Some New Letters of Tourgeniev
THE letters of Tourgeniev to Stassov — now for the first time translated from the Russian — reveal two very opposite personalities, and take us into an atmosphere of controversy which seems to demand some explanation. Tourgeniev is so well known out of Russia that there is little need to dwell upon him here. His novels afford the best record of his views and tendencies, which may be briefly summed up in the words Classicism, Idealism, Occidentalism. But the friend — or should I say adversary ? — to whom this correspondence is addressed is a comparative stranger to English readers, and needs some introduction.
Vladimir Vassilievich Stassov is the son of a well-known Russian architect. Besides his ordinary occupations at the Imperial Public Library, where he occupies the position of director of fine arts, Stassov has accomplished a mass of literary work,1 and has been identified for the last fifty years with almost every literary and artistic movement of the nationalist party in Russia. To explain his position in the art world, and also the enthusiastic veneration with which he is regarded by the representatives of the new schools of music and painting in Russia, I may be permitted to compare him with his more celebrated compatriot whose letters I am now endeavoring to explain.
Tourgeniev, Russian as he was by birth and temperament, lived so long estranged from his own people that he lost touch with the generation that succeeded him, the children of the sixties. He tarried so long
The perfect flower of human time,”
that he found himself unable to appreciate the strong new growths of his native land, whose fruits seemed acrid and worthless to his fastidious Western palate. In his novels he shows up —sometimes with truth, but invariably without tenderness — all the weakness, the unpractical endeavors, the crude ideals, of the younger generation of Russian workers ; giving thereby a deeper shade to the pessimism, a sharper sting to the self-distrust, which are essential components of the Russian nature. Tourgeniev, in spite of all his accredited gentleness, undoubtedly quenched the smoking flax.
I do not claim for Stassov the creative gift of Tourgeniev. His mission has been to stimulate the creative faculties of others, — a smaller but equally noble part in the building up of a national art and literature. Just as Tolstoi may be said to have revealed Russia to herself morally, so Glinka, and after him Stassov, have given her a revelation of her artistic destinies. “ Have faith in your nationality,” preaches Stassov, “and you shall have works also.” “ Russian individuality ! ” cries the contemptuous voice of Tourgeniev. “ What humbug, what blindness and crass ignorance, what willful disregard of all that Europe has done ! ” To Stassov nationality has ever been the most precious thing in art. Penetrated with this spirit and deeply versed in the past history of Russia, — especially in her wealth of legend and folk song, — he set himself to fire the imaginations and sustain the hopes of that little band of earnest workers who, in the sixties and early seventies, started to break new paths in the world of painting and music. He might appropriately be called the godfather of the new Russian art, he has stood sponsor for so many newborn works of genius.
Now that it has been generally conceded that in painting — and more strikingly in music — the Russians have given evidence of a vigorous independent development, it is difficult to realize the sharpness of the conflict which attended the first preaching of the gospel of art in Russia itself. All society was divided upon this question of Eastern or Western development, and only those who have studied the polemics which raged around this problem can fully understand the significance of these two words, which meant, as the Count de Vogüé has truly said, “a son of light or an accursed traitor,” according to the banner a man had elected to follow’. To this cause must be referred the animosity — now smouldering half concealed under the guise of banter, now breaking out into something like splenetic fury — which runs throughout Tourgeniev’s letters to Stassov.
Stassov saw Tourgeniev for the first time at a concert of the Russian Musical Society, in Petersburg, in 1865. He describes his first impression of the great novelist as follows : —
“ Tourgeniev came late, and, on entering the room, he paused to explain to a lady sitting near me the reason of his unpunctuality. ‘I have just been hearing Schumann’s quintet for the first time. . . . My soul is all aglow,’ he said in his soft, tender voice, which had a slightly sibilant note in it. I turned, and saw for the first time in my life Tourgeniev’s tall and stately though somewhat stooping figure, his head with the heavy mane of hair, as yet untouched by gray, and his kind, rather dim eyes.”
Stassov, like all the disciples of the new school of Russian music, was an ardent admirer of Schumann, and rejoiced to overhear Tourgeniev’s praise of him. “ It is exceedingly improbable,” he says, “ that at that time any of our literary men knew anything about Schumann ; still less would they have been capable of appreciating him.’
Two years later, in 1867, they met again, under similar circumstances, at one of the concerts of the Free School, which Balakirev, Lomakin, and Stassov had been instrumental in founding in Petersburg. This time, Tourgeniev, whose attention had been attracted by Stassov’s article upon the painter Brulov, published in the Russky Vestnik a short time before, expressed a wish to be introduced to him. The conversation turned upon the inflated inanity ’ of Brulov, whose dull academical canvases were then still considered “ the best line in Russian art, and worshiped accordingly. Afterwards Stassov began to talk of Tourgeniev’s novel Smoke, which was just coming out in the Russky Vestnik, and asked him if he himself really held the same opinions about Glinka as he puts into the mouth of Potongin, one of the characters in the book. “ Well,” replied Tourgeniev, there may be a little exaggeration in the matter. I intended Potongin to represent a completely Western mind as opposed to the Slavonic; but all the same I agree with him on many points.” “What’!” exclaimed Stassov. “ Glinka only a rough diamond, — nothing more ? ” “ Of course he is a gifted man,” Tourgeniev answered, “ but he is not what you imagine him to be in Petersburg, nor what the newspapers proclaim him.” From this moment began the long conflict on matters of art, destined to be frequently revived in the years to come. The concert, which was devoted chiefly to the works of the modern Russian school, drew many expressions of contempt from Tourgeniev, and many warm retorts on Stassov’s part. “ When the concert was over,”writes the latter, “ we had disputed so much that although we shook hands at parting, we separated somewhat at enmity, and in a very different frame of mind from that in which our conversation began an hour and a half earlier.”
Their next meeting took place on foreign soil. In the summer of 1869 Stassov was staying in Munich. One evening, when dining at the Bayerischer Hof, he observed that several seats near him had been reserved for latecomers. Scarcely had he begun to speculate as to who his neighbors might prove to be, when Tourgeniev entered the room with Madame Viardot on his arm, followed by her husband and one or two friends. It was M. Viardot’s unfortunate lot to occupy the chair between Stassov and Tourgeniev ; an unenviable position, since the combatants no sooner caught sight of each other than they thirsted for the fray. “Two dinners,” says Stassov, “ paid for at the Bayerischer Hof that night were never eaten.” The heat of the discussion left them neither time nor appetite, and the waiters removed plate after plate untouched, while the heavy guns of argument were fired behind M. Viardot’s back. Madame Viardot, who understood neither Russian nor Russian ways, sat opposite, a silent and astonished spectator of this meeting.
Tourgeniev spent the months of April and May, 1871, in Petersburg, and from this place dates his first letter to Stassov, — a note of invitation to a gathering of the leading artists and literary men in the Russian capital, convoked by Anton Rubinstein with the idea of forming an Artists Club, on similar lines to the one which had been so successful in Moscow.
During this visit Tourgeniev first made the acquaintance of two rising artists whose names frequently occur in the course of His letters to Stassov. Antokolsky had just astonished the St. Petersburg public with the first view of his statue of Ivan the Terrible. Tourgeniev had hitherto been ignorant of Antokolsky and his works, but on seeing this masterpiece he united with Stassov, for once, in enthusiasm for a native genius. As may be seen from his letters, the great novelist watched Antokolsky’s career with interest, and, ten years later, used to relate with pride that the Russian sculptor had been elected a member of the French Institute without one dissentient voice.
While Antokolsky was making a sensation in Petersburg with Ivan the Terrible, the young painter Repin won his first laurels with his picture of Jairus’s Daughter, for which he received the silver medal of the Academy of Arts. But Stassov was less successful in winning for Repin Tourgeniev’s sympathy and approbation.
I have already spoken of Tourgeniev’s contemptuous attitude toward the new school of Russian music. My readers need only open the pages of his novel Smoke to discover the extreme bitterness of his attack upon the followers of Glinka and Dargomijsky. “ The humblest flute player,” says the ultra-Western thinker Potongin, “who whistles his part in the poorest German opera has twenty times as many ideas as our selftaught musicians ; only the German keeps his ideas to himself, and does not air them in the land of Mozart and Haydn.” Yet nowhere, I venture to think, has Tourgeniev shown his animosity to Russian music and musicians so clearly as in his correspondence with Stassov. But splenetic and hostile as is Tourgeniev’s style of musical criticism, it loses half its sting when we find out how little he really knew of the men or the music he disparaged. For instance, in one of his letters to Stassov, he makes exceptions in favor of Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov ; but I cannot discover that at that time he had ever heard anything of these two composers beyond a few songs or pianoforte pieces.
On one of his visits to Petersburg, he seems to have felt that he had not sufficient basis for his harsh judgments upon these young composers, who were fighting to save all that was best in their national music from a flood of colorless cosmopolitanism. Accordingly he asked Stassov if he could give him an opportunity of hearing some of the new music ; not merely fugitive pieces, but part of an opera or an orchestral work. At that time, the members of the new school, whose works were rarely performed in public, held social meetings, at which whole scenes were given from the operas of Dargomijsky, Monssorgsky, Cui, and Rimsky-Korsakov. No orchestra was available. Madame Rimsky-Korsakov presided at the piano; her sister, Madame Molas, and Monssorgsky, who had a charming voix de compositeur, aided by other friends, took the chief parts in the new works. Stassov’s suggestion that Tourgeniev should be invited to one of these evenings was coldly received by the musicians, many of whom resented his attitude toward their work. However, in May, 1874. Stassov succeeded in organizing a musical gathering at his own house, which included not only the chief representatives of the new school, but also Anton Rubinstein. During the playing of this great artist Tourgeniev evinced unbounded enthusiasm; but at ten o’clock, just as the last act of Cui’s Angelo was about to be sung, he was seized with one of his worst attacks of gout.. Critics who writhe under the “Slavonic barbarism ” and “ undisguised nihilism ” of the new Russian music may think the moment was well chosen ; but there seems no reason to doubt the reality of Tourgeniev’s sufferings. Borodin, the composer-physician, did all he could to relieve the unfortunate author, who was removed to his hotel, inveighing not so much against Russian music as against the climate and cookery — the borstch and pirogi. — of his native land. Thus it chanced that Tourgeniev never succeeded in hearing any of the more important works of those “ rough diamonds ” whose total oblivion he prophesies in one of his letters to Stassov.
Music was the chief topic of disagreement between Stassov and Tourgeniev, but literature was responsible for many of their discussions. While recovering from the attack just mentioned Tourgeniev visited Stassov at the Imperial Public Library, and the conversation turned upon the novelist’s own works. I give it, as nearly as possible, in Stassov’s words: —
“' Ivan Sergeivich,’ I said, ‘ I have long wished to ask you about one thing. Y ou know my admiration for your works, especially for Fathers and Sons. — we have spoken of it before ; I can never say enough about Bazarov and Anna Paulovna. But one thing I cannot understand in you : although you are constantly writing about love, describing scores of love scenes, you never in your tales or novels go so far as to depict passion. Only one scene — between Bazarov and Anna Paulovna — is carried to white heat. Everywhere else emotion and sentiment are restrained, discreet. There is nothing deeper in A Nest of Nobles, nor yet in Smoke. This seems unaccountable.’ Tourgeniev replied: ‘ Each man does what he can. I can do no more. But why dwell on this ? Let us rather talk about Poushkin. He is one of the greatest men of the age; but I — well, I just do what I can.’ ”
The subject of Poushkin was invariably dangerous. Stassov did not yield unreserved homage to the poet, whose works have certainly lost much of their former popularity in Russia. Tourgeniev, on the other hand, would not suffer any breath of disparagement of his idol. These arguments about Poushkin sometimes led to the most ridiculous results. On one occasion Stassov called upon the novelist at his hotel, and found him suffering from gout, and consequently in an irascible frame of mind. The talk drifted imperceptibly to the Russian poet, and led to the usual dispute, in the course of which they chanced to agree upon some trifling point. Stassov called attention to the fact that for once their views coincided. At this Tourgeniev burst into a loud laugh, and began to pace the room in his wadded jacket and wide plush shoes, waving his hand and speaking in a tragi-comical voice. “ Agreed are we ? Agreed indeed ! Why, if the moment should ever come in which I felt that I agreed with you about anything, I should rush to the window” (here he suited the action to the word and shuffled to the window on his gouty feet), “ fling it wide open, and call to the passers-by : ‘ Help ! help! Take me to a lunatic asylum! I agree with Stassov ! ’ ” The scene ended in a hearty laugh on both sides, and the evening wound up “ in such a happy and genial mood as rarely happened with us two.”
This was their last meeting, but their correspondence was continued at intervals. In the summer of 1883, Stassov, passing through Paris, was about to visit Tourgeniev at Bougival, when he was informed by Madame Viardot that the great novelist was then at death’s door. A week later he passed away.
ST. PETERSBURG, HÔTEL DEMOUTH, 4 March, 1871.
DEAR M. STASSOV, — I am afraid that, owing to some misunderstanding, you have not received the note inviting you to the meeting this evening, arranged by Rubinstein. In any case, I write to inform you that this evening, at ten o’clock, we shall assemble in the large salon at Demouth’s, and we hope that you will come.
Accept the assurance of my perfect esteem.
BADEN-BADEN, 3 THIERGARTENSTRASSE, 15/27October, 1871.
HONORED VLADIMIR VASSILIEVICH, — I have just received your letter, which makes me as anxious about Antokolsky as you are yourself. He really promised to come and stay with me here in Baden, but from the time I left Petersburg I have had no news of him whatever. About two months ago, or more, P. V. Annenkov wrote that he had been to Petersburg to supervise the casting of his statue,2 — nothing more. I am afraid he has been taken ill somewhere, — I fear so — his health is very poor, — but he might have written to some one. This is all a riddle ; but it is terrible to think what the answer may be!
I am leaving in a few days for Paris. Here is my address: Care of Madame Viardot, 48 Rue de Douai. I will keep your letter until my departure, in case Antokolsky should come to Baden, which is improbable. In any case, I shall leave a note for him.
I have only just read through Ostrovsky’s comedy in Otechestvenni Zapiskah, but the impression I formed of it was exactly similar to your own. It would be difficult in a few words—or even in many—to account for his case and many similar ones. Besides the lack of culture, there is the monotonous uniformity (at least for us Russians) of the exclusively literary life. Ostrovsky, for example, never for one moment gets outside the limits of his own atmosphere. The technique of art develops in such isolation; style and form, also, perfect themselves ; but the substance becomes impoverished and perishes. It is the same with those Russian writers who are said to follow up “ the idea ” and “ the tendencies ” of the hour, if not in books, in newspapers, — which is even worse. I do not take upon myself to judge for art, because, it seems to me, its hour has not yet come for Russia. Life begins to awaken, but there is no blood in this life as yet.
I hope to see you again in Petersburg during the winter; meanwhile keep well, and accept the assurance of my devotion.
PARIS, 48 RUE DE DOUAI, Sunday, December 25, 1871.
I ought long since to have answered your letter, dear Vladimir Vassilievich, but what with the trouble of moving, what with gout and my literary work, I have not been able to find time. I am now settled in Paris for a month or two, but in the middle of January (our style) I shall be in Petersburg, if I am alive and well.
I am very glad that Antokolsky has been found. (By the way, I send you back your letter to him.)
With your views upon marriage I agree, on the whole ; I should even extend their application to all unions between the sexes. As you know, there are such things as unlegalized marriages ; but these sometimes appear to be more undesirable than the commonly accepted form. To me the whole subject is familiar, and I have studied it au fond. If, so far, I have not touched upon it in my writings, it is because I always avoid these too intimate subjects ; I do not feel at ease with them. Later on, when all this has grown more distant, I may perhaps think it over and make an effort, — if only the taste for writing has not left me. It becomes increasingly difficult to be bothered with this intricate work, and every day it grows harder to satisfy one’s self with one’s art. For instance, I have only just finished a long novel (for the Messager de l’Europe), which I rewrote three times : mine is a kind of labor of Sisyphus ! But qui a bu, boira.” as the French say, and it is not impossible that I may do it. I read your article, in the St. Petersburg Viedomosti, about Repin and the Academy competition. I am very glad to hear that this young fellow is coming so quickly and so bravely to the front. He has great talent, and undoubtedly possesses the artistic temperament, — which is the most important thing of all. It is impossible not to rejoice that this Brulov worship is dying out. When all this dead matter falls away, like the scab from a wound, then only will the waters of life be able to spring up.
So far I have not looked about me here ; I have seen no one and done nothing, so I have not anything to tell you. The Republic is in a very poor way, — the whole nation is ailing. What will be the outcome of all this God alone knows.
Remember me to Antokolsky, and accept the assurance of my perfect respect and devotion.
48 RUE DE DOUAI, Wednesday, 13/1 March, 1872.
I address myself to you, honored Vladimir Vassilievich, with the following request. One of these days you will receive a book by our good friend Ralston,3 Songs of the Russian People. It is very carefully compiled from original sources, and we Russians are under every obligation to encourage such work. As yet nothing like it has appeared in any European language, and Ralston deserves to be patted on the back by so competent a judge as yourself. He will be much obliged to you, as well as your humble servant. I think an article in the Messager de l’Europe would be the best. I, on my part, will write to Stassoulievich.4 The book is beautifully got up, like all English publications.
Please tell me : Is Antokolsky in Petersburg ? Is he married ? How is he, and what is he doing?
With all good wishes, I remain,
48 RUE DE DOUAI, PARIS, Wednesday, March 27/15, 1872.
I learn from Stassoulievich’s letter, dear Vladimir Vassilievich, that Puipin has written an article upon Ralston ; and from your letter I see that you are not quite on good terms with the paper now. I am very sorry for the Messager de 1’Europe ; but there is nothing to be done. I know that Ralston wants to send you a copy, and I believe you will shortly receive it. I will remind him.
Thanks for the news about Antokolsky ; it is very interesting. I hope he has now solved his problem,5 and that his health, at least, has not suffered.
From what you say, I could not imagine a worse subject for a picture than that which Repin has chosen, and I am truly sorry for this.6 With such a subject, it is so easy to drop into allegory, into the commonplace, and to assume a stilted style.
What a pity that the Hemicycle of Delaroehe lacks vitality ! But as Delaroche has about as much artistic temperament as Kraevsky, there is not much to spoil.
You are quite wrong in fancying that I “ dislike ” Glinka: he was a very great and original man. But come, now, it is quite different with the others, — with your M. Dargomijsky and his Stone Guest. It will always remain one of the greatest mysteries of my life how such intelligent people as you and Cui, for example, can possibly find in these limp, colorless, feeble, — I beg your pardon,—senile recitatives, interwoven now and then with a few howls, to lend color and imagination, — how you can find in this feeble piping not only music, but a new, genial, and epoch-making music. Can it be unconscious patriotism, I wonder ? I confess that, except a sacrilegious attempt on one of Poushkin’s best poems, I find nothing in it. And now cut off my head, if you like!
Of all these “young” Russian musicians, only two have decided talent, — Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov. All the rest, for what they are worth, may be put in a sack and thrown into the water ! Not, of course, as men, — as men they are charming, — but as artists. The Egyptian Pharaoh Rameses XXIX. is not more utterly forgotten than these men will be fifteen or twenty years hence. This is my one consolation.
In about four weeks’ time I leave here, and at the end of April I shall be in Petersburg, where I hope to see you and dispute with you to my heart’s content, if only you care to talk to such a heretic as I am.
I shake your hand warmly, and remain, Yours devotedly,
P. S. Like all Russians you do not give your address, and I have wasted two hours looking for it among old letters and papers.
PRECHISTENSKY BOULEVARD, MOSCOW, Wednesday, May 26/14, 1872.
I only received your letter of May 17 the day after my arrival here, dear Vladimir Vassilievich. When you wrote it I was actually in Petersburg (at the Hôtel Demouth) ; but they told me you were away, so I did not look you up, which I now regret very much. However, I stayed but a few days in Petersburg. I leave here on Sunday, if the attack of gout from which I am unexpectedly suffering will permit; but I shall be in Petersburg only twenty-four hours, and it is very unlikely that I shall see you, for probably just now you are in Moscow all the time, only I know nothing about it. We shall have to argue on paper, instead of by word of mouth.
Why should you Suppose that I, who am neither a musician nor a painter, and moreover an old man, to whom all insincerity is distasteful, and who merely pays heed to his own impressions, — why do you suppose that I am impregnated with fetishism and bow down to European authorities ? To hell with the lot of them! I delight in Gluck’s recitatives and arias, not because the authorities have praised them, but because at the first notes they draw my tears, while no authorities could compel me to do otherwise than look upon the Stone Guest with utter contempt. I have had the patience to listen to it twice, not with an indifferent, but with a very masterly interpretation of the pianoforte score. You err in your estimate of these authorities, too. For instance, you believe that Ary Scheffer among the French (I am not speaking of Philistines, but of artistic natures), and Kaulbach among the Germans, carry some weight, whereas they have long since been shelved, and nobody speaks of them seriously nowadays. But as to Delacroix, would that we had in our school so highly gifted though unequal a nature !
I have seen Repin’s picture,7 and with sincere regret I confess that this cold vinaigrette of life and death is — forgive me — a piece of forced absurdity which could have emanated only from the brain of some Klestakov8 . . . with his Slaviansky Bazaar ! And my opinion is shared by the painter himself, who spent nearly two hours with me, and spoke with great regret about the theme which had been forced upon him. He was even sorry that I had been to see the picture, in which there are evidences of undoubted talent, but which is suffering at this moment a well-merited fiasco. God grant that his other pictures may not be still-born, like this!
No, dear Vladimir Vassilievich, I should be the first to rejoice at the birth of a native art, but I cannot imitate Wagner in Faust, of whom Goethe said : —
Und froh ist, wenn er Regenwürmer findet.”
Having found your rough diamond, Glinka, rejoice and be proud of him, . . . but all these Dargomijskys and Balakirevs and Brulovs, — may the waves scatter them and carry them all away like the common dust.
All this may appear to you sacrilegious and absurd. . . . Well, I recall people who thought me almost a criminal because I did not appreciate that “budding genius ” Konkolnik. However, enough of this.
Antokolsky is not here, and I have not heard a word either of him or of his statue.9 Now this I should like to see. I believe in him, because he has temperament, and not mere literary froth. But come, this is really enough. We only go on kicking up the dust. Are you not coming to Paris, and will you not come to see me ? You can write to me already, if you please, at 48 Rue de Douai.
Good-by and keep well.
48 RUE DE DOUAI, PARIS,
Wednesday, November 4 (October 25), 1874.
DEAR VLADIMIR VASSILIEVICH, — I was very glad to hear that Brukhanov had duly executed my commission.10 The copy of the Iliad sent to you was actually found among the books which formed the library of V. G. Belinsky.
Who can that Alexander Ivanovich be, whose mark is to be met with several times on the margins ? The handwriting resembles that of A. I. Tourgeniev. But he was a poor Greek scholar ; as a stylist, too, he had no special authority. It would be interesting to clear this up.
Although I do not pass for a stanch patriot, still I take great pride in any new manifestation of art and poetry in Russia. Consequently I learnt with particular pleasure your double news. Only you do not tell me whether Kutzov’s Gashish 11 is published or still exists only in manuscript. The subject pleases me ; it is wonderfully well suited as a frame for a variety of pictures. Secondly, Stcherbatchev, as a man, produces an unfavorable impression; but this need not imply that he is destitute of talent, and I should be very much obliged to you if you would send me his compositions as soon as they appear.12 By the way, you have no ground for fancying that Rubinstein will treat them with contempt; to me, at least, he spoke of Stcherbatchev as a very talented young man. Kharlamov has painted Madame Viardot’s portrait. I have not the least doubt that as a portrait painter he has, just now, no equal in the world, and the French begin to say the same.
I keep much as usual; apparently I shall never cease to be ill.
Now I wish you all good, and remain
48 RUE DE DOUAI, PARIS, Wednesday, 25/13 November, 1874.
DEAR VLADIMIR VASSILIEVICH, — I am sorry you are unable (I hope only temporarily) to send me the works of Stcherbatchev and Kutzov, but I beg you not to forget them when they are published.
Katkov’s action is worthy of him;13 that man ought to have been a Bonapaitist, he goes to such lengths. . . . At the time of the publication of Fathers and Sons I was not in Moscow, but in Paris. The manuscript of the novel was transmitted by me through M. L—, who kept me informed from Moscow of the requirements and apprehensions of the editor’s office. I will send you a note written by this M. L—, who is at present in Paris, and who, having read the statements of the Moscow Viedomosti, desired to bring to light the true facts of the case. But in the first place lie is a very . . . man, with whom I do not care to have anything to do ; and secondly, I have a positive aversion to all literary scandals and intrigues. The devil take them all! In any case, I was to blame for consenting to the mutilations in the Russky Vestnik, or, at any rate, for not protesting against them ; and they were worse in Smoke than in Fathers and Sons. I ought to have known with whom I was dealing. . . .
What can I say about Tutroumov ?14 This man has publicly disgraced himself. His name should be forgotten. Thenceforward, whenever it comes up, it will provoke the exclamation . . . ! Or at least, “ What a fool ! ” And when one comes to think that Tutroumov will be called a fool by the kind and indulgent, there is nothing more to be said. . . . A nice turn he has done himself I
My health is still not quite satisfactory, and I have not left my room for three weeks.
I shake your hand and wish you all good wishes.
DEAR VLADIMIR VASSILIEVICH, — The day before yesterday I received a parcel containing two copies of the Zigzags. I have listened with the utmost attention to two consecutive performances of them, and the interpretation was excellent. To my great regret, I have not been able to discover in them the merits about which you wrote to me. I cannot say whether in time original talent will show itself in Stcherbatohev, but at present I can see nothing in him but “the clamor of captive thoughts.” All this has been written under the influence of Schumann’s Carnaval, with a mixture of Liszt’s bizarreries, dragged in without motive. It is altogether lacking in ideas; is tedious, strained, and wanting in life. The first page pleased me most; the theme is commonplace, but the working out, is interesting.
For this you may chop off my head, if you please. I thank you, all the same, for your kindness in sending the music.
I could see from Bourenin’s last article that you had shown him my letter to you in which I spoke of Fathers and Sons and of Katkov.15 No doubt this encouraged that gentleman to a fresh outburst of captious and insulting mendacities ; but as to this particular symptom . . . Anyhow, I am glad that Bourenin has mentioned the matter. Whoever chooses to believe me is welcome, and those who do not choose I shall not try to persuade.
Here the winter is not worse than in Petersburg, and my health is improving, so that I have no excuse for not working. However, I am slow in taking up my work again.
I rarely see Repin ; he is an excellent fellow, of undoubted talent. His picture is progressing.16 I still consider Kharlamov the greatest contemporary portrait painter; and the time is coming when I hope you will be convinced of this.
I shake your hand, and remain
50 RUE DE DOUAI, PARIS, Wednesday, 27/15 January, 1875.
DEAR VLADIMIR VASSILIEVICH, — In answer to your letter I have one thing to say : I may be mistaken in my judgment of the new Russian art, and you are fully justified in reproaching me for my ignorance or want of comprehension ; but why should you imagine that I speak thus not from a strong personal conviction or sentiment, but because I bow down before the authority of foreigners ? What devil should induce me, an old man, — who have never in my whole life valued anything as highly as my own independence, — to bow down or kowtow to these authorities ? If for nothing else, then for the sake of my self-respect, you might believe that I should be perfectly indifferent to every “ Qu’en dira-t-on ? ” Certainly, in my time I have dispatched to the Yellow Gate 17 as many of your great authorities as you have, — only they had other names, as famous as those you quote. But the same sentiment of personal liberty, of which I am conscious every second in the minute, does not permit me to acknowledge as beautiful the things which do not please me.
By way of tit, for tat, I might retort that you never bow before any authorities but those which you have invented for yourself ; but in argument I make a point of never attributing to my adversary other motives than those which he attributes to himself.
In short, pray believe that if I find Mozart’s Don Juan a work of genius, and Dargomijsky’s Don Juan formless and absurd, it is not because Mozart is an authority and others think so, or because Dargomijsky is unknown outside his little circle, but simply because Mozart pleases me, and Dargomijsky does not. Neither do the Zigzags please me. That is the end of the matter! Of course to you Kharlamov is a wretched painter, because he paints in the French style ; but he really has nothing French about him. In the truthfulness, sincerity, and realism of his painting the Russian man and the Russian artist unconsciously show themselves. When you go to Moscow, look at his portrait of Tretiakov’s wife, Sergei a, — not long since finished and exhibited, — and tell me if, tip to now, we have had anything equal to it.
The history of the St. Petersburg Viedomosti is astonishing and lamentable; the same thing will probably be repeated in the Messager de l’Europe. The air is still as foul as in the days of our youth.
Beyond getting back my health I am doing nothing. I am not in the humor; why should I force myself ? I am waiting impatiently for the appearance of Tolstoi’s novel in the Russky Vestnik. I have not yet thanked you for sending me Stcberbatchev’s Vaises. They do not alter my opinion of him, but I am none the less grateful to you.
I wish you all prosperity, and remain,
P. S. Essipoff and Davidoff have had great success here.
50 RUE DE DOUAI, PARIS, April 3/15, 1875.
I received your letter, dear Vladimir Vassilievich, and lost no time in executing your commission with regard to Zola, with whom I am really on intimate terms. (His address is, Paris, 21 Rue St. Georges, Batignolles.) I cannot, however, guarantee its success. Working against time, from morning till night, he hardly makes both ends meet, and has no time to spare for gratuitous correspondence. If you really intend to come to Paris, you will have a good opportunity of speaking to him yourself.
What you say about Kharlamov does not surprise me. It is in the nature of things, seeing the radical — I may say antipodean — antagonism of our views in respect of art and literature; and I was far more astonished at our actually agreeing on the subject of Tolstoi’s novel Anna Karenina.
Good Lord, thought I to myself, can it be possible that I have now lost the true criterion of things that I love and hate, namely, the absolute opposition of my tastes to those of V. V. Stassov ? But afterwards I thought perhaps it was only a slip of your pen. So not for one moment do I doubt the worthlessness (to my mind) of Maximov’s pictures. I at once placed him in the same category as your favorites, MM. Dargomijsky, Stcherbatchev, Repin, and tutti quanti ; all those half-baked geniuses filled with spiced stuffing in which you keep detecting “ the real essence.”
By the bye, speaking of Repin, according to your own account you are only laughing in your sleeve, while he has been going about here like a man half dazed, because of the publication of his letters in The Bee.18 In a word, the man was almost whimpering ; but apart from this he could not live here long. It is time he got hack under your wing, or, better still, returned to Moscow, to his right place and surroundings.
You see I do not mind showing you my real frame of mind, just as you do not hesitate to show yours.
And now I wish you all good things, beginning with good health, and beg you to believe in my sincere devotion.
BOUGIVAL, LES FRÊNES, Monday, July 26, 1875.
Your letter found me here, Vladimir Vassilievich ; it is now a fortnight since I left Carlsbad. I hope the poem Gashish will be forwarded to me here. Thank you for remembering me, although you are right in saying that nothing ever conies of our correspondence or our personal intercourse. Our standpoints lie too far apart.
I shall stay here till the end of October. I shall often go to Paris ; I have permanent quarters there at 50 Rue de Douai. If you like, you can keep to my Paris address. We might breakfast or dine somewhere together.
Never, never did it enter into my head to accuse Repin of audacity. Why, good heavens, it is precisely from the absence of such audacity that our half-baked talents are suffering. He is a poor creature ; there is the misfortune. Had he been a good fellow, he might have abused whom he pleased. One good point about Kharlamov is that he neither praises nor abuses any one, but acts boldly himself. Whether well or ill is another question. But our criticules, when they begin their business, either fall into miserable imitation or hatch some fledgeling idea, — something like the procession of types to Poushkin (!!!); then they think themselves God Almighty. It is all dust and decay; always the same decrepitude, with only a semblance of youth.
Now good-by for the present, — until our next encounter. Accept the assurance of my esteem.
BOUGIVAL, LES FRÊNES, Friday, August 6, 1875.
Vladimir Vassilievich, your desire to see me is couched in such charming words that I, for my part, hasten to assure you that such a meeting would be quite agreeable to me, although of course it could not be got through without a discussion. If it is not inconvenient to you, meet me at a quarter past eleven on Tuesday, at the Restaurant du Nouvel Opéra, 31 Boulevard Haussmann, Adolphe et Pellé (at the back of the new Opera House). There we can have an excellent breakfast in a private room, and declaim at our ease.
I must thank you for sending Gashish. This trifle is not bad, but only so-so. The lack of color and imagination produces a bad effect (especially in such a subject). If you are going to transport me to the East, — in a state of intoxication, too, — then you must surround me with its wonders and let its enchantments wrap me around until I lose my own identity ; instead of which you only give me some very colorless effects. The description of the sea is not amiss, but it does not nearly come up to two lines of Tontehevsky : —
Lightly it swayed above the thundering gloom.”
In this little poem (Gashish) there is no trace whatever of that dream fantasy.
I am really sorry you did not get to the concert, although Madame Viardot sang only one thing of Schubert’s, — Gretchen.
Good-by till Tuesday.
BOUGIVAL, LES FRÊNES, Saturday, August 28, 1875.
I am sorry, Vladimir Vassilievich, that I cannot carry out your wishes as to your books. These very books have been taken away from me. I am not living in Paris, so I cannot get them just now ; besides, I am going off shooting for five days.
Your quotation from Krilov about “ the thousand ways ” 19 actually speaks in my favor. Good Lord, what connection is there between Krilov and poetry ? His talents and merits most certainly do not lie in that direction. You know, too, that Koutouzov’s only aim is to use imagery and talk fine. Just try to find in Théophile Gautier — the specialist in this style — anything at all in the manner of “ en cent façons.” But why discuss it ? Even now my cheeks burn with the blush of shame when I remember how we — old gray-headed men — have argued and vociferated until we were hoarse. And for what ? About a pedestal ! Surely, in all the world, it is only Russians who can descend to such senseless puerilities! We meet and begin “ to chew dry grass,” with gleaming eyes, and panting while we chew. Really it is a case of ‘’The dog has nothing to do,” —you know the end of the adage.
I wish you all happiness in Paris and at home.
BOUGIVAL, LES FRÊNES, Sunday, September 5, 1875.
I will answer your questions, Vladimir Vassilievich : —
(1.) Among architects 20 I know only one personally, M. Poitrineau, who built my chalet here. He is an honorable and hard-working man, with no particular force of imagination. In the summer he lives here, — that is to say, at Croissy ; his office in. town is 58 Rue de Clichy.
(2.) Saint-Saëns has returned to Paris ; but his wife is just expecting her confinement, and he is probably in an anxious frame of mind. His address is. 168 Rue du Faubourg St. Honoré.
(3.) It is useless to be surprised, or even “ horribly surprised,” that I do not bow down before the modern authority of the latest novelty ; I mean the question of the ” pedestal.” Wretched, miserable, pedantic “ epigon ; ” in a word, it does not deserve a moment wasted upon it. First produce a fine statue ; the rest is mere frivolity".
I do not ascribe any importance to Théophile Gautier as a poet, — neither has Koutouzov any pretensions to the title; but as a virtuoso of language the French consider Gautier first rate, and upon this question they are better judges than we are.
(4.) I read the Rappel, and I have also read the new articles by Victor Hugo. I regret that I do not possess sufficient powers of expression to tell to what a degree I despise these articles, and the whole of his prose in general. I rejoice at your judgments of Goethe, Poushkin, and Mozart: had you loved them, I should have been “ horribly surprised.”
I wish you all good, and remain
BOUGIVAL, LES FRÊNES, CHALET, July 29/17, 1880.
DEAR VLADIMIR VASSILIEVICH, — On the day of our meeting in Paris a strange thing happened to me : instead of the pills which I asked you to take to Tikhouravov,21 I took from my pocket a round Japanese box in which I keep my visiting cards! It is all right if you chanced to look at them : but perhaps you have sent off the box — without looking — to Tikhouravov, who will not understand it at all ! I trust this letter may be in time, in which case please throw away my cards, and keep the box in remembrance of me. Do not write to Tikhouravov. I have made arrangements about the pills and given them to Nicholas Rubinstein, who is now in Paris, and leaves for Moscow in a week. I hope you got home to Peter” safe and sound.
I shake your hand, and remain
SEINE ET OISE, BOUGIVAL, LES FRÊNES, CHALET, Friday, August 13/1, 1880.
DEAR VLADIMIR VASSILIEVICH, - I received your letter, and a day later the box. I thank you, but I feel ashamed of giving you so much trouble. Destroy the letter to Tikhouravov, as it is of no use now. Matté has been to see me : he is a very charming young man, — an artistic spirit, — but as yet there has been no talk about the portrait. I think he will look in again the day after to-morrow (Sunday).
Accept the assurance of my esteem.
Your sincerely devoted
PARIS, 50 RUE DE DOUAI, 21/9 January, 1882.
Your letter has greatly astonished me, dear M. Stassov; but as I am willing to believe that it was inspired less by your enthusiasm for Sarah Bernhardt than by your interest in me, I will give you a brief reply. You reproach me for having shaken hands with M. A-, and think this a stain upon my reputation. I know M. A— as a man as well as you do ; I have never shaken hands with him, and never shall do so, any more than with Katkov ; besides, a man’s reputation can be marred only by some wrongdoing on his part, and not by any scandalmonger. My opinion about M. B-’s articles on Sarah Bernhardt I have already expressed in a private letter to M. B-. Of course I could not know that it would become public property, and I am very sorry for it. But I am not in the habit of withdrawing my opinions, even when I have expressed them in a private and friendly conversation and they are made public against my will. Yes, I consider M. A—’s criticism of Sarah Bernhardt quite true and just. This woman is clever and skillful; she has her business at her finger ends, is gifted with a charming voice and educated in a good School; but she has nothing natural about her, no artistic temperament whatever, and she tries to make up for this by Parisian licentiousness. She is eaten through and through with chic, réclame, and pose. She is monotonous, cold, and dry; in short, without a single spark of talent in the highest sense of the word. Her gait is that of a hen ; she has no play of features ; the movements of her hands are purposely angular, in order to be piquant ; the whole thing reeks of the boulevards, of Figaro and patchouli. You see that to my mind M. A— has been even too lenient. You quote Zola as an authority, although you always rebel against all authorities, so you must allow me to quote Augier, who once said to me: “ Cette femme n’a aucun talent; on dit d’elle que c’est un paquet de nerfs, — c’est un paquet de ficelles.” But you will ask. Why then such a world-wide reputation ? What do I care ? I only speak my own feelings, and I am glad to find somebody who supports my view.
As to the second object of your letter, I am quite at a loss to understand in what way I could strongly influence M. N-and his two publications. Have not you yourself a hand in both of them ?
Accept the assurance of my devotion,
PARIS, 50 RUE, DE DOUAI, 16/4 December, 1882.
DEAR VLADIMIR VASSILIEVICH,Your letter is only a new proof of your cordial readiness to do a service, but I should be ashamed of burdening you with such a troublesome business. The English editor would be quite satisfied with a brief note pointing out two or three of the most important articles upon Russian art. If you think that the illustrated catalogue of the art section of the Universal Russian Exhibition in Moscow, written, in French, by Sobko, and edited by Botkin, would be useful, ask Stassoulievich to get it (at my expense, of course) and send it to me here. In any case, I thank you beforehand. The anecdote which Bourenin related had gone clean out of my head. I might have been astonished at the coolness of “ Messieurs les Feuilletonistes,” only I have lost all power of astonishment at their doings. In any case, I apologize to you, though l may add that I am only in the position of the “ whipping-boy,” “ guilty though innocent.”
Accept the assurance of my respect.
PARIS, 50 RUE DE DOUAI.
DEAR VLADIMIR VASSILIEVICH,—I feel guilty for not having written at once to tell you that I had received the list of works upon Russian art and the album of the Moscow Exhibition. I thank you sincerely for both, and I have already made good use of them. I could not write before, first because I was ill, and now I have been in bed ten days after an operation.
I. S. TOURGENIEV.
These letters of Tourgeniev’s to Stassov are interesting because they enable us to see him from the Russian rather than the French point of view. M. Ivanov, in his biography of Tourgeniev, has dwelt much upon the “moral isolation,” the sense of detachment which resulted from his self-imposed exile. The correspondence with Stassov brings this out very clearly, and is a further proof that the regrets of Polonsky and other devoted friends of the novelist were not without substantial foundation. “ Tourgeniev,” says Stassov, “ a great writer, was, as might be expected from a Russian, realistic and sincere in his own novels and talcs ; but in his tastes and views of art his cosmopolitanism made him the enemy of realism and sincerity in others. In such ideas and in such unaccountable prejudices he elected to spend his whole life.”
- The Jubilee Edition of Stassov’s collected works (four volumes, St. Petersburg, 1894), which was published at the expense of his admirers to commemorate his seventieth birthday, contains only a part of his voluminous writings.↩
- Of Ivan the Terrible.↩
- Of the British Museum.↩
- The editor of the Messager de l’Europe.↩
- The equestrian statues of Ivan III., Yaroslav the Wise, Dmitri Donskoi. and Peter L, for the Alexander Bridge across the Neva.↩
- Russian and Slavonic Musicians : a picture painted to order by Repin for the concert room of the hotel, Slaviansky Bazaar, in Moscow.↩
- Russian and Slavonic Musicians.↩
- A character in Gogol’s play The Reviser.↩
- Peter I., on view at the Universal Russian Exhibition, Moscow, 1872.↩
- In 1874, Tourgeniev presented the Imperial Public Library, through Brukhanov, with a proof copy of Gnedieh’s translation of the Iliad, annotated by himself, Kraevsky, and Lubanov. The copy belonged originally to Belinsky.↩
- A poem by Count Kutzov, on a subject suggested by me. — V. V. S.↩
- Reference is made to two pianoforte pieces composed by Stcherbatchev in 1873-74, but not published until later,↩
- In 1865 Madame Troubnikov presented to the Imperial Public Library a printed copy of Fathers and Sons, with additions on the margins, in Tourgeniev’s own hand, of those portions of the book which were altered or mutilated by Katkov while the novel was appearing in the Russky Vestnik. When Tourgcniev visited Petersburg in May, 1874, I begged him to certify that all the passages inserted on the margins were actually written by his own hand, which he did. I published a little notice of this in the St. Petersburg Viedomosti, 1874, No. 299. To this Katkov replied in the Moscow Viedomosti, No. 273, that in Fathers and Sons every alteration had been made with the consent of the author, at a time when he was still at the zenith of his talent and intellectual powers. — V. V. S.↩
- The well-known story of the painter Tutroumov and V. V. Verestchagin. When the latter refused a professorship offered to him by the Academy of Arts, Tutroumov tried to make the public believe that Verestehagin did not paint his own pictures, but hired the services of painters in Munich.↩
- See the St. Petersburg Viedomosti, 1874, No. 336.↩
- The picture of Sadko and the Sea King.↩
- This may be a reference to the madhouse, sometimes spoken of in Russia as “ the yellow house.”↩
- Tourgeniev refers to the many attacks made upon Repin, both in Paris and in Petersburg, in consequence of his letters to me about the old Italian and new French art. — V. V. S.↩
- Tourgeniev took exception to Koutouzov’s phrase, “ The dwarfs turned somersaults in a thousand ways.” In its defense. I quoted from Krilov’s fable The Ass and the Nightingale, “ He warbled and trilled in a thousand ways.” — V. V. S.↩
- I had asked Tourgeniev to recommend me a reliable architect in Paris for Verestchagin, who at this time was thinking of building a house and studio in the suburbs, and who in one of his letters from India had asked me to make these inquiries. — V. V. S.↩
- One of the professors at the University of Moscow.↩