The Autobiography of a Revolutionist
Moscow is a city of slow historical growth, and down to the present time its different parts have wonderfully well retained the features which have been stamped upon them in the slow course of history. The Trans-Moskva River district, with its broad, sleepy streets and its monotonous gray-painted, low-roofed houses, of which the entrance-gates remain securely bolted day and night, has always been the secluded abode of the merchant class, and the stronghold of the outwardly austere, formalistic, and despotic Nonconformists of the “ Old Faith.”
The citadel, or Kreml, is still the stronghold of church and state ; and the immense space in front of it, covered with thousands of shops and warehouses, has been for centuries a crowded beehive of commerce, — the heart of a great internal trade which spreads over the whole surface of the vast empire. The Tverskáya and the Smiths’ Bridge have been for hundreds of years the chief centres for the fashionable shops ; while the artisans’ quarters, the Plusch237;kha and the Dorogomílovka, retain the very same features which characterized their uproarious populations in the times of the Moscow Tsars. Each quarter is a little world in itself ; each has its own physiognomy, and lives its own separate life. Even the railways that have made an irruption into the old capital have grouped apart, in special centres on the outskirts of the old town, their stores and machine - works, their heavily loaded carts and engines.
However, of all parts of Moscow, none, perhaps, is more typical than that labyrinth of clean, quiet, winding streets and lanes which lies at the back of the Kreml, between two great radial streets, the Arbát and the Prechístenka, and is still called the Old Equerries’ Quarter, —the Stáraya Konyúshennaya. Some fifty years ago, there lived in this quarter, and slowly died out, the old Moscow nobility, whose names were so frequently mentioned in the pages of Russian history before the times of Peter I., but who subsequently disappeared to make room for the newcomers, “ the men of all ranks ” who were called into service by the founder of the Russian state.
Feeling themselves supplanted at the St. Petersburg court, these old nobles retired either to the Old Equerries’ Quarter in Moscow, or to their picturesque estates in the country round about the capital, and they looked with a sort of contempt and secret jealousy upon the motley crowd of families which came “ from no one knew where ” to take possession of the highest functions of the government, in the new capital on the banks of the Neva.
In their younger days, of course, all of these old nobles had tried their fortunes in the service of the state, chiefly in tho army ; but for one reason or another they had soon abandoned it, without having risen to high rank. The more successful ones obtained some quiet, almost honorary position in their mother city, — my father was one of these, — while most of the others simply retired from active service. But wheresoever they might have been shifted, in the course of their careers, over the wide surface of Russia, they always somehow managed to spend their old age in a house of their own in the Old Equerries’ Quarter, under the shadow of the church where they had been baptized, and where the last prayers had been pronounced at the burial of their parents.
New branches budded from the old stocks. Some of them achieved more or less distinction in different parts of Russia ; some owned more luxurious houses in the new style in other quarters of Moscow or at St. Petersburg ; but the branch which continued to reside in the Old Equerries’ Quarter, somewhere near to the green, the yellow, the pink, or the brown church which was endeared through family associations, was considered as the true representative of the family, irrespective of the position it occupied in the family’s genealogic tree. Its old-fashioned head was treated with the utmost respect, not devoid of a slight tinge of irony, even by those younger representatives of the same stock who had left their mother city, and looked for a more brilliant career in the St. Petersburg Guard or in the court circles.
In these quiet streets, far away from the noise and bustle of the commercial Moscow, all the houses had much the same appearance. They were mostly built of wood, with bright green sheet - iron roofs, the exteriors stuccoed and decorated with columns and porticoes ; all were painted in gay colors. In nearly every case there was but one story, with seven or nine big, gay-looking windows facing the street. A second story was admitted only in the back part of the house, which looked upon a spacious yard, surrounded by numbers of small buildings, used as kitchens, stables, cellars, coach-houses, and as dwellings for the servants. A wide gate opened upon this yard, and a brass plate on it usually bore the inscription, “ House of So and So, Lieutenant or Colonel, and Commander,” — very seldom “Major-General” or any similarly elevated civil rank. But if a more luxurious house, embellished by a gilded iron railing and an iron gate, stood in one of those streets, the brass plate on the gate was sure to bear the name of “ Commerce Counsel ” or “ Honorable Citizen ” So and So. These were the intruders, those who came unasked to settle in this quarter, and were therefore ignored by their neighbors.
No shops were allowed in these select streets, except that in some small wooden house, belonging to the parish church, a tiny grocer’s or greengrocer’s shop might have been found ; but then, the policeman’s lodge stood on the opposite corner, and in the daytime the policeman himself, armed with a halberd, would appear at the door to salute with his inoffensive weapon the officers passing by, and would retire inside when dusk came, to employ himself either as a cobbler, or in the manufacture of some special snuff patronized by the elder male servants of the neighborhood.
Life went on quietly and peacefully — at least for the outsider — in this Moscow Faubourg Saint-Germain. In the morning nobody was seen in the streets. About midday the children made their appearance under the guidance of French tutors and German nurses, who took them out for a walk on the snow-covered boulevards. Later on in the day the ladies might be eeen in their two-horse sledges, with a valet standing behind on a small plank fastened to the back of the vehicle, or ensconced in an old-fashioned carriage, immense and high, suspended on big curved springs and dragged by four horses, with a postilion in front and two valets standing behind. In the evening most of the houses were brightly illuminated, and, the blinds not being drawn down, the passers-by could admire the card-players or the waltzers in the saloons. “ Opinions ” were not in vogue in those days, and we were yet far from the years when in each one of these houses a struggle began between “ fathers and sons,” — a struggle that usually ended either in a family scene or in a nocturnal visit of the state police. Fifty years ago nothing of the sort was thought of; all was quiet and smooth, — at least on the surface.
In this Old Equerries’ Quarter I was born in 1842, and here I passed the first fifteen years of my life. Even when our father had sold the house in which our mother died, and bought another, and when again he sold that house, and we spent several winters in hired houses, until he found a third one to his taste, within a stone’s - throw of the church where he had been baptized, we remained all the time in the Old Equerries’ Quarter, leaving it only during the summer to go to our country-seat.
A high, spacious bedroom, the corner room of our house, with a wide bed upon which our mother is lying, our baby chairs and tables standing close by, and the neatly served tables covered with sweets and jellies in pretty glass jars, — a room into which we children are ushered at a strange hour, — this is the first half-distinct reminiscence of my life.
Our mother was dying of consumption ; she was only thirty-five years old. Before parting with us forever, she had wished to have us by her side, to caress us, to feel happy for a moment in our joys, and she had arranged this little treat by the side of her bed which she could leave no more. I remember her pale, thin face, her big, dark brown eyes. She looked at us with love, and invited us to eat, to climb upon her bed; then all of a sudden she burst into tears and began to cough, and we were told to go.
Some time after, we children — that is, my brother Alexander and myself — were transferred from the big house to a small side house in the court-yard. The April sun filled the little rooms with its rays, but our German nurse Madame Búrman, and Uliána our Russian nurse, told us to go to bed. Their faces wet with tears, they were sewing for us black shirts bordered with broad white tassels. We could not sleep : the unknown frightened us, and we listened to their subdued talk. They said something about our mother which we could not understand. We jumped out of our beds, asking, “ Where is mamma ? Where is mamma ? ”
Both of them burst into sobs, and began to pat our curly heads, calling us “ poor orphans,” until Uliána could hold out no longer, and said, “ Your mother is gone there, — to the sky, to the angels.”
“How to the sky ? Why?” our infantile imagination in vain demanded.
This was in 1846. I was only three and a half years old, and my brother Sásha not yet five. Where our elder brother and sister, Nicholas and Hédène, had gone I do not know : perhaps they were already at school. Nicholas was twelve years old, Hélène was eleven; they kept together, and we knew them but little. So we remained, Alexander and I, in this little house, in the hands of Madame Búrman and Uliána. The good old German lady, homeless and absolutely alone in the wide world, took toward us the place of our mother. She brought us up as well as she could, buying us from time to time some simple toys, and overfeeding us with ginger cakes whenever another old German, who used to sell such cakes, — probably as homeless and solitary as herself, — paid an occasional visit to our house. We seldom saw our father, and the next two years passed without leaving any impression on my memory.
Our father was very proud of the origin of his family, and would point with solemnity to a piece of parchment which hung on a wall of his study. It was decorated with our arms, — the arms of the principality of Smolensk covered with the ermine mantle and the crown of the Monomachs, — and there was written on it, and certified by the Heraldry Department, that our family originated with a grandson of Rostisláv Mstislátvich the Bold (a name familiar in Russian history as that of a Grand Prince of Kieff), and that our ancestors had been Grand Princes of Smolensk.
“ It cost me three hundred rubles to obtain that parchment,” our father used to say. Like most people of his generation, he was not much versed in Russian history, and valued the parchment more for its cost than for its historical associations.
As a matter of fact, our family is of very ancient origin indeed; but, like most descendants of Rurik who may be regarded as representative of the feudal period of Russian history, it was driven into the background when that period ended, and the Románoffs, enthroned at Moscow, began the work of consolidating the Russian state. In recent times, none of the Kropótkins seem to have had any special liking for state functions. Our great-grandfather and grandfather both retired from the military service when quite young men, and hastened to return to their family estates. It must also be said that of these estates the main one, Ouroúsovo, situated in the government of Ryazán, on a high hill at the border of fertile prairies, might tempt any one by the beauty of its shadowy forests, its winding rivers, and its endless meadows. Our grandfather was only a lieutenant when he left the service, and retired to Ouroúsovo, devoting himself to his estate, and to the purchase of other estates in the neighboring provinces.
Probably our generation would have done the same; but our grandfather married a Princess Gagárin, who belonged to a quite different family. Her brother was well known as a passionate lover of the stage. He kept a private theatre of his own, and went so far in his passion as to marry, to the scandal of all his relations, a serf, — the genial actress Semenova, who was one of the creators of dramatic art in Russia, and undoubtedly one of its most interesting figures. To the horror of “ all Moscow,” she continued to appear on the stage.
I do not know if our grandmother had the same artistic and literary tastes as her brother, — I remember her when she was already paralyzed and could speak only in whispers ; but it is certain that in the next generation a leaning toward literature became a characteristic of our family. One of the sons of the Princess Gagárin was a minor Russian poet, and issued a book of poems, — a fact which my father was ashamed of and always avoided mentioning ; and in our own generation several of our cousins, as well as my brother and myself, have contributed more or less to the literature of our period.
Our father was a typical officer of the time of Nicholas I. Not that he was imbued with a warlike spirit or much in love with camp life ; I doubt whether he spent a single night of his life at a bivouac fire, or took part in one battle. But under Nicholas I. that was of quite secondary importance. The true military man of those times was the officer who was enamored of the military uniform, and utterly despised all other sorts of attire; whose soldiers were trained to perform almost superhuman tricks with their legs and rifles (to break the wood of the rifle into pieces while “ presenting arms ” was one of those famous tricks) ; and who could show on parade a row of soldiers as perfectly aligned and as motionless as a row of toy-soldiers. “ Very good,” the Grand Duke Mikhael said once of a regiment, after having kept it for one hour presenting arms, — “ only, they breathe ! ” To respond to the then current conception of a military man was certainly our father’s ideal.
True, he took part in the Turkish campaign of 1828; but he managed to remain all the time on the staff of the chief commander ; and if we children, taking advantage of a moment when he was in a particularly good temper, asked him to tell us something about the war, he had nothing to tell but of a fierce attack of hundreds of Turkish dogs which one night assailed him and his faithful servant, Frol, as they were riding with dispatches through an abandoned Turkish village. They had to use swords to extricate themselves from the hungry beasts. Bands of Turks would assuredly have better satisfied our imagination, but we accepted the dogs as a substitute. When, however, pressed by our questions, our father told us how he had won the cross of Saint Anne “ for gallantry,” and the golden sword which he wore, I must confess we felt really disappointed. His story was decidedly too prosaic. The officers of the general staff were lodged in a Turkish village, when it took fire. In a moment the houses were enveloped in flames, and in one of them a child had been left behind. Its mother uttered despairing cries. Thereupon, Frol, who always accompanied his master, rushed into the flames and saved the child. The chief commander, who saw the act, at once gave father the cross for gallantry.
“ But, father,” we exclaimed, “ it was Frol who saved the child ! ”
“ What of that ? ” replied he, in the most naïve way. “ Was he not my man ? It is all the same.”
He also took some part in the campaign of 1831, during the Polish Revolution, and in Warsaw he made the acquaintance of, and fell in love with, the youngest daughter of the commander of an army corps, General Sulíma. The marriage was celebrated with great pomp, in the Lazienki palace ; the lieutenantgovernor, Count Paskiéwieh, acting as nuptial godfather on the bridegroom’s side. “But your mother,” our father used to add, brought me no fortune whatever.”
Surely not. Her father, Nikolai Semenovich Sulíma, was not versed in the art of making a career or a fortune. He must have had in him too much of the blood of those Cossacks of the Dnieper, who knew how to fight the wellequipped, warlike Poles or armies of the Turks, three times more than themselves, but knew not how to avoid the snares of the Moscow diplomacy, and, after having fought against the Poles in the terrible insurrection of 1648, which was the beginning of the end for the Polish republic, lost all their liberties in falling under the dominion of the Russian Tsars. One Sulíma was captured by the Poles and tortured to death at Warsaw, but the other “ colonels ” of the same stock only fought the more fiercely on that account, and Poland lost Little Russia. As to our grandfather, he knew how, with his regiment of cuirassiers during Napoleon I.’s invasion, to cut his way into a French infantry square bristling with bayonets, and to recover, after having been left for dead on the battlefield, with a deep cut in his head ; but he could not become a valet to the favorite of Alexander I., the omnipotent Arakchéeff, and was consequently sent into a sort of honorary exile, first as a governor-general of West Siberia, and later of East Siberia. In those times such a position was considered more lucrative than a gold-mine, but our grandfather returned from Siberia as poor as he went, and left but modest fortunes to his three sons and three daughters. When I went to Siberia, in 1862, I often heard his name mentioned with respect. He was simply driven to despair by the wholesale stealing which went on in those provinces, and which he had no means to repress.
Our mother was undoubtedly a remarkable woman for the times she lived in. Many years after her death, I discovered, in a corner of a storeroom of our country house, a mass of papers covered with her firm but pretty handwriting : diaries in which she wrote with ecstasy of the scenery of Germany, and spoke of her sorrows and her thirst for happiness; books which she had filled with Russian verses that no one was allowed to print then, — among them the beautiful historical ballads of Ryléeff, the poet, whom Nicholas I. hanged in 1826 ; other books containing music, French dramas, verses of Lamartine, and Byron’s poems that she had copied ; and a great number of water-color paintings.
Tall, slim, adorned with a mass of dark chestnut hair, with dark brown eyes and a tiny mouth, she looks quite lifelike in a portrait in oils that was painted con amore by a good artist. Always lively and often careless, she was fond of dancing, and the peasant women in our village would tell us how she would admire from a balcony their ring-dances, — slow and full of grace as an old minuet, — and how finally she would herself join in them. She had the nature of an artist. It was at a ball that she caught the cold that produced the inflammation of the lungs which brought her to the grave.
All who knew her loved her. The servants simply worshiped her memory. It was in her name that Madame Burman took care of us, and in her name the Russian nurse bestowed upon us her love. While combing our hair, or signing us with the cross in our beds, the latter would often say, “ And your mamma must now look upon you from the skies, and shed tears on seeing you, poor orphans.” Her memory passed through our childhood and cheered it. How often, in some dark passage, the hand of a servant would touch Alexander or me with a caress ; or a peasant woman, on meeting us in the fields, would ask, “ Will you be as good as your mother was ? She took compassion on us. You will, surely.” “Us” meant, of course, the serfs. I do not know what would have become of us if we had not found in our house, amidst the serf servants, that atmosphere of love which children must have around them. We were her children, we bore likeness to her, and they lavished their care upon us, sometimes in a touching form, as will be seen later on.
Men passionately desire to live after death, but they often pass away without noticing the fact that the memory of a really good person always lives. It is impressed upon the next generation, and is transmitted again to the children. Is not that an immortality worth striving for ?
Two years after the death of our mother our father married again. He had already cast his eyes upon a nice-looking young person, this time belonging to a wealthy family, when the fates decided another way. One morning, while he was still in his dressing-gown, the servants rushed madly into his room, announcing the arrival of General Timoféeff, the commander of the sixth army corps, to which our father belonged. This favorite of Nicholas I. was a terrible man. He would order a soldier to be flogged almost to death for a mistake made during a parade, or he would degrade an officer and send him as a private to Siberia because he had met him in the street with the hooks of his high, stiff collar unfastened. With Nicholas General Timoféeff’s word was all-powerful.
The general, who had never before been in our house, came to propose to our father to marry his wife’s niece, Mademoiselle Elisabeth Karandinó, one of several daughters of an admiral of the Black Sea fleet, — a young lady with a classical Greek profile, said to have been very beautiful. Father accepted, and his second wedding, like the first, was solemnized with great pomp.
“ You young people understand nothing of this kind of thing,” he said in conclusion, after having told me the story more than once, with a very fine humor which I will not attempt to reproduce. “ But do you know what it meant at that time, — the commander of an army corps ? Above all, that oneeyed devil, as we used to call him, coming himself to propose ? Of course she had no dowry; only a big trunk filled with their ladies’ rags, and that Martha, her one serf, dark as a gypsy, sitting upon it.”
I have no recollection whatever of this event. I only remember a big drawingroom in a richly furnished house, and in that room a young lady, attractive, but with a rather too sharp southern look, gamboling with us, and saying, “You see what a jolly mamma you will have ; ” to which Sásha and I, sulkily looking at her, replied, “ Our mamma has flown away to the sky.” We regarded so much liveliness with suspicion.
Winter came, and a new life began for us. Our house was sold, and another was bought and furnished completely anew. All that could convey a reminiscence of our mother disappeared, — her portraits, her paintings, her embroideries. In vain Madame Búrman implored to be retained in our house, and promised to devote herself to the baby our stepmother was expecting as to her own child : she was sent away. “Nothing of the Sulímas in my house,” she was told. All connection with our uncles and aunts and our grandmother were broken. Uliána was married to Frol, who became a major-domo, while she was made housekeeper ; and for our education a richly paid French tutor, M. Poulain, and a miserably paid Russian student, N. P. Smirnóff, were engaged.
Many of the sons of the Moscow nobles were educated at that time by Frenchmen, who represented the débris of Napoleon’s Grande Armée. M. Poulain was one of them. He had just, finished the education of the youngest son of the novelist Zagóskin, and his pupil, Serge, enjoyed in the Old Equerries’ Quarter the reputation of being so well brought up that our father did not hesitate to engage M. Poulain for the considerable sum of six hundred rubles a year.
M. Poulain brought with him his setter Trésor, his coffee-pot Napoléon, and his French textbooks, and he began to rule over us and the serf Matvéi who was attached to our service.
His plan of education was very simple. After having awakened us he attended to his coffee, which he used to take in his room. While we were preparing the morning lessons he made his toilet with minute care : he shampooed his gray hair so as to conceal his growing baldness, put on his tail-coat, sprinkled and washed himself with eau-de-cologne, and then escorted us downstairs to say good-morning to our parents. We used to find our father and stepmother eating their breakfast, and on approaching them we recited in the most official way, “ Bonjour, mon cher papa,”and “ Bonjour, ma chère maman,” and kissed their hands. M. Poulain made a most complicated and elegant obeisance in pronouncing the words, “ Bonjour, monsieur le prince,”and “ Bonjour, madame la princesse,” after which the procession immediately withdrew and retired upstairs. This ceremony was repeated every morning.
Then our work began. M. Poulain changed his tail-coat for a dressing-gown, covered his head with a leather cap, and dropping into an easy-chair said, “ Recite the lesson.”
We recited it “by heart,”from one mark which was made in the book with the nail to the next mark. M. Poulain had brought with him the grammar of Noël and Chapsal. memorable to more than one generation of Russian boys and girls ; a book of French dialogues ; a history of the world, in one volume ; and a universal geography, also in one volume. We had to commit to memory the grammar, the dialogues, the history, and the geography.
The grammar, with its well-known sentences, “ What is grammar ? ” “ The
art of speaking and writing correctly,” went all right. But the history book, unfortunately, had a preface, which contained an enumeration of all the advantages which can be derived from a knowledge of history. Things went on smoothly enough with the first sentences. We recited : “ The prince finds in it magnanimous examples for governing his subjects ; the military commander learns from it the noble art of warfare.” But the moment we came to law all went wrong. “ The jurisconsult meets in it ” — but what the learned lawyer meets in history we never came to know. That terrible word “ jurisconsult " spoiled all the game. As soon as we reached it we stopped.
“On your knees, gros pouff!” exclaimed Poulain. (That was for me.) “ On your knees, grand dada ! " (That was for my brother.) And there we knelt, shedding tears and vainly endeavoring to learn all about, the jurisconsult.
It cost us many pains, that preface! We were already learning all about the Romans, and used to put our sticks in Uliána’s scales when she was weighing rice, “just like Brennus ; " we jumped from our table and other precipices for the salvation of our country, in imitation of Curtius ; but M. Poulain would still from time to time return to the preface, and again put us on our knees for that very same jurisconsult. Was it not therefore to be expected that later on both my brother and I should entertain an undisguised contempt for jurisprudence ?
I do not know what would have happened with geography if Poulain’s book had had a preface. But happily the first twenty pages of the book had been torn away (Serge Zagóskin, I suppose, rendered us that notable service), and so our lessons commenced with the twentyfirst page, which began, “ of the rivers which water France.”
It must be confessed that things did not always end with kneeling. There was in the class-room a birch rod, and Poulain resorted to it when there was no hope of progress with the preface or with some dialogue on virtue and propriety ; but one day sister Hélène, who by this time had left the Catherine Institut des Demoiselles, and now occupied a room underneath ours, hearing our cries, rushed, all in tears, into our father’s study, and bitterly reproached him with having handed us over to our stepmother, who had abandoned us to “ a retired French drummer.” “ Of course,” she cried, “there is no one to take their part, but I cannot see my brothers being treated in this way by a drummer! ”
Taken thus unprepared, our father could not make a stand. He began to scold Hélène, but ended by approving her devotion to her brothers. Thereafter the birch rod was reserved for teaching the rules of propriety to the setter Trésor.
No sooner had M. Poulain discharged himself of his heavy educational duties than he became quite another man, — a lively comrade instead of a gruesome teacher. After lunch he took us out for a walk, and there was no end to his tales : we chattered like birds. Though we never went with him beyond the first pages of syntax, we soon learned, nevertheless, “to speak correctly;” we used to think in French; and when he had dictated to us half through a book of mythology, correcting our faults by the book, without ever trying to explain to us why a word must be written in a particular way, we had learned “ to write correctly.”
After dinner we had our lesson with the Russian teacher, a student of the faculty of law in the Moscow University. He taught us all “ Russian ” subjects, — grammar, arithmetic, history, and so on. But in those years serious teaching had not yet begun. In the meantime he dictated to us every day a page of history, and in that practical way we quickly learned to write Russian quite correctly.
Our best time was on Sundays, when all the family, with the exception of us children, went to dinner at Madame la Générale Timoféeff’s. It would also happen occasionally that both M. Poulain and N. P. Smirnóff would be allowed to leave the house, and when this occurred we were placed under the care of Uliána. After a hurriedly eaten dinner we hastened to the great hall, to which the younger housemaids soon repaired. All sorts of games were started,—blind man, vulture and chickens, and so on ; and then, all of a sudden, Tikhon, the Jackof-all-trades, would appear with a violin. Dancing began ; not that measured and tiresome dancing, under the direction of a French dancing-master “on india-rubber legs,” which made part of our education, but free dancing which was not a lesson, and in which a score of couples turned round any way ; and this was only preparatory to the still more animated and rather wild Cossack dance. Tikhon would then hand the violin to one of the older men, and would begin to perform with his legs such wonderful feats that the doors leading to the hall would soon be filled by the cooks and even the coachmen, who came to see the dance so dear to the Russian heart.
About nine o’clock the big carriage was sent to fetch the family home. Tikhon, brush in hand, crawled on the floor, to make it shine with its virgin glance, and perfect order was restored in the house. And if, next morning, we two had been submitted to the most severe cross - examination, not a word would have been spoken of the previous evening’s amusements, We never would have betrayed any one of the servants, nor would they have betrayed us. One Sunday, my brother and I, playing alone in the wide hall, ran against a bracket which supported a costly lamp. The lamp was broken to pieces. Immediately a council was held by the servants. No one scolded us ; but it was decided that early next morning Tikhon should slip out of the house, at his risk and peril, and run to the Smiths’ Bridge in order to buy another lamp of the same pattern. It cost fifteen rubles, — an enormous sum for them ; but it was done, and we never heard a word of reproach about it.
When I think of it now, and all these scenes revive in my memory, I notice that we never heard coarse language in any of the games, nor saw in the dances anything like the kind of dancing which children are now taken to admire in the theatres. In the servants’ house, among themselves, they assuredly used coarse expressions ; but we were children, — her children, — and that protected us from anything of the sort.
In those days children were not bewildered by a profusion of toys, as they are now. We had almost none, and were thus compelled to rely upon our own inventiveness. Besides, we both had early acquired a taste for the theatre. The inferior carnival theatres, with the thieving and fighting shows, seem to have produced no lasting impression upon us : we ourselves played enough at robbers and soldiers. But the great star of the ballet, Fanny Elssler, came to Moscow, and we saw her. When father took a box in the theatre, he always secured one of the best, and paid for it well; but then he insisted that all the members of the family should enjoy it to its full value. Small though I was at that time, Fanny Elssler left upon me the impression of a being so full of grace, so light, and so artistic in all her movements that ever since I have been unable to feel the slightest interest in a dance which belongs more to the domain of gymnastics than to the domain of art.
Of course, the ballet that we saw — Gitana, the Spanish Gypsy — had to be repeated at home ; its substance, not the dances. We had a ready-made stage, as the doorway which led from our bedroom into the class-room had a curtain instead of a door. A few chairs put in a halfcircle in front of the curtain, with an easy-chair for M. Poulain, became the hall and the imperial lodge, and an audience could easily be mustered with the Russian teacher, Uliáua, and a couple of maids from the servants’ rooms.
Two scenes of the ballet had to be represented by some means or other: the one where the little Gitana is brought by the gypsies into their camp in a wheelbarrow, and that in which Gitana makes her first appearance on the stage, descending from a hill and crossing a bridge over a brook which reflects her image. The audience burst into frantic applause at this point, and the cheers were evidently called forth — so we thought, at least — by the reflection in the brook.
We found our Gitana in one of the youngest girls in the maid servants’ room. Her rather shabby blue cotton dress was no obstacle to personifying Fanny Elssler. An overturned chair, pushed along by its legs, head downwards, was an acceptable substitute for the wheelbarrow. But the brook! Two chairs and the long ironing-board of Andrei, the tailor, made the bridge, and a piece of blue cotton made the brook. The image in the brook, however, would not appear full size, do what we might with M. Poulain’s little shaving-glass. After many unsuccessful endeavors we had to give it up, but we bribed Uliánna to behave as if she saw the image, and to applaud loudly at this passage, so that finally we began to believe that perhaps something of it could be seen.
Racine’s Phèdre, or at least the last act of it, also went off nicely ; that is, Sásha recited the melodious verses beautifully, —
and I sat absolutely motionless and unconcerned during the whole length of the tragic monologue intended to apprise me of the death of my son, down to the place where, according to the book, I had to exclaim, " O, dieux ! ”
But whatsoever we might impersonate, all our performances invariably ended with hell. All candles save one were put out, and this one was placed behind a transparent paper to imitate flames, while my brother and I, concealed from view, howled in the most appalling way as the condemned. Uliána, who did not like to have any allusion to the evil one made at bedtime, looked horrified ; but I ask myself now whether this extremely concrete representation of hell, with a candle and a sheet of paper, did not contribute to free us both at an early age from the fear of eternal fire as it is figured in Russian churches. Our conception of it was too realistic to resist skepticism.
I must have been very much of a child when I saw the great Moscow actors, Schépkin, Sadóvskiy, and Shúmski, in Gogol’s Revisor and another comedy; still, I remember not only the salient scenes of the two plays, but even the figures and expressions of these great actors of the realistic school which is now so admirably represented by Duse. I remembered them so well that when, at St. Petersburg, I saw the same plays given by actors belonging to the French declamatory school, I found no pleasure in their acting, always comparing them with Schépkin and Sadóvskiy, by whom my taste in dramatic art was settled.
This makes me think that parents who wish to develop artistic taste in their children ought to take them occasionally to really well-acted, good plays, instead of feeding them on a profusion of socalled “ children’s pantomimes.”
When I was in my eighth year, the next step in my career was taken, in a quite unforeseen way. I do not know exactly on what occasion it happened, but probably it was on the twenty-fifth anniversary of Nicholas I.’s reign, when great festivities were arranged for at Moscow. The imperial family were coming to the old capital, and the Moscow nobility intended to celebrate this event by a fancy-dress ball, in which children were to play an important part. It was agreed that the whole motley crowd of nationalities of which the population of the Russian Empire is composed should be represented at this ball to greet the monarch. Great preparations went on in our house, as well as in all the houses of our neighborhood. Some sort of remarkable Russian costume was made for our stepmother. Our father, being a military man, had to appear, of course, in his uniform ; but those of our relatives who were not in the military service were as busy with their Russian, Greek, Caucasian, and Mongolian costumes as the ladies themselves. When the Moscow nobility gives a ball to the imperial family, it must be something extraordinary. As for my brother Alexander and myself, we were considered too young to take part in so important a ceremonial.
And yet, after all, I did take part in it. Our mother was a warm friend of Madame Nazímoff, the wife of the officer who was governor-general of Wilno during the Polish insurrection of 1863. Madame Nazímoff, who was a very beautiful woman, was expected to assist at the ball with her child, about ten years old, and to wear some wonderfully beautiful costume of a Persian princess; a costume of a young Persian prince, exceedingly rich, with a belt covered with jewels, was made ready for her son. But the boy fell ill just before the ball, and Madame Nazímoff thought that one of the children of her most intimate friend would be the best substitute for her own child. Alexander and I were taken to her house to try on the costume. It proved to be too short for Alexander, who was much taller than I, but it fitted me perfectly well, and therefore it was decided that I should impersonate the Persian prince.
The immense hall of the house of the Moscow nobility was crowded. Each of the children received a standard bearing at its top the arms of one of the sixty provinces of the Russian Empire. I had an eagle floating over a blue sea, which represented, as I learned later on, the arms of the government of Astrakhan, on the Caspian Sea. We were then ranged at the back of the great hall, and slowly marched in two rows toward the raised platform upon which the Emperor and his family stood. As we reached it we marched right and left, and thus stood aligned in one row before the platform. At a given signal all standards were lowered before the Emperor. The apotheosis of autocracy was made most impressive : Nicholas was enchanted. All provinces of the empire worshiped the supreme ruler. Then we children slowly retired to the rear of the hall.
But here some confusion occurred. Chamberlains in their gold-embroidered garments were running about, and I was taken out of the ranks ; my uncle, Prince Gagárin, dressed as a Tungus (I was dizzy with admiration of his fine leather coat, his bow, and his quiver full of arrows), lifted me up in his arms, and planted me on the imperial platform.
Whether it was because I was the tiniest in the row of boys, or that my round face, framed in curls, looked funny under the high Astrakhan fur bonnet I wore, I know not, but Nicholas wanted to have me on the platform ; and there I stood amidst generals and ladies looking down upon me with curiosity. I was told later on that the Emperor, who was always fond of barrack jokes, took me by the arm, and, leading me to Marie Alexándrovna (the wife of the heir to the throne), who was then expecting her third child, said in his military way, “ That is the sort of boy you must bring me,” — a joke which made her blush deeply. I well remember, at any rate, Nicholas asking me whether I would have sweets; but I replied that I should like to have some of those tiny biscuits which were served with tea (we were never overfed at home), and he called a waiter and emptied a full tray into my tall bonnet. “ I will take them to Sásha,” I said to him.
However, the soldier-like brother of Nicholas, Mikhael, who had the reputation of being a wit, managed to make me cry. “ When you are a good boy,” he said, “ they make you so,” and he passed his big hand over my face downwards ; “ but when you are naughty, they make you so,” and he passed the hand upwards, rubbing my nose, which already had a marked tendency toward growing in that direction. Tears, which I vainly tried to stop, came into my eyes. The ladies at once took my part, and the good - hearted Marie Alexándrovna placed me under her protection. She set me by her side, in a high velvet chair with a gilded back, and our people told me afterward that I very soon put my head in her lap and went to sleep. She did not leave her chair during the whole time the ball was going on.
I remember also that, as we were waiting in the entrance-hall for our carriage, our relatives petted and kissed me, saying, “ Pétya, you have been made a page;” but I answered, “I am not a page. I will go home,” and was very anxious about my bonnet which contained the pretty little biscuits that I was taking home for Sásha.
I do not know whether Sásha got many of those biscuits, but I recollect how warmly he embraced me when he was told about my anxiety concerning the bonnet.
To be inscribed as a candidate for the corps of pages was then a great favor, which Nicholas seldom bestowed on the Moscow nobility. My father was delighted, and already dreamed of a brilliant court career for his son; and my stepmother, every time she told the story, never failed to add, “ It is all because I gave him my blessing before he went to the ball.”
Madame Nazímoff was delighted, too, and insisted upon having her portrait painted in the costume in which she looked so beautiful, with me standing at her side.
My brother Alexander’s fate, also, was settled not long after this ball. The jubilee of the Izmáylovsk regiment, to which my father had belonged in his youth, was celebrated about this time at St. Petersburg. One night, while all the household was plunged in deep sleep, a three-horse carriage, ringing with the bells attached to the harnesses, stopped at our gate. A man jumped out of it, loudly shouting, “ Open ! An ordinance from his Majesty the Emperor.”
One can easily imagine the terror which this nocturnal visit spread in our house. My father, trembling, went down to his study. “ Court-martial, degradation as a soldier,” were words which rang then in the ears of every military man ; it was a terrible epoch. But Nicholas simply wanted to have the names of the sons of all the officers who had once belonged to the regiment, in order to send the boys to military schools, if that had not yet been done. A special messenger had been dispatched for that purpose from St. Petersburg to Moscow, and now he called day and night at the houses of the ex-Izmáylovsk officers.
With a shaking hand my father wrote that his eldest son, Nicholas, was already in the first corps of cadets at Moscow ; that his youngest son, Peter, was a candidate for the corps of pages ; and that there remained only his second son, Alexander, who had not yet entered the military career. A few weeks later came a paper informing father of the “ monarch’s favor.” Alexander was ordered to enter a corps of cadets in Orel, a small provincial town. It made my father a deal of trouble, and cost a large sum of money, to get Alexander sent to a corps of cadets at Moscow. This new “ favor ” was obtained only in consideration of the fact that our elder brother was in that corps.
And thus, owing to the will of Nicholas I., we had both to receive a military education, though, before we were many years older, we simply hated the military career for its absurdity. But Nicholas was watchful that none of the sons of the nobility should embrace any other profession than the military one, unless they were of infirm health ; and so we had all three to be officers, to the great satisfaction of my father.
Wealth was measured in those times by the number of “souls" which a landed proprietor owned. So many “ souls ” meant so many male serfs : women did not count. My father, who owned nearly twelve hundred souls, in three different provinces, and who had, in addition to his peasants’ holdings, large tracts of land which were cultivated by these peasants, was accounted a rich man. He lived up to his reputation, which meant that his house was open to any number of visitors, and that he kept a very large household.
We were a family of eight, occasionally of ten or twelve; but fifty servants at Moscow, and half as many more in the country, were considered not one too many. Four coachmen to attend a dozen horses, three cooks for the masters and two more for the servants, a dozen men to wait upon us at dinnertime (one man, plate in hand, standing behind each person seated at the table), and girls innumerable in the maid servants’ room, — how could any one do with less than this ?
Besides, the ambition of every landed proprietor was that everything required for his household should be made at home, by his own men.
“ How nicely your piano is always tuned ! I suppose Herr Schimmel must be your tuner ? ” perhaps a visitor would remark.
To be able to answer, “ I have my own piano-tuner,”was in those times the correct thing.
“ What beautiful pastry ! ” the guests would exclaim, when a work of art, composed of ices and pastry, appeared toward the end of the dinner. “ Confess, prince, that it comes from Tremblé" (the fashionable pastry-cook).
“ It is made by my own confectioner, a pupil of Tremblé, whom I have allowed to show what he can do,” was the reply, which elicited general admiration.
To have embroideries, harnesses, furniture,— in fact, everything,—made by one’s own men was the ideal of the rich and respected landed proprietor. As soon as the children of the servants attained the age of ten, they were sent as apprentices to the fashionable shops, where they were obliged to spend five or seven years chiefly in sweeping, in receiving an incredible number of thrashings, and in running about town on errands of all sorts. I must own that few of them became masters of their respective arts. The tailors and the shoemakers were found only skillful enough to make clothes or shoes for the servants, and when a really good pastry was required for a dinner-party it was ordered at Tremblé’s, while our own confectioner was beating the drum in the music band.
That band was another of my father’s ambitions, and almost every one of his male servants, in addition to other accomplishments, was a bass-viol or a clarinet in the band. Makar, the piano-tuner, alias under - butler, was also a flutist; Andrei, the tailor, played the French horn ; the confectioner was first put to beat the drum, but he misused his instrument to such a deafening degree that a tremendous trumpet was bought for him, in the hope that his lungs would not have the power to make the same noise as his hands ; when, however, this last hope had to be abandoned, he was sent to be a soldier. As to “ spotted Tikhon,” in addition to his numerous functions in the household as lamp-cleaner, floor-polisher, and footman, he rendered himself useful in the band, — to-day as a trombone, to-morrow as a bassoon, and occasionally as second violin.
The two first violins were the only exceptions to the rule : they were “ violins,” and nothing else. My father had bought them, with their large families, for a handsome sum of money, from his sisters (he never bought serfs from nor sold them to strangers). In the evenings when he was not at his club, or when there was a dinner or an evening party at our house, the band of twelve to fifteen musicians was summoned. They played very nicely, and were in great demand for dancing-parties in the neighborhood ; still more when we were in the country. This was, of course, a constant source of gratification to my father, whose permission had to be asked to get the assistance of his band.
Nothing, indeed, gave him more pleasure than to be asked for help, either in the way mentioned or in any other : for instance, to obtain free education for a boy, or to save somebody from a punishment inflicted upon him by a law court. Although he was liable to fall into fits of rage, he was undoubtedly possessed of a natural instinct toward leniency, and when his patronage was asked for he would write scores of letters in all possible directions, to all sorts of persons of high standing, in favor of his protégé. At such times, his mail, which was always heavy, would be swollen by half a dozen special letters, written in a most original, semi-official, and semihumorous style ; each of them sealed, of course, with his arms, in a big square envelope, which rattled like a baby-rattle on account of the quantity of sand it contained, — the use of blotting-paper being then unknown. The more difficult the case, the more energy he would display, until he secured the favor he asked for his protégé, whom in many cases he never saw.
My father liked to have plenty of guests in his house. Our dinner-hour was four, and at seven the family gathered round the samovar (tea-urn) for tea. Every one belonging to our circle could drop in at that hour, and from the time my sister Hélène was again with us there was no lack of visitors, old and young, who took advantage of the privilege. When the windows facing the street showed bright light inside, that was enough to let people know that the family was at home and friends would be welcome.
Nearly every night we had visitors. The green tables were opened in the hall for the card-players, while the ladies and the young people stayed in the receptionroom or around Hélène’s piano. When the ladies had gone, card-playing continued sometimes till the small hours of the morning, and considerable sums of money changed hands among the players. Father invariably lost. But the real danger for him was not at home : it was at the English Club, where the stakes were much higher than in private houses, and especially when he was induced to join a party of “ very respectable ” gentlemen, in one of the “ most respectable ” houses of the Old Equerries’ Quarter, where gambling went on all night. On an occasion of this kind his losses were sure to be heavy.
Dancing-parties were not infrequent, to say nothing of a couple of obligatory balls every winter. Father’s way, in such cases, was to have everything done in a good style, whatever the expense. But at the same time such niggardliness was practiced in our house in daily life that if I were to recount it, I should be accused of exaggeration. It is said of a family of pretenders to the throne of France, renowned for their truly regal hunting-parties, that in their every-day life even the tallow candles are minutely counted. The same sort of miserly economy ruled in our house with regard to everything; so much so that when we, the children of the house, grew up, we detested all saving and counting. However, in the Old Equerries’ Quarter such a mode of life only raised my father in public esteem. “ The old prince,” it was said, “ seems to be sharp over money at home; but he knows how a nobleman ought to live.”
In our quiet and clean lanes that was the kind of life which was most in respect. One of our neighbors, General D—, kept his house up in very grand style ; and yet the most comical scenes took place every morning between him and his cook. Breakfast over, the old general, smoking his pipe, would himself order the dinner.
“ Well, my boy,” he would say to the cook, who appeared in snow-white attire, “ to-day we shall not be many ; only a couple of guests. You will make us a soup, you know, with some spring delicacies,— green peas, French beans, and so on. You have not given us any as yet, and madam, you know, likes a good French spring soup.”
“ Yes, sir.”
“ Then, anything you like as an entrée.”
“ Yes, sir.”
“Of course, asparagus is not yet in season, but I saw yesterday such nice bundles of it in the shops.”
“Yes, sir; eight shillings the bundle.”
“ Quite right! Then, we are sick of your roasted chickens and turkeys ; you ought to get something for a change.”
“ Some venison, sir ? ”
“ Yes, yes ; anything for a change.”
And when the six courses of the dinner had been decided on, the old general would ask, “ Now, how much shall I give you for to - day’s expenses ? Six shillings will do, I suppose ? ”
“ One pound, sir.”
“ What nonsense, my boy ! Here are six shillings ; I assure you that’s quite enough.”
“ Eight shillings for asparagus, five for the vegetables.”
“ Now, look here, my dear boy, be reasonable. I 'll go as high as seven-andsix, and you must be economical.”
And the bargaining would go on thus for half an hour, until the two would agree upon fourteen shillings and sixpence, with the understanding that the morrow’s dinner should not cost more than three shillings. Whereupon the general, quite happy at having made such a good bargain, would take his sledge, make a round of the fashionable shops, and return quite radiant, bringing for his wife a bottle of exquisite perfume, for which he had paid a fancy price in a French shop, and announcing to his only daughter that a new velvet mantle — “something very simple” and very costly — would be sent for her to try on that afternoon.
All our relatives, who were numerous on my father’s side, lived exactly in the same way ; and if a new spirit occasionally made its appearance, it usually took the form of some religious passion. Thus, a Prince Gagárin joined the Jesuit order, again to the scandal of “ all Moscow; ” another young prince entered a monastery, while several older ladies became fanatic devotees.
There was a single exception. One of our nearest relatives, Prince — let me call him Mírski, had spent his youth at St. Petersburg as an officer of the guard. He took no interest in keeping his own tailors and cabinet-makers, for his house was furnished in a grand modern style, and his wearing apparel was all made in the best St. Petersburg shops. Gambling was not his propensity,—he played cards only to keep company with ladies ; but his weak point was his dinner-table, upon which he spent incredible sums of money.
Lent and Easter were his chief epochs of extravagance. When the Great Lent came, and it would not have been proper to eat meat, cream, or butter, he seized the opportunity to invent all sorts of delicacies in the way of fish. The best shops of the two capitals were ransacked for that purpose ; special emissaries were dispatched from his estate to the mouth of the Vólga, to bring back on post-horses (there was no railway at that time) a sturgeon of great size or some extraordinarily cured fish. And when Easter came, there was no end to his inventions.
Easter, in Russia, is the most venerated and also the gayest of the yearly festivals. It is the festival of spring. The immense heaps of snow which have been lying during the winter along the streets of Moscow rapidly thaw, and roaring streams run down the streets; not like a thief who creeps in by insensible degrees, but frankly and openly spring comes, — every day bringing with it a change in the state of the snow and the progress of the buds on the trees; the night frosts only keep the thaw within reasonable bounds. The last week of the Great Lent, Passion Week, was kept in Moscow, in my childhood, with extreme solemnity; it was a time of general mourning, and crowds of people went to the churches to listen to the impressive reading of those passages of the Gospels which relate the sufferings of the Christ. Not only were meat, eggs, and butter not eaten, but even fish was refused ; some of the most rigorous taking no food at all on Good Friday. The more striking was the contrast when Easter came.
On Saturday every one attended the night service, which began in a mournful way. Then, suddenly, at midnight, the resurrection news was announced. All the churches were at once illuminated, and gay peals of bells resounded from the hundreds of sacred edifices. General rejoicing began. All the people kissed one another thrice on the cheeks, repeating the resurrection words, and the churches, now flooded with light, shone with the gay toilettes of the ladies. The poorest woman had a new dress ; if she had only one new dress a year, she would get it for that night.
At the same time, Easter was, and is still, the signal for a real debauch in eating. Special Easter cream cheeses (paskha) and Easter bread (koolich) are prepared ; and every one, no matter how poor he or she may be, must have be it only a small paskha and a small koolich, with at least one egg painted red, to be consecrated in the church, and to be used afterward to break the Lent. With most old Russians, eating began at night, after a short Easter mass, immediately after the consecrated food had been brought from church ; but in the houses of the nobility the ceremony was postponed till Sunday morning, when a table was covered with all sorts of viands, cheeses and pastry, and all the servants came to exchange with their masters three kisses and a red-painted egg. Throughout Easter week a table spread with Easter food stood in the great hall, and every visitor was invited to partake.
On this occasion Prince Mírski surpassed himself. Whether he was at St. Petersburg or at Moscow, messengers brought to his house, from his estate, a specially prepared cream cheese for the paskha, and his cook managed to make out of it a piece of artistic confectionery.
Other messengers were dispatched to the province of Novgorod to get a bear’s ham, which was cured for the prince’s Easter table. And while the princess, with her two daughters, visited the most austere monasteries, in which the night service would last three or four hours in succession, and spent all Passion Week in the most mournful condition of mind, eating only a piece of dry bread between the visits she paid to Russian, Roman, and Protestant preachers, her husband made every morning the tour of the wellknown Milutin shops at St. Petersburg, where all possible delicacies are brought from the ends of the earth. There he used to select the most extravagant dainties for his Easter table. Hundreds of visitors came to his house, and were asked “just to taste ” this or that extraordinary thing.
The end of it was that the prince managed literally to eat up a considerable fortune. His richly furnished house and beautiful estate were sold, and when he and his wife were old they had nothing left, not even a home, and were compelled to live with their children.
No wonder that when the emancipation of the serfs came, nearly all these families of the Old Equerries’ Quarter were ruined. But I must not anticipate events.