Letters to A.N. Maikov
To A.N. Maikov (Geneva, February 18th/March 1st, 1868)
My good, precious and only friend—(all these epithets are applicable to you and I am happy in applying them)—don’t be cross because of my unconscionable silence. Judge me with the same understanding and the same heart as before. My silence was unconscionable; but I almost literally could not answer you—although I did try several times. I have got stuck—my head and all my faculties—in Part II [of The Idiot], trying to complete it in time. I did not wish to spoil it definitely,—too much depends on its success. But now I don’t want even success. I only want to avoid complete failure: in the subsequent parts I may still improve, for the novel is turning out a long one. I have at last sent off Part II also (I was too late, but I believe it will get there in time). What shall I tell you? Myself I can’t say anything. So much so, that I am incapable of any opinion. I like the finale of Part II, but it is only myself who likes it; what will the readers say ? As to all the rest, it is just as in Part I, i.e. I think it flags rather. For me it would be quite enough if only the reader read it without great boredom, —I no longer claim any other success.
My dear friend, you promised me immediately after reading Part I to write your opinion of it to me here. And now I haunt the post office every day, but there is no letter, and you have probably had the Russky Viestnik. I draw the clear conclusion: the novel is weak, and since thanks to your delicacy you are too shy and sorry to tell me that truth to my face, you are postponing your reply. And I need just that truth! I long for any opinion. Without it it is pure torture. True, you wrote me two letters before the review was out but it can’t be that you, in such a matter, should be exacting about letters! But enough of that. If you knew, my friend, with what happiness I re-read your last letter again and again! If you only knew what my life here is like, and what the receipt of a letter from you means to me! I see nobody here, I hear of nothing, and from the beginning of the New Year even the newspapers (Moscowskya Viedomosti and Golos) have not been arriving. Anna Gregorevna and I live all by ourselves; but, although we live fairly harmoniously and love one another and besides are both busy, yet I, at least, am weary. Anna Gregorevna maintains perfectly sincerely (I am convinced of it) that she is very happy. Imagine, up till now we have not yet been blessed, and the expected gentleman has not yet come into the world. I expect him every day, because there are all the symptoms. I expected him yesterday, on my birthday; he did not come. I await him today, but tomorrow he is sure to come.
Anna Gregorevna is waiting reverently, loves the coming guest boundlessly, and bears up cheerfully and firmly; but just recently her nerves have got on edge and at moments dark thoughts come to her: she is afraid she may die, etc. So that the situation is rather anxious and troublesome. Of money we have the very tiniest bit; but at any rate we are not in distress, though expenses are on the way. Yet in that state Anna Gregorevna has written shorthand and copied for me, and has also managed to sew and to prepare everything that is needed for the baby. The worst of all is that Geneva is too bad; a gloomy place. Today is Sunday; there is nothing gloomier and nastier than their Sunday. To move to another place now is impossible; owing to my wife’s illness we shall have to stay here for another five weeks, and then I am still in the dark as to money. The coming month will be a difficult one to me: my wife’s illness, and Part III, which although it may be delayed, must be sent off regularly. And then comes Part IV ; only then can I think of leaving Geneva, towards May. It is a good thing that the winter here has become milder. The whole of February here was warm and bright, exactly as in Petersburg in April, on a bright day.
I am always, incessantly, interested in everything you may write to me here. In the newspapers I am always looking for something of the same kind, as it were for a needle in a bundle of hay—reflecting and conjecturing. The abomination and vileness of our literature and journalism I sense even here. And how naive all that trash is! The Sovremennik and the others try their hardest with the same old Saltykovs and Eliseyevs —and the same old stale hatred for Russia, and the same old French Workers’ Associations, and nothing but that. And Saltykov attacking the Zemstvo all just as it should be. Our Liberals cannot help being at the one and same time inveterate enemies of Russia—conscious ones. Let anything succeed in Russia, let there be any profit for her—and their venom overflows. I have observed it a thousand times. Our extreme Radical party plays exactly the same game as the Viest [an extreme reactionary paper], nor can it be otherwise. And the cynicism and filthiness of all that riff-raff,—this I learn at times from the newspapers.
The editorial office sent me No. 1 of the Russky Viestnik. I have read it from the first page to the last. There is nothing of yours there—you must have been either too late, or they keep you to adorn the February number—and in the January number there is Polonsky (a very fine poem), and Turgenev —with a very weak story [The History of Lieutenant Yergunov]. I read the review of Tolstoy’s War and Peace. How much I should like to read it all. I have read only half. It must be a capital thing though it is a pity that there are so many small psychological details in it. There should be a wee bit less. Yet owing to those details what a lot of good there is in it! —For the love of God, write me oftener about literary matters. You mentioned the Viestnik Europa (is it Stasyulevich’s?). It seems to me that we have quite enough reviews with those ideas.—Imagine: I know nothing about the Moskva, about the Moskvich.—Your Sophia Alexeyevna is a perfect beauty; but a thought flashed across me: how fine it would be, if such a ‘Sophia Alexeyevna’ could appear as an episode in a whole poem about those times, I mean, in a poem about the Raskolniki [a religious sect], or in a verse-novel about those times! Has such a design never entered your head? Such a poem would produce an enormous effect. Well now, well, what about your Slovo Polku Igoreve—you do not say where it is going to be published? In the Russky Viestnik, probably. In that case I shall read it!
You can imagine with what impatience I await it. Apart from the reading which you have mentioned, —have you read it anywhere in public? Tell me all about it. What did you read at the Krylov anniversary, apart from what you sent me? I read about it in the papers ; but it is not clear.
There seems to have been lately a kind of lull in Russia. I’ve read lately only about the subscriptions for the famine-stricken. Slavdom and Slav aspirations must arouse a whole host of enemies among Russian Liberals. When will these obsolete and retrograde dregs be washed away! For a Russian Liberal can’t be considered as anything but as obsolete and retrograde. The so-called ‘educated society’ of old is a motley collection of everything that has separated itself from Russia, that has not understood Russia and has become Frenchified,—that is what a Russian Liberal is, and that is why he is a reactionary. Recall the best Liberals—recall Bielinsky: isn’t he a conscious enemy of his fatherland, isn’t he a reactionary?
Well, they can go to the devil! Here I only meet filthy little Poles in the cafes, in huge crowds; —but I enter into no relations whatsoever with them. With the priest here [A. K. Petrov] I am not acquainted. But when the child is born, I shall have to meet him. But remember, my friend, that our priests, I mean those abroad, are not all like the Wiesbaden one, of whom I spoke to you when I left Petersburg. (Have you met him? He is a rare creature; worthy, humble, with a sense of personal dignity, of an angelic purity of heart, and a passionate believer.) Well, God grant that the local one turns out a good one, although he must be spoilt by the aristocracy. Here, in Geneva (according to the Journal des Etrangers), there is a terrible number of Russian aristocrats; it only makes it the stranger that they have been wintering not in Montreux, for instance, but in Geneva where the climate is not good.
If I move anywhere, it will be to Italy; but this is still in the future, and at any rate I shall let you know immediately so that there should be no delay about the address. And you, for the love of Christ, write to me—I can’t say that my health is very good. Since the spring my fits have been more frequent.—I read your account of your having served on a jury, and my heart thrilled with excitement.
Of our courts (from all that I have read) I have formed this opinion: The moral nature of our judges, and above all of our jurymen, is infinitely higher than the European; and crime is regarded from a Christian point of view. Even Russian traitors abroad agree about this. But one thing has not yet been really settled; in that humanity towards the criminal there still seems to me to be a great deal of the theoretical, Liberal, non-independent. It does appear now and then. But judging at this distance I may be badly mistaken. At any rate in this respect our nature is infinitely higher than the European. And generally all our conceptions are more moral, and our Russian aims are higher than those of the European world. We have a more direct and noble belief in goodness, goodness as Christianity, and not as a bourgeois solution of the problem of comfort. A great renewal is about to descend on the whole world, through Russian thought (which, you are quite right, is solidly welded with Orthodoxy), and this will be achieved in less than a hundred years, this is my passionate belief. But in order that this great object may be achieved, it is essential that the political right and supremacy of the Great-Russian race over the whole Slav world should be definitively and incontestably consummated. (And our little Liberals preach the division of Russia into federal states !)