The last words of _Virgin Soil_–

“A long while Paklin remained standing before this closed door.

“‘Anonymous Russia!’ he said at last”–

lay bare the inner meaning of the book. Anonymous Russia! It was
Anonymous Russia, as Turgenev saw, that had at last arisen to menace
the doors which shut out Russia from political liberty. And it is of
the spontaneous formation of the Nihilist party, and of the hurried and
uncertain steps it took preparatory to the serious Terrorist struggle,
that _Virgin Soil_ treats with equal skill and force. The educated
young Russian of the ‘seventies had begun to live an underground life;
Turgenev studied this phenomenon, and, difficult though this study
was, so well did he foresee the future of Young Russia that _Virgin
Soil_ remains the best analysis made of the national elements that
were mingled in its loosely-knit secret organizations. _Virgin Soil_
gives us the historical justification of the Nihilist movement, and
the prophecy of its surface failure; it traces out the deep roots of
the necessity of such a movement; it shows forth the ironical and
inevitable weakness of this party of self-sacrifice. This effect
is obtained in this novel by a series of significant suggestions
underlying the words and actions of the characters.

These suggestions are delicate and fleeting like the quiet swirl of
water round the sunken rocks in a stream. And so delicately is the
Nihilist rising shadowed forth, that a foreign reader can enjoy the
novel simply for its human, and not for its political, interest.
Delicate, however, as is the technique of _Virgin Soil_, there is a
large, free carelessness in the spirit of its art which reminds one
much of the few last plays of Shakespeare, notably of _Cymbeline_,
where the action, so easygoing is it, is almost too natural and
effortless to be called _art_. In reality this large carelessness is
a sign that the stage of the artist’s maturity has been reached, and
a little passed. _Virgin Soil_, one must admit, is artistically the
least perfect of the six great novels. The opening is too leisurely,
and not till the second volume is reached do we feel that Turgenev is
exerting his full power over us. The characterization is less subtle in
detail. While Markelov’s figure is somewhat enigmatic, Paklin, though
extremely life-like, too obviously serves the purpose of a go-between.
But if people declare that Kallomyetsev is a type caricatured, we
protest that the portrait of Sipyagin, this statesman of “the most
liberal opinions,” is priceless. The scene between Sipyagin and
Paklin in chapter xxxiv., especially the portion in the carriage,
is psychologically a gem of the first water. _Virgin Soil_ was the
last of Turgenev’s great novels, and appropriately ends his career as
novelist; it was his last word to the young; it was one of the causes
of his final disgrace with the Government; it was his link with most of
Russia’s great writers: they were exiled in life: Turgenev was exiled
after death. After his funeral at Petersburg, September 1883, attended
by 285 deputations, public comments on his labours were discreetly
veiled and discreetly suppressed by the Government,[21] that had feared
his power in life. And this fatuous act of the autocracy is the best
commentary on the truth of _Virgin Soil_.

[21] For an account of the suppression and prohibition of Tolstoy’s
lecture on Turgenev, in Moscow, after the latter’s death, see Maude’s
_Life of Tolstoy_, vol. ii, p. 185.

To examine the characters of the novel is to see how representative
they were of Russian political life. Nezhdanov, the poet and
half-aristocrat, is one of the most important. Turgenev makes him
the child of a _mésalliance_, and he is, in fact, the bastard child
of Power allied to modern Sentimentality. Born with the brain of
an aristocrat, he represents the uneasy educated conscience of the
aristocrats, the conscience which is ever seeking to propitiate, and be
responsible for, “the people,” but is ever driven back by its inability
to make itself understood by the masses, which have been crystallized
by hard facts, for hundreds of years, into a great caste of their own.
Nezhdanov understands instinctively how impossible, how fatal, is the
task of “going to the people”: his sympathy is with them, but not of
them. Banished, by his attitude, from his own caste, he seeks refuge
in poetry and art; but there is not enough of reality, not enough of
the national life, in his art for him to feel himself more than a
dilettante. He feels he must identify himself with the real movements
around him, or perish. He fails in his impossible task of winning
over “the people,” and perishes. The Nezhdanovs still exist in Europe:
they are the sign of a dislocation of the national life and of the
artificial conditions of the society in which they appear; and the
Russian Nezhdanov of the ‘seventies was a type very much in evidence
in the Nihilist party, and by making his hero perish Turgenev wished
to show that hope for the future lay with far different men–with the
Mariannas, the moral enthusiasts, and with the Solomins, the practical
leaders who must come from “the people” itself.

In drawing Nezhdanov, Turgenev was on his own ground: the type was
very sympathetic to him, for he too felt all his life with despair
that the gulf that separated “the people” from those who would lead
them, was too great to be successfully crossed; and his own inner life
was a turning away from the politicians, who traduced him and watched
him with suspicion, to art as a refuge from reality. But in drawing
Solomin, the leader coming from the people, Turgenev did not achieve
perfect artistic success. The truth is, this type was then a scarce
one, and to-day it is not prominent. It is this type of man that
Russia needs more than any other, the man of firmness and _character_.
Solomin is admirably drawn in the amusing scene of his visit to the
Sipyagins (chaps. xxiii.-xxv.); also in his relations with Nezhdanov
and Marianna, as their host at the factory; but there is a slight veil
drawn over his inner life, and he is never sounded to the depths. Does
he present enough of the rich contradictions and human variations of
a living man? True, Solomin typifies the splendid sturdiness of the
Russian people, the caution and craftiness of the peasant-born and the
intellectual honesty of his race; but perhaps these qualities need
a more individual soul behind them to combine them into a perfect
creation. And in fact the Russian Solomins have not yet left the
factories: they are the foremen who do not speak up enough for “the
people” in the national life.[22]

[22] Passage written in 1896.

Marianna, however, the young girl, the Nihilist enthusiast, is the
success of the book. The splendid qualities shown by the Nihilist women
in the Terrorist campaign, a few years later than the publication
of _Virgin Soil_, are a striking testimony to Turgenev’s genius in
psychology. The women of Young Russia were waiting to be used, and used
the women were. Marianna is the incarnation of that Russian fight
for progress, which, though half-hidden and obscure to foreign eyes,
has thrilled the nerves of Europe. This pure girl with passionate,
courageous soul is, in fact, the Liberty of Russia. Without experience
or help, with eyes bandaged by her destiny, she calmly goes forward on
the far journey whence there is no return. By necessity she must go
on: she lives by faith. In her figure is personified the flower of the
Russian youth, those who cast off from their generation the stigma of
inaction–that heart-eating inaction which is the vice of the Russian
temperament, as her great writers tell us–those who cast fear to the
Sipyagins, and the Kallomyetsevs, to the bureaucrats their enemies,
and went forth on that campaign, sublime in its recklessness, fruitful
in its consequences to their country and fatal in its consequences to
themselves. Marianna personifies the spirit of self-sacrifice which
led her comrades forth against autocracy. The path was closed; behind
them was only dishonour and cowardice; onward, then, for honour, for
liberty, for all that makes life worth living to the courageous in
heart. But the closed doors, the doors on which they knocked, were
the doors of the fortress: the fortress closed upon them, upon their
brothers and sisters: their leaders were sentenced, deported, exiled:
fresh leaders sprang up, each circle had its leaders, whose average
life, as free men, was reckoned, not by years but by months. The lives
of Marianna and her generation were spent in prison or in exile. But
by the very recklessness of their protest against autocracy, by their
very simplicity in “going to the people,” by their self-immolation
for their principles Europe knew that there was no liberty in Russia
save in its prisons, and that the bloody reprisals that followed were
those of Marianna’s brothers, who saw her helpless in the hands of a
great gendarmerie–a gendarmerie that had long shamelessly abused the
power it held, that had silenced brutally all who had protested, all,
all the independent spirits, all their great writers, all their _men_.
Marianna, Marianna herself, must seek the prison! Turgenev foresaw
this, and _Virgin Soil_ tells of her preparation for the ordeal, of the
why and the wherefore she went on her path.

And if anything remains obscure in _Virgin Soil_, the English reader
must remember that Turgenev was writing under special difficulties.
There must always be a little vagueness in one’s speech, when
_Silence_ is written in an official writing above the doors. Anonymous
Russia! Anonymous Russia had arisen to mine the doors: the doors must
be shattered by secret hands that Europe might for once gaze through.
It was for Turgenev’s breaking of this _Silence_ that Tolstoy was
forbidden to speak when Turgenev had been carried to his tomb. It was
for Marianna’s transgression against this _Silence_ that Turgenev has
glorified her in _Virgin Soil_.

* * * * *

What was the Nihilist party of the ‘seventies? It began, as we have
said, with the Socialistic movement of “going to the people.” This
movement, again, was the natural outlet for the many liberal ideas
which, germinating in “advanced” heads, had been gathering in intensity
with each generation. With the liberation of the serfs Alexander II.’s
liberal policy had abruptly ended. To understand Russian politics
is to know that though there are many cliques there are only two
great parties, the one orthodox, the other unorthodox–the party of
Governmental Action, and the party of Liberal Ideas. There are no safe
politics in Russia outside the official world. If you can win over the
officials to your plans in various local work, well and good; if not,
your efforts are labelled “subversive”; and it is thus that, sooner or
later, every disciple of liberal ideas finds himself placed in direct
opposition to the Government. Though there are many liberal-minded men
among the officials, still, in Solomin’s words, “the official is always
an outsider,” and therefore it is that the unofficial thinking part
of Russia–the writers, the professors, the students, the press, and
the more intelligent of the professional world–form an unorganized
but permanent opposition. To this party gravitate naturally the
discontented spirits from all classes–nobles, military men, those who
have been hardly dealt with, and those who have an axe of their own to
grind–the Markelovs, and the Paklins. Accordingly, the autocracy, by
the solid, impermeable front it has presented for twenty-five years
to reform and to the education of the peasants, may be said to hold
the varying opposition together. The action of the Government, too, in
forbidding the public to comment on such matters as the late strike of
factory hands in Petersburg, where also the masters were “forbidden”
to yield to the men’s demands, constantly creates a hostile public.
And it was in this manner that the Nihilist party of the ‘seventies was

It was natural enough for the last generation of Young Russia “to go to
the people,” for it is in the matter of the education of the peasants
that Russia’s hope of social and political reform lies. Besides, this
plan of action meant for Young Russia the taking of the path of least
resistance. The other paths had been closed by reactionary decrees.
But to go actually among the peasantry and work for them and learn
from them had never been attempted, and by a natural impulse the Young
Russia theorists threw themselves into this Utopian campaign. The
movement, of course, was fore-doomed. Not only did the Government enact
harsh penalties against the Socialists, but the peasants themselves
were too ignorant, too far off in their life, to understand what
Young Russia meant. And the exiling and imprisonment of the leading
propagandists, when it came, could not fail to bring the Nihilists into
a direct war with autocracy itself.

The whole quarrel between the autocracy and the liberal opposition,
a quarrel which the Nihilists of the late ‘seventies brought to a
head, is a question of liberty. Is Russia to be more Orientalized
or more Europeanized? If you believe in liberty of speech and of the
conscience, in a free press and the education of the peasants, if you
would reform the peculation and corruption of the official world, if
you wish to circulate European literature without hindrance, if you
detest the persecution of the Jews and the Stundists,–then you must
be silent or be prepared at any moment for bureaucratic warnings,
deprivations, detentions and possible exile. If you are a Conservative
you will acquiesce in every possible action of the bureaucracy, as
“necessary.” It is simply a struggle between a very strongly organized
bureaucracy, armed with the modern weapons of centralized power, and
the public opinion of a large body of educated subjects with advanced
views. Though enormous power is in the hands of the Government, and the
gross credulity and ignorance of the peasants and the self-interest of
the officials all work to preserve the _status quo_, nevertheless there
is in the Russian mind, side by side with its natural Slavophilism, a
great susceptibility to European example, and therefore the work of
the Nihilists of yesterday and the Liberals of to-day was, and is,
_to awaken the public mind_. It does not matter very much how this
work is performed, so long as it is performed. The Russian mind is
naturally quick and sensitive; it moves quickly to conclusions when
once it is started, as we see in the quickness with which Russia was
semi-Europeanized by Peter the Great, and how easily the Emancipation
of the Serfs was effected owing to the weakness of the autocracy at the
close of the Crimean War. There is reaction now in Russia, but this may
be broken up by the pressure of a series of fresh economic difficulties
superimposed upon the old.

It can only, therefore, be claimed for the Nihilists of the ‘seventies
that they represented an advanced section of the community, and not
the nation itself, in their struggle with the bureaucracy. They must
be regarded as enthusiasts who awoke public opinion when it had begun
to slumber. They vindicated the manliness of the nation, which had
always gone in fear of the official world: it was now the bureaucracy
that was afraid! The Nihilists became martyrs for their creed of
progress; they drew the attention of Europe to the strange spectacle
that Russia presents in its well-equipped bureaucracy of caste slowly
paralysing the old democratic institutions of the peasantry. A strong
Governmental system is absolutely necessary for the holding together
of the enormous Russian Empire; but the fact that the work of freeing
and educating the peasants had (with only the rarest exceptions), been
always violently or secretly opposed by the high officials, suggests
that the bureaucracy is like a parasite which strangles, though
appearing to protect, the tree itself. And the attitude of the official
world to its sun and centre, the autocracy, is something like that of
threatening soldiers surrounding the throne of a latter-day Caesarism.

Whether or no the Nihilists’ belief in revolution in Russia was
justified by their measure of success, their rising was but a
long-threatened revolt of idealism and of the Russian conscience
against Russian cowardice; it was the fermentation of modern ideas in
the breast of a society iron-bound by officialism; it was the generous
aspiration of the Russian soul against sloth and apathy and greed. The
Nihilists failed, inasmuch as the battle of Liberty is yet to be won:
they succeeded, inasmuch as their revolt was a tremendous object-lesson
to Europe of the internal evils of their country. And the objection
that they borrowed their ideas of revolution from the Commune and were
not a genuine product of Russia, Turgenev has answered once for all
in _Virgin Soil_. Liberty must spring from the soil whence Marianna

In the words of that great poem of Whitman:

“The battle rages with many a loud alarm and frequent
advance and retreat,
The infidel triumphs, or supposes he triumphs,
The prison, scaffold, garotte, hand-cuffs, iron necklace,
and lead balls do their work,
The named and unnamed heroes pass to other spheres,
The great speakers and writers are exiled, they lie sick
in distant lands,
The cause is asleep, the strongest throats are choked
with their own blood.
The young men droop their eyelashes towards the ground
when they meet.
But for all this Liberty has not gone out of the place,
nor the infidel entered into full possession,
When Liberty goes out of the place it is not the first to
go, nor the second or third to go,
It waits for all the rest to go, it is the last.”

There is no going back for the Mariannas of Russia. They must go
forward, and to-day they are going forward. Honour to them and theirs,
to them who, if forbidden by authority to work in the light, are ready
again to work in the dark. Honour to that great party with whom their
country’s liberties have remained–Anonymous Russia!

* * * * *

Much water has flowed under the bridge since the preface above was
written one-and-twenty years ago, but the author has only deemed it
necessary to correct a few lines of his criticism and to modify his
statement concerning Turgenev’s funeral. Since 1896, we have seen
the spectacle of the Russo-Japanese war, the General Strike, the
creation of the Duma, the abortive Revolution of 1905, the excesses
of Terrorists, Agent-Provocateurs, “Black Hundreds” and Military
Court-Martials, Governmental illegalities, the rapid evolution,
economic and political, of a new Russia till 1914; and finally the
spectacle of the Great European War, the rally of all parties, under
the Prussian invasion, to the patriotic programme of the Progressive
Bloc, the falling away of even the old-fashioned Bureaucrats from “the
dark forces of the Empire,” and the general situation, in the words of
the _Times_ Petrograd correspondent:


“We know that had the Constitution signed by Alexander II. been
introduced, Russia might have been spared much suffering. The
assassination of the Tsar brought about a delay of 25 precious years.
Pobiedonostzeff persuaded Alexander III. that Russia enjoyed a
special dispensation of Providence; that the laws of history in other
lands did not apply to her. Thus the greatest of reforms, introduced
in the ‘sixties, the abolition of slavery and the institution of the
Zemstvos granting the people a voice in the affairs of their country,
became stultified. It is true that serfdom could not be reintroduced,
that Zemstvos could not be abolished, but what happened was bad
enough. The education of the masses was neglected and the local
assemblies were placed under tutelage.

“Not till 1905 did Russia obtain relief from the reaction that
followed upon the tragedy of 1881. But Pobiedonostzeff had numerous
adherents among his contemporaries in the older bureaucracy, many of
whom survive to this day. The governing class in Russia forms a caste
which directs a huge and highly intricate mechanism of a centralized
administration ruling nearly 200,000,000 of people. These statesmen
could not suddenly be eliminated or instilled with new ideas alien
to all their habits or traditions. In the Senate or Supreme Court of
Justice, which promulgates all laws and sees to their enforcement,
and in the Upper House, which is half composed of members appointed
from the ranks of these elder statesmen, the old leaven was still
unhappily strong…. To these causes and agencies we owe the reaction
that has characterized Russian internal politics within recent

“Slowly but surely the ranks of the old reactionary party have been
declining. By an infallible process of attrition they were bound
to disappear sooner or later, leaving the field clear for the New
Russia. The Great War came before the elimination was consummated.
It has hastened the process by convincing everybody, including the
bureaucracy, of the utter failure of the old system to cope with
great national problems. At the present time no section of the
population, and, therefore, no genuine political party, exists in
Russia that has a word to say in support of the Pobiedonostzeff
theory. The Nobles’ Congress was the last stronghold to surrender. It
did so in the most emphatic manner by endorsing, _mirabile dictu!_
the resolutions of both Houses of Parliament demanding the formation
of a strong, united Ministry enjoying the confidence of the people.
Between the Army and the nation there is not, and there cannot be,
any difference of opinion on this subject.

“Within something like ten years the Russian people have become a
new people. What Pobiedonostzeff succeeded in doing 25 years ago
cannot, obviously, be attempted now. Russia has finally, irrevocably,
turned her back upon the old ideas. She has spoken her mind fully,
unanimously.”–_The Times_, February 8, 1917.

As the writer is retouching his last chapter comes the news of the
Russian Revolution, an event of no less import to Europe than was
the French Revolution, and one no less fraught with incalculable

This event carries back one’s thought to the revolutionary attempt of
the Decembrists, 1825, and to the successive movements for political
reform in Turgenev’s own day, from the men of the “‘forties” (_Rudin_)
to the disastrous obscurantism of the heavy, stupid-minded Alexander
III., and his reactionary ministers. From _Virgin Soil_, 1877, one
follows in thought the succeeding forty years in which tract after
tract of stubborn political virgin soil has been slowly broken up
and sown with progressive seed. The changing economic conditions,
aggravated by the Great European War, and the weak obstinacy of
Nicholas II. have, at last, bankrupted the Autocracy.

The result signally vindicates Turgenev’s political prescience and his
_rôle_ as the interpreter of Western culture and Western liberalism to
his countrymen. For until the great barrier of petrified Bureaucratic
Nationalism was broken down, true democratic Nationalism could not
flow in free channels. Slavophilism, with its leading idea of the
deliverance of Europe by the Autocracy, by Orthodoxy and the communal
love of the meek Russian peasant, must be replaced by a new movement,
spiritual in its essence, and give much-needed fresh conceptions to our
materialized Western civilization. Every reader of Russian literature,
from Gogol to our day, cannot fail to recognize that the Russian mind
is superior to the English in its emotional breadth and flexibility,
its eager responsiveness to new ideas, its spontaneous warmth of
nature. With all their faults the Russian people are more permeated
with humane love and living tenderness, in their social practice, than
those of other nations. Let us trust that the Russian earth, no longer
clouded by a dark, overcast sky, will be flooded with the fertilizing
sunlight of this new, democratic Nationalism.

Turgenev stood, in the ‘seventies, between the camps of the extremists,
the old nobility who worked to prevent, hinder or suppress every
reform, and the shallow, hot-headed theorists, who wished to force the
pace, but whose talk ended in “smoke.” Consequently he was frequently
accused of cowardice by the revolutionaries on the one hand, and by the
Conservatives of complicity with the revolutionaries, on the other.[23]
As _an artist_, while he stood aside from direct political action,
his attitude to the revolutionaries appeared necessarily ambiguous.
Pavlovsky, however, has well characterized it:

“We see therefore that Turgenev was too variable to be in any sense
a man of politics. He was never a Nihilist nor a Revolutionary,
and those episodes we have cited are advanced only to show he
considered the revolutionaries as _an artist_. As such they excited
his imagination and carried him away like a child. Immediately after
reflection he became sceptical and–this was his ordinary mental
disposition–never believing in solid results of these agitators,
though he retained always great sympathy for the Youth, whom he
esteemed beyond all for their constant spirit of self-sacrifice.
Both these mental tendencies are clearly to be seen in two of his
_Poems in Prose_, ‘The Workman and the Man with White Hands,’ and
‘The Threshold!'”

[23] See the letter to Madame Viardot, of January 19, 1864, in which
Turgenev describes how he was summoned before a Tribunal of the Senate
to answer charges of plotting with the revolutionaries, which he did
without any trouble.

In Paris, in his last years, Turgenev was in active touch with the
colony of young Russians, and assisted with his purse and his advice a
number of protégés. A ridiculous hubbub arose in the Russian press on
the publication in the _Temps_ of Turgenev’s preface to _En Cellule_, a
tale by one of these protégés, Pavlovsky, and Turgenev in a letter to
the _Malva_ thereupon defined his political faith:

“PARIS, _December 30, 1879_.

“Without vanity or circumlocution, and merely stating facts I have
the right to say that my convictions put on record in the press and
in other sources, have not changed an iota in the last forty years.
I have never hidden them from any one. To the young I have always
been and have remained a moderate, a liberal of the old-fashioned
stamp, a man who looks for reforms from above, and is opposed to the

“If young Russia appreciated me it was in that light, and if the
ovations offered were dear to me, it was precisely because I did not
go to seek the young generation, but it who came to me.”

Turgenev’s political creed may be read without the slightest ambiguity
between the lines of _A Sportsman’s Sketches_ and his great novels.
It is a creed of the necessity of the people’s mental and spiritual
enlightenment, of the amelioration of bad social conditions and
of the establishment of constitutional government, in the place of

[24] Kropotkin tells us: “I saw Turgenev for the last time in the
autumn of 1881. He was very ill, and worried by the thought that it
was his duty to write to Alexander III. who had just come to the
throne, and hesitated as to the policy he should follow–asking him
to give Russia a constitution, and proving to him by solid arguments
the necessity of that step. With evident grief he said to me, ‘I feel
that I must do it, but I feel I shall not be able to do it.’ In fact,
he was already suffering awful pains occasioned by a cancer in the
spinal cord, and had the greatest difficulty in sitting up and talking
for a few moments. He did not write then, and a few weeks later it
would have been useless, Alexander III. had announced in a manifesto
his resolution to remain the absolute ruler of Russia.”–_Memoirs of a
Revolutionist_, vol. ii. p. 222.

In addition to his six great novels Turgenev published, between 1846
and his death in 1883, about forty tales which reflect as intimately
social atmospheres of the ‘thirties, ‘forties and ‘fifties as do
Tchehov’s stories atmospheres of the ‘eighties and ‘nineties. Several
of these tales, as _The Torrents of Spring_, are of considerable
length, but their comparatively simple structure places them definitely
in the class of the _conte_. While their form is generally free and
straightforward, the narrative, put often in the mouth of a character
who by his comments and asides exchanges at will his active rôle for
that of a spectator, is capable of the most subtle modulations. An
examination of the chronological order of the tales shows how very
delicately Turgenev’s art is poised between realism and romanticism.
In his finest examples, such as _The Brigadier_ and _A Lear of the
Steppes_, the two elements fuse perfectly, like the meeting of wave
and wind in sea foam. “Nature placed Turgenev between poetry and
prose,” says Henry James; and if one hazards a definition we should
prefer to term Turgenev _a poetic realist_.

In our first chapter we glanced at _The Duellist_, and in the same year
(1846) appeared _The Jew_, a close study, based on a family anecdote,
of Semitic double-dealing and family feeling: also _Three Portraits_,
a more or less faithful ancestral chronicle. This latter tale, though
the hero is of the proud, bad, “Satanic” order of the romantic school,
is firmly objective, as is also _Pyetushkov_ (1847), whose lively,
instinctive realism is so bold and intimate as to contradict the
compliment that the French have paid themselves–that Turgenev ever had
need to dress his art by the aid of French mirrors.

Although _Pyetushkov_ shows us, by a certain open _naïveté_ of style,
that a youthful hand is at work, it is the hand of a young master
carrying out Gogol’s satiric realism with finer point, to find a
perfect equilibrium free from bias or caricature. The essential
strength of the realistic method is developed in _Pyetushkov_ to its
just limits, and note it is the Russian realism carrying the warmth of
life into the written page, which warmth the French so often lose in
clarifying their impressions and crystallizing them in art. Observe
how the reader is transported bodily into Pyetushkov’s stuffy room,
how the Major fairly boils out of the two pages he lives in, and how
Onisim and Vassilissa and the aunt walk and chatter around the stupid
Pyetushkov, and laugh at him behind his back in a manner that exhales
the vulgar warmth of these people’s lower-class world. One sees that
the latter holds few secrets for Turgenev. Three years earlier had
appeared _Andrei Kolosov_ (1844), a sincere diagnosis of youth’s
sentimental expectations, raptures and remorse, in presence of the
other sex, in this case a girl who is eager for a suitor. The sketch
is characteristically Russian in its analytic honesty, but Turgenev’s
charm is here lessened by his over-literal exactitude. And passing
to _The Diary of a Superfluous Man_ (1850), we must remark that this
famous study of a type of a petty provincial Hamlet reveals a streak of
suffused sentimentalism in Turgenev’s nature, one which comes to the
surface the more subjective is the handling of his theme, and the less
his great technical skill in _modelling_ his subject is called for. The
last-named story belongs to a group with which we must place _Faust_
(1853), _Yakov Pasinkov_ (1855), _A Correspondence_ (1855) and even the
tender and charming _Acia_ (1857), all of which stories, though rich
in emotional shades and in beautiful descriptions, are lacking in fine
chiselling. The melancholy yearning of the heroes and heroines through
failure or misunderstanding, though no doubt true to life, seems
to-day too imbued with emotional hues of the Byronic romanticism of
the period, and in this small group of stories Turgenev’s art is seen
definitely dated, even old-fashioned.

In _The Country Inn_ (1852), we are back on the firm ground of an
objective study of village types, with clear, precise outlines, a
detailed drawing from nature, strong yet subtle; as is also _Mumu_
(1852), one based on a household episode that passed before Turgenev’s
youthful eyes, in which the deaf-mute Gerassim, a house serf, is
defrauded first of the girl he loves, and then of his little dog,
Mumu, whom he is forced to drown, stifling his pent-up affection, at
the caprice of his tyrannical old mistress. The story is a classic
example of Turgenev’s tender insight and beauty of feeling. As
delicate, but more varied in execution is _The Backwater_, with its
fresh, charming picture of youth’s _insouciance_ and readiness to
take a wrong turning, a story which in its atmospheric freshness and
emotional colouring may be compared with Tchehov’s studies of youth in
_The Seagull_, a play in which the neurotic spiritual descendants of
Marie and Nadejda, Veretieff and Steltchinsky, appear and pass into the
shadows. This note of the fleetingness of youth and happiness reappears
in _A Tour of the Forest_ (1857), where Turgenev’s acute sense of man’s
ephemeral life in face of the eternity of nature finds full expression.
The description, here, of the vast, gloomy, murmuring pine forest, with
its cold, dim solitudes, is finely contrasted with the passing outlook
of the peasants, Yegor, Kondrat, and the wild Efrem. (See p. 16.)

The rich colour and perfume of Turgenev’s delineation of romantic
passion are disclosed when we turn to _First Love_ (1860), which
details the fervent adoration of Woldemar, a boy of sixteen, for the
fascinating Zinaïda, an exquisite creation, who, by her mutability
and caressing, mocking caprice keeps her bevy of eager suitors in
suspense till at length she yields herself in her passion to Woldemar’s
father. This study of the intoxication of adolescent love is, again,
based on an episode of Turgenev’s youth, in which he and his father
played the identical rôles of Woldemar and his father. Here we tremble
on the magic borderline between prose and poetry, and the fragrance
of blossoming love instincts is felt pervading all the fluctuating
impulses of grief, tenderness, pity and regret which combine in the
tragic close. The profoundly haunting apostrophe to youth is indeed
a pure lyric. Passing to _Phantoms_ (1863), which we discuss with
_Prose Poems_ (see p. 200), the truth of Turgenev’s confession that
spiritually and sensuously he was saturated with the love of woman and
ever inspired by it, is confirmed. In his description of Alice, the
winged phantom-woman, who gradually casts her spell over the sick hero,
luring him to fly with her night after night over the vast expanse of
earth, Turgenev has in a mysterious manner, all his own, concentrated
the very essence of woman’s possessive love. Alice’s hungry yearning
for self-completion, her pleading arts, her sad submissiveness,
her rapture in her hesitating lover’s embrace, are artistically a
sublimation of all the impressions and instincts by which woman
fascinates, and fulfils her purpose of creation. The projection of this
shadowy woman’s love-hunger on the mighty screen of the night earth,
and the merging of her power in men’s restless energies, felt and
divined through the sweeping tides of nature’s incalculable forces, is
an inspiration which, in its lesser fashion, invites comparison with
Shakespeare’s creative vision of nature and the supernatural.

In his treatment of the supernatural Turgenev, however, sometimes
missed his mark. _The Dog_ (1866) is of a coarser and indeed of an
ordinary texture. With the latter story may be classed _The Dream_
(1876), curiously Byronic in imagery and atmosphere, and artistically
not convincing. Far more sincere, psychologically, is _Clara Militch_
(1882), a penetrating study of a passionate temperament, a story based
on a tragedy of Parisian life. In our opinion _The Song of Triumphant
Love_, though exquisite in its jewelled mediaeval details, has been
overrated by the French, and Turgenev’s genius is here seen contorted
and cramped by the _genre_.

To return to the tales of the ‘sixties. _Lieutenant Yergunov’s Story_,
though its strange atmosphere is cunningly painted, is not of the
highest quality, comparing unfavourably with _The Brigadier_ (1867),
the story of the ruined nobleman, Vassily Guskov, with its tender,
sub-ironical studies of odd characters, Narkiz and Cucumber. _The
Brigadier_ has a peculiarly fascinating poignancy, and must be prized
as one of the rarest of Turgenev’s high achievements, even as the
connoisseur prizes the original beauty of a fine Meryon etching. The
tale is a microcosm of Turgenev’s own nature; his love of Nature, his
sympathy with all humble, ragged, eccentric, despised human creatures,
his unfaltering, keen gaze into character, his perfect eye for relative
values in life, all mingle in _The Brigadier_ to create for us a sense
of the vicissitudes of life, of how a generation of human seed springs
and flourishes awhile on earth and soon withers away under the menacing
gaze of the advancing years.

A complete contrast to _The Brigadier_ is the sombre and savagely
tragic piece of realism, _An Unhappy Girl_ (1868). As a study of a
coarse and rapacious nature the portrait of Mr. Ratsch, the Germanized
Czech, is a revelation of the depths of human swinishness. Coarse
malignancy is here “the power of darkness” which closes, as with a
vice, round the figure of the proud, helpless, exquisite girl, Susanna.
There is, alas, no exaggeration in this unrelenting, painful story. The
scene of Susanna’s playing of the Beethoven sonata (chapter xiii.)
demonstrates how there can be no truce between a vile animal nature
and pure and beautiful instincts, and a faint suggestion symbolic of
the national “dark forces” at work in Russian history deepens the
impression. The worldly power of greed, lust and envy, ravaging,
whether in war or peace, which seize on the defenceless and innocent,
as their prey, here triumphs over Susanna, the victim of Mr. Ratsch’s
violence. The last chapter, the banquet scene, satirizes “the dark
forest” of the heart when greed and baseness find their allies in the
inertness, sloth or indifference of the ordinary man.

_A Strange Story_ (1869) has special psychological interest for the
English mind in that it gives clues to some fundamental distinctions
between the Russian and the Western soul. Sophie’s words, “You spoke
of the will–that’s what must be broken,” seems strange to English
thought. To be lowly, to be suffering, despised, to _be_ unworthy, this
desire implies that the Slav character is apt to be lacking in _will_,
that it finds it easier to resign itself than to make the effort to be
triumphant or powerful. The Russian people’s attitude, historically,
may, indeed, be compared to a bowl which catches and sustains what
life brings it; and the Western people’s to a bowl inverted to ward
off what fate drops from the impassive skies. The mental attitude of
the Russian peasant indeed implies that in blood he is nearer akin to
the Asiatics than the Russian ethnologists wish to allow. Certainly in
the inner life, intellectually, morally and emotionally, the Russian
is a half-way house between the Western and Eastern races, just as
geographically he spreads over the two continents.

Brilliant also is _Knock-Knock-Knock_ (1870), a psychological study,
of “a man fated,” a Byronic type of hero, dear to the heart of the
writers of the romantic period. Sub-Lieutenant Teglev, the melancholy,
self-centred hero, whose prepossession of a tragic end nothing can
shake, so that he ends by throwing himself into the arms of death,
this portrait is most cunningly fortified by the wonderfully life-like
atmosphere of the river fog in which the suicide is consummated.
Turgenev’s range of mood is disclosed in _Punin and Baburin_ (1874),
a leisurely reminiscence of his mother’s household; but the delicious
blending of irony and kindness in the treatment of both Punin and
Baburin atones for the lengthy conclusion. Of _The Watch_ (1875), a
story for boys, nothing here need be said, except that it is inferior
to the delightful _The Quail_, a _souvenir d’enfance_ written at the
Countess Tolstoy’s request for an audience of children. In considering
_A Lear of the Steppes_ (1870), _The Torrents of Spring_ (1871) and
_A Living Relic_ (1874), we shall sum up here our brief survey of
Turgenev’s achievement in the field of the _conte_.

In _The Torrents of Spring_ the charm, the grace, the power of
Turgenev’s vision are seen bathing his subject, revealing all its
delicate lineaments in a light as fresh and tender as that of a day
of April sunlight in Italy. _Torrents_ of Spring, not Spring Floods,
be it remarked, is the true significance of the Russian, telling of
a moment of the year when all the forces of Nature are leaping forth
impetuously, the mounting sap, the hill streams, the mating birds,
the blood in the veins of youth. The opening perhaps is a little
over-leisurely, this description of the Italian confectioner’s family,
and its fortunes in Frankfort, but how delightful is the contrast in
racial spirit between the pedantic German shop-manager, Herr Klüber and
Pantaleone, and the lovely Gemma. But the long opening prelude serves
as a foil to heighten the significant story of the seduction of the
youthful Sanin by Maria Nikolaevna, that clear-eyed “huntress of men”;
one of the most triumphant feminine portraits in the whole range of
fiction. The spectator feels that this woman in her ruthless charm is
the incarnation of a cruel principle in Nature, while we watch her
preparing to strike her talons into her fascinated, struggling prey.
Her spirit’s essence, in all its hard, merciless joy of conquest, is
disclosed by Turgenev in his rapid, yet exhaustive glances at her
disdainful treatment of her many lovers, and of her cynical log of
a husband. The extraordinarily clear light in the narrative, that
of spring mountain air, waxes stronger towards the climax, and the
artistic effort of the whole is that of some exquisite Greek cameo,
with figures of centaurs and fleeing nymphs and youthful shepherds;
though the postscript indeed is an excrescence which detracts from the
main impression of pure, classic outlines.

Not less perfect as art though far slighter in scope is the exquisite
_A Living Relic_ (1874), one of the last of _A Sportsman’s Sketches_.
Along with the narrator we pass, in a step, from the clear sunlight
and freshness of early morning, “when the larks’ songs seemed steeped
in dew,” into the “little wattled shanty with its burden of a woman’s
suffering,” poor Lukerya’s, who lies, summer after summer, resigned to
her living death:

“… I was walking away….

“‘Master, master! Piotr Petrovitch!’ I heard a voice, faint, slow,
and hoarse, like the whispering of marsh rushes.

“I stopped.

“‘Piotr Petrovitch! Come in, please!’ the voice repeated. It came
from the corner where were the trestles I had noticed.

“I drew near, and was struck dumb with amazement. Before me lay a
living human being; but what sort of creature was it?

“A head utterly withered, of a uniform coppery hue–like some very
ancient and holy picture, yellow with age; a sharp nose like a
keen-edged knife; the lips could barely be seen–only the teeth
flashed white and the eyes; and from under the kerchief sometimes
wisps of yellow hair struggled on to the forehead. At the chin, where
the quilt was folded, two tiny hands of the same coppery hue were
moving, the fingers slowly twitching like little sticks. I looked
more intently; the face far from being ugly was positively beautiful,
but strange and dreadful; and the face seemed more dreadful to me
that on it–on its metallic cheeks–I saw struggling … struggling
and unable to form itself–a smile.

“‘You don’t recognize me, master?’ whispered the voice again; it
seemed to be breathed from the almost unmoving lips! ‘And, indeed,
how should you? I’m Lukerya…. Do you remember, who used to lead the
dance at your mother’s, at Spasskoe?… Do you remember, I used to be
leader of the choir, too?’

“‘Lukerya!’ I cried. ‘Is it you? Can it be?’

“‘Yes, it’s I, master–I, Lukerya.’

“I did not know what to say, and gazed in stupefaction at the dark
motionless face with the clear, deathlike eyes fastened upon me.
Was it possible? This mummy Lukerya–the greatest beauty in all our
household–that tall, plump, pink-and-white, singing, laughing,
dancing creature! Lukerya, our smart Lukerya, whom all our lads were
courting, for whom I heaved some secret sighs–I a boy of sixteen!”

Lukerya tells her story. How one night she could not sleep, and,
thinking of her lover, rose to listen to a nightingale in the garden;
how half-dreaming she fell from the top stairs–and now she lives on, a
little shrivelled mummy. Something is broken inside her body, and the
doctors all shake their heads over her case. Her lover, Polyakov, has
married another girl, a good sweet woman. “He couldn’t stay a bachelor
all his life, and they have children.”

And Lukerya? All is not blackness in her wasted life. She is grateful
for people’s kindness to her…. She can hear everything, see
everything that comes near her shed–the nesting swallows, the bees,
the doves cooing on the roof. Lying alone in the long hours she can
smell every scent from the garden, the flowering buckwheat, the lime
tree. The priest, the peasant girls, sometimes a pilgrim woman, come
and talk to her, and a little girl, a pretty, fair little thing, waits
on her. She has her religion, her strange dreams, and sometimes,
in her poor, struggling little voice that wavers like a thread of
smoke, she tries to sing, as of old. But she is waiting for merciful
death–which now is nigh her.

Infinitely tender in the depth of understanding is this gem of
art, and _A Living Relic’s_ perfection is determined by Turgenev’s
scrutiny of the warp and woof of life, in which the impassive forces
of Nature, indifferent alike to human pain or human happiness, pursue
their implacable way, weaving unwittingly the mesh of joy, anguish,
resignation, in the breast of all sentient creation. It is in the
_spiritual perspective_ of the picture, in the vision that sees the
whole in the part, and the part in the whole, that Turgenev so far
surpasses all his European rivals.

To those critics, Russian and English, who naïvely slur over the
aesthetic qualities of a masterpiece, such as _A Lear of the Steppes_
(1870), or fail to recognize all that aesthetic perfection implies,
we address these concluding remarks. _A Lear of the Steppes_ is great
in art, because it is a living organic whole, springing from the
deep roots of life itself; and the innumerable works of art that are
fabricated and pasted together from an ingenious plan–works that do
not grow from the inevitability of things–appear at once insignificant
or false in comparison.

In examining the art, the artist will note Turgenev’s method of
introducing his story. Harlov, the Lear of the story, is brought
forward with such force on the threshold that all eyes resting on his
figure cannot but follow his after-movements. And absolute conviction
gained, all the artist’s artful after-devices and subtle presentations
and side-lights on the story are not apparent under the straightforward
ease and the seeming carelessness with which the narrator describes
his boyish memories. Then the inmates of Harlov’s household, his two
daughters, and a crowd of minor characters, are brought before us as
persons in the tragedy, and we see that all these people are living
each from the innate laws of his being, apparently independently of the
author’s scheme. This conviction, that the author has no prearranged
plan, convinces us that in the story we are living a piece of life:
here we are verily plunging into life itself.

And the story goes on flowing easily and naturally till the people
of the neighbourhood, the peasants, the woods and fields around,
are known by us as intimately as is any neighbourhood in life.
Suddenly a break–the tragedy is upon us. Suddenly the terrific
forces that underlie human life, even the meanest of human lives,
burst on us astonished and breathless, precisely as a tragedy comes
up to the surface and bursts on us in real life: everybody runs about
dazed, annoyed, futile; we watch other people sustaining their own
individuality inadequately in the face of the monstrous new events
which go their fatal way logically, events which leave the people
huddled and useless and gasping. And destruction having burst out of
life, life slowly returns to its old grooves–with a difference to us,
the difference in the relation of people one to another that a death or
a tragedy always leaves to the survivors. Marvellous in its truth is
Turgenev’s analysis of the situation after Harlov’s death, marvellous
is the simple description of the neighbourhood’s attitude to the Harlov
family, and marvellous is the lifting of the scene on the afterlife
of Harlov’s daughters. In the pages (pages 140, 141, 146, 147) on
these women, Turgenev flashes into the reader’s mind an extraordinary
sense of the inevitability of these women’s natures, of their innate
growth fashioning their after-lives as logically as a beech puts out
beech-leaves and an oak oak-leaves. Through Turgenev’s single glimpse
at their fortunes one knows the whole intervening fifteen years; he
has carried us into a new world; yet it is the old world; one needs to
know no more. It is life arbitrary but inevitable, life so clarified by
art that it is absolutely interpreted; but life with all the sense of
mystery that nature breathes around it in its ceaseless growth.

This sense of inevitability and of the mystery of life which Turgenev
gives us in _A Lear of the Steppes_ is the highest demand we can make
from art. If we contrast with it two examples of Turgenev’s more
“romantic” manner, _Acia_, though it gives us a sense of mystery, is
not inevitable: the end is _faked_ to suit the artist’s purpose, and
thus, as in other ways, it is far inferior to _Lear_. _Faust_ has
consummate charm in its strange atmosphere of the supernatural mingling
with things earthly, but it is not, as is _A Lear of the Steppes_, life
seen from the surface to the revealed depths; it is a revelation of
the strange forces in life, presented beautifully; but it is rather an
idea, a problem to be worked out by certain characters, than a piece
of life inevitable and growing. When an artist creates in us the sense
of inevitability, then his work is at its highest, and is obeying
Nature’s law of growth, unfolding from out itself as inevitably as a
tree or a flower or a human being unfolds from out itself. Turgenev at
his highest never quits Nature, yet he always uses the surface, and
what is apparent, to disclose her most secret principles, her deepest
potentialities, her inmost laws of being, and whatever he presents he
presents clearly and simply. This combination of powers marks only
the few supreme artists. Even great masters often fail in perfect
_naturalness_: Tolstoy’s _The Death of Ivan Ilytch_, for instance, one
of the most powerful stories ever written, has too little of what is
typical of the whole of life, too much that is strained towards the
general purpose of the story, to be perfectly _natural_. Turgenev’s
special feat in fiction is that his characters reveal themselves by the
most ordinary details of their everyday life; and while these details
are always giving us the whole life of the people, and their inner life
as well, the novel’s significance is being built up simply out of these
details, built up by the same process, in fact, as Nature creates for
us a single strong impression out of a multitude of little details.

Again, Turgenev’s power as a poet comes in, whenever he draws a
commonplace figure, to make it bring with it a sense of the mystery
of its existence. In _Lear_ the steward Kvitsinsky plays a subsidiary
part; he has apparently no significance in the story, and very little
is told about him. But who does not perceive that Turgenev looks at
and presents the figure of this man in a manner totally different
from the way any clever novelist of the second rank would look at and
use him? Kvitsinsky, in Turgenev’s hands, is an individual with all
the individual’s mystery in his glance, his coming and going, his way
of taking things; but he is a part of the household’s breath, of its
very existence; he breathes the atmosphere naturally and creates an
atmosphere of his own.

It is, then, in his marvellous sense of the growth of life that
Turgenev is superior to most of his rivals. Not only did he observe
life minutely and comprehensively, but he reproduced it as a constantly
growing phenomenon, growing naturally, not accidentally or arbitrarily.
For example, in _A House of Gentlefolk_, take Lavretsky’s and Liza’s
changes of mood when they are falling in love with one another; it is
Nature herself in them changing very delicately and insensibly; we
feel that the whole picture is alive, not an effect cut out from life,
and cut off from it at the same time, like a bunch of cut flowers, an
effect which many clever novelists often give us. And in _Lear_ we feel
that the life in Harlov’s village is still going on, growing yonder,
still growing with all its mysterious sameness and changes, when, in
Turgenev’s last words, “The story-teller ceased, and we talked a little
longer, and then parted, each to his home.”

Note on Turgenev’s Life–His Character and Philosophy–
_Enough_–_Hamlet and Don Quixote_–The _Poems in
Prose_–Turgenev’s last Illness and Death–His Epitaph.

If we have said nothing hitherto about the twenty years of Turgenev’s
life (1855-1877), in which the six great novels were composed, it is
because his cosmopolitan activities, social, political, intellectual,
were too many to be chronicled in the compass of a short Study. They
may be here indicated in a few lines. Lengthy stays in France, and
visits to Germany, Italy, England, were alternated with residence every
year at Spasskoe. His attachment to Madame Viardot and her family
(which may be studied in _Lettres à Madame Viardot_, Paris, 1907, a
series unfortunately not published in its entirety) led to his joining
their household at Courtavenel and Paris, and later (1864) to settling
with them at Baden. His residence in France brought him into contact
with nearly all the celebrated French men of letters, Mérimeé, Taine,
Renan, Victor Hugo, Sainte-Beuve, Flaubert, etc., and later with the
chiefs of the young naturalistic school, as Zola, Daudet, Guy de
Maupassant. Turgenev’s political outlook and Liberal creed are best
represented in his Correspondence with Hertzen, to whom he communicated
Russian news for _The Bell_: his relations and quarrel with Tolstoy,
and his enthusiastic appreciation of the latter’s genius are recorded
in Biriukoff’s _Life of Tolstoy_, and in Halperine-Kaminsky’s
_Correspondence_. For his relations with Russian contemporary men of
letters, Fet, Grigorovitch, Nekrassov, Dostoevsky, Annenkov, Aksakov,
etc., there exists a mass of documents, letters and reminiscences
in the Russian. For a general sketch of Turgenev’s life the English
reader can turn to E. Haumant’s _Ivan Tourguénief_, Paris, 1906; for
an account of Turgenev’s youth, his relations with the Nihilists, his
later life in Paris, etc., to Michel Delines’ _Tourguénief Inconnu_,
and also to the much-abused but valuable volume, _Souvenirs sur
Tourguéneff_, by Isaac Pavlovsky.

All these sources reveal Turgenev in much the same light, a man of
boundless cosmopolitan interests, of a broad, sane, fertile mind, of
the most generous and tender heart. Some of his contemporaries touch
on certain weaknesses, his vacillating will, his fits of hypochondria,
his romantic affectation in youth, etc., but everybody bears witness
(as does his Correspondence) to his lovableness, and the extraordinary
altruism and sweetness of his nature. Thus Maupassant, a keen judge of
character, records:

“He was one of the most remarkable writers of this century, and at
the same time the most honest, straightforward, universally sincere
and affectionate man one could possibly meet. He was simplicity
itself, kind and honest to excess, more good-natured than any one in
the world, affectionate as men rarely are, and loyal to his friends
whether living or dead.

“No more cultivated, penetrating spirit, no more loyal, generous
heart than his ever existed.”

Such a man’s philosophy can in no sense be termed “pessimistic,” since
the wells of his spirit are constantly fed by springs of understanding,
love and charity. The whole body of Turgenev’s work appeals to our
faith in the ever-springing, renovating power of man’s love of the
good and the beautiful, and to his spiritual struggle with evil. But,
faced by the threatening mass of wrong, of human stupidity and greed,
of men’s pettiness and blindness, Turgenev’s beauty of feeling often
recoils in a wave of melancholy and of sombre mournfulness. Thus
in _Enough_ (1864), a fragment inspired by the seas of acrimonious
misunderstanding raised by _Fathers and Children_, Turgenev has
concentrated in a prose poem of lyrical beauty, an access of profound
dejection. Here we see laid bare the roots of Turgenev’s philosophic
melancholy,–man’s insignificance in face of “the deaf, blind, dumb
force of nature … which triumphs not even in her conquests but goes
onward, onward devouring all things…. She creates destroying, and
she cares not whether she creates or she destroys…. How can we stand
against those coarse and mighty waves, endlessly, unceasingly, moving
upward? How have faith in the value and dignity of the fleeting images,
that in the dark, on the edge of the abyss, we shape out of dust for
an instant?” After recording many exquisite memories of nature and of
love, Turgenev, then, compares human activities to those of gnats on
the forest edge on a frosty day when the sun gleams for a moment: “At
once the gnats swarm up on all sides; they sport in the warm rays,
bustle, flutter up and down, circle round one another…. The sun is
hidden–the gnats fall in a feeble shower, and there is the end of
their momentary life. And men are ever the same.” “What is terrible
is that there is nothing terrible, that the very essence of life is
petty, uninteresting and degradingly inane.”

“But are there no great conceptions, no great words of consolation:
patriotism, right, freedom, humanity, art? Yes, those words there are
and many men live by them and for them. And yet it seems to me that
if Shakespeare could be born again he would have no cause to retract
his Hamlet, his Lear. His searching glance would discover nothing new
in human life: still the same motley picture–in reality so little
complex–would unroll beside him in its terrifying sameness. The same
credulity and the same cruelty, the same lust of blood, of gold, of
filth, the same vulgar pleasures, the same senseless sufferings in
the name … why in the name of the very same shams that Aristophanes
jeered at two thousand years ago, the same coarse snares in which
the many-headed beast, the multitude, is caught so easily, the same
workings of power, the same traditions of slavishness, the same
innateness of falsehood–in a word, the same busy squirrel’s turning
in the old, unchanged wheel….”

With this passage of weary disillusionment and disgust of life we may
compare one in _Phantoms_, written a year earlier: “These human flies,
a thousand times paltrier than flies; their dwellings glued together
with filth, the pitiful traces of their tiny, monotonous bustle, of
their comic struggle with the unchanging and inevitable, how revolting
it all suddenly was to me”; and one, no less significant, in the
opening pages of _The Torrents of Spring_:

“He thought of the vanity, the uselessness, the vulgar falsity of all
things human…. Everywhere the same everlasting pouring of water
into a sieve, the everlasting beating of the air, everywhere the
same self-deception–half in good faith, half conscious–any toy to
amuse the child, so long as it keeps him from crying. And then all of
a sudden old age drops down like snow on the head, and with it the
ever-growing, ever-growing and devouring dread of death … and the
plunge into the abyss.”

But to show these waves of pessimistic exhaustion in right relation
to the whole volume of Turgenev’s work, one must contrast them with
many hundreds of passages where the struggle of love, faith and
courage, where the impulse of pity and beauty of conduct rank supreme
in all human endeavour. And in his illuminating essay on _Hamlet
and Don Quixote_ (1860), Turgenev holds the balance level between
humanity’s blind faith in the power of the good (Don Quixote), and
the disillusionment of its knowledge (Hamlet). Here Turgenev shows
us that sincerity and force of conviction in the justice or goodness
of a cause (however wrong-headed or absurd the idealist’s judgment
may be) is the prime basis for the pursuit of virtue, and that true
enthusiasm for goodness and beauty exacts self-sacrifice, disregard
of one’s own interest, and forgetfulness of the “I.” Hamlet by his
sceptical intelligence becomes so conscious of his own weakness, of
the worthlessness of the crowd, of the self-regarding motives of men,
that he is unable to love them. Hence his irony, his melancholy, his
despair in the triumph of the good, for which he, too, struggles,
while paralysed by his thoughts which sap his will and condemn him
to inactivity. “The Hamlets,” says Turgenev, “find nothing, discover
nothing, and leave no trace in their passage through the world but the
memory of their personality: they have no spiritual legacy to bequeath.
They do not love: they do not believe. How, then, should they find?”

Love and faith in the good and beautiful–based on forgetfulness
of self–must therefore be set against and balance the rule of the
intelligence, and this is precisely the effect Turgenev’s work makes
on us and the effect which his personality made on his acquaintances.
“This man was all good,” says Vogüé. “I think one would have to search
the literary world for a long time before finding a writer capable
of such modesty and such effacement,” says Halpérine-Kaminsky. “I am
always thinking about Turgenev. I love him terribly,” says Tolstoy
naïvely, after his lifelong hostility to Turgenev’s genius had been
removed by the latter’s death. And all Turgenev’s acquaintances agreed
that no one was so devoid of egoism, so generous in his enthusiasm
for the works of other men as he.[25] The guiding law of his being
was shown not only in his unmeasured desire to exalt the works of his
rivals,[26] but to find excellent, absorbing qualities in the works
of obscure, unsuccessful writers. This trait often appeared, to his
own circle, to be proof of mere uncritical misplaced enthusiasm, but
in fact Turgenev was a most severe and impartial critic.[27] There
is in even the humblest work of art, that is not false, a nucleus of
individual feeling, experience, insight which cannot be replaced.
And Turgenev, always searching for the good, instantly detected any
individual excellence and emphasized its value, without dwelling on
a work’s mediocre elements. The world, and the generality of men, do
exactly the reverse; they take pleasure in pointing out and publishing
defects and weaknesses and in ignoring the points of strength.

[25] “On arriving at his rooms, Tourguéneff took from his writing-table
a roll of paper. I give what he said word for word.

“‘Listen,’ he said. ‘Here is “copy” for your paper of an absolutely
first-rate kind. This means that I am not its author. The master–for
he is a _real_ master–is almost unknown in France, but I assure you,
on my soul and conscience, that I do not consider myself worthy to
unloose the latchet of his shoes.’

“Two days afterwards there appeared in the _Temps_, ‘Les Souvenirs de
Sebastopol,’ by Leòn Tolstoi.”–_Tourguéneff and his French Circle_, p.

[26] “From the letters to Zola … we shall see with what devotion,
sparing neither time nor trouble, Tourguéneff endeavoured to make
his friend’s books known in Russia. What he did for Zola, he had
already done for Gustave Flaubert; afterwards came Goncourt’s turn
and that of Guy de Maupassant. Never did he take such minute pains
to safeguard his own interests, as those he took in the service
of his friends.”–_Tourguéneff and his French Circle_, by E.
Halpérine-Kaminsky, p. 186.

[27] Flaubert writing to George Sand says, “What an auditor and what
a critic is Turgenev! He has dazzled me by the profundity of his
judgments. Ah! if all those who dabble in literary criticism could have
heard him, what a lesson! Nothing escapes him. At the end of a piece of
a hundred lines he remembers a feeble epithet.”

The _Poems in Prose_ (1878-1882), this exquisite collection of
short, detached descriptions, scenes, memories, and dreams, yields a
complete synthesis in brief of the leading elements in Turgenev’s own
temperament and philosophy. The _Poems in Prose_ are unique in Russian
literature, one may say unsurpassed for exquisite felicity of language,
and for haunting, rhythmical beauty. Turgenev’s characteristic, _the
perfect fusion of idea and emotion_, takes shape here in æsthetic
contours which challenge the antique. As with all poetry of a high
order, the creative emotion cannot be separated from the imperishable
form in which it is cast, and ten lines of the original convey what a
lengthy commentary would fail to communicate. We therefore quote a
translation of three of the _Prose Poems_ from a version which, however
careful, must inevitably fall short of the original:



“A tall bony old woman, with iron face and dull fixed look, moves
along with long strides, and, with an arm dry as a stick, pushes
before her another woman.

“This woman–of huge stature, powerful, thickset, with the muscles of
a Hercules, with a tiny head set on a bull neck, and blind–in her
turn pushes before her a small, thin girl.

“This girl alone has eyes that see; she resists, turns round, lifts
fair, delicate hands; her face full of life, shows impatience and
daring…. She wants not to obey, she wants not to go, where they are
driving her … but, still, she has to yield and go.


“Who will, may translate.”

* * * * *


“I was returning from hunting, and walking along an avenue of the
garden, my dog running in front of me. Suddenly he took shorter
steps, and began to steal along as though tracking game.

“I looked along the avenue and saw a young sparrow, with yellow about
its beak and down on its head. It had fallen out of the nest (the
wind was violently shaking the birch-trees in the avenue) and sat
unable to move, helplessly fluffing its half-grown wings.

“My dog was slowly approaching it, when, suddenly darting down from
a tree close by, an old dark-throated sparrow fell like a stone right
before its nose, and all ruffled up, terrified, with despairing and
pitiful cheeps, it flung itself twice toward the open jaws of shining

“It sprang to save; it cast itself before its nestling … but
all its tiny body was shaking with terror; its note was harsh and
strange. Swooning with fear it offered itself up!

“What a huge monster must the dog have seemed to it! And yet it could
not stay on its high branch out of danger…. A force stronger than
its will flung it down.

“My Trésor stood still, drew back…. Clearly he, too, recognized
this force.

“I hastened to call off the disconcerted dog, and went away, full of

“Yes; do not laugh. I felt reverence for that tiny, heroic bird, for
its impulse of love.

“Love, I thought, is stronger than death, or the fear of death. Only
by it, by love, life holds together and advances.”

The content, the quiet, the plenty of the Russian earth, “The Country”;
the insignificance of man, “A Conversation”; there is no escape from
death, “The Old Woman”; the tie between man and the animals, “The Dog”;
death reconciles old enemies, “The Last Meeting”; Nature’s indifference
to man, “Nature”; the beauty of untroubled, innocent youth, “How Fair
and Fresh were the Roses”; the genius of poesy, “A Visit”; the joy
of giving and taking, “Alms”; the rich misjudge the poor, “Cabbage
Soup”; we always pray for miracles, “Prayer”; Christ is in all men,
“Christ”; the immortal hour of genius, “Stay”; love and hunger, “The
Two Brothers”; such are a few of the subjects of the _Poems in Prose_.
The permanent appeal of these exquisite little pieces lies in their
soft, deep humanity and emotional freshness, while æsthetically they
are marked by the broad warm touch in which Turgenev indicates the
infinite lights and tones of living nature. Turgenev’s supremacy in
style rests, indeed, precisely here, in this faculty of concentrating
in a few broad sweeping touches, a wealth of tones which, producing
an individual effect, makes a universal appeal to feeling. It is
mysterious, this faculty of so massing and concentrating your effect
that one detailed touch does the work of half a dozen. Turgenev alone
among his contemporaries had mastered this secret of Greek art. It is
the emotional breadth, imparted in ease, sureness, and flexibility of
stroke, that distinguishes the _Poems in Prose_ from all other examples
of the genre. Fresh as the rain, soft as the petal of a flower, warm
as the touch of love is “The Rose,” so simple, yet so complete in its


“The last days of August…. Autumn was already at hand.

“The sun was setting. A sudden downpour of rain, without thunder or
lightning, had just passed rapidly over our wide plain.

“The garden in front of the house glowed and steamed, all filled with
the fire of the sunset and the deluge of rain.

“She was sitting at a table in the drawing-room, and with persistent
dreaminess, gazing through the half-open door into the garden.

“I knew what was passing at that moment in her soul; I knew that,
after a brief but agonising struggle, she was at that instant giving
herself up to a feeling she could no longer master.

“All at once she got up, went quickly out into the garden, and

“An hour passed … a second; she had not returned.

“Then I got up, and, going out of the house, I turned along the walk
by which–of that I had no doubt–she had gone.

“All was darkness about me; the night had already fallen. But on the
damp sand of the path a roundish object could be discerned–bright
red even through the mist.

“I stooped down. It was a fresh, new-blown rose. Two hours before I
had seen this very rose on her bosom.

“I carefully picked up the flower that had fallen in the mud, and,
going back to the drawing-room, laid it on the table before her chair.

“And now at last she came back, and with light footsteps, crossing
the whole room, sat down at the table.

“Her face was both paler and more vivid; her downcast eyes, that
looked somehow smaller, strayed rapidly in happy confusion from side
to side.

“She saw the rose, snatched it up, glanced at its crushed,
muddy petals, glanced at me, and her eyes, brought suddenly to a
standstill, were bright with tears.

“‘What are you crying for?’ I asked.

“‘Why, see this rose. Look what has happened to it.’

“Then I thought fit to utter a profound remark.

“‘Your tears will wash away the mud,’ I pronounced with a significant

“‘Tears do not wash, they burn,’ she answered. And turning to the
hearth she flung the rose into the dying flame.

“‘Fire burns even better than tears,’ she cried with spirit; and her
lovely eyes, still bright with tears, laughed boldly and happily.

“I saw that she, too, had been through the fire.”

A few of the _Poems in Prose_, profoundly ironical, as “The Fool,”
“A Contented Man,” “The Egoist,” “A Rule of Life,” “Two Strangers,”
“The Workmen and the Man with the White Hands,” show the indignation
of a large generous heart with human baseness, pettiness, stupidity,
and envy. A minority of the poems are instinct with Turgenev’s morbid
apprehension of death’s stealthy approach, and the final, unescapable
blotting out of life and love by his clutch. Turgenev’s dread of the
malignant forces of decay and dissolution had found powerful expression
nearly twenty years earlier in _Phantoms_, where a series of prose
poems is enshrined in the setting of a story.

“‘Do not utter her name, not her name,’ Alice faltered hurriedly.
‘We must escape, or there will be an end to everything and for
ever…. Look over there!’

“I turned my head in the direction in which her trembling hand was
pointing and discerned something … horrible indeed.

“This something was the more horrible since it had no definite
shape. Something bulky, dark, yellowish-black, spotted like a
lizard’s belly, not a storm-cloud, and not smoke, was crawling with a
snakelike motion over the earth. A wide rhythmic undulating movement
from above downwards, and from below upwards, an undulation recalling
the malignant sweep of the wings of a vulture seeking its prey; at
times an indescribably revolting grovelling on the earth, as of a
spider stooping over its captured fly…. Who are you, what are you,
menacing mass? Under its influence I saw it, I felt it–all sank into
nothingness, all was dumb…. A putrefying, pestilential chill came
from it. At this chill breath the heart turned sick and the eyes grew
dim, and the hair stood up on the head. It was a power moving; that
power which there is no resisting, to which all is subject, which,
sightless, shapeless, senseless, sees all, knows all, and like a bird
of prey, picks out its victims, stifles them and stabs them with its
frozen sting.”

This passage, by the intensity of horror it evokes, shows how deeply
entwined in the roots of Turgenev’s joy in life was his loathing of
death; and the same note is struck with cumulative force in “The End
of the World” and “The Insect,” where the chill atmosphere of frozen
terror and suffocating dread is enforced by the gloomy imagery.
There can be no doubt that Turgenev’s premonitory obsession of death
in his last years was one of the manifestations of the malignant
disease of which he died–cancer of the spinal marrow–which cast the
darkening shadow of melancholy over his vital energies and intensified
his sensation of spiritual isolation. In the struggle between his
healthy instincts and the weariness and dejection diffused by this
creeping, malignant cancer, his latter days may be likened to those of
an autumnal landscape at evening, with the valleys shivering in the
shadows of approaching night, while the higher ground remains still
flushed with warm light. But the _Poems in Prose_, his last work,
declare how comparatively little the morbid processes at work within
his frame had impaired his serene intelligence, his wide unflinching
vision, his deep generous heart, and passion to help others. This,
although he had already written, “I have grown old, all seems tarnished
around me and within me. The light which rays from the heart, showing
life in its colour, in relief, in movement, this light is nearly
extinguished within me: it flickers under the crust of cinders which
grows thicker and thicker.” But his cruel malady in the last two years,
when Turgenev endured “all that one can endure without dying,” did not
embitter his character.[28] Pavlovsky tells us:

“After terrible sufferings, during which the sick man could neither
sit nor remain standing nor lying down, his condition improved. He
could work and read free from pain, except when he moved about. That
gave him hope that with many precautions, he would live a few years
longer. But very soon a fresh access arrived, followed with fresh
prostration of spirit.

“‘When my sufferings are unendurable,’ said Turgenev, ‘I follow
Schopenhauer’s advice. I analyse my sensations and my agony departs
for a period. For example, if my sufferings are terrible I can easily
tell myself of what kind they are. First there is a stinging pain
which, in itself, is not insupportable. To this is added a burning
feeling, and next a shooting pang; then a difficulty in breathing.
Separately each one is endurable and when I analyse them thus, it is
easy for me to endure them. One must always do this in life, if you
analyse your sufferings you will not suffer so much.’

“On another occasion he said to me:

“‘I do not regret dying. I have had all the pleasures I could wish
for. I have done much work. I have had success. I have loved people;
and they have, also, loved me. I have reached old age. I have been as
happy as one can be. Many have not had that. It is bad to die before
the time comes, but for me it is time.’

“One need not say that these words were those of a sick man wishing
to console himself. Turgenev knew well that he could still create,
and he did not wish to die.

“In speaking of the condition of Viardot, who was also dying,
Turgenev said to me:

“‘A bad thing this death! One couldn’t complain if she killed one
at a stroke; then it would be over; but she glides behind you like
a robber, takes from man all his soul, his intelligence, his love
of the beautiful; she attacks the essence of the human being. The
envelope alone remains.’

“And he added, after a moment’s silence, in a whisper, strangely

“‘Yes, death is the lie!’ …

“A thing strange and most characteristic was that during his last
illness Turgenev never ceased to occupy himself with the affairs of
others…. Moreover, he did not wait to be solicited to render people

[28] _Ossip Lourié_, p. 63.

In his last days Turgenev addressed to Tolstoy the famous letter in
which he adjured him to return to literature,[29] and bequeathed to
others as his creed and example his farewell words, “Live and love
others as I have always loved them.” After renewed cruel sufferings he
sank into a delirium, and died at Bougival on September 3, 1883. Madame
Viardot describes his end, thus:

“He had lost consciousness since two days. He no longer suffered, his
life slowly ebbed away, and after two convulsions, he breathed his
last. He looked as beautiful again as ever. On the first day after
death, there was still a deep wrinkle, caused by the convulsions,
between his eyebrows; the second day his habitual expression of
goodness reappeared. One would have expected to see him smile.”[30]

[29] “Kind and dear Leo Nikoláyevitch,–I have long not written to
you, because, to tell the truth, I have been, and am, on my deathbed.
I cannot recover: that is out of the question, I am writing to you
specially to say how glad I am to be your contemporary, and to express
my last and sincere request. My friend, return to literary activity!
That gift came to you whence comes all the rest. Ah! how happy I
should be if I could think my request would have an effect on you!…
I am played out–the doctors do not even know what to call my malady,
_névralgie stomacale goutteuse_. I can neither walk, nor eat, nor
sleep. It is wearisome even to repeat it all! My friend–great writer
of our Russian land–listen to my request!… I can write no more I am
tired. (Unsigned), Bougival, 27 or 28 June 1883.”–Translated by A.
Maude, _The Life of Tolstoy_, vol. ii. p. 182.

[30] For this and other details, see Haumant, p. 110.

The autopsy made by the French doctors revealed that the weight of
Turgenev’s brain, 2012 grammes, surpassed by a third the normal weight,
and, though Turgenev’s high stature partly accounted for this, the
doctors were astonished by its volume, which much exceeded Cuvier’s,
hitherto the largest brain known.

Turgenev was buried, according to his wish, in the Volkov cemetery at
Petersburg, by the side of his friend, the critic Byelinsky. A crowd
of 100,000 people accompanied the funeral procession, including 285
deputations from all parts of Russia. The Russian Government declined
to take part in it![31] Renan, in France, pronounced the valedictory
oration, and the passage we extract stands as Turgenev’s noble epitaph:

“Au-dessus de la race, en effect, il y a l’humanité, ou, si l’on
veut, la raison. Tourguéneff fut d’une race par sa manière de sentir
et de peindre; il appartenait à l’humanité tout entière par une
haute philosophie, envisageant d’un œil ferme les conditions de
l’existence humaine et cherchant sans parti pris à savoir la réalité.
Cette philosophie aboutissait chez lui à la douceur, à la joie de
vivre, à la pitié pour les créatures, pour les victimes surtout.
Cette pauvre humanité souvent aveugle assurément, mais si souvent
aussi trahie par ses chefs, il l’aimait ardemment. Il applaudissait
à son effort spontané vers le bien et le vrai. Il ne gourmandait pas
ses illusions; il ne lui en voulait pas de se plaindre. La politique
de fer qui raille ceux qui souffrent n’était pas la sienne. Aucune
déception ne l’arrêtait. Comme l’univers, il eut recommencé mille
fois l’œuvre manquée; il savait que la justice peut attendre;
on finira toujours par y revenir. Il avait vraiment les paroles de
la vie éternelle, les paroles de paix, de justice, d’amour et de

[31] On Turgenev’s death, Lavrov, the Russian refugee, stated that
Turgenev had contributed 500 francs annually to the expenses of the
revolutionary Zurich paper _En Avant_. The Russian Government hastened
to manifest its displeasure accordingly.