The Autobiography of a Revolutionist
To maintain such numbers of servants as were kept in our house would have been simply ruinous, if it had been necessary to buy all our provisions at Moscow ; but in those times of serfdom things were managed very simply. When winter came, father sat at his table and wrote the following : —
“ To the manager of my estate, Nikólskoye, situated in the government of Kalúga, district of Meschóvsk, on the river Sirena, from the Prince Alexéi Petróvich Kropótkin, Colonel and Commander of various orders.
“ On receipt of this, and as soon as winter communication is established, thou art ordered to send to my house, situated in the city of Moscow, twenty-five peasant-sledges, drawn by two horses each, one horse from each house, and one sledge and one man from each second house, and to load them with [so many] quarters of oats, [so many] of wheat, and [so many] of rye, as also with all the poultry and geese and ducks, well frozen, which have to be killed this winter, well packed and accompanied by a complete list, under the supervision of a well-chosen man ; ” and so it went on for a couple of pages, till the next full stop was reached. After this there followed an enumeration of the penalties which would be inflicted in case the provision should not reach the house situated in such a street, number so and so, in due time and in good condition. Some time before Christmas the twenty-five peasant-sledges really entered our gates, and covered the surface of the wide yard.
“ Frol! ” shouted my father, as soon as the report of this great event reached him. “Kiryúshka! Yegórka ! Where are they ? Everything will be stolen ! Frol, go and receive the oats ! Uliána, go and receive the poultry ! Kiryúshka, call the princess ! ”
All the household was in commotion, the servants running wildly in every direction, from the hall to the yard, and from the yard to the hall, but chiefly to the maid servants’ room, to communicate there the Nikólskoye news : “ Pásha is going to marry after Christmas. Aunt Anna has surrendered her soul to God,” and so on. Letters had also come from the country, and very soon one of the maids would steal upstairs into my room.
“ Are you alone ? The teacher is not in ? ”
“ No, he is at the university.”
“ Well, then, be so good as to read me this letter from mother.”
And I would read to her the naïve letter, which always began with the words, “ Father and mother send you their blessings for ages not to be broken.” After this came the news : “ Aunt Eupraxie lies ill, all her bones aching ; and your cousin is not yet married, but hopes to be after Easter.” Following the news came the greetings, two pages of them : “ Brother Paul sends you his greetings, and the sisters Mary and Dária send their greetings, and then uncle Dmítri sends his many greetings,” and so on. However, notwithstanding the monotony of the enumeration, each name awakened some remarks : “ Then she is still alive, poor soul, if she sends her greetings ; it is nine years since she has lain motionless.” Or, “ Oh, he has not forgotten me ; he must be back, then, for Christmas ; such a nice boy. You will write me a letter, won’t you ? and I must not forget him then.” I promised, of course, and when the time came I wrote a letter in exactly the same style.
When the sledges had been unloaded, the hall filled with peasants. They had put on their best coats over their sheepskins, and waited until father should call them into his room to have a talk about the snow and the prospects of the next crops. They hardly dared to walk in their heavy boots on the polished floor. A few ventured to sit down on the edge of an oak bench; they emphatically refused to make use of chairs. So they waited for hours, looking with alarm upon every one who entered father’s room or issued from it.
Some time later on, usually next morning, one of the servants would run slyly upstairs to the class-room.
“ Are you alone ? ”
“ Then go quickly to the hall. The peasants want to see you ; something from your nurse.”
When I went down to the hall, one of the peasants would give me a little bundle containing perhaps a few rye cakes, half a dozen hard-boiled eggs, and some apples, tied in a motley colored cotton kerchief. “ Take that: it is your nurse, Vasilísa, who sends it to you. Look if the apples are not frozen. I hope not: I kept them all the journey on my breast. Such a fearful frost we had.” And the broad, bearded face, covered with frostbites, would smile radiantly, showing two rows of beautiful white teeth from beneath quite a forest of hair.
“ And this is for your brother, from his nurse Anna,” another peasant would say, handing me a similar bundle. “ ‘ Poor boy,’ she says, ' he must never have enough at school.’ ”
Blushing and not knowing what to say, I would murmur at last, “ Tell Vasilísa that I kiss her, and Anna too, for my brother.” At which all faces would become still more radiant.
“ Yes, I will, to be sure.”
Then Kiríla, who kept watch at father’s door, would whisper suddenly, “ Run quickly upstairs ; your father may come out in a moment. Don’t forget the kerchief; they want to take it back.”
As I carefully folded the worn kerchief, I most passionately desired to send Vasilísa something. But I had nothing to send, not even a toy, and we never had pocket-money.
Our best time, of course, was in the country. As soon as Easter and Whitsuntide had passed, all our thoughts were directed toward Nikólskoye. However, time went on, — the lilacs must be through blooming at Nikólskoye,— and father had still thousands of affairs to keep him in town. At last, five or six peasant-carts entered our yard : they came to take all sorts of things which had to be sent to the country house. The great old coach and the other coaches in which we were going to make the journey were taken out and inspected once more. The boxes began to be packed. Our lessons made slow progress ; at every moment we interrupted our teachers, asking whether this or that book should be taken with us, and long before all others we began packing our books, our slates, and our few toys.
Everything was ready: the peasantcarts stood heavily loaded with furniture for the country house, boxes containing the kitchen utensils, and almost countless empty glass jars which were to be brought back in the autumn filled with all kinds of preserves. The peasants waited every morning for hours in the hall; but the order for leaving did not come. Father continued to write all the morning in his room, and disappeared at night. Finally, our stepmother interfered, her maid having ventured to report that the peasants were very anxious to return, as haymaking was near.
Next afternoon, Frol, the major-domo, and Mikhael Aléeff, the first violin, were called into father’s room. A sack containing the “food money” — that is, a few coppers a day — for each of the forty or fifty souls who were to accompany the household to Nikólskoye, was handed to Frol, with a list. All were enumerated in that list: the band in full; then the cooks and the under-cooks, the laundresses, the under-laundress who was blessed with a family of six mites, “ Polka Squinting,” “ Domna the Big One,” “ Domna the Small One,” and the rest of them.
The first violin received an “ order of march.” I knew it well, because father, seeing that he never would be ready, had called me to copy it into the book, in which he used to copy all “ outgoing papers : ” —
“ To my house servant, Mikhael Aléeff, from Prince Alexéi Petróvich Kropótkin, Colonel and Commander.
“ Thou art ordered, on May 29th, at six A. M., to march out with my loads, from the city of Moscow, for my estate, situated in the government of Kalúga, district of Meschévsk, on the river Siréna. representing a distance of one hundred and sixty miles from this house ; to look after the good conduct of the men entrusted to thee, and if any one of them proves to be guilty of misconduct or of drunkenness or of insubordination, to bring the said man before the commander of the garrison detachment of the separate corps of the interior garrisons, with the inclosed circular letter, and to ask that he may be punished by flogging [the first violin knew who was meant], as an example to the others.
“Thou art ordered, moreover, to look especially after the integrity of the goods entrusted to thy care, and to march according to the following order: First day, stop at village So and So, to feed the horses ; second day, spend the night at the town of Podolsk ; ” and so on for all the seven or eight days that the journey would last.
Next day, at ten instead of at six, — punctuality is not a Russian virtue, — the carts left the house. The servants had to make the journey on foot; only the children were accommodated with a seat in a bath-tub or basket, on the top of a loaded cart, and some of the women might find an occasional restingplace on the rim of a cart. The others had to walk all the hundred and sixty miles. As long as they were marching through Moscow, discipline was maintained : it was peremptorily forbidden to wear top-boots or to pass a belt over the coat. But when they were on the road, and we overtook them a couple of days later, and especially when it was known that father would stay a few days longer at Moscow, the men and the women — dressed in all sorts of impossible coats, belted with cotton handkerchiefs, burned by the sun or dripping under the rain, and helping themselves along with sticks cut in the woods — certainly looked more like a wandering band of gypsies than the household of a wealthy landowner. Similar peregrinations were made by every household in those times, and when we saw a file of servants marching along one of our streets, we at once knew that the Apukhtins or the Pryanishnikoffs were migrating.
The carts were gone, yet the family did not move. All of us were sick of waiting; but father still continued to write interminable orders to the managers of his estates, and I copied them diligently into the big “ outgoing book.” At last the order to start was given. We were called downstairs. My father read aloud the order of march, addressed to “ the Princess Kropótkin, wife of Prince Alexéi Petróvich Kropótkin, Colonel and Commander,” in which the halting-places during the five days’ journey were duly enumerated. True, the order was written for May 30, and the departure was fixed for nine A. M., though May was gone, and the departure took place in the afternoon : this upset all calculations. But, as is usual in military marching-orders, this circumstance had been foreseen, and was provided for in the following paragraph : —
“ If, however, contrary to expectation, the departure of your highness does not take place at the said day and hour, you are requested to act according to the best of your understanding, in order to bring the said journey to its best issue.”
Then, all present, the family and the servants, sat down for a moment, signed themselves with the cross, and bade my father good-by. “ I entreat you, Alexis, don’t go to the club,” our stepmother whispered to him. The great coach, drawn by four horses, with a postilion, stood at the door, with its little folding ladder to facilitate climbing in; the other coaches also were there. Our seats were enumerated in the marching - orders, but our stepmother had to exercise “ the best of her understanding ” even at that early stage of the proceedings, and we started to the great satisfaction of all.
The journey was an inexhaustible source of enjoyment for us children. The stages were short, and we stopped twice a day to feed the horses. As the ladies screamed at the slightest declivity of the road, it was found more convenient to alight each time the road went up or down hill, which it did continually, and we took advantage of this to have a peep into the woods by the roadside, or a run along some crystal brook. The beautifully kept highroad from Moscow to Warsaw, which we followed for some distance, was covered, moreover, with a variety of interesting objects : files of loaded carts, groups of pilgrims, and all sorts of people. Twice a day we stopped in big, animated villages, and after a good deal of bargaining about the prices to be charged for hay and oats, as well as for the samovars, we dismounted at the gates of an inn. Cook Andrei bought a chicken and made the soup, while we ran in the meantime to the next wood, or examined the yard of the great inn.
At Máloyaroslávetz, where a battle was fought in 1812, when the Russian army vainly attempted to stop Napoleon in his retreat from Moscow, we usually spent the night. M. Poulain, who had been wounded in the Spanish campaign, knew, or pretended to know, everything about the battle at Máloyaroslávetz. He took us to the battlefield, and explained how the Russians tried to check Napoleon’s advance, and how the Grande Armée crushed them and made its way through the Russian lines. He explained it as well as if lie himself had taken part in the battle. Here the Cossacks attempted un mouvement tournant, but Davoust, or some other marshal, routed them and pursued them just beyond these hills on the right. There the left wing of Napoleon crushed the Russian infantry, and here Napoleon himself, at the head of the Old Guard, charged Kutúzoff’s centre, and covered himself and his Guard with undying glory.
We once took the old Kalúga route, and stopped at Tarutino ; but here Poulain was much less eloquent. For it was at this place that Napoleon, who intended to retreat by a southern route, was compelled, after a bloody battle, to abandon that plan, and was forced to follow the Smolensk route, which his army had laid waste during its march on Moscow. But still — so it appeared in Poulain’s narrative — Napoleon was deceived by his marshals ; otherwise he would have marched straight upon Kieff and Odessa, and his eagles would have floated over the Black Sea.
Beyond Kalúga we had to cross for a stretch of five miles a beautiful pine forest, which remains connected in my memory with some of the happiest reminiscences of my childhood. The sand in that forest was as deep as in an African desert, and we went all the way on foot, while the horses, stopping every moment, slowly dragged the carriages in the sand. When I was in my teens, it was my delight to leave the family behind, and to walk the whole distance by myself. Immense red pines, centuries old, rose on every side, and not a sound reached the ear except the voices of these lofty trees. In a small ravine a fresh crystal spring murmured, and a passerby had left by it, for the use of those who should come after him, a small funnel-shaped ladle, made of birch bark, with a split stick for a handle. Noiselessly a squirrel ran up a tree, and the underwood was as full of mysteries as were the trees. In that forest my first love of nature and my first dim perception of its incessant life were born.
Beyond the forest, and past the ferry which took us over the Ugra, we left the highroad and entered narrow country lanes, where green ears of rye bent toward the coach, and the horses managed to bite mouthfuls of grass on either side of the way, as they ran, closely pressed to one another in the narrow, trenchlike road. At last we caught sight of the three willows which marked the approach to our own village, and all of a sudden we saw the beautiful yellow bell tower of the Nikólskoye church.
For the quiet life of the landlords of those times Nikólskoye was admirably suited. There was nothing in it of the luxury which is seen in richer estates ; but an artistic hand was visible in the planning of the buildings and gardens, and in the general arrangement of things. Besides the main house, which father had recently built, there were, round a spacious and well-kept yard, several smaller houses, which, while they gave a greater degree of independence to their inhabitants, did not destroy the close intercourse of the family life. An immense “ upper garden ” was devoted to fruit trees, and through it the church was reached ; the southern slope of the land, which led to the river, was entirely given up to a pleasure garden, where flower-beds were intermingled with alleys of lime trees, lilacs, and acacias. From the balcony of the main house there was a beautiful view of the river, with the ruins of an old earthen fortress where the Russians offered a stubborn resistance during the Mongol invasion, and further on a great area of yellow grain-fields bordered by woods.
In the early years of my childhood we occupied with M. Poulain one of the separate houses entirely by ourselves ; and after his method of education was softened by the intervention of our sister Hélène, we were on the best possible terms with him. Father was invariably absent from home in the summer, which he spent in military inspections, and our stepmother did not pay much attention to us, especially after her own child was born. We were thus always with M. Poulain, who thoroughly enjoyed the stay in the country, and let us enjoy it. The woods ; the walks along the river ; the climbing over the hills to the old fortress, which Poulain made alive for us as he told how it was defended by the Russians, and how it was captured by the Tartars ; the little adventures, in one of which Poulain became our hero by saving Alexander from drowning, — yielded no end of new and delightful impressions. Large parties were organized, also, in which all the family took part, sometimes picking mushrooms in the woods, and afterward having tea in the midst of the forest, where a man a hundred years old lived alone with his little grandson, taking care of bees. At other times we went to one of father’s villages where a big pond had been dug, in which golden carp could be caught. My former nurse lived in that village. Her family was one of the poorest ; besides her husband, she had only a small boy to help her, and a girl, my foster-sister, who became later on a preacher and a “ virgin ” in the Nonconformist sect to which they belonged. There was no bound to her joy when I came to see her. Cream, eggs, apples, and honey were all that she could offer; but the way in which she offered them, in bright wooden plates, after having covered the table with a fine snowwhite linen tablecloth of her own make (with the Russian Nonconformists absolute cleanliness is a matter of religion), and the fond words with which she addressed me, treating me as her own son, left the warmest feelings in my heart. I must say the same of the nurses of my elder brothers, Nicholas and Alexander, who belonged to prominent families of two other Nonconformist sects in Nikólskoye. Few know what treasuries of goodness can be found in the hearts of Russian peasants, even after centuries of the most shameful oppression, which might well have embittered them.
On stormy days M. Poulain had an abundance of tales to tell us, especially about the campaign in Spain. Over and over again we induced him to tell us how he was wounded in a battle, and every time he came to the point when he felt warm blood streaming into his boot, we jumped to kiss him and gave him all sorts of pet names.
Everything seemed to prepare us for the military career : the predilection of our father (the only toys that I remember his having bought for us were a rifle and a real sentry-box) ; the war tales of M. Poulain ; nay, even the library which we had at our disposal. This library, which had once belonged to General Repninsky, our mother’s grandfather, a learned military man of the eighteenth century, consisted exclusively of books on military warfare, adorned with rich plates and beautifully bound in leather. It was our chief recreation, on wet days, to look over the plates of these books, representing the weapons of warfare since the times of the Hebrews, and giving plans of all the battles that had been fought since Alexander of Macedonia. These books also instructed us how to build strong fortresses which would stand for some time the blows of a batteringram, as well as those from an Archimedean catapult (which, however, persisted in sending stones into the windows, and was soon prohibited). Yet neither Alexander nor I became a military man. The literature of the sixties wiped out the teachings of our childhood.
M. Poulain’s opinions about revolutions were those of the Orleanist Illustration Française, of which he received back numbers, and of which we knew the woodcuts. For a long time I could not imagine a revolution otherwise than in the shape of Death riding on a horse, the red flag in one hand and a scythe in the other, mowing down men right and left. But I now think that M. Poulain’s dislike was limited to the uprising of 1848, for one of his tales about the Revolution of 1789 deeply impressed my mind.
The title of prince was used in our house with and without occasion. M. Poulain must have been shocked by it, for he began once to tell us what he knew of the great Revolution. I cannot now recall what he said, but one thing I remember, namely, that Count Mirabeau and other nobles one day renounced their titles, and that Count Mirabeau, to show his contempt for aristocratic pretensions, opened a shop decorated with a signboard which bore the inscription, “ Mirabeau, tailor.” (I tell the story as I had it from M. Poulain.) For a long time after that I worried myself thinking what trade I could recognize as mine, so as to write, “ Kropotkin, such a handicraft man.” Later on, my Russian teacher, Nikolái Pávlovich Smirnóff, and the general republican tone of Russian literature influenced me in the same way ; and when I began to write novels — that is, in my twelfth year — I adopted the signature P. Kropotkin, which I never have departed from, notwithstanding the remonstrances of my chiefs when I was in the military service.
In the autumn of 1852 my brother Alexander was sent to the corps of cadets, and from that time we saw each other only during the holidays and occasionally on Sundays. The corps of cadets was five miles from our house, and although we had a dozen horses, it always happened that when the time came to send a sledge to the corps there was no horse free for that purpose. My eldest brother, Nicholas, came home very seldom. The relative freedom which Alexander found at school, and especially the influence of two of his teachers in literature, developed his intellect rapidly, and later on I shall have ample occasion to speak of the beneficial influence that he exercised upon my own development. It is a great privilege to have a loving, intelligent elder brother.
In the meantime I remained at home. I had to wait till my turn to enter the corps of pages should come, and that did not happen until I was nearly fifteen years of age. M. Poulain was dismissed, and a German tutor was engaged instead. He was one of those idealistic men who are not uncommon among Germans, but I remember him chiefly on account of the enthusiastic way in which he used to recite Schiller’s poetry, accompanying it by a most naïve kind of acting that delighted me. He stayed with us only one winter.
The next winter I was sent to attend the classes at a Moscow gymnasium; and finally I remained with our Russian teacher, Smirnóff. We soon became friends, especially after my father took both of us for a journey to his Ryazán estate. During this journey we indulged in all sorts of fun, and we used to invent humorous stories in connection with the men and the things that we saw ; while the impression produced upon me by the hilly tracts we crossed added some new and fine touches to my growing love of nature. Under the impulse given me by Smirnóff, my literary tastes also began to grow, and during the years from 1854 to 1857 I had full opportunity to develop them. My teacher, who had by this time finished his studies at the university, obtained a small clerkship in a law court, and spent his mornings there. I was thus left to myself till dinner-time, and after having prepared my lessons and taken a walk, I had plenty of time to read, and especially to write. In the autumn, when my teacher returned to his office at Moscow, while we remained in the country, I was left again to myself, and though in continual intercourse with the family, and spending a good deal of time in playing with my little sister Pauline, I could in fact dispose of my time as I liked for reading and writing.
Serfdom was then in the last years of its existence. It is recent history,—it seems to be only of yesterday; and yet, even in Russia, few realize what serfdom was in reality. There is a dim conception that the conditions which it created were very bad ; but those conditions, as they affected human beings bodily and mentally, are not generally understood. It is amazing, indeed, to see how quickly an institution and its social consequences are forgotten when the institution has ceased to exist, and with what rapidity men and things change. I will try to recall the conditions of serfdom by telling, not what I heard, but what I saw.
Uliána, the housekeeper, stands in the passage leading to father’s room, and crosses herself; she dares neither to advance nor to retreat. At last, after having recited a prayer, she enters the room, and reports, in a hardly audible voice, that the store of tea is nearly at an end, that there are only twenty pounds of sugar left, and that the other provisions will soon be exhausted.
“ Thieves, robbers ! ” shouts my father. “ And you, you are in league with them ! ” His voice thunders throughout the house. Our stepmother leaves Uliána to face the storm. But father cries, “ Frol, call the princess! Where is she? ” And when she enters, he receives her with the same reproaches.
“ You also are in league with this progeny of Ham ; you are standing up for them ; ” and so on, for half an hour or more.
Then he commences to verify the accounts. At the same time, he thinks about the hay. Frol is sent to weigh what is left of that, and our stepmother is sent to be present during the weighing, while father calculates how much of it ought to be in the barn. A considerable quantity of hay appears to be missing, and Uliána cannot account for several pounds of such and such provisions. Father’s voice becomes more and more menacing ; Uliána is trembling ; but it is the coachman who now enters the room, and is stormed at by his master. He keeps repeating, “ Your highness must have made a mistake.”
Father repeats his calculations, and this time it appears that there is more hay in the barn than there ought to be. The shouting continues; he now reproaches the coachman with not having given the horses their daily rations in full; but the coachman calls on all the saints to witness that he gave the animals their due, and Frol invokes the Virgin to confirm the coachman’s appeal.
But father will not be appeased. He calls in Makár, the piano-tuner and subbutler, and reminds him of all his recent sins. He was drunk last week, and must have been drunk yesterday, for he broke half a dozen plates. In fact, the breaking of these plates was thereal cause of all the disturbance : our stepmother had reported the fact to father in the morning, and that was why Uliána was received with more scolding than was usually the case, why the verification of the hay was undertaken, and why father continued to shout that “ this progeny of Ham ” deserved all the punishments on earth.
Of a sudden there is a lull in the storm. My father takes his seat at the table and writes a note. “ Take Makár with this note to the police station, and let a hundred lashes with the birch rod be given to him.”
Terror and absolute muteness reign in the house.
The clock strikes four, and we all go down to dinner ; but no one has any appetite, and the soup remains in the plates untouched. We are ten at table, and behind each of us a violinist or a trombone-player stands, with a clean plate in his left hand; but Makár is not among them.
“ Where is Makár ? ” our stepmother asks. " Call him in.”
Makár does not appear, and the order is repeated. He enters at last, pale, with a distorted face, ashamed, his eyes cast down. Father looks into his plate, while our stepmother, seeing that no one has touched the soup, tries to encourage us.
“ Don’t you find, children,” she says, " that the soup is delicious ? ”
Tears suffocate me, and immediately after dinner is over I run out, catch Makár in a dark passage, and try to kiss his hand ; but he tears it away, and says, either as a reproach or as a question, " Let me alone ; and you, too, when you are grown up, will be just the same ? ”
“ No, no, never ! ”
Yet father was not among the worst of landowners. On the contrary, the servants and the peasants considered him one of the best. What we saw in our house was going on everywhere, often in much more cruel forms. The flogging of the serfs was a regular part of the duties of the police.
A landowner once made the remark to another, " Why is it, general, that the number of your souls increases so slowly ? You probably do not look after their marriages.”
A few days later the general returned to his estate. He had a list of all the inhabitants of his village brought him, and picked out from it the names of the boys who had attained the age of eighteen, and of the girls just past sixteen, — these are the legal ages for marriage in Russia. Then he wrote, " John to marry Anna, Paul to marry Paráshka,” and so on with five couples, and gave orders that the five weddings should take place in ten days, the next Sunday but one.
A general cry of despair rose from the village. Women, young and old, wept in every house. Anna had hoped to marry Gregory ; Paul’s parents had already had a talk with the Fedótoffs about their girl, who would soon be of age. Moreover, it was the season for ploughing, not for weddings ; and what wedding can be prepared in ten days ? Dozens of peasants came to see the landowner ; peasant women stood in groups at the back entrance of the estate, with pieces of fine linen for the landowner’s spouse, to secure her intervention. All in vain. The master had said that the weddings should take place at such a date, and so it must be.
At the appointed time, the nuptial processions, in this case more like burial processions, went to the church. The women cried with loud voices, as they are wont to cry during burials. One of the house valets was sent to the church, to report to the master as soon as the wedding ceremonies were over; but soon he came running back, cap in hand, pale and distressed.
“ Paráshka,” he said, " makes a stand ; she refuses to be married to Paul. Father ” (that is, the priest) " asked her, ' Do you agree ? ’ but she replied in a loud voice, ' No, I don’t.’ ”
The landowner was furious. " Go and tell that long-maned drunkard ” (meaning the priest; the Russian clergy wear their hair long) " that if Paráshka is not married at once, I will report him as a drunkard to the archbishop. How dares he, clerical dirt, disobey me ? Tell him he shall be sent to rot in a monastery, and I shall exile Paráshka’s family to the steppes.”
The valet transmitted the message. Paráshka‘s relatives and the priest surrounded the girl ; her mother, weeping, fell on her knees before her, entreating her not to ruin the whole family. The girl continued to say “ I won’t,” but in a weaker and weaker voice, then in a whisper, until at last she stood silent. The nuptial crown was put on her head ; she made no resistance, and the valet ran full speed to the mansion to announce, “ They are married.”
Half an hour later, the small bells of the nuptial processions resounded at the gate of the mansion. The five couples alighted from the cars and entered the hall. The landlord received them, offering them glasses of wine, while the parents, standing behind the crying daughters, ordered them to bow to the earth before their lord.
Marriages by order were so common that amongst our servants, each time a young couple foresaw that they might be ordered to marry, although they had no mutual inclination for each other, they took the precaution of standing together as godfather and godmother at the christening of a child in one of the peasant families. This rendered marriage impossible, according to Russian Church law. The stratagem was usually successful, but once it ended in a tragedy. Andrei, the tailor, fell in love with a girl belonging to one of our neighbors. He hoped that my father would permit him to go free, as a tailor, in exchange for a certain yearly payment, and that by working hard at his trade he could manage to lay aside some money and to buy freedom for the girl. Otherwise, in marrying one of my father’s serfs she would have become the serf of her husband’s master. However, as Andrei and one of the maids of our household foresaw that they might be ordered to marry, they agreed to unite as godparents in the christening of a child. What they had feared happened : one day they were called to the master, and the dreaded order was given.
“ We are always obedient to your will,” they replied, " but a few weeks ago we acted as godfather and godmother at a christening.” Andrei also explained his wishes and intentions. The result was that he was sent to the recruiting board to become a soldier.
Under Nicholas I. there was no obligatory military service for all, such as now exists. Nobles and merchants were exempt, and when a new levy of recruits was ordered, the landowners had to supply a certain number of men from their serfs. As a rule, the peasants, within their village communities, kept a roll amongst themselves ; but the house servants were entirely at the mercy of their lord, and if he was dissatisfied with one of them, he sent him to the recruiting board and took a recruit acquittance, which had a considerable money value, as it could be sold to any one whose turn it was to become a soldier.
Military service in those times was terrible. A man was required to serve twenty-five years under the colors, and the life of a soldier was hard in the extreme. To become a soldier meant to betorn away forever from one’s native village and surroundings, and to be at the mercy of officers like Timoféeff, whom I have already mentioned. Blows from the officers, flogging with birch rods and with sticks, for the slightest fault, were normal affairs. The cruelty that was displayed surpasses all imagination. Even in the corps of cadets, where only noblemen’s sons were educated, a thousand blows with birch rods were sometimes administered, in the presence of all the corps, for a cigarette, — the doctor standing by the tortured boy, and ordering the punishment to end only when he ascertained that the pulse was about to stop beating. The bleeding victim was carried away unconscious to the hospital. The Grand Duke Mikhael, commander of the military schools, would quickly have removed the director of a corps who had not had one or two such cases every year. “No discipline,” he used to say.
When one of the common soldiers appeared before a court-martial, the sentence was that a thousand men should be placed in two ranks facing each other, every soldier armed with a stick of the thickness of the little finger (these sticks were known under their German name of Spitzruthen),and that the condemned man should be dragged three, four, five, and seven times between these two rows, each soldier administering a blow. Sergeants followed to see that full force was used. After one or two thousand blows had been given, the victim, spitting blood, was taken to the hospital and attended to, in order that the punishment might be finished as soon as he had more or less recovered from the effects of the first part of it. If he died under the torture, the execution of the sentence was completed upon the corpse. Nicholas I. and his brother were pitiless ; no remittance of the punishment was ever possible. “ I will send you through the ranks; you shall be skinned under the sticks,”were threats which made part of the current language.
A gloomy terror used to spread through our house when it became known that one of the servants was to be sent to the recruiting board. The man was chained and placed under guard in the office. A peasant-cart was brought to the office door, and the doomed man was taken out between two watchmen. All the servants surrounded him. He made a deep bow, asking every one to pardon him his willing or unwilling offenses. If his father and mother lived in our village, they came to see him off. He bowed to the ground before them, and his mother and his other female relatives began loudly to give utterance to their lamentations, — a sort of half-song and half-recitative : “ To whom do you abandon us ? Who will take care of you in the strange lands ? Who will protect you from cruel men ? ” — exactly in the same way in which they sang their lamentations at a burial, and with the same words.
Thus Andrei had now to face for twenty-five years the terrible fate of a soldier : all his schemes of happiness had come to a violent end.
The fate of one of the maids, Pauline, or Pólya, as she used to be called, was even more tragical. She had been apprenticed to make fine embroidery, and was an artist at the work. At Nikólskoye her embroidery frame stood in sister Hélène’s room, and she often took part in the conversations that went on between our sister and a sister of our stepmother who stayed with Hélène. Altogether, by her behavior and talk Pólya was more like an educated young person than a housemaid.
A misfortune befell her : she realized that she would soon be a mother. She told all to our stepmother, who burst into reproaches : “ I will not have that creature in my house any longer ! I will not permit such a shame in my house ! oh, the shameless creature ! ” and so on. The tears of Hélène made no difference. Pólya had her hair cut short, and was exiled to the dairy ; but as she was just embroidering an extraordinary skirt, she had to finish it at the dairy, in a dirty cottage, at a microscopical window. She finished it, and made many more fine embroideries, all in the hope of obtaining her pardon. But pardon did not come.
The father of her child, a servant of one of our neighbors, implored permission to marry her ; but as he had no money to offer, his request was refused. Pólya’s “ too gentlewoman-like manners ” were taken as an offense, and a most bitter fate was kept in reserve for her. There was in our household a man employed as a postilion, on account of his small size; he went under the name of “ bandy-legged Fílka.” In his boyhood a horse had kicked him terribly, and he did not grow. His legs were crooked, his feet were turned inward, his nose was broken and turned to one side, his jaw was deformed. To this monster it was decided to marry Pólya, — and she was married by force. The couple were sent to become peasants at my father’s estate in Ryazán.
Human feelings were not recognized, not even suspected, in serfs, and when Turguéneff published his little story Mumu, and Grigoróvich began to issue his wonderful novels, in which he made his readers weep over the misfortunes of the serfs, a great number of persons received a startling revelation. “ They love just as we do ; is it possible ? ” exclaimed the sentimental ladies who could not read a French novel without shedding tears over the troubles of the noble heroes and heroines.
The education which the owners occasionally gave to some of their serfs was only another source of misfortune for the latter. My father once picked out in a peasant house a clever boy, and sent him to be educated as a doctor’s assistant. The boy was diligent, and after a few years’ apprenticeship made a decided success. When he returned home, my father bought all that was required for a well-equipped dispensary, which was arranged very nicely in one of the side houses of Nikólskoye. In summer time, Sásha the Doctor — that was the familiar name under which this young man went in the household — was busy gathering and preparing all sorts of medical herbs, and in a short time he became most popular in the region round Nikólskoye. The sick people among the peasants came from the neighboring villages, and my father was proud of the success of his dispensary. But this condition of things did not last. One winter, my father came to Nikólskoye, stayed there for a few days, and left. That night Sásha the Doctor shot himself, — by accident, it was reported ; but there was a love-story at the bottom of it. He was in love with a girl whom he could not marry, as she belonged to another landowner.
The case of another young man, Gherásim Kruglóff, whom my father educated at the Moscow Agricultural Institute, was almost equally sad. He passed his examinations most brilliantly, getting a gold medal, and the director of the Institute made all possible endeavors to induce my father to give him freedom and to let him go to the university, — serfs not being allowed to enter there. " He is sure to become a remarkable man,” the director said, “ perhaps one of the glories of Russia, and it will be an honor for you to have recognized his capacities and to have given such a man to Russian science.”
“ I need him for my own estate,” my father always replied to the many applications made on the young man’s behalf. In reality, with the primitive methods of agriculture which were then in use, and from which my father would never have departed, Gherásim Kruglóff was absolutely useless. He made a survey of the estate, but when that was done he was ordered to sit in the servants’ room and to stand with a plate at dinner-time. Of course Gherásim resented it very much; his dreams carried him to the university, to scientific work. His looks betrayed his discontent, and my stepmother seemed to find an especial pleasure in offending him at every opportunity. One day in the autumn, a rush of wind having opened the entrance gate, she called out to him, “ Garáska, go and shut the gate.”
That was the last drop. He answered, “ You have a porter for that,” and went his way.
My stepmother ran into father’s room, crying, “ Your servants insult me in your house ! ”
Immediately Gherásim was put under arrest and chained, to be sent away as a soldier. The parting of his old father and mother with him was one of the most heart-rending scenes I ever saw.
This time, however, fate took its revenge. Nicholas I. died, and military service became more tolerable. Gherásim’s great ability was soon remarked, and in a few years he was one of the chief clerks, and the real working force in one of the departments of the ministry of war. Meanwhile, my father, who was absolutely honest, and, at a time when almost every one was receiving bribes and making fortunes, had never let himself be bribed to depart from the strict rules of the service, in order to oblige the commander of the corps to which he belonged, consented to allow an irregularity of some kind. It nearly cost him his promotion to the rank of general; the only object of his thirty-five years’ service in the army seemed on the point of being lost. My stepmother went to St. Petersburg to remove the difficulty, and one day after many applications, was told that the only way to obtain what she wanted was to address herself to a particular clerk in a certain department of the ministry. Although he was a mere clerk, he was the real head of bis superiors, and could do everything. This man’s name was Gherásim Ivánovich Kruglóff!
“ Imagine, our Garáska ! ” she said to me afterward. “ I always knew that he had great capacity. I went to see him, and spoke to him about this affair, and he said, ' I have nothing against the old prince, and I will do all I can for him.’ ”
Gherásim kept his word : he made a favorable report, and my father got his promotion. At last he could put on the long-coveted red trousers and the redlined overcoat, and could wear the plumage on his helmet.
These were things which I myself saw in my childhood. If, however, I were to relate what I heard of in those years it would be a much more gruesome narrative : stories of men and women torn from their families and their villages, and sold, or lost in gambling, or exchanged for a couple of hunting dogs, and then transported to some remote part of Russia for the sake of creating a new estate ; of children taken from their parents and sold to cruel or dissolute masters; of flogging “ in the stables,” which occurred every day with unheardof cruelty; of a girl who found her only salvation in drowning herself; of an old man who had grown gray-haired in his master’s service, and at last hanged himself under his master’s window ; and of revolts of serfs, which were suppressed by Nicholas I.’s generals by flogging to death each tenth or fifth man taken out of the ranks, and by laying waste the village, whose inhabitants, after a military execution, went begging for bread in the neighboring provinces. As to the poverty which I saw during our journeys in certain villages, especially in those which belonged to the imperial family, no words would be adequate to describe the misery to readers who have not seen it.
To become free was the constant dream of the serfs, — a dream not easily realized, for a heavy sum of money was required to induce a landowner to part with a serf. “ Do you know,” my father said to me once, “ that your mother appeared to me after her death ? You young people do not believe in these things, but it was so. I sat one night very late in this chair, at my writing-table, and slumbered, when I saw her enter from behind, all in white, quite pale, and with her eyes gleaming. When she was dying she begged me to promise that I would give liberty to her maid, Másha, and I did promise; but then, what with one thing and another, nearly a whole year passed without my having fulfilled my intention. Then she appeared, and said to me in a low voice, ‘ Alexis, you promised me to give liberty to Másha ; have you forgotten it ? ’ I was quite terrified ; I jumped out of my chair, but she had vanished. I called the servants, but no one had seen anything. Next morning I went to her grave and had a litany sung, and immediately gave liberty to Másha.”
When my father died, Másha came to his burial, and I spoke to her. She was married, and quite happy in her family life. My brother Alexander, in his jocose way, told her what my father had said, and we asked her what she knew of it.
“ These things,” she replied, “ happened a long time ago, so I may tell you the truth. I saw that your father had quite forgotten his promise, so I dressed up in white and spoke like your mother. I recalled the promise he had made to her, — you won’t bear a grudge against me, will you ? ”
“ Of course not! ”
Ten or twelve years after the scenes described in the early part of this chapter, I sat one night in my father’s room, and we talked of things past. Serfdom had been abolished, and my father complained of the new conditions, though not very severely ; he had accepted them without much grumbling.
“ You must agree, father,” I said, “ that you often punished your servants cruelly, and even without reason.”
“ With the people,” he replied, “ it was impossible to do otherwise ; ” and, leaning back in his easy-chair, he remained plunged in thought. “ But what I did was nothing worth speaking of,” he said after a long pause. “ Take that same Sablin : he looks so soft, and talks in such a thin voice ; but he was really terrible with his serfs. How many times they plotted to kill him! I, at least, never took advantage of my maids, whereas that old devil T—went on in such a way that the peasant women were going to inflict a terrible punishment upon him. . . . Good-by, bonne nuit ! ”
I well remember the Crimean war. At Moscow it affected people but little. Of course, in every house lint and bandages for the wounded were made at evening parties: not much of it, however, reached the Russian armies, immense quantities being stolen and sold abroad. My sister Hélène and other young ladies sang patriotic songs, but the general tone of life in society was hardly influenced by the great struggle that was going on. In the country, on the contrary, the war caused terrible gloominess. The levies of recruits followed one another rapidly, and we continually heard the peasant women singing their funereal songs. The Russian people looked upon the war as a calamity which had been sent upon them by Providence, and they accepted it with a solemnity that contrasted strangely with the levity I saw elsewhere under similar circumstances. Young though I was, I realized that feeling of solemn resignation which pervaded our villages.
My brother Nicholas was smitten like many others by the war fever, and before he had ended his course at the corps he joined the army in the Caucasus. I never saw him again.
In the autumn of 1854 our family was increased by the arrival of two sisters of our stepmother. They had had their own house and some vineyards at Sebastopol, but now they were homeless, and came to stay with us. When the allies landed in the Crimea, the inhabitants of Sebastopol were told that they need not be afraid, and had only to stay where they were ; but after the defeat at the Alma, they were ordered to leave with all haste, as the city would be invested within a few days. There were few conveyances, and there was no way of moving along the roads in face of the troops which were marching southward. To hire a cart was almost impossible, and the ladies, having abandoned all they had on the road, had a very hard time of it before they reached Moscow.
I soon made friends with the younger of the two sisters, a lady of about thirty, who used to smoke one cigarette after another, and to tell me of all the horrors of their journey. She spoke with tears in her eyes of the beautiful battle-ships which had to be sunk at the entrance of the harbor of Sebastopol, and could not understand how the Russians would manage to defend Sebastopol from the land ; there was even no wall worth speaking of.
I was in my thirteenth year when Nicholas I. died. It was late in the afternoon, the 18th of February (2d of March), that the policemen distributed in all the houses of Moscow a bulletin announcing the illness of the Tsar, and inviting the inhabitants to pray in the churches for his recovery. At that time he was already dead, and the authorities knew it, as there was telegraphic communication between Moscow and St. Petersburg ; but not a word having been previously uttered about his illness, the people were in this way gradually prepared for the announcement of his death. We all went to church and prayed most piously.
Next day, Saturday, the same thing was done, and even on Sunday morning bulletins about the Tsar’s health were distributed. The news of the death of Nicholas reached us only about midday, through some servants who had been to the market. A real terror reigned in our house and in the houses of our relatives, as the information spread. It was said that the people in the market behaved in a strange way, showing no regret, but indulging in dangerous talk. Full-grown people spoke in whispers, and our stepmother kept repeating, " Don’t talk before the men ; ” while the servants whispered among themselves, probably about the coming “ freedom.” The nobles expected at every moment a revolt of the serfs, — a new uprising of Pugachóff.
At St. Petersburg, in the meantime, men of the educated classes, as they communicated to one another the news, embraced in the streets. Every one felt that the end of the war and the end of the terrible conditions which prevailed under the “ iron despot ” were near at hand. Poisoning was talked about, the more so as the Tsar’s body decomposed very rapidly, but the true reason only gradually leaked out: a too strong dose of an invigorating medicine that Nicholas had taken.
In the country, during the summer of 1855, the heroic struggle which was going on in Sebastopol for every yard of ground and every bit of its dismantled bastions was followed with a solemn interest. A messenger was sent regularly twice a week from our house to the district town to get the papers; and on his return, even before he had dismounted, the papers were taken from his hands and opened. Hélène or I read them aloud to the family, and the news was at once transmitted to the servants’ room, and thence to the kitchen, the office, the priest’s house, and the houses of the peasants. The reports which came of the last days of Sebastopol, of the awful bombardment, and finally of the evacuation of the town by our troops were received with tears. In every country house round about, the loss of Sebastopol was mourned over with as much grief as the loss of a near relative would have been, although every one understood that now the terrible war would soon come to an end.
It was in August, 1857, when I was nearly fifteen, that my turn came to enter the corps of pages, and I was taken to St. Petersburg. When I left home I was still a child ; but human character is usually settled in a definite way at an earlier age than is generally supposed, and it is evident to me that under my childish appearance I was then very much what I was to be later on. My tastes, my inclinations, were already determined.
The first impulse to my intellectual development was given, as I have said, by my Russian teacher. It is an excellent habit in Russian families — a habit now, unhappily, on the decline — to have such a teacher in the house ; that is, a student who aids the boys and the girls with their lessons, even when they are at a gymnasium. For a better assimilation of what they learn at school, and for a widening of their conceptions about what they learn, his aid is invaluable. Moreover, he introduces an intellectual element into the family, and becomes an elder brother to the young people, — often something better than an elder brother, because the student has a certain responsibility for the progress of his pupils ; and as the methods of teaching change rapidly, from one generation to another, he can assist his pupils better than the best educated parents could.
Smirnóff had literary tastes. At that time, under the terrible censorship of Nicholas I., many quite inoffensive works by our best writers could not be published; others were so mutilated as to deprive some passages in them of any meaning. In the genial comedy by Griboyédoff, Misfortune from Intelligence, which ranks with the best comedies of Molière, Colonel Skalozùb had to be named “ Mr. Skalozùb,” to the detriment of the sense and even of the verses ; for the representation of a colonel in a comical light would have been considered an insult to the army. Of so innocent a book as Gógol’s Dead Souls the second part was not allowed to appear, nor the first part to be reprinted, although it had long been out of print. Numerous verses of Púshkin, Lérmontoff, A. K. Tolstói, Ryléeff, and other poets were not permitted to see the light; to say nothing of such verses as had any political meaning or contained a criticism of the prevailing conditions. All these circulated in manuscript, and Smirnóff used to copy whole books of Gógol and Púshkin for himself and his friends to use, a task in which I occasionally helped him. As a true child of Moscow he was also imbued with the deepest veneration for those of our writers who lived in Moscow, — some of them in the Old Equerries’ Quarter. He pointed out to me with respect the house of the Countess Saliàs (Eugénie Tour), who was our near neighbor, while the house of the noted exile Alexander Hérzen always was associated with a certain mysterious feeling. The house where Gógol lived was for us an object of deep respect, and though I was not nine when he died (in 1851), and had read none of his works, I remember well the sadness his death produced at Moscow. Turguéneff well expressed that feeling in a note, for which Nicholas I. — no one could say why — ordered him to be put under arrest and sent into exile to his estate.
Púshkin’s great poem, Evghéniy Onyéghin, made but little impression upon me, and I still admire the marvelous simplicity and beauty of his style in that poem more than its contents. But Gógol’s works, which I read when I was eleven or twelve, had a powerful effect on my mind, and my first literary essays were in imitation of his humorous manner. An historical novel by Zagóskin, Yuriy Miloslávskiy, about the times of the great uprising of 1612, Púshkin’s The Captain’s Daughter, dealing with the Pugachóff uprising, and Dumas’ Queen Marguerite awakened in me a lasting interest in history. As to other French novels, I have only begun to read them since Daudet and Zola came to the front. Nekrásoff’s poetry was my favorite from early years; I knew many of his verses by heart.
Nikolái Pávlovich early began to make me write, and with his aid I wrote a long History of a Sixpence, for which we invented all sorts of characters, into whose possession the sixpence fell. My brother Alexander had at that time a much more poetical turn of mind. He wrote most romantic stories, and early made verses. The latter, which he composed with wonderful facility, were most musical and easy ; and if his mind had not subsequently been taken up by natural history and philosophical studies, he undoubtedly would have become a poet of mark. In those years his favorite resort for finding poetical inspiration was the gently sloping roof underneath our window. This aroused in me a constant desire of teasing him. “ There is the poet sitting under the chimney-pot, trying to write his verses,” I used to say; and the teasing ended in a fierce scrimmage, which brought our sister Hélène to a state of despair. But Alexander was so devoid of revengefulness that peace was soon concluded, and we loved each other immensely. Among boys, scrimmage and love seem to go hand in hand.
I had even then taken to journalism. In my twelfth year I began to edit a daily. Paper was not to be had at will in our house, and my daily was in 32° only. As the Crimean war had not yet broken out, and the only paper which my father used to receive was the Gazette of the Moscow Police, I had not a great choice of models. As a result my own Gazette consisted merely of short paragraphs announcing the news of the day : as, “ Went out to the woods. N. P. Smirnóff shot two thrushes,” and so on.
This soon ceased to satisfy me, and in 1855 I started a monthly review in 16°, which contained Alexander’s verses, my novelettes, and some sort of “ varieties.” The material existence of this review was fully guaranteed, for it had plenty of subscribers ; that is, the editor himself and Smirnóff, who regularly paid his subscription, of so many sheets of paper, even after he had left our house. In return, I accurately wrote out for my faithful subscriber a second copy.
When Smirnóff left us, and a student of medicine, N. M. Pávloff, took his place, the latter helped me in my editorial duties. He obtained for the review a poem by one of his friends, and — still more important — the introductory lecture on physical geography by one of the Moscow professors. Of course this had not been printed before : a reproduction would never have found its way into the review.
Alexander, I need not say, took a lively interest in the paper, and its fame soon reached the corps of cadets. Some young writers on the way to fame undertook the publication of a rival. The matter was serious : in poems and novels we could hold our own ; but they had a “critic,” and a “ critic ” who writes, in connection with the characters of some new novel, all sorts of things about the conditions of life, and touches upon a thousand questions which could not be touched upon anywhere else, makes the soul of a Russian review. They had a critic, and we had none ! He wrote an article for the first number; and his article, rather pretentious and weak, was shown to my brother. Alexander at once wrote an anti-criticism, ridiculing and demolishing the critic in such a violent manner that when he showed his article to his comrades, saying that it would appear in our next number, there was great consternation in the rival camp. The result was that they gave up publishing their paper, their best writers joined our staff, and we triumphantly announced the future “exclusive collaboration of so many distinguished writers.”
In August, 1857, the review had to be suspended, after nearly two years’ existence. New surroundings and a quite new life were before me. I went away from home with regret, the more so because the whole distance between Moscow and St. Petersburg would be between me and Alexander, and I already considered it a misfortune that I had to enter a military school.