feelings and a firm will. One of them, a young student, being disgusted with the miseries of Russian life and having decided to expatriate himself, suddenly changes his mind, as a result of the patriotism of one of his friends, a Servian, named Raiko. He makes it his duty never to leave his country, although life there is so terrible and hopeless. There is, in this new feeling, an immense joy and a terrible sadness. The other, the hero of the second story, having one day expressed to his father the hatred he has for the bourgeois life that he is leading, leaves his family, who love him, in order to penetrate the "obscure future."

Evidently, these are people who are fitted to struggle. However, these strugglers, so infrequent in the work of Andreyev, have, in spite of all, something sickly and savage in them; instead of real fighting courage, they possess only extreme audaciousness, mystical rapture, or nervous exaltation. The "obscure future" toward which their eyes are turned is not lighted up by the rays of faith and hope.

The question is whether Andreyev himself believes in the triumph of the elements of life over the elements of death, the horror of which he excels in portraying for us. It is in the following manner that he expresses himself in one of his essays entitled, "Impressions of the Theatre": "In denying everything, one arrives immediately at symbols. In refuting life, one is but an involuntary apologist. I never believe so much in life as when I am reading the father of pessimism, Schopenhauer! As a result, life is powerful and victorious!... It is truth that always triumphs, and not falsehood; it is truth which is at the basis of life, and justifies it. All that persists is useful; the noxious element must disappear sooner or later, will inevitably disappear."

* * * * *

What, then, constitutes the essence of Andreyev's talent is an extreme impressionability, a daring in descriptions of the negative sides of reality, melancholy moods and the torments of existence. As he usually portrays general suffering and sickness rather than definite types, his heroes are mostly incarnations and symbols. The very titles of some of his stories indicate the abstract character of his work. Such are: "Silence," "The Thought," and "The Lie." In this respect he has carried on the work of Poe, whose influence on him is incontestable. These two writers have in common a refined and morbid sensibility, a predilection for the horrible and a passion for the study of the same kind of subjects,—solitude, silence, death. But the powerful fantasy of the American author, which does not come in touch with reality, wanders freely through the whole world and through all the centuries of history. His heroes take refuge in half-crumbled castles, they look at the reader from the top of craggy rocks, whither their love of solitude has led them; even death itself is not a repulsive skeleton, but rather a majestic form, full of grandiose mystery. Andreyev, on the other hand, but rarely breaks the bounds which unite him to reality. His heroes are living people, who act, and whose banal life ends with a banal death. This realism and this passionate love of truth make the strength and the beauty of all his work.

* * * * *

A certain harmony between the imaginative and the real element is characteristic of the best of Andreyev's productions, especially his last stories: "The Red Laugh," "The Governor," "The Shadows," and "The Seven Who Were Hanged."

"The Red Laugh" is the symbol, the incarnation, of the bloody and implacable cynicism of war. The psychologist of the mysterious has, in these pages, recorded the terrifying aspects of the Manchurian campaign, which one could not have foreseen in all of its horror. He has shown in a lasting manner the poor human creature torn from his home, debased to the role of a piece of mechanism. Not knowing where he is being led to, he goes, making murderous gestures, the meaning of which he does not know, without even having the illusory consolation of possible personal bravery, being killed by the shots of an invisible enemy, or, what is worse, being killed by the shots of his own comrades—and all of this, automatically, stupidly. The feeling of terror, the somewhat mystical intuition of events which, at times, seem to be paradoxes in the other works of Andreyev, are perfectly adapted to this terribly real representation of the effects of war.

The inner drama which Andreyev analyzes in "The Governor" makes a bold contrast with the violent pages of "The Red Laugh," the savage powers of which attain the final limits of horror.

The governor has during his whole life been a loyal and strict servant of the Tsar. On the day of an uprising he mercilessly beat the enemies of his master; he blindly accomplished what he thought was his duty. But, since that bloody day, a new and unceasing voice speaks in his conscience. The irreparable act has forever isolated him from his fellow-creatures, and even from his friends who congratulate him upon his fine conduct. A stranger to all that is happening around him, he is left alone to fight with his conscience, which soon crushes him with all the weight of remorse. He knows that he has been condemned by a revolutionary tribunal. A young girl who is a stranger to him writes him a compassionate letter: "You are going to be killed," she says, "and that will be justice; but I have great pity for you." This discerning and youthful sympathy penetrates his heart, which finally opens—alas, too late,—to justice and pity.

This marks the beginning of a terrible agony. The governor makes no effort to escape from the fatal judgment. Always alone, he contemplates his terrible distress and awaits the coming of the judiciary. He feels that he has incurred universal blame, and at times he comes to wish for death, which surprises him suddenly as he is turning the corner of a street:

"The whole thing was short and simple, like a scene from a moving-picture play. At a cross-ways, close by a muddy spot, a hesitating voice called to the governor:

"'Your honor!'

"'What?'

"He stopped and turned his head: two men who had come from behind a wall were crossing the street, and were shuffling along in the mud towards him. One of them had in his left hand a piece of folded paper; his other hand was in his pocket.

"And immediately, the governor knew that death had come; and they knew that the governor knew.

"While keeping the paper in his left hand the unknown man took a revolver out of his pocket with difficulty.

"The governor glanced about him; he saw a dirty and deserted square, with bits of grass growing in the mud, and a wall. But what did it matter, it was too late! He gave a short but deep sigh, and stood erect again, fearless, but without defiance.... He fell, with three shots in his body."

This drama of conscience is set forth with admirable sureness of analysis, and the author has been able to represent with impressive intensity the mysterious fatality which demands the death of the guilty one.

* * * * *

It is this same fatality, under whose hand all men are equal, which makes the hero of "The Shadows," a young terrorist who has taken refuge in a house of ill-fame, obey the strange desire of his bed-companion.

"Stay with me!" cries the young girl, in whom is incarnated his destiny, at the moment that he is going to leave the establishment in order to escape from the spies who are following him. "You are an honest man! And I've been waiting five years to meet an honest man.... Stay with me, because you belong to me."

After a terrible internal combat the man yields to this unknown will which is oppressing him. A traitor to his party, he decides to become the companion of this painted girl, with whom he then gets drunk.

"As long as I am in the shadows," he murmurs with the sombre resignation of an Andreyev hero, "I might as well remain there."

At dawn, the police come to arrest him. And while his friend tries desperately to resist the agents of the force, he contemplates the brutal scene with an ironic smile.

* * * * *

"The Seven Who Were Hanged," written in 1908, right after the executions at Kherson and Warsaw, shows us pictures of terror and fright aptly described by the genius of Andreyev. This work has prodigious color and strength, and one experiences deep emotions on reading it. Five terrorists, captured at the very moment when they are going to assassinate a minister, and two criminals, are condemned to be hanged on the same day. The writer shows them to us tortured by the most horrible anguish, that which immediately precedes death. The word "madness" appears on every page: mystical madness of hallucination that hears music and voices, such is that of the young revolutionary Moussya; then there is the brutal madness of her comrades Kashirine and Golovine, who are ready to scream with terror; the madness of the victims, the frenzy of the executioners.

The night before the execution the prisoners are visited by their relatives. The farewell which Serge Golovine takes of his family is rightly considered one of the most poignant and most cleverly constructed scenes that Andreyev has ever written.

Followed by his mother, who totters along, Serge's father, a retired colonel, enters the room where visitors are received. Serge does not know that the colonel spent the whole night in preparing for this meeting. He has told his wife what to do: embrace her son, keep from crying, and say nothing. But the unhappy mother in the presence of her son cannot control her emotions; her eyes are strained and she breathes faster and faster.

"Don't torture him!" commands the colonel.

Several stupid and insignificant words are exchanged in order to hide the terrible suffering that they all are going through. The visit ends: the parents must bid their son good-bye forever. The mother gives her son a short kiss, then she shakes her head and murmurs, trembling:

"'No, it is not that! It is not that!'

"'Good-bye, Serge,' says his father.

"They shake hands, and give each other a brief but hearty kiss.

"'You...' begins Serge.

"'What's that?' asks his father in a jerky voice.

"'No, not like that. No, no! What was I going to say?' repeats his mother, shaking her head.

"She was again seated, trembling.

"'You...' continues Serge.

"Suddenly, his face took on a pitiful expression, and he made a grimace like a child. The tears then came to his eyes.

"'Father, you are a strong man!'

"'What are you saying? What are you saying?' the colonel cries, frightened.

"Then, as if he had been struck, the colonel's head sank down upon his son's shoulder. And they kissed each other, again and again, the one with white hair and the other with the prisoner's 'capote.'

"'And I?' a hoarse voice brusquely asked.

"They looked: the mother was standing, her head thrown back, and she was watching them with anger, almost hate.

"'What is the matter, dear?' cried the colonel.

"'And I?' she repeated. 'You two kiss each other, and I? You are men, aren't you? And I?'

"'Mother!'

"And Serge threw himself into his mother's arms....

"The last words of the colonel were:

"'I consecrate you to death, my boy! Die with courage, like a soldier!'"

These few lines retrace one of the thousands of daily dramas which compose modern Russian history. The work of Andreyev brings to us a sad vibrant echo of the sobs which ring out in Russian dungeons. And this faithful portrayal of events, events so frequent that they no longer move us from our indifference, when we find the echo of them in the press, will raise in the conscience of Andreyev's readers a cry of horror and pity.

* * * * *

It is principally in the dramas which he has written in the last few years[11] that Andreyev has developed with most force and clearness his favorite themes: the fear of living and dying, the madness of believing in free-will, and the nonsense of life, the weakness and vanity of which he depicts for us.

[11] Mention should be made of some of Andreyev's other dramas: "To the Stars," "Anfissa," "Gaudeamus," and "Sava," plays of uneven value, but with a strength of observation and analysis which is not inferior to that shown in some of his best stories.

The first of these works to appear was "The Life of Man," which is a tragic illustration of this pessimism.

When the curtain rises, "some one in grey," holding a torch, informs the audience that Man is about to be born. From this time on, his life, lighted like a lamp, will burn until death extinguishes it. And Man will live, docile and obedient to the orders that come to him from On-High, through the intermediary of this "some one," whom he does not know. Each act of the play represents a period in the life of Man. In the first act, Man has acquired riches and glory, and is found feasting with his friends in his sumptuous home. The guests are enchanted with their host, whom they envy. But happiness is a fugitive shadow; it soon betrays the man, who becomes poor, loses his son, falls into the most abject misery, and dies in a filthy and infected cellar, surrounded by vile beggars, while the torch, held by "some one in grey," begins to grow weaker, and then dies out. And the man, conscious of his powerlessness to conquer fate, and conscious of his weakness in face of the mysterious "some one in grey," confounds in the same malediction God, Satan, Fatality, and Life, who have united to annihilate him.

The themes of the "King of Famine" and "Black Masks" offer a certain analogy to the theme of "The Life of Man."

From the top of a belfry the "King of Famine," in company with "Time" and "Death," incites a workingmen's revolt. He inspires them with an absolute certainty of victory, although he can see that the revolt will be quelled and the rebels crushed. Events do not delay, in fact, to verify the prophecy of the monarch. Locked up, the leaders of the revolt are condemned to death. The scene of judgment in the last act is one of the finest in the play. On one side are seated the sad and dull judges; on the other, the elegant public, which, with a feeling of fear and disgust, gazes at the unfortunates whom the King of Famine has robbed of almost all human semblance. And in this play, also, Death reaps a bountiful harvest.

"Black Masks" is the study of a pathological case which Andreyev has dramatized after the fashion of de Maupassant's "The Horla."

The Duke Lorenzo, young, noble, and the owner of a magnificent palace, is getting ready to receive his guests, to whom he is giving, on this evening, a masked ball. The masks arrive: they are all black, and all look alike. They all crowd around Lorenzo, whom this funereal sort of masquerade bothers extremely. He cannot find his wife among the guests. In fact, he does not recognize any of them until, to cap the climax, he meets his double, fights with him and dies, without being able to discern who is the real Lorenzo.

* * * * *

At times, Andreyev tries to find the justification of life, and looks for it in mysticism. He then expounds a doctrine, according to which, truth is individual and perhaps conceived by each man, thanks to direct intuition. Such is the mystical truth which the author tries to affirm in "Anathema."

The play opens with a scene between Anathema, the incarnation of Satan, and "He who guards the gates," behind which is the mystery of eternity. Anathema entreats the Guardian to give him access. But it is in vain that Anathema flatters and insults him; finally, Anathema declares that he will choose from among mankind a poor Jew, named David Leiser, will enrich him and, in order to prove the absolute nonsense of life, will make this man a living protestation against the work of Him who knows all. Disguised as the lawyer Nullius, Anathema comes down to earth and gives millions to David. The latter, the best of men, distributes his riches among the poor. But the beggars become more and more numerous, and soon David finds that he is as poor as he was before the visit of Anathema.

In the meantime, the crowd of paupers, always increasing, ask more money from David; they demand miracles from this man, whose goodness has made him a saint, a superman, in their eyes. They bring him corpses and ask him to resuscitate them. David flees; the crowd follows and stones him to death. But, through his love for his fellow-men, David has acquired immortality, as "He who guards the gates" tells Anathema, when, in the last act, the evil archangel, beaten, returns to lie on the threshold of the inconceivable mysterious.

This admirable play, born of a philosophical conception which relates it to Goethe's "Faust," has been received with particular interest. Andreyev, in writing it, has come very near to solving the question of the meaning of life, and its justification. And, to the person who ponders a while over this work, it will appear that it is not Anathema who entreats "Him who guards the gates" to reveal the mystery, but it is Andreyev himself, who, carried away by the force of his genius, has thrown himself, as if at an invincible wall, against this pitiless guardian, the guardian of the solution of the enigma of life.

While "Anathema" is an abstract character, whose form resembles more an algebraic formula than a living process of human relations, another of Andreyev's plays, "The Love of the Student," written a short time before "Anathema," gives us a little picture of customs, alert and painted with the touch of a master.

Gloukortzev, a young student, falls in love with a young girl whom her mother forces to become a prostitute. Gloukortzev, young and inexperienced, has not the slightest suspicion, till the young girl herself reveals to him the horrible truth. And, perhaps for the first time in his life, the gulf of necessity, toward which fate drives men, opens before him. He sees with horror that he cannot come to the rescue of the girl he loves, because he is poor himself. He cannot even buy her some food, when she tells him that she has eaten nothing since the night before. Placed before the absolute bare reality of life, Gloukortzev does not know what to do, and his comrades, good and upright fellows like himself, have not the means to help him.

Several very successful scenes, in which the author blends the tragic with the comic, deserve, in this brief analysis, special attention. In the first act, there is a students' picnic at which Olga and Gloukortzev, still full of happiness, are present. The spectator is drawn by personal sympathy to the student Onoufry, a good fellow, always drunk, who makes fun of others and himself. We see him again in the second act, when Gloukortzev finds out about Olga's life. The poignant scene between the poor girl and her lover is heightened and softened by the arrival of the students, to whom Gloukortzev tells his sorrow. The last two acts take place in Olga's home. The mother brings her daughter a rich "client." And, in the next room, Gloukortzev suffers terribly, because he knows that his beloved is still leading an infamous life. In the same room, in the fourth act, we are present at an orgy, during which the student quarrels with an officer who has come to spend the night with Olga. But Onoufry, interfering in time, prevents an affray the issue of which would probably have been fatal. When the curtain falls, Gloukortzev, intoxicated, is weeping; at his side is Olga, also weeping, while Onoufry and the officer are singing: "The days of our lives are as short as the life of a wave."

This drama, as well as most of Andreyev's plays, has been produced with great success in Russia and also in Europe.



VII

DMITRY MEREZHKOVSKY

Unlike Gorky, Andreyev, and Tchekoff, Merezhkovsky was brought up in the midst of comfort and elegance; he received a correct and careful education; fate was solicitous for him, in that it allowed him to develop that spirit of objective observation and calm meditation which permits a man to look down on the spectacle of life, and indulge in philosophical speculations very often divorced from reality.

The son of an official of the imperial court, Merezhkovsky was born in St. Petersburg in 1865. In this city he received his entire education, and here he gained the degree of bachelor of letters in 1886.

He began his literary career with some poems which won for him a certain renown. In 1888, he published his first collection, and then a second in 1892, "The Symbols." At the same time, he published several translations from Greek and Latin authors.

As he was a friend of the unfortunate Nadson, and a pupil of the humanitarian Pleshcheyev, Merezhkovsky wrote at first under the influence of the liberal ideas of his early masters. His verses, always harmonious, and a little affected, soon belied this tendency and very frankly revealed his preferences. In the first collection of his poems, vibrant with generous ideas, he proclaimed that he wanted, above all, "the joy of life," and that a poet should not have any other cult than that of beauty.

The poem called "Vera" was his first real success. The extreme simplicity of the plot—the unfortunate love of a young professor and of a young weakly girl who dies of consumption in the very flower of youth—and the very faithful reproduction of the intellectual life of Russia in 1880, give to this work the importance of a document in some ways almost historic.

This poem is like a last tribute paid by the author to the humanitarian and realistic tendencies of Russian literature. Afterward, yielding to the inclinations of his nature and his taste for classical antiquity, Merezhkovsky insensibly changed. While acquiring, both in prose and in verse, an incontestable mastery, he could now look only for a cold and haughty beauty which was sufficient unto itself. The beginning was hard, but then all came easier. After critical articles on the trend of modern literature, he published "The Reprobate," a bold dithyrambic on ancient Greek philosophy. The poetry that followed was clearly Epicurean and in complete contradiction to the altruistic tendencies of the neo-Christian period, which found an arch enemy in Nietzsche, whose philosophy evidently influenced Merezhkovsky. However, this evolution did not have a very favorable effect on his poetry; it bordered on an art the clarity of which approached dryness, while at the same time its lack of tenderness reduced its symbolism to an artificial lyricism or to lifeless allegories.

* * * * *

Merezhkovsky works with untiring constancy to glorify antiquity. He has made excellent translations of Sophocles, Euripides, and of "Daphne and Chloe," that idyl of Longus that charmed both Goethe and Catherine II. He chooses the characters of his new poems from Greek and Latin mythology, and from themes inspired by an ardent love of paganism. He has written three prose works of considerable value: "The Death of the Gods," "The Resurrection of the Gods,"[12] and "Peter and Alexis." The general idea of all of these is the struggle between Greek polytheism and Christianity, between Christ and Antichrist, to use the author's expression, or, as Dostoyevsky used to say, between the "man-God" and the "God-man."

[12] Also called "The Romance of Leonardo da Vinci, the Forerunner."

This struggle touches upon the gravest problem that can occupy the human mind, and continually puts before us this perplexing question: "Should the purpose of life be only the search for happiness and beauty, or must we admit, as a law of nature, the dogma of suffering and death?" The former of these conceptions found its supreme formula in Greek paganism. The ultimate expansion of the latter leads us, on the one hand, to faith,—to the religion of sacrifice, and, on the other hand, into the domain of philosophy,—to the destruction of the desire to live, as conceived by Schopenhauer. It is this struggle between the two principles of Hellenic philosophy and Christian faith that Merezhkovsky has tried to show us by fixing, in his novels, the historic moments when this struggle reached its greatest intensity; and by making appear in these periods the characters who, according to him, are most typical and representative. For this reason he has chosen to give his readers pictures of the three epochs which he considers as culminating: first, the last attempt made to restore the worship of the gods a short time after the Emperor Constantine had brought about their ruin; secondly, the Renaissance, which, in spite of triumphant Christianity, shows us a glorious renewal of the arts and sciences of antiquity; finally, the beginning of the 18th century, the reign of Peter the Great, who tried to make a place for the gods of antiquity in Russia, where they were regarded with horror by the orthodox clergy.

* * * * *

In his novel, "The Death of the Gods," Merezhkovsky has painted the first of these epochs, the different phases of which revolve about the principal hero, the emperor Julian the Apostate. In "The Resurrection of the Gods" he develops, in sumptuous frescoes, the age of the Renaissance, personified by Leonardo da Vinci, who best typifies the character and tendencies of that time. In "Peter and Alexis," he retraces Russian life in the beginning of the 18th century, when it was dominated by the extraordinary character of Peter the Great.

Julian the Apostate was one of the last idolaters of expiring paganism. But he could do nothing against the infatuation of the masses who were embracing the new religion, and it was in vain that he employed both so much kindness and so much violence in order to suppress Christianity. The reign of the gods was irrevocably ended. His soul filled with rage when he saw that he was powerless to change the course of events. He ended by undertaking a foolhardy expedition into Persia, thinking that that was the only way in which to defeat Christ, triumph over the "cursed" religion, and bring back victoriously the altars of the dead gods. But the Olympians on whom he had counted were of no service to him. According to the Christian legend, it was then, at the moment of death, that he cried out: "Galilean, thou hast conquered!" They say that he added: "Let the Galileans conquer, for the victory will be ours, ... later. The gods will come back ... we shall all be gods."

This scene is one of the finest in the book. Surrounded by some faithful friends, Julian speaks, with his last breath, the words which one of these friends, the historian Ammianus Marcellinus, has recorded.

"His voice was low but clear. His whole presence breathed forth intellectual triumph, and from his eyes there still gleamed invincible will. Ammianus's hand trembled as he wrote. But he knew that he was writing on the tables of history, and transmitting to future generations the words of a great emperor:

"'Listen, friends; my hour is come, perhaps too soon. But you see that I, like an honest debtor, rejoice in giving back my life to Nature, and feel in my soul neither pain nor fear; nothing but cheerfulness, and a presentiment of eternal repose.... I have done my duty, and have nothing to repent. From the days when, like a hunted animal, I awaited death in the palace of Marcellum, in Cappadocia, up to the time when I assumed the purple of the Roman Caesars, I have tried to keep my soul spotless. If I have failed to do all that I desired, do not forget that our earthly deeds are in the hands of Fate. And now I thank the Eternal Ruler for having allowed me to die, not after a long sickness nor at the hands of an executioner, but on the battlefield, in full youth, with work ahead of me still to be done.... And, my dear friends, tell both my friends and my enemies, how the Hellenes, endowed with divine wisdom, can die....'"

* * * * *

Revenge for the dying emperor was long in coming. But now, after eleven centuries, the prophecy of Julian is accomplished: heroic antiquity, everlastingly young, arises from the grave. On all sides the gods are resurrected. Their marble effigies, so long buried, reappear. Both the powerful and the humble receive them with enthusiasm and rejoice at seeing them. It is an irresistible outburst which carries with it all classes of the Italian people. Like a wind-blown flame, Greek genius inspires a new life in the world. But, while a sweeter and more humane moral feeling tries to liberalize the church, the sombre voice of Savonarola, hardened by the terrible corruption of manners, mounts ever more menacingly:

"Oh, Italy! oh, Rome! I am going to deliver you up into the hands of a people who will efface you from among the nations. I see them, the enemies who descend like hungry tigers.... Florence, what have you done? Do you want me to tell you? Your iniquity has heaped up the measure; prepare for a terrible plague! Oh, Lord, thou art witness that I tried to keep off this crumbling ruin from my brothers; but I can do no more, my strength is failing me. Do not sleep, oh, Lord! Dost Thou not see that we are becoming a shame to the world? How many times we have called to Thee! How many tears we have shed! Where is Thy providence? Where is Thy goodness? Where is Thy fidelity? Stretch forth Thy helping hand to us!"

And thus the antagonism between the "God-man" and the "man-God" of Hellenic paganism expresses itself more strongly than ever before.

The picture of the Renaissance that Merezhkovsky paints for us is very full, very rich, at times even a little overburdened with episodes and people. One constantly rubs shoulders with Leonardo da Vinci, the duchess Beatrice of Este, regent of Milan, the favorite Lucrecia Crivelli, the mysterious Gioconda, Charles VIII, Louis XII and Francis I, kings of France, and also with Caesar Borgia; we find here the preaching of Savonarola, the death of the pope Alexander VI (Borgia), Marshal Trivulce, the triumphal entry of the French into Milan, the diplomacy of Niccolo Machiavelli. In fact, as has been said above, there are too many events and characters.

* * * * *

Two centuries go by and now we come to the third novel, "Peter and Alexis." The scene is in Russia, and the hero is Peter the Great, whom Merezhkovsky represents as a worshipper of things Olympian. He gives a magnificent description of the orgies held by the emperor in honor of Bacchus and Venus, especially the latter, whose statue he expressly ordered from Rome and installed in the Summer Garden at St. Petersburg.

In a veritable fairyland of avenues, of yoke-elms and flower-beds in geometric designs, of enormous baskets filled with the choicest flowers, of straight canals, of ponds, of islets, of magnificent fountains, such a fairyland as Watteau would have dreamed of, there is a Venetian fete with all sorts of fire-works and illuminations; small crafts, adorned with flags, are filled with men in golden garments, girded with swords, and wearing three-cornered hats and buckled shoes; and the women are dressed in velvet and covered with jewels.

The Tsar himself opens the case, and helps in placing the goddess on her pedestal. Again, as two hundred years before in Florence, the resurrected goddess, Aphrodite, emerges from the grave. The cords stretch, the pulleys creak; she rises higher and higher. Peter is almost of the same superhuman height as the statue. And his face, close to that of Aphrodite, remains noble: the man is worthy of the goddess....

"The Immortal One—Aphrodite—was still the same that she was on the hillside in Florence; she had progressed further and further, from age to age, from people to people, halting nowhere, till in her victorious march she had reached the very ends of the earth, the Hyperborean Scythia, beyond which there is naught but darkness and death...."

But what miseries this magnificent facade conceals! Not far off, on an island in the river, one can see people who are watching the fete and who think that they are present at one of the spectacles forerunning doomsday. Among the crowd are seen the "raskolnik" Cornelius, old Vitalya of the "runners," deserters, the merchant Ivanov, the clerk Dokounine ... and several others. In the few remarks that they exchange, we can see that, for them, Peter the Great is the Antichrist, "the beast announced by the Gospel."

Such is the tie that binds Peter the Great, Julian, and Leonardo together. But this tie is weakened by the fact that Peter, an essentially practical and utilitarian genius, was not the man to become inspired with Hellenic poetry, and if the author introduces the Tsar into the society of Julian the Apostate and of Leonardo da Vinci, it is because Peter the Great was one of those indefatigable strugglers, who, to attain their ends, put themselves above the obligations of ordinary morality, one of those supermen, who hesitate at nothing in satisfying the instincts of their egoisms, of their dominating wills. In fact, the heroes of Merezhkovsky's novels all belong in the category of the Nietzschean type of superman, which explains their philosophical relationship and the sort of trilogy which these three novels form. Thus, Julian the Apostate, who tried in vain during his life to make history repeat itself, by transplanting pagan traditions into a plot which had become unfit to receive them, and who died in the effort to preserve a faith—does not this man, then, incarnate that implacable pursuit of the "integral personality" so extolled by Nietzsche? Leonardo da Vinci, that great universal and keen mind, who gave himself over to all the impulses of his creative genius, not caring whether the impulses are worthy or harmful, appears as a luminous manifestation of that state of the soul "beyond good and bad" which characterizes the superman. And is not Peter the Great also a veritable superman; a man who, through his iron will, upset all the ancient institutions of aged Russia, and who did not even prevent the assassination of his son Alexis, inasmuch as he thought that it was for the good of his country?

At all events, the interest and value of "Peter and Alexis" does not rest in its philosophic ideas and in the Nietzschean obsession, but rather in the art with which Merezhkovsky faithfully depicts the psychology of his heroes. The successive phases of this terrible tragedy lead up to a striking climax, and set off, one against the other, temperaments so entirely opposed that the reciprocal tenderness of the father and son is transformed finally into suspicion and hate, and the father resolves to sacrifice the life of his son to what appears to him to be the right of the State. The novel, although a little overburdened with details, is an excellent analysis of the customs of the Russia of former times.

The source of the struggle between Peter and Alexis was known. Peter represented the West and the new ideas, while Alexis represented the Russia of old, rebellious to innovations which she considered dangerous. The author thus symbolizes the eternal conflict between the past and the future. He has analyzed with consummate art the characters of his two heroes. Peter is a man full of contrasts; he is, like many Russians, "a brute and a child," by turns violent and gentle, knavish and simple, cruel and kind, practical and mystical, proud and modest. Possessed of a prodigious activity, he conceives tremendous projects which he immediately wants to put into execution, inspecting everything, verifying everything, finding no care beneath his dignity, talking to the workingmen as if he were one of them, not making long speeches, and fiercely, with cries of rage, fighting dishonest contractors and tradesmen.

Set over against this irascible father, endowed with herculean strength, the Tsarevich Alexis, thin, pale, and delicate, makes a sad figure. Most historians, following the example of Voltaire, have represented this prince as a narrow-minded person, a victim of the bigoted and intolerant education of the clergy. Merezhkovsky, a more discreet psychologist, does not rely on these superficial data, but shades the portrait admirably. He makes Alexis an intelligent man, not like his father, but a man with a comprehensive, subtle spirit. He probably was crushed by the powerful individuality of his father. As he is closely in touch with the people, and knows their aspirations, Alexis judges the work of his father with delicate insight: "My father hopes," he says, "to do everything in a great hurry. One, two, three, and the affair is settled. He does not realize that things done hastily do not last...."

While Peter is aware of his unpopularity, his son is loved by the townspeople, the peasants, and the clergy. They say that, "Alexis is a man who seeks God and who does not want to upset everything: he is the hope of the nation."

What the author has best shown in this novel is the degree to which the high society of this time was, under its exterior gorgeousness, barbarous and vulgar. A German girl, maid-of-honor to the wife of Alexis, defines it in the following way: "Brandy, blood, coarseness. It is hard to say which is most prominent,—perhaps it is coarseness." The boyards[13] she describes as: "Impudent savages, baptized bears, who only make themselves more ridiculous when they try to ape the Europeans."

[13] Russian noblemen.

* * * * *

As is evident, these three works of Merezhkovsky belong to the "genre" of the historical and philosophical novel which demands, besides the power to call up past ages, a careful education and the gift of clear-sightedness. And the novelist completely fulfills these requirements. He knows his subject, he studies all the necessary documents with the greatest care and follows every story to its source; finally, before taking up his pen, he visits the countries and the cities in which the stories take place. Thus, in order better to understand Leonardo da Vinci, in order to live his life, the author of "The Resurrection of the Gods" traversed Italy and France from one end to the other, in the same way that he had traveled all over Greece so that he could give us a more life-like Julian. With the same care, he spent a long time reading Russian historical documents in order to present the reader with a better picture of the customs of the time of Peter the Great. The result is a series of historical pictures, almost perfect in their accuracy. If Merezhkovsky had no other merit than this faithful portrayal of the past, his novels even then would be read with interest and pleasure.

Some critics have remarked that the most glaring defect in his books lies in their construction. His novels often disregard the laws relating to this sort of literature, which demand the clever grouping of the characters and events around a principal hero. It is true that this unity and the sense of proportion absolutely necessary for any sort of harmony are not to be found in his works. The details predominate to the detriment of important facts; the people of secondary importance are sometimes drawn better than the heroes themselves, whose adventures are entirely unconnected. There is a series of jumps from one situation to another, with gaps and interruptions of considerable length, which break the chain of events. It is for this reason that, instead of seeing a historical fresco, we see a whole gallery of sketches, executed with subtle artistry, but insufficiently connected with the main action of the drama.

These observations apply especially to the first attempt of the young author: "The Death of the Gods"; "The Resurrection of the Gods" and "Peter and Alexis" are more skilfully composed. They indicate a stronger tendency towards unity; one feels that an infinitely firmer and more experienced brush has been used; the colors are richer and they do not suffer from that monotony of effect and of color so noticeable in "The Death of the Gods," where the author too often uses the same devices. As to the characters of Leonardo da Vinci and Peter the Great, they are very carefully worked out, and the events in the lives of the Italian master and the Russian Tsar are narrated with magnificent psychological analysis, which forces the reader to sympathize with the heroes even more than he would naturally.

Merezhkovsky has also been accused of being over-educated. The innumerable documents presented do not bear closely enough upon the action, the result being that many of his pages read like mere annals. They interest the reader but do not move him. This is one reason why some critics, essentially different in spirit from Merezhkovsky, have believed themselves right in denying that he has any talent. But this accusation falls of itself in the face of the power of the inspiration which pervades his work, and the dramatic sense which he displays in setting forth the events and personages. It is impossible, for instance, to read without the deepest emotion the story of the last days of Leonardo da Vinci, where the author establishes the tragic contrast between the outward signs of glory, the superficial honors with which this genius is overwhelmed, and the moral solitude which afflicts him to the very end, which comes when he is among people who are strangers to his soul. All the childhood recollections of this same Da Vinci are full of charm. There is a veritable master spirit shown in the chapters in which the author portrays for us the enigmatic and seductive Mona Lisa. Finally, he has given us a relief of rare energy in the terrible struggle between Peter and Alexis, between the man of iron whom nothing can affect and his son, kind and timid, who, while having a mortal fear of his father, still loves him. As to certain pages, like those which describe the strange inner life of the Tsarina Marfa Matveyevna, "living by the light of candles, in an old house savouring of the oil of night-lamps, the dust and the putrification of centuries," these pages are a veritable tour de force if only because of the plasticity and richness of the author's vocabulary.

Finally, what tragic horror there is in the supreme struggle where the emperor, the assassin of his son, sees his isolation and feels his weakness, "like a large deer gnawed at by flies and lice until the blood runs!"

* * * * *

Besides his novels Merezhkovsky has published several essays, on Pushkin, Maykov, Korolenko, Calderon, the French neo-romanticists, Ibsen and others.... The most important of all are: "The Causes of the Decadence of Modern Russian Literature" and "Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky." He reveals here a fine and penetrating power of observation, which, however, is often obscured because of his obsession by Nietzschean ideas. Moreover, he does not hide his antipathy to the people whose literary tastes and ideas differ from his. From this characteristic comes strange exaggerations and a somewhat limited appreciation of men and events. An example of this, for instance, is the impression that he gives in his study of the causes of the decadence of modern Russian literature, the subject of which imposes upon the author the double task of looking up the causes of this decadence and also proving that it exists. He has not succeeded. In fact, it appears that this idea of decadence exists only in the minds of the author and of a small circle of writers who have the same ideas about the mission of literature. Merezhkovsky is absolutely right in all that he says about the fact that Russian writers live solitary, deprived of that precious excitation which is felt when one is in contact with original and different temperaments; but if you add to this, as he has done, the statement that Russia does not possess a literature worthy of the name, you go too far. Without being a great scholar, it is easy to perceive that our contemporary Russian authors are legitimate sons of Turgenev, Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, and grandsons of Gogol, who himself is closely related to Pushkin. A democratic and humanitarian realism—widely separated from the Nietzscheism of Merezhkovsky—strongly characterizes the Russian lineage.

In his book on Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky he spends a long time in differentiating between the artistic intuition of these two great masters, who are, according to him, the most profound expression of the popular and higher element of Russian culture.

What strikes him first in Tolstoy is the insistence with which he describes "animal man." In a kind of "leitmotiv" Merezhkovsky has shown us the Tolstoyan characters individualized by very particular corporal signs. "Tolstoy," he says, "has, to the very highest degree, the gift of clairvoyance of the flesh; even when dead, the flesh has a tongue." He is the subtle painter of all sensations and he is a master in this domain. But his art diminishes singularly, and even disappears when he tries to analyze the soul within the flesh. Dostoyevsky, on the other hand, triumphs in his dialogue; one sees his characters because one shares all their sadness, their passions, their intelligence, and their sensibility. Dostoyevsky is the painter of the depths of the human soul, which he portrays with almost supernatural acuteness. And, as Tolstoy is "the seer of the flesh," so is Dostoyevsky "the seer of the soul."

Having established this difference in principle, Merezhkovsky, by constant deduction, concludes, in consonance with his favorite idea, that Tolstoy personifies "the pagan spirit" at its height, while Dostoyevsky represents "the Christian spirit." There is a great deal of fine drawn reasoning in all of this, some very original ideas, but a great many paradoxes. Even the very personality of Tolstoy, the analysis of which occupies a large part of the book, is belittled in the hands of Merezhkovsky. Instead of a noble character, one sees a very vain person, preoccupied only with himself. It is in this simple way that Merezhkovsky explains the moral evolution which led Tolstoy to make those long and sad studies of a kind of life compatible with the true good of humanity, and forced him to them by "the anguish of the black mystery of death" which, having got possession of the author of "Anna Karenina" in his sixtieth year, in the midst of a life of prosperity, made him hate his fortune and his comfort, which formerly had been so dear to him. In the refusal of Tolstoy to "bow to the great authorities of the literary world, such as AEschylus, Dante, and Shakespeare," a refusal which is only the logical consequence of his ideas on the principle and purpose of art, Merezhkovsky can only see a lack of general culture. Finally, the sort of life he led toward the end of his days came only "from the desire to know and taste the pleasure of simplicity in all its subtleties." "The admirable Epicurus," says Merezhkovsky, "that joyous sage, who, in the very center of Athens, cultivated with his own hands a tiny garden, and taught men not to believe in any human or divine chimeras, but to be contented with the simple happiness that can be given by a single sunbeam, a flower, a sup of water from an earthen cup, or the summer time, would recognize in Tolstoy his faithful disciple, the only one, perhaps, who survives in this barbaric silence, where American comfort, a mixture of effeminacy and indigence, has made one forget the real purpose of life...."

In writing these lines, Merezhkovsky must have forgotten that Tolstoy, in proclaiming his ideas on religion and humanity, prepared himself, not for Epicurean pleasures, but for seclusion in one of the terrible dungeons of a Russian monastery (now in disuse) under the persecutions of a temporal and secular authority, and it was not his fault that, by a sort of miracle, he escaped this fate.

Dostoyevsky's life is the exact opposite of Tolstoy's. The story of Dostoyevsky's terrible existence is probably known. Born in an alms-house, he never ceased to suffer, and to love.... It is hard to think of two people more absolutely different than Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. But Merezhkovsky loves violent contrasts; in the sharp difference between these two writers, he sees the permanent union of two controlling ideas of the Russian Renaissance and the imminence of a final sympathy, symbolic of a concluding harmony.

* * * * *

We have, by turns, studied Merezhkovsky as a poet, a novelist, and a critic. The greatest merit of his literary personality rests in the perfect art with which he calls up the past.

But Merezhkovsky is not only an artist. As we have noted, his novels have, as their end, one of the greatest contradictions of human life,—the synthesis of the voluptuous representations of the religion of classical antiquity and the moral principles of Christianity. It is, therefore, natural to ask whether he has in any way approached his goal and just where he sees the salvation of humanity, the present situation of which seems to him desperate. The answer to this question can be found in his book, "Ham Triumphant."[14] Our study of Merezhkovsky's literary character would be incomplete if the ideas of this book were not set forth.

[14] In Russia, the name of the biblical Ham has become synonymous with servility and moral baseness. Merezhkovsky employs this scornful term to designate those people who are strangers to the higher tendencies of the mind and are entirely taken up with material interests. His "Ham Triumphant" is the Antichrist, whose reign, as predicted by the Apocalypse, will begin with the final victory of the bourgeoisie. In one chapter of this book, Merezhkovsky proves that the writers of western Europe and Russia (Byron and Lermontov) err in crowning this Antichrist with an aureole of proud revolutionary majesty, for, since he is the enemy of all that is divine in man, he can only be a character of shabby mediocrity and human banality, that is to say, a veritable "Ham."

According to Merezhkovsky, the present evil in the world consists entirely in the moral void which results from the disappearance of the Christian ideal from the soul. The loss of this ideal was inevitable, and even productive of good, because it had been so mutilated and deformed by the Church, that Christian religion became a symbol of the reaction, and its God synonymous with executioner. Humanity will rid itself of Christianity. But nothing will replace it, unless it be the philosophy of positivism, a sort of material religion of the appetites and the senses, which gives no answer to our anguish and our mystical instincts. This philosophy presided at the formation of a miserable society, an egotistical and mediocre bourgeoisie, who have no spiritual tendencies, and are incapable of sacrificing themselves to any ideal other than that of money.

John Stuart Mill said that the bourgeoisie would transform Europe into a China; the Russian publicist Hertzen, frightened by the victories of socialism, in 1848, foresaw the end of European civilization, drowned in a wave of blood. Merezhkovsky affirms that the Chinese and the Japanese, being the most complete and the most persevering representatives of this "terrestrial" religion, will without fail conquer Europe, where positivism still bears some traces of Christian romanticism. "The Chinese," he says, "are perfect positivists, while the Europeans are not yet perfect Chinese, and, in this respect, the Americans are perfect Europeans." Where is one to look for safety against this heavy load on the understanding and this future humiliation? In socialism, one says. But socialism, if it is not yet bourgeois, is almost so. "The starved proletariat and the rejected bourgeois have different economic opinions," says Merezhkovsky, "but their ideal is the same, the pursuit of happiness." As it is but a step from the prudence of the bourgeois to the exasperated state of the starved proletariat, this pursuit can lead to nothing else but international atrocities of militarism and chauvinism. Progress having become the sole ambition of the cultivated barbarians, satiety became their religion, and the only hope of escaping from this barbarism was to adopt the religion of love, founded by Jesus. Jesus said to those who were treated with violence, and who, in turn, had used violence in trying to free themselves: "Truth (love) will set you free." These words, which identify truth with love, contain in themselves the profoundest social and personal morality. They inspired the first martyrs of Christianity; but in time they were forgotten by the Church. Succumbing to the "diabolical seduction of power," religion itself became a power, an autocracy; people submitted to this power, and thus the Byzantine and Russian orthodoxy came into existence. In this manner, the morals of the government, antichristian in essence, became the doctrine of Christianity; and the particular morals of the latter became transformed into a mysterious gospel of life, relegating its aspirations to an existence beyond the tomb. Now there is nothing for Christianity to do but return to its first sources and develop the principles of universal religion found there. One should no longer be concerned with heavenly and personal advantage, but with earthly affairs and social conditions; instead of being conquered by the government one should conquer it, permeate it with one's spirit, and thus realize the prophecy in the Apocalypse of the millennium of the saints on earth, and destroy the forms of the power of the government, the laws, and the empire. Such a renewal of Christianity demands an energetic struggle, self-forgetfulness, and martyrs. But where is one to find the necessary forces? Merezhkovsky does not see them in the States of western Europe, because the "intellectuals" there are antichristians and are congealed in their bourgeois positivism. "Above these Christian states, above these old Gothic stores," says Merezhkovsky, "rises, here and there, a Protestant wooden cross, half rotted; or a Catholic one of iron, all rusted, and no one pays any attention to them." What purity and nobility remains can manifest itself only in certain scattered individuals, in such great hermits as Nietzsche, Ibsen, Flaubert, Goethe in his old age; they are like deep artesian wells which prove that, beneath the arid earth there is still some flowing water. There is nothing of this sort in Russia. Although backward from the point of view of progress and politics, this country produced the "intellectuals" who form something unique in our present civilization: in essence, they are anti-bourgeois. "The positivism which the Russian 'intellectuals' have adopted by way of imitation is rejected by their feelings, their conscience, and their will; it is an artificial monument that is set up in their minds only."

Merezhkovsky, then, has reason for thinking that the social renovation of Christianity will be accomplished in Russia. And as this work is the especial concern of the clergy, Merezhkovsky, who several years ago was present at a meeting where the Russian priests affirmed their desire to free themselves from the yoke of their religious and secular chiefs, proposed to accomplish this great mission. "It is indispensable," he says, "for the Russian Church to untie the knots that bind it to the decayed forms of the autocracy, to unite itself to the 'intellectuals' and to take an active part in the struggle for the great political and social deliverance of Russia. The Church should not think of its own liberty at present, but of martyrdom."

We will not criticize these, perhaps illusory, ideas and previsions of Merezhkovsky. Russian life has become an enigma; who knows to what moral crisis the social conscience may be led by the present political crisis? Merezhkovsky's Olympian aesthetics have made him a foreigner in Russian literature. Yet as soon as the tempest burst forth, certain familiar traits showed themselves, traits common to the best Russian writers and to the general spirit of Russian literature. In his absolute, and even exaggerated, distaste for "bourgeoisisme," and his desire for an ideal, he is a legitimate son of this literature. The nature of his ideas is in harmony with those we have already found in Tolstoy, with his gospel of Christian anarchism, in Dostoyevsky, with his ideas about the "omni-humanity" of the Russian spirit, in Vladimir Solovyev, with his idea of universal theocracy, and, finally, in Chadayev, one of the most remarkable thinkers of the first half of the last century, who, although now almost forgotten, was the real source of all these ideas.

Thus in the conception of socialized Christianity Merezhkovsky seeks the end of the great antithesis between the "God-man" and the "man-God," between Christ and Bacchus, an antithesis which makes the generality of men often conduct themselves after the manner of that German petty kingdom, of which Heine speaks, where the people, while venerating Christ, do not forget to honor Bacchus by abundant libations. Merezhkovsky's idea ought to appear in the form of a synthetic fusion of the joyous religion of Greece and the religion of love, as taught by Jesus.[15]

[15] Merezhkovsky has also written a long historical drama, called "The Death of Paul I." He traces there, with his accustomed animation, the figure of the weak and criminal Tsar, now heaping favors upon those who surround him, now persecuting them with the most terrible cruelty. The savage scene of the assassination of this tyrant is of remarkable beauty.



VIII

ALEXANDER KUPRIN

The work of Kuprin contrasts strongly with the writings of his predecessors and of his contemporaries. It would be useless to try to connect him with Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, or Gorky. This does not mean that he came under foreign influence. As a matter of fact his work clearly shows the imprint of Slavic genius and receives its richness from qualities which have always appeared in Slavic literature,—sincerity and accuracy of observation, a passionate love for all manifestations of modern life, lyrical fullness, and power of suggestion. But Alexander Kuprin does not depict adepts of the "religion of pity," nor the psychology of the abnormal, the "pathological case," so curious and rare, and so dear to the author of "Crime and Punishment."[16] He does not reincarnate the sad genius of Korolenko. He is equally separated from Tolstoy and Gorky. He is himself. That is to say, he is an exquisite story-teller, profound and touching, who imposes neither thesis nor moral upon his reader, but paints life as it appears to him,—not seen through the medium of a temperament,—but in all sincerity, without too much ardor or too much indifference.

[16] Dostoyevsky.

This author was born in 1870. After having attended the Cadet School and the Military School at Moscow, he entered military service as an active lieutenant in 1890, but resigned seven years later in order to devote his time to literature. Before this, he had published several stories.

In spite of the undeniable talent which is found in his earlier writings, the public hesitated to praise him. Certain lucky circumstances, however, favored the beginning of his work. One of his relatives, at the start, offered him a position on a magazine which she was then editing. This was a wonderful opportunity for him, for usually at his age the more gifted writers are still groping around for light. But merit alone seldom suffices to form the basis of literary fame. Scandal is often necessary to consecrate, as one might say, a growing reputation. Kuprin, without seeking to start a scandal, did so, in spite of himself, when he published "The Duel," a study of military life, in which he showed the most absolute impartiality.

To his great surprise, the public accepted this book as a new indictment of the army. It was because the Manchurian campaign was so recent. Every portrayal of military life passed as a violent satire on the corrupt and disgraced army. Kuprin in vain tried to change this unexpected judgment. As he was an ardent partisan of the theory of "art for art's sake," he could not allow a purpose to be attributed to his work. He had only faithfully portrayed what he had witnessed in the course of his brief career. But in order to strengthen his defence, he alleged reasons which could not be understood in an altruistic country. Besides, several of his stories, such as, "The Wedding," full of the dissolute life led by the officers in their garrisons, "The Inquest," where the author shows the violences to which the Russian soldiers are subjected, "The Night's Lodging," and "The Ensign of the Army," which stigmatize certain lace-bedecked "Lovelaces," only help to nullify his best arguments. In short, his fame spread rapidly and the young writer had to accept the renown that became his.

* * * * *

From that time on Kuprin's road was mapped out. According to the dictates of his fancy he depicts thousands of the ever-changing, different aspects of life. He is equally impelled to write about petty tradesmen, actors, acrobats, and sinners in the Crimea. To the accomplishment of his task, he brings an over-minute and cruel observation. With the genius that is his he dwells on certain important, carefully selected traits of people who live intensely.

In "The Disciple," we see a young sharper on a boat on the Volga. He has the tired eyes of a precocious old man, stubby fingers, and the hands of a murderer alert to strike the fatal blow. He has just fleeced a party of travelers, and he discovers, in a savory conversation with an old cheat, who has found him out, that his soul is being consumed with insatiable desires. And as the old sharper admires the "savoir-faire" of his young friend, the latter observes, not without scorn, that they belong to two very different categories of sharpers. "Among you old fellows," he sneers, "there was romanticism. You loved beautiful women, champagne, music and the song of the tziganes.... We, however, we others are tired of everything. Fear and debauch are equally unknown to us...."

After the sharper we have the spy in "Captain Rybnikov." He passes for a Siberian, and says that he has been wounded in the Russo-Japanese war. He goes out into society a great deal, and is most commonly seen in the military offices and in the best "salons" of St. Petersburg. One night, when he is asleep at a courtesan's house, he mutters the war-cry of Japan: "Banzai! Banzai!" The courtesan denounces him to a policeman who happens to be there, and the pseudo-captain, who is no other than a colonel in the Japanese army, is arrested.

Before leaving the military world, let us analyze "The Delirium." Captain Markov has been ordered by the government to suppress the revolution in certain provinces. Disgusted with the duty of daily executioner, the officer frets himself into a high fever. A non-commissioned officer enters to ask him to decide the fate of three men who have been arrested the previous night, one of whom is an old man with a peaceful and strangely beautiful face. The sergeant knows that they ought to be shot, but these executions are so repulsive to him, that he is anxious to have the sentence of death confirmed by his chief, who seems to him to have the sole responsibility.

"I don't want you ever again to ask me such a question," cries Markov, who has guessed the intention of his subordinate. "You know what you ought to do." And he dismisses him. But the soldier remains motionless.

"What else do you want?" asks the captain.

"The men," answers the stubborn soldier, "are anxious to know what to do with the ... old ... man...."

"Get out of here!" the officer roars, exasperated. "Do you understand?"

"Very well, captain. But as to-day is December 31, allow me to offer you my best wishes for a happy New Year."

"Thank you, my friend," replies Markov in a voice which has suddenly become soft.

During the night the captain begins to rave. The old man whom he has just condemned to death appears and speaks to him. He says that his name is Cain, and confesses the murder of his brother. Cursed by God, he wanders disconsolately through the centuries, followed by the groaning of his victim.

Just before dawn the sergeant awakens Markov.

"What about those three men?" asks the captain eagerly.

"Shot, captain!"

"And the old man? The old man?... what have you done with him?"

"We shot him along with the others, captain."

The next day Captain Markov asks for his discharge, having decided to leave the army for good.

This story, which is one of the most powerful in Russian literature, would have been enough to bring the young writer renown, even if he had never written anything else. But his work, which is already imposing in amount, abounds in pages of great merit, and especially in well-constructed, brief, tragic stories.

Under this class should be mentioned "Humble People," a short story, the scene of which is laid in the extreme north. It is the story of a close friendship between a nurse in a dispensary and a school-teacher.

Snowed in by a terrible winter—a winter of seven months—these two friends find in their daily meetings the only pleasure that can make their enforced solitude easier for them. However, in spite of their mutual friendship, they often find their lot hard to endure. And they continually quarrel, only to become reconciled almost immediately. But now an unexpected event comes to break the monotony of their existence. They are invited to a dance, given by the priest of the neighboring village, and there they fall in love with two charming young girls, who, they are happy to find, are not indifferent to them. Once at home, they bestow lavish praises on their new friends. With the touching devotion of simple and starved hearts they speak about them as if the young girls already were theirs.

"Mine has eyes of velvet," says the one.

"And mine has hair of pure gold," replies the other.

Gradually, however, their recollections grow weaker, and fade, just as flowers do. Their sad life would have begun again if the spring had not come, and with it brought deliverance. The two friends, full of new sprightliness, get up a fishing party one day. A foolish accident makes them both fall into the river, and they are drowned.

* * * * *

"The End of a Story," which we are about to analyze, deserves, as does "Humble People," a special place in the work of Kuprin. It is a little masterpiece of graceful emotion.

Kotik, a child of seven, and the son of a celebrated painter, teases his father to tell him a story. The father racks his memory. He has told so many that his fount is almost dry.

Suddenly an idea comes to him. Is not his own life a tender, melancholy, and charming story? It is not a long time, twelve years at the most, since he was a poor, obscure painter, neglected by his masters and tormented by the miseries of his life. Discouraged, he used continually to curse the hour in which he chose to devote himself to art. One day, a young girl, believing in his talent, gave him her hand and comforted him with her tenderness and angelic goodness. And love had triumphed.

To-day his name is celebrated among the most famous, and his paintings adorn the galleries of kings and emperors. The plot of the story is ready.

"Listen," says the father to his son. "There was once upon a time a king who, feeling that he was going to die, gathered his many children about him and said to them: 'I will leave my kingdom to that one of you who can enter a marble palace situated in a very dense forest, and there light his torch from the sacred fire which always burns there. The forest is full of wild beasts and venomous serpents. The palace is guarded by three lions: Envy, Poverty, and Doubt.'

"The young people set out on the road. But, while the older ones search outside of the forest for a road that is not beset with dangers, the youngest courageously starts on the regular path. He there is exposed to many dangers and temptations. Already, his strength failing, he feels that he is almost on the point of succumbing, when a fairy appears and stretches forth her hand to him. The young man blesses this providential aid. The fairy brings back his courage and leads him to the palace."

Near them on the terrace, concealed by some plants, there sat a young and beautiful woman who was eagerly listening to the story. She was Kotik's mother, the fairy of the story, and the favorite pupil of the painter. Some of her paintings had already made a sensation.

The story ended, the father led the child to his room and with the help of his nurse undressed him and put him to bed.

"He had started back towards the terrace, when suddenly two arms embraced his neck, while two sweet lips pressed against his.

"The story was finished."

With these words the story really ends.

Kuprin shows the same grace and the same delicate emotion in his recent story, "The Garnet Necklace," a tale which is analogous to the legend of the troubadour Geoffrey Rudel, which has been made into a play by Rostand in his "Princesse Lointaine."

Geltov, a Russian petty official, loves the beautiful Princess Sheine with a desperate love. After long hesitation he decides to send her a garnet necklace, with a tender and respectful note enclosed. Alas! his gift is returned to him and the husband of the princess angrily threatens the naive lover. The latter has not the strength to face the situation, and commits suicide. But before dying he writes to the princess:—

"I saw you for the first time eight years ago in a theatre, and since that time I have loved you with boundless passion. It is not my fault, Princess, that God has sent this great happiness to me.... My life for the last eight years has been bound up in one thought,—you. Believe what I say, believe me because I am going to die.... I am neither a sick man nor an enthusiast.... I consider my love for you as the greatest happiness that God could have given me.... This happiness I have enjoyed for eight years. May God give you happiness, and may nothing henceforth trouble you...."

This naive and touching letter moves the princess. At the grave of her unhappy lover, she recalls the words of an old friend of her father's: "Perhaps he was an abnormal man or a maniac.... Perhaps,—who knows?—your life was illumined by a love of which women often dream, a kind of love that one does not see nowadays."

* * * * *

One can judge by these summaries how little Kuprin "pads" his stories. Most of them are reduced to a commonplace anecdote, which the author is careful not to ornament in the least. He respects truth to such a degree that he offers it to his readers in its disconcerting bareness. He would think that he was failing in his duty as an observer if he disguised it by any literary mechanism.

His work, stripped of all general ideas and of all subjective aspects, is of a rather curious impersonality. Nothing ever betrays his intimate thoughts or feelings. And it is in this respect that he differs so much from most of the writers of to-day, who give themselves up completely to their attractive heroes and vituperate their odious people. Kuprin's objective tendencies are best shown in his story called "Peaceful Life."

A retired official, Nassedkine, who has been enriched by the gratuities which he has exacted from those who have had to do business with him, has made it his duty to play censor in his little town. He makes use of a very discreet and edifying method: to all of the citizens whose honor is in danger, he sends one or more anonymous letters telling them of the "extent of their misfortune."

Nassedkine has just finished writing two laconic notes, one of which is to a young woman whom he tells to visit one of her friends on a certain day, when, he assures her, her husband is always to be found there. At this moment the church bells ring, and Nassedkine, who is religious, goes to vespers. On entering, he notices a fashionable lady, all dressed in black, in a dark corner of the church. Nassedkine, more than any one else, knows the heart-rending story of this woman. She had recently, against her will, married an excessively rich wood merchant who was almost forty years older than she. One day, when she thought that her husband had gone off on business, he returned unexpectedly and found her in the arms of one of his employees. He had been warned that same morning, by an anonymous letter, that his wife was deceiving him.

"Beside himself with rage, the merchant threw his employee out of the house, and then satiated his brutal jealousy on his wife. He struck her with his big, hobnailed boots; then he called his coachman and valet, made her undress completely, and had each of them in turn lash her beautiful body until, covered with blood, she fainted away.

"And as the priest at the altar was reciting: 'Lord, I offer Thee the tears of a woman who has sinned,' Nassedkine repeated this phrase with satisfaction. Then he left the church in order to post the two letters he had just written."

This characteristic dryness does not come, as one is liable to think, from ill-disguised insensibility. Kuprin's soul, on the contrary, is of such exquisitely fine texture that all human emotions vibrate there. The few times when he has expressed himself are enough to convince the reader. He has often pitied women with a discreet, fraternal compassion. He has also devoted many pages to the sufferings of animals, be it the story of circus horses hurt by the rolling of the ship, or the story of a kitten mutilated by wolves. Only a few words are needed to make us tender and to bring tears to our eyes. And it is with the eyes of a poet or a child that he has viewed nature.

* * * * *

No one ever studies a Russian author without finally asking himself what the author's influence was on the political manifestations of society. The answer here is not hard to find: Kuprin, observer, artist, and painter of life, has had no influence. If we except one story, "The Toast," in which he shows his deep affection for the oppressed classes, nothing in his work betrays even slightly his opinions on this subject. Always, the thought of Kuprin deserts the social struggle to fly into more vast and serene surroundings than the theatre of wars and revolutions. And he is doubtless ready to exalt above this terrible struggle, the one thing that he judges eternal, the love of woman.

"There have been kingdoms and kings," he says in his beautiful novel, "Sulamite," "and the only trace that is left of them is the wind in the desert. There have been long and pitiless wars, at the end of which the names of the leaders sparkled like stars: time has effaced all memory of them.

"But the love of a poor girl of the vineyards and a great king[17] will never be effaced and will always live in the minds of men, because love is divinely beautiful, because every woman who loves is a queen, because love is stronger than death."

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